Skin Flesh & Bones - Dub In Blood

Dub In Blood
Skin Dub
Flesh Dub
Bones Dub
Heart Dub
Dub To The Vein
Injection Dub
Syringe Dub
Doctor Dub

"Dub is really the music I love to listen o on my own. When you sit down and really listen hard you can find the spaces in the music. Half of it is missing, but the rest is in your head!"

Chef, singer, record producer, owner of 10 record labels and father of 17 children, Phil Pratt is one of the more unusual and elusive characters in Jamaican music. Responsible for some crucial rocksteady sides in the '60s, Phil went on to produce some of the best roots music to come out of Jamaica, including huge hits like 'Artibella' and 'My Heart Is Gone'. But since relocating from Kingston, his focus has mostly been on cooking, and his headquarters has been the Scandal restaurant in West London, where his signature dishes are Oxtail Stew and Lobster Curry.

"It's always been the music and the cooking run side by side. I have been cooking from when I was 9, and I ran my own restaurant from age eleven. I have had a hard life. For the last 22 years I used to go to my bed at 3 o'clock, and wake up at 6 o'clock in the morning to go do my cooking. It's hard work but I love it. I'm not doing cooking for the money, I'm doing it for the love, and that's why I'm so successful at it."

"And cooking is a bit like producing - that's a fact. You have to put different things together, and you have to mix the bitter with the sweet. No man going to live forever - dying is bitter and living is sweet. So food and music can't just be one thing, you have to have both or it don't have any meaning."

Back at his house in Kingsbury, a guitar and keyboard are still in regular use. Indeed Pratt's productions are always notable for their careful constructions and strong melodies.

"I was completely different from some other producers ca I always start with the song. Sometimes I change the song, ca the song must have melody that you can sing along with. Then you have the chance to be successful."

This attention to detail was carried over into the powerful series of dub albums he issued in the 70s and 80s.

"I have so many dub albums cos I love dub. In fact overall I sell more dub than vocal."

"When I listen to dub I can recreate different things in my mind. Even as I listen I will rewrite the songs in my head. You can pick something out from the spaces of dub, like that go with that, and that link with that. You can write a whole song in your mind from just one pluck of the guitar. The way it rings out in your ears - there is a melody there. It may sound strange to some people, but there can be a melody, even in the echo. The sound carries a suggestion of something."

This release, 'Dub In Blood', is one of the rarest and most sought after dub albums of all. Issued in tiny quantities on Phil's Sunshot label, it now commands ridiculous prices on the collector's market.

"'Dub In Blood' come out on Sunshot, and that label was beautiful, ca I pretend that all the tunes I'm making coming from the sky and the sun, so they're always hot, so the label name Sunshot."

Yet confusingly the same LP was also issued in England with different track titles and proudly renamed 'The Best Dub Album In The World'.

"Yes, it was my idea to call it that. It was a bold thing to say for a title, but at the time it was the best dub album! So I use a bit of self praise for promotion. And it was very popular."

To add further confusion, both releases only had nine tracks on the vinyl, despite listing ten on the sleeve. The album comprises dubs to tunes by Al Campbell and Earl George aka George Faith, and was recorded and mixed at Channel One studios by Ernest Hoo Kim and Ossie Hibbert.

"Channel One had a very unusual sound but it good. When you hear a Channel One tune you know it make at Channel One."

"We normally did 6 hour sessions at Channel One. We would spend 20  minutes or half an hour rehearsing each song, and then normally one take to record it. If they make a mistake we go over it again. And sometime you come back and mix the tune another day, ca sometime you no have enough money to finish it that day."

"When you mixing, first you mix each vocal followed by its version, cos it's easier to remember where to drop things out. Sometime you take an hour or less to balance the vocal mix, and then to mix the dub the engineer is the crucial man, and with your guidance the dub mix probably take four or five minutes. You maybe talk to the engineer about what you want and then you run it one or two time, and most engineer have it musically to know when to do it, cos mixing dub is a free thing. At Channel One we did have a whole heap of effects, like the big delay and reverbs."

The musicians on this set are Skin, Flesh & Bones, who were primarily a live rather than studio band, centred around the drumming of Sly Dunbar.

"Sly make sure every producer get them fair amount of drum! He had no Partiality. A good lad. You say 'ready' and him kick off, and you always get your money's worth."

"When you record a hit tune, the musician them know immediately, because they feel the energy to lay something nice, and that's what make a hit tune. When the musicians them ready and you hear them say 'Take this one!' then you know it's there. But if you don't know exactly what you want then you can get tricked by that, ca the musician might want to go to another session and them want done quick, so sometimes they say 'It's a hit that, next tune!' And you can get caught by that, so you as producer have to know whether you really get what you want."

In addition to the original 'Dub In Blood' album, this issue features four bonus tracks also mixed at Channel One, plus the dub to Al Campbell's 'Natty Dread Bandwagon', recorded by Lee 'Scratch' Perry at the Black Ark.

"I did a lot of work at the Black Ark. Perry is a good boy, with a clean heart. We are two mad people together! Him is musically mad. We hang out a lot, just me and Scratch and some Red Label wine! Him would help you if you in the studio, and say, "Pratt, you hear that - is a better sound that." His mind so good that him would say to you "you are going the wrong way, you should play this" and it would work. And him not even a musician! A great, great mind in the recording business. Him just erratic like me, like how I am selfish - we both never want no one telling us what to do, we just do things whe we feel fi do."

"And the reason all that success of dub was back to Scratch, cos it all comes from him. The first man make a version tune was Scratch, and we follow. It was so different that people like it, and some people start prefer the riddim to the vocal, so people turn it around. That was the turning point in the business, and everybody follow Scratch. The version made it cheaper because we only had to record one riddim for two sides of a record. After Scratch establish the version, then the drum and bass enter the dance. But version start from the record shps, not from the dancehall. Once it come on the b-side everybody rush it in the record shop. And now the sound system man want to play it in the dance. Two fifteen inch speaker drive the dance in them days."

Phil's releases came out on a multitude of labels, but most of his prime roots music was released on Terminal (named after the bus terminal opposite his Beckford Street shop), Sunshot and Chanan-Jah.

"Chanan-Jah - that's the name I build up from the Rasta thing, so it have the name Jah, and through I wasn't a friendly man, so Chanan means me, a very unfriendly man! I tell you the truth, that's how I was born, I'm always alone - never a friend come to  y house. And I am still unfriendly. Yes, Chanan means me, ca I am a very selfish man, so there's a joke in the label name."

"But I tell you something - I wouldn't change it for the world, being a producer. I make more than fifteen hits and I still poor. But if I reborn again and have this knowledge, then the same thing I would do. Record business is challenging, and it's tiring too, ca you don't get to sleep at night, but it's nice. The challenge is can you make a hit, ca that's all you want to do, and it's a bloody hard thing to make. All these people who have doctorate in music, they would make a hit every day if it was easy to make. No, it's not like that - it is spontaneous. A collaborative."

For an 'unfriendly man', Phil Pratt is witty, sharp and great company. He is also modest about his place in musical history, and has rarely agreed to be interviewed. Indeed today he sees his creations in the kitchen as pretty much equal in importance to his achievements in the recording studio.

"It's unusual to have two specialities in life, but they go hand in hand cos when you eat you want to listen to music, it's nice. And being a cook and being a producer, well it's producing all the way!"

Diggory Kenrick

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