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‘Man Vs. Sofa’: Premiere of new music from Adrian Sherwood & Pinch
09:03 am


Adrian Sherwood
Sherwood & Pinch

You could be streaming all of the brand new UK bass album by Sherwood & Pinch, Man Vs. Sofa, at the bottom of this post right now. But instead you’re here, reading this, like a sucker. It’s as if, rather than walking directly through the entrance to a massive party, you paused to listen to a guy in a ratty sweater who was standing by the door shouting about how much fun he had inside.

Sherwood is Adrian Sherwood, the English record producer and dub adventurer I interviewed for DM last summer, during the all-too-brief period when it was possible for me to feel smug about Brexit. The music on his second LP with the Bristol dubstep artist Pinch gets its science-fiction quality by superimposing claustrophobia on a wide-open dub soundscape: it gives you the experiences of contraction and expansion at once, like a spacesuit or a TARDIS.

However you interpret the title, couch-lock is not the vibe. It’s late-night, clenched-jaw music. You could, perhaps, bathe your mind all day in the jazz chords resonating in Martin Duffy’s piano on “Midnight Mindset,” if they did not hang over beats the press materials describe as “technoid, insectoid and paranoid.”

Sherwood’s longtime collaborator Skip McDonald, who played guitar in the Sugarhill Gang before he joined Mark Stewart’s band and founded Tackhead, is on here. Lee “Scratch” Perry appears on “Lies” to matter-of-factly inform the world’s liars of their damnation, as serenely as a postman delivers a disconnection notice. The London rapper Taz turns up on the last track, “Gun Law.” And is that Buckminster Fuller talking about infinity and self-deprogramming on “Unlearn”?

Of particular interest to the DM reader is the Sherwood & Pinch remake of Ryuichi Sakamoto’s theme from Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, the 1983 film starring David Bowie as a British officer in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, which enters unexplored territory. (My friend from German Army recognized the tune immediately when we were listening to Man Vs. Sofa in his car yesterday.)

Have a listen, after the jump…

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Sun Ra meets Natty Dread: Count Ossie and the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari

Who knew the power of the boogeyman better than the Rastas? Despised pariahs, the “blackheart man” your mother warned you would steal and eat you if you were naughty, Rastas knew the score on being a scapegoat. They were “the stone that the builder refused.”

That must be why, as I read in S. Baker’s notes for the Soul Jazz comp Rastafari: The Dreads Enter Babylon 1955-83, which largely focuses on the contributions of Count Ossie and nyabinghi drumming to Jamaican music, the Rastas took the name “nyabinghi” straight from the racist tall tales of Italian fascists:

Propagandists of the Italian government, in the middle of the Second Italo-Ethiopian War, invented a story that a secret society of black warriors known as the Nya-Binghi (meaning ‘Death to the oppressors of the black races’) had been formed under the leadership of Haile Selassie I of Abyssinia (also known as Ethiopia). A threat to civilised society, the group had (potentially) 190 million members throughout the world. The Ku Klux Klan in the United States was the first to become aware of the power of the Nya-Binghi. Apparently Klan members in numerous American cities had recently been smitten with a strange and mysterious lethal disease. With publicity like this who wouldn’t want to join the Nya-Binghis!


Count Ossie (né Oswald Williams), who is widely credited as a, if not the, inventor of nyabinghi drumming, founded a Rastafarian community near east Kingston’s Wareika Hill during the 50s. He and his band only recorded sporadically over the following decade, Baker writes, because their “community-based” music was essentially devotional and not made for material reward.

In 1973, Count Ossie and his group joined forces with the Mystics, a jazz-influenced band led by saxophonist Cedric Im Brooks, and the resulting combo was known as the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari. After several years playing cover tunes in clubs, Brooks had left Jamaica in ‘68 to study music in Philadelphia, where, it’s said, Sun Ra and the Arkestra made a strong impression on him. (I haven’t yet found a source on their relationship that isn’t exasperatingly vague; Baker writes only that, while in Philadelphia, Brooks “established an association with Sun Ra’s artistic Arkestra commune.”)

Back in Jamaica, Brooks played on a number of Studio One sessions and formed the Mystics with trumpeter David Madden. Their debut with Count Ossie and group as the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari was the triple LP Grounation, recently rereleased by the Dub Store label. If a reasoning session with jazz horns sounds like a novelty item, far from it—in fact, The Rough Guide to Reggae says this is the nyabinghi album to get:

Though serious musicologists had made occasional field recordings of nyahbingi sessions, the first album to give the music the studio time it deserved, while remaining as true to its original forms as possible, was the triple LP set Grounation, from Count Ossie & the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari. The MRR was an aggregation of accomplished musicians which brought together both Count Ossie’s African-style hand drummers and the horns and bass of tenor-sax man Cedric Brooks’s Mystics band. This historic set has never been superseded, but the establishment of Rastafari as the dominant reggae ideology in the mid-1970s, plus the emergence of an audience for reggae albums that were more than collections of singles, created a climate in which more sets of nyahbingi-based music could be produced.

Hear ‘Grounation’ by Count Ossie & the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari, after the jump…

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The Dangerous Minds interview with Little Annie (Annie Anxiety Bandez)

Photo by Clinton Querci
The strange and fabulous career of Little Annie, also known as Annie Anxiety and Annie Anxiety Bandez, is like an index of Dangerous Minds’ musical obsessions. We wriggle in the web she weaves. Some connections are personal: DM’s own Howie Pyro was the bassist in her first band, Annie Anxiety and the Asexuals—Annie says below, “Howie is the reason I ended up on stage”—and DM chief Richard Metzger has mentioned his friend’s encounter with Annie at an Islington anarcho-punk festival in 1984. But then, consider that she’s worked with Crass, Coil, Marc Almond, Current 93, Nurse With Wound, Adrian Sherwood and the On-U Sound crew, Youth, Kid Congo Powers, ANOHNI (formerly Antony Hegarty), Keith Levene, Swans, et al.—and then, consider what a shame it is that every article about Little Annie has to mention all these associations in its opening paragraphs, when her own performances, her own powers, are so extraordinary. That’s why all those people wanted to work with her in the first place.

On Little Annie’s latest album, Trace, she is both the torch singer she claims to be and the streetwise narrator of “Bitching Song,” who patiently explains why, no matter your profession, location, or standing in this world, you’re just another bitch. Her wonderful memoir, You Can’t Sing The Blues While Drinking Milk, published in 2013, is scarce in hardcover (this looks like your best bet), but the Kindle version is a steal at $4.99.

When I called Annie last week, my first question was about Hermine, the hurricane then approaching her current base of operations, Miami. Thanks to Julian Schoen and On-U Sound for putting me in touch with this great artist.

Trace (2016)
Annie: I haven’t seen the news all day. I was out shooting. It’s like the rest of the planet; it’s getting gentrified, Miami, so I was out shooting some of these Darth Vader buildings that are going up about ten miles up the road.

Dangerous Minds: So you’re taking pictures, you’re documenting the gentrification of Miami?

Well, you know what it is, a friend of mine, she said—because I love buildings—she goes, “These are really ugly, you’ve got to shoot them” [laughing], you know? And they really are, they’re really sinister-looking skyscrapers. I love skyscrapers, but we’re below sea level here as it is, and they’re really like… gunmetal gray. Like, everything you wouldn’t do in this kind of light, just really ugly. Almost so that they’re beautiful. They’re so sinister, they almost have a kind of eerie beauty to them. I just got a high-definition camera finally so I could shoot and print for online stuff, and I thought, “Oh, that’s a good place to start. Let me get my chops going on some ugly.”

Man, it did not disappoint. They’re using all these gunmetal grays; it looks like either it’s the Church of Scientology or Masons, there’s something really… like prisons for the very rich, you know? Really grim.

So how did you wind up in Miami, Annie?

That’s a good question. You know, it was a place I had no interest in whatsoever. I’d been down here with some friends of mine whose father used to live down here; I came down in ’93, you know, and really it was only a place I ever went to go somewhere else.

New York, I had to move, and all of a sudden I realized, even if it was possible to live anywhere, I realized I wasn’t interested in any of it. So I don’t drive—I’m a confirmed non-driver—and I couldn’t think of where I could live on the East Coast that was near an airport for work, or where I could get away without a car. Miami, it’s difficult, but you can be a non-driver down here. And then, I kind of fell in love with it… one morning I woke up and said “Miami.” I was thinking about that today, I was trying to figure out how that happened.

’Cause I could picture you in Cuba somehow.

In my neighborhood? You could be anywhere in Central America or South America. I would say it’s around 90 percent Spanish-speaking, and there’s French. You hardly ever hear English in my neighborhood. You could walk down one street and it looks like Rio, and another street will look like the West Indies. It’s all new for me.

I guess I was starting to dislike myself. I was starting to become one of those perpetually angry [New Yorkers], “This is gone, and this isn’t like this anymore,” so I wanted somewhere where I didn’t know what it was like, so I have nothing to compare it to. I can’t get nostalgic over it because I don’t know what it was.

Sure, I can imagine. I’m from Los Angeles, and that’s changed so much over the last 20 or 30 years. And New York was so fabulous at one point.

Some of it here feels like New York in the ‘80s. Not always in a good way, too. What I do love about it is what I hate about it. It’s very corrupt. You know, like, I love this: their idea of gentrifying one area was to put a strip joint in it. [laughs] And that’s what I love about it. Literally, like New York used to be, like you could walk a few blocks and you were in a different world? Miami still has that flavor. Not so much the beach, but the inland. My neighborhood’s the last old neighborhood which hasn’t been fucked with yet. They want to, but you’ve got a mixture of, like, millionaires living next to Section 8. It’s really like an eclectic, wonderful little neighborhood two blocks from the beach. But because it hasn’t been gentrified, people don’t want to move here, which is why I wanted to move here. I really do love this area.

But L.A., I’ve got a little crush on Los Angeles from the last time I went there. I was with Baby Dee and we played downtown L.A. and it’s so beautiful, the light! The way the light hits things and the buildings.

There’s something special about the light here, for sure.

It was just gorgeous. We played in a place where Charlie Chaplin had a fistfight with Buster Keaton or something, and the upstairs place, it was some kind of—not three-quarter housing, but some kind of housing association… 

But then you go out, by the same token, I would be there all day, and like, thinking like I’m walking through Calcutta to get home, because I’ve never seen homelessness and pain like that! You’ve got these beautiful buildings, and then the homeless thing in downtown L.A., I just felt so bad for people.

Oh, it’s disgraceful. It’s kind of like what I imagine happened in New York under Giuliani. As the city becomes gentrified, they’re just shoving homeless people into different quarters of town where they’re getting more and more pressed together. There are blocks that are just covered with tents.

Yeah! That’s what I’m—I couldn’t believe it. I was outside having a cigarette. I must have had—in less than 20 minutes, ten people came up and asked me for money, you know? Which I would have gladly given. If I knew I was going into that, I would have gone in with food or something.

Miami is terrible. There’s no safety net for people. There’s no social services as such. They blame the homeless—‘cause we are fighting, they want to gentrify this area—and people will say things like, “If we let the developers in, then it will solve the homeless problem, and the rapes will go down.” And I go, “Wait: unload that sentence. You just called homeless people rapists.”

There’s this way that they deal with the homeless, is to criminalize them. New York is terrible, but Miami… and L.A., I love it and hate it.

State of Grace (with Baby Dee, 2013)
You’re singing my song, Annie. You know Howie Pyro writes for Dangerous Minds?

I love Howie! You know that I’ve known Howie since I was sixteen years old.

He was in the Asexuals, right?

Yeah. Howie is the reason I ended up on stage. Because we were hanging out, we really were like punk kids in the sense of like punk, juvenile delinquent, like little silly kids—we used to put “KICK ME” signs on people’s backs. We were totally juvenile. They asked me to support them, the Blessed, and I’m like, “Yeah!” And I didn’t know what “support” meant. So I had to throw a band together or something. Howie and them really kind of were the ones who—I was writing poetry and doing little bits of I don’t know what, but I didn’t have any direction, I was just being a kid, you know? And it was really because of the Blessed that I ended up in show business. I love Howie; I love those guys so much.

When did you have a sense that you had this voice? I know you didn’t set out to be a performer, and they encouraged you to go on stage. But when did you realize that you had this talent? I just read your memoir, so all this stuff is fresh in my head, you singing at the park in the a cappella group as a teenager…

You know what? It was funny, because I really didn’t realize I had a voice until… actually, very recently. Like, I knew I had a very good sense of… I’m very percussive, so I’ve always had like a sense of cadence. I mean, I was told not to be in the choir, because I was basically a contralto when I was a child. I had this voice—I was a belter, and I could belt like an old gospel singer when I was a little kid, you know? I could belt out old blues songs, and I sounded like I’d been drinking whiskey at age seven, you know what I mean? I had that kind of voice.

It’s only in the last couple of years where I’ve realized the ability I have, you know, like the physicality of singing? I realize that it’s not something that everybody has. ‘Cause I didn’t know what I was doing, I would luck into things, but I never knew how I got there, from point A to B. I just did it because it had to be done. I think it was on the Swans tour: I go, “Wow, now I’m understanding what people say, singing from the diaphragm, and the rest.” I actually didn’t realize what I was born with, you know? I’m shaped like a singer. Some of it actually happens from singing, you get a wider ribcage just from singing. But it was only really recently, I go “Wait, I could do that!” Or that I actually trusted my abilities. I always kinda knew my abilities as a writer, and to keep time: I write like a drummer or a conga player. But it was only really recently that I knew I had something.

It sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Make it all the way through a career [laughs] before you start realizing. Because I’ve never had a pretty voice. I can do that, but if it was pretty, it was by accident. So now I go, “Oh wait, when I do this, this happens. Oh wait, I can get from this octave to another octave.” I’m only just starting to grasp what I’ve been blessed with. Yeah, so, just recent! [laughing] Last few months.

Well, you had an instinctive sense probably of how to work an audience, right?

That, yes. Live, I’m able to… hear people. Even if it’s silent, there’s something I hear from them, a dialogue that I’ve always kind of tapped into. And I don’t know why…

That’s why acting was so hard for me. Acting, I’m starting to learn, you’ve got to access a different part of you. But where there was something on stage, maybe it was what people get from gospel or something—I go into the zone, and when I’m in the zone, I’m able to supersede any ideas of myself, or anything. It’s probably the only time in my life I’m not in my head. I’m totally not in my head. I’m totally not conscious. It’s the safest place in the world, the stage, and it’s because it’s a dialogue, and I don’t know what it is but that’s something I’ve always had, which is why the stage felt so good. You know, to look straight in people’s eyes on stage. 

I mean, recording, I spent my On-U Sound years really getting into the technical side of, not the machinery, but of sound and of craft and the music part. But that other part, that was something that was always there. And it was a problem acting, because I’m so much myself on the stage, and when you go onstage and act, it’s not about being yourself. I mean, I’ve lost parts because I go in and I start rewriting the script in my head. And they want an audition, and you go in, you start going, “That doesn’t feel honest,” and acting isn’t honest. It’s about being believable.

When you’re singing with an audience, it’s absolutely about trusting that they can be themselves and you can be yourselves, because you have a moment of—fuck, it sounds really pretentious, but it’s almost like Zen—you’re so in the moment. Your mind can’t wander; if it does, you’re not in it. You don’t give a fuck what anybody thinks. You know when it’s right. It doesn’t happen all the time, of course, but fortunately, most of the time, where you’re absolutely in this kind of weird communion with other people. It’s such a gift to be able to go there.

Songs from the Coal Mine Canary (2006)
You’re an ordained minister now, Annie?

Yeah. I became ordained basically because I did needle exchange for a while. My main function was, I was outreach, so I’d be on the stroll with sex workers at night, like if they need condoms or syringes or something. But it almost became your beat, where anything that happened within a certain mile radius, I felt like, I gotta deal with—you know, you get a drunk that would fall down, break their arm.

What happened was, I had to call 911. I got the ambulance, and I asked where they’re taking the guy, ‘cause a lot of time with drunks, they would drop them off around the corner, and I wanted to make sure. And they go, “Why, who are you?” And I was standing in front of a church, so it just came out of my mouth, I go, “I’m his minister.” And they go, “Is that your church?” And it was St. Mark’s Church, which is huge, and I go, “Yeah, that’s my church.” And their tone totally changed. It was like, “You don’t understand, we get so burnt out, we pick up the same people day after day, and then they’re right back in the street again,” and all of a sudden they wanted to confess. So I go, “Wow, this could work, you know? Maybe this minister thing isn’t a bad idea.”

Much more after the jump…

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Dub visionary Adrian Sherwood talks about his legendary career in music
08:54 am


Adrian Sherwood
On-U Sound

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.

No way.

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…

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On-U Sound presents a previously unreleased Adrian Sherwood dub track: A DM premiere
12:12 pm


Adrian Sherwood
On-U Sound

Adrian Sherwood c. 1987
Legendary English dub producer Adrian Sherwood and his On-U Sound label are getting ready to release the second volume of the career-spanning Sherwood at the Controls compilation. Devoid of filler, both of these beauties are “no duh” purchases for the discerning consumer: you get Sherwood’s masterful manipulations of time and space and a sampling of some of the most interesting underground musicians from the time period under examination.

The new disc, covering 1985 to 1990, collects Sherwood’s remixes of and collaborations with—among others—Mark Stewart of the Pop Group, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Flux (formerly Flux of Pink Indians), Tackhead, KMFDM, Ministry, the Beatnigs, and—On-U’s psychedelic dub outfit whose records are always blaring in my office—African Head Charge. (Volume One, released last year, covered 1979 to 1984 with tracks from Prince Far I, the Fall, the Slits, Annie Anxiety, Shriekback et al.)

As a taste of the delights that await you on Volume Two, we’ve got an unreleased dub of Bim Sherman’s “Haunting Ground.” Sherman, an early member of the On-U Sound crew, lent his otherworldly voice to records by New Age Steppers, Dub Syndicate, and Jah Wobble. Tessa Pollitt of the Slits credits him as an inspiration:

...I loved what he was doing with Adrian Sherwood. I used to listen to him again and again and again. Tracks like “My Whole World,” “Love Forever” and “Revolution/World Of Dispensation”: I listened to the purity of that music all the time, or more specifically, what attracted me was the purity which was so evident in Bim Sherman’s voice.

Adrian Sherwood and Bim Sherman
And here are Sherwood’s notes on the track from the liners of Volume Two:

Bim had started his Century label and had a house a few hundred yards from Southern Studios, near the police station in Wood Green. I originally recorded this for On-U Sound but gave him the vocal to use on his album. That’s Style Scott on drums, and I’m fairly sure it’s Crucial Tony on guitar.

More after the jump…

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‘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
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