Duke Peckings

How long have you lived in the Askew area?

I came here when I was a boy, from Kingston, Jamaica. There were two sides to Kingston, uptown and downtown. Uptown was affluent, downtown wasn’t. Uptown didn’t mix with downtown. I’m from downtown. My grandmother Lucy couldn’t read or write but she knew the importance of education. My brother Trevor would read the letters my mum, her daughter, would write from England. Trevor’s daughter is now the Head Mistress in Brentford.

What was your family’s life in Jamaica like?

Dukes brother

They say, in Jamaica, when you’re light, everything bright. My mother was quite light (skinned). My grandfather had straight hair. My mother’s family still own an ex-plantation property. We are related to the general Colin Powell. Jamaica had a definite caste system back then. And still have.

What’s changed most here?

The people – mostly for the better. My first impression of England, looking out the airplane window and seeing all the chimneys, all smoking – England looked real grey. All the men wore suits and ties, but now it’s a lot more relaxed. People wear colours and listen to music from everywhere.

Apart from your record shop on Askew Road, how are you connected to the music business?

duke_snrMy father (George ‘Peckings’ Price) brought reggae music to England. He used to walk the streets of Ladbroke Grove with Studio One records in a suitcase. Before he came over, he was a major figure on the Jamaican music scene. His best friend was (Clement) ‘Coxsone’ Dodd who owned Studio One, the number one record studio on the island. Studio One was like the Motown of Jamaica. It was known as ‘The College’. Everyone in reggae started at Studio One, The Wailers, Bob Marley... But before him, in the fifties, the jazz musicians used to play for the tourists in the hotels in places like Montego Bay. Coxsone rounded them up and recorded them. At first it was Jamaican rhythm and blues, then ska and, in 1966, rocksteady. Rocksteady was the blueprint for reggae. It was a slowed down version of ska. Ska was too hectic to dance to all night. Coxsone and my father would play these recordings on the ‘sound system’ so the people could dance.

What’s a ‘sound system’?

Like a street party with DJs with turntables and speakers. People loved it and Coxsone and my father soon had four sound systems, all over the island. When people started to buy record players, they wanted something to play on them so Coxsone pressed vinyl copies and got my dad to sell them. But they had a rival. By the 60s there were two studios, Studio One and Treasure Isle. They would set up a sound system right next door. Treasure Isle was owned by Duke Reid who was an ex-policeman and walked around with a gun. He’d pay rude boys to go to Coxsone’s and mash up the dance. It was fierce. My mother was best friends with Duke’s wife Lucille all their lives from the age of four.

Was your mother involved in the business?

Oh, yes. My mother knew how to graft. She used to work in the garment district in the West End as a presser on one of those industrial machines with all the steam. Yes, she became Lucille Reid’s agent in the end, representing Treasure Isle’s music in Europe. She was very business-minded.

Why did your parents leave Jamaica?

Dad was a romantic and he loved my mother. She wanted to come to England. His first love was music – he loved jazz – but he loved her more.

My father brought reggae music to England in a suitcase.

Did he not love reggae?

At home, he had no reggae music, not one record. All he listened to was jazz. I remember on a Sunday he’d polish the furniture listening to Miles Davis at full volume. And then he’d go round to his friends and play dominoes and Ludo. He liked the herb but he never smoked in our house.

What did your mother have to say about that?

Our mum was cool about it. She had her gospel music. In the late sixties she was baptised in the blood of her beloved Jesus and she went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. She took a plane to all the places mentioned in the Bible: Jerusalem, Galilee, the Dead Sea...

Did you follow your parents into the music business?

I worked Saturdays in the shop but I did my apprenticeship as a tailor on Savile Rowe – in 1974 for Anderson and Sheppard. I made clothes for the Rothschilds.

Did you make clothes for your father?

My father had an impeccable wardrobe. I made him some trousers once, but I don’t think he liked them. I was stuck in a tiny room with three other tailors. I used to come in with my cassette player, but they were Radio Two listeners. Everyone was so miserable so I quit. My dad was pissed off. He knew that world. He’d worked in Jermyn Street as a packer for Floris (the perfumer) before he opened the shop. He said, what are you going to do now? I said, I’m gonna work in the shop full time, but he said, no you’re not. So I got a job on Bond Street doing alterations. The West End was great in the 70s, and the 80s was even better. I went out with one of the girls from (band) Amazulu (who sang pop hit ‘Too Good To Be Forgotten’) and we went to all the clubs. We met everybody: Culture Club, (record producer) Paul ‘Groucho’ Smykle, Steve Strange (Visage)...

When did you set up your own label?

My father passed in 1994. He’d had a record shop on Askew Road since 1975. It’s important to keep things going. In 2002 my brother Chris and me decided to set up a label. We called it Peckings in honour of our father’s great work. Peckings is a dance, when you rock back and forth, like a pecking chicken.

Did your father do the pecking dance?

My father loved to dance before he had children, but he was a very serious man. He didn’t play with us kids. There are five of us, five boys: Vallen, Tony, Trevor, Chris and me. I’m the fourth oldest. I was a naughty boy, always getting caned at school. In Jamaica, your parents friends were allowed to hit you if we behaved badly on the streets. I remember being told off by one of my parents’ friends and complaining to my mother, but mum was clever. She tricked me and said, did you deserve it? I said, no, and she said, are you calling Mrs so-and-so a liar? If I said yes, she’d hit me for calling her friend a liar and if I said no, she’d beat me for deserving it. So, I ran.

But the bad boy did good in the end. At the 2013 British Reggae Industry Awards, Peckings Studio won 2 awards, best producer and best label. What’s the Peckings' sound?

Old school. Our first artist was Bitty McLean. He had three top-10 hits in the mid-90s. He used to come into the shop and one day he said he wanted to record an album with old school ‘riddim’. His album ‘On Bond Street’ was a smash. We used the classic old school recordings from 1960. Our next release celebrates Chris’s birthday, the big 5-0.

To get up to speed with modern reggae, which artists should people listen to?

Baby Boom, Peter Hunnigale, Chronixx, Jah Mega, Ras Demo, Lady Lex, Carolene Thompson...

As winter closes in, are you ever tempted to return to the heat of Jamaica?

If I could wear flip-flops all year round, I would love it, but wherever you live is your home. For a child, Jamaica kills England. You do everything outside. Would I go back? For a holiday only. The only place I’d consider going to is Ethiopia, because that’s where all life started.

Thank you, Duke. It’s been a real pleasure to meet you.

Peckings Studio’s latest album is available from their shop on Askew Road or via download.

Interviewed by Jo Reynolds Sept 2015

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