Old Grey Whistle Test
Nicky Thomas delivers…
The Old Grey Whistle Test was only in its second year on BBC2 when producer Rowan Ayers presented this reggae showcase in Edinburgh in 1973.
The lineup is almost completely comprised of Jamaican artists who had settled in London after touring Europe off of hits they scored in the British charts. The notable exception is the specially flown-in MC Dennis Alcapone, who delivers two of the three original tunes in this collection of excerpts (the other is Winston Groovy’s “I’m a Believer”—the one written by Mulby Thompson of Trojan Records, not Neil Diamond). It’s pretty rare to see footage from this early on of a reggae MC like Alcapone in front of a live band—until the late ‘70s, they were pretty much relegated to chatting over instrumentals at sound system dances.
After the agile Cimarons cover Bill Withers’s “Ain’t No Sunshine,” they back nearly all the other artists, until an all-white band pops up to back the Pioneers. The late Nicky Thomas offers up a compelling highlight with his paroxysmal covers of Syl Johnson’s “Is It Because I’m Black” and The Four Preps’ “Love of the Common People.”
The program was hosted by Alex Hughes, who as Judge Dread had just scored three charting British reggae singles of his own—the lewd nursery rhymes “Big Six,” “Big Seven,” and “Big Eight”—and was the first white artist to have a reggae hit in Jamaica.
One can imagine how many mods, skinheads, soul boys and other riff-raff this broadcast kept off the street at the time.
The Cimarons - “Ain’t No Sunshine”
Winston Groovy - “I’m A Believer”
Dennis Alcapone - “Cassius Clay” & “Wake Up Jamaica”
The Marvels - “Jimmy Browne” & “One Monkey”
Nicky Thomas - “Is It Because I’m Black” & beginning of “Love of the Common People”
Nicky Thomas - end of “Love of the Common People”
The Pioneers - “Higher & Higher” & “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”
All Star Finale - “Freedom Train”
Keep yr skank up: check out parts 2 and 3 after the jump…