Home Oral History Interview - Ginger Williams

Oral History Interview - Ginger Williams


Video File

Production date


Object number


Physical Description

Filmed recording of an oral history interview with Ginger Williams (b.1953 Jamaica, moved to Hackney in 1962). Williams was an prominent singer within early Lover’s Rock music. In this interview, they discuss their experiences of the music industry. Also present (off camera) is Henry Barnes.

Associated Person

Williams, Ginger (Featured)

On display?



[Transcript of Interview with Ginger Williams]

Q. Okay. It is Wednesday, the 13th of February 2019. And we’re in the presence of some musical legends. We’re gonna start by talking to you, Ginger. I want to just ask you to just introduce yourself with your name, when you were born -- if you want to give it away, you don’t have to -- and where you were born, please.

GW. I happen to be very proud of my age.

Q. Okay. Good.

GW. My name is Ginger Williams. I was born in Jamaica. Came to England in 1962. Been here ever since.

Q. Wow. Okay. So 1962, so real Windrush Generation as they call it?

GW. Yes.

Q. We’re here primarily to talk about music and your various careers in music. So it would be probably a good place to start to think about what your initial influences were? Even in Jamaica if you can go back to there, or in the UK.

GW. Well as I was very young in Jamaica, I couldn’t really -- didn’t know much about the music as we came over as babies more or less. But being here listening to soca, (not soca, soca after a while) - but reggae, ska music and all of that. Especially when your parents are playing it and as a child you’re listening, you’re in your room listening, especially when they’re having parties and so on. You pick up the music from there. That’s how I learned about reggae music.

Q. Okay. So when did you first remember that you had an interest in music beyond listening to it and wanting to create something?

GW. I’ve always had an interest in music. I always used to be watching my parents especially when they’re having parties and they’re dancing and everybody’s having fun. I’m just in the background watching everybody and just enjoying the music. So from there I’ve always wanted to be a singer. Yeah, so it was very interesting just watching everybody. Like I said, I’m very quiet. I’m in the background all the time just watching, just taking in the sights and listening to all the music, different types of music, and from there I just wanted to sing.

Q. So you say you’re very quiet and you wanted to be a singer. So singing was the first thing that you wanted to do?

GW. Yes.

Q. Okay.

GW. Apart from being a mechanic. [Laughs]

Q. And did you move, when you came from Jamaica, did you come direct to Hackney? How did it happen?

GW. We were in Stamford Hill first. Then we moved to Clapton and Hackney. Yeah, so that’s it really. Just those three areas.

Q. What kind of age were you at the time when you were in Hackney in the 1960’s. How old were you about?

GW. Well, let me see.

Q. No need to be exact. Just to get an idea of where…

GW. Right. I was six years old when we came here. I was born in 1953. I’m not ashamed to say that. I’m very proud of it. I like my age. [Laughs] So I was six when we arrived here, and about eight years old I was in Clapton. And from Clapton to, I think, Hackney I was about nine, yeah. So I was still in the primary school at the time so it was around that.

Q. In terms of the area, what was it like at the time? Could you explain to me a little bit about what Hackney was like at the time?

GW. Very diverse. You had different people from different countries like Caribbean countries all settling in one particular place. And just everybody just mingling, you know? Just each other’s cultures, which is what we had to do. We had to...it was just everybody. It’s like a survival mechanism where everyone just gathered together and had fun with each other, I suppose.

Q. And thinking about the singing specifically, how did that begin to develop for you then?

GW. In my bedroom, of course, like most young girls. You have your hairbrush and you’re singing away. You’re pretending to be a singer and all that. So yeah, it’s in my bedroom. But after that, I can’t remember exactly how I got into it. But I used to go -- in Tottenham there was a group that I used to go and listen to. Well, I was walking past a shop one day and I heard this music coming out and I thought, “Music? Yes.” So I just reversed. I actually reversed. I didn’t turn around. I reversed. I stood outside the shop and I was listening for a while. Then I went in and, you know, just stood there listening. And I kept going back. And after a while they just asked me to sing.

So I start from there and started just singing a few songs and they liked my voice. So from there I did a record with them but that didn’t materialize into anything. They turned out to be Express, but before that. Joy Mack, we used to, well she used to try to get me to sing in pubs and stuff like that so. Yeah I used to do a little bit of that because I’m really a very shy person. Doesn’t seem like it now, but I am really a shy person. And so she used to get me to go with her when she was going. And then how I got into singing.

How I made Tenderness is that I went to a studio with a friend of mine who was doing a record and she had a bit of difficulty phrasing the records the way she wanted it. So I just went into the booth, and I’ve never been inside a studio before so I didn’t realize that everybody could hear what I was saying. So I would say to her, “No. Just sing it like this.” And they heard me and from then I was asked to just sing this certain part with her, you know, help her to get the record done. So I sang my bit and she sung hers. And after that Ronnie Williams, Ronnie Buck Williams, he asked me to do Tenderness which was in 1973. 1973 that record came out. So that’s how I got into actual singing.

Q. Okay. And so Tenderness was your first kind of…?

GW. ‘I Can’t resist your tenderness’, yes.

Q. Okay. So how did you feel about how...once you recorded that about how it was received? Can you tell us a little bit about that?

GW. Like I said, I’m a very shy person and I like to do things, but keep it quiet. So nobody knew that it was me that was actually singing this song. Although quite a few of my friends, you know, everybody liked the song and it was in the charts for nine weeks; number one for nine weeks. And it was well received. But if anyone knew about it, they didn’t know about it from me.

Q. So you kept it quiet?

GW. Very quiet. And I still do.

Q. Okay.

GW. Which in a sense it works against me because I like to be on the down low. I like to be just quiet.

Q. I guess there’s a tension between that and being on stage and out front, you know?

GW. Yes. Once I’m on stage I do what I have to do. But then, you know, off stage I’m just quiet.

Q. You talked about bit about performing live. You said you were going around with Joy Mack first of all?

GW. Yeah.

Q. So where were you performing and promoting the music that you did?

GW. When I was like with Joy, it was mostly the Builders Pub on Church Street, on the corner of Church Street. I always used to go there. But with the group that I was singing with, we used to sing at like All Nations and any other little places that they got gigs at.

Q. What was the group?

GW. I think they’re called Green Mango at the time.

Q. I’ve heard of Green Mango. Okay.

GW. Really?

Q. What would you term the kind of music you are making? Because I don’t think it’s the simple Lovers’ Rock, there’s more elements to me than that. So could you talk a little bit about that?

GW. As far as I was concerned it was just music. I wasn’t interested in what kind of style it was. I was just singing. To me it was just music. I can’t really describe how it was.

Q. In terms of the elements, were you taking influences from different places? Or is it particular things that you were listening to and like, “Yeah, I’m gonna do that”?

GW. I used to listen to Motown, mostly Motown, and singers from that era. And then the reggae and [inaudible] you know people in that genre. So I took a bit from everything. A little bit from everything I used to listen to.

Q. After Tenderness, talk me through what happened next. because that kind of put your name out there.

GW. Yeah.Tenderness, I used to be doing a lot of shows like the Apollo , Hammersmith Apollo, shows in Birmingham, Sheffield? - Have I been to Sheffield? - Birmingham, you could say Birmingham. You could say all over the place, yeah. Gosh, it was a lot of traveling!

Q. How did you feel about that?

GW. Just get on with show, do the show and go home.

Q. So it was work for you?

GW. It was work. But once I’m on stage, you know, just do what I have to do and get on with it.


GW. I see people was enjoying it, so if they were enjoying themselves then it makes me want to do it more for them. I can’t say it’s for myself because I’m not really a person that would be putting myself out there to say, “Oh yeah, I’m this person and that person.” No. If I see you’re enjoying yourself then I’m gonna make it work for you and try my best to please you.

Q. A lot’s been said about this, so I’m gonna ask the question. But as, particularly at the time, as a woman in the industry, could you talk a little bit about that experience? because music’s a very male dominated industry, I think. So in terms of your perspective on it as a female, if you could talk a little about that please?

GW. Oh my God.

Q. Uh-oh.

GW. That’s the problem, I didn’t have a problem as a female, because as far as I was concerned I was just concentrating on the music. I wasn’t interested in the politics of what was happening with male/female, just the music and that was all. I’m sorry I can’t answer that question.

Q. Okay. No, that’s fine. That is an answer. It is something. If it didn’t affect you, then that’s fine. I know that…

GW. It didn’t affect me.

Q. People often talk about it, so I was like, “Oh okay. Well let me ask.” But it didn’t affect you, then that’s good.

GW. No, it didn’t affect me because mostly, like I said, do music, go home.

Q. Okay. So talking about doing your music, so Tenderness is the single released. After that, in terms of your recording output, what were you thinking about at the time? What was the strategy from there?

GW. Well after Tenderness there was another hit with In ‘My Heart There Is A Place’. So that was the second single on the second record.

Q. Who did you cut that with?

GW. Well, Tenderness was done with...Count Shelley brought Tenderness out, right? So Shelly brought Tenderness out and yes, he also put out In My Heart out. After In My Heart, there is...I’m forgetting my own songs.

Q. What about Little Boy?

GW. Little Boy was on the other side of Tenderness. In My Heart There Is A Place and...what was on the other side of that one? This is weird. Gosh. Well, it was very popular. And after those then I started recording with Bill Campbell. We did two LPs and some singles as well.

Q. In terms of the relationship with Shelly, is there much crossover between a sound system and the recording artist? Did you ever sing on a sound or were you ever in those spaces or not really?

GW. No. No, I never did those. Just purely recording and I chose to do it for the shows, but never with sound systems.

Q. Okay. So it was always a live band?

GW. Yes. Definitely live.

Q. So that’s...I mean in terms of...because it’s like a national, very international reach. But with Shelly in particular because he would...was he from Tottenham or was he from Hackney, but I know he has a residence in Hackney, isn’t it?

GW. Yes. But he started out in Tottenham

Q. Okay. And Bill Campbell, whereabouts was that happening?

GW. I met him when he was working for Shelly at the time and then he started doing his own recordings.

Q. Okay. So by the time you cut those two albums, are we still in the 1970s at that point?

GW. Yes.

Q. Wow. Okay. So that’s quite a lot in 10 years. You had two albums with the singles and the touring.

GW. Yeah.

Q. What happened next?

GW. I had my children, got disillusioned with singing because I wasn’t making anything from it. I mean I’d done Tenderness and in those days you don’t get anything, you So I thought I just leave this for a bit and just look after my children. In saying that thought, Louisa Mark told me that it was because of me that she started singing. So I had influenced quite a few of the younger ones without even realizing it.

Q. In terms of the industry part of things, how did it work? You say you make big hit, but you didn’t make no money off it. How does that work?

GW. That’s how it used to be. Not sure if it still is. But at the time you just wouldn’t get anything from it. It was always an excuse that...it was always some form of excuse that you didn’t get paid because they have to do this, that and the other. But most artists in those days weren’t getting what they were supposed to get.

Q. Even touring?

GW. Touring...you see what I was supposed to get, but sometimes they just didn’t want to pay up. They had difficulties there as well. I mean I did a show. After the show a person came up to me and said, “I can’t pay you because we didn’t make what we were supposed to.” I just said to him, “That’s not my problem.” And so I got no money. But artists in those days they really had difficulty on that sense of being paid.

Q. You mentioned Louisa Mark. Just thinking about who else was in the business with you at the time. Can you remember any names in particular that kind of stand out for you?

GW. Oh dear me. I’m not too good with names.

Q. Okay.

GW. I’m sorry.

Q. Okay, no problem.

GW. I’m gonna reveal something that I’ve kept hidden for years, right. My friend [gestures to Henry Barnes] here doesn’t know that I’m going say this, but for years I’ve been agoraphobic. And so that’s what’s kept me from doing quite a lot of going out and meeting people and so and so.

Like I said, when I’ve done my shows the only thing I want to do is leave. So, you know, I mean, it’s just get the show done and go. So I wasn’t really mingling with a lot of people, you know. So in a sense that’s what’s kept me out of that apart from the fact that we weren’t being treated properly as artists. So I got disillusioned with it even more.

Q. So then you say you took a break?

GW. Yeah.

Q. So then what made you want to kind of come back? What made you want to kind of push yourself to do that?

GW. It’s people. People kept coming to me and saying, “Why not you? You should be doing this.” I mean when there are shows being advertised and they say, “You should be on this show.” And I’m thinking, “Well maybe. They can’t all be saying the same thing for just saying it sake.” They must mean it. So then I started looking into it again and Mr. Barnes here encouraged me quite a bit to get back into it.

Q. So Henry’s part of the comeback?

GW. Yes. Yes.

Q. Okay. So then could you talk me through what’s happened then since that point where you decided, “Okay, I’m gonna go back into this.”? How’s it worked? What’s the process?

GW. Well, we’ve made...how many records? I don’t know…

Henry Barnes (HB). I go back with Ginger 21 years... You know and it goes to age, you know, it’s kind of difficult to remember. The thing that I could say, briefly, the thing I could say we have given Ginger a lot of support in terms of my good friends Lindel Lewis, Wayne Marshall wrote a couple of tracks for her on her albums that she released with EMI in Africa and throughout the world. And currently a record now with Cougar Sony, we’re trying to give it the best shot as possible.

Q. What you’re talking about now is almost up to the minute up to today? You guys have been working together for a while so how long have you been involved with Cougar?

GW. Since the 1980s? Yes, it was the 1980s. Really, really encouraging me. He’s been pushing me. Like, giving me a really good kick to get me back in. because what he used to do was come and get me and pick me up. He used to come pick me up and leave me in the studio just by myself so that I can just get back into the flow of singing and getting my confidence back and such. Yeah.

HB. And he [Lindel Lewis] played a great part of it.

GW. Yes.

Q. Lindel?

GW. Yes.

Q. Has it been easy/difficult in terms of kind of getting back into it? The music business...I think some things have changed and some things have stayed the same. So explain to me a little bit about how it’s been for you in that process of getting back in.

GW. I need to listen more to...


GW. ...the music that’s happening these days and sort of blend in. Not to lose my lovers’ rock vibes altogether, but just update.

Q. There’s a renaissance of lovers’ rock music now I noticed anyway. So maybe don’t lose it?

GW. Can’t lose it because that’s the heart, sort of the heart of the music really. I mean I wish more people was doing that kind of music again. because that is happy music. Just brings people together.

Q. Why do you think that particularly within African Caribbean community that there is another generation of reggae artists? Particularly reggae artists actually, because if you’re talking about the 1970ss and 1980s there’s reggae bands and people touring and stuff’s happening and I think that the people that were working back then have still got work now. But then there aren’t young reggae bands for Caribbean people or descendants of Caribbean people coming through and doing that now. Why do you think that is, as somebody that’s been in the industry for this long?

GW. I think they’re concentrating more on the new style. Their new style of the music whereby I see more White people are playing reggae. It’s kind of reversed. So they, the Black teenagers, are going towards, sorry to say this, the White style of music, right? And White people, White musicians are taking up the reggae.

But I personally think that more people should be playing live instruments rather than use the computer. I don’t feel like you get the kind of sound that we used to make, you know. So it’s kind of, for me it’s soulless. When you have live musicians playing you get everybody putting their soul into it and it’s really enjoyable, brings people together. You can feel the difference and it makes, it’s just. it’s a lovely feeling. It is just beautiful.

Q. Is that something that you try and do it in your music? I mean is it mainly based upon live musicians? Or is it kind of a mixture of that and electronic? How do you put it together?

GW. Mixture. It’s a mixture. But we prefer to use live musicians.

Q. Okay. Is [Lindel] engineering for you at the moment? Is that what’s happening? But you’ve worked together in the past though?

GW. Yes, we have.

Q. Okay. I’m aware that there’s quite a few people in the room that might have pertinent questions that would be good to speak about. So if anyone has got questions, it would be a good time to ask them now.

GW. Help. [Laughs]

Lindel Lewis [LL]. Who wrote Tenderness?

GW. I think it was Ronnie Williams -- Ronnie Buck Williams.

LL. Wasn’t Bill?

GW. No. Definitely not. No way.

LL. Just want to get that clear.

GW. Most definitely not.

LL. Okay.

GW. Definitely not. Because Ronnie asked me to do that song. It wasn’t Campbell. It wasn’t Bill Campbell who asked me to do it.

LL. And it was original?

GW. It was original. And also Little Boy, it was original. In My Heart There Is A Place is original. And He’s My Honey Boy, which was written by Honey Boy.

Q. Which one?


GW. Honey Boy. He’s My Honey Boy, which is the other side of In My Heart There Is A Place.

LL. He wrote that. Very interesting.

HB. That’s very very interesting.

LL. That clears up that record.

HB. Well Ginger, I would like to -- I don’t want to see you get stranded so guys if you could just excuse me for a one moment, I’ll be back in a minute. Ginger, I’ll escort you to the door.

GW. Thank you very much.

HB. And thank you very much for your time.

GW. You’re welcome.

HB. And I am full of surprise. Trying to squeeze, get something out of Ginger is like it’s impossible. I cannot remember. You know, seriously Barney, I can’t remember. And it’s amazed me just now, she’s into a room with friends and two strangers up to a point and she managed to say something. Isn’t that amazing? Amazing.

GW. I’m sorry, but that’s the way I am. If I don’t have to then I don’t have to speak then I don’t.

HB. Well done. I think in time and given time it’s gonna come back. Good therapy in a sense that you’re back in the business and you can sit down and spend time with yourself.

GW. I’ve always been this way. Ever since I was a child I’ve always been this way. I prefer to listen rather than to speak. Thank you all for having me, it’s been a pleasure.