Words by Clyde Macfarlane
Photo of Cornell Campell by Da Vinci Sound
Like many reggae greats from the 70s, Cornell Campbell still performs with jiggle-hipped enthusiasm. More importantly, Campbell’s trademark falsetto has lost none of its sweetness. The secret to his sprightly demeanour could well be a lifelong affiliation with lovers rock, a Motown inspired advert for something every penniless Rasta can offer: ‘Can’t take you out to fancy places, girl,’ sings Campbell with a flick of his mane, ‘but when it comes to loving, I’m alright.’ The song, ‘Loving Pauper’, was a 1977 hit for Gregory Isaacs. Isaacs went on to fame and fortune, but for Campbell these lyrics have a particular resonance. He was forever reggae’s backseat player, thanks in part to his dedication to Rastafari and its rejection of materialism.
He combined lovers rock themes with his spirituality on ‘Blessed Are They’, a mighty Trojan track that pronounced his dedication to Jah. Although Trojan’s crackly edges gave it a certain charm, it’s a treat to hear Campbell’s live rendition in all its purity. This is why his unsurpassable voice was sampled by top dub producers like Bunny Lee, Joe Gibbs and Tapper Zukie, the latter of which occupied the One Love stage a few hours before. Campbell and Zukie capped off a special year for the UK’s biggest reggae festival, with Jamaica’s 50th independence anniversary and Usain Bolt’s success in the Olympics – “everybody do the lightening bolt!” shouted Zukie to the One Love crowd – giving extra reason to celebrate a sunny weekend in Kent.