Dawn Penn Interview – Tramlines 2016

Let me set the scene for you guys. Tramlines 2016, a brisk Saturday morning, I wander down to the main stage and hear the sweet sounds of reggae blasting from Ponderosa park – the legendary reggae singer Dawn Penn and her band are getting ready for their afternoon slot. I meet all round great guy and Sheffield donk pioneer Alex Deadman, who has promised me an interview with the 64 year old singer herself. Alex has never let me down before and today was going to be no exception. I perched myself on a bench next to Dawn in the backstage area and she immediately started chatting about her very own perfume she’d been working on. It’s called The Dawn Penn Experience and despite it not being available publicly (yet, I must add) I had a little smell and I would even go as far as describing it as ‘divine’. Dawn spoke very quickly and jovially, she seemed very at ease chatting away and the conversation soon started flowing…

Chris Arnold: You’ve lived all over the place – New York, London, Jamaica, Virgin Islands…
Dawn Penn: Well I was born in Jamaica, but around the time I became a young adult I moved to Tortola where my Dad’s side of the family was from. But now I keep my whereabouts under lock and key, you got to think about your security!

CA: Is this your first time in Sheffield?
DP: Maybe I came here a long, long, long, long time ago. Because You Don’t Love Me No More was a hit back in 1994, I was touring a lot, was even on Top of The Pops.

CA: Nice! What was doing Top of the Pops like?
DP: I think I was in a dream world, I was so glad to be there. You know it’s always exciting to be on a TV show like that. It was a great experience.

I considered asking her if she remembered who presented the episode she appeared but then thought better of it in case it lead us down a Dave Lee Travis/Jimmy Savile conversation path. Although after doing some research I found out that Vic & Bob presented the episode Dawn appeared on! What a party that would have been.

CA: I want to ask you really quickly about the music industry, do you feel it’s improved over the years? Got worse?
DP: Oh my, well I have a song called Never Hustle The Music, because that what’s happened to me in the industry. The main thing about this business, and some people might called it ‘a dirty business’, is that you have to really PR & market your brand, your product. It makes you try to hook up yourself with people that do that kind of work, and it’s not cheap! That’s what it entails and every 10 years it all changes. Ultimately you have to remember that it’s about the music, and the music connects you with people.

CA: I hear you work a lot with your son, is that correct?
DP: Yeah my son and I run a label called Da Beat. I was signed to Big Beat Atlantic back in 1994, and I just get the idea that I’m going to call my label Da Beat, the ‘Da’ stands for Dawn. My son just graduated with his business law degree, he thinks money, he lives money, he dreams money! He says he’s a strategist but he very much keeps me on my toes. He is an artist as well and has a lot of very good songs, plus he’s been to school in Jamaica, the US and UK so he can do a lot of different styles. He thinks family members shouldn’t work together, but I think if you have your family together with you in a business you can be stronger. I like the idea of ‘so&so and sons’, like Mumford & Sons!

We then chuckled for a few minutes debating whether Mumford & Sons are actually a family business. Upon doing further research I can confirm that nobody in that band is related. What a con.

CA: You seen very busy at the moment, What have you been up to recently?
DP: Well I did a video in Mexico you know! I can’t tell you when it’s coming out though, even though I have it in my bag, watch out for it coming out soon though.

CA: To finish us off as I know you need to go and get ready for your set – you’ve been performing for quite some time now, do you still enjoy it as much as you do when you started?
DP: When I started I didn’t really know what it was, but now I can see why it’s so necessary to me – I get to see the world for free, I live in hotels but I love it. It’s funny when I was younger and in Jamaica I couldn’t travel at all, I would start to puke. But now I can happily travel all the way to Australia! And then stopping in Hong Kong, Dubai, wherever! And I’ve been to Hawaii, that was very nice, I got up very early to see the sunrise, it’s all good.

CA: It’s all good indeed! Thanks for taking time out to chat Dawn.
DP: Thanks for having me.

Dawn & Chris
© Jenn McCambridge

For those who caught Dawn at Tramlines this year will know already that she was certainly a weekend highlight. If you get the chance to go and see her, make sure you pop on down, fantastic voice and fantastic show woman.

Thanks to Alex, Nicola and James at the Tramlines Promo Office for hooking me up! Go grab a ticket for Tramlines 2017 while they’re hot!

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