bafcd37 Microphone Attack - Niney The Observer 1974-1978

Train From The West - Mr U-Roy
Ride On / Wild Goose Chase 12" Mix - Big Youth
Whole Lot A Fire 12" Mix - Big Youth
Four Sevens - Big Youth
6 Dead 19 Gone A Jail - Big Youth
Flat Foot Hustling - Dillinger
Jah Come Here - I-Roy
Fresh And Clean - I-Roy
Step On The Dragon - I-Roy
Sister Maggie Breast - I-Roy
Native Land - I-Roy
Point Blank Observer Styli - I-Roy
Camp Road Skanking - I-Roy
Roots Man / Observer Mix Version - I-Roy
Jah Is My Light / Wicked Eat Dirt 12" - Leroy Smart / I-Roy
Whip Them Jah 12" Mix - Ranking Trevor
So Long Rastafari - Dillinger And Trinity

The late great Count Machuki certainly started something when he picked up his microphone and began dropping what he called 'musical wisecracks' over the US R&B he was playing in the Forester's Hall in downtown Kingston on Boxing Night 1950. Pretty soon Machuki was borrowing phrases from Harlem jive talk and integrating Jamaican street slang into the raps he delivered in the dancehall; he rapidly acquired both fans and imitators, so that by the end of the decade a whole generation of flamboyant MC's were on the microphone attack. Machuki's friend King Stitt was the first to gain consistent success on record (in 1968-69), following earlier efforts by such as Sir Lord Comic and King Sporty. The producer Prince Buster had also developed a style in talkover records in which he adopted various larger than life characters in order to comment on something that was happening in Jamaican life. Thus he became in turn a fearsome judge, a misogynistic law giver delivering his own commandments, a dancehall follower nostalgic for the 'old days', or an enthusiastic guide gleefully pointing out his own house as one of the sights on an imaginary train tour of Jamaica. But these developments, fascinating and diverting as they were, hardly prepared anyone for the profound shock caused by the appearance of U-Roy'.

U-Roy rewrote the deejay book and liberated the rhythm track for all who followed. Over the ensuing years, deejay music has had its detractors; even when U-Roy and King Stitt first made their appearance on record in the late 1960s often their efforts were dismissed as gimmicks, somehow not 'music' in the same way as vocal or instrumental performances. By its nature - a 'version' of something else - it could be argued that a deejay record is ephemeral, merely passing comment on the original - after all, it's just someone talking. Yet many if not all of the tracks included here give the lie to that argument. perhaps more importantly, U-Roy's arrival on the scene created a new role on the Jamaican musical 'stage'. The deejay's performance became the main part of the record, rather than a few interjections and intro's, and the deejay personality itself became central to the development of dancehall music. The deejay became a commentator, a community figure, the focus of the dancehall massive. From the roots came the rapper - all this had already happened in Jamaica before MCs in New York began rapping on specially-remixed rhythm tracks. U-Roy, Big Youth, and all the others really invented rap.

U-Roy is represented by one track on this compilation, dating from the period between his initial series of hits for Duke Reid, Keith Hudson, Lloyd Daly and others, and his mid-decade revival under the aegis of Prince Tony Robinson. During this time he was releasing discs for a variety of producers, including Derrick Harriott, Lloyd Chalmers, Alvin 'GG' Ranglin, Bunny Lee and Lee Perry, as well as on his own labels. For Niney, riding high with his groundbreaking productions on the late Dennis Brown, he cut the definitive 'Train From The West' on Brown's classic 'Westbound Train'; as an indicator of the respect in which he was held, Niney chose to print his name as 'Mr U-Roy' on the label. In the dancehall however, his pre-eminent position had been rivalled by a whole generation of his contemporaries, including micmen like Dennis Alcapone, I-Roy, Prince Jazzbo and many more.

When Big Youth arrived, everything changed again; he broadened the scope of the lyrics immeasurably and consolidated the role of the deejay as unofficial ghetto spokesperson. At the same time he was recording for Niney (and others), he was also developing his own label, financing it from his 'outside' work. Most of this output during 1973 - 79 is collected on 'Natty Universal Dread' (BAFCD 034). His importance in the deejay pantheon cannot be overestimated; indeed he remains one of the most influential figures in Jamaican music of the 1970s. Like U-Roy, he continues to record; he prefers to tour these days with a band. It is true to say he did more than anyone to establish such a role for the hardcore sound system deejay outside the dancehall.

The late I-Roy was perhaps the most articulate, witty and most wide-ranging in subject matter of all the great deejays who came to prominence in the 1970s. His story is told - much of it in his own words - in the notes to 'Don't Check Me With No Lightweight Stuff' (BAFCD 016). Since the release of that set I-Roy has sadly dies, although his death in November 1994 was not entirely unexpected - he had been in poor health due to heart trouble in the years before he died, but it was still a shock to all who knew him. In person, he was a great extrovert, totally self-assured, who always had an opinion on any subject. He was the type of guy you would hear before you actually saw him, his voice booming out from round the corner or out of a shop. He loved to talk about his possessions, regaling listeners with lists of their features, but he did it in such a way that it never really sounded like mere bragging. As  a sound system and recording deejay his musical legacy is evident but his creative input in the Kingston studios of the mid-1970s like Channel One has often been overlooked. This compilation gathers most of the tracks he cut for Niney in 1976-1977 and shows him at his improvisational best, virtually unstoppable over a series of (mostly) Dennis Brown songs.

The programme is completed with two cuts by Dillinger - one with Trinity - and a scorcher from Ranking Trevor. All three deejays were initially inspired by U-Roy and Big Youth, but nonetheless managed to evolve convincing styles of their own. Of the three, Dillinger and Trinity have been the most successful, both in terms of hit records and wider audience; Ranking Trevor was more of a force in the dancehall but all are still fully capable of delivering top-notch deejay performances to this day.

The producer of these sides, Winston 'Niney' Holness was born in Montego Bay in 1951. By 1970 he had served his apprenticeship in the music business - for producers Bunny Lee, Mrs E. Barnett, Clement Dodd and Joe Gibbs - and started his own Observer label that year, scoring immediately with the 45 'Blood And Fire', issued at Christmas that year. He was responsible for actually producing in the studio quite a few sides credited to Lee 'Scratch' Perry, Bunny Lee and Joe Gibbs, but his work on his own label with Dennis Brown - whose vocals can be heard on most of the rhythm tracks on this set - remains a high point in the careers of both artist and producer.

It is a tribute to the inherent strength of his rhythms - which ruled the dancehalls of the day - that he was able to attract the leading deejays to rap over them, and consequently a pleasure to offer these sides in the hope that the powerful artistry displayed herein by deejays, singers and producer can be appreciated anew by today's audience. But of course, I-Roy says it best: 'So here I'm gonna play you the disc of the day, with a flick of my wrist to make the hip cats jump and twist, in all the night clubs and liquor stores, I couldn't find my woman, gotta look once more...'
Steve Barrow - August 2001

1. Mr U-Roy - Train From The West
Dennis Brown's classic 'Westbound Train' is the original vocal, upon which U-Roy delivers line after line of brilliant jive. Soul Syndicate play the tough rhythm, derived by the producer from the style played by Willie Mitchell's Memphis session band responsible for Al Green's hits.

2. Big Youth - Ride On / Wild Goose Chase 12" Mix
Further cuts to 'Westbound Train' also featuring Dennis Brown; this remix combines both sides of the original Big Youth 7" and was released on Observer 12" in 1977.

3. Big Youth - Whole Lot A Fire 12" Mix
A remix of 'Mr Finnegan', the b-side of Jah Youth's 'Fire Bunn' 7" single, this cut also appeared on Observer 12" in 1977; all are cuts of the producer's own 'Blood And Fire' (1971). This version also has the horns from another cut, 'Psalms 9 To Keep In Mind' by Tommy McCook, as well as snatches of the original vocal. Incidentally, Psalms 9 contains the line 'When He avenges blood, He remembers them; He does not forget the cry of the humble' (verse 12).

4. Big Youth - Four Sevens
A version of the Diamonds' 'Right Time' rhythm, with Big Youth singing part of the lyric of 'I Need A Roof' on the track, before extending the 'two sevens' motif into four, deejay style. Jah Youth also used another cut of this rhythm for his own label, essaying the lyrics of the Archies' 'Sugar Sugar' alongside Junior Byles (available on the 3-CD set 'Natty Universal Dread').

5. Big Youth - 6 Dead 19 Gone A Jail
Another Dennis Brown version, this time Niney's recut for the singer of the Bob Andy classic 'My Time' (Studio One) with Big Youth commenting on the Green Bay 'massacre'; he also did an earlier cut (of the vocal) on his own Negusa Nagast label (available on 'Natty Universal Dread'). A quarter century later, Big Youth's words are still relevant, particularly in the light of recent events in Tivoli Gardens in July 2001.

6. Dillinger - Flat Foot hustling
Version of Dennis Brown's 'Have No Fear' with Dillinger - at the height of his popularity - articulating the sufferer code of survival with gritty élan. Another cut of this was released on an Observer 12", with a trombone overdub added, but the original 7" mix remains one of Dillinger's essential mid-seventies performances.

7. I-Roy - Jah Come Here
Version of Dennis Brown's 'Here I Come'. This version was voiced in London - hence the references to various locations in that city, like Ladbroke Grove and London Bridge. The cuts fades with I-Roy improvising rhymes on the theme of (Crown Prince) Dennis.

8. I-Roy - Fresh And Clean
Version of Dennis Brown's 'Take A Trip', itself an adaptation of the Drifters' 'On Broadway' melody with lyrics altered to reflect Zion. I-Roy's hyper-creative method of work is made plain by his comment at the end of the track.

9. I-Roy - Step On The Dragon
10. I-Roy - Sister Maggie Breast
Two versions of Dennis Brown's 'Wolf And Leopard'; one cultural or 'reality' themed, initially inspired by the success of the movie 'Enter The Dragon' and drawing on Psalm 27 to warn against 'enemies'. The other is the so-called 'slack' cut - salacious or plain lewd, depending on the listener's own PC rating. The intro is closely related to the intro on 'Water Rate' (Track 12), inserting Lee 'Scratch' Perry in place of 'man' in general. The original Dennis Brown song had been produced by Niney at the Black Ark with Scratch at the desk.

11. I-Roy - Native Land
12. I-Roy - Water Rate
Two versions of Junior Byles' 'Weeping', with thematic concerns split as on tracks 9-10. Both versions appeared back to back on Lloyd 'Printer' Campbell's 'The Thing' imprint. I-Roy's accapella introduction gives 'Native Land' the alternate title 'Caveman Skank'; he then launches into a mixed-up variation on the traditional 'Birthday' nursery rhyme before finishing with some wordplay around Byles' original vocal sentiments. The slack 'Water Rate' combines two vivid phallic metaphors - the strutting farmyard rooster and the 'gardener' complete with long hose.

13. I-Roy - Point Blank Observer Styli
14. I-Roy - Camp Road Skanking
This rhythm - a recut of the Heptones' 'Get In The Groove' (Studio One) - had been revived before, by the Morwells in 1975 ('Music Is So Divine') and by John Holt for his massive 76/77 hit 'Up Park Camp' (Channel One). The 'Up Park Camp' theme proved popular - Cornell Campbell did a version for Joe Gibbs called 'No Man's Land' and Coxsone dusted off his original Studio One rhythm track in reply to the 'versioneers' for Winston Jarrett's 'Up Park Camp No Man's Land'. Niney had already produced another two cuts - Gregory Isaacs' 'Slavemaster' and I-Roy's 'Hotta Yatta' before fellow producer Ossie Hibbert voiced Dillinger on the same Isaacs version 'Take A Dip' (available on 'Mr Isaacs', BAFCD 035). Niney then issued these two I-Roy cuts back-to-back, with the deejay offering convincing evidence of his credentials on 'Point Blank Observer Style', along with a commentary on the Jamaican government's prevailing internment arrangements during the State of Emergency Junior Delgado handles the vocal part on 'Camp Road Skanking', with I-Roy playing the part of a 'cockney' tourist looking for 'ladies of the night' along Up Park Road in the vicinity of the army camp, and apparently unaware of its then-current use as a detention centre.

15. I-Roy - Roots Man Observer Mix Version
I-Roy in reality mode again - the lyric deals with escape from the violence of (Kingston) city - on as as-yet unidentified rhythm which extends into dub.

16. Leroy Smart and I-Roy - Jah Is My Light / Wicked Eat Dirt 12" Mix
Riding Niney's version of the immortal 'Satta' rhythm is Leroy Smart, who also sang these lyrics for Jo Jo Hookim on a Channel One 12" ('Jah Is My Light') around this time, which also updated the Abyssinians' classic rhythm. I-Roy voiced variants of these lyrics - the 'dark sayings of old', derived principally from Psalms 1 and 14, but also featuring a smattering of Amharic - on other recuts of the 'Satta' rhythm, for Bunny Lee, Joe Gibbs and his own productions.

17. Ranking Trevor - Whip Them Jah 12" Mix
Version of Pablo's '555 Crown Street'; Niney also voiced Johnny Clarke's 'False Rasta' on the same backing track. Ranking Trevor, at this time a stalwart of Socialist Roots Hi-Fi alongside U-Brown and Nicodemus and here sounding like a hyped-up U-Roy - nonetheless reminds us that he was one of the most gifted of the Godfather's followers. Check the tape rewind just before the dub portion. This cut was released originally on photographer/journalist Dave Hendley's 'Sufferer's Heights' label.

18.  Dillinger and Trinity - So Long Rastafari
Version of Dennis Brown's 'So Long' (Rastafari Call You) with longtime friends Dillinger and Trinity having a joke at the expense of 'Babylonians'. This track appeared on Dennis' own DEB imprint in late 1976, but sounds as though it was recorded the previous year. The rhythm is Niney's 'flying cymbal' update of legendary Rasta drummer Count Ossie's valedictory anthem.
© Blood & Fire