Interview: Q&A with Planetman – Watering London’s Musical Grassroots

If you’d like to know more about, understand and deep dive into the last two decades of the London grassroots scene, you can’t help but reach out to Adir Tov. The Hackney-based singer/songwriter, guitarist, band-leader, producer and event organiser, better known as Planetman, is one of the most representative characters when it comes to the British Capital music environment.

As well as more than half a dozen of projects, he launched and ran jam sessions and music series that helped to shape the London global sound of the 2000s, 2010s and these first years of 2020s.

And in a time when true and “organic” artistic and cultural references are in short supply, it was a privilege to reach out to and exchange some words with someone who has experienced first-hand, facilitated and encouraged twenty years of London music…

Rhythm Passport: You are a true “global” musician and that’s not just referring to the name you chose for your act, but also your music taste and the musicians you performed side-by-side with. Can you briefly retrace your career for us?

Planetman: I founded Planetman & The Internationalz in London back in 2001, releasing my first album UNITE! in 2005, and went on to play my songs around the country and around the world.

It’s been a blessed journey and I’m truly looking forward to the future.

Rhythm Passport: Your sound has always been pretty eclectic and varied when it comes to both its influences and styles. Still, I reckon that reggae has to be considered your first (music) love. Who and/or what are your main musical inspirations?

Planetman: Good question… I guess I’ve always listened to a wide variety of music genres and conscious lyrics were where it touched me the most and helped me during my personal struggles. Possibly Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, Peter Tosh, Stevie Wonder, Pink Floyd to name a few.

Rhythm Passport: You can also be regarded as a proper institution in the London grassroots and rootsy music scene.

You are not just a musician who collaborated with dozens and dozens of artists and bands, but also a promoter, jam session director, party-starter and much, much more…

What can you tell us about being a musician in London nowadays… How and how much has the city’s music scene changed in the last 20 years?

Planetman: London has always been and still is a melting pot of musical influences and cultural fusion which arguably puts it at the forefront of musical innovation and an international centre for ‘world music’.

Although, I would say that government policies and lack of support have made it harder and harder for music venues to operate and thus resulting in closures and fewer new venues thriving.

There needs to be a massive shift in policy to allow grass roots musicians to hone their craft, and music and culture in general to thrive again!

Rhythm Passport: Passing Clouds, which arguably was your home-away-from-home, closed down a few years ago. Have you found another venue where you could feel at home experiencing a similar community vibe and passion for music?

Planetman: Not yet… but those were more accommodating times where we could start a venue from scratch with little resistance from the authorities. Everywhere is so commercialised these days.

I think with gentrification hitting Dalston and Hackney in general, Walthamstow and Leyton are the future for conscious music venues in East London.

Rhythm Passport: As said, through your music activities, for example your jam sessions at Passing Clouds or your Little Blue Ball events, you had a privileged viewpoint on the London music scene.

Is there any London-based musician/band who had a deeper influence on you or you could build a stronger bond with?

Planetman: I had the privilege of playing with many amazing musicians through the years and I cherish all the blessings I’ve received.

Founding and heading the Passing Clouds Sunday jam session for 7 years, I was blessed to share these magical times with the late great Baba Adesose Wallace who had taught me a lot about pan-African music and culture and Yoruba folklore in particular.

Also in London I had the pleasure of meeting and hanging out with many of my role models, Tony Allen, Lee Scratch Perry, Marshall Allen and many more legends I used to listen to when I was growing up.

Rhythm Passport: Let’s talk a bit about the present days and your new music. 

You released a new single titled ‘Please Don’t Shoot My Sister’ a few months ago. The tune, which has a clear reggae roots sound, also has a straightforward anti-war message.

How would you introduce it and do you feel that music can still raise people’s awareness and awaken their conscience even in these days?

Planetman: Yes of course! It’s the new generations that will help us all to evolve out of this dog eat dog reality, and more than ever it should be the duty of artists and bands in this time to help promote unity, freedom and world peace.

We are heading towards a crucial time in our history where greed and the love of power seem to be bent on destroying the world.

Conscious music is the healing the world needs now more than ever! For the children, all the children.

Rhythm Passport: While, in July you published ‘We Go Jam’, which is a quite original afrobeat tune recorded live as a trio.

What can you tell us about that song and the musicians who played with you? Are the two songs we mentioned going to be part of a bigger project like an LP?

Planetman: Yeah, ‘We Go Jam’, as the name implies, is about freedom of expression and instead of recording a studio version I thought it’d be proper to release a live unedited version.

This 12.30 minute cut was recorded at the Scallywag Festival in Somerset with my longtime rhythm section, Caswell Swaby on bass and Tansay Omar on drums.

Swaby is a legendary Jamaican bassist who has played with many reggae royalty like Ijahman Levi, Junior Delgado, Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, and many others. His musical scope is much wider than just reggae and includes jazz, funk and beyond, which suits my music perfectly.

Tansay is such a groovy and talented drummer who played with Bjork, Stereo MCs and many others from world music to rock and funk.

We have been playing together for many years and have an established musical understanding that is the basis of being able to hold an improv tune for over 12 minutes. I love them!

Rhythm Passport: What music/artists are you listening to in this period?

Planetman: Mmm.. been listening to a lot of drum and bass, jungle and breaks lately…

Rhythm Passport: What are your music plans for the future?

Planetman: I’m working on a new album at the moment. And also been remixing.

Hope to announce something sometime soon!

Rhythm Passport: We always close our interviews with a tricky question. How would you introduce your music to someone who has never listened to it before?

Planetman: Hope my songs uplift your spirit and warm your heart!