Don't Call Us Immigrants
Misty - Six One Penny
Lion Youth - Rat A Cut Bottle
Black Slate - Sticksman
Tabby Cat Kelly - Don't Call Us Immigrants
Reggae Regular - Where Is Jah
Trevor Hartley - Skip Away
The African Brothers - Gimme African Love
Matumbi - The Man In Me
Pablo Gad - Hard Times
Steel Pulse - Nyah Love
Aswad - It's Not Our Wish
African Stone - Run Rasta Run
|The history of UK based
reggae labels date back to the arrival of the first large wave of
immigrants from the Caribbean in the late '50s and early '60s. The
demand for music from "back home" was met by newly formed labels like
Chris Blackwell's Island Records, R&B Records (issuing Jamaican and
Irish music), Blue Beat and later Pama and Trojan Records.
By the late '60s Pama and Trojan both had chains of shops spread around the capital - Soundville, (Pama), and Music City, (Trojan). Both labels specialised, (along with smaller labels), in issuing productions from Jamaican artists/producers. Soon however, UK companies began financing their own productions. Pama had a great band in The Mohawks, but tended to make cover versions of current soul and pop hits hoping to emulate their success. Denzil Dennis, (Pama), even covered Slade's 'Mama We're All Crazee Now!' Countless other unbelievable covers exist.
Artists like Junior English, Winston Groovy and others were working as both recording and live acts. Laurel Aitken, Owen Gray and Roy Shirley were amongst those who had settled in the UK and a kind of reggae cabaret circuit was created. Many concerts were attended by an age group spanning teenagers to pensioners. I can recall seeing Bob Marley along with Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer playing 3rd or 4th on the bill at Edmonton Sundown, they were supporting Dandy Livingstone, Winston Groovy and Matumbi (amongst others) at a benefit for Ethiopian famine in 1973, (long before Live Aid).
During This period the flavour of the recordings coming from Jamaica reflected the climate of political and social change on the island. It seemed people were crying out for an identity and change and the answer came largely through Rastafarianism. Reggae, for a long time called 'the suffers music', began to deliver songs with a message and spirituality. Black awareness and pride which had been gaining momentum in the USA spread to the Caribbean and UK.
For most hardcore reggae fans all real reggae had to come from Jamaica. The UK didn't have 'the sound'. It was regarded as soft. Early pioneers like the Cimmarons who had begun as a backing band for visiting Jamaican acts were beginning to forge a distinctive UK sound. A momentum was building and slowly things were changing.
For the children of early immigrants to the UK attending school had for many proved very unpleasant. Blatant racism, taunting and violence were commonplace. To make matters worse some teachers gave less than full care or attention to kids who needed it. Out of school, life didn't seem to get much better. Skinheads, the police, barred from certain pubs. Trying to get a job or an apprenticeship, a place to live, there were enough obstacles in the way. Britain's antiquated legal system had thrown up the SUS law. Originally it had been implemented to keep returning soldiers from the Crimean War in check. It was now used extensively to stop and search black youths. Police harassment reached an alarming level.
The early '70s saw a boom in the popularity of the sound system. Sir Coxsone, Duke Reid, Neville the Music Enchanter, Count Shelley, Fatman, and many other sounds around the country gave a local point for local youths. A very distinct brand of homegrown Roots Music scene was emerging. Dennis Bovell started the Suffers Hi-Fi Sound System in North London. Dennis who was probably the biggest single catalyst in UK reggae was born in St. Peters Barbados in 1953 and it's worth looking at his story. Dennis's parents moved to South London in 1959 and were followed by Dennis in 1965. Dennis then went on to form Matumbi in 1970, (Matumbi Yoruba, Nigerian for reborn). They quickly became a popular live act supplying the backing to visiting reggae artists such as Pat Kelly, Ken Boothe, I-Roy, as well as touring in their own right. They recorded 'Wipe Them Out' (about the Italian invasion of Ethiopia) Brother Louie Reggae Stuff and signed to Trojan Records which lasted until 1975. The song 'The Man In Me' was written by Bob Dylan and Matumbi's version was recorded just before Dennis Bovell went to prison in 1976 the circumstances of which give some idea of the climate of the times. Suffers Hi-Fi was engaged in a Sound clash with Sir Lord Koos at the Carib Club on Cricklewood Broadway in North West London. Lee Perry had arrived from Jamaica with a hot selection of dub plates for Suffers Hi-Fi. The Police, who were looking for an excuse to raid the event, surrounded the club and many people were severely beaten as they left. Twelve people were eventually charged on the ancient law of Riot and Affray. They became known as the "Carib 12" and quickly became a "cause celeb". The trial took place over a two year period at London's Old Bailey and Dennis was jailed for three years as their ringleader - he served six months before the decision was overturned and he was released!
Drummer Jah Bunny had joined Matumbi in 1978 on the eve of their tour with Ian Dury and the Blockheads. previous to that he and Dennis had recorded 'Gimme African Love' as The African Brothers and 'Run Rasta Run' as African Stone. 'Gimme African Love' featured Jah Bunny on lead vocals and Dennis Bovell on backing vocals. On 'Run Rasta Run' Bunny played drums and Dennis played all the other instruments. Jah Bunny became one of the UKs most in demand session drummers. He ventured into further productions. In the late '70s, Trevor Hartley left St Thomas, Jamaica for London. A talented singer/songwriter, he had recorded for Morwell and Joe Gibbs. His first recording in England were 'Skipaway/Selassie I', produced by Jah Bunny and Dennis Bovell. Trevor has enjoyed a recording career that has seen him record for the likes of Phil Pratt and was at one stage a major signing for London Records.
By the mid '70s the musical climate in the UK was truly exciting. Jamaican reggae was arguably going through its most creative period. Brilliant new sounds were reaching us from Jamaica on a weekly basis. There was the burgeoning Punk Rock movement. A true feeling of rebellion. For the first time since the '60s Britain was an exhilarating place to grow up in.
The Clash and the Sex Pistols were formed and clearly stated the enormous influence that reggae had on their music and outlook checking out reggae shows, going to sound system dances became a popular pastime for white youths - the Punky Reggae party was on. In North London, Black Slate had formed in 1974. Touring with the likes of Delroy Wilson and Ken Boothe. Their most influential release was 'Stickman'. Originally cut for Sir George sound system as a dub plate, its popularity gained it a full release and it became an underground classic, topping all local charts and enjoying a lot of success in Belgium and Holland. 'Stickman' was the phrase used at the time for a petty thief/mugger. Black Slate became one of the most popular live reggae acts from England - touring constantly.
All around the UK, more and more reggae bands were forming - not session musicians like in Jamaica, but bands made up of friends and local musicians. In South London Reggae Regular formed around the talented keyboard player George Fleah Clarke. Greensleeves Records had just started and its second release became Reggae Regulars 'Where Is Jah' which was a sizeable hit. The band later signed a major deal with CBS Records. Aswad (Arabic for black) was formed in the Ladbroke Grove area of West London by Brinsley Forde, George Oban, Courtney Hemmings, Donald Benjamin and Angus Gaye. They forged a large and loyal live following, their stage shows sounded every bit as good as their records. Still regarded as one of the all time great reggae concerts, was Aswad backing of Burning Spear at the Finsbury Park Rainbow. As a rhythm section alone, they were capable of making superb backing tracks for other artistes, but in their right, are a quite unique band. They have topped the reggae charts consistently with roots tracks, instrumentals, live albums and enjoyed a number one hot in the UK national chart. 'It's Not Our Wish' was released in 1977. It was Aswad's first release on Grove Music. Produced by Mikey 'Reuben' Campbell, the track was written and sung by Angus Gaye and recorded at TMC Studios, Tooting, (a favourite studio for many artists at the time) and released as a 12" single on green vinyl. In Birmingham Steel Pulse had formed in the Handsworth area and after entering a local talent contest at the Santa Rosa Club on Soho Road - and winning - their prize was studio time with Dennis Bovell, (he had also been one of the judges). They released the single 'Nyah Love' produced by Dennis on the Tempus label. On the very same evening, Gladwyn Wright and Tabby 'Cat' Kelly finished 2nd and 3rd respectively. Dennis also went on to produce tracks with the other two artists. 'Don't Call Us Immigrants' is the result of the collaboration between Dennis and Tabby 'Cat' Kelly - its clever, thoughtful lyrics offer a clear insight into what many young Black Britons felt at the time. A whole new concert circuit began to emerge, spreading first around the UK, then onwards to the favourite destination of all - the much loved Holland, (the home of legal spliff).
Back in London, at the 100 Club on Thursdays, Ron and Nanda hosted Reggae Night. On Tuesdays, Ron Watts promoted the 'Punk Night'. It wasn't surprising that some kind of collaboration should take place. The Rock Against Racism movement began, and there was the 'Legalize Cannabis Campaign'. Punk and Reggae bands shared the same stage and their was a belief that almost anything could happen. In Southall, Misty In Roots started their People Unite label. They issued records by the excellent rock band The Ruts. Progressive and independent minded Misty toured relentlessly refusing to sign to a major label - their live shows became almost spiritual affairs, 'Six One Penny' was released as a free 7" and given away at live gigs and was Misty's first studio recording. It was in fact made by only three musicians from the group; 'Puck', 'Chops' and Tony Henry. This is a true collectors item. Less than 500 were ever pressed.
Lion Youth was born in the UK and began life as Clarence Williams, he spent his childhood in Jamaica before returning to London as a teenager. A self taught musician/multi instrumentalist he teamed up with producer John Rubie who describes him as a hard working artist and a great songwriter. Lion Youth recorded the album 'Love Comes And Goes' for Rubie and another LP worth of unreleased material exists. 'Rat A Cut Bottle' was originally a rhythm track Rubie had recorded at TMC studio three years prior to voicing Lion Youth. The track had been recorded with Zabandis one of England's finest rhythm sections responsible for many UK hits and a very in demand backing band. Another excellent collaboration with John Rubie was the 1981 song '3 Million On The Dole'.
Born in Jamaica, Pablo Gad was a friend of Augustus Pablo and his brother Douggie Swaby. He followed their sound system, El Rockers and was also hugely influenced by King Tubby and Emperor Faith Sounds. Pablo came to the UK to live in 1974 and went back to Jamaica for a visit in 1979. On returning to England it struck him how almost everyone seemed to be complaining about how hard things were. Having just witnessed a whole different kind of suffering in Jamaica, he wrote 'Hard Times' to let people realise that their lot in life was not as bad as it seemed. "They at least got their rent paid and their Giro every week". Released that same year (1979), he went on to win two gold discs for best male vocalist and best album, presented to him by Black Echos readers in 1980. Pablo Gad's first releases were 'International Dread' and 'Kunte Kinte' on Lightning Records. 'Kunte Kinte' featured Lloyd Charmers on backing vocals and Eddy Grant on guitar. Pablo gad toured regularly and would work with Black Slate as his favourite backing band. Black Slate's Ras Elroy played bass on 'Hard Times' with Keith and Tony Douglas on harmonies and Mark Lusardi as engineer.
Throughout the '70s, all of the artists featured on this album recorded songs that had a unique flavour to their music, each band and artist had a truly identifiable sound of their own and all wrote about the Black British experience. Before all the contemporary musical genres that now exist these artists along with many of their Punk Rock counterparts paved the way for the multicultural musical freedom that now exists.
'Don't Call Us Immigrants' is I believe the first compilation of British Roots Reggae. The songs featured all enjoyed considerable success in the reggae charts of the time. This is a unique and truly influential set of recordings, reflecting life in the UK throughout the '70s.
Adrian Sherwood - London Feb. 2000
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