Godfather of ska Arthur Kitchener sees the light
HE IS known as the self-styled UK Godfather of Ska but after 30 years of thumping his bass to a reggae beat, Arthur Kitchener, 62, has seen the light. His group Arthur Kay and the Originals has all-but disbanded but our Arthur refuses to be down-hearted. He tells John Nurden why...
VETERAN Mod Arthur Kitchener has gone all soft. The self-styled UK Godfather of Ska has released a new album of strangely melodic songs.
Whitstable: Singer Arthur Kitchener and his new album The Wordsmith
This is in stark contrast to the normally boisterous tracks performed by his band Arthur Kay and the Originals.
After 30 years of entertaining skinheads the guys have stopped gigging and Arthur, 62, is back in his one-bedroom penthouse flat at the top of Windsor House, Whitstable.
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But Arthur, a father-of-six, says he couldn't be happier because he has found God and seen the light. He has the album The Wordsmith to prove it.
But the former Canterbury cabbie insists: "I haven't gone all evangelical. I'm not going out knocking on doors trying to convert people.
"But after a life of, shall we say ups and downs, I am more at peace with myself than I have ever been."
His epithany came during a visit to New York's Bronx. He said: "I was in New York and knew my hero Dion, who sang The Wanderer, had gone to church there so I pushed open the door and walked in to the Mount Carmel church in Belmont Avenue.
"It was then I felt a power I had never experienced in my life. It was like the scene in the Blues Brothers film when they are struck by sunlight in the church."
He added: "In my time I had become hooked on drugs and alcohol. But I always believed in a higher power because by rights I should have ended up dead. I felt sure something or someone was always looking after me."
Arthur had a turbulent childhood and ended up in Shephall Manor, a London home for wayward boys in 1962. He recalled: "I bunked off with a mate and we slipped into a cinema to see Dion singing The Wanderer in Twist Around The Clock.
"It was the first time I had heard music like that. It was as if a bomb had gone off in my chest. Dion later became my mentor."
By 1967 Arthur had become a fully-fledged Mod complete with Lambretta and Hofner violin bass. In 1974 he moved to Herne Bay with his first wife Linda and a year later engineer Mike Craig of Chalk Farm Studios, where most Trojan reggae stars recorded, moved to Herne Bay, too.
He founded Europa Sound Studios with Chris Ashman and invited Arthur to record Ska Wars with drummer Steve Wyse, from local prog-rock band Gizmo.
Arthur said: "We played Ska Wars at a local disco and it went down a storm."
But success had to wait. In 1977 Arthur split from his wife after they had two children, Maria and Dion, and moved back to Clerkenwell. It was not until May 1979 that he returned to Herne Bay.
He recalled: "I eventually released Ska Wars on the Red Admiral label but I had to sell my Lambretta to raise the cash. I sold all 10,000 copies but without the backing of a major label it never made the charts."
He followed it up with Play My Record which featured guitarist Bob Coltart, who later founded The Maroon Dogs. Their first gig was at Herne Bay's Cabin Club.
Arthur said: "We were booked to support The Bodysnatchers at Folkestone's Leas Cliff Hall. But the musicians were contracted to other bands so I joined forces with another ska group and we called ourselves The Originator."
They later became The Originals and Arthur moved back to London. In 1985 he married his second wife Lesley and they had three children. Danny, Lee and Aaron. In August 1986 they returned to Herne Bay.
The Originals reformed and had the dubious honour of being backing band of rude reggae singer Judge Dread. Arthur said: " We were on stage with him the night he died at the Penny Theatre, Canterbury. It was March 13, 1998. The last thing he said was: 'Let's hear it for the band, Arthur Kay and the Originals...'"
After he split from his second wife he had Harry, 10, with his third partner Lynn.
Last year Arthur achieved his ambition of playing his home town Herne Bay Festival. But he said: "We found it difficult getting on other festivals. We tried Canterbury's Lounge on the Farm and Whitstable Town's Bands at the Belmont, which I can see from my flat, but no one was interested. So we decided to take the band off the road.
"But a power far greater than me has restored me to sanity. I have now been led back to the Catholic church.
"My Italian great-grandfather Henry Garto was Catholic but became disillusioned, left the faith and came to Britain to perform as a musical clown. Now I have gone home."
The Millwall FC supporter was baptised in Whitstable last Easter. at the age of 61.
He added: "I owe it to singer Dion DiMucci. He saved my life when I was mixed up and drinking. I read his autobiography and realised he had overcome it.
"When I was in the church in the Bronx in 2007 I asked the Virgin Mary if I could meet Dion. Four months later I did and we have become good friends."
Arthur has gone full circle and returned to Red Admiral Records to release his 12-song solo album The Wordsmith,released today.
The Wordsmith by Arthur Kitchener. Red Admiral Records REDAD CDA575. £9.99 plus postage. www.kentgigs.com/ recordshop/ recordshop.htm#REDADCDA575.