Category Archives: reggae

Jah Shaka Presents Dub Masters Volume 1 by Various Artists (Island Records)

EVERYONE seems to regard the Eighties as a very fragmented decade, where the nation’s youth were divided up into a series of distinct tribes – football fans, indie kids, skins, punks, skaters, whatever – with, the odd bit of casual ultra-violence aside, very little interaction between each. That wasn’t really the case.

We were coming to the end of the time when you had to be ‘something’. Or maybe it was just me feeling like that, having finally reached some kind of level of maturity.

I don’t think I ever self identified as ‘a raver’, in the same way I never really thought of myself as ‘a punk’, as such. I just used to like wearing stupid clothes, having a bad haircut and listening to poorly produced music on a cheap record player. And, at least as far as the people I hung about with were concerned, everyone seemed to be into everything.

Either way, whatever the fuck you call the kind of people who listened to the Fall, the Buttholes, Sonic Youth and Big Black in 1989, I was one of them. Ditto Public Enemy, KRS-1, the Cabs, Renegade Soundwave and the Shamen. And the Stone Roses and the Mondays. And Ofra Haza. And On-U Sound – Tackhead, Dub Syndicate – and lots more dub.

Meanwhile, the musical landscape of Britain was shifting and, just like everyone else, I was getting more and more into house music.

I was all about the music. You may have noticed.

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Signing Off by UB40 (Graduate Records)

I WAS on a school trip to see The Mousetrap in the West End the same week that UB40 released their debut album, so I nipped into Soho to buy it before we went to the theatre.

And yes, a year after my not-so-life-changing Florida holiday romance, with the level of my attractiveness to the ladies being in direct inverse proportion to the level of my desperation, I may have had a mooch round the sleazier side of the area too.

Visits to the big, bad city were few and far between in my early teens so I always tried to make the most of them when I could.

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Magic Reggae by Various Artists (K-Tel International)

THIS is where it starts getting tricky. It’s getting on for three decades ago since I first heard this album, so you’re just going to have to bear with me if it all gets a bit sketchy.

Magic Reggae, a collection of music by Island, Creole, Trojan, Gull, WEA and Lightning Records artists put together by the TV advertised compilation behemoth K-Tel, has got ‘hastily purchased birthday present from Auntie Denise’ written all over it.

Well, it hasn’t. This particular copy of Magic Reggae actually has a green and white sticker saying “3.50, exclusive of VAT” on the back.

But it’s precisely the kind of thing my young, clued-up aunt would have bought me for my birthday. You can see her logic: “Our expletiveundeleted likes reggae, that album has got reggae in the title – job done. Now then, where’s the Tia Maria?”

Having said all that, I could easily have bought Magic Reggae myself. I was as happy with compilation albums as I was with the original releases – and unfortunately not many 10-inch dub plates made it from JA to Scunthorpe, so low-cost samplers and compilations came in handy.

Historically, in 1980, the full extent of Thatcher’s psychotic megalomania had yet to become apparent. The exhilarating, inspiring, inclusive 2Tone phenomenom was at its height.

The year before, I’d somehow had a holiday romance with beautiful, sweet, sultry Lynne from Jacksonville, FL who gently showed me the delights of physical love on a moonlit white-sand beach (it was all very From Here To Eternity), but when I got back to the UK I was utterly dismayed to find that I wasn’t the cute, exotic English kid anymore. As far as everyone else was concerned I was the same old speccy, dorky spaz as ever, totally into Star Wars, reggae, comics and skateboarding, totally uncool – and totally unshaggable.

Doing it once and then not doing it again for about two years was probably even harder than not doing it at all. Not a lot I could do about it though. Obviously, I tried. Without any success. Whatsoever.

This was my frustrated, alienated, love-lorn mindset in the summer of 1980.

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LKJ In Dub by Linton Kwesi Johnson (Island Records)

I HAVE a vague recollection of buying LKJ In Dub with Christmas gift vouchers from the exotic and exciting Record Village in town. I think it had been out for a while, but it was probably one of the first dub albums I ever owned – as opposed to having my enlightened uncle’s copy on extended loan.

No doubt, I would have run home from the bus stop and disappeared up to my freezing bedroom in the attic where I could play my booming reggae, shouty ska and shoutier punk rock well out of the way of the rest of the family. I’d crank up the music and listen to it perched on a storage heater which was hot enough to properly burn my arse but, irritatingly, not actually hot enough to properly heat the bloody room itself.

There’s room here for a big, tortuous metaphor tying in the wintry, discomforting atmosphere of the country at the time with the sub-zero temperatures of my bedroom but, amusingly enough, I’ve got a stinking headcold and I just can’t be arsed. It’d be a bit shit anyway.

I think I’d heard my uncle playing Linton Kwesi Johnson’s Dread Beat An’ Blood, Bass Culture and Forces Of Victory albums and was impressed as much by the throbbing backing music as the rich, exotic timbre of Johnson’s voice. My interest was heightened by a BBC documentary about LKJ which was made by Franco Rosso, who immediately went onto to direct the seminal Brit-reggae flick Babylon.

Johnson’s family came to Britain from Jamaica when he was 11 years old and settled in south London. Inspired by conscious black writers such as Marcus Garvey and WEB Du Bois, Johnson joined the Black Panther party while he was still at school and later became a committed Marxist. Simultaneously, he developed his poetic voice with the Rasta Love group of poets and drummers and in 1977 was awarded a C Day Lewis fellowship and became writer-in-residence for the London borough of Lambeth.

Johnson’s verse came from a Caribbean oral tradition. He spoke in the rich, sing-song cadences of Jamaica without apology or explanation and while his live performances gave his work a powerful authority and physicality, crucially it lost none of its vitality on the page.

He was working as a reporter for the BBC World Service when he interviewed the one band who could survive a Sunday evening Gong Show-style contest at the Four Aces Club in Hackney. The band was one of the first reggae bands to come out of the UK, Matumbi, and their bass player was Dennis Bovell.

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Good Thing Going by Sugar Minott (RCA)

IN MANY ways, being able to get into the football club discos and pigeon fanciers dinner-dances which were held at the village community hall was merely a fringe-benefit of getting served in the White Lion.

I must’ve been about 14 when me and Sally from down the road – blonde, blue-eyed, beautiful, blessed at an early age with a mesmerising, gravity-defying bosom, and utterly oblivious to my hopeless, clod-hopping adoration – summoned up all the courage we could muster, took off our school ties and went into the White Lion to buy advance tickets for some do at the community hall one dinnertime.

It was obvious that Sandra behind the bar would’ve been as happy to sell us booze as she was tickets. We had to get back to school but I promised myself I’d return to try my luck the following weekend.

Unfortunately, getting the tickets for the do didn’t really get me any further with the hypnotically unattainable Sally, although it did teach me a couple of lessons which would prove to be invaluable in later life – when it comes to illicit fun after dark, you have to brazen it out and look the part, even if you’re not. And while girls are often quite impressed if you can get them into night clubs, they’re not that impressed.

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Commandments of Dub, Chapter 8: Imperial Dub by Jah Shaka (Jah Shaka Music)

I WORKED the counter of Record Village in sunny Scunthorpe for a while, and as well as hoovering up, making brews and surreptitiously pressuring kids into buying my fanzine, I also ordered indie records from Red Rhino distribution in York. I was only hired in the first place because I was buying all that stuff anyway, as a punter, and geeky enough to fit the bill.

Naturally enough, I blew a hefty chunk of my meagre wage on records. I was a kid in a sweet shop. Daft as a brush. More money than sense – and I never seemed to have any money. But I had a fantastic record collection.

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Babylon Original Soundtrack by Various Artists (EMI)

IT WAS Barry Norman, smug doyen of the comfy press junket and arch purveyor of bitter, misanthropic and slightly rightwing movie reviews, who first brought Babylon to my attention – though I’ve no recollection what drivel the miserable old sod spouted about Franco Rosso’s gritty tale of disaffected Sarf London youth when he reviewed the film on Film 80.

I was more than likely on the lookout for some idiotic new sci-fi movie but in the end it was the clip which accompanied Norman’s no-doubt nonsensical views on Babylon which transported me to another world entirely; a world every bit as strange, exotic and alien as Altair, Vulcan or Tattooine – and it seemed, as a chubby, unfashionable 14-year-old with a bad haircut, sitting in the familial living room in a Dark Ages village miles from anywhere, one I would be as likely to ever visit.

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