Some Of That Old Moonstomping (Reggae November 1969)

This year I have enjoyed looking back 50 years to both the Soul music from the US & the, as we called it at the time, “Progressive” sounds coming out of the UK in 1969. Of course there was still plenty of popular, more straightforward Pop around. In November, “Sugar Sugar”, the made-to-measure bubblegum of cartoon group the Archies had been the UK #1 for like forever (it was actually 8 weeks but seemed longer) while “Call Me Number One” by the Tremeloes was close behind. More significantly lower down the UK Top 10 for 23rd of November were three records from Jamaica, the first time this had happened. In 1969 Reggae was a thing so Pop Pickers, at #8, down from #5, is one that when it hits you feel no pain .

 

 

Image result for return of django"There was this girl I saw around college (not a US college, a UK place for 16-18 year olds). Friends would notice the pretty blonde she was usually with but, purely on first impressions, I was attracted to the tall, skinny one with long straight hair. She had a Saturday job on the local town market & I would make a point of passing her stall. There was no more than an “Hi, how are you doing?” acknowledgement, hardly a “stop & chat”. I was 16 & hadn’t quite got this talking to women thing down yet. Then, during another such brief encounter it started to snow & as my army surplus olive green combat jacket (oh yes!) had no hood I was invited to take shelter under the stall’s canopy. She was friendly, funny & I hope that I was too. She had a ready smile & I had a goofy fixed grin. The clincher was that she had spent a portion of that day’s wages on “Return of Django” by the Upsetters, the infectious, cool sound of Kingston that was filling UK dance floors & had broken into the national chart. This girl had got good taste. When I left the market an hour later I was smitten & resolved to ask her out. Unbelievably I did just that, more improbably she said yes &, to cut a long story short, 5 years later we knew a lot more about Reggae & were about to be married.

 

The Western movies were always big in Jamaica & it showed in the titles of Ska tunes like “Tall in the Saddle” & “Vera Cruz”. The new Spaghetti Westerns caused an even bigger fuss & groups like the Upsetters were inspired to check for cowboy heroes in the titles of their instrumentals. “Return of Django”, coupled with “Dollar in the Teeth”, Val Bennett’s saxophone leading over an eager drum & bass rhythm was Rock Steady on the cusp of becoming Reggae & the first international hit for the now legendary producer Lee “Scratch” Perry. Perry’s inventive, intuitive sonic experiments, influential far beyond Jamaica, were in the future. The two LP’s he made at this time with the Upsetters (same name, different line ups) display his ability to craft a more simple song & give a hint of what was to come.

 

 

Image result for skinhead girls 1969"It was the Skinheads what done it. A retort to the changing styles of dedicated followers of Mod fashion the cropped hair, boots & braces look appealed to the predominantly working class hard Mods of London. Along with the new dress code Ska music from Jamaica, heard in local clubs & at parties, was embraced. In the late 60’s British youth liked a fight at the football on a Saturday afternoon. The visibility of Skinheads in this violence encouraged the fashion & led to a new moral panic in the media. The same model citizens who had spent the past five years moaning about long-haired youths were now complaining that hair was too short. There’s no pleasing some people! There were enough Skins to put their favourite records into the lower reaches of the chart & so catch the attention of the single national music radio station. Long hair, short hair, what the hell do we care? It’s a credit to UK youth, dancing fools all, that this music, new to many of them, sold in such large quantities.

 

Image result for harry j the liquidator"The Upsetters’ Winston Wright’s swirling then stabbing Hammond organ is the featured instrument on “The Liquidator” by the Harry J All Stars, fast rising from #17 to #9. Harry Johnson was a successful Jamaican producer, his All Stars, the new session band in town, the Hippy Boys, included the Barrett siblings Aston (bass) & Carlton (drums) later to become the rhythm section for the Wailers. The song was quickly adopted as an anthem by football fans, played as the teams ran out at Chelsea, Wolves, West Bromwich Albion & others. Harry hit big again the following year with “Young, Gifted & Black”, a duet by Bob Andy & Marcia Griffith. With the proceeds from the two hits he built a state-of-the-art studio in Kingston where Bob Marley & his group recorded four LP’s, a major contribution to Reggae going truly international.

 

 

The third hit of the times, at #7, was the upfull “Wonderful World Beautiful People” by Jimmy Cliff. Jimmy had returned to Jamaica after a debut LP recorded in the UK had not been successful. With his original mentor, Leslie Kong, at the controls a self-titled LP included “Many Rivers To Cross” & the anti-war “Vietnam”. There should have been more hits for the singer but his time would come with a starring role as Ivan in the film “The Harder They Come” (1972). Meanwhile Leslie Kong, “The Chinaman”, was enjoying his greatest success.

Image result for desmond dekker it miek 1969"Desmond Dekker was pivotal in the advancement of Jamaican music to a wider audience in the UK. In 1967 “007 (Shanty Town)”, with support from the pirate radio stations, reached the UK Top 20. It may have been something of a novelty hit but DD’s name was in the frame & in April 1969 “Israelites” (you know it, everybody does) was at #1 & broke into the US Top 10. The record’s massive sales & extensive international success opened up new possibilities for the vibrant Jamaican music scene. The equally lively follow up “It Miek”, like the others produced by Leslie Kong, entered the Top 10 later that summer. It was 30 years later that I saw Desmond Dekker perform when he topped a bill of mostly tribute acts. His energetic, joyous performance of his greatest hits (there were more) was perfect for a sunny afternoon in the park.

 

Image result for trojan records 1969"All of this would not have been possible without the founding of Trojan Records in 1968 by Island label boss Chris Blackwell & his partner Lee Gopthal, both champions of Jamaican music, both expert in the release & distribution of records for the Afro-Caribbean community. Initially they had the shops where Reggae could be bought & when the explosion of interest came they had the infrastructure to ensure that these discs were available on the high streets of every town & city. In late 1969 the British group Symarip released the popular “Skinhead Moonstomp” & followed that with an album full of similar titles. At that time there were probably three Skins in my small town (when there were more I had no trouble, I went to school & yeah, fought on the terraces with the top boys). When I went out with my new friend the Soul was not yet “Northern” & the Reggae soon to be but not yet “Skinhead”. It was all just the best music in the world to dance the weekend away.

 

A shout to the records not mentioned here that were DJ staples & crowd favourites back then. “Long Shot Kick the Bucket” (the Pioneers), the salacious & banned “Wet Dream” (Max Romeo) were hits & the 1967 almost hit “Train to Skaville (the Ethiopians) were all that & all there. We’ll get on to Laurel Aitken & Derrick Morgan some other time.

Reggae’s Other Bob (Bob Andy)

On the UK music scene in the late 1960s & early 1970s there was always room for the reggae song of the day to crossover from the mod or skinhead dance scene on to the main charts. I can remember the pirate radio stations playing Desmond Dekker’s rude boy anthem “007 (Shanty Town)” in 1967, the first Jamaican produced record to hit the UK Top 20. I could slice it & dice it, tell you about where this music came from, how it influenced the songs that came later but it will sound no better. The ka-chink, reverse R&B, of the ska guitar, the sweet vocals about street life JA style had a irresistible otherness back then & still has it now. “Dem a loot, dem a shoot, dem a wail”

 

“007 (Shanty Town)” was recorded at Leslie Kong’s ice cream parlour/record store/studio. The combo chased a follow up & in April 1969 “The Israelites” was #1 in Britain, sandwiched by Marvin’s “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” & the Fabs’ “Get Back”…heavy hitters. There was just the single UK pop music station now. If a record got on to the daytime playlist it inevitably shifted units. In 1970 this lovely record was “wonderful” (Ha !) Radio 1’s reggae song of choice.

The great Nina Simone & her bandleader Weldon Irvine wrote “Young, Gifted & Black” as a beautiful tribute to her playwright/activist friend Lorraine Hansbury who had died from cancer in 1965 at just 34 years of age. Her own haunting version, recorded in 1970, more than hit the spot. In 1968/69 Ms Simone scored 3 Top 10 hits in the UK but this song, so appropriate an articulation of African-American pride & hope, made no impression over here. In Jamaica pop hits were often reggaefied for the local market. Producer Harry J, known in the UK for his hit “The Liquidator” paired 2 young successful solo singers, Bob Andy & Marcia Griffiths, for a duet of the song which became an instant pop reggae classic.

Well, look at Marcia here, Miss Jamaica ? Miss World I think. Just 20 years old & on her way to becoming “The Queen of Reggae” after her 1968 triumph “Feel Like Jumping”. “Young, Gifted & Black”, an upful slice of affirmative action, went international before Marcia joined the majestic I-Threes, backing singers for Bob Marley & the Wailers. There’s a black & white Y-tube clip of Bob & Marcia in afro-chic dashiki finery where they look so great while the audio is a cut-price cover recorded by Elton John when he was still Reg Dwight…what the…!!

Bob Andy was an established star in Jamaica too. After “I’ve Got To Go Back Home” in 1966 there was a string of songs for Coxsone Dodd at Studio One. In 1970 the collection “The Bob Andy Songbook” was released. If Bob & Marcia were Jamaica’s Marvin Gaye & Diana Ross then this record is reggae’s “What’s Goin’ On”. Of the 12 songs 11 are written by Bob. This was his thing. He was writing cool tunes with simple, heartfelt, direct lyrics long before “conscious” reggae was a thing. I listen to Bob Andy’s songs & I am impressed by what he knows.

“My Time”, oh boy…world class. I was given the opportunity to add something to my by-line for all of my posts. It could have been a smart-arse non-sequiter or a Vonnegution “everything means nothing” epigram. I must have been in a considerate mood that day. “I need nothing to be a man because I was born a man and I deserve the right to live like any other man”…Serious, I have no more to say about this emotional declaration of rights

In 1978 Bob stepped away from music to develop his acting career. This seems like bad timing as a confederacy of roots reggae musicians swarmed through the door opened by Bob Marley on to an international market. We loved this dreadlocked diapason, it seemed so shiny & new. Ska & Rock Steady would always have a place in our hearts but around this time we were dancing to the rhythm of the drum & the bassline. Bob Andy was from those old times…I know crazy. The 1978 LP “Love & I” passed me by just as this candid classic from 1973 , “You Don’t Know” had.. In the UK at that time  the sweetness of Ken Boothe & John Holt was breaking through. Maybe Bob Andy was before the times, a little too roots for daytime radio.

 

 

When he returned to music Bob worked for Tuff Gong, the company founded by Marley while starting his own label I-Anka. His own experience of sharp practice spurred him to champion higher standards in Jamaican music & business. Through Andisongs, his publishing company, he put things right when others claimed to have written his tunes. Over at www.bobandy.com a list of his songs show how significant his contribution to reggae has been. with master organist Jackie Mittoo he wrote “Feel Like Jumping” for Marcia. Their sweet duet “Really Together” is one of his. I did not know that he was the originator of one of my all-time reggae favourites. Bob Andy is still around, still an ambassador of Jamaican music, a silver haired Dreadlock. “Truly”, a  1977 Channel One triumph by the Jays & Ranking Trevor is a joyful mix of vocal harmony, confident toasting & a cool song. Perfect for a Summer’s day.