Carroll Thompson on finding her voice and the iconic Hopelessly in Love

Carroll Thompson is known as “the Queen of Lovers Rock”, having made defining contributions to the genre in the early 1980’s. On her own label Carousel, she released a number of influential singles, such as Make it with you with Sugar Minott, becoming one of the most influential female reggae artists of the era. Thompson returns to Band on the Wall this Friday and we spoke to her ahead of the show about finding her voice and her iconic debut LP Hopelessly in Love.

Your story begins with the traditions of gospel music and congregational singing. How important were your early musical experiences in finding your voice, and are there particular individuals who provided invaluable guidance when you were beginning to learn to sing?

Congregational singing is wonderful way to find your voice – singing in choirs or praise and worship affords the opportunity to sing and blend with all kinds of voices young and old while devolving  your confidence and your own sound. My grandmother was a great influence; a minister, singer and choir leader, she guided and encouraged me.

The cover for your chart-topping debut album Hopelessly in Love is included in Covers: retracing reggae record sleeves in London. What do you remember about the day of the shoot and the styling of the photo that has become so recognisable?

It was exciting as [it was] my first ever photoshoot. The photographer brought a fur coat and draped it over me, I felt self conscious and slightly uncomfortable but it became an iconic album sleeve!

photo by Alex Bartsch.

Hopelessly in Love was an incredible opening statement for a young artist to make – Souljazz say that it ‘helped define British reggae for a new generation of black British youth’ – were thoughts of its potential impact in your mind at the time of recording, or were you resolutely focussed on the music itself?

I was totally focussed on the music, I had no idea of market forces. I was just writing and singing my songs.
Your recent live shows, like the Lovers Rock Monologues with Janet Kay, have proven that Lovers Rock is still very important to those who witnessed the scene’s development it first hand. For those too old/young to appreciate the scene, can you articulate what made and makes lovers rock so special?
It defined a generation. Lovers Rock was a hybrid of reggae brought over from the Caribbean with our parents and British pop and American soul digested on a daily basis on mainstream radio.
What piece of work to date are you most proud of?
I will always be proud of the Hopelessly in love album and most recently my tribute album, To Jamaica with Love, to the Queen of Rocksteady Phyllis Dillon.

You recently played 1000 Volts of Holt, a tribute to the great John Holt at London’s Jazz Cafe. Can you tell us which songs you performed from the record and how you connected with those songs personally?

I performed Morning of my life, Never Never, Baby I’m a want you and Help me make it through the night.  I connect with all the song on his album however these songs especially resonate.

You play with an all-star band, what have you got in store for your Band on the Wall show and can you give a quick name check to the musicians who’ll be joining you?
The band features bassist and musical director Colin McNeish, who has worked with Omar, Janet Kay, UB40 and Mighty Diamonds, Dreddy on drums, Peter Lee on guitar, who has worked with Aswad and John Holt, Cyrus on keys and Adrian Mckensie.
Pick up tickets for Carroll Thompson’s show here.