The UK has been enjoying a week of the loveliest Summer weather. It has been such a long time coming that the usual sorrowful suspects around here are holding back on their “It’s too darn hot” schtick. Of course there are those who view a heatwave as something to be “suffered”. They welcome the Level 3 alert from the Met Office & pore over the ridiculous “hours of sunshine v. the number of dead” graphs. These people are experts on climate change, they own a DVD of “The Day After Tomorrow”. You think this is hot you should have been at the 1st London Reggae Sunsplash. In July 1984, at Selhurst Park, it was so hot that the Holmesdale Rd started to melt. Inside the football ground it was rammed but there were people still outside because they were stuck to the middle of the bloody street !
I lost my posse pretty much first thing. Don’t blame it on I (or I), someone delayed me & they were gone into the big crowd. I headed in their, hopefully, general direction but just 20 yards up the trail I met up with Mary, Dee & their children. Now they had a day’s supply of jerk chicken, dumpling, patties, rice & peas. They also had a big bag of weed which suggested they they were out for a week. I stopped looking for my friends after that, I was with other friends. Praise Jah & pass the King-size Rizla from the left hand side. It a go done.
The Sunsplash was an impressive line-up. Black Uhuru, with Sly & Robbie’s Word, Sound & Power, were the #1 reggae act in the world, there was no bigger solo singer than Dennis Brown. The show though was almost stolen by a tea-time tear up from Leroy Sibbles, a performer who had passed me by before then. The hits kept on coming from Leroy & the thought kept occurring to me “Wow ! So he’s the guy who did this one.” I do love those Y-tube clips of shows that I attended & this shows a consummate singer, entertainer & performer yet still does not touch the full range of a proper Jamaican music legend.
The Heptones were a force in Jamaica when the often frantic ska rhythm calmed a little & became Rock Steady. In the late 60s & early 70s there was a string of hits written by Leroy Sibbles & produced down at Coxone Dodd’s Brentford Rd Studio One. The close harmony trio, Leroy, Barry Llewellyn & Earl Morgan were not as soulful tough as the Wailers or the Maytals. The Uniques or the Techniques could be sweeter, but when the lovely loping logic of the music hit the spot they produced music such as “Book Of Rules”, sung by Llewellyn & one of the greatest 45s ever released.
There, I told you. The Heptones did not seem to be too well known in the UK. Other trios like the Pioneers & the Paragons made more of an impression but there was a reason why the Heptones stayed in Jamaica. Studio One was Hitsville JA in the late 1960s. Coxone Dodd was Berry Gordy, house band the Soul Vendors were the Funk Brothers & on bass guitar was Leroy Sibbles, Kingston’s answer to Detroit’s James Jamerson. Leroy wrote, arranged & played on so much great music. There are classic basslines but if you listen to a Studio One rock steady record then Leroy Sibbles probably had a hand in it.
Sibbles & the Heptones left the label in the 1970s, “Book Of Rules” is a Harry J production as is a fine LP “Cool Rasta” (1976). Leroy had moved to Canada but there was money around in Jamaica when Chris Blackwell & others came calling. The group signed with Island, re-recorded some old tunes & then went down to Lee Perry’s Black Ark studio to make an LP which could rank alongside the alchemist’s contemporary concoctions with Max Romeo & Junior Murvin.
“Party Time” (1977) is an injudicious title for the LP. Reggae was now roots, rastafarian & radical. There were new vocal trios, Culture, Burning Spear, the Mighty Diamonds who were following the trail of the Heptones but were bang on message with this musical militancy. The Heptones were at their best when the lyrics were thoughtful & positive. They had reflected the changes in the decade. “Party Time” had songs of menace & portent, there was a great cover of Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released”,”Sufferer’s Time” is an anthem for the oppressed. Boy, “Party Time” is a lovely record but on this new Windrush you really did need dreadlocks to get noticed. The Heptones were regarded as being from back then, Leroy went back to Canada & though the band continued, it weren’t really the band without him.
Leroy Sibbles made some solo records & toured a show as good as the one I was lucky enough to see. He got the band back together & the Heptones tour the world as it wheels & comes again. I missed the band the first time around but, as reggae began to embrace slackness & the syn-drum, I started to look back instead of forward. I have enjoyed discovering the music of the likes of Bob Andy, Slim Smith & others . Leroy Sibbles has been described as”the greatest all-round talent in reggae history”. G’wan…have another one.