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Time Come by Linton Kwesi Johnson audiobook review – effortless prose from the radical poet

<span>Photograph: Suki Dhanda/The Observer</span>
Photograph: Suki Dhanda/The Observer

Linton Kwesi Johnson is best known for 1975’s Dread Beat an’ Blood, the book of poetry he later recorded as an album, setting the verse against a dub reggae backdrop and releasing it under the moniker Poet and the Roots. More albums followed, with Johnson becoming known as the “dub poet”, though he is also a prolific writer of prose, as illustrated by Time Come, a collection of essays, obituaries and speeches spanning 45 years.

Divided into sections covering music, literature, politics, places and people, the book finds Johnson variously reflecting on 1981’s New Cross fire, in south-east London, in which 13 young Black people died following a suspected racist attack at a party, the impact of Margaret Thatcher’s policies on the Black community and his love of Brixton, alongside appraisals of Wole Soyinka, Bob Marley and Lee “Scratch” Perry.

Naturally, Johnson, who is now 71, narrates; sounding more gravelly than ever, he effortlessly finds the rhythms in the writing, which is threaded with themes of racial injustice, the Black British experience and his Caribbean roots (he was born in Jamaica and moved to London to join his parents when he was 11). Among the standout essays is Jamaican Rebel Music, first published in 1976, which examines reggae as a potent social and political force, and in which he notes that “the feel of the music is the feel of [Jamaicans’] common history, the burden of their history, their suffering and their woe, their endurance and their strength, their poverty and their pain”.

• Time Come: Selected Prose by Linton Kwesi Johnson is available via Picador, 7hr 15min

Further listening

George Harrison: The Reluctant Beatle
Philip Norman, Simon & Schuster, 16hr 21min
David Holt narrates Philip Norman’s fastidious account of the life of the Beatles’ guitarist, from his beginnings in Wavertree, Liverpool, via international fame to his years as a solo artist.

Whose Body?
Dorothy L Sayers, Hodder & Stoughton, 5hr 47min
The first in Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey series, about the death of a man who is found unclothed save for a pair of gold pince-nez, is read by the actor Robert Bathurst.