follow us in feedly
‘An experiment waiting to happen’: A brief history of ‘Two Tone Britain’

Jerry Dammers: the father of Two Tone records
Two Tone was a specifically British, or more accurately English, musical genre that came out of punk and ska in the late 1970s. The roots of Two Tone can be traced back to the arrival of West Indians to England—the so-called “Windrush Generation”—under the British Nationality Act of 1948. This act gave British citizenship to all people living in Commonwealth countries and full rights of entry and settlement in the UK. With the arrival of these Commonwealth citizens came ska and reggae music, which was slowly adopted by the white working class.

Most youth music is exclusive—it’s old versus young; hip versus square; mod versus rocker; slacker versus yuppie; black versus white. Few musical genres are totally or even try to be totally inclusive—there is a built-in snobbishness that comes with the package. The osmosis of ska and Afro-Carribean culture into the white British culture pointed a way towards a truly inclusive musical genre—Two Tone. It was, as Two Tone singer Pauline Black once said, “an experiment waiting to happen.”

During the 1960s, Skinheads took ska as their own—but the growing racism of the skinhead movement led to their ostracization. Reggae replaced ska—but the skins hated reggae’s laid-back, spliffed-up vibe. Skinheads became suedeheads. Popular music moved onto glam rock, heavy metal, and prog rock. Then punk arrived in 1976. A new generation of youngsters saw that the means of music production could be theirs.
Two Tone pioneers The Specials.
Jerry Dammers was a young musician in Coventry. He had been a fellow traveler in various youth movements—a hippie, a skinhead, a punk—but his first love was ska. Dammers took the energy of punk with the rhythms of ska and created a new genre of music known as Two Tone—an inclusive, socially aware, “danceable earfest.” Dammers formed the Specials AKA with like-minded youngsters and the best of local talent. The Specials pioneered Two Tone music. They got a record deal that allowed Dammers to set up his Two Tone record label. Its first release was The Specials with “Gangsters” on the A-side and Pauline Black and the Selecter—a band made up in the studio—on the B-side. Dammers quickly signed up the Beat (a.k.a. the English Beat), London band Madness, Bad Manners, the Bodysnatchers and even Elvis Costello and the Attractions.

Two Tone’s iconic black and white label design (an image created by Dammers that was loosely based on a photograph of Pete Tosh from the Wailing Wailers) was a standard for the fans’ style—a mix of Rude Boy and Mod—baggy suit, white shirt, black tie, and porkpie hat. Two Tone brought black and white together and although The Specials could sometimes be didactic—they sent out a political message that united the young.

The whole story is well told by those at its heart and from those who were most influenced by it in Two Tone Britain—a thoroughly enjoyable documentary that makes you realize what at its best music can achieve. (The video embedded below looks suspiciously unavailable, but we assure you, as of the time of posting, you can click on it and watch it!)


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Roots Strikers: ‘Socialism Is Love’ and other left-wing 70s reggae anthems

This is how Dillinger feels about your incremental liberal reforms
Albert Einstein did not ever once say that bullshit about “the definition of insanity” that your dimwitted boss has inked on one palm, but he did have some ideas you might actually find useful in the workplace. For instance, in his essay “Why Socialism?” published in the first issue of the Monthly Review, Einstein identified “the economic anarchy of capitalist society” as “the real source of the evil” that alienates and “cripples” individuals, and he advocated “the establishment of a socialist economy” in its place. Why not enliven your next PowerPoint presentation or office party with that fun fact? 

Bob Marley and Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley
“Gonna fight ‘gainst capitalists, gonna get rid of capitalists, gonna stamp out capitalism,” the DJ Dillinger thundered in 1975. He was one of several prominent reggae musicians who wrote explicitly socialist songs during the mid-70s in support of the policies of Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley and the People’s National Party. Manley, a democratic socialist, introduced a minimum wage, equal pay for women, free education and free health care, and if his program sounds familiar, that’s because everybody already knows it’s what the absolute minimum of basic decency would look like.

But Max Romeo makes the case better than I can on his single “Socialism Is Love”:

You’re asking what is socialism and what it really means
It’s equal rights for every man, regardless of his strength
So don’t let no one fool you (Joshua said)
Listen as I tell you (Joshua said)
No man are better than none,
Socialism is love between man and man

Socialism is
Love for your brothers
Socialism is
Linking hearts and hands
Would you believe it?
Poverty and hunger’s what we’re fighting

Socialism is
Sharing with your sisters
Socialism is
People pulling together
Would you believe me?
Love and togetherness, that’s what it means

Mr. Big a-trembling in his shoes, saying he’s got a lot to lose
Don’t want to hear about sufferer at all
(Joshua said) One man have too many,
While too many have too little
Socialism don’t stand for that, don’t stand for that at all


Max Romeo at Lee “Scratch” Perry’s Black Ark, 1975
If I can extend an olive branch to Hillary’s supporters, I looked for reggae songs about raining death on civilians, glad-handing Wall Street bankers and bringing children “to heel,” but I couldn’t find a single one. I wonder why that is?
Keep reading, after the jump…

Posted by Oliver Hall | Leave a comment
‘Reggae on Broadway,’ Bob Marley’s major label flop
09:10 am


Bob Marley

Bob Marley in the studio during the sessions for Johnny Nash’s I Can See Clearly Now
No, it’s not a musical—praise Jah—but a curiosity in Bob Marley’s catalog: 1972’s “Reggae on Broadway” was Marley’s first and only single on CBS, recorded and released before Chris Blackwell signed the Wailers to Island. Intended to break Marley as a solo artist in the UK, the single “sank like a stone,” according to biographer Timothy White. But imagine how Marley’s career might have been different if this fairly conventional rock/soul tune, adorned with screaming fuzz guitar and horns, had been a hit. “I’m in the mood / to give you some food.”

Bob Marley and Johnny Nash in the studio
Marley worked with Johnny Nash in Sweden and England during the early 70s, and he participated in the sessions for Nash’s I Can See Clearly Now, which included three of his songs and a fourth co-written with Nash. “Reggae on Broadway” was cut with one of Nash’s backing bands, Sons of the Jungle (a/k/a Rabbit and the Jungles), whose leader, keyboardist John “Rabbit” Bundrick, says the single dates from the English sessions for I Can See Clearly Now. In John Masouri’s Wailing Blues, the Wailers’ legendary bassist, Aston “Family Man” Barrett, says the song was also in the Wailers’ repertoire at the time:

Every day we have to take about three trains to go to this place called Kingston-upon-Thames and then we’d be there in this small little room, whilst Johnny Nash was in a big room rehearsing with his band Sons of the Jungle across the hall. We never play with Johnny Nash directly, but we did a nice little section of our own and Bob, Bunny, and Peter, they were singing some songs, man. We used to do this song ‘Reggae On Broadway’ that went, ‘Hey, hey mama, hey. Get down on the floor.’ It was like a crossover t’ing and then we used to do songs like ‘Oh Lord, I’ve Got To Get There’ and ‘Concrete Jungle’ also.

More after the jump…

Posted by Oliver Hall | Leave a comment
Ian Curtis’ favorite reggae song, ‘Turn The Heater On’
07:17 am


Joy Division
Ian Curtis
Keith Hudson

One of Keith Hudson’s nicknames was “the Ghetto Dentist,” because—unlike, let’s say, Suge Knight—he funded his Inbidimts label and shop (a/k/a Imbidimts) by filling teeth. Hudson died in 1984, but an impression of his basic decency remains. Dennis Alcapone, who made his first recordings with Hudson and remembers him as “a nice bredda who try ‘im bes’ to point you in a right direction,” says Hudson didn’t just give him a break in the record business, but set the DJ up with his first bank account and “a wicked tuxedo outfit” to wear on stage, too.

Caps and crowns also paid for Hudson-produced singles by Ken Boothe, Delroy Wilson, U-Roy, Big Youth, Alton Ellis, and Augustus Pablo, and, before Virgin signed him, much of Hudson’s own formidable solo discography. His Pick A Dub is Jon Savage’s choice for “the greatest dub album ever.” The first track on side two of Hudson’s 1975 LP Torch of Freedom was reportedly the favorite song of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, whose bereaved bandmates recorded their own chilly version of “Turn The Heater On” during a Peel session two years after Curtis’ suicide.

In her memoir Touching From a Distance, Curtis’ widow Deborah writes that the singer immersed himself in reggae in 1975, after the newlyweds moved in with Curtis’ grandparents in Hulme:

Ian always had an interest in reggae music; Bob Marley and Toots and the Maytals already figured in his diverse record collection. Moving into that area of Manchester gave Ian the opportunity to throw himself into the local culture. He began to spend much of his time in a record shop in Moss Side shopping centre, listening to different reggae bands - although, as our cheap record player was packed away ready to move to the new house, he spent very little money there. Once again Ian became obsessed with a lifestyle different from his own. He began to infiltrate the places where white people didn’t usually go. He took me to the Mayflower in Belle Vue, which at best was a seedy version of the Cotton Club and at worst a place where they held tawdry wrestling matches.

But when the Curtises got their own place in Chadderton, actually turning the heater on was something you could count on Ian Curtis never to do:

It didn’t take long to realize that married life was not going to be as comfortable as we had expected. We had very little spare cash for socializing and trying to keep the heating bills to a minimum meant that only the living room was warm. There were storage heaters in the house, but Ian refused to use them; in fact he disconnected one of them and lugged it into the back yard. The only thing he didn’t economize on were cigarettes.

After the jump, hear Hudson’s upful original and New Order’s somewhat more dour take on “Turn The Heater On”...

Posted by Oliver Hall | Leave a comment
Patti Smith pays homage to reggae genius Tapper Zukie
09:45 am


Patti Smith
Lenny Kaye
Tapper Zukie

Robert Mapplethorpe’s cover for the Mer Records reissue of Man Ah Warrior

Since its founding in 1974, Lenny Kaye’s Mer label has put out a total of five records. Of these, two are by Patti Smith, one by Kaye. The other two releases belong to the only artist on Mer who wasn’t in the Patti Smith Group: toaster, DJ and producer Tapper (a/k/a Tappa or Topper) Zukie.

Smith has said that she practiced reciting her poems over Zukie’s first album, 1973’s Man Ah Warrior, before she worked them up as songs. Presumably, she heard the album through Kaye, who writes that he brought it back to NYC from a “West London back alley reggae stall” when it was brand new. Three years later, when both Zukie and the Patti Smith Group had achieved cult fame in the UK, the “M.P.L.A.” singer joined the band onstage in London. Kaye: November 1976 at the venerable Hammersmith Odeon, Tapper Zukie joined the Patti Smith Group onstage for a babylon-burning rendition of “Ain’t It Strange,” and we became friends. Tapper came to visit us in New York, preparing a dinner of roast fish just after he got off the plane; and we released Man Ah Warrior on our Mer label. He opened for us at the Rainbow Theater in London the following year, and with such hits as “M.P.L.A.” and “Go Deh Natty, Go Deh” and the sinuous “Pick Up the Rocker,” encapsulated a moment where two different musics with the same sense of apocalyptic vision and revolutionary spirit could go forth and conquer.


Smith seriously injured herself in Tampa on January 23, 1977, when her ecstatic spinning during that night’s performance of “Ain’t It Strange” took her over the lip of the stage. She fell fifteen feet, fracturing two of her vertebrae and smashing her face on the concrete floor. Shortly after the accident, she told a Sounds writer that writing the poem “Tapper the Extractor” during her hospital stay aided her recovery:’s the best poem I’ve written for a real long time. Tapper’s poem kept me from losing consciousness; it’s all about ‘the thread of return.’ ...Yeah, the thread of return kept me here.


The back cover of Zukie’s Man from Bozrah LP, featuring “THE TAPPER EXTRACTS”
This poem, or a version of it, appeared as the liner notes of Zukie’s outstanding 1978 LP The Man from Bozrah, where it was credited to “PATTIE [sic] SMITH & L. Kaye”: 

“one does not hold the key, he extends it”

Zu-Kie, the Tapper of precious blood, looks down at his mother bending over the river beating the clothes w/a stone. in/space the Tapper extracts; the sky full of numbers . . . the mute procession of the 12 tribes . . . the insatiable dreamer that totems the manor . . . the rude Zugernaut . . . a Mesopotamia hotel . . . Taj Mahal . . . keeper of bees . . . aluminum comes exuding the icing of light. awareness is relative and anyone relating to the Tapper feels the fluid of the future flooding his veins . . . the screen projects deliverance . . . vague silver members . . . the lost years of Jesus + Cleopatra . . . Tablets unearthed from the dawn of time . . . a rose glow . . . searchlights over the labyrinth . . . rube flux and a vibrant twist of thread . . . .

Tapper, the extractor, ties it all together. like a playful cat he taps the raveling ball . . . sending it in/space like a corvette over Detroit landing on the throat of the babbeling son of ritual.

he cried ah/men oh/men
his bodily fluids coagulate into a smooth stone
etched w/the synchronizing symbols;
words of power/words of light
cries from the valley of the forgotten
the gentle panorama/the shackles of slaves opening like a laughing wound
the shining faces of the liberation
the ma/sonic key of the Tapper is turning
the ball of thread is unraveling . . .
the walls of the labyrinth are splitting . . .
and the people are rushing . . .
Rushing like the blood of the lion merging w/Zu-kie, the Tapper of blood, looking down at his mother bending over the river and his father working in the Field.

A slightly longer and differently punctuated version of the poem, in which “Zu-kie” is spelled “zookey,” can be found in Smith’s Babel.

After the jump, hear the two sides of Zukie’s Mer single, “Viego” and “Archie, the Rednose Reindeer”

Posted by Oliver Hall | Leave a comment
Peter Tosh rides a unicycle
08:42 am


Peter Tosh

This year is the 40th anniversary of Peter Tosh’s solo debut Legalize It—now available on CD in the superior, uncluttered “original Jamaican mix”—and his shoes remain vacant. Tosh’s rebelliousness was bound up with his eccentricity: he spoke in his own riddling, punning language, blew pot smoke in the faces of the most powerful men in Jamaica, and, time and again, perversely bit hands that fed him. In his way, he was full of good cheer, too. Whose day wouldn’t be brightened by the sight of this sharp-tongued, militant, six-foot-five Rasta passing by on unicycle?

Tosh practices smoking and cycling in a hotel hallway
John Masouri’s biography Steppin’ Razor reports that Tosh acquired his first unicycle at a bike shop in New York on June 19, 1978, hours before opening for the Stones at the Palladium. Masouri, who says Tosh learned to ride the unicycle by practicing in hotel hallways on the road, quotes manager Herbie Miller on the singer’s fondness for novelty items and pets:

He was young at heart and as funny as any stand-up comedian, and also spent quite some time purchasing toys and gadgets associated with youth culture and activities for his own use. So, skateboards, roller skates, slingshots, electric motorcars, unicycles and layback cycles were most precious and guarded. He also loved pets and kept fishes, a variety of rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters and birds. I once had to talk Peter out of returning from a European tour with a pet chimpanzee; for me, it was a monumental achievement since it was virtually impossible to talk him out of some things, including ‘beating the gate’ with hamsters from a previous tour.

More Peter Tosh on a unicycle, after the jump…

Posted by Oliver Hall | Leave a comment
Rated X: The DIRTY (and very funny) reggae of Judge Dread
01:03 pm


Prince Buster
Judge Dread

Judge Dread was a white reggae and ska recording artist who had a string of hit singles during the 1970s. He sold millions of records, and was the second biggest selling reggae artist—only beaten in album sales by Bob Marley, though Dread scored more hit singles than Marley—and had the dubious distinction of being the most banned recording artist ever—with a total of eleven singles deemed unsuitable for broadcast during his career.

Born Alexander Minto Hughes in Snodland, Kent, England in 1945, Dread first became a fan of reggae in the 1960s while living with a Jamaican family in Brixton, London. He was passionate about the music and became friends with the legendary ska and rocksteady artists Prince Buster and Derrick Morgan, who were to have an influence on his musical career.
Dread was a giant of a man, weighing in around 250 pounds, which more than helped with his choice of work as a club bouncer, wrestler (under the monicker “The Masked Avenger”) and eventually debt collector for the ska record label Trojan. It was while working for Trojan that Dread cut his first self-financed single “Big Six.” The track was inspired by Prince Buster’s banned 1969 underground hit “Big 5”—a catchy number about weed, sex and spunk, which Dread used as basis for his own salty take on traditional nursery rhymes in 1972.
Dread was a master of the smutty double or perhaps more correctly stated, the single entendre, and although some songs were explicit, he always claimed the innuendo was all in the mind of the audience, as the lyrics to “Big Five” show:

There was an old sailor, who sat on a rock,
Waving and shaking his big hairy…Fist
at the ladies next door in The Ritz,
Who taught all the children to play with their…Ice-creams
and marbles and all things galore,
Along comes a lady who looks like a…Decent young woman,
who walks like a duck,
She said she’s invented a new way to….etc. etc…

After the success of “Big Six” more hits followed in a numerical order with “Big Seven,” Big Eight” and “Big NIne” before Dread recorded his own novelty versions of “Je t’aime… moi non-plus,” “Come Outside” and “Y Viva Suspenders.” Most weeks his mug with his Brian Connolly haircut and paintbrush beard was regularly flashed onscreen during the chart rundown for Top of the Pops but his songs were never played. Which makes Judge Dread’s success all the more incredible, as he never received any airplay—or perhaps it says more about the (lack of) taste of the record-buying public during the 1970s? Whichever—Judge Dread was once a major phenomenon, who continued performing through the less successful 1980s and 1990s until his sudden and untimely death right after a gig in 1998.

Understandably, TV footage of Judge Dread is rare, but here is the reggae giant performing “Big Six” in front of group of topless dancers on Musikladen from late 1980.

Listen to some more of Judge Dread’s smutty reggae, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
World’s youngest Bob Marley impersonator
12:18 pm


Bob Marley
Myles Kingston Sadler

Myles Kingston Sadler AKA Lil’ Bob Marley via Instagram
I can’t find too much information on two-year-old rad rasta Myles Kingston Sadler, but what I could find is that he lives in Atlanta and really, really loves himself some Bob Marley. In fact, Myles does a pretty mean impersonation of his spliff smokin’ idol. There’re over 20 videos on Myles’ YouTube page of this top-ranking tot performing Bob Marley songs. They’re damned adorable.

Myles may not be old enough to sport his own natty dreads yet, but give him some time. This kid is going places. 

Myles performing “Get Up, Stand Up”

Myles performing “Kinky Reggae”

Myles performing “Crazy Baldhead”
via Arbroath

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Rock Against Racism: On the front line with The Clash, Specials, Undertones & Elvis Costello

It all began in 1968 when an old Tory coot Enoch Powell gave a racist speech against immigration and anti-discrimination legislation at his West Midlands constituency in England. Powell claimed he was horrified at what he believed was an unstoppable flow of immigration that would eventually swamp the country where “in fifteen or twenty years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.” It was an incendiary and offensive speech full bile and hate, and became known as the “Rivers of blood speech” because of Powell’s quotation from Virgil’s Aeneid about “‘the River Tiber foaming with much blood.’”

Many of the white working class supported Powell, most shamefully the London dockers’ union staged a one day strike in his favor. Powell became the pin-up of the far right and his words appeared to sanction their rise, in particular the odious neo-Nazi National Front that promoted its racist policies with the boot as much as the ballot. Against this rose Rock Against Racism—“a raggedy arsed united front” co-founded by Red Saunders, Roger Huddle and others in 1976.

At first, Rock Against Racism was just an idea—a way to bring together a new generation of youth against the stealthy rise of the far right. It may have remained just an idea had it not been for Eric Clapton announcing during a concert in 1976 that the UK had “become overcrowded” and his fans should vote for Enoch Powell to stop Britain from becoming “a black colony.” Allegedly Clapton then shouted “Keep Britain white.” His racist tirade led to Saunders and Huddle writing a letter to the music paper NME pointing out that half Clapton’s music was black. The letter ended with a call for readers to help establish Rock Against Racism. The response was overwhelmingly positive.

In April 1978, 100,000 people marched across London in support of Rock Against Racism, which was followed by a concert at Victoria Park headlined by The Clash and the Tom Robinson Band. It was a momentous event, which singer and activist Billy Bragg correctly described as “the moment when my generation took sides.”

Photographer Syd Shelton documented the rise of Rock Against Racism during the 1970s and 1980s from its first demonstrations, the concert in Victoria Park, to the gigs, bands, musicians (The Clash, The Specials, The Undertones, Elvis Costello, etc), the young activists and supporters who stood up and proudly said: “Love Music, Hate Racism.”
More rocking pictures against racism, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘Sacred Love’: The Bad Brains song that was recorded over the phone from prison
10:23 am


Bad Brains

Bad Brains t-shirt from The Rudy

Washington, D.C. hardcore punk-reggae legends Bad Brains have had a tumultuous career since forming in 1977. The band started out playing jazz fusion along the lines of Chick Corea and John McLaughlin until they were introduced to punk via The Dead Boys and The Sex Pistols. They remain one of the very few all-black punk bands. The band members became devout Rastafarians after seeing Bob Marley perform in 1979 and singer H.R. (Human Rights, real name Paul D. Hudson) wanted to steer the band into more reggae rather than punk and heavy metal. Songs like “I Luv I Jah” and “Jah is Calling” were open professions of their faith. However, H.R. left the band a few times, along with his brother, drummer Earl Hudson, and concentrated on reggae with his band Human Rights. But for the past 15 years both men have remained in Bad Brains consistently.

One of the best stories about Bad Brains has to do with the recording of their third album, I Against I for Greg Ginn’s SST Records.

In 1986 H.R. was arrested and convicted on marijuana distributions charges. Rather than scrap the album or wait until H.R.’s release from prison, the band kept the recording sessions in Massachusetts going at the encouragement of producer Ron Saint Germain. H.R. provided the vocals for the song “Sacred Love” over the phone from Lorton Reformatory in Laurel Hill, Virginia. H.R. unscrewed the mouthpiece of the telephone so that there could be no background noise and sang into it.  Saint Germain still describes “Sacred Love” as “the best makeout song ever written.” 

The studio/jail version of “Sacred Love”
Bad Brains performing “Sacred Love” at The Ritz, New York, December 27, 1986, below:

Posted by Kimberly J. Bright | Leave a comment
Page 1 of 3  1 2 3 >