Pioneers: Why we had to go pop

Hello everyone!

It’s been a while since the last post but we’re back again and we’re here to stay.

Today we’re going to share an article written by the great Carl Gayle back in 1974. It was part of a Reggae Special which also talked about artists like Dandy Livingstone, Nicky Thomas and The Maytals. Some interesting facts and stories, if you are a Pioneers’ fan like us, you will love it!

The Pioneers: Why we had to go pop

Back in 1968 two horses, Combat and Long Shot, died in a race at Caymanas Park race course in Jamaica. Long Shot had become a household name through the success of a song about him by The Pioneers. And although Long Shot’s dead was particularly saddening for the group, it was also a significant point to their fortunes.

In 1969 ‘Long Shot Kick The Bucket’ went into the top ten in the British charts. We in the West Indian circles were already very familiar with the group, and we had known this particular record months before it had hit the charts. Local DJs and other enthusiasts used to exchange £5 and over for a pre-release copy of LSKTB because it was so different from anything else on the reggae scene at the time. Its rigorous, aggressive dance rhythm and simple chorus made it an instant disco tune.

The Pioneers

‘Bucket’ was obviously a distinctly new, harder type of reggae sound, a new direction and it was a moving song too. The lyrics reflected it: “What a weeping and a wailing down at Caymanas Park.” And the vocals seemed to imply that the singers were also very emotionally involved: “Combat dead, Long Shot dead / All me money gone a hell!”. Later ‘Long Shot Kick The Bucket’ became another skinhead ‘anthem’ just as Desmond Dekker’s ‘Israelites’ had been, and so the press, radio and TV caught on to what was happening. The Pioneers – Sydney Crooks, George Dekker and Jackie Robinson – had arrived.

The original 1962 band – The Pioneers – was made up of Sydney Crooks, Glen Adams and Derrick Crooks (the former’s brother) who was the first to leave the group. Then Glen Adams quit to join The Upsetters on piano. In 1966 Sydney who had been recording on his own, met Jackie Robinson. Sydney: “I was doing a session with producer Joel Gibson and I saw Jackie and another guy outside trying to get a recording deal. I asked them to help me with some harmony singing. Then I asked Jackie if he would like to be my partner and he took the chance, maybe because I had a little popularity then.”

The song that Jackie helped Sydney on was called ‘Gimme Little Loving’ and it went to number three in the JA charts. The record, issued on Joel Gibson’s Amalgamated label in 1968 was a great favourite among West Indian immigrants. So was the next JA hit ‘Long Shot’ (the first one about the race horse) which was recorded at Dynamic studios (at the time West Indian studios) with Lynn Taitt and The Jets who appeared on many of The Pioneers’ early records, and who themselves became very popular with their record ‘El Casino Royale’ in discos and house parties in England.

Give me little loving

Jackie: “Guys used to come around complaining about losing on race horses so we thought we would make a record about ‘Long Shot.” The song made the horse out to be a no hoper, the gambler put all his money on Long Shot “But he couldn’t bust the tape.” So flat broke he ends up wondering “How me a go home tonight?”

Sydney: “We got the melody first and we put down the backing track straight away, then added vocals later. We recorded ‘Long Shot’ and another song ‘Jackpot’ at the same session using more or less the same backing track and both of them were in the charts at the same time.”

LongShot

Not all of their records were hits but songs like “Shake it up” and “Good Nanny”were very down to earth and this endeared The Pioneers to everyone, especially the younger fans. Sydney and Jackie truly were pioneers even though they were obviously influenced by the more dynamic vocal groups like The Maytals or The Heptones. But maybe their popularity was due to the fact that they were a very young group and were closest to current musical tastes. Certainly, their next two hits ‘Tickle Me’ and ‘Catch The Beat’ were very much for younger fans especially the latter which introduced a new dance by way of its very unusual repetitive rhythm.

When Sydney and Jackie met George Dekker he was going around with a tune called “Nana” and they really liked it. George had previously had a hit ‘Keep The Pressure On’ with a guy called Winston (Winston and George) and he was invited to become the third member of the group. The Pioneers recorded ‘Nana’ with their own money and put it out under the name of The Slickers. Sydney: “We already  had ‘Catch The Beat’ out and we didn’t want it to clash with ‘Nana’. ‘Nana’ was a big hit but we didn’t make any money from it.”

The Pioneers’ producer Joel Gibson apparently decided that George was getting too big for his boots when he found out. So he sacked George. Jackie: “I didn’t get the sack but I wanted to stay with Sydney. At the same time George fell out with the people at Beverly’s (Leslie Kong) but he had another tune in his head called ‘Easy Come Easy Go’. Everybody wanted that song but in the end we recorded it with Leslie Kong and we went to number one. George: “Leslie Kong had wanted to sign just Sydney and Jackie as The Pioneers, he wanted me to sign a solo contract. But we all decided that it would have to be the three of us or none at all.”

Easy come Easy go

The next two records ‘Pee Pee Cluck Cluck’ and ‘Blackbird’ were misses then came ‘Long Shot Kick The Bucket’ which surprisingly did not reach number one in Jamaica although it had a great impact on the scene. Jackie: “One day my father was reading the newspaper and he said: ‘Hey look, your horse ‘Long Shot’ and another horse was killed in a race.’ So I went straight away to a shop where we had a piano in the back and the others were there. I told them the bad news and we sat down and worked out the tune. The record says produced by Leslie Kong but at that time he was in England with Desmond Dekker. The musicians thought what we were asking them to play was impossible so the song nearly didn’t get recorded. They’re the same set of musicians that Jimmy Cliff and a lot of other people use now.”

From 1968 to 1969 The Pioneers were along with The Maytals the two most popular groups in Jamaica. ‘Mamma Look Deh’ was another big record for The Pioneers in 1968. It didn’t get the coverage that ‘Bucket later received but The Maytals  borrowed that record’s rhythm for their 1969 hit ‘Monkey Man’. Whenever anyone wanted to put on a show The Pioneers were called up whether it was at a club, school ball or cinema. They did nine shows with Joe Simon when he went to Jamaica and of course they stole all the shows. They did a series of shows with Byron Lee and The Dragonaires – ‘Reggae Blast Off’ – all around the Island and sang with many other top instrumentalist bands including The Vikings, Tomorrow’s Children and Tommy McCook and The Supersonics.

Mama look deh

In 1969 ‘Samfie Man’ was a number one for The Pioneers on JBC Radio and number two on RJR. And they were voted the fourth most popular Jamaican band by Swing magazine. They appeared on TV and radio and were press favourites yet with their song ‘Boss Festival’ they only managed to finish the fourth to The Maytals who won the 1969 Jamaican Song Festival with ‘Sweet and Dandy’. 1969 was also the year The Pioneers came to England.

Jackie: “Tony Cousins from Commercial Entertainments, came to JA and saw us when we were doing those shows with Joe Simon. He told us that there were no black groups like us in England and he offered us a tour because ‘Long Shot Kick The Bucket’ was selling so well in England. The tour was supposed to last six weeks but we’re still here.”

Sydney: “We went to Egypt and The Lebanon in 1970 and when we came back in May ’71 we did ‘Let Your Yeah Be Yeah’ which was written by Jimmy Cliff and co-produced with us. It sold over twenty thousand in one week but it only moved from No. 6 to No. 5. Even the people on ‘Top Of The Pops’ said it would be the next number one when we did the show.” Jackie: “It was one of the most popular songs of ’71, I got tired of hearing it everywhere I went. It was No. 1 on Radio Luxembourg.”

The change in style from an authentic JA sound to a pop-reggae format which Jimmy Cliff had earlier brought about with ‘You Can Get It If You Really Want’ for Desmond Dekker happened to The Pioneers too. And just as Dekker had lost a little respect and much popularity among ethnic W. Indian music fans, so did The Pioneers.

George: “We understand the reason for criticism but if we hadn’t changed our musical style when we did, The Pioneers would be a has been, we would have been finished. When we did ‘Let Your Yeah Be Yeah’ it was the kind of reggae that the kids wanted to hear, the more sophisticated type.” Sydney: “And if you want them to stay with you, you have to stay with them. You have to change.” Jackie: “Most West Indians might ask ‘What has happened to The Pioneers?’ And when they hear our new single ‘A Little Bit Of Soap’ they’ll say ‘Oh! Just another Pioneers commercial reggae’. But when we go to number five in the charts they’ll be proud to see us on Top Of The Pops.”

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Rude Reggae: Rough Riders

We are back with another Reggae article! “Rude Reggae – Rough Riders” has been taken from a Black Music Magazine from 1974. It was, in fact, part of a special called Sexy Soul, Blue Blues and Rude Reggae. The author of the Reggae section was Carl Gayle, as usual, providing an entertaining and interesting read.

“Although black culture like all others, has been effected by ‘the sexual revolution’ and the breaking down of narrow minded attitudes, sex and black music have always been pretty closely linked”. . .

RudeReggae

At its worst, rude reggae can plumb the depths of childish smut. At its best, it has an earthy and unselfconscious directness which can make the prudest of prudes explode with laughter.

Rude reggae has always been around, but it wasn’t until about two years ago that most British record buyers got their first mild taste of it through the work of the jokey, amiable Judge Dread and his “Big Six” (later followed by “Big Seven” and “Big Eight”). “Big Six” was banned by the BBC, which boosted its sales. But in truth Dread’s songs are pretty tame and it is significant that his most suggestive track, “Dr. Kitch”, is not his own song but simply a version of the original calypso by Lord Kitchener, issued in Britain a decade ago on the fielding Island label – Jump Up- (and covered by Georgie Fame).

BigSix

If you’ve never heard of the infamous “Dr. Kitch”, he’s an injection specialist: “I push it in, she pulls it out /I push it back she starts to shout / Dr. Kitch you’re terrible, I can’t stand the size of your needle.”

Prince Buster’s “Big Five” is perhaps the most indecent collection of songs on the reggae LP market. Most of the numbers use other well known tunes with new lyrics. The title track is really “Rainy Night in Georgia” with lyrics like “How many times I wanted to lay my. . . inside her”. Or there’s straightforward bragging: “Today I smoked an ounce of weed / tonight I am going to plant a seed in her womb alright.” The songs that prove the most offensive are “At the Cross” (the hymn) with new lines such as “At the cross, at the cross, where I worked her in the grass / and the stiffness of my. . . passed away”. And “The Virgin” which uses the tune to “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and has the line “You should have told me, it was your first time my love / I would play around the edge, tickle the little thing and make you sing. . .”. Musically, the songs are well played and vocally Buster displays a unique affection for the subject. He does it with style even if he lacks subtlety.

One of Buster’s first rude records was “Rough Rider”, released in 1968. The subject of the song is a duel between the consenting couple in which the singer is clearly in some discomfort after losing the first round: “She was a rough rider, cool stroker, strong winner. . . / I had a hard night, last night”. A year later Buster was revealing frustration in “Wreck a Pum Pum” with similar aggression: “I want a girl to wreck her pum pum / and if she ugly I don’t mind / I have a . . . and I want a grind.”

RoughRider

If there’s one singer who’s had as much influence as Buster on later Jamaican rude records it has to be the inimitable Laurel Aitken, who seems to be at his best when he’s being vulgar. “Fire In Your Wire” was a ‘shocker’ when it appeared in 1968 as much for Aitken’s gruff, exaggerated vocal style as for the potently suggestive music and lyrics. So was “The Rise and Fall of Laurel Aitken” which Judge Dread claims was a great influence. But “Pussy Price” (Nu Beat, 1969) beats both of them for outright obscenity. The lyrics are offensive, the music obtrusive and aggressive. Aitken takes it very seriously, his sorrowful tone making him sound as if he’s singing from experience as he declares: “What way pussy price gone up / one time you get it for thirty cent / now if you follow pussy, you can’t pay your rent”. The vulgar lyrics are enhanced by the heavy bass and rhythm guitars , especially at the point where Aitken sings: “Pussy strike” (girls hard to get), “Cocky crash” (guys frustrated, becoming desperate), “Batty take over” (desperate enough to turn queer).

PussyPrice

The first set of rude records came from the “ska” era. Justin Hines and The Dominoes made the most notable contribution in this field, Hines’ extravagantly ethnic vocal style lent itself well to the group’s two best known suggestive songs, “Penny Reel” and “Rub Up Push Up”. In the latter, he suggests an ideal ways of making it up after a quarrel: “You rub up, you push up, you love up because you know you were wrong”.

The Heptones’ biggest selling record “Fatty Fatty” (1967) was their first ever record and was their only flirtation with the rude medium. It’s a cool atmospheric rocksteady song exposing the singer’s frustration as he begins to look forward to what he’d like to be doing tonight. The call response method is used: “I need a fat, a very fat girl-fat tonight / I’m in the mood girl-I’m in the mood / I’m feeling rude girl-I’m feeling rude.” The melodic chorus makes the song as memorable as the experience: “I say now, when you feel it girl you’re gonna say it is so nice”.

FattyFatty

“Kill Me Dead” by Derrick Morgan was a subtle, melodic song. You don’t have to be crude to be rude. The mood of the bedroom action is captured by the sliding easy pace of the music and the lyrics: “Hold me  round me waist / Wind me wind me line / Rub and squeeze now”. The whole thing slides along repetitiously with a sexy girl duet replying to each line with “Old lady” (or is it “Oh Lloydy!”) and an occasional “Rub it up, push it up”. Then there’s a great climax: “The river come down, Oh Lloydy”.

DerrickMorgan

Derrik Morgan: Subtle with it

Two records released  in 1968 – “Bang Bang Lulu” by Lloyd Terrell and “Wet Dream” by Max Romeo – actually made the pop charts, but not until the young white skinhead gangs came along in 1969. Their double meaning lyrics seemed tailor made for the Skinheads who loved to sing along with the catchy choruses, but the songs were not conceived with Skinheads in mind. In “Lulu” the omitted words were obvious and would often be sung out loud: “Lulu had a boyfriend, his name was Tommy Tucker” / He took her down the alley, to see if he could. . .” Max Romeo claimed that he was referring to his leaking ceiling when he sang “Every night me go to sleep me have wet dream / Lie down gal, make me push it up, push it up, lie down” but nobody was fooled.

WetDream

The music in “Barbwire” by Nora Dean (Trojan) borrowed directly from the Techniques’ rock steady record “You don’t care” and was popular because of its cool sensuous mood combines with the punch line: “I met a boy the other day, he got barbwire in his underpants. . .”

Even the Wailers  have not been averse to using sexual themes. One of their most popular records – “Bend Down Low” – is clearly sexual: “Bend down low, let me show you what I know”. The sensuous “Stir it up” and “Kinky Reggae” (“She had brown sugar all over her bugga wugga / I think I might join the fun, but I had to hit and run”) also have erotic themes.

StirItUp

Henry and Liza vulgarize the well known “There’s a Hole in My Bucket” with their amusingly embarrassing “Hole Under Cratches” (Dragon ’73). Consequently in answer to the question “With what shall I cork it?” we get the obvious answer.

But perhaps the most musically satisfying of the rude reggae albums is “Censored” (available through Trojan) by Lloydie and the Lowbites – a pseudonym for Lloyd Terrell (Charmers) who made “Bang Bang Lulu”. The ten tracks include the latter, Buster’s “Rough Rider” and “Wine and Grime” and another of Charmers’ rude singles, “Birth Control”: “Control” begins with a cat’s “meeow” and the guy saying “Doris the pussy dirty!” And then “Doris, go right in that bathroom and wash off that pussy right now, come on!” But it’s not the cat he’s referring too. “Free Grind Ticket” turns “Love of the Common People” into sex of the common people: “Tears from your little sister crying ’cause she didn’t get a grind or two at the party last night”. Later he states with disarming boastfulness: “I’m a man with a big d*ck”.

BangBangLulu

Not the most subtle stuff, is it? But then with rude reggae you have to take it or leave it. Because like sex itself, it’ll always be around. – CARL GAYLE.

What a great writer Carl was! I would also like to thank Joe and Lloyd for some of the scans :)

Now, as always in parting, Reggae music! Skinhead anthem and one of my favourite tunes:

Jamaica votes for Boothe

Hello dear readers! Welcome to another post.

Today we’re going back to July 1974 with an article written by one of the most knowledgeable men Reggae music has ever seen, Carl Gayle, in the Black Music Magazine. This time he tells us about a young Ken Boothe, who back then was already one the most popular singers of the island but who also was playing a role in its politics.

Jamaica votes for Boothe

Ken Boothe is currently Jamaica’s most popular singer. He’s also played a role in the island’s politics, as Carl Gayle explains…

At twenty five, Ken Boothe is one of the elite in Jamaican music. Like Toots or Bob Marley, he is revered in every sector of the music community. And just like the champion athlete Don Quarrie or the master batsman Laurence Rowe, Ken Boothe’s is a household name in Jamaica. The music mad natives speak his praise with fervour and pride. Yet, Boothe is a religious man, in spite of his playboy looks.

Ken Boothe

A very young Ken Boothe, ca. 20 years old

“Yes, I’m a rastafarian. I believe that His Majesty Haile Selassie is Earth’s rightful ruler. I believe in him as my God and my King. But I’m not telling anyone to say the same thing. And I’m not the kind of rasta man that doesn’t believe in riding in a plane, or eating certain kinds of food, or saying that I’m not coming to England again because it’s Babylon, no man. And I don’t believe in racialism. Every man is equal and I’m just a rastafarian who believes that the King is my God. I know it!”

As a schoolboy, Ken Boothe used to finish runner up every year to Winston Stewart (who later sang with a great rocksteady group – The Gaylads) in school singing competitions.

Delano Stewart

Winston ‘Delano’ Stewart, member of the Gaylads in their early years and then a successful singer with producer Sonia Pottinger

On his way home from Denham Town School (West Kingston) one evening, he heard the voices of two singers who turned out to be Stranger Cole and Roy Panton. They were rehearsing in a local club. When he joined in with the duo the next evening, Cole thought Ken was pretty good, so the trio formed a group. That was in 1962 and Ken was only 13. After a while, Roy Panton quit singing with them and at age 15, a year earlier than normal, Ken quit school.

Stranger and Ken recorded a song for the renowned promoter/Sound System man Duke Reid which was never released. At that time Stranger wrote the songs and sang lead. Ken just sort of filled in with the harmonies. Their first record together, “World’s Fair”, was issued by Clement Dodd (better known as Sir Coxsone or Coxsone Dodd). After a little while with Coxsone, he suggested that Ken did some solo singing and he agreed.

Like many early Jamaican records, Ken’s first solo single, “Oo Wee Baby”, was sung in a slow, soulful, emotional vein – like the R&B original. The fact that it wasn’t a big seller didn’t discourage Ken or Sir Coxsone who both persisted until he recorded one of his own compositions entitled “Train”, his first big hit.

Among the other artists on Coxsone’s label were The Maytals, The Wailers, The Gaylads, Jackie Opel, Jackie Mittoo, Marcia Griffiths and Bob Andy. Other groups like The Heptones joined Coxsone a little later. One of Boothe’s best recordings is a song that Bob Andy wrote for him called “I don’t want to see you cry”. It was just one of Ken’s string of hits which also included “Home”, “Moving away” and, in 1967, his international hit “Puppet on a string” which brought him to England for short tour in the same year.

Boothe recorded many more hits with Coxsone, including “Feel Good” and the great “Tomorrow”, before leaving in 1968 to join Mrs. Sonia Pottinger’s High Note label. His records for her included “Live good”, “Somewhere”, “Lady with the starlight” and “Say you”, but except for the latter they weren’t usually up to his best.

Boothe’s most creative period was at Beverlys Studio with promoter/producer Leslie Kong for whom he recorded “Why Babe”, “Now I know”, “Your feeling and mine”, “Drums of freedom”, “Tell the children the truth” and the brilliant “Freedom street”.

Ken’s first record for Beverley’s, “Why Babe” in 1968 (TBB says: But didn’t Ken move to Beverley’s in 1970?! Bahhh), was written by B. B. Seaton, an ex-Gaylad who has figured as co-writer/producer on many of Ken’s best known songs.

BB Seaton

Harris “B.B.” Seaton

“Ever sinve I started singing, myself and BB have been working together. When The Gaylads broke up he changed his name from Harry to just BB which was more catchy and he went solo. We prefer to write what I’d call freedom songs which tell people something, or make them more aware of themselves and what’s going on.”

“If the Government is not for the masses, I try to write songs that will get to the people and give them an idea of what they should do. Songs like “Freedom street” helped to get the previous Government (Labour) out of power. When Shearer (the then ruling Labour leader) was telling the police to knock down anybody they saw on the streets, we said well we need freedom, we need a free street to walk on.”

ken boothe freedom street

Ken Boothe – Freedom Street LP. Beverley’s Records 1970
Source: http://www.discogs.com

The song goes: “It must be a vision, ’cause there’s no change in sight / I see a big, big street, where all men meet / It must be freedom street…” And “Freedom street” spurred the opposition party (PNP – People’s National Party), the present Government, to form a “bandwagon” of musicians with a slogan of liberation. Inevitably, Michael Manley, the subsequent PM as leader of the PNP, was presented as Joshua, the man with the rod.

Clancy Eccles was the leader of this bandwagon and his song “Joshua” became their anthem and an enormous hit. Other artists that took part included The Maytals, The Chosen Few, B. B. Seaton, Ernie Smith – and Ken.

“They used almost every Jamaican artist but that was the main group. Then there would be a guest appearance in each parish we went to. It was Clancy Eccles’ idea and Manley organised it. We all wanted to get rid of the Labour Government. We didn’t get much money out of it but we didn’t want the country to go down. If Shearer had gotten back into power it would have been really bad. He didn’t do anything for music, he didn’t even enquire about music. So the people voted for PNP because we were supporting them. People don’t know much about politics or politicians but they know us, the musicians.”

My favourite tune on the same topic:

“The PNP said they would set up a committee to look into the music scene. That has happened but it hasn’t had much effect at the moment. So far they have only taken interest in a certain type of musician and these are the people who are making the money already. Things like the national dance theatre and the cultural folk singers and calypso are what they’re stressing now. But I like Manley’s government, the Labour Party’s not for the masses.”

Ken’s first LP for Trojan, produced by Lloyd Charmers, includes a few tracks like “Thinking”, “Suzie Q”, and “Hallelujah” which were on his only LP for Byron Lee’s Dynamic label. That album – “BB Seaton Meets The Great Ken Boothe”” – signified the teaming up of Ken with producer Lloyd Charmers (whose real name is Terrell), though not for the first time.

“I knew Lloyd before I started singing. He used to sing in a group called Charmers and the name stuck with him when the group broke up. But I’ve been working with him since 1971. We did “Ain’t no sunshine” and he brought me “Is it because I’m black” and told me that it was a “back street” song in the States. He knew I liked to do message songs. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a big hit in Jamaica either. Jamaican people just aren’t aware of what certain singers are trying to get through them”.

“I admire The Wailers for the messages they get across all the time and I’ve always liked John Holt, Delroy Wilson, Bob Andy and now Dennis Brown, he’s great. The singer that influenced me though was Otis Redding”.

In the last eight months, Boothe has been recording with Lloyd Charmers, B. B. Seaton and Busty Brown under the colective name of The Messengers. They have a company of their own which will release solo records as well as group efforts. Consequently, each man assists in the arrangement and production of the others’ records.

“Jamaican musicians are great but they’re not together. You haven’t got an arranger of real status in JA which is bad because we have so many good singers. The music world recognises good records and people want to hear good arrangements nowadays. I like what John Holt is doing at the moment but people in JA tend to go for too much rubbish and leave the songs with meaning on the shelf. A lot of people prefer to hear a guy talking, y’know!”

“And as regards promotion, only Federal Records give you any. And the radio stations want money to play your records, it’s a payola system. Most Jamaican producers can’t afford it. They just hope that when people hear their records in record shops and discos, they’ll buy them. But the discos are playing too much American music. I don’t blame them because the Stateside sounds are better on the whole. But they should try and stress the good Jamaican records”.

Ken’s very recent LP, “Let’s get it on” is an important step in the right direction. The album confirms Ken’s artistic ability and will no doubt ensure a greater degree of commercial success for Boothe than he’s previously had. One of the chief musical successes is the blending of the vocals with the imaginative and tasteful horn and string arrangements for which Lloyd Charmers deserves full praise.

Ken Boothe Let's get it on

Ken Boothe – Let’s get it on LP
Source: http://www.roots-archives.com

“I think ‘African lady’ is the track that will sell the LP. It’s saying something and the whole thing about it, the mood, the rhythm, everything is just nice. It makes you want to dance as soon as you hear it.”

“I want to reach the top, I want the whole world to know about Ken Boothe so that people even sing my songs in their own languages. I want to reach the peak of the business so that I can sit down and relax one day y’know! It needs a lot of work but as long as I get the opportunity, I think I’ll make it”.

***

Songs with meaning, very important! I hope you have liked the post. Remember that you can also follow TBB on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

As always in parting, a nice little tune. A rare tune shared by my friends from ‘Rudie Sounds‘:

The Reggae Underground

Hi, dear readers! Welcome to another post.

So it was 1974 and the Black Music magazine prepared a feature on Britain’s Black Underground, as mentioned on the cover of the issue. The article, called ‘THE REGGAE UNDERGROUND’, was written by Carl Gayle, a Jamaican who came to England when he was a teenager in the early 60’s. He began to write in 1973 and nowadays he’s a singer and a very strict rasta along with his family.  Thanks to Iñaki for this first-hand and valuable information!

Reggae10

I can’t post this six-page special report but I’m sure it’s somewhere on the Internet because I’ve seen it before. What I would like to do now is to stand out the photos and some extracts that I have found really interesting to understand a bit the situation of the Jamaican community in the early and mid-70’s.

THE REGGAE UNDERGROUND

Reggae1

A sound system night at London’t Tottenham town hall, and one of Count Shelley’s deejays does his thing.

Fenton gets up every day at around midday except Wednesday and weekends. He struggles out of bed, into his clothes, and down to the local cafe or Wimpy bar in Brixton Rd. where he buys an Evening Standard and turns inmediately to the horse racing page. From 2pm to 6pm he’s in and out of the bookies and the record shops in Brixton Market.

On Wednesdays he strolls down to the Labour Exchange in Coldharbour Lane and receives £10 which takes care of his food, rent, spliff, betting, and entertainment expenditure for a whole week. Fenton rarely spends on anything else. He can’t afford luxuries. Fenton’s been in and out of work for the last six years, two years after leaving school and home at age sixteen. Those two years were spent learning to be a Chef in a west end hotel. Sometimes it gets him down, not having a steady job, a good income, or a real sense of purpose. But like many others, most of his friends included, he usually makes it from day to day without thinking about it too much. Perhaps life would be much more depressing if there was no entertainment, no music. Fenton’s kind of music. 

[…]

Fenton rarely leaves the Brixton area except when he’s clubgoing, and tonight, Friday night, he’s sitting with a smartly dressed and attractive big-breasted chick drinking barley wine here in Mr. Bees – South London’s most popular club along with the Georgian in Croydon.

“This is only the secon time I’ve been here. I just decided to give Four Aces a rest tonight. this deejay Freddie is alright, he plays some good sounds.”

Fenton’s a Coxson follower, an old timer on the scene, a real roots reggae lover. He doesn’t go for funk, never did, even when in his earliest days of clubgoing, ‘soul’ was the thing.

Reggae2

Club Four Aces advert

[…]

Violence has always been a characteristic of the black music scene. The Tiles, the Flamingo, the Ram Jam, the Go Go, the 007, the Twenties, the Ska Bar, the Night Angel… They all closed because of the continuos outbreaks of violence.

[…]

Back in 1967 ska was still hot. The most exhilarating ska dance was the shuffle. With tunes like “Broadway Jungle” by The Maytals, “Phoenix City” by Roland Alphonso and the many by the inimitable Skatalites beating in your ears it was a time to display your footmanship. Of all the great shufflers that I’ve seen from London to Birmingham, a guy called Errol who lived in Harlesden was the king. There were all types of shufflers. There were the big guys whose art was in their ability to look clumsy while being perfectly balanced and composed. There were the energetic shufflers who relied on speed, stamina and daring. And there were the lazily elegant and stylish dances like Satchmo and Black Diamond from Brixton. Errol from Harlesden was a combination of all of them, a supreme artist.

The rivalry which developed between the north and south and which was the foundation for much of the characteristic violence of the Ram Jam and other clubs, was perpetuated by the supporters of the sound systems – Coxson and Duke Reid in the South, and Count Shelly in the North specially. This rivalry, which often erupted in violence, was responsible for some of the division in the black music scene as a whole. As the violence increased, the clubs lost their respectability. Consequently, many black youngsters dropped out of the once peaceful reggae orientated subculture, opting for the more tranquil soul scene. Soul had been popular with West Indians anyway and a lot of people just got sick and scared of the hooliganism.

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Dancers at Tottenham

[…]

Tottenham Town Hall is rather squalid inside but outside on the balcony where the tired, middle-aged women sit in their Saturday night best, it’s a little more elegant. The women wear an air of indifference. Some sit fanning themselves in their tight dresses which reveal the characteristically large midriff bulges that all black women seem to suffer from once past thirty-five or forty. The prettier, younger, slimmer fashion conscious females wear Oxford bags or tight skirts with striped blouses. They wear make up and hair do’s out of Ebony, and stand around trying to look like the models in Vogue. The older men are always the most talkative. They desert their wives and stand around drinking whisky, and swapping jokes with their friends and, their friends’ wives.

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Sound System men at Tottenham

[…]

JAMAICAN music was bound to gain a foothold in Britain once the first wave of immigrants had settled here. It all started back in 1953 at a shop in Stamford Hill, North London. The shop was opened by Mr Benny King and his wife Rita, in June 1953. By September, many Jamaicans were visiting the shop and asking for ‘blues’ records.

“We didn’t know what they meant,” said Benny, “but we soon found out it was Jamaican music. Then one customer said we should get the records from Jamaica and he gave us Coxon’s (the Jamaican label owner / promoter / producer / sound system man) address in Jamaica. We wrote to him sending the money and finally we got the first shipment.”

[…]

SHEPHERDS BUSH market, like Stoke Newington and Brixton markets, are the focal points of the black communities in London.

The middle aged women and younger housewives stroll around with a shopping bag or basket in each hand and sometimes with a playful youngster at their side as they purchase next week’s groceries. The teenagers, the black youth of Brixton, Stoke Newington, and the Bush, gather in the record shops which are usually crammed with record enthusiasts from mid-day until closing time on a Saturday.

In the early days it was the men in their mid-twenties and upwards who bought most of the records, not the fifteen to twenty year olds who loiter in the shops all day. Today, reggae is really a black teenage music. The youngsters today spend more than they can afford on records, but they want the best and the rarest.

[…]

“White kids had been associating with backs in clubs like the Ram Jam, since black music first became popular in England. But it wasn’t until 1967 that the whites had begun to really appreciate reggae music, and to mimic the black lifestyle. They fell in love with the first wave of reggae music that Pama Records issued, like the instumentals – ‘Spoogy’‘Reggae on Broadway’, and ‘1000 Tons of Megaton’. They stomped to the franctic dance records like ‘Work it’ by The Viceroys, and ‘Children Get Ready’ by The Versatiles. They sang along to Pat Kelly’s ‘How Long Will It Take’ and Slim Smith’s ‘Everybody Needs Love’, and laughed at rude items like Max Romeo’s ‘Wet Dream’ or Lloyd Terrell’s ‘Bang bang Lulu’.

Pretty soon you couldn’t go to a black house party without finding a gang of skinheads. But amazingly, there was little black/white violence and hardly any resentment. Black and white youth have never been as close as they were in the skinhead era, despite the mixing in the trendier soul scenes nowadays. The skinheads copied the way we dressed, spoke, walked, the way we danced. They danced with our chicks, smoke our spliff and ate our food, and bought our records.

Today, four years after the birth of the skinhead boom, the white working class kids in bovver boots and hedgehog haircuts have disappeared completely from our clubs. Their current heroes (Slade and Bowie) are no longer identical with ours.

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[…]

“So I enjoy myself much more at these kind of places than at the expensive places like the Q where everybody’s so sophisticated. When you go to those posh places you find that people are more standoffish. They won’t say hello to you until they’ve seen you a whole heap of times. And the simplest thing, asking a girl for a dance, which I seldom do, if they don’t know your face the answer is ‘no’. But with the ordinary local crowd everybody’s on the same level. My music is strictly reggae, but you have some soul music which I like such as the Chi-Lites and the Stylistics, the type that reggae artists put into a reggae version”.

Nice footage of the Q Club

There is a real division between the ‘roots’ reggae crowd and the reggae/soul crowd. The former, as Mellos pointed out, usually dislike soul type clubs like Ronnie Scotts, the Columbo or the Q. Their down to earth manner is in sharp contrast to the sophisticated cool of the dudes who wear baggy pants and high heels, regularly buy James Brown, and specialise in dancing like the Americans.

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Club Columbo advert

[…]

The Q starts filling from 11.30. This is the club (reputedly) where you’ll find the best soul dancers, the prettiest, trendiest black chicks, the hippiest black dudes, the Yankee money men, the in crowd.

“We lead the field because we’ve always moved with the times at the Q club. When we opened ska music was the thing, Prince Buster, Don Drummond, Reco, Tommy McCook, Roland Alphonso, Baba Brooks y’know. They all played here when they toured London. We played all the latest things and the new dances caught on quick. There was the twist, the dog, the boogaloo, the rock steady. Now we just had the bump, the American guys from the bases and the American tourists bring the latest dances here. And we use all the top American and Jamaican groups that come to England, we always have.”

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Getting down: Dancers at London’s Q Club

“But black people are accustomed to one type of music, the music they feel, and that is reggae and soul. You never get a black population digging white people’s music, the majority don’t dig it. But white kids in general like to be among black people because they get a certain feel in our clubs. And the white kids who just go to a white club they can’t dance much but when they mix with black kids they become very good dancers. So black music will always thrive”.

The Q isn’t at all representative of the grass roots reggae crowd; the regular visitors here have much more money in their pockets than regulars at other black clubs like the Apollo, the All Nations, or the Four Aces.

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Drinkers at the Q Club

[…]

IN GENERAL, the West Indians who have been in Britain the longest are usually the more affluent, having discarded many of their family ties and cultural traditions. Together with the West Indians of British birth, they generally form this new wave “soul crowd”, the black youth of Britain who relate only superficially to African cultural roots. They eat soul food, drive flash cars which they can’t really afford, wear Afros, feign artistic creativity, shop at Bibas, keep “selective” soul parties, and attend clubs like the Q and Columbo’s in Carnaby Street.

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Q Club advert

The polarization continues. The ethnic reggae crowd have grown out of their tendency towards self destructiveness: the violence has dissipated, The rastas have mellowed with the maturity of their peace and love idealogy and are closer to each other now than they’ve ever been. Bob Marley, Count Ossie, Big Youth, and Gregory Isaacs have shown them who their real enemies are, and these are the artists that have become their heroes regardless of what anyone else thinks.

To finish with this post, the second phrase I like the most from the whole article (the first one is already above, I guess you know which one it is):

… “And the only reason they stand here in the shop is because they really love the music. Man, reggae music can make you cry. I’ve seen people just start crying when the music holds them.

And as always in parting, a tune regarding the post: Groovin’ at the Q!