Out Here On The Perimeter (Prince Far I/Creation Rebel)

Well, look at this ! I have not seen this poster since…I have never seen this poster before… but I made the gig on the 23rd of April 1979. There were only the 3 of us going to see Prince Far I when we were usually team handed for any chance of a good night out. Not only was it a Monday, the night best spent relaxing on a saline drip after a bloody good weekend & an hallucinatory first day of the working week but also the gig was in Stockport . We were in Manchester, only 7 miles distant but a long way away.

 

I was good with the small turnout, just me & 2 young women, always a good balance. S was my girlfriend…ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn’t have fallen in love with ? That’s her. J was a new friend who, at a time I needed good friends, was as solid as a rock without me ever having to ask. We were in Janet’s car for the first time. I wonder how good a driver she would be ? She, like myself, liked to get high. Hey, it probably improved her driving…probably. She had only just splashed her cash on the vehicle to make her commute to work easier. Fortuitously Janet worked in Stockport so she knew the way.

 

Image result for prince far iThis journey into the unknown was being undertaken because a chance to see Prince Far I was too good to miss. Reggae, you know it…the music that goes chang-a, chang-a, was moving on up in the late 1970s. Bob Marley & the Wailers’ popularity had opened ears to the Rastafarian inspired Roots music from Jamaica. At house/blues parties we heard Dennis Brown & Gregory Isaacs. Dillinger, Culture & Burning Spear featured in Punk DJ sets while John Peel, the national treasure of British music radio, always attracted to the outre & the surprising, played the latest Dub plates & plenty of Prince Far I. His first LP “Psalms For I” (1975) was simply that, a voice of thunder intoning sacred songs over simple, similar rhythms. “Under Heavy Manners” followed in 1977, less religion more politricks. Whether Far I’s proselytising was sacred or secular he convinced you to sit up & listen.

 

So, put yourself in Ray’s Place yeah. Trying too hard, unsubtle, and inauthentic, that’s the definition of cheesy. I’m not the guy who’ll make cracks about Stockport & sophistication but it was a faded aspirant nightclub & there was a good reason why I avoided joints like this. In Manchester we had the Apollo & the Free Trade Hall for the bigger gigs (no 20,000 seat arenas then). The Factory/Russell Club in Hulme was the perfect post-Punk hangout, rough & ready with the best music of the time right in front of you. If you just wanted a beer, a band & a night with your mates then you went to see Ed Banger & the Nosebleeds at the Band on the Wall in Swan St. OK, this was…er, different but the company was good, the bar was open until 2 a.m. & we had a “Reggae Spectacular” about to start. Happy Days !

 

 

Image result for creation rebel 1979The show, known as “Roots Encounter”, was quite special. Creation Rebel took the stage & made themselves comfortable. they were staying for the whole night. The band already had their own LP “Dub From Creation” (1978), rhythm tracks recorded in Jamaica, polished in London. The addition of drummer Lincoln “Style” Scott, through the Far I hook up, added class, Dr Pablo’s melodica made for a distinct sound. With subsequent releases Creation Rebel would find their deserved place in our collections, usually finding the turntable at around 1 a.m. after a night of smoking it up. Tonight they were the backing band, first for the toaster Prince Hammer then vocalist Bim Sherman.

 

Natty dread was taking over Ray’s Place. The hard edges were softened by rhythms that demanded that you dance. The crowd were moving together at the front of the stage & everything felt a little warmer. Adrian Sherwood was a young fan with a talent for mixing tracks & for getting things done. He was already involved with all of the acts on tonight & after a couple of false starts he formed his own label, On-U Sound. Sherwood had intriguing & experimental thoughts on production & the label soon became a hallmark of quality, its varied output of Reggae & beyond always worth investigation. Tonight was his idea of how a Reggae show should go, Creation Rebel stretching out & taking up the slack between sets, the music never stopping. A good idea it was too.

 

 

Image result for prince far iWhen the star of the show arrived onstage there was definitely a surge of energy in the place. The man had presence, his individual growl serious & impressive. He described himself as a “chanter” rather than a toaster, whatever it was it worked. Creation Rebel were dubbing it up, heavy on the bass to match the lyrics. Prince Far I trod his own path & I was reminded of another unique talent, Captain Beefheart. There can be no higher praise. I have no idea what songs he played, refreshments had been taken & I was having a time. I’ve included “Message From the King” here because I love the combination of Prince & Culture’s Joseph Hill. If you have the time & the inclination towards fine music then check the Peel Session from June 1978 which gives a better idea of what we heard on the night.

 

There’s a lot of Prince Far I’s music about. His alliance with Adrian Sherwood worked to their mutual benefits, Far I got his records released & Sherwood gained access to Jamaican artists recorded by the Prince. Between 1978 & 1981 4 chapters of “Cry Tuff Dub Encounter” were produced alongside a couple of other LPs in each year. In 1983 Prince Far I was shot & killed during a robbery at his home in Kingston Jamaica. He was a great loss to not just Reggae music & his lyrics continue to stir & inspire today. I was privileged to be able experience his live show. It was worth visiting Stockport after all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dreadlocks In Derry (Lee Perry)

I didn’t really need an excuse to return to Derry, on my two previous visits not only friends but everyone I met seemed happy to see me & to share stories. It had been 10 months since the last time so a concert by Lee “Scratch” Perry, a musical legend whose influence extends beyond his chosen field of Reggae, was a perfect focal point around which another long weekend could be planned. The gig was on March 18th & apparently, I don’t keep up with these things, the day before is St Patrick’s Day, a rather big deal to the Irish. Shoot, it was a dead stone bonker that this would be hectic…so let’s go !

 

 

Image result for lee perry“Dub Revolution Part 1”, the first track on the 3 CD “Arkology”, the ultimate collection of Scratch’s work at his Black Ark studio round the back of his house in Washington Gardens, Kingston, Jamaica. In this yard he practised nothing less than alchemy to pioneer techniques that anyone with a laptop now takes for granted & to produce music of unrivalled  imagination & quality. If ever I was exiled to a desert island & could only take one piece of music then it would be “Arkology”. Lee Perry’s rhythms demand that your hips sway, the conscious lyrics are from & for the heart & his Dub explorations hit upside your head. It’s a perfect package with sunshine in the grooves.If you could grow weed on that island then that would be nice but this music would still get you as high as that palm tree.

 

The gig in Derry was the day before Scratch’s 81st birthday so he probably wouldn’t be leaping around the stage (I know I won’t be at that age). Much of his best work was done in his producer’s booth. We were not sure what exactly we were going to get  but we would be sharing oxygen with Lee Perry, a legend, a man who’s bona fides justified the tag “genius” & that was enough. So, after Ireland’s surprise victory over England at rugby (I was the only Englishman in the packed bar. That was interesting, I thought these people were my friends!) we made our way to the Nerve Centre buoyed by an anticipatory buzz.

 

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We were not disappointed, The 4-piece band played us into the room. They were the Upsetters, not Scratch’s original house  group but as his backing band they have the right. Back in 1969 the woman lucky enough to become my wife had spent the money from her Saturday job on “The Return of Django” by the Upsetters, Perry’s first UK hit, on the day I met her. It was Love at first sight…with the record, the rest came later. Reggae gigs smell  a little differently nowadays with the ban on smoking, the star of the night entered to acclaim from the big crowd. He’s a small man, big coat, big hat. He looked happy to be there & we were happy to see him.

 

One of the things about Lee Perry’s music is that he does the simple things beautifully. Susan Cadogan’s “Hurt So Good” (1975) is perfect Pop Reggae while Max Romeo’s LP “War Ina Babylon” (1976) showed that rather than setting the controls to the heart of the Dub, powerful, passionate music just needs strong songs & a wonderful groove. Tonight we got “Chase the Devil” from that record, “Police & Thieves” came around too & man that hit the right spot. What we didn’t get was an old man trying to recreate past glories note for note & word for word. He rode the rhythm smoothly, maybe chatting whatever came to him in the moment & he never missed a beat, a rhythm rapper, comfortable on stage, showing off his bright red hair. You could hear why Lee Perry is such a great producer, he knows what is in a song & he knows how that song goes.

 

Image result for lee perryOf course Scratch was instrumental in the early career of Bob Marley & the Wailers. His set included his versions of “Punky Reggae Party”, “Crazy Baldhead” & “Sun is Shining” before closing with a driving encore of “Exodus”. Again these were echoes of the tunes we know, with only a whisper of Dub. Lee Perry is the Dub Adventurer but that is for another time. We did see the natural mystic & we heard some great Roots Reggae. I don’t get around much anymore but if there are places where there are as many smiling faces as tonight at the Nerve Centre then perhaps I should be there too.

 

 

 

OK…so much things to say. My hosts & fellow concert-goers, Joe & Gayle, don’t need a shout out (oh, I just did !) I think they know just how much I value their company. On the bus from Belfast Laura & Shirley, two Glaswegians on a mission to drink Derry dry, insisted that I be included in their fun. The following day I was able to return the favour & they squeezed into a packed Sandinos bar to join my small circle of friends in celebrating St Patrick. They fitted right in.

 

Finally Derry has lost two of its favourite sons in the past 48 hours. Martin McGuinness was radicalised by the growing demand for civil rights in his community & the violent response by armed forces employed by the British government in the late 1960s. Until January of this year he served as Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland. His struggle & his progress embodies that of the community into which he was born. Ryan McBride was born in Derry in 1989, different times. On Saturday he captained the city’s football team, the Candystripes, to victory & was found dead at his home the next day. Out here on the perimeter of my country, Derry has an individual, often troubled history. It welcomes strangers with an open hand & with respect. It keeps a special place for those of their own who make a difference because it is a special place.

Put On A Iron Shirt (Max Romeo)

In June 1969 there was something missing when the BBC announced the new UK chart on a Sunday evening. At #10 “a record by Max Romeo” was referred to then on to the next. “Wet Dream”, a song about sleeping under a leaky roof (yeah right Max) was banned by the only British music station but Reggae was not only favoured by skinheads that summer. Desmond Dekker’s “It Mek” & Max’s early example of Jamaican slackness could be heard, mixed in with the Motown, wherever young people gathered to dance. “Wet Dream”, a combination of novelty, suggestiveness & a damn good tune, sold 250,000 copies & Max Romeo became known as a very Rude Boy.

 

 

There was no successful follow-up to the hit. With producer Bunny Lee Max tried more slackness but that novelty had passed. There were ill-judged cover versions from the middle of the road  (“Puppet on a String” !) while his own songs showed a growing concern with social issues & Rastafarian culture. “Let the Power Fall on I” was adopted by Michael Manley’s People’s National Party who campaigned & won an election in 1972 with policies including equal pay, a minimum wage & free education. Max liked the sound of that & wrote a number of songs promoting the PNP. They were an extension of previous conscious lyrics like “Rent Crisis” & “Black Equality”, sweet vocals setting out simple, direct & sincere sentiments. It’s difficult to resist a tune titled “Socialism Is Love”.

 

In the early 1970s Max Romeo worked mainly with Bunny Lee, Niney the Observer & Lee Perry with one-off recordings for other Kingston producers. The songs, with versions by men like Dennis Alcapone, (“Jordan River”), I Roy & King Tubby, are clear, attractive polemics, provocative & anticipating the coming “Rasta Bandwagon”. There are some gems to be found from this period. By 1975 the LP “Revelation Time”, a consistent, original collection, was only available in Jamaica. There were at least 10 single releases in 1975 & one of them stood above the rest.

 

 

“One Step Forward” was produced by Lee “Scratch” Perry who had engineered much of “Revelation Time”.  Scratch’s reputation is as a mad, stoned Dub alchemist but for this LP, “War Ina Babylon”, Max has said there was “a one hundred percent scrupulous function” in the studio. There was a deal with Island Records, a guaranteed international release for “War….” & the Romeo/Perry partnership stepped up to the mark. This is a more refined Reggae, house band the Upsetters providing sympathetic, confident rhythms to Max’s assertive lyrics. In 1976 the possibilities of Reggae LPs were being stretched by Bob Marley’s “Rastaman Vibration” & the debut records of his brothers from the original Wailers. In his backyard Black Ark studio Lee Perry’s work with the Heptones & Junior Murvin was a benchmark for a commercial, still conscious sound. “War Ina Babylon” sits just fine with both of these strands, An essential Reggae LP.

 

 

The alliance with Perry didn’t last nor did the good relations with Island. Max took care with his publishing business, the much-sampled “Chase the Devil” from “War…” proved to be a consistent earner. However the money & promises made by producer & record label were not forthcoming. 1977’s LP “Reconstruction” was self-produced but Island’s promotional priorities were geared towards making Bob Marley an international superstar. The late UK release of “Revelation Time” also deflected attention from his new material. It’s a pity that songs as good as “Melt Away” failed to consolidate the higher profile his great record had brought him.

 

 

Max Romeo left Jamaica for work in the US, continuing to record, perform & write those good songs. In 1981 the “Holding Out My Love To You” LP, an attempt to crossover into the American market, was co-produced by Keith Richards. After the notoriety of “Wet Dream” he established himself with a series of early Rasta, direct & melodic political songs which were often too candid for Jamaican radio stations. “War Ina Babylon” is his masterpiece, still sounding great 40 years on. It’s an entry point for some seriously good Reggae music.

 

 

 

Original Channel One Rocker (Ossie Hibbert)

In 1975 the Hoo Kim brothers upgraded their Channel One studios on Mayfield Avenue, Kingston Jamaica from a 4-track operation to a big 16 tracks. They had splashed the cash on the technology & needed the talent to make their money back. They sent for Ossie Hibbert, keyboard player with the Aggrovators, house band for producer Bunny “Striker” Lee. Channel One hit the ground running with “Right Time” by the Mighty Diamonds. Sly Dunbar, their young drummer, had notions to experiment with & enhance the prevailing “flying cymbal” sound that Carlton “Santa” Davis had pioneered with the Aggrovators. The new, propulsive “Rockers” rhythm, influenced by disco, an assertive match for the militancy of Rasta lyrics, would carry the swing in Jamaican music for some time. There was a new studio house band around. The Revolutionaries made Channel One the place to be.

 

 

Ossie Hibbert learned a lot from Lee & from King Tubby, an electrical repairman who became the sonic mastermind behind Dub versions which attracted more attention than the original tracks. Ossie, as a musician, arranger, talent scout & trainee engineer, became indispensable to the studio’s operations. His first engineering job was on an instrumental version of Roy Richards’ “Freedom Train”. While he was at the controls Robbie Shakespeare, in the process of replacing Ranchie McLean as Sly Dunbar’s bass playing rhythm partner, provided the piano part. “MPLA” by the Revolutionaries became a big tune in 1976.

 

Jo Jo Hoo Kim got the production credits on these records, ownership of the means of production & all that. Musicians like Hibbert, Dunbar & Bobby Ellis, arranger & leader of a mighty horn section, were, at first, happy to have the work & to be creative. Ossie did release songs on his own labels & was involved with other producers. He was prolific enough to swap a couple of LPs with The Mighty Two (Joe Gibbs & Errol Thompson) for a car he admired. In 1977 Jo Jo’s brother Phil was shot & killed, understandably distressed he withdrew from the recording desk even leaving the island for a while. Ossie, with a seemingly limitless work ethic, stepped into the vacant producer’s seat.

 

 

Dillinger & I Roy

In that first 12 months at the new studio Jo Jo had overseen the release of the first Jamaican 12″ single. “Truly” by the Jays & Ranking Trevor is a mix of a great tune, sweet vocal harmonies, DJ lyrics & a Revolutionaries Dub version all on the same track. He also gave free range to Lester Bullock, a young DJ recording as Dillinger, to make an LP. The resulting “CB200”, smart contemporary wordplay matched to new rhythms, was the sound of the future for DJ toasters. The first wave of Roys & Youths, chatting over sound system favourites, became old school overnight. “Cocaine in my Brain” took the disco funk of “Do It Anyway You Wanna” by People’s Choice as the template for a distinctive modern sound giving the world a new way of spelling New York & Dillinger an international hit. The following year Ossie produced “Take A Dip” for the studio’s new star. It’s based on “Slave Master” by Gregory Isaacs. By the time the Revolutionaries are bubbling on their version of a version there’s a whole different thing going on & it’s a very good thing too.

 

 

Gregory Isaacs was a star in Jamaica before he came to Channel One. He recorded in all the studios with all the faces. Always his songs, often self-produced. Whether Gregory was inventing Lovers Rock or chanting down Babylon over an insistent, languid groove he did it with convincing, appealing style.”Mr Isaacs”, engineered & co-produced by Ossie, found the ideal mix of romantic & conscious lyrics. When the singer cooled it down the Revolutionaries kept it sweet. The percussive urgency of the rhythm section accented the times when things were more serious. Gregory recorded other tracks with Ossie. “Mr Know It All” became a 10 minute epic over 2 sides of a 12″ single. As much a showcase for Sly Dunbar as the singer this is state-of-the-art business, Gregory & the Revolutionaries at the top of their game. “Gregory Isaacs Meets Ronnie Davis” (1979) is a collection of tunes Ossie produced with both singers & it’s a winner. The brightness of each track is matched by rhythms that need no wheel & come again for the Dub diversion but seamlessly & logically flow into cool & deadly sonic subversion. Still one of the best Reggae LPs.

 

By the end of the 1970s the Revolutionaries were looking beyond the studio. Sly & Robbie toured with Peter Tosh then Black Uhuru while developing their own Taxi label & stable of artists. Gregory, always on top of new rhythms & with a growing eye on the international market, worked with the pair on the “Soon Forward” LP. For 1982’s “Night Nurse” there was a new generation of musicians & producers around. The Roots Radics, their rhythms for & from the Dancehall, provided the soundtrack for this sparse, less roots-based Reggae…another time.

 

Ossie produced “OK Fred”, a UK hit for Errol Dunkley. He continued his independent productions, working with too many artists to name. With the Aggrovators & the  Revolutionaries his organ shuffles & stabs played a part in the development of Reggae music. His studio expertise & his damned good taste ensured that the advanced recording techniques of Channel One captured a new sound loud & clear, retaining Reggae’s energy & innovation. That makes him a bit of a legend round our way.

You Burn Right Here And You Bounce Over There. (Black Uhuru)

The first Reggae Sunsplash in London was a hot ticket on the hottest day of the year. Selhurst Park, home of Crystal Palace F.C., seemed an unlikely venue for an all-star all day concert but a massive crowd made their way across to suburban South London & the place was rammed. The weather made a grand day out better, those assembled behaved as if they had been there before & we certainly got some fine, fine music for our £10. Dennis Brown…Wham!, Leroy Sibbles off of the Heptones…Bam! & only Prince flipping Buster…Thank You Jah! Top of the bill was Black Uhuru who, in 1984, were the hottest reggae band in the world. They looked & sounded like this…

 

 

Black Uhuru were formed in the Waterhouse district of Kingston in the early 1970s. There were personnel changes & a slow start before a first LP in 1977 the year of Bob’s “Exodus”, Culture’s “Two Sevens Clash” & Peter Tosh’s “Equal Rights”. Roots Reggae was bubbling up & breaking out. Virgin’s “The Front Line” compilation (1976) mixed up a rhythmic brew of new & established artists who were soon to be in our record collection. Uhuru’s “Love Crisis”, an early production by Prince Jammy, is a fine debut but the 3 man harmony group was a crowded field. Culture, Burning Spear, Mighty Diamonds & others were ahead of them.

 

There were more changes before 1979’s “Showcase”. Errol Nelson left the group & was replaced by Puma Jones. Her high harmonies added a difference & distinction from the usual vocal group sound. Uhuru teamed with Sly Dunbar & Robbie Shakespeare, a nonpareil rhythm section who were developing their own Taxi label & production company. More significantly Michael Rose emerged as a singer/songwriter/performer of rare ability. “Showcase” is a terrific record, I could sing you 6 of the 7 tracks but not as well as Michael Rose. A (drum &) baseline for the development of the music on succeeding LPs, the songs, including “General Penitentiary” (above), are all over 7 minutes, sliding seamlessly into dub as part of the whole rather than an added version.

 

 

Sly & Robbie had been touring with former Wailer Peter Tosh, a world-class act. They & the Taxi Gang moved over to become Black Uhuru’s band. With “Sinsemilla” (1980) & “Red” (1981) there was now major label support from Island & a song catalogue of high quality. Dunbar’s syncopation & Shakespeare’s thick bass rumble pushed reggae forward. Rub-a-dub, rockers, second generation reggae ? You takes your choice…it sounded pretty good to me. They looked good too. Michael was a natural frontman, a strong, assertive voice with a touch of a country preacher prowling the stage. Puma was the African Queen, like Lauryn with the Fugees. Mainstay Duckie Simpson, a rootsman skanking at the side, cool & deadly. The early passing of Bob Marley in 1981 left a gap that no Jamaican group could fill but for the next 4 years Black Uhuru were tearing it up internationally. I was present at the 2 concerts these clips are taken from. Man, you’ve gotta love the Y-tube.

 

The production on each LP became more electronic, Sly’s syn-drum more prominent. The strength of Michael Rose’s songs, an easy. loping rhythm, strictly Rasta roots, love & righteousness expressed directly & simply & as catchy as anything, was a constant. “Red” opened with the double whammy of “Youth of Eglington” & “Sponji Reggae”, music for the head & the hips. “Anthem” (1984) won the first Reggae Grammy, for which edition, there were mixes for the Jamaican, European & American markets, I’m not sure. Paul “Groucho” Smykle’s hi-tech remake re-models are impressively designed for the clubs but y’know, good reggae does not need whistles & bells to get people dancing. “Plastic Smile” is a song from “Showcase” & this 12″ version hits the Black Uhuru bullseye, state of the reggae art at the time, great stuff.

 

 

By 1985 Reggae was changing. Prince Jammy captured the hit of the year with Wayne Smith’s “Under Me Sleng Teng”. The new computerised rhythm was everywhere. The Sunsplash of that year starred Gregory Isaacs, enjoying big success with his sweet Lovers Rock. On the bill was Sugar Minott & Ini Kamoze, stars of the emerging Dancehall style. (Kamoze’s debut LP being produced by the prolific Sly & Robbie). Michael Rose bought a coffee farm in the country & left Black Uhuru. He released no music outside Jamaica until 1989. The group continued with Junior Reid, a successful solo artist, as replacement. “Brutal” (1986) has its moments, particularly “Great Train Robbery” produced by mixmaster Arthur Baker. In the following year Puma was diagnosed with breast cancer & was too ill to perform. (Ms Jones unfortunately died in 1990 aged just 36). Founder member Duckie kept the band going but impetus & inspiration had been lost.

Black Uhuru are still around & Michael Rose continues to perform & record. His “Too Blessed To Be Stressed” is a winner. In 2004 there were some reunion gigs. The music they made with Sly & Robbie on record & in concert looked forward while retaining the conscious Rasta spirit of roots reggae. In the early 1980s the group shone brightest of a new generation of reggae artists, intelligent, positive, celebratory, sometimes angry & always memorable. Their music brings good memories of stalks of sinsemilla, house parties when I was a dancing fool & the 3 times that I was part of an audience that they absolutely rocked.

 

 

Puma Jones (1953 – 1990)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Hold Them Marcus Hold Them (Burning Spear)

Who feels it, knows it…Indeed.

Burning Spear came to us as part of the roots reggae abundance after Bob Marley & the Wailers had trailblazed for the Rasta rhythms. Marley’s “Live !” was the gift to give or to get for Xmas 1975. Before Bob the only reggae LPs you were likely to find in your friends’ collections were some of the 8 “Tighten Up” compilations from Trojan or “1000 volts of (John) Holt” a sweet & dandy reggaefiction of the middle of the road. Island Records, with a Jamaican owner, had a head start &  some fine artists. Virgin went over there &, seemingly, signed up everyone else. . Their “Front Line” sampler, just 69p ($1.15), included classics by the likes of U Roy & Johnny Clarke. New LPs by Max Romeo (“War In A Babylon”) & Burning Spear had such a unity (inity…anyone ?) of musical confidence & lyrical commitment that you could not help but know that something interesting was happening in Jamaica.

Reggae had never been reticent about idiosyncratic expedition but Spear’s album “Marcus Garvey” had a distinctive, special  otherness. The cream of the island’s players made their way to Jack Ruby’s place at Ocho Rios, the only studio outside of Kingston. Not a journey or a note was wasted. The music had an earthiness but it was not  simple or unsophisticated it was passionate. It was double pastoral, of the pasture & the pastor. A relentless logic in the rhythms, an assertive spiritual urgency in the lyrics. The closest to Africa of these new sounds. Boy, “Marcus Garvey” was irresistible. When Winston Rodney sang “Give me what is mine” it was time to hand it over.

The LP captured our heads, hearts & hips & then, just 4 months later, “Garvey’s Ghost” was released. Dub Reggae was no “what’s it doing & what does it want ?” alien strain of music. We knew about this stuff, knew that when reggae stretched out it was about the drum & the bass. There had been dub records in the Top 10…Skanga ! In 1976 “Garvey’s Ghost” & “King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown” brought the dub from the blues party down the road  into your living room where it has remained a welcome guest. I know the record was mixed in the concrete jungle of Hammersmith, a suburb of Babylon. I know that there is dispute & divergence about who did what to the final release mixes of both “Marcus Garvey” and its dub “Ghost”. All we had was what was on the vinyl. The shadow versions sounded more than fine as a stand alone record but the reference points of the original record made this rhythmic recycling a delight. I spent too much time in need of a third hand trying to drop the needle on the record & press “play” on the cassette machine aiming for the perfect tape mix of these tunes.

This burst of Rasta reggae did get heard. The next 2 summers were soundtracked by Bob Marley’s “Rastaman Vibration” & “Exodus”. Don Letts, DJ at the Roxy club started a punky reggae party, a braid of anti-establishment, militant musics which spread around UK punk hangouts. Black American music had almost given up on the Funk, hitching its wagon to the shiny, smooth dance-yourself-dizzy Disco Train. The lovely, liquid, stoned chug of Dreadlock Reggae convergent with militant, conscious, sectarian lyrics triumphed on twin fronts, sustaining a tradition of great floor-filling tunes which were talking loud & saying something.

Burning Spear seemed to be part of  the tradition of Jamaican vocal trios. The music made by Curtis Mayfield with the Impressions, soulful, spiritual harmonies were very influential on the islands singers. Spear, Culture, the Mighty Diamonds & others were coming up to join a long distinguished list topped by the Heptones, the Wailers & the Maytals. “Marcus Garvey” & the next release “Man In The Hills” credited the harmony vocals of Delroy Hinds & Rupert Willington though it was the rich, fervent lead of Winston Rodney which made the songs distinct & impressive. Winston Rodney became Burning Spear and he still is. His next LPs featured his righteous hymns to Rastafari, direct truths concerning both joy & oppression which I would love to squeeze in here but hey, we have not got all day…soon come.

Just as listening to & appreciating the militant funk from black American musicians did not make you a Black Panther a fathoming of this music needed no homage to His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, conquring Lion of the tribe of Judah. This was never a matter of cultural tourism. If you lived in a British city at this time then you heard this music in clubs, at friends’ houses, from the open windows of passing cars. Among your friends, those children of immigrants, the first generation of Black Britons, all considered the relevance of Rasta to their experience of growing up in a racist society. My workmate Horace, who previously sported a Jackson 5 ‘fro, showed up with baby dreads one Monday…yeah man ! White guys with locks ? I spit in their general direction, follow fashion monkey losers ! Burning Spear was in the vanguard of conscious, eloquent, purposeful music which was given a fair hearing becuse those qualities, combined with cool, deadly dance rhythms are just what you need. Good (& high) times.

 

 

 

One Good Thing About Music…(Prince Fatty)

Hollie Cook is British rock & roll royalty, a punk princess who’s Dad Paul is the drummer of the Sex Pistols. Her godfather is Boy George, Mum Jeni was a backing vocalist for the Cultured Clubber. Hollie tells stories of being baby-sat by David Bowie which are true & are better stories than mine…& yours. Blimey…she was in the Slits when they reformed in 2006 for an EP (ask your folks). In 2011 she released an eponymous LP which sounded absolutely fantastic.

The record was made with Mike Pelanconi who, as Prince Fatty, is at the controls of a reggae revival here in the UK. When it comes to reggae, me, Althea & Donna a strictly roots. I think that Prince Fatty is too. Jamaican music of the 1970s has never gotten old for me. The logic & beauty of the rhythms continue to delight & enchant. from the reggaefication of pop hits to the brain-melting stoned dub of King Tubby (no relation to the Prince). “Gimme likkle bass, make me wine up me waist”, indeed.

“Hollie Cook” & the subsequent “Prince Fatty Presents Hollie Cook In Dub” recalls some tasty Studio One distillation. Her sweet voice evokes the classic female vocalists of Lovers Rock but the tunes are no slavish facsimile of  back in the day. The deal is that freshness & imagination is obligatory. There is big respect for the tradition so a cover of the Shangri-Las “Walking In The Sand” is not forced & fits right in. Studio toaster-in-residence Horseman does chat in the style of the Old Masters, Big Youth, Dillinger, the  Princes, Allah & Mohammed because y’know, that is the way it’s done. I hope that there is more to come from the Hollie/Fatty partnership because this stuff is easy on the ear &, as you can see, Hollie is easy on the eye too.

Fatty got some of the old Reggae gang back together. I’m sure that there are plenty of Jamaican veterans eager to step into a 21st century studio with a young producer who gets it & wants to do the right thing. Prince Fatty chose his team well for “Survival of the Fattest” (2007) & “Supersize” (2010). Little Roy, Winston Francis & Dennis Alcapone were all prolific in the early 70s. Roy’s “Bongo Nyah” was in the front line of Rasta lyrics while Alcapone is a big influence on those great DJs  named above. Once again there is a fresh, jump-up feel to the whole thing whether standards are being revived & invigorated or hip-hop tunes are getting the fatty treatment. This new version of Little Roy’s “Christopher Columbus”, a single in 2010, just sparkles. Seriously a Top 10 tune of this century for me.

There are more LPs from the posse Prince Fatty has assembled & here is a 10 minute clip of a radio session which will raise the lowest of spirits…guaranteed. Reggae has been part of British music for over 40 years now. My favourite music from the trip-hoppers, the electro boppers, the trance dancers all had reggae elements. It is such a good thing to hear how Fatty ignoring the jiggery-pokery, the production tricks & playing this music straight.

So…purely in the interests of research you understand…I checked for Hollie Cook’s rather attractive keyboard player. Marcia Richards is part of the Skints, school friends from up Woodford Green way & a new favourite band. Their 2012 LP “Part & Parcel” was funded through Pledgemusic & produced by our soundboy Prince Fatty. It is a pretty irresistible collection which does throw a lot of their influences at you but, with  the Prince’s trademark, it is all done properly. They just need to avoid that cheeky, cheery, modern Cockney, knees-up Lily Allen thing. The LP & the videos for the singles are worth checking. The band are gigging a lot in the near future &, I’m sure, will be tearing it up at a summer festival near you. This home made video of a 5 star version of Dennis Brown’s first hit “Lips of Wine” proves that they know what they are about. More of this please & big luck to the Skints.

I Am The Son Of The Lightning, You Cannot Move I At All. (Peter Tosh)

At around 9 p.m. on December 3rd 1978 an already groovy day was about to get go-go . A lazy Sunday afternoon with good food, good friends & similar dope (lots of Lebanese hash around in 78/79, they had a war to finance) had been a more than pleasant overture to the evening’s main event. I was dancing in the stalls of the Manchester Apollo, with my best gal by my side, grinning like a shot fox (ee-yew !). Peter Tosh, the star of the night’s show, had opened his set with the double whammy of  “400 Years” & “Stepping Razor”. A thought occurred that if the day was to end right here, right now then it had been a fine time. 30 minutes later Tosh graced us with a run of “African”, “Burial” & “Equal Rights”. The night had gone into orbit…sent to outer space to find another race. “Them want I, them want I, Com’a them funeral”…Oh yeah !


Peter Tosh, the tall one in the Wailers was also the natural musician of the trio. He taught & inspired the others to play, The man who tutored Bob Marley in the guitar. The young band of brothers’ progress from wailin’ rude boys to Rasta natural mystics was not always easy. Bob left for the USA, Bunny did a stretch at the Richmond Farm Prison but these guys were on a mission from Jah, driven to improve & succeed, the sum of their three characters being greater than the parts. Their ambition for recognition outside of Jamaica meant that deals had to be made with Babylon, the music was changed by commercial pressure not artistic progress. Bunny was the first to go, reluctant to leave Jamaica &, like Peter, who did not hang around much longer, confused just how his group had become Bob’s backing band. Man, I am lucky to have seen that “Catch A Fire” tour. That is a lot of talent on one stage.

In 1976 we were blessed with “Blackheart Man” by Bunny, Bob’s “Rastaman Vibration” & Peter’s debut LP “Legalize It”. Pick one, go on, just one. Can’t be done, no point anyway, those are 3 terrific records. Tosh’s title track is an international anthem for the international herb.While he is regarded as the most directly militant of the Trenchtown trinity this record is no polemic. Tosh often expressed his anger &  dread about colonialism & injustice but the last track he recorded with his group, “One Foundation”, is a melodic call for birds of a feather to come together. “Legalize It” collects similarly straightforward, steadfast songs. “Igziabeher” & “Ketchy Shuby” capture the sacred & profane of Jamaican life, “Brand New Second Hand” sounds like a hit record & “Why Must I Cry” is as good as this…

“Legalize It” is a conscious, infectious work of art, guaranteed to cheer. Next year’s “Equal Rights” is 8 tracks of serious, glorious business, guaranteed to stir. Peter saved his version of “Get Up Stand Up”, recorded by all three Wailers, for this set. When he picked which side he was on the man assertively & eloquently let you know the score. The band played 4 of these tracks that night, any 4 from 8 would have been the thing. This is “African”.

Peter had an  international reputation, ambitions for this muscular, tough music. His band, Word,Sound & Power, picked from the studios of Jamaica, were absolutely up to the job. Drummer Sly Dunbar & bassist Robbie Shakespeare had played with the Upsetters round at Lee Perry’s yard, Black Ark. They were with the Revolutionaries over at Channel One while over at Bunny Lee’s studio they were with the Aggrovaters. (I’m not sure how the Roots Radics coped without them). They were reggae legends before they toured with Tosh, they were ready to be heard, ready for the love they deserved. Mikey “Mao” Chung knew what a reggae rhythm guitarist did & knew how important it was to the sound…a master. Skully Simms & Sticky Thompson would have got the job because of their appreciable nicknames though they were crackerjack percussionists. I’m not the biggest fan of extended guitar solos in what is primarily a rhythmic music (I strictly Roots) but this was Reggae Rock, looking for an audience big enough to fill a stadium. Al Anderson was the lead guitarist of choice for both Peter Tosh & Bob Marley at this time.

We got to see a world class band give a world class show that night. It’s ridiculous how many accomplished musicians emerged in Jamaica at this time. Peter Tosh had 2 classic LPs, his new release, “Bush Doctor”, was on Rolling Stones Records. He strutted around the front of the stage like it was his time, like the star he was. Man, he was nobody’s sideman but we knew this anyway. I’ve been to some memorable reggae concerts which turned into outstanding parties but seeing these artists at the top of their game could not be better. We stepped out into the night & the world seemed a better place.

You saw the same people at these Manchester reggae gigs. That very young kid with the stoned, supercilious smile & the ginger dreadlocks always seemed to be a bit of a prick. I guess we owe the world an apology because he grew up to be the lead singer of Simply Red & we did nothing to stop that terrible Hucknall happening…sorry.

Skinhead A Message To You

A friend of mine, a man whose support & encouragement for this blog still surprises me & makes me smile, is not in the best of health. He put a cross in the “no publicity” box a long time ago so  no names, no pack drill, no fuss. I’m sure that he is receiving love & affection from his family along with the best of care from the professionals. I hope that these tunes can pass a smile back & can provide some diversion at a worrying time.

OK Jimmy Cliff has put on his best shirt, his tightest pants & his dancing shoes (white Chelsea boots…mod as f…). He’s doing his very best to sell his 45 “Give & Take”, a record which sounded great on the radio in 1967. Over in Jamaica Jimmy was recording his debut LP with Leslie Kong. The record included “Many Rivers To Cross” & other classic tunes. Kong, with his work for Desmond Dekker, the Maytals & Jimmy, was making Jamaican music which had appeal outside of the island. Chris Blackwell at Island Records was less confident about the indigenous music & opted for a more soul tinge to the tunes. With an arrangement by jazzer Les Condon & a production from whizz kid Jimmy Miller this Motown influenced stomper was a near hit. Jimmy could have done no more to help it along. This is a great, energetic performance.

In 1969 Jimmy had a worldwide hit with a reggae song. His leading role in “The Harder They Come” confirmed him as an international star & a man of substance. 40 years later we see no reason to change our minds about that.

If you would like to see the lovely Susan Cadogan perform her 1975 Top 5 hit then click here. This footage from, I guess around 1970, is just too good to miss. Locating it in place is more difficult. Your heart says it should be the East End of London where the working class “hard mods” became skinheads partly as an anti-hippy reaction. Closer inspection shows Birmingham city centre & there’s a shout that the club could be in Manchester. Everyone wants to claim it because this clip is the real deal, the most authentic portrayal of Britain as it was I have ever seen. When I first went out to dance there were not as many black faces around my town but the kids, the styles, the moves were exactly like this. I’ll make no assertions about racial harmony or sweetness & light. Those sweet, smiling skinhead sprogs who I fought alongside on the terraces on Saturday afternoon would be chasing me down the High St later that night. Little Fuckers !

Lee Perry, a prodigious talent, has a deserved reputation as a sonic master. His studio experiments have been a benchmark in Dub for so long. Like many great musicians, say Miles Davis or Captain Beefheart, he has an understanding & a facility with the basics of the music which he stretches. This reggaefication  of a Millie Jackson tune is as sweet as reggae gets & is perfect pop. Susan signed to a UK label after this hit. She did not really repeat her success. It would have been more interesting if she had stuck with Scratch at Black Ark studio.

Time to drop by King Tubby’s studio where Prince Jammy is supervising Delroy Wilson re-recording his ska hit “I’m In A Dancing Mood”. Don’t you just love the Interwebs ? Delroy started early & made some memorable records, especially his version of “Better Must Come”. Unfortunately Delroy died prematurely in 1995 when he was just 46 years old. All I have to say about this clip is that this is Proper Music !

Ok, I hope my friend enjoys these carefully picked sights & sounds. I guess that his beloved football team can do their bit to raise his spirits with a good win in the Champions league tonight. Whatever the result & the way this illness goes…stay strong & remember  “the man laugh first, him nuh laugh yet the man laugh las’, get it full…..”