Brinsley Forde


Like Blue – the character he portrays in Babylon– Brinsley is a Londoner. Like Blue he spends much of his time playing reggae and wears the natty locks of a Rasta. But there the obvious similarity ends because Brinsley (26) already has a successful dual career as an actor and as lead vocalist and guitarist with Aswad, a reggae band whose work on stage and on disc has gained wide respect in the U.K. The name Aswad, incidentally, was carefully chosen. It means “black” in Amharic, the ancient language of Ethiopia.

Born in North London of immigrant parents, Brinsley went to local schools in Willesden which he didn’t enjoy very much, until, at the age of 13, he “wandered into acting. I went to evening classes and eventually got professional parts out of school. Anything was great away from school”. His work at that time included parts in ‘The Magnificent 6 1/2’, a film for the Children’s Film Foundation, and ‘Please Sir’. He was one of the leads in the TV serial. ‘Double Deckers’ along with Peter Firth, and had a role in the feature film ‘Leo the Last’. From acting he progressed into playing music.

Leaving school, he took a variety of jobs while he pursued his careers. “There was no point in going to a regular drama school because there was only about one part I could have played – ‘Othello’ – and that’s about it”. Instead his jobs ranged from a spell at Grunwicks, the Willesden factory which hit the headlines over its prolonged strike, driving for a paper-mill factory and a day and a half at a plastic mould factory. “They sacked me on the second day. I didn’t fancy spending the rest of my life with plastic moulds”.

Musically, he started writing his own reggae songs around this time. “I was frustrated playing reggae from Jamaica which had little relevance to my own life, here in Britain. There were four or, five of us who felt the same way at the same time and that’s how Aswad came into being”. Their first album was released in 1975. Dissatisfied with the distribution and promotion, they formed their own record company “Grove Music”. “The trouble”, says Brinsley, “was that no-one knew quite how to place us. British reggae was entirely new, so how to promote it was a key question. For a while they tried to align us with the Punks, but that wasn’t what we’re about at all”.

As it was they went on tour with Eddie and the Hotrods. “Touring Scotland in a minibus was not one of my most comfortable experiences, but we were getting the exposure we needed. And most of the audience we played to were predominantly white. Until then our brand of reggae had been confined to our own clubs and sound-systems”. Nowadays British reggae has been recognised by the music press and Aswad figure high on the list of any reggae programme.

Brinsley lives in Ladbroke Grove an area with which he feels a strong bond: “It’s great down there. There is a true community spirit”.

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Brinsley interviewed in the NME along with Franco Rosso.