My Pop Life #187 : Groovy Little Thing – Beres Hammond

Groovy Little Thing   –   Beres Hammond

*

It was around 4am on a Sunday morning at Club 61 and we were close to running out of vodka.  Paulette had been making caipirinha for the drinking of the 5000 since 8pm : crushed ice, lime, sugar and vodka instead of cachaça – the London way, the Club 61 way.  People were dancing, smooching, smoking, DJing, talking shit, talking love, arguing, sharing.  Beverley was there, Jenny was there, Elaine the sweet, David the intellectual, Eugene the cynic, Sharon the comic, Debbie & Jacqui & Attlee the cousins,  many others.  I was drunk, stoned, happy.  The Fatback Band were playing I Feel Lovin’ : hands and voices were raised, the heart and soul of the party, the centre of the sacred ritual.  But the loving was always short-lived because surely Louis Prima would be next with I Ain’t Got Nobody, which would be celebrated with even more gusto, just as a wake is more drunken and raucous than a wedding.

Miss P

The party breathes, the tide goes out, the phases of the moon.  In the next lull, Paulette and I are in the kitchen talking family.  She confides that her mum has taken a bad turn in Jamaica where she lives and probably won’t make it to Christmas.  We hug.  A proper squeeze.   The plan is to go out to Jamaica to bury her, when the moment comes.  I promise to go with her and Beverley when that moment arises.

London 2005

About a fortnight later we touch down in Montego Bay and get a taxi across the island to Treasure Beach on the southern coast.  Paulette and Beverley, with cousins Debbie, Jaqui & Attlee, and me.   I think I was sharing a room with Bev & P, and the other three were in a next room but I cannot remember.  We certainly all spent any hotel time in that one room, drinking rum & coca cola, rum & ginger, rum & orange or rum & sprite.

St Elizabeths parish, SW Jamaica

The days go like this : Jason the driver turns up after breakfast and we pile into the transport and drive off to see an auntie – either Magdelen, who lives halfway up the hill, Vadne who lives at the top of the hill or Vera who was on the family land.  Or Merline, or Loretta.  Aunties for days.  Greetings, hugs, an offering of drinks, some food perhaps.  Cigarette smoking outside on the porch.   Funeral arrangements being made – not by me (ever) but by the sisters from England and the aunties from Jamaica.  Family politics.  Where is the goat coming from? Who is carrying the coffin?  Who is singing?  After a while we drive off again, get some more food in a bar, watch the green sweep of the rural landscape as it tumbles over red earth down to the Caribbean sea.  A stunningly beautiful island, poverty everywhere.

Jason played the same tape in his transport pretty much every day.  It started with Beres HammondGroovy Little Thing‘ which is why this song reminds me so heavily of this trip.  We would be on the rum all day pretty much.  Driving around.  Kids would crowd round whenever we went to Miss Edna’s house – Paulette & Beverley’s mum lived in a two-room wooden house on some land near Pedro Plains, green green grass, red red earth, chickens, kids, people waving, coming to meet us, we were the English relations.  The size of the small house was important, as I will relate later.

This picture reminds me of Miss Edna’s house in Jamaica, but it may have been smaller than this

Enough room for a bed, some chest of drawers and a wardrobe, a table, a chair.  Outside the kids are amazing as kids always are… “him have coolie hair” is their greeting for me… “wass your name?“.  Not at any stage in Jamaica am I described or treated like a white person. There are plenty of white Jamaicans of course but the kids pick up on my Indian not-curly hair which was more interesting than my pale skin.  We meet a white Jamaican called Mas Ralph who insists that my actual name is Rolph. There is a photo of us somewhere, an actual photo, wherever photos live these days.

Lovers Leap

In fact there are plenty of actual photos of this trip, from before I had a digital camera.  I’m writing this in Charleston, South Carolina and all my pictures are in a box in the attic in Brighton, England.  I’ll do me best !  It is a very visual two weeks, faces mainly but we also do some stuff – go to Lover’s Leap on the coast – a huge clifftop walk, and same day inland to YS Falls where I jump into the waterfall off a rope swing and sit on a rock, both in St Bess parish where we are based.

We head back to Sunset Resort on Great Bay loaded up with snacks and drinks and download the day.  Sometimes we go out in the evening – one bar deep in the bush was memorable for the DJ dropping dancehall tunes and the varied clientele including ladies of the night, children, mums and grandads all gently moving to the reggae beat.  I loved it.

And as time slips by towards the Nine Night, family tensions surface as they do, and dip over my head, or round my backside, since they don’t involve me but only concern what is expected of people and what is delivered. And each night was counting towards Nine.

Treasure Beach is where it says Calabash Bay on the map

Miss Edna’s good friend is called Guilty and he lives not far from Treasure Beach, in Great Bay.  Paulette Bev and I ended up at his house one night.  The sun had set.  Cicadas.  A pale blue light on the porch as he rolled a giant cone of weed.  Guilty is a rastafarian.  He cooks us ital food – clean, vegetarian, naturality, Vital without the V, the I & I denoting I-man’s connection to the universe.  Ital = no salt, no chemicals, no flesh, no blood,  no alcohol, no cigarettes and no drugs (herbs are not considered drugs).
We smoked.  Even Bev and P smoked. The only time I have ever seen it.  There was rum too, but Guilty did not he drink it.  But another cone was smoked – and Bev and P decline this time around, because they are higher than the moon already, which is pretty high and casting a pale light across Guilty’s strange garden.  The music is fantastic  – a modest sound system, nothing fancy but the sounds are profound. Righteous.  I am baked.  I mean, frankly I am close to panic, the rising feeling inside my chest not to be suppressed, allowing it to flow, allowing yourself to know, allowing it to go up up and away as high as you can pray and trust.  You will not fall away.  I have never ever been so stoned in all my born days.  It feels appropriate.  Beyond high.  Brave.  To boldly go.  Posing the question : how long can you keep hold of the rope ?  And so on.  We walked back a couple of miles to the hotel, blissful and baked to a T.

The Nine Night is upon us.  It was up on the property on the red earth.  The sun has set.  Paulette and Beverley are inside the house for much of the time, with the aunties, and that means it is pretty crowded already.  I say hello to each auntie and back out into the night again where there are now hundreds of people under the starlight eating curry goat – the same goat I had not witnessed being bought – callaloo, breadfruit and plantain, rice and peas of course, red stripe beer, a sound system playing tunes further down the hill, older folk sitting under an awning with bibles, reading psalms and singing hymns as they are fed rum, a frenzy of eating, drinking and religion : it is quite extraordinary.

Paulette & Bev at Sharon’s wedding in 2005

A group of younger people have come from over the mountain – Ginger Hill – where Miss Edna spent some time earlier in her life and they remember her.  Dirt poor. They’ve made the journey.  They don’t know anyone here.  Neither do I.  Doesn’t matter.  Feels like I talk to everyone.  Sing a hymn.  Drink rum. Smoke weed.  Sway.  Feel sad, feel open.  Fight gently through the people trying to get into the house, impossible, but get in somehow, see Paulette and Bev again, surrounded by women, weeping together, we hug, we kiss.  Go outside again and find Jaqui & Debbie sat down on the porch, in awe at this community that I find myself among.   Then suddenly a drum-beat starts up, a shuffle and a chant.  It becomes louder and louder, and clearer.  It is coming from the Ginger Hill mob.  About thirty of them, drumming on trash cans, pieces of wood, buckets and drums they have brought with them, and they chant :

“…cyaan get inna Miss Edna house, cyaan get inna Miss Edna house…”

It is eerie and powerful and honest.  The house is too small and they’ve been politely turned away.  A shiver goes  down my spine and I force force my way back inside again to see Bev and P : “you’ve got to come out and see this” and so they do.

And we laugh.  Hug again and laugh.  Amid the hymns, the crying aunties, the freeloading anybodys, the foreign relatives, the kids, the gravediggers, casket carriers and Guilty the sweet rastafarian philosopher, it seems as fitting a tribute to Miss Edna as you could get.  For philosophically speaking, none of us could get into Miss Edna’s house anymore.

The next day is the service at the Christadelphian Meeting Hall in Round Hill, St Elizabeth parish.  It is hot hot. Everyone is now dressed proper, shirt, suit, tie, shoes. Hats.  Fans gently beating across aunty’s faces.  The pallbearers are six nephews – Clive, Neville and Nesbert Powell and George, Kenneth and Vernan Legister.  They carry her in and lay her down in front of us.  It is November 10th 2002, but the Order of Service programmes has the date September 11th, misprinted (rather spookily) by Mr Bolt the funeral director.

Paulette and Beverley both speak about their mum in the service.  They are brave. Cashell and Crystal are trying to speak, two little girls, but they are crying too much and abandon the attempt, have us all in floods.  The casket is hoisted onto the six nephews shoulders again and we travel back down the hill to the property where the night before such scenes had unfurled.  The kids keep us all real – Full Mouth who had a great deal of teeth, and unrepentant farter Force Ripe.  I suppose their name for me is Coolie Hair.

A cousin named Bones has dug the grave deep into the red earth, and we gather around the grave to sing once more and pray together.  More tears now, less restraint.  More Jamaica, less England.  People shouting goodbye as the coffin is lowered on ropes into the deep hole, men pass the shovel around and cover the coffin with earth, I join in, grateful for the physical effort to channel my quivering energy.  Did the sisters also shovel some earth into the grave ?  I may be confusing that detail from their father’s funeral which was a year or so earlier in London.  I become transfixed with the colour of the dirt and sequester a small black plastic bag full which I transport back to Brighton with me.  I’m not sure though that I have ever planted anything in it.  What a strange man I am.

Guilty painted the tomb for Miss Edna and subsequently disappeared, we don’t know where he is now.  Miss Vadne still lives up the hill in Southfield.  I haven’t been back to Jamaica but I will go one day.  It was my tenth Caribbean island trip.  They’re all quite different in many ways.  Cuba is extraordinary – I wrote about it in My Pop Life #173 –  and Trinidad & Tobago was an amazing trip in 1993 – My Pop Life #184.  I haven’t written about St Lucia yet – where Jenny’s parents come from, and we’ve visited three times together.  On one visit we took a boat to Martinique. We’ve also holidayed at different times in Barbados, St. Kitts & Nevis, Antigua and the Dominican Republic when my brother Paul was living in Santo Domingo.  It’s an incredible part of the world.  But Jamaica is the island where I felt most at home. Perhaps the intensity of the trip opened me up in a different way – or perhaps it just has a special kind of atmosphere which I picked up on.  I was in the bush – the countryside – and was with people whose relatives live there.  The same is true of St Lucia, and Trinidad of course.  I don’t know.       I just know that Jamaica cast a spell over me.

Beres Hammond is amazing by the way – this is an early cut from the 2nd LP –  a soulful purveyor of Lovers Rock through to more conscious styles on albums such as Music Is Life in 2001 which Jenny and I waxed and rinsed when it came out.  We saw him at the Greek Theatre in Griffith Park in 2003 on a reggae extravaganza night – a beautiful open air amphitheatre, we walked from our apartment on Live Oak Drive on a balmy July night, perched above Los Feliz, and there was Beres Hammond live onstage, what joy – supporting the legendary I-Three Marcia Griffith and the Marley boys Stephen, Kymani and Damian Marley – Junior Gong – who was showcasing his new album Welcome To Jamrock.  Quite a night.

I appreciate and give thanks for all my blessings, all my friends, all my musical experiences, for my life has been rich and full of joy.  Even the tragedy and sorrow of the death of my beautiful friends Paulette and Beverley’s mother turned somehow into a thing of such great beauty.   We are separate but always connected.

My Pop Life #179 : One Drop – Bob Marley & The Wailers

One Drop   –   Bob Marley & The Wailers

“What’s your favourite Bob Marley song?”  asked Chris.

It is a legitimate question I think.  It was the early afternoon of a North London autumn day in 1997.   Paulette & Beverley Randall had accompanied Jenny and myself to visit a new baby in NW6 : Jemima, first daughter of :  Chris Skala and Emma who had met at Paulette’s legendary Club 61 event which convened regularly for vodka, music and slow dancing (see My Pop Life #60) and they had danced together, chatted, kissed, wooed and then <swoon> married in Lauderdale House, Waterlow Park in the summer of 1993.   Chris – who it should be noted is an American (guvner) – had invited me to his stag night earlier in ’93.  Where it was and what we did I simply cannot recall due to the excessive intake of alcoholic beverages and marijuana.

Beverley, Paulette & Jenny 1997

But here we were in his flat where the new baby was being oohed and aahed over but where Chris was diligently aware of his DJ-ing duties.

“C’mon Ralphie.  Favourite Bob Marley song?”

I flicked mentally through my Bob Marley albums.  I think there were three :  Exodus, Live ! (at the Lyceum in 1975: which all white people owned – it was a law) and Legend – aka The Greatest Hits, which Jenny had brought with her when she moved into Archway Road five years earlier.  We may have had another one – Kaya perhaps or Catch A Fire, but there were less than five.  In other words, not really enough to make an informed choice.  It struck me as a moment of weakness – which isn’t really fair, but that’s how it struck me anyway – like someone asking what my favourite Beatles song is and only having twenty songs in my head, all from the Red or Blue albums.   I think I said “Jamming” at the time, which was the truth – probably the best Bob Marley song.  The best meaning, as always, my favourite, at the time, because THE BEST doesn’t actually exist, it can only ever mean MY FAVOURITE.  But when you are young you always say THE BEST.  Because it goes without saying that your favourite is the best.

To be fair, I wasn’t a huge Bob Marley fan at that point in my life, but because I was with Paulette & Bev, whose parents were Jamaican, and who clearly represented, in my mind at least, and possibly my ears, the Jamaican Music Police I couldn’t possibly say that.  I just couldn’t because I sensed that my not being a huge Bob Marley fan was based on ignorance rather than on massive exposure and discerning judgement.  It is a feature of my intellectual and possibly over-educated friends (AND I INCLUDE MYSELF IN THIS GENERALISATION) that we will make strange musical and cultural judgements which are not based on knowledge but on some other odd refraction of the universe which manifests itself as a kind of pyramid of taste which we then climb.  Indeed, many of these cultural discernments are passed around the cognoscenti, whether educated or not, as a kind of badge of knowledge.  If you state, for example, that you prefer Motown to Stax, you will lose points.  If you prefer pop music to New Orleans R’n’B you will lose points.  If you prefer The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss (My Pop Life #157) to Mahler’s 8th Symphony you will lose points.   Lou Reed beats Gilbert O’Sullivan.  Charlie Parker beats Stan Getz.  And Burning Spear beats Bob Marley.

I think it is an invisible race to an invisible point.  A refined narrowing of the portal of acceptance where popularity somehow disqualifies the artist from the ultimate pinnacle of art.  For only the cognoscenti can see, or hear, the genius that is true art.  Not all the masses who buy the song because it’s catchy – what do they know for fuck’s sake?  No, the best kind of music is always a little bit secret, a little bit of an acquired taste, only for the in-crowd, the connoisseur, the adept.   And really only for the young.  As I have aged I have ditched this poverty disguised as philosophy and gone back to Strauss, Stan Getz and Marley, loved Motown all over again, and been proud to acknowledge that yes, I am and have always been, a pop tart.  No such thing as Guilty Pleasures. Just pleasures.

Battersea Park, 1977

I have also realised that it is all right to say “I don’t know” when asked a question of any kind.  When I was 30-something it was simply illegal to say I don’t know at any point, because of course all young people know everything, and to acknowledge that one of you perhaps has a gap somewhere or simply hasn’t acquired that piece of knowledge yet is tantamount to social suicide, from which there is no recovery, or at least, let’s face it, an extremely long road uphill.  It’s too humiliating.  And maybe this is only true of men, those of us who use a specialised area of knowledge as our castle, our control-space where most people will defer to us because they haven’t put the hours in and built the encyclopedic walls.  And to have a Bob Marley-sized hole in the battlements is a weakness, as I originally experienced it.  Of course you can always say “I don’t care” but a) that is a lie, and b) that is even weaker in most cases.  Unless you have no desire to specialise, no desire to have any power or control over anything, in which case you are not being entirely honest with us are you?

Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer early 1970s

My usual journey into an artist is via a song – probably the big hit, then the greatest hits, then dive in deep if you really like them.  If they don’t really have hits (like Spirit or Burning Spear or Little Feat) then your first listen may be in someone’s bedroom passing a joint around, maybe at a Festival somewhere passing a joint around, or maybe you were just curious and you bought an LP in a crate somewhere like a car boot sale or a vinyl junkie shop.  But if the artist is popular – pop tarts beware – then all kinds of other criteria pollute your experience.  Build ’em up, knock ’em down for example (Boy George, Amy Winehouse etc).  People whose identity you don’t share, or don’t feel that you do, suddenly declaring a love for your favourite artist because they saw them on TV (but they’re mine!).  Familiarity breeds contempt.  Your favourite artist becomes so famous that they are interviewed and they say something stupid or controversial.  You defend them.  Or you quietly go off them.  Or you read some piece of chattering-class space-fillage about the phenomenon of David Bowie‘s white soul period or The Ramones being middle-class or – yes – Bob Marley having Catch A Fire produced for the white market and his sound being tailored to break through – which it then did – and you kind of think – well, I prefer the rootsy rasta sounds of Burning Spear and Prince Far-I, Culture and Lee Perry, to the cleaned-up Americanised version of reggae that Chris Blackwell and Island Records sold to us with Catch A Fire in 1973.

But that isn’t fair, is it ?  It’s blown out of all proportion.  Musical snobbery indeed. Because Robert Nesta Marley had been singing and writing and playing music since 1963 with Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh, playing mento and bluebeat and ska, making records with Lee Perry and Leslie Kong, touring with Johnny Nash and others before evolving the sound in the late 60s – actually around 1970 – with Carlton Barrett on the drums and his brother Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett on the bass forming the bedrock of the roots reggae sound that would go around the world and back and eventually signing with Island Records.  This consequently precipitated a change of line-up since Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh didn’t want to tour ‘freak clubs’ due to their rastafari faith, and didn’t like Blackwell (Chris Whiteworst was his nickname).  They presumably didn’t like that Wayne Perkins, a Muscle Shoals session guitarist, was overdubbed onto Concrete Jungle by Blackwell, to sweeten the flavour for white listeners.   They certainly didn’t like that the band was now known as Bob Marley & The Wailers, rather than The Wailers.  And this backstory, given the success of the LP, was the sub-plot to the take-off of the world’s first genuine 3rd World Superstar.  (Yes, I know, Developing World <sigh>).  In other words, once an act becomes successful, editors demand more copy, the story has been told, now come on give us another fold in the narrative, find another level of knowledge that people will consume, let’s have more fodder, more writing, more product.  And once something becomes hugely successful, the story becomes warped with their success, and the fans simple love of the music is tainted by all this extra information.  Certainly the original cognoscenti move along to the next secret discovery, always having to be there first, and not wanting to be a small part of a large crowd.  This way we miss out on much pleasure.

Aston Barrett, Peter Tosh, Carlton Barrett, Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer 1970

And so there I was, catching up with Bob Marley over the next 20 years with the help and assistance and encouragement of my beautiful wife Jenny Jules, who has always been a Bob Marley fan.  There have been films to help me out – documentaries such as Marley (2012) which was to have been directed by Scorsese, then Demme, eventually MacDonald.  And then the novel by Marlon James A Brief History of Seven Killings which I bought but haven’t read yet is a fictional account of Bob Marley’s life which won the Booker prize in 2016.  Meanwhile back to the LPs and the songs – it’s all about the songs, and Pimper’s Paradise stood out (from Uprising 1980),

every need got an eagle to feed

as did Satisfy My Soul (from Kaya 1978) – the brass is amazing –

every little action, there’s a reaction

and Waiting In Vain (Exodus 1977).

ooh girl ooh girl is it feasible -for I to knock some more?

and Is This Love (also from Kaya – my favourite Marley album)

we’ll share the same room…Jah provide the bread…

But wait – Marley was not the world’s first 3rd-World Superstar.  He wasn’t even the first Jamaican superstar to break America.  No, that honour belongs to the great Harry Belafonte with Day-O (The Banana Boat Song) and Island In The Sun one year later in 1957 (the year of my birth).  Belafonte went on to become a movie star and musical giant of the 20th century, creating a huge anthology of black folk music, inviting musical refugees from apartheid South Africa Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masakela to the United States to make records and tour, and continued to be an advocate for civil rights while making records and movies.  A giant of a man and a great musician and singer.

For Marley, Catch A Fire was a door opening.  Although Neville Livingstone, aka Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh both stayed in the band for one final album Burnin’ the writing was on the wall.   The album contained two giant hits Get Up Stand Up and I Shot The Sheriff, while the next LP Natty Dread in 1974 included both Lively Up Yourself and No Woman, No Cry, which was Marley’s first real international hit single.   The other profound manifestation on Natty Dread was the new band line-up, with the Barretts plus four new musicians, and the introduction of the I-Threes on backing vocals – Marcia Griffiths, Judy Mowatt, and Bob’s wife Rita Marley.  

Natty Dread is a fantastic LP, with a different sound to Catch A Fire and Burnin’.   Next came the Live ! album from the Lyceum Ballroom in London, capturing the excitement of the band’s show, followed by Rastaman Vibration with its rock guitars and synthesizers which became the first album to enter the US charts.  In contrast the Bunny Wailer LP Blackheart Man and the Peter Tosh album Legalize It, both from the same year of 1976 and offered a far more rootsy sound and rasta philosophy.

But Marley was taking the rasta sound and philosophy out to the world.  The arrangements on his albums from this point on – Exodus, Kaya, Survival and Uprising – while indebted to reggae and the Jamaican rhythms are astoundingly original in what is left out of each phrase, what is played and what is not.   My own favourite track is One Drop which celebrates the reggae rhythm (no drumbeat on the one beat) while chanting down Babylon in a rastafarian prayer.  There is no other reggae music that sounds like Marley.  He was now in 1976 bigger and more influential than any Jamaican politician, so after a thankfully botched assassination attempt when Marley and Rita were shot and wounded in an incident at his house, he decamped to England in 1977 for two years.

Bob Marley & The Wailers in London 1977

Bob lived in Chelsea mainly, played football, fathered more children and made his astoundingly successful albums Exodus & Kaya.  He returned to Jamaica in late 1978 for the final two albums Survival and Uprising.

Bob Marley died in 1980 of cancer in Miami as he flew back to Jamaica from a clinic in Germany.  His legacy was an astonishing run of albums. His final words, to his son Ziggy, were  “Money can’t buy life”.

I have educated myself since that day in 1997 and listened to all of the Marley records going back to the 1960s and forward to Confrontation, the final posthumous LP released in 1983.  He rewards constant re-visiting and I hear new stuff every time.

For the record, Paulette’s favourite song was One Drop as far as I recall, which has now become My Favourite Bob Marley Song.  Bev hovered between Get Up Stand Up and War, but now claims Concrete Jungle as her favourite  Jenny’s favourite is Waiting In Vain.  Chris – in my dim memory – chose Lively Up Yourself, and Emma One Love.

And then we all lived happily ever after

Happy postscript :  Just after posting this on Feb 6th 2017 I was in correspondence again with Emma, now living in Willesden with Christopher and all-grown-up Jemima now at University (and writing a music blog!)   Feb 6th was her second daughter Lottie’s 17th birthday, and also the birthday of Bob Marley.  Coincidence ??   I think not…

My Pop Life #102 : Israelites – Desmond Dekker

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Israelites   –   Desmond Dekker & The Aces

Get up in the morning slaving for bread sir

so that every mouth can be fed

poor me Israelites

We didn’t really know what he was on about ’til we were older, but Israelites reached Number One in the hit parade in Britain in May 1969, the first Jamaican ska song to reach that lofty pinnacle.  (Milly Small’s cover of My Boy Lollipop reached Number Two in 1964).    Desmond Dekker had irresistible syncopated rhythms and cool rude boy threads – and an extremely visceral way of shaping his words (whatever they were!) – I was eleven years old and transfixed.   So was my mum.   We were living in a house in the deep Sussex countryside between Lewes & Eastbourne just north of Bo-Peep Hill in Selmeston.

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view from Bo-Peep Hill towards Selmeston

Dad had left some 3 years previously and was living in Eastbourne, we saw him once a week – I think – maybe once a fortnight – on Saturdays, walking up to Beachy Head, coming back in time for the football results.    Paul and I did anyway, Andrew was only 3 years old then.   The whole country went Desmond Dekker crazy though.  It was a phenomenon.

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Ska had been around in Jamaica since at least 1961, some say earlier.  Prince Buster, Ernest Ranglin, Laurel Aitken, Jimmy Ciff, Duke Reid, Derrick Morgan, Toots & The Maytals, The Skatalites were all there at the beginnings.   Laurel Aitken had the UK’s first single release on Blue Beat Records, a song called Boogie Beat which was a kind of loose R&B shuffle with the guitar on the off-beat, embryonic ska.  The more choppy sound we associate with classic Jamaican ska came later with singles like Guns Of Navarone by The Skatalites and Al Capone by Prince Buster.

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Desmond Dekker signed with Leslie Kong‘s Beverley label in Kingston Jamaica in 1961 but didn’t release his first single until two years later: “Honour Your Father and Mother”, and a string of hits followed – all morally and culturally decent christian songs – until he recorded a song with Derrick Morgan.    Tougher Than Tough was part of the rude boy trend – the court was in session, judgement was being passed, but Rudies Don’t Fear.   This was ghetto life in Kingston writ large – and Dekker’s next song 007 (Shanty Town) made him an icon in Jamaica, was a hit in England in 1967 amongst the mod crowd as well as the West Indian population, and is rightly considered a classic.  Despite it reaching #14 on the charts (the first Jamaican-produced song to reach the top 15) it wasn’t until 1969 that the mighty Israelites took the country by storm.

We had a cousin, Wendy, who was older than us and who would come and stay now and again.  She must have been seventeen or eighteen when Mum invited her up from Portsmouth for a week, and they decided to go into Eastbourne one night to see Desmond Dekker & The Aces live on the Pier.   Mum only told me about this quite recently.   Amazing what you find out if you actually ask !

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Mum had also decided that it was high time that Wendy made out with a man – she claims now that Wendy had never been kissed.   I think they took the bus into Eastbourne along the A27, had a few drinks, then got onto the pier and saw the electric Desmond Dekker & The Aces in the flesh (I never did manage to see him!) then danced the night away to all the latest hits.  I think they both found some willing snogging partners and stayed out so late that they had to take the milk train back to Berwick – about 3 miles from Selmeston.   It was dawn when they started walking back, hitching a lift from the hugely embarrassed milkman, and getting a discreet worldly wink from Cedric the postman as they finally reached home.   We were all asleep upstairs, none the wiser.   I think Mum remembers that night now as one of the great nights of the 1960s for her, and I’m rather hoping that Wendy does too.

*

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It was many years later when I finally truly established what the actual lyrics to the song really were :

Wife and a kids they buck up an a leave me

Darlin’ she said I was yours to receive

Look – me shirt dem a tear up, trousers a go

I don’t want to end up like Bonnie & Clyde

After a storm there must be a calm

if they catch me in the farm you sound your alarm….

Poor Me Israelites

It became like a magical spell cast across the radio, across the dance floor, bouncing out of car radios, in shops, a mantra of phrases that ring around your head.  The rest of 1969 found us listening to The Liquidator by Harry J & The All-Stars, Return Of Django by The Upsetters (Lee Perry) and apparently (I never heard it at the time but older kids did ) Wet Dream by Max Romeo.   Songs like Israelites reaching Number One in Britain is one of the reasons why I love the UK.  It’s not all bad, however it may seem.

My Pop Life #69 : Love Me Always – Dennis Brown AND Angolian Chant – Joe Gibbs

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Love Me Always   –   Dennis Brown

Angolian Chant   –   Joe Gibbs

I wanna dub you, dub you always….

there ain’t nobody else….

Time for a version excursion on my pop life.    Two songs for number 69 –  they are the same song, but they’re not, really.    Lovers rock becomes dub plate tune.   I cycled up to Williamsburg today on a citibike, nice Sunday afternoon, looking for graffitti spots in Bushwick, enjoying the weather.  Called in at an address on N10th St and rang a random bell, and Annie McGann opened the door.   Hooray!  Inside, her son Joseph McGann, Sam Barrett, Chris Ebdon and Imogene Tavares.   Introductions all round, and food is being prepared.  Reggae and dub is playing.   I’d met Joe before, when he was very young (in Los Angeles Annie reminded me!) and then throughout the years, most recently with his dad Paul at a Withnail & I event in Bristol.   I introduced myself to the cat that Annie is catsitting and – suddenly – one of those proustian moments rushed in as this song came on.   I left Annie and the cat Schmo and ran to the ipad.   There was this picture.   Treasure from beyond.

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I’ve been looking for this song for years.  Using the wrong search terms “I wanna dub you” and so on.  The song is called Love Me Always by the great Dennis Brown, and the dub version, which has been stuck in my ear for over 30 years is called  Angolian Chant.  Now that’s not even a word as far as I know!    So, so sweet to hear it again.  What did it remind me of ?  Well : Club 61 for starters – Paulette‘s legendary parties in Clapham (see My Pop Life #60).  And certainly also West End Lane, Pete, Sali, Nick, Colin, Tony (see My Pop Life #59).  This kind of music was for a) slowdancing – at Club 61…  and b) getting stoned to – in West End Lane.   Dub is perfect for smoking marijuana.  And vice versa of course.  And both are great for slowdancin’.   Just how the world is meant to be sometimes.

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The music comes out of Joe Gibbs & Errol Thompson‘s stable in Kingston Jamaica where they were known as “The Mighty Two”. The house band were called The Professionals and had Sly Dunbar on drums, Robbie Shakespeare on bass (also known as Fatman Riddim Section and later to become international hit machine Sly & Robbie & Earl “Chinna” Smith on guitar as the rhythm section par excellence.  This team produced over 100 number one hit records, for Dennis Brown, Black Uhuru, Culture, Mighty Diamonds, Althia & Donna, Prince Far-I, Junior Byles, Jacob Miller, Big Youth, Dillinger, John Holt, on and on.                                                                                 Joe Gibbs

And yet beyond all the hit records, Joe and Errol also produced a stream of incredible dub plates many of which are gathered together on the seminal LPs African Dub All-Mighty.  Angolian Chant is from Chapter 3.

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I used to have this on vinyl – and it is one of the LPs that I failed to replace when I lost my whole collection in 1985.  Just a missing piece of my brain.   The thing is – if you’re listening to dub, you’re quite likely to be stoned.  Things get lost in the haze.  But seriously, dub reggae is a huge part of the musical universe, and technologically way ahead of its time.  Lee Perry, King Tubby, Augustus Pablo, Prince Far-I, Errol Thompson, Mad Professor – and all of those other guys – they might have been stoned when they produced this music, but they were on the money, sharp, and knew exactly what they were doing.  The dub plates of 12″ reggae singles go much further than just being an instrumental, a track which can be used, versioned, recycled.  A different melody is put on top, a new singer, a new band, another hit!   As reggae had been doing since the 1960s.   The dub plate went way beyond that into a version which sampled itself and using faders and echoes like musical instruments themselves, created a new song from bits of the old one.   This of course has totally influenced every genre of popular music since then – rock, pop, hip hop, house, as well as grime, Drum&Bass, dubstep, ambient and electronica more generally.

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Dennis Thompson, Errol Thompson, Clive Chin & Augustus Pablo

Errol Thompson engineered at Studio One, and is credited with producing the first instrumental reggae LP in 1970,  before becoming one of dub’s pioneers.   Joe Gibbs learned his trade with Lee Perry, producing the Heptones and others before branching out on his own in the early 1970s.  His first international hit was Nicky Thomas’ “Love Of The Common People“.  Errol and Joe Gibbs joined forces in 1975.

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Dennis Brown

Dennis Brown was born like me in 1957 and started singing aged nine.  He was Bob Marley’s favourite singer – he dubbed him “The Crown Prince of Reggae”.   Dennis cut his first single aged 12 for Coxsone Dodd at Studio One.  He recorded over 75 albums, and had many hit singles of which the most famous internationally is “Money In My Pocket” produced by his close friend Winston “Niney” Holness on behalf of Joe Gibbs.  He recorded with all of the great Jamaican producers in his long career, one notable track with Lee Perry is called “Wolf and Leopard” and is also worth seeking out.  In 1977 he made the LP Visions Of Dennis Brown with Joe Gibbs which was a huge success and contains the vocal track Love Me Always.

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Joe Gibbs HQ

What is great about all this is that I only ever remembered the dub version “I wanna dub you” – try googling that !   Serendipity is a great thing.  So thanks to Annie for inviting me over and to Joe and his gang. (Joe goes out as a grime DJ under the moniker Kahn, his partner is Neek, he also works as Gorgon Sound).  Thanks for playing that damn tune !  Or was it actually Annie ??   Probably.    Annie likes a lot of the same era reggae as me.   I’ve known Annie since 1985 when I shot Withnail & I with Paul McGann, Richard E. Grant and Richard Griffiths, all being conducted under the passionate inspiration of Bruce Robinson, who also wrote it.  Wow, we were all kids really.  I’ll write about that another time, but Paul and Annie have stayed in my life ever since, as have Richard E. and Bruce.  Sadly Richard Griffiths passed away a couple of years ago.  I drove up to Stratford for his funeral.  Life passes so quickly.   Dennis Brown died in 1999.  The Prime Minister of Jamaica, and previous PM Edward Seaga both attended his funeral.  He was an inspiration to a whole generation of Jamaican singers.  This is my favourite song of his, returned to me like the prodigal son.  I have just listened to it eight times in a row.

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Dennis Brown – the Crown Prince Of Reggae