Prince Far I - Psalms For I
Psalm 48 Version
The Lord's Prayer
|"O come, let us sing unto
the Lord: Let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation".
Pressure Sounds are proud to continue their long association with the late, great Prince Far I, The Voice of Thunder. The Spear Of The Nation. Described as "not so much a deejay in the classic style, but more of a chanter of words" the best example of his chanting work is 'Psalms For I' with legendary producer Lloydie Slim at the controls and it ranks alongside 'Under heavy manners' as THE classic Far I album with the marrying of the drum and bass core at the heart of reggae music to some of the most beautiful hymns of praise to the Almighty: The Book of Psalms from The Old Testament and The Lord's Prayer from The New Testament. Many of the Psalms are dedicated "To the chief Musician" and have been set to many different forms of music over the centuries while their relevance today is every bit as important and every last word as full of meaning as when they were first written. Paeans of praise to God, hymns of Holiness, and even though Prince Far I is no longer with us the music and Psalms live on.
Deejays often seem to have problems finding lyrics of sufficient strength and power to match their fire and brimstone delivery and the musical drive of the backing rhythm and, too often, lesser deejays have ended up resorting to nursery rhymes and doggerel. However when they have turned to the Bible for inspiration the results have never been less than stupendous: U-Roy with 'Rightful Ruler', Big Youth with 'I Pray Thee' and countless others. Dennis Alcapone with 'King Of Glory' and I-Roy, never known to be lacking in the lyrics department, with his incisive parody of Psalm 23 'Sufferer's Psalm'.
Even reggae expert scholars would be hard pressed to name more than a handful of Lloydie Slim productions yet every release that bears his name is a certified classic. 'Power Of love' by Ronnie Davis backed with arguably King Tubby's greatest ever dub mix 'King Tubbys In Fine Style' on the Rosie label, a next version to the same 'You Are My Angel' rhythm from Big Joe 'No Vacancy For Bald Head' which came out on Derrick Morgan's Hop label, 'Jah Jah Jehovah' from Ronnie Davis released on the Micron label and 'World By Myself'' again from Ronnie Davis released on the Record Smith label. Perhaps the most important in the context of this release is 'Judge I O Lord', a reading of Psalm 43, from Tappa Zukie released in 1974 on the Record Smith label. Deeply religious and sombre it brought out unimagined depths to the brooding 'Drum Song' rhythm and it proved to be the inspiration for Slim to record an entire album with Prince Far I in the same style. Lloydie Slim was never one to put out records simply for the sake of it or merely "trying a thing" and his output could never be described as prolific for by his own admission: "I've just sat aside and watched things go by."
Born Ivanhoe Smith only 21 years ago! in Greenwich Farm Lloydie Slim grew up in the Kingston 13 district and was always interested in music. His boyhood friends were Stranger Cole and Slim Smith. He became a salesman at Bunny lee's Agro Record Shop on Orange Street in the late sixties where he "took over right after Blackbeard went into business on his own" but his deep musical love and knowledge meant that he did not stay behind the counter for too long and, although he had no formal musical training, he soon moved on to organising auditions for Bunny's aspiring artists.
He was then promoted again to pick and find tunes for the man soon to become not only Bunny Lee's but also Jamaica's number one artist. "At the time Tubby's had 'None Shall Escape The Judgment' by Johnny Clark as his number one dub and "every sound man had to have a copy of it", Bunny was out of the country and Lloydie Slim was minding the store when Cornell Campbell, who had been Agro's top singer, recorded 'Natty Don't Go' for Downbeat (Coxsone Dodd) and the word was out: "Your guy gone work with a different producer" so Slim wanted to release 'None Shall Escape The Judgment'. "The whole thing then was to get Johnny Clarke on a stage show and one time we were coming from Tubby's and I asked Byron Lee 'Is Johnny Clarke getting on stage?' and I asked Marie Garth from JBC 'Can she put Johnny on the show?' They said 'No. He hasn't rehearsed' and so I told the bands the chords and the rhythm and while we were playing it someone shouted 'I hear this tune at a dance!' So they put Johnny on during what should have been the band break and... needless to say "...him mash up the show!" Slim went and 'cut the stamper' and the rest is history. But even at the time he was "amongst Bunny lee" he also worked with the Hookim brothers at Channel One "taking orders, go to the bank, buy food, clear the juke-boxes" and he was to teach the Hookims the basic fact of Kingston's musical life that the only way an artist will stay with you is if you pay them: "If an artist gets $10,000 from Studio One another guy will give him $15,000!" and he called in Alton Ellis and John Holt for them who became the first two Channel One artists: "I don't keep secret when it come to music. I'll help any and any man!" and he continued to help out the Hookims when he gave them 'Welding', a monster hit from I-Roy, to put out. "I done it at Tubby's but I gave it to Channel One".
Lloydie Slim left Jamaica in early 1976 and moved to New York where he opened a record store on Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn in 1977 but, as before, it was not too long before his love for actually making music took him back to the recording studios. He recorded songs with Carlton Coffee and in June 1980 became the winner of the New York Reggae Festival Competition with Leroy Ridgway's 'Living Truth'. Carlton Coffee subsequently "flew off to Miami where he hooked up with Inner Circle and has been their lead singer ever since". Slim has since become very involved in the New York 'Spanish Reggae' scene "doing music like calypso in Spanish and also Spanish reggae and soul" and he remains "in the work but I need someone to license it". He still holds Ronnie Davis in the highest esteem and he is "focusing on his career right now. Him just have that coolness with him and if anyone wants a vocal LP I'm spending money on Ronnie Davis".
Prince Far I was born Michael James Williams in Spanish Town in 1944 and he grew up in Kingston's Waterhouse district where he eventually took up the role of number one deejay with the obscure Sir Mike The Musical Dragon Sound System as King Cry Cry. Apparently he had been given the name due to his strange habit of breaking down and sobbing uncontrollably when he lost his temper. His first record was for Bunny Lee (that man again!) and he moved on to Coxsone's Studio One where he was originally a bouncer and his recording of 'Natty Farmyard' on the 'Mean Girl' rhythm has assumed cult status over the years.
It was while working with Enos McLeod in 1974 on 'Let Jah Arise' that Enos renamed him Prince Far I. After working with Pete Weston's Micron label he went on to work on two of the most complete deejay albums ever made: 'Psalms For I' with Lloydie Slim and 'Under Heavy Manners' with Joe Gibbs and Errol Thompson, the Mighty Two, where Far I's gruff delivery sat comfortably astride a selection of some of their more commercially slanted dread rhythms. He enjoyed his first Jamaican hit single 'Heavy Manners' with the Mighty Two and the subsequent album captured many of the conflicts and contradictions of Jamaica's State Of Emergency in 1976. On the strength of this auspicious album he was signed by Virgin Records in the UK.
In 1976 Prince Far I set up his own label in Jamaica, Cry Tuff, and the following year came on his first brief visit to the UK where he played a couple of dates in Birmingham to his avid cult following in the Midlands. He then travelled to London with the original Arabs, Errol 'Flabba' Holt and Eric 'Fish' Clarke, where they recorded two tracks for the 'Message From The King' album. In 1979 he was brought over to tour the UK by On-U-Sound's Adrian Sherwood this time with Bim Sherman and Prince Hammer for the Roots Encounter Tour. Seeing him live on stage was a captivating sight and he soon established links with a completely new audience that would last until his untimely death in 1983 when he was shot dead inside his own home. His work was built to last and while other deejays' careers faded away Far I maintained his status and, as the reggae audience grew disenchanted with roots music, Far I chanted for his newly found audience who had become familiar with his work through his Virgin albums and his touring with Hit Run's Creation Rebel, as Steve Barker said:
"Prince Far I - a man to grace any style with wisdom, a chanter to quake the walls of the city, a preacher to strike fear in the weakheart, humble in the garden and proud in the city."
All the rhythms on this album, apart from two, are from Bunny Lee's Aggrovators. Slim never had the finances to go into full time production and obtained the studio time and use of the rhythms as payment for the help he'd given to Bunny Lee. The pair have remained close friends and Slim was known as Bunny's 'Midnight Watchman'. "I was more dealing with producing and ideas for Bunny Lee. we were moving together. I wasn't working for myself. I was working for Bunny Lee but I had access to put artists on rhythms." Lee Perry provided the rhythm for 'Psalm 53'. Slim obtained it as he was voicing the album with Price Far I when Scratch just said to him "I'm gonna give you a rhythm" and the great Alton Ellis gave him the rhythm he had produced at Studio One and voiced as 'I Don't Know Why/Truly' for 'Psalm 24' but on the condition that Slim 'only put Prince Far I on the rhythm and no-one else' although by then Dennis Brown had already sung 'Stages In My Life' over it for Alton.
PSALM 49 - To the chief Musician. A Psalm for the sons of Korah.
"My mouth shall speak of wisdom; and the meditation of my heart shall be of understanding." The rhythm used is a recut of The Heptones' Studio One classic 'Why Did You Leave'.
PSALM 48 - A song and Psalm for the sons of Korah.
"Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of his Holiness." The rhythm is Cornell Campbell's 'Natty Dread In A Greenwich Town' and it was originally released as a single entitled 'Dwelling In Zion' on the Book Of Psalms label.
PSALM 24 - A Psalm for David.
"The earth is the LORD'S, and the fullness hereof; the world, and they that dwell therein." The rhythm is Alton Ellis' 'I Don't Know Why/Truly' produced by Alton Ellis and recorded at Studio One.
PSALM 87 - A Psalm or Song for the sons of Korah.
"His foundation is the holy mountains. The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob."
THE LORD'S PRAYER
"After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name." Taken from The Gospel according to St. Matthew Chapter 6, Verses 9 to 15 and The Gospel according to St. Luke Chapter 11, Verses 2 to 4. Gregory Isaacs memorably used this rhythm to sing Delano Stewart's soulful classic 'Don't Believe In Him' for Bunny Lee and U-Roy deejayed it as 'King Tubby's Special'.
"O come, let us sing unto the LORD: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation." Horace Andy's classic 'You Are My Angel' rhythm that Slim had already used for Ronnie Davis' 'Power Of Love' provides the accompaniment here.
PSALM 53 -To the chief Musician upon Malahath, Maschil, A Psalm of David.
"The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God. Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity: there is none that doeth good." The rhythm is from the Upsetters and was originally laid for Lloyd Parks' version to 'Mighty Clouds Of Joy'.
PSALM 23- A Psalm of David.
"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want."
"Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?" Prince Far I also deejayed this rhythm as '354 Skank'.
"Blessed is the man that walketh not in the council of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful." One of the Psalms most frequently exhorted by the reggae fraternity and not only quoted by U-Roy and Dillinger but also painted on the legendary Count Ossie's drums. The rhythm is the Aggrovators' interpretation of the Soul vendors' mournful 'Drum Song'.
The album was voiced and mixed at King Tubby's studio over a period of time with Tubby himself handling the engineering and it was originally planned that it would be handled by Pete Weston's Micron organisation "because Micron was always distributed better". They had paid for the mixing but Lloydie Smith paid for everything else. Micron chose not to release the album in Jamaica but instead brought it straight to the UK. It became one of the first releases on the London based Carib Gems label in 1975 where it marked a high point in the deejay's art as a demonstration of the power and the glory of a preacher rejoicing unrestrained untrammeled and unrepentant in the love of God. At the same time as he recalled how great it had been to work together with Far I in the studio Slim looked forward to another London release for this classic album because now he could "deal with a stronger future for the record".
Harry Hawke - February 2002
|All material © Copyright Pressure Sounds|