Saturday, January 31, 2009


Sunday, January 4, 2009

Welcome to 2009!!

High there this blog is now up and running again after a lovely Christmas break.
To start off the new year I've posted something a bit different with a reflection back to the late 70's / early 80's and reggae's relationship with punk. I hope you enjoy the read and some of the classic tunes on the player!
Also this month is a review of the fine Pama "Highrise" LP, with proceeds from this album going to some very worth while causes.
Lookout for some very interesting releases to come from the various Springline labels this year as well....more to follow on that as it arrives

When Rasta Met Punk (The birth of the Rebels)

The relationship that developed between reggae and punk in the late '70's was born of them both being considered, at the time, as mutual outcasts, and 'rebel' music: sticking two fingers up at authority, and a sense of an established order breaking down. Don Letts, who was the DJ at the Roxy, played reggae and dub platters mixed in with punk records, while John Peel's legendary show on the UK's mainstream Radio 1 was as likely to follow records by The Damned and Clash with Misty In Roots and Augustus Pablo. The NME and Sounds (UK music magazines) even had their own reggae pages. And so it was in 1977, when the “two sevens clash” - Babylon i.e. England was to disintegrate. This was also going to be an apocalyptic year not just in reggae terms, but also in music, fashion and society in general, as white and black street culture found itself with the same aspirations for possibly the first and last time.

Punk and Reggae? Where's the connection? Laid back, bass driven tunes, versus hell for leather tinny thrash. Mystical, rasta, ganja based beats versus 'shouty' amphetamine driven nihilism. Well the answers in the lyrics. Songs about oppression by authority, injustices and the rule of law - remember this was the age of the SPG and draconian laws such as SUS - and other broad social issues. One thing you could almost guarantee was that if somebody was seen to be oppressed or a case of police abuse of power and injustice had taken place, there would be a punk band and a reggae band singing about it by the end of the week. An example of this would be the Ruts’ "Jah War" or "Reggae Fi Peach" by LKJ, both songs about the attacks by the SPG at an Anti Nazi League march in 1979 that led to the death of New Zealander Blair Peach and severe injuries to Clarence Baker, a prominent member of the People Unite collective based in Southall London.

Further connections between Punk and Reggae came about because of two of Punk’s most influential figures, Johnny Rotten and The Clash. Each claimed Reggae was very much a part of their musical scene when growing up, and each vied to say they loved it more than the other as an influence. Both camps also visited Jamaica with two very different experiences. For The Clash it was a heavy trip, about absorbing and learning about the music. For Rotten it was slightly different; he went with Don Letts, and spliffed out to sound systems and generally had a good time at Virgin's expense in true Rotten style! It was, however, The Clash (Whose name is touted to be derived from Cultures’ 'Two Sevens Clash') who put "their money where their mouths were" literally with their interpretation of Junior Murvin’s reggae classic "Police and Thieves" which appeared on their first album, (It had caught their imagination with its lyrics that radiated the punk anti establishment ethos). They also went on to release the excellent bargain 10" EP / album "Black Market Clash", the front cover of which depicts a 'young rasta' (apparently Don Letts ) facing off the police during a riot. This contained a scattering of reggae covers. With a great punk, but hardly reggae at all version of "Pressure Drop", they didn’t want to compete too directly with the brilliant Toots and the Maytals’ original, but there was also the more traditional reggae sound of, “Armagideon Time / Justice Tonight” that fully exploited the one-drop riddim - both were workings of Willie Williams’ "Armagideon Time". They also toured and worked with Mikey Dread, who helped produce their sprawling triple, sometimes patchy, LP "Sandinista" and #12 UK chart single Bankrobber, on which he appeared on the B side, toasting over the riddim for Rockers Galore.

Other punk bands that incorporated reggae influences into their music successfully include all girl outfit The Slits, with a punked up reggae version of Marvin Gaye’s 'I Heard It Through TheGrapevine' and Dennis Browns 'Man Next Door'. The very much underrated The Ruts gave us the aforementioned 'Jah War' and 'Love in Vain', both original songs, while Jah Wobble - the bassist in Rotten’s immediate project after the demise of the Pistols, PIL (Public Image Limited) - would use pounding reggae styled bass lines on many a tune, and as Haile Unlikely vs. the Steel Leg, with the help of Don Letts, Keith Levene & Vince Bracken aka 'The Steel Leg', recorded his own cool 12". Other tunes worth a mention are 'Nice & Sleazy' by the Stranglers and the incendiary cover of Marley's "Johnny Was" by Stiff Little Fingers from their 'Inflammable Material' album released in 1979. The song’s lyrics were altered subtly to reflect the troubles in their home town of Belfast at the time. There were, however, some real best forgotten failures too. The Members 'Offshore Banking Business', some dire Patti Smith cod reggae, the Unwanted's over the top 'Secret Police' and ATV's absolutely awful 'Love Lies Limp'.

This bond between the two differing genres was cemented further as bands like Misty in Roots and Steel Pulse appeared regularly on shared stages at Rook Against Racism gigs with bands like Generation X and The Ruts. Steel Pulse also did a full UK tour as support for The Stranglers. The Ruts first single was released on Misty's 'People United' record label, and in my opinion it is they who were the best of the bunch at really capturing the feel and power of reggae - especially as it came without the help of any top reggae producer, unlike some.

This was not the first time reggae music had been adopted by white music fans. Skinheads at the end of the 60's and into the early 70's were into reggae, via the Trojan label, rocksteady and ska - before the look and style were stolen - but this time round, as Reggae began to enjoy a revival in the UK, it resulted in reggae acts charting more regularly and the genre as a whole becoming more popular. At the end of 1977 the way had been paved with the infectious, surprise UK #1 single, Althea & Donna’s 'Uptown Ranking', the success of which helped finance Lightning Records’ punk excursions. With the gradual demise of Punk, the Reggae revival still continued into the early 1980s, with groups like Black Uhuru, Sugar Minott, Steel Pulse, Aswad, and to some extent Musical Youth. There was also the multicultural mix of UB40, not to mention the 2 Tone explosion keeping Reggae in the charts. The Grammy Awards even introduced the Best Reggae Album category in 1985, which was won that year by Black Uhuru's Anthem LP, on the strength of this 'revival'.

As with everything in life some people say that this 'bond' between the two was not always a good thing. Apparently Steel Pulse do not look back too fondly on their days gigging with the punks, where, in their opinion, the punk audience was vulgar and unappreciative. Well, if spitting at each other was the order of the day then, they may have a point about them being vulgar! Lee Perry, who it has to be said, has fallen out with just about everybody he has ever worked is quoted in David Katz book 'People Funny Boy: The Genius of Lee 'Scratch' Perry' as saying he wanted the Clash to admit they had ruined "Police & Thieves" with their cover. I do know a few people who would agree with his comment, but I actually quite like it. I know it's not a reggae cover in the style of "Armageddon Time", but then shouldn't a cover version try to do something different? After all we don't want a lot of mind numbing karaoke versions.

Lloyd Bradley in his book 'Bass Culture', also compares the linkup between punk and reggae as a very unequal partnership, where the punks enjoyed a couple of years of rebellion, gained credibility from reggae and gave nothing back, before heading back to their comfortable white lives, leaving black youth in the mire.

I do feel this statement is a rather flawed view, as reggae was regarded in some quarters as something of a novelty rather than credible at the beginning of the 70's, with its many, many covers of already popular hits and with a lot of tunes being remixed with the addition of strings to make them appeal more to European tastes. Punk however was embracing reggae in all its rootsy, conscious magnificence, and helping to bring this into the main stream and thus introduce a white audience to the world of true reggae and opening up new avenues for these artists. After all if people like The Clash had not covered these tunes and the likes of Don Letts had not incorporated the two musical forms - from really opposite ends of the spectrum but with this strong lyrical connection - into his DJ sets would I be here writing this today? Where are the reggae versions of "Anarchy" or "London Calling"? Would the likes of Dr Alimantado's album "Best Dressed Chicken" be as renowned or sold as well? I would say it was reggae that got more out of it than punk.

After the punk flame blew itself out the 2-Tone craze emerged, which mixed both punk and reggae, mainly in the form of ska, together. Some say that this actually hurt reggae more than helped it, because once bands with white members like The Specials got signed, labels who were reacting to Bob Marley's death as the end for roots reggae, dropped a lot of black artists as fast as they could. Both punk and 2-Tone were short lived affairs, and the music scene in the UK at that time was changing quickly with lots of new styles and fashions, and A& R men were on the look out the next big cash cow to milk dry, no matter who or what you where. Perhaps with this in mind it was too much to expect reggae to grow and become all conquering as it was most probably regarded as just another fad, and as Rotten once said that the A&R men 'just didn't understand that it was a whole country's music rather than a single 'genre'.

Rotten- approved acts like Tappa Zukie, Big Youth etc - have slowly filtered through to many white music fans tastes today, but at the expense of a lot of important artists by whom the mainstream have only heard one or two tunes. People like Dennis Brown, for example did so much more for reggae (as is mentioned in his biography featured on this blog last May), in a lot of his songs he voiced, strong social and political injustices, but is only really remembered for his struggle to find true love tune 'Money in my Pocket'. So Rotten's involvement in reggae music has had a definite impact on how we see reggae today, and some of this is, I have to agree, is negative as well as positive, but then every journey or path is not without its down sides.

It is also said that many of the punk bands made elementary mistakes in their attempts at playing reggae by hitting the after beat on the one and three instead of the two and the four for example (this is also mentioned in Bradley's book) which explains why they attracted some ridicule and criticism from Jamaicans. Jerry Dammers said that he originally wanted The Specials to play a punk / reggae mix in the style of the Clash, but found it too hard to get the right sound, so this then led them to ska, which blended well with the pace of Punk. Now however these playing mistakes have been corrected and non Jamaican drummers are even giving classes on the net on how to play the various drumbeats. Also artists like the Italian Alberto Dascola aka Alborosie play reggae so authentically that it even sells big in Jamaica.

Today both Reggae & Punk are underground with a small band of loyal and dedicated followers. It is the other 'black rebel music' that reigns supreme, Hip Hop, which has also lent itself at times towards Reggae and the harder edged sounds of Punk. Dreads and spiky hair are more commonplace now, even David Beckham made the 'Mohican' trendy for a while, but in the seventies they marked you out as a militant and a rebel. Punk and reggae still share a bond today, with UK independent record label Rockers Revolt, who built a strong reputation last year for releasing quality reggae based LP's, announcing that they intend to release (early this year) an album by up and coming punk upstarts The Steady Boys. Also Jamaican artists such as Buju Banton, who linked up and recorded with modern US punks Rancid, and Morgan Heritage who toured with NOFX and Floggin' Molly, have both commented that their albums have been influenced by these bands time – a symptomatic sign of UK rock's overall decline on the world stage...maybe? -. So although not the major force it once was for a few years at least reggae, with the help of the punk scene worked well together, and, hopefully, broadened many people's musical horizons.

Black Market Clash

On its original release in 1980 'Black Market Clash' was released as a 10" vinyl EP, containing only 9 songs. It was a US only release (though available in the UK on import) and came out between the releases of the excellent 'London Calling' and the hit and miss sprawl of triple album 'Sandinista!' It compiled recordings which were at the time unavailable in the US except as imports, many of which were produced by ex Blue Oyster Cult man Sandy Pearlman during the 'Give 'Em Enough Rope' sessions.
Black Market Clash was re-released on CD in 1991, but was discontinued when Super Black Market Clash replaced it. I was going to review this album myself but with so many of the tracks removed or with different versions between the two discs thought it perhaps best to point you in the direction of this as it might explain it better.
All I have to say is that I wish I had the original version as more is not always better.
Some people believe the Clash were quick to sell out the Punk ethos and after telling everyone how "bored with the USA" they were promptly went about trying to make it big there. The thing is though what ever you feel about them you cannot deny they always strived to be different and creative with there music and Super Black Market does I think show this quite well from the opening punk power of '1977' with its big air guitar riffs to the instrumental / dub version of rock disco classic 'Rock the Casaba'. Sometimes it worked and sometimes...well it just didn't, but I admire them for never being afraid to take a risk and for the majority of the time producing the goods.

The Ruts - Jah Southall

The Ruts consisted of Malcolm Owen (vocals), Paul Fox (guitar), John "Segs" Jennings (bass) and Dave Ruffy (drums) and are best known as a punk band for, the excellent “Staring At The Rude Boys”, “Babylon’s Burning” and “In A Rut” . Although a punk band they were heavily influenced by reggae and were involved with anti-racist protest groups such as Rock Against Racism and People Unite, a collective based in the London borough of Southall.
“Jah War” is a song about a demo that took place in Southall, when trouble flared between protestors (protesting against the NF who were planning a meeting in the borough) and the Special Patrol Group. Attacks by the SPG led to the death of New Zealander Blair Peach and severe injuries to Clarence Baker. Other reggae artists also sang about this event at the time, most notably Linton Kwesi Johnson with “Reggae Fi Peach" on Bass Culture.
“Jah War” I think is the finest piece of ‘white reggae’ you will probably hear. It is a great slice of up-tempo reggae with its driving bass line and bright sounding horns. The song came out as a single, but unfortunately never made the charts. I suppose the majority of the British record buying public were not ready to embrace this type of style or more importantly the content by a 'white' band then.
Another good reggae track by this band is “Love In Vain”, which is more laid back, warm, dubby feeling tune with echoy horns and harmonica, and without the angst filled lyrics. This track can also be found on The Crack or on the B side of the 3 minutes of excellence that is “Staring At The Rude Boys”.
Also worth checking out, although not totally reggae influenced, is the powerful S.U.S. A song about the archaic law when the Police had the power to arrest when all you had to do was look just a bit suspicious of committing a crime. A law that if you were Black and young meant you were bound to be pulled in to the station on a regular basis.

Dr Alimantado - The Ital Surgeon - Profile

Dr Alimantado, The Ital Surgeon, was born Winston Thompson, in Kingston, 1952. He grew up in the ghetto of the city's west side, an area notorious for its poverty and violence. In his early teens he became interested in the Rastafarian faith, grew his hair in locks and then ran away from home. He didn't get far and was soon re-captured by his parents who lost no time in trimming his dreads. When he left school he drifted between various dead end jobs before realizing that music was the career he wanted to follow and that it offered a form of escape from the drudgery of life in Kingston. Winston found that he had a talent for DJ'ing and he listened and learnt from the master and originator of the art, the great daddy U Roy.
When the time was right he decided to set about getting his foot in the door of the record business. He went and hung around the various studios, as did many others, waiting to be given a chance to show his skills. Eventually Lee Perry gave the promising youngster a break, and got Winston to chat a few lines on the version side of Junior Byles massive hit 'Beat Down Babylon'. Suitably impressed Perry then went on to produce three more sides with him under the alias of Winston Prince, 'Piece of My Heart', 'Macabee the Third', and 'Place Called Africa Version 3'. Winston then changed his moniker to Winston Cool, then Ital Winston as he continued his fledgling career. In 1973 he had by now gained a fair bit of experience of the Kingston music scene, although none of the records he'd cut for other producers had sold all that well. This however did not dissuade him from starting his own label with the intention of producing himself. The label Vital Food, and yet another name change to Dr. Alimantado were born. That year saw the first release for both with 'Just The Other Day'.
Dr. Alimantado's next records all dealt with social and Rastafarian themes, 'Ride On', 'Plead I Cause', 'President Nyrere' and 'Oil Crisis'. All these tunes sold well enough on the local JA market and the copies that reached England as pre-releases were beginning to establish him as a strong underground artist. But he still was without a really strong seller that would mash up the radio station charts. He didn't have to wait too long, and towards the end of 1974 he went into Lee Perry's then new Black Ark Studio and cut the influential, 'Best Dressed Chicken In Town'. The tune uses the riddim track of Horace Andy's 'Ain't No Sunshine' and apparently draws inspiration from a well known poultry advert on Jamaican radio at the time. Between them they went on to create three minutes of musical madness, as the song is echoed, reverberated and equalised, with tapes speeded up and down until the whole thing becomes a whirlpool of sound, and one of the most totally original and imaginative records ever to have come out of Jamaica. 'Best Dressed Chicken' proved to be very popular in JA, but it was in England where the record became hailed as a cult classic and Dr Alimantado became not just another good artist to look out for but a legend.
In 1978 Greensleeves Records collected some of Dr Alimantado's tracks recorded in the early to mid-70s, such as 'Gimme Mi Gun', versioning Gregory Isaacs' 'Thief a Man', and 'Poison Flour', using The Paragons 'Man Next Door' riddim, and released the "Best Dressed Chicken in Town" album. The album show cased his tunes, a mix of Rastafarianism with commentary on the events going on in his community; 'Poison Flour' for example referenced a recent incident when a number of local Kingstonians had been poisoned by eating bread made with contaminated flour, while 'Gimme Mi Gun' was a plea for the right to protection from ghetto gunman. Dr Alimantado also became popular with UK punks in the '70s following Johnny Rotten praising him in an interview and choosing 'Born For A Purpose' as one of his top 10 records. He also gained a mention in The Clash song 'Rudie Can't Fail in the line "Like the doctor who was born for a purpose". In fact 'Born For A Purpose' was one of the few records to actually capture the spirit of 1977 and of the Punk movement. The song recalls a fateful Boxing Day in 1976 when while walking back home after an early morning dip in the sea Alimantado was struck down and nearly killed by a bus on Orange Street. After he had recovered from the incident he managed to get a free session at the Channel One Studio and it was here that he recorded the song. In it he tells of how he believes the bus driver was intent on running him over for daring to wear his dreadlocks in the street, Dr Alimantado pleads in the song "If you feel that you have no reason for living, don't determine my life." That one line must surely be the defining one that captured both the imagination of Rotten, the Clash and the Punk ethos.As the success of "Best Dressed Chicken" and its follow-up compilation "Sons of Thunder" brought him to the wider attention of people as a toaster, Dr Alimatado had already moved on preferring to go for a singing style, apart from occasional records such as "Go Deh Natty Go Deh" on a heavily dubbed mix of Delroy Wilson's "Trying to Conquer Me". He released several singing tunes, including "Mama (I Thank You)", "Jah Love Forever", and a cover of Billy Stewart's "Sitting In the Park", and though not without vocal talent, his singing records never really captured the public imagination to the extent that his DJ / toasting records did.

Pama International - Highrise Album Review

Well I have to admit I was rather dreading having to review this LP as I'm not a big fan of "riddim" albums as apart from changing the vocalist it all well....sounds the same. So as luck would have it when I got to hear this it was nice to find out it is in fact a two riddim LP! Ok enough of the silliness and down to business after all this LP is released in aid of a good cause, and what you want to know is if I part with my money will I get something good back, and not just a load of old rubbish that has been hastily put together. Well rest at ease my good friends this is worth every penny.
First off I love the way this whole package has been put together and it is obvious that it is something that all involved have thought carefully about, from the (if you get the CD) cardboard vinyl style LP cover, with inlay sleeve and the track listing as an A and B side. For that is basically how it runs. The 'Highrise' riddim is the A side and each track runs into the next so it feels almost like an extended mix. It starts off with Pama's own Love Dub Band LP version, before seamlessly moving into Dennis Alcapone's DJ style version, and then morphs into Billy Bragg! Now how many times have you seen Dennis followed by Billy? One thing is for sure though no one can put everyday observations into a song better than Mr Bragg, and the line "Just because the system has failed you don't fail yourself" kind of says it all for me as there is no excuse for taking what you may perceive as a dead end situation and using it as an excuse to wastefully take another persons life.
After the first four (the other being a nice little Wrongtom dub) versions of Highrise and just as you're starting to feel you've heard enough along come Mungo's Hi Fi to turn the riddim into something completely different as the riddim becomes a deep, dark, urban sounding bass heavy dubstep, to round things off nicely.
The next riddim, or B side if you prefer, is 'No More Guns', which is my favourite of the two and has a more up beat tempo and funky reggae vibe and is going to be a showstopper live. Finny's sweet soprano vocals are off set by Dennis Alcapone's ruff and tuff chat on the riddim title track, followed by a G.Corp dub version with the beautiful sound of the Melodica drifting over the top. Then there its 'Do They Ever Wonder', same riddim just a name change, which features the vocal talents of rising Southeast London talent Jimmy Screech as he showcases his reggae-rap style (Oh keep a look out for his The Remedy LP which is due for release later this year).
I think this is great little LP with enough variation on both riddims to stop you from getting bored, so dig into your pockets not only to help give money to a worthy cause, but also to get yourself a bit of fine listening pleasure.