Trojan
 

In the cutthroat world of the Jamaican sound system circuit, A deejay's reign is typically short-lived. Just as a toaster reaches his height, so does another rise to take his place, until the next young upstart forces him aside. And in Reggae's formative years in the 1960s, the deejay had a lower status than the singers and players of instruments who ruled the dances through their recorded works; a deejay's function was to introduce songs and make announcements during the breaks, though a toaster's verbal dexterity could make all the difference in keeping patrons loyal to a certain set. Then, as the 1960s gave way to the 1970s, U-Roy changed everything by scoring chart successes; a number of imitators followed in his wake, but the few who made a lasting impact were able to do so by harnessing something different that marked them out. With Prince Far I, it was the rumbling gravity of his words, which were delivered in the gruff tones of a counseling elder and such combustible proclamation earned him the epithet The Voice of Thunder.

His skills as a lyrical orator gained him widespread international acclaim, resulting in his status as an important figure in Reggae history, while his inventive productions on the Cry Tuff label helped steer the music in another direction as the 1970s gave way to the 1980s.

He was born Michael Williams in Spanish Town in the mid-1940s and came to be known on the sound system circuit as King Cry Cry, forming a notable presence from the late 1960s on the El Toro sound system, a set established by Vivian Blake in the nearby Greenwich Farm ghetto. Unfortunately, several spells in prison saw the toaster's place usurped by another deejay named Bunny Remus, so Cry Cry ended up being hired as security at Coxsone Dodd's Studio One. Legend has it that he made his way to the mike circa 1970 when Coxsone's top toaster, King Stitt, failed to turn up for a session; the songs 'Cain And Able', 'I Had A Talk' and a version of the Eternals' 'Queen Of The Minstrel' resulted from this early session, though there is some suggestion that the man's actual debut came on a song called 'Great Booga Wooga', recorded for leading ghetto promoter Bunny Lee.

Fast forward a few years and a link with upcoming producer Enos McLeod results in the toaster's re-emergence as Prince Far I, he subsequently cut an ominous version of Max Romeo's 'No Joshua No' for Pete Weston and for Winston Riley made an original adaptation of Country narrative 'Deck Of Cards' (recorded by Tex Ritter in the 1940s and popularised by Wink Martindale in the late 1950s, the song is adapted from a European folk tale that dates back to the 1770s at least), before a connection with an associate of Bunny Lee and Derrick Morgan known as Lloydie Slim resulted in 'Psalms For I', a stunning religious concept album on which Far I chanted Rasta Far I recasting of various Psalms over recent rhythms laid by various producers.

From 1976, Far I really came into his own as a toaster. The grave 'Zion Call', cut for perceptive producers Castro Brown and 'Heavy Manners', the most ominous of the work he cut for Joe Gibbs, evidence a growing strength, particularly where his delivery is concerned. With Far I's artistic maturity came a move to self-production and establishment of the Cry Tuff label. His backing band, the Cry Tuff All Stars, later known as the Arabs, was culled from various session outfits. Roots Radics bassist Errol 'Flabba' Holt, someone who cut a number of tunes for Far I as a vocalist, was the all-round anchor and constant force. 'Prince Far I was a very good friend,' he emphasizes, 'I do a lot of tunes for him without any money, just play without money, and I sing a lot of 45s.'  The Radics rhythm guitarist Eric 'Bingy Bunny' Lamont was typically present, as was former Soul Syndicate lead man Earl 'Chinna' Smith. Drummer Eric 'Fish' Clarke was later replaced by Radics beat man Lincoln 'Style' Scott, and Theophilus 'Snapping' Beckford and Bobby Kalphat were often featured on keyboards.

A link with inventive English producer Adrian Sherwood, who had been involved in the UK release of 'Psalms For I', brought greater depth to Far I's subsequent album works. As Sherwood recalls, "I met him in Birmingham at a record shop; by the time I got to meet him I heard he's going to kill me and we got on really well." Their growing friendship gave a different shape to 'Message From The King', the album that brought Far I wider exposure through its issue on Virgin Records, plus the four 'Cry Tuff Dub Encounter' releases, all heavily experimental dub works. "'Message From The King', we put that together about three weeks after we met," Sherwood notes. "We made 'Foggy Road' and 'The Dream' on an eight-track in London. Dr. Pablo and me kind of co-produced the first ('Cry Tuff Dub Encounter') LP and we mixed it, that was all eight-track. Then the other ones, Prince Far I produced them and we just mixed them LPs for him, usually about five hours an album."

After the release of the 'Long Life' album, Far I left Virgin and the 'Livity' set was issued by Pre, Charisma's short-lived Reggae subsidiary. Then, in 1979, Prince Far I began a working relationship with Trojan, resulting in four classic vocal albums and a forceful dub set. 'Free From Sin', recorded at Treasure Isle and Harry J studio, has some of Far I's best message music; on the title track, he re-works the 'Heavy Manners' concept to demand peace in all corners; 'When Jah Ready You Got To  Move' is an alternate ramble on Peter Broggs' 'Higher Field Marshall' rhythm describing the impartiality of the Almighty; 'Call On I In Trouble' is a statement of faith over a sparsely rumbling rhythm reminiscent of 'Rockfort Rock'; 'Don't Deal With Folly' is an herb-praising number cut atop a modulated 'No No No'; 'Light Of Fire' describes wondrous biblical works; 'Reggae Music' heralds the sound we love so well; 'Going Home On The Morning Train' is a poetic meditation on Far I's song writing process; 'Siren' warns of the murderous circumstances that abound in urban life, and the portentous 'I And I Are The Chosen' is a stunning cut of 'Higher Field Marshall' with that wonderful slurring violin courtesy of Sowell Radics.

The 1980 set 'Jamaican Heroes', mostly recorded at Channel One is equally compelling: 'Deck Of Life' is an alternate reading of 'Deck Of Cards'; 'The Vision' is a dream-like trope delivered on a spacious cut of the immortal 'Stalag' rhythm; 'Natty Champion' is a spongy re-cut of 'Big Fight', first voiced by Far I for Joe Gibbs; 'Read A Chapter' uses a bass-heavy beat as a platform for the Rasta Far I viewpoint; 'Golden Throne' describes a longing for repatriation, while the title track, saluting legendary figures, features backing vocals by Ari Up from the Slits among others. 'Prison Disciples' notes many of the places Natty Dread wishes to avoid residing in, 'Musical History' decries the gimmicks of inferior deejays and 'Jah Will Provide' is a psychedelic explanation of the Lord's guidance, greatly enhanced by a rocking lead guitar line from Sowell.

'Voice Of Thunder' issued in 1981, was also cut at Channel One, this time with an augmented Arabs backing band that featured 'Professor' Larry Silvera on bass, Fish Clarke back on drums, plus little-known guitarist David 'Little D' Trail, a veteran of the Light of Saba, and another axe man listed only as Andy. The menacing 'Ten Commandments' is followed by 'Tribute To Bob Marley', which also hails departed heroes Slim Smith, Don Drummond, Jacob Miller and General Echo. 'Hold The Fort' is another testament of faith, while 'Every Time I Hear The Word' rides a modulated 'Drum Song' to re-work Far I's interpretation of a Psalm, 'Head Of The Buccaneer' compares the exploits of Henry Morgan, Rhygin and Julius Caeser with those of John the Baptist. 'Shall Not Dwell In Wickedness' is surprisingly optimistic, while 'Give I Strength' is an alternate exploration of the same rhythm used for 'Ten Commandments'; 'Kingdom Of God' recounts proverbs over a booming rhythm; 'Coming In From The Rock' recounts the trans-Atlantic carrying of herb, while 'Skinhead' warns of fascist disturbances in Britain and Ireland.

'Musical history', Far I's final effort for Trojan and his last completed album, shows the toaster incorporating something of the dancehall style to his religious sermons; in the same period, Far I was working with leading dancehall artists such as Toyan, Rod Taylor and Jah Thomas. 'Everytime I Talk About Jah' thus has a bright optimism that echoes the cadence of dancehall, while 'Prince Far I Come Again' is biblical re-working of 'Rockfort Rock'; 'Tell Them About Jah Love' demands an explanation from the US President as to why he sent helicopters to destroy Jamaica's herb fields and 'Move We Are Together' is again in a bouncing dancehall style, while 'At The Cross' rides a ghostly rhythm reminiscent of Johnny Clarke's 'Move Out Of Babylon'. 'Working For My Saviour' tells of choices we have to face in life, while 'I Don't Know Why I Love You So' speaks of Far I's perpetual faith; 'What You Gonna Do On Judgement Day' warns of the impending Armageddon, while 'Take Heed Frontline' speaks of Jah's enduring love.

The final numbers included on this compilation, 'Survival' and 'Stop The War', are taken from the uncompleted album Prince Far I was working on with insightful producer Roy Cousins, eventually issued as 'spear Of The Nation' (aka 'Umkhonto We Sizwe') following Far I's senseless murder on September 15th, 1983. As Cousins explains, "Them kill him over a dance: they want to keep a dance and him give (a promoter) half of the money and owe him half, but (the promoter's) woman mash up the dance the night she have a fight, so Far I say him nah pay his other half of the money. Prince (is) one of the man who come through the system the hard way; is a man who go to prison a Jamaica and certain things, and Jamaica is (about) survival. Edgewater him live, and him go home to water him garden and the (gunmen) them a watch him, and as soon as him roll up the hose to go in, they go in with him. Them say everybody fi lay down on the floor, and I hear him lay down neatly, him don't put up any resistance, but him wife, she know the boy them and she a put up resistance and they shoot she first but she never dead and they shoot him, kill him like an animal. In the living room, you see the blood with his finger-mark all over the wall, when a person in agony."

"You see that brother there, when him die I really feel it," adds Flabba Holt, "cause he was my good friend you know. He did have a thing them call fits or some kind of heavy cough; and I think it's that that was going to kill him. When I hear it mentioned... boy I couldn't believe it."

That Prince Far I should be needlessly killed in such a brutal fashion is truly horrific, and says much of the levels of violence endemic in Jamaican society from that time. Although he has not been on earth for over two decades now, his work lives on through the incredible music he committed to tape. In putting together this compilation, we pay tribute to the great Prince Far I, an exceptional toaster rightly known as Jamaica's Voice of Thunder.

DAVID KATZ

Heavy Manners
Free From Sin
When Jah Ready You Got To Move
Call On I In Trouble
Don't Deal With Folly
Light Of Fire
Reggae Music
Go Home On The Morning Train
Siren
I And I Are The Chosen One
Deck Of Life
The Vision
Natty Champion
Read A Chapter
Golden Throne
Jamaican Heroes
Prison Discipline
Musical History
Jah Will Provide
Ten Commandments
Tribute To Bob Marley
Hold The Fort
Every Time I Hear The Word
Head Of The Buccaneer
Shall Not Dwell In Wickedness
Give I Strength
Kingdom Of God
Coming In From The Rock
Skinhead
Everytime I Talk About Jah
Prince Far I Come Again
Tell Them About Jah Love
More We Are Together
At The Cross
Working For My Saviour
I Don't Know Why I Love Jah So
What You Gonna Do On The Judgement Day
Take Heed Frontline
Survival
Stop The War

Trojan
All material © Trojan Records