Poet, activist and musician Linton Kwesi Johnson unveiled his progression from politics, through to reggae music at the Theatre Royal last night. 

Releasing his first book for a number of years, Johnson sat down with Brighton Festival’s guest director Nabihah Iqbal to tell all about the new prose selection Time Come. 

The pair were planning to “go with the flow”, with Johnson reading excerpts from the book and Iqbal asking questions, all punctuated with a playlist of music. 

Johnson began reading from Time Come, which is made up of book and record reviews published in newspapers and magazines, and content from lectures, obituaries and speeches.

Led by Iqbal, the pair discussed Johnson’s journey to becoming, as he is often known, one of the greatest poets of modern times. 

We heard fascinating, evocative tales of his childhood in Jamaica, where his grandmother told him stories because there was “no other entertainment”.

Johnson was born in Chapeltown, a rural parish in Jamaica, and despite moving to Britain aged just 11, he already had a strong Jamaican identity – it was his “bedrock”.

In 1960s and 70s Brixton, Jamaican music always influenced his poetry. “I fell back on my own roots,” he said.

It was captivating to hear how Johnson always found inspiration. He drew parallels between Bob Marley’s classic Concrete Jungle and the urban setting of Brixton in which he grew up. 

Iqbal navigated Johnson’s narrative cleverly, and pitched in to offer musical interludes at salient moments. 

We heard Prince Buster’s Ten Commandments which, Johnson confessed, has not aged that well – with lyrics like “Thou shall have no other man but me” – but was a huge influence on Johnson’s decision to add music to his spoken word. 

Johnson was first a poet, but adding music to his words was a “natural progression”. From politics, to poetry and finally to music, the latter became a “vehicle” for his words to reach a wider audience. 

We heard about Johnson’s love of reggae as a unifying force and he commented on the social focus of the genre.

While most other music fixates on romantic relationships, reggae can be universal in the way is focuses on the every day, and Johnson’s has firmly made its mark in the musical canon.