Host Spotlight: Keith Marley

Host Spotlight: an opportunity to shine a light on our wonderful radio hosts and wider community, be it a new music release, a brand new music residency or simply to champion them as an individual. After nearly five years of the Roots and Culture Radio Show here on MDR, Keith Marley, our resident lord of the dancehall, is sadly hanging up his dubplates.

A fixture at Liverpool’s premier festival of reggae, Positive Vibrations, Keith has also played alongside the likes of Don Letts, DJ Vadim, Andy Smith, Big Youth, Dillinger and Julian Marley. As we say goodbye, we take one final opportunity to find out more about where it all began…


Hi Keith! How did you first get into music? What were your earliest musical influences?

My Dad always had a decent record deck and amp in the house, so as a 6 or 7 year old I used to play his tunes when my parents were out of the house down the pub….the tunes were never up to much, but it is where my love of vinyl started in the mid Seventies.

In terms of early influences, I suppose reggae (of course) and disco was where it was at for me – around 1975/1976 as a seven or eight year old, my Dad must have bought some cooler tunes and I used to boogie around the living room to tunes like Van McCoy’s Do The Hustle, Candi Staton’s Young Hearts Run Free and Wild Cherry’s Play That Funky Music.

You’ve been a bastion of the Liverpool reggae scene since you moved here – but what was it that first attracted you to reggae in the first place? Was there much of a scene where you grew up?

It was my surname which first attracted me to reggae! I grew up on a council estate on Teesside, it was a very white area and there was no reggae scene to speak of, however when I was about 5 years old I heard the name Bob Marley mentioned on the radio and because I had never heard of anyone else with the surname Marley (apart from Marley’s Ghost in A Christmas Carol!) I was immediately interested in who this singer was. Then I saw The Wailers on The Old Grey Whistle Test do Stir it Up in 1973 and I just thought they were the coolest looking dudes I had ever seen and the music was like something I had never heard before. Google it, their performance on BBC television that night is something special.

Reggae is an extremely diverse and multifaceted genre – is there a particular style or sound that you really dig?

I love roots reggae, especially the period from around 1976-1981 – for me this was the golden era of reggae. Some of the productions from the likes of King Tubby, Prince Jammy, Scientist, Mikey Dread, Sly and Robbie and others were just phenomenal, especially considering the limited hardware that they were using. This is also a time where reggae lyrics were at their most conscious – there is a lot of social, cultural and political history to be learned just from listening to roots reggae.

Having said that, I have a massive soft spot for early 80s digital dancehall, Jammy’s productions…proper dance music.

What was the very first reggae record you bought? Most treasured reggae record?

Bob Marley’s Exodus when I was 10 in 1978. I would have bought it from Gaye Days in Guisborough, near Middlesbrough, where I grew up.

My most treasured reggae record? Now that is a tough one…hmmm, I’ll have to have a think and get back to you.

You’ve played with and supported some legendary figures in your DJ career such as Don Letts – who’s been your favourite act that you’ve supported and why?  

Again this is another tough question. Big Youth is a reggae legend, so to support him at a Positive Vibration gig was up there. Playing just before Roni Size and Lee Scratch Perry was also an honour, but I have to say, the best bill that I have been on was with Les Ryder at his Soiree 47 Festival in the South of France – Les is a legendary Liverpool DJ – I used to go to his nights in and around the clubs and bars of Liverpool and it was him, along with Bernie Connor and Robin Jackson in the early 90s, who made me want to be a DJ. So I have to say that playing on the same bill as Les Ryder is the favourite feather in my proverbial cap…plus he is one of the best vinyl mixers I have ever seen and an all round top guy!

Outside of reggae, what other music do you enjoy listening to and playing? 

When I play outside of reggae gigs, if it is dancefloor based, then funk and hip hop are staples of my sets. I was massively into drum and bass and in the mid 90s when I first started DJing, I played a lot of jungle sets….but my real love is deep house – I was into the early 90s rave/free party scene, so that era of house I love. In fact I own more house records than I do reggae…but never get booked for house gigs!!

At home I listen to all sorts, as I have a fairly eclectic record collection…Echo and The Bunnymen are never far from my decks, along with Kraftwerk, Can and Kruder and Dorfmeister.

You’re also a lecturer in film studies and acclaimed documentary filmmaker – if you were to direct a music documentary, what subject would you focus on? Any essential music documentaries recommendations?

If I were to direct a music documentary, it would probably have to be about Two Tone Records and the second ska wave in the UK from around 1978/9 – this period for me was when I really got into music and the subculture that went with bands like The Specials, The Selecter and The Beat. It was a fascinating period of working class social history and definitely a story worth telling.

Music is The Weapon (1982) is a brilliant documentary about Fela Kuti, also Can: The Documentary (1999) is really interesting, but probably because Can are one of my favourite bands.

What else do you have planned for 2022?

Developing my DIY skills…I have just bought my first house (at 54!) and love doing it up. I am also making a documentary film about industry vs nature on The River Tees…music wise, I want some house music gigs!

Oh and my most treasured reggae record….all of them!

Keith’s final Roots & Culture show is available to listen back to HERE. You can listen back to the entire archive of Roots & Culture shows HERE as well!