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.