Jacqueline edeling

Fame, Theft and Tragedy: History of Birmingham’s Musical Youth and Pass the Dutchie

It was the Birmingham schoolboys who shot to world stardom in 1982 after releasing the controversial hit Pass The Dutchie. The five members of Musical Youth were catapulted into the limelight as their song reached number one in 12 countries, including the UK.

The cover of a reggae classic has sold over four million copies worldwide. The faces of the boys – including two sets of brothers – graced music magazines around the world.

Today, 40 years after the massive success BirminghamLive looks back on the band’s career whose star shone dazzlingly, but quickly faded. It is a story touched by tragedy.

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Musical Youth consisted of brothers Patrick and Freddie “Junior” Waite and Kelvin and Michael Grant, alongside Dennis Seaton. The boys, aged 11 to 15, formed their band at Duddeston Manor School in Nechells in 1979.

Musical youth in 1982

They all come from musical families and started out playing mainly in West Indian workers’ clubs. But it was the release of Pass The Dutchie that catapulted them to worldwide fame.

Musical Youth signed to MCA Records in 1982 after being scouted by talent. The single was a version of the Mighty Diamonds’ Rastafarian anthem Pass the Kouchie, with the lyrics and title notoriously altered to avoid any marijuana references.

Speaking to The Guardian in 2018, Dennis Seaton said: “When we played the Mighty Diamonds song Pass the Kouchie in heaven in London while supporting Culture Club, 3,000 people went crazy.

“It was a song about a big bong of marijuana, so the record company asked us to do something about the lyrics. We changed kouchie to dutchie, which is West Indian pot, and changed” How does it feel when you have no weed? to “no food”.

Pass the Dutchie entered the UK charts at number 26 on September 25, 1982. But the following week it jumped to number one.

It was a smash hit across Europe and it went on to reach the top 10 in America. This success brought the boy fame to the United States – and many stars wanted to work with them.

They recorded a sequel with American disco legend Donna Summer, titled Unconditional Love. Michael Jackson also shone with the Brummies who also met many other superstars including Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, James Brown and Prince.

Seaton recalls, “After we hit the top 10 in America, we went to Michael Jackson. He had a chimpanzee called Bubbles and a snake called Muscles, which slithered into his room.

“He told us Muscles, the song he wrote for Diana Ross, was about the snake. We did a movie with Mr T in Hollywood and were the first black band to be interviewed on MTV.”

Although best known for Pass The Dutchie, their other releases include Youth of Today, Never Gonna Give You Up and the collaboration with Donna Summer.

Musical Youth recorded two albums and was nominated for the Grammy Awards. Yet, just months after Pass the Dutchie, their chart success was over.

In 1985, the boys had had enough and separated. Troubled Patrick Patrick Waite started making local headlines as a petty criminal.

Musical youth
Musical youth

In 1987, he was jailed for four months for reckless driving, credit card fraud and assaulting police. In 1990 he was imprisoned again for robbing a pregnant woman at knifepoint.

Shortly after his release, he was arrested again, for possession of marijuana. After turning to drugs, he died of an inherited heart condition in 1993, aged just 24.

In 2012, the members of Musical Youth lost a court battle against their former lawyers, claiming they had given them bad advice about Pass The Dutchie’s royalty money. A High Court judge ruled in favor of partners at the defunct Woolf Seddon law firm and said a claim by class members was unfounded.

Musical youth at its peak
Musical youth at its peak

Dennis Seaton previously spoke to BirminghamLive about the band’s rise and fall. He said: “Great memories but tinged with a bit of sadness because Patrick passed away. We didn’t know much, we just had to face what came up and live with it.

“It made us rich…because it gave us a career. I love Pass the Dutchie and always wonder what made people jump up and down.

The group returned in 2001 as a duo with Dennis Seaton and Michael Grant. But a planned tour was canceled due to the September 11 attacks

Dennis Seaton and Michael Grant, members of the Musical Youth
Dennis Seaton and Michael Grant, members of the Musical Youth

In 2003, the duo performed for fans on the Here and Now Tour, an annual nostalgic concert series featuring musicians from the 1980s. They also performed on Pato Banton’s 2004 single Pretty Woman and performed at a festival in Wiesen, Austria in 2005.

They released When Reggae Was King. in March 2018 and into digital distribution in 2020. Former member Kelvin Grant has pursued a solo career, performing and releasing new material, most recently the album Defend Them in 2018. Junior Waite has remained out of the limelight

Michael Seaton said in a previous interview: “Patrick died broke and we had court battles over Pass the Dutchie. We didn’t get songwriting credits, even though we changed the lyrics and the arrangement.

“Years later, the record company moved in with us and we got some money. I don’t feel badly done, though, because the ups outweighed the downs.

“I met Michael Jackson, Paul and Linda McCartney, James Brown, Prince and Donna Summer. We did things a kid could only dream of.

“At one point, I was jamming with Stevie Wonder at his Wonderland studio. At the time, I was too young to buy cars or houses. All I wanted was a Super Burner BMX bike.

“When the record company dropped us, I asked the accountant, ‘Does that mean I’m going to have to sell my bike?’ He said, ‘No. You can keep your bike.”

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