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.”


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.”


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”. . .


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).


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.”


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).


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”.


“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”.


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.


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.


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”.


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:

Reggae, Reggae, Reggae… The Sound System (The Sunday Times Magazine, 1973)

“The American Negro has his blues: England’s West Indians has reggae. . .” – This is how this article taken from The Sunday Times Magazine – February 1973 starts. Colin McGlashan explains how reggae has developed; and overleaf describes his encounters with those who write, perform and dance to it. The article is quite long, about 8 pages; therefore, I will be sharing only a couple of pages plus the great images. Hope you like it.


Three a.m. in black London. Hornsey Slim is looking for a blues party. North through Dalston and Stoke Newington he shouts at every black face on the pavement: “Hey, man, where Shelly playing?” The first two houses are someone else’s sound, and half-empty. But at last there is the heavy muffled thump of a big sound system 50 yards away; closer, and there is added a strange rhythmic buzz-buzz, which turns out to be the upstairs windows vibrating.

There are 20 youngsters trying to get in, another 50 in the hall and stairs, and you have to force your way past the doormen like a cork into a bottle. They want to make sure everyone’s paid their 15p, and they have the same deep warm faith in human nature as a moneylender. Inside, the house is stripped of furniture. It is hot, dark and packed with bodies. Three hundred? Five hundred? It’s hard to tell.


Cover of the issue

The crowd is mainly young, 15 to 25, with a sprinkling of older men. A bus-driver in his forties, still in uniform, dances with the young girls; no-one regards him as stupid or out of place. There are perhaps a score of white women; white men are as rare at blues parties or shebeens as black men in the clubs of St James’. Clothes range from poverty-sober to peacock, work-clothes side by side with feathers and glitter; there’s no one style except, here and there, on a youngster wearing a tenner’s worth of gear and looking like a million dollars, the cult of style itself.

The amplifier is downstairs, pushing the heavy beat of the music through loudspeakers stacked here and there in heaps. The sound pulses through  the people, stirring them together like a dark, treacly cake-mix. A top sound system is 30 to 100 times as powerful as a domestic hi-fi. The point isn’t volume, but the amplification of the bass beat until it sounds like the world’s biggest drum, until it becomes music you feel. You feel it in your feet, in the vibrations of a Coke tin with an unlicensed shot of Scotch inside, you feel it through your partner’s body. The first time you hear it, it’s unbelievable, unbearable, oh my God! But you get used to it. You grow numb; through that, and there’s a cool, cool joy, a sedative high. Ice in the spine. No pain.

Around 5 a.m. the crowd thins. Slim (“I’m a maddy-maddy man!”) dances wildly, brilliantly, at first alone, then with his wife. Sweat pours down his face. He is watched and admired. But there are a few smiles, little talk, no laughter; when the music stops, they stand there like a switched-off carousel.

West Indians parties used to be cheerful. They gave off a sharp joy, snatched, sometimes, from the edge of despair. Warm rhythm, dancing, holding, moving together for comfort. Jitterbugging to Don Drummond when Somerleyton Road in Brixton was wide open, a shebeen in every other basement: “an’ them white girls! Listen, man, parties! I tellin’ you!” The music of exiles, trapped like cherries in this Ice-Cream Surprise of a cold motherland. “What the heart lacked,” wrote dward Brathwaite in Rights of Passage, “we supplied with our hips and the art of our shuffle shoes.”

But tonight is a diferent generation, the young, black and English. Immigrants have a past, and therefore the implicit possibility of a future; for their children, there is only now. “Goin’ blues” is a weekly escape for youngsters, many of whom are out of work, some also homeless. These are the English blues, neither happy nor sad; they are limbo, never-never land, an interval between the reality of today and tomorrow. The flavour is not of celebration, but of refuge; and, worse, of a refuge that is no longer secure. The despair of everyday life has seeped in like fog through the broken window panes. I feel like a remembrance of a world this entire scene has been constructed to shut out, and thus also symbolic of his failure to do so. Perhaps, perhaps, although no-one has raised an eyebrow of unwelcome, I should not be here; it is hard to know.

Between dawn and 8 a.m. the night’s mysteries are over. The last celebrants depart. Disconcerting daylight on night people. Their plumage turns tawdry on the Sunday morning pavements of white England. They seem almost to shrink, to lose poise, grace and style, to fade.


Reggae Record stall at Dalston market


ARMED ELECTRICAL LOVE! painted on a Notting Hill wall. The urban guerrillas of the counter-culture strike again. Opposite, The King is building a secret weapon: four 1000-watt amplifiers driving 20 speakers four feet square. Sound men compete to play the newest records over the biggest amplifier; the amps cost roughly £1 a watt.

He rummages through his stock in a cream marble Formica trunk, tossing handfuls of records on the bed. The titles have been scratched off. One of a quartet of silent, admiring teenagers tries to name them; he gets half right. The King knows them all. I explain I want to chat because he’s one of the top sound men. “One of!” explodes an acolyte unbelievingly. “He’s the top, the greatest, man. The boss sound.”

The King, warmed, expands. “Look, a-notice the white groups, they try to play reggae an’ can never play it. You got to have that hard strong feeling, that feeling’s got to be born in you. That feeling come from the mother’s breast, man, the breast milk. It’s true! Listen, y’see, the natural milk, man, from the mother’s breast, man. It give you that. . . that. . . stickness in your body, man, an’ that feelings, man, to create things that supposed to been created. And no other black man throughout the world can play that music than the black man who born an’ grow in Jamaica.”

Most days he scours the Edgeware Road for bits. Today he wants a horn. At Messrs. Tannoy, the far side of Brixton, a man in a white coat calls it a flare, a trumpet-shaped loudspeaker. He offers the sort of announcers bellow through at large sport meetings. But it won’t take the 100 watts plus The King wants to put into it, and really there isn’t anything that will. Oh well, ha-ha, says White-coat, there is one, but we make it specially for the Eddystone lightship, ho-ho, and it costs £90. “It tek 100 watt?” demands The King, eyes-gleaming.

White-coat’s voice changes gear. Going upwards. This crazy black man is ready to pay £90 for the speaker that blasts the boom of the Eddystone lightship two miles through thick fog. He wants to play little plastic records through it at parties, if it will stand the strain.

The King turns away. He waves at some large plastic structures lying round the yard. “What dem t’ing, dey speaker?” They’re used, explains White-coat, a triffle tight around the lips, on North Sea oil-rigs. “Yeah?” says The King, gleam returning. But they aren’t strong enough either.

photo (8)

Girls backstage at a reggae concert in Kilburn, London.


Evening at Mr. Eddie’s: “What you want my dad for this time?” says his son, astride in purple Chopper. Mr. Eddie is a Ghanaian, a quiet, lovely man who spends six evenings a week in his basement making amplifiers for the big sound-systems. The seventh night he goes to hear them play, usually Admiral Ken’s sound above a pub at Leytonstone. The sound men drop in and out with their machines. They are very respectful. Even The King calls him Mister.

He is almost ankle-deep in flotsam. Output transformers, almost too heavy to lift. A plastic Rupert bag building with shiny valves as big as light bulbs. Wire, aluminium, nuts, bolts and washers, test-meters, transistors, semi-conductors. He burrows with a soldering-iron inside his newest toy, a transistorised pre-amp. The television’s on to his right; in front, a loudspeaker tests the pre-amp, Joshua Set Them Free followed by Give Me Justice; on his left, The King answers the phone to another sound-man: “Hello, Metro. . .”

Not sure but I guess Joshua Set Them Free might be the same as Oppression

“The Englishman”, says Mr. Eddie, “wants more treble than bass. The Negroes want the rhythm, and they’ve got to have bass for the rhythm. You want the beat, not the loudness. A shop, they can make it loud. But listen to this heavy beat. You can stand it all night, it won’t worry you. You have to have the big amplifiers.”

A young DJ tests a mike over the top of the record, knuckles against his mouth as though he’s eating spare ribs: “Wake-it-up, wake-it-up, wake-it-up. . .” “Listen,” says The King, “the only man that’s the best is Rosko, Emperor Rosko. Tony Blackburn, him is rubbish. Him talking, you can’t hear the record, him turn it down.”


Let it burn, let it burn, let it burn burn burn!

Blood, blood, blood, blood and fire.

Eye for eye, tooth for tooth! growled the have-nots, drinking Red Stripe at Grandpa Joint No. 2, Mutt and Jeff Pub, the Ethiopian Cooling Station.

On the cool suburban hill-tops, the haves shuddered in their villas. They muttered on their terraces about fierce punishments for them, the makers of music and mayhem. Public hanging. Castrate the rapists. Cut off thieves’ hands.

The music throbbed between Trench Town and Beverly Hills, booming out of the sound systems, the record shops, the jukeboxes, like war-drums. The lyrics grew more and more threatening. Judgement a-coming! Where yuh goin’ to run to? Burn down Babylon! The music was clotted with menace, heavy with dread. But at the smart hotels, at Courtfield Manor, in the Jonkanoo Lounge of the Sheraton-Kingston, the haves the expatriates the brown skinned irl, the U.S. businessmen, we dancing to it. It was like Belgravia bopping to a record of Clysiders singing The Red Flag.

photo (12)

Bonnie, a London Rasta, and his family

Music and politics fused. They toppled the Government. Last year’s Jamaican elections, according to the Daily Gleaner’s political reporter, were won by reggae. Michael Manley, leader of the opposition People’s National Party, called in singer/composer Clancy Eccles for his campaign. Eccles raided the pop charts. Better must come, a catchy up-beat number, became the PNP’s anthem. In his own song, Rod of Correction (“beat them with the rod of correction, father. . . burn ’em in Sodom and Gomorrah!”) Eccles substituted the name of the Prime Minister, Hugh Shearer, in the line “King Pharaoh’s army was drowned”.

Mixed with politicised DJ shrieks in patois, the words and rhythms of apocalypse and redemption boomed across Jamaica: Power for the People! Freedom Street! Let the Power Fall! Beat Down Babylon! Thirty-eight shows, crowds up to 30,000, a heavy rhythm morality play with Manley as Joshua, 1000-watt amplifiers bellowing about Babylon. In desperation, Shearer banned political and Rasta songs from the radio, but the sound systems and jukeboxes took them to the smallest village.

The PNP won by a landslide, Clancy Eccles now calls the Prime Minister “Michael”, and the musicians feel ten feet tall. “We knew we were more popular than the politicians,” says Eccles. “People hear us on the radio everyday. If Michael at any time should get lazy, don’t believe that we won’t start hitting at him.”


In Brixton, Rico is hailed from every corner, grasped, clasped, hugged. “I grew this man up in school!” exclaims one man, grabbing him. They ask about me in patois; who’s the white man? Oh, says Rico, him jus’ carry me roun’. Electric Avenue, Atlantic Road, the market. In the record shops they play him his own music, mostly from albums he’s never seen.

Black man, white face. Rico has paid his dues. At 19, he was living on the beach in Ray Town, Kingston, playing music for fishermen, sharing any food that was going, sleeping on flat rooftops.

“I’m one of. . . I’m a Jamaican, you know, an’ I grew up among them. Sometime you ‘ave to fight your own battles among people to verify yourself. But it wasn’t a real prejudice. The h’economical pressure breeds and h’atmosphere, whether you black or you white. It cause worries among each other, an’ sometime you got to fight your own battles. But then after, they accepted me jus’ like one of them. Whites. . . well, I didn’t really mix with the whites in Jamaica.”

“Reggae is protest, formed out of suffering. What I mean by suffering is there was no way of earning money. Because you were very poor, an’ you had to eat, you stay down where the fishermen draw their nets, so you’d have food everyday. Fishermen always give you fish, they like to hear you play. You’d ‘ave someone at a drum, someone at a grater, someone at a shakkers. Always some kind of harmony. Sugar-belly, he’s one of the originals, he make his own saxophone out of bamboo, an’ at the end of it he got a piece of tin, an’ he use coconut leaf to make the reed, an’ elastic at the sides.”

“When the police come, we ‘ave to use philosophy. We jump in the sea. If they catch one of us, we’d gather in gangs, get a policeman near the sea, standing there with gun in his hand, and let him know that we jus’ drown him. Gun can’t fire in water.”

photo (13)

Ready for the party. A corner of the English blues scene: home-made amplifier, loudspeakers in heaps, an music you feel through the body of your partner

“The music is from the way of life, something one feels. You vibrate it back to those who oppress you. What I was playing was what I felt, you know? Hardships. I played hardships out of the horn.”


Poised on the brink of a Brixton barstool, businessman-neat in a dark overcoat, The Composer ponders new assaults on the English language. The Composer, The King, Hornsey Slim. . . they’re bitter. The white man’s taking their music and making money out of it. Taming it, gelding it, adding in violins and echo-chambers. Straining out of the locksmen, the Rudie boys, the sufferers, the dread. Keeping the jingle-jingle boom as as a backing for the expensive sexy yells of bright, marketable, young singers. An’ the money so near you can smell it! Mick Jagger in Jamaica. Reggae in the music papers. White writers coming round asking questions. And now every Tom, Dick and Winston in a pub is posing as an expert. Jimmy Cliff, Desmond Dekker, Jackie Edwards. . . who they? Rass, man, we the originals!

“Listen! Listen!” explodes The Composer, gnashing a quarter of gold teeth like cymbals. “Hear what the man telling you! Chuh!” He’s as angry as Muhammed Ali getting a nosebleed off a sparring-partner.

The first reggae record that was recorded in England was 1960, the tenth of August. They say other man bring that rass to this country. Me bring the rass to this country!”

“True! True!” says The Chorus, a trio in pork-pie hats.

“You have a strong point,” says The Challenger, back-pedalling quickly, “a strong point. . .”

“Strong point,” says The Chorus. “. . . but it must be translated.” “Have to translate it,” says The Chorus.

“That guy,” says The Composer, “he only make it because he got the white man behind him. Rico here, it’s only me an’ him are the originals.”

“It’s true!” says Rico. “True, true, true.”

“True word!” says The Chorus.

“It’s we pave the way an’ them reap the sweets! Which one of them artists is as popular as Rico among the Jamaican people?”

“None, none, none. . .” says The Chorus.

“It’s that I say!” says Rico, excited. “I mix with the people!”

“. . . none, none, none. . .”

“An’ this man,” says Rico, openly taking The Composer’s side, “he live in Brixton an’ he meet the people.”

“. . . none, none.”

“That’s what I telling you!” says The Composer triumphantly.

photo (14)

Rico, the Rasta with the white face. In Brixton, he is hailed from every street corner; the music he learned on a Jamaican beach has made him an idol among London’s West Indian subculture. From 500 records he has made not a penny in royalties

“Yes,” says The Challenger, fighting to get off the floor, “but how you going to broke down that system? Him don’t want to know. Him don’t want to hear your story.”

The Composer moves in fast for the kill. “Listen, me sing in four languages, an’ me ain’ drive no Rolls, but me happy! I play guitar and piano and I write music. But look brother, everybody can’t make it. Why you no make it big in life?”


Tuesday is a hungry night at The Big Six. Everybody hustles everybody. “You don’t want to go in there even with a pocket,” warns Hornsey Slim, “they’ll cut it open with a razod blade. Even me they’ll thief, and if they’ll thief me they’ll thief everybody else.” (He wasn’t joking; the last time we went they got his wallet.) Apart from weekends, when it’s packed with ordinary youngsters, The Big Six is the club for the West End’s black hustlers. There are far fewer of them than white hustlers; it’s convenient for all concerned that they shoud have one regular place to go. At midnight it’s like a City bar at 5.30: a couple of stragglers, but most haven’t yet finished work. They drift in slowly, and come alive.

The Big Six is a temple of style. If you want clues about what you’ll be wearing, how you’ll be talking, the way you’ll be moving, five years from now, The Big Six is one of the places to go. The delinquent young of visible minorities are obsessed with style, drowned in it. It is all they have.

It is difficult to describe dance styles, except by contrast. Unflattering. Whites tend to flounce: fast, angular, jerky, hips motionless and everything else flying. They stand out in a crowd of black youngsters like the Chelsea Shed at a cricket match. They aren’t popular; there’s no room. Apart from shuffling, which is a different art-form, black youngsters dance like Manuelito making a pass at a bull from a pocket-handkerchief. Hips move first; everything else moves, if at all, afterwards; style is all.

There are two main ways of dancing: separately, several feet apart, cool, casual; or together, thighs between thighs, rocking gently sometimes almost motionless, openly sexual. Both horrify some whites, particulary the second: “It’s disgusting!” cried a woman teacher at a school dance, “they’re masturbating in there!”

Tonight, a youngster in floppy velvet cap carefully arranges the point of one shoulder against a pillar, and dances by himself. Another leans his shoulder-blades against the wall while a girl dances against him. A third stands, hands in pockets, leaning back from the waist, the 45-degree end of a banister wedged in his crotch, and dancing. A fourth breaks away from his girl; he offers me a spliff, open on the palm of his hand, shrugs elegantly at my refusal, and dances back – without by one movement losing the rhythm.

Hornsey Slimi has vanished backstage to talk deals with the soundman; his record booms briefly over the speakers. Upstairs, past a bouncer with a skull you could crack stone eggs on, past a youth at the cloakroom who dances by himself in the corridor all night, is The Big Six’s only white man. He sits by the door, taking the money.

photo (16)

Dalston market, Saturday: youngsters outside a reggae record shop


East London is different. There is a relationship between black and white. You can taste it in Dalston market and not in Brixton or Shepherds Bush. It is not liberal tolerance, not always even liking. It is respect based on similar values: family, toughness, extrovert warmth.

In 1968-9, a new generation of black Cockneys threatened to become the East End’s trendsetters. In street football games they picked the sides, scored the goals, settled the arguments. It was a time when what was being peddled as pop music might as well have been Beethoven. ‘Underground’ music at two quid something an album, freaky lollipop heroes you couldn’t admire. . . it didn’t take on down the Mile End Road. In the youth clubs, the black teenagers had what the girls wanted: not super-sexuality, but style, social confidence, and music you could dance to. Out of that equation came the skinheads, London’s white Rudies; their music was reggae.

There followed a strange period when black and white girls and boys mixed in the East End’s club and discos with an ease and casualness you could see nowhere in England, perhaps nowhere at all. It seemed almost possible to use words like ‘integration’. Thanks to the adults, it didn’t last.

English society has always reacted with paranoia to groups of working class teenagers in uniform – Teddy boys, mods and rockers, skinheads. It credits them with starting patters of delinquency that already exist, with alarmist publicity that ensures imitators to make the myth come true. ‘Paki-bashing’ wasn’t new. It attracted attention only when perfomed by another visible minority. Once it was unearthed by the media, most East End teenagers couldn’t get out of their braces fast enough. While the Midlands and Manchester rushed to buy cherry-reds and Ben Shermans, down in Bethnal Green you could almost hear the hair grow.

What followed was London’s Great Reggae War. Black teenagers suddenly found youth clubs attractive. Starved for years of places that would let them in, they travelled across London to anywhere with good sounds. They arrived twenty, fifty, even a hundred at a time. Some youth leaders with near-empty clubs were delighted; most neighbours weren’t. Police virtually picketed some clubs and discos at closing time; mayhem, predictably, followed. White youngsters, who had been happy with a one-third black minority, found themselves outnumbered: they fled or called in reinforcements of heavies. The game of musical clubs lasted perhaps nine months. Black teenagers wandered round a shrinking circle of youth clubs that played their music, to the accompaniment of clashes, residents competitions, franctic committee meetings. Most youth clubs chucked their reggae records in the dustbin. Segregation returned.

But the skinheads had changed something. As late as the spring of 1971, you could see the juniors from the Mile End Mob in Sloopy’s Disco or the A-Train, wearing West Indian-inspired gear like long open overcoats (a fad taken up by white youngsters around Brixton and translated into the crombie) and stingy-brim hats. They were dancing hesitantly to reggae and American soul numbers with lyrics like “going back to Af-ri-ca ‘cos I’m black”. Remembering the generations of West Indians whose teachers obliged them to chant “Bri-tons never-never-never shal be slaves”, these white youngsters presented a pleasantly-ironic spectacle.

No white kid, one of Britain’s leading pop gurus told me confidently in 1971, is ever going to dig James Brown, much too strong. . . A month later, Brown’s Albert Hall concert drew a 60 per cent white crowd. The black kids listened decorously; it was the ex-skinheads who leapt up and down and danced in the aisles and rushed for chartered buses for his second show in the East End. A devoted minority of white working class teenagers haunt the Brixton reggae shops. And at Tiffanys, Mecca’s archly-renamed palais-de-danse at Ilford, there isn’t a black face in sight. But peering through the plastic palm-fronds from the balcony, you can spot the thighs that have learned to move to other rhythms, learned, indeed, to dance to a very different drummer. The DJ plays two Otis Reddings and then James Brown. “And we’re really getting it together down there. . . A lot of sex machines here tonight.”

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

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

“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!


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.



“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.


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.”


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.


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.


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!