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Virgin Front Line Presents: Dub - 40 Heavyweight Dub Sounds

CD1
Big Youth Special - Skin, Flesh & Bones
Academy Award Version - The Aggrovators
Merciful Dub - The Revolutionaries
Small Axe (Version) - U Roy
Command Councel - Dub Poet & The Roots
Pocket Money Version - The Gladiators
Pharaoh Dub - The Twinkle Brothers
No More War Version - Prince Far I
Dub Of Sound - Jah Lloyd
Citizen As A Peaceful Dub - Culture
Keep On Dubbing - The Twinkle Brothers
Dub With Garvey - The Icebreakers
Borno Dub - Prince Far I & The Arabs
Dub M.P.L.A. - Tapper Zukie
Bodyguard Dub - The Mighty Diamonds
Devil's Bug - The Revolutionaries
Mr Brown Version - Gregory Isaacs
Free Us Dub - The Twinkle Brothers
Oriental Taxi - Sly Dunbar
Lowers Frock - The Roots Radics
CD2
Dread Organ - Skin, Flesh & Bones
I Wish It Would Go On Version - Johnny Clarke
Roof Top Dub - The Revolutionaries
Mystic Revelation Version - Delroy Washington
Defense - Dub Poet & The Roots
Cairo Dub - Joyella Blade
Hip Dub - Vivian Weathers
Roots Natty Roots (Version) - The Aggrovators
Distant Drums Dub - The Twinkle Brothers
Black Gates - Jah Lloyd
Finger Out - The Icebreakers
Dub In The Ghetto - The Twinkle Brothers
Ogun Dub - Prince Far I & The Arabs
Pick Up The Dub - Tapper Zukie
Walk Like A Dragon - The Revolutionaries
Soon Forward Version - Gregory Isaacs
Reality Dub - The Mighty Diamonds
Dirty Harry - Sly Dunbar
Kingdom Dub - The Twinkle Brothers
Bud's Bush - The Roots Radics

Since the early seventies, Reggae has been synonymous with Dub. The obligatory flipside workout was as much enjoyed as any vocal or deejay chatter back in the Roots era and today it has a life of its own, with the Dub mix popping up on all manner of club and dance music records.

The whole thing in fact originated from something of a mistake back on the Rock Steady years of the late sixties, when Treasure Isle sound engineer Byron Smith inadvertently left off the vocals from an acetate he had cut for soundman Rudolph 'Ruddy' Redwood. The resulting recording was played, and played and played, such was the reaction from the crowded dancefloor, with the disc proving so popular that it wasn't long before normal retail records were appearing not with a different tune on the flip-side, but rather the top-side rhythm plus organ, slightly remixed or just a plain 'version' track.

The plain 'version' side continued into the early 1970's before Osbourne 'King Tubby' Ruddock started to tinker with the master tapes using primitive reverb units and other sound-changing equipment. The result was what we now know as Dub, and by 1973, hit-making producer Edward 'Bunny' Lee was taking his latest recordings to Tubby for them to be transformed into ocean-deep shimmering soundscapes, for release on the alternative sides of 7" singles.

While Roots and Dub were taking over Jamaica, the mid-seventies was also a time for new music in the UK with the old Rock gods being replaced by belligerent Punks who were intrigued by the latest Jamaican sounds. Thanks to major label interest these strange records were appearing in high street outlets like Richard Branson's Virgin stores, HMV and Our Price. Before the shift of the majors to Reggae the only way to find it was to trawl the backstreets of major cities for small one-man shops or buy mail-order.

Thanks primarily to Virgin, and of course, Chris Blackwell's Island imprint, Reggae was now in the mainstream, with its young new fans lapping it up. By the middle of the decade Dub had become big-business with many albums arriving with intriguing rootsy names like 'King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown' and 'Ital Dub', while the flipsides, and latterly the extended second-half of 12" singles, came with heavyweight workouts of the main vocal. It was into this exciting and fast growing market that Richard Branson had taken his Virgin and latterly Front Line imprints.

A talent scouting trip to Jamaica had netted some fine work from artists and producers keen for the exposure, and even keener for the wad of cash enticingly proffered for the master-tapes. And of course with the vocal works came Dub too.

Virgin had started issuing 45s in 1974, but strangely very few were ever released with Dub version sides, but rather, the company chose to stick to the traditional 45 single mode by offering two different tracks on the front and back of the disc. The first Virgin 12" single arrived in 1977, and happily most of those that followed had plenty of Dub workouts through their extended grooves.

The company's initial Reggae album releases began the previous year, with the third collection being 'Ital Dub', a magnificent remix of the Mighty Diamonds' Channel One triumphs featuring the crack Revolutionaries band. While the original Jamaican sleeve for the LP simply depicted the Well Charge label on which it saw issue on the island, the Virgin version portrayed a thoroughly spaced-out spliff-smoker's head and shoulder portrait, plonked squarely in the middle. The message was clear: this was rebel music.

In 1978 Virgin decided their Reggae output should have a dedicated label and that spring the Front Line imprint was launched. The 'Front Line' name itself had originated two years before when it was used as the title of the first of what became a trio of budget albums, each selling for the price of a single (69p) and containing a sample of tracks from a variety of full-price Reggae LPs.

As this 2CD collection shows, Virgin were quick off the blocks where picking up new exciting Reggae music was concerned, with the set featuring Dub versions of many of the top tracks that saw issue on the company's 7", 12" and album releases.

The backing band on most of these records was a shifting group of extremely talented musicians comprising a core membership of Lowell 'Sly' Dunbar on drums alongside bass-playing partner Robbie Shakespeare, guitarists, Bertram McLean and Radcliffe 'Dougie' Bryan, Ansel Collins, Robert Lyn or Errol 'Tarzan' Nelson on keyboards, Noel 'Scully' Simms or Uziah 'Sticky' Thompson on percussion and a horns section featuring Tommy McCook and Herman Marquis on saxophone, Bobby Ellis on trumpet and Vin 'Don D Jnr' Gordon on trombone. Others who at times contributed included Carlton 'Santa' Davis on drums, Earl 'Chinna' Smith on guitar and Bernard 'Touter' Harvey on keyboards. Members of this ensemble recorded as the Aggrovators for Bunny Lee and the Revolutionaries for brothers Joseph, Kenneth, Paul and Ernest Hoo Kim at their Channel One studio on Maxfield Avenue.

Of the featured artists highlighted here, one of the most successful was youth singer, Johnny Clarke, who cut a plethora of Jamaican hits throughout the latter seventies, the majority of which were produced by the aforementioned Bunny Lee, King Tubby's greatest champion. So it was only natural that Clarke's vocal cuts should regularly receive the engineer's special treatment, although by the time the magnificent Dub cut of 'Roots Natty Roots Natty Congo' was issued in 1977, Tubby was frequently subletting his board to Lloyd 'Jammy' James, so it's possible it was his fingers at the controls for this particular recording.

While at Channel One the Mighty Diamonds had struck gold with hits that included 'I Need A Roof' and 'Bodyguard', the Dub counterparts of which can be found on this set as 'Roof Top Dub' and 'Bodyguard Dub', respectively. Three man vocal unit, Culture also had the Aggro-Revolutionaries backing them although the producer of their first Front Line works was Sonia Pottinger, and the studio, Treasure Isle. Their 1978 track, the strident 'Natty (Never) Get Weary' was well and truly dubbed-out as 'Citizen As A Peaceful Dub' and was one of the first few Front Line 45s that actually carried a Dub on the flip-side of the disc. Another vocal trio to receive the Dub treatment on this collection are the Gladiators with 'Pocket Money Version' being a Dub of 'Pocket Money', which found issue on a Virgin 12" single in 1977.

Self-contained group, the Twinkle Brothers started out in the early 1960's as a hotel show band hence the glitzy name, but by the mid-seventies were a heavy-duty Roots group. Virgin picked them up in 1979 and promptly issued their 'Praise Jah' album, which was soon followed by 'Love', a collection that saw issue as both a regular 12" album and a 10". Here we have 'Prince Pharaoh Dub', an unreleased version of a track unsurprisingly entitled 'Prince Pharaoh' with the original vocal appearing on the 'Praise Jah' album. 'Keep On Dubbing' came originally as the flip-side to 'Keep On Trying', a Front Line 45 from 1978, while 'Free Us dub' is the version to 'Free Us', a track from their 1980 album, 'Countryman'.

Celebrated singer/songwriter Gregory Isaacs had a string of hits co-produced by Sly & Robbie with the usual assortment of top players drafted in to help. Front Line released a pair of his finest long players, 'Cool Ruler' and 'Soon Forward', as well as a 12" single, which comprised an extended mix of the title track of the latter, although until now a Dub of this recording had never seen issue in the UK. 'Mr Brown Version' was a Dub of another Gregory Isaacs masterpiece, 'Mr Brown' - a top selling 45 on Jamaican import before its inclusion on the aforementioned 'Soon Forward' set.

Drummer, Lowell 'Sly' Dumbar of Sly & Robbie fame, also had a number of releases on Virgin's now celebrated Reggae imprint, with their number including 'Dirty Harry', written by ace hornsman, Tommy McCook, and taken originally from the drummer's 'Sly Wicked & Slick' album, a fine selection that illustrates the drumming style that provided the backbone of the Rockers sound.

Deejay Big Youth had been active for a few years before signing to Virgin, and on this set we have 'Big Youth Special' and 'Dread Organ' played by crack session band, Skin, Flesh & Bones. The tracks first appeared on Big Youth's 'Dreadlocks Dread' that saw issue on UK independent, Klik in 1975. Most recordings on the LP featured the Youth plying his trade, but a couple arrived as instrumentals, possibly because of a shortage of suitable deejay tracks for an album's worth of music. Front Line picked up the collection three years later, redesigned the sleeve and managed to shift decent quantities to Reggae buyers, despite the age of the material. The enduring appeal of the music was illustrated once more in 1983, when, after Virgin released it again in their budget 'Crucial Cuts' range (with yet another sleeve), it once more sold strongly.

Other deejays had their works remixed to Dub, notable the gruff-voiced Prince Far I who recorded three strong albums for Front Line. 'No More War Version' is the flipside to 'No More War', issued in 1978, while 'Borno Dub' and 'Ogun Dub' are lifted from his best selling 1979 album, 'Cry Tuff Dub Encounter Part 2', an all Dub selection produced by the Prince. We also have old-time deejay U-Roy with his chat over, 'Small Axe Version', a revamped Bob Marley track that still carries plenty of vocal from the old master, plus quite likely, Albert Griffiths of the Gladiators on lead vocal, doing his best impression of Marley.

By the end of the decade, Reggae had evolved yet further, as evidenced by the final track of this set. An early Roots Radics recording from 1980, 'Bud's Bush' is a version of Prince Far I's 'Throw Away Your Gun', which demonstrates the slower brooding style that dominated the sound of Reggae throughout the early eighties.

By this time, Virgin had terminated the Front Line label following a decline in sales, as the golden age of Roots and Dub now slipped away, to be replaced by the developing sound of Dancehall.

Yet all was not lost as more youthful champions of Dub, notably Hopeton Brown aka Scientist, began to develop and transform the sound further. elsewhere in the world, Dub was embraced and modified by numerous music makers, many of whom had been introduced to the style through Virgin's releases. Over the thirty-plus years that have since followed, the process of transformation has continued, with the boundaries of the style being pushed further beyond their previously conceived limits.

This collection, however, recalls the golden age of the sound and features 40 of the finest Dub works from the mid-to-late seventies. Regardless of their influence upon subsequent music makers, these heavyweight sounds should be enjoyed for what they are: great music made by true masters of their trade.

Michael de Koningh
 
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