The ongoing series of Sherwood at the Controls releases surveys the recording career of Adrian Sherwood, the visionary dub producer and founder of On-U Sound. Volume One, released last year, covers 1979 to 1984, while the brand-new Volume Two takes us from 1985 to 1990.
As these discs demonstrate, Sherwood’s talents were too great to be contained by any genre. During the decade-long period under examination, his work connects everyone from Prince Far I, Lee “Scratch” Perry, and the Slits to Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, and Ministry. (“Al [Jourgensen] would go to the toilet and copy down the studio settings Adrian used for his effects on toilet paper and put them in his trousers,” Revolting Cock Luc Van Acker remembers from the Twitch sessions.) As I mention below, I think On-U must be the only point at which the discographies of Sugar Hill and Crass Records intersect. These comps also contain a sampling of the pathbreaking records Sherwood made with On-U outfits African Head Charge, Tackhead, and Dub Syndicate, which redefined what dub was and could be.
I spoke to Sherwood on June 24, the day after the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union.
Dangerous Minds: I spent yesterday listening to Don’t Call Us Immigrants as I was watching the Brexit votes come in—
Adrian Sherwood: [laughs]
—I feel I have to ask you about that. What are your thoughts?
Well, we would like to have stayed. There’s lots of reasons I would stay in Europe, and I’m sad, really. Europe’s done a lot, really, for each other. Apart from keeping a lot of peace and stability, the farming lobby in France and the farming lobby in Italy’s very strong, Germany’s got the biggest Green Party membership in Europe, they’re very advanced in renewable energy, and the farming lobby makes sure that we’re not victim of any of the terrible things that happen in the States with the poisoning of the food chain. So they’re very, very good; they ensure the standard of organic food, et cetera et cetera, and they also fight for workers’ rights. So I could go on and on about it, but I firmly would have liked to have seen a strong EU that we were part of.
You know, if they’re worried about immigration, they could have a united policy, but it was all panic, panic, panic, and to be honest with you, it was more like the ignorant masses that wanted to get out, thinking “Oh, let’s stop immigration,” but there’s no such thing as an indigenous English person. Every last person in this country is of an immigrant extraction. Everybody.
Lee Perry and Adrian Sherwood, photographed by Kishi Yamamoto
I wonder if I could go back to the beginning of your career. What was the relationship like between the Jamaican roots artists and the UK scene? It seems like you were in a special position to observe their interaction. Was that a competitive relationship?
No, not in the least. It was very hard for the English artists to get credibility, because everybody was looking to Jamaica, as though there’s the great thing, like the British bands always looking to the great American bands. The situation was always the exciting new star coming from Jamaica, and everybody really wanted to see him or her—mainly males, but a lot of female artists as well—and people didn’t think they could get the sound. So it took quite a long time for the English… you know, that album Don’t Call Us Immigrants, it’s interesting that you mention that, ‘cause I’m proud of that album. But that reflected the development of the English reggae sound.
We developed a sound of our own in England, with bands like Steel Pulse and Aswad and Creation Rebel, et cetera, and, you know, Black Slate, Dennis Bovell, obviously, and then eventually the lovers rock scene and our own dub scene. But Jamaica led the way, so everybody in England was like “Oh wow, here’s the new hip hero coming from Jamaica.” It wasn’t really like competing as such, it was more “Bring on the new star,” really, and everyone in England was keen to see the new star. And a few of the really good bands in England got to back the stars, like Aswad did one of the most famous ever gigs backing a young Burning Spear in ‘76 or ‘77 or something.
Since you mentioned Creation Rebel, can you tell me a bit about Prince Far I? I’ve listened to a lot of Prince Far I but I have almost no sense of what he was like as a person.
Far I was a bit of a joker. He would stand on the table and do Elvis Presley impersonations. He had a very mad sense of humor. But his background was quite serious. He was friends with Claudie Massop who was a political gunman, and he himself had been like a security man at Joe Gibbs’ studio, the doorman. He’d worked on a bauxite factory, producing aluminum, where Claudie Massop was the foreman, and because of the politics, he was like a “big friend,” as Joe Higgs said, like a big friend to Far I. But Far I was a character, quite a complex character as well. He looked much older and seemed much older than he actually was.
Did he seem like a wise person? Was that part of it?
Yeah, he definitely had a lot of depth to him, was interested in things and read quite a bit. But he was a joker and a character, and I remember him being full of jokes and fun and stuff. Although he had a darker side as well, which was more one of feeling that people were working voodoo on him, y’know, things like that. So there was kind of a strange underbelly there as well.
From the little I know, it seems like the reality was pretty heavy for a lot of those guys. Tapper Zukie was involved in some violence… it seems like that was just part of life for a lot of those guys.
Well, I knew Tapper Zukie from that period. My friend, Clem Bushay, he lives about 200 meters from me; he actually produced the Man Ah Warrior album.
Yeah, the producer lives on the same road as I’m speaking to you from now. I knew Tapper Zukie for a long time.
They were all affiliated with politics, that was the thing. And in the seventies, in Jamaica, obviously, the CIA were moving in, trying to destabilize the country, because they didn’t want them to slip towards the Cuban model and affiliate with Russia, and have another Russian ally so close to the United States. So a lot of arms were put in to Seaga, who was affiliated with the Americans, where Manley wanted to stay with the Cubans and work more to a socialist state. That’s why there’s so many arms and, to this day, so much trouble for Jamaica.
It was a crazy election—I think it was ‘76—and I was eighteen at the time, and Far I was with us in England. It was mad. Phoning home and, you know, ten, 20 people shot a day in the political violence. And Far I obviously was close with Claudie Massop, who was one of the main enforcers, like his father Jack Massop had been. But we met a lot of those gunmen: Take Life[?], Bucky Marshall, Tapper Zukie, Horsie—not Horsemouth Wallace, another one called Horsie. Were some quite dark characters, really, but if you met them, you’d have thought they were really charming. But then what they actually got up to was a whole different thing.
Continues after the jump…