MISTY IN ROOTS – One of Radio One DJ John Peel’s favourite groups of the early 1980s resulting in frequent appearances on his show – a privilege only normally given to white rock bands.
Two BBC Radio 2 `In Concert` appearances in 1983 and 1985. Invited to play in Zimbabwe in 1982 in recognition of their support for the liberation of the country. The first reggae band to tour South Africa, Poland and Russia. Their first long player `Live At The Counter Eurovision 79` spending four months in the `Black Music` magazine reggae LP chart late in 1980, rising to number 6 in October of that year Voted seventh best reggae band in the `Black Music` magazine readers poll of 1980. `This is among the top three British reggae albums ever recorded`. Quote from Chris May reviewing `Live At The Counter Eurovision 79` in `Black Music` magazine November 1980.
If all of this makes you think Misty In Roots were something special, you would be right.
Recorded at the Cirque Royal, Brussels on March 31 and April 1 1979 `Live At The Counter Eurovision 79` was astounding on two counts. First, tough UK roots reggae was a rare bird. Most `discriminating` Jamaican music collectors, DJ`s et all viewed British recorded music by the likes of Aswad, Steel Pulse and Delroy Washington as very much a poor relation of its Caribbean mother, so a whole LP chock full of uncompromising lyrics fuelled by solid musicianship had them dropping into their Parker Knolls with shock. Then to be able to capture the very essence of the live performances with all the strength and vibrancy intact was the second miracle.
MIR’s strength as performers pre-dated the first hot vinyl offering by quite a few years.
Forming around 1974 in Southall, Middlesex on the fringe of greater London, the group heard the reggae sounds of then. It was a time of new ideas, old ideologies rediscovered and a realisation that coloured skins did not equate second class. Bob Marley and the Wailers were teaching the world of `Natty Dread` while the Burning Spear resurrected the great leader Marcus Garvey. Countless other voices from the Kingston ghettos were crying out their messages of life, hope and sufferation. MIR’s collective creativity absorbed this new life and tuned it in to their own style of roots reggae.
MIR soon became known as a no nonsense rasta reggae band rocking audiences in colleges, open-air outdoor concerts and at benefit gigs for various good causes, such as Rock Against Racism. Through these performances they became well known within the punk circle. Rasta and punk both disenchanted with life, high unemployment and disillusioned with the destructive government policies of the time became unlikely allies on stage. The same urgency for change existed in both camps although musically very different, both expressed the same needs. The well known punk band The Ruts had a release on MIR’s label `People Unite` in the early 80s as if to reinforce the ties between the two cultures
As people of colour MIR’s roots lay in Africa. The birthplace of the stolen slave, the motherland whose calling for repatriation Marcus Garvey had heard half a century before reggae music had existed to bring awareness to the wandering wanderers. The black flame of Rastafari and its new Messiah HIM Emperor Haille Selassie was alive and exciting the depressed ghetto people with the greatest need of mankind – hope. Hope for a better day, hope for a better world and hope no more people would die in needless violence in Africa, in Jamaica, in America and in England too. MIR’s music reflected these things. Painting pictures of the hapless slave with his back split open by the wicked whip, of the homeland of Africa, of the harsh realities of life, and most importantly pointed an accusing finger at wrong doers the world over. Maybe they didn’t have the sunshine of the Caribbean in their hearts but they had the chill of the English winter to replace it.
This was not a replicant roots reggae group copying their Jamaican counterparts; this was reality GB wise, as seen, digested and recounted by people experiencing race hatred among the tower blocks of concrete and the choking, roaring arterial roads that cut through the inner city decay of London
Major record labels began to show an interest in MIR. They were collecting reggae acts at the time with the hope of finding another pot of gold, as Marley was doing for Island, only to drop them a few years later when none were found with the Midas touch
MIR preferred to form their own cooperative label, People Unite, providing a place for all to come, to reason, to create, and to compose. From this melting pot rose one of their first studio recordings, the double A side 12″single `Richman` / `Salvation. The single and tracks from the `Live At The Counter ` album gained play on local radio, both pirate and BBC Radio London`s reggae programme `Roots Rockers` hosted by Tony Williams and a new young presenter, David Rodigan
The gigs alongside white punk bands and the tireless touring both UK and abroad had paid dividends with a very mixed race audience eagerly awaiting MIR’s vinyl out put sending the LP high into the reggae charts.
Encouraged, work began on a fresh album which arrived in 1981 entitled `Wise and Foolish` containing new material and studio cuts of some of the tracks on `Live At The Counter. A powerful album dedicated on the inner sleeve by MIR to `..the freedom of Africa and all the oppressed peoples throughout the world’.
After much touring through out England, Europe and farther afield and two years further down the road `Earth` was slipped out. Recorded at the PAS Recording Studio, West Germany, it made no difference to the sound as MIR were MIR where-ever they laid their musical hat. Strong songs complimented by burning musicianship were the order of the day.
In the early 80`s MIR were completely in time with their Jamaican counterparts as the black awareness and sense of history swept through African descendants the world over. Slowly as the decade rolled on the musical taste in Jamaica became more self gratifying and materialistic. Loosing its cultural identity to end up as `dance hall` music, lost in a mire of praises to drink, drugs, guns and sex. Much like their cousins in America who were experiencing the aggressive `gangsta rapper` phenomenon. Few preachers could be heard above the boastful chatter of the latest five-minute wonder DJ in JA by the middle of the decade.
In to this in 1985 `Musi O Tunya`, the smoke that thunders, the Victoria Falls to give it its western name, was released after MIR’s return from extensive touring of Africa. Their strongest set yet, upholding the roots tradition forgotten by many of their Jamaican counterparts, with social comment to the fore and many praises to the most high and their spiritual motherland in abundance. The whole album was their most fulfilled and complete.
The final chapter in the history of MIR came in 1989 after a length of silence with the emergence of ‘Forward’ for the independent Kaz Records which came resplendent in a colourful gatefold sleeve. With a bright horn section and a sprightly feel MIR had come a long way from the dense murky sound of the late 70’s – but the message was undiluted. Tracks such as ‘Hawks On The Street’ and ‘The Midas Touch’ carried on the tales of greed and injustice just as MIR always had done. Perhaps the public’s ears were tunes to other things or maybe MIR’s appeal had diminished due to the battering of Ragga sounds hitting the airwaves as sadly the album did not mark a new beginning but more of a swan song for the band.
Now as we turn the millennium we can look back over the work of MIR and see how immense the combined talents of this cooperative group were, producing uplifting, righteous music for all to hear. And how right they were staying with their roots and not following trends as dance hall music has withered away with the new growth of 1990s up rightful conscious roots music, right back where MIR were coming from over twenty years ago.
‘The Royal Rasses music is for the moral upliftment of all humanity’ Prince Lincoln Thompson 1979
As the clock of time ever marches onward the legion of reggae artists who have left us grows steadily larger. Some are acclaimed geniuses in their lifetimes such as Marley or Tommy McCook but others whose music is easily their equal remain half forgotten both in life and in death. One such man has to be Prince Lincoln Thompson who passed away in January 1999.
Principle songwriter and voice behind the innovative Royal Rasses (Royal Princes) band, Sax as he was known, (due to his love of brightly coloured socks or ‘sax’ in patois), contributed some astounding work to the reggae scene. Masterpiece songs such as ‘Kingston11’ and ‘Love The Way It Should Be’ to name but two of his recordings.
Little is know of Sax’s early life in Jamaica except that he grew up in Kingston’s notorious ‘west side’ shanty town until he surfaced in the Tartans vocal group around 1967. The group consisted of Lincoln, Devon Russell, Cedric Myton and a floating fourth member. Scoring heavily both in JA and the UK with tunes such as ‘Dance All Night’, ‘Lonely Heartaches’ and ‘Let’s Have Some Fun’, the group surprisingly split up in ’69. This was mainly due to, as Lincoln would put it a few years later, ‘…lack of interest between the four of us, – each one had different opinions’.
A dry spell of two years ensued until a young Pablo Black introduced him to Coxsone Dodd. Liking what he heard, Dodd took him in and in his nine month spell at Studio One three tracks were recorded. One, a love song ‘Daughters of Zion’ and two astoundingly deep self examinations ‘True Experience’ and ‘Live Up To Your Name’, both now recognised as the epitome of the cultural side of Studio One, standing alongside the likes of Burning Spear’s majestic ‘Door Peeper’.
Dissatisfaction with the music business crept in and Thompson went in to ‘virtual hiding’ until 1974 when, after much thought, he decided the only way to earn a living in the reggae runnings was to control your own label.ve
The ‘God Sent’ label was formed with cohorts Cedric Myton, Johnny Cool (Clinton Hall) and Cap (Keith Peterkin). The latter two were to be his main backing singers through out the Rasses heyday of the early 80’s. It was decided that each man should put in $100 to get the label off the ground, but due to some speculation by Lincoln, on a horse, his mother’s loan to him rapidly decreased!
Eventually the label was up and running but selling two or three discs a day was all that they could manage with out the distribution of a major producer or label behind them until, in 1978, they met Mo Claridge. Mo ran Ballistic Records, a London based label tied to US record giant United Artists, and he signed the Royal Rasses immediately.
A clear vinyl 12″ single in picture sleeve was released titled ‘Unconventional People’ which entered the reggae singles charts in March ’79 and an album, ‘Humanity’ which shot straight to the number one slot in the reggae LP chart of May 1979 and gave an instant hit for Ballistic Records.
The LP was a tour de force of Lincoln Thompson’s superb song writing and showcased the soaring tones of his vocals, while the 12″ crossed over in to the soul/disco market and was played widely through out the clubs. Both were well packaged with a picture sleeve on the 12″ and an inner lyric sleeve coming with the album.
Along with more intricate songs such as ‘San Salvador’ and ‘Old Time Friends’ there were two earlier recorded gems, both originally released as 7″ singles ‘Kingston 11’ and ‘Love The Way It Should Be’. These had been hits in JA and for the small UK label Neville King in 1977 each filling the floor at any reggae dance but they had not escaped the confines of the Jamaican community.
Now they were available to a wider audience and the Rasses were the premiere reggae group with a tour planned for September ’79 to promote a new album ‘Experience’ which Ballistic had picked up from Lincoln in JA and scheduled for release on 7th September.
The tour was hit by financial problems almost immediately and the only plane tickets that were affordable were stand by-seats with Jamaican Independence Day as the chosen day for the flight. The flights were swamped and in the end just two first class seats could be found, one for Prince Lincoln and the other for Pablo Black who was musical director and keyboard player with the band. The pair landed in London the day the tour was to begin at Dingwalls Night Club, a major reggae venue in the 1970s.
Hastily, the Israelites band were rehearsed to back Lincoln on the first gig with hopes that his remaining band members would arrive before the European dates planned and the heavily promoted Rainbow, London gig on October 5th. Finally the band arrived on the morning that the European leg of the tour was due to start after negotiating Hurricane David which closed their stop off point, Miami airport. Quickly kitted out in warm clothes, as the British autumn was freezing compared to JA, the tour was underway. After a resounding success through out Europe the full band returned to London for the eagerly anticipated Rainbow gig.
The instant Lincoln with Cap and Johnny Cool walked on stage the venue was in uproar. A night of pure uplifting real roots music followed with cuts from the new album, ‘Experience’, really hitting home to the buoyant crowd. The band were honed to perfection and with Prince Jammy on the mixing desk there were no prisoners taken that night.
Based on the vinyl and vocal output over the year the Royal Rasses were voted fourth best reggae vocal group of ’79 in the Black Music poll and ‘Humanity’ eighth best reggae album of the year. Culture were top of both polls.
The renamed Rasses, so as not to cause confusion with Roy Cousins group, The Royals, new album ‘Experience’ continued to sell heavily in to 1980 with noted reggae journalist Chris May citing that it was ‘..one of the best ever sets in the entire history of reggae..’. Reggae purists were having some problems with a few cuts on the album as Lincoln’s style had always encompassed far more than plain drum and bass reggae rhythms. Using the absolute cream of JA sessioneers he had created something he tagged ‘inter-reg’ or reggae with a more international feel. Taking snatches of soul, jazz and funky basslines then fusing in his own unmistakable song writing and soaring vocals to create a blend of styles, but always with the heartbeat of the reggae rhythm running through and under each
The next project for the Rasses was set to be even more controversial as Sax teamed up with white new wave rock musician Joe Jackson to record an album together. The fruits of this labor, ‘Natural Wild’ was released mid 1980 on United Artists Records.
Sales were slow due to reggae people not being interested as a white rock man was involved and the rock world having little interest in this strange hybrid. There are (luckily?) only three Joe Jackson tracks and admittedly to a roots reggae person they are not too special but the remainder of the album was pure Rasses with the sublime ‘My Generation’ bearing all the hallmarks of classic Lincoln Thompson work. This was issued as a 12″ and many bought this rather than the LP and, to be blunt, the album bombed.
A stunning album returning to more traditional roots was recorded at Tuff Gong and Channel One early in 1982 and found release via the German company Juicy Peeple utilising Lincoln’s own God Sent imprint. ‘Ride With The Rasses’ was simply magical, with Lincoln’s almost ethereal vocals running tales of hardship, greed and envy.
The golden age of reasoning and praises had all but passed and the dance hall was beckoning to young Jamaica as ‘Ride With The Rasses’ slipped out to an unknowing public. Hardly any reviews appeared and few tracks were picked up by the reggae shows which resulted in unjustly poor sales for such an exemplary album.
Around this time it is believed the Thompson family relocated to Tottenham, North London with Lincoln opening a green grocer’s shop. Nothing was heard of the Royal Rasses until a UK produced album quietly appeared late in 1983.
Recorded at Addis Ababa Studios, London and financed by Target Records this was unmistakably Prince Lincoln’s work with his familiar cultural themes and containing a recut of ‘Love The Way It Should Be’. Presented in a superb gatefold sleeve this was no quick, cheap job but the money invested could hardly of been recouped judging by the attention the media and reggae public gave to it.
A flyer inside each album offered the chance to win a return ticket to the caribbean by submitting your winning number from the form. Presumably this ploy was hoped to bring in more sales for the album. It was never known if any lucky buyer did get to see the Caribbean.e
After the ‘Roots Man Blues’ set Prince Lincoln slid in to history as the relentless mechanical Sleng Teng slaughtered all in it’s path.
The dance hall craze came and went and the new resurgence of roots music in the early nineties reactivated many artists who had been making a living via other means.
As the roots revival surged on in to the decade rumours appeared that new Prince Lincoln material was around, then Kiss FM’s Joey Jay played a DAT with the unmistakable voice of the Prince on it.
A wait of a few months then around summer ’93 a 12″ single ‘They Don’t Know Jah’ on UK pressed God Sent appeared. The Royal Rasses or rather Lincoln Thompson was back, using the new digital rhythms perfectly with a song in the familiar spiritual mould.
A love song appeared on a 12″ blank ‘Rising In Love’ and a piece of production work on one Mello D called ‘Jahovia’. A sweet roots song bearing the unmistakable backing vocals of Sax and released once again on his God Sent label.
Then once again silence. Perhaps the response to his new music was not as Lincoln hoped or maybe other commitments took precedent. What ever, the voice was still until early in 1996 when a dub plate started to get airplay called ‘Heroes Just The Same’ supposedly the taster for a brand new album.
A CD single was issued of ‘Heroes…’ with the full album a few months later after some distribution problems were resolved.
The album, ’21st Century’, was recorded UK side with some seminal British based session men and mixed at Tuff Gong JA by the likes of Sylvan Morris. This was to be the most fulfilling and masterful piece of work yet to come from the mind and heart of Prince Lincoln. Released by the tiny 1-5 South Records once again it was obvious that a great deal of money and thought went in to the project. Every track was a gem with Lincoln’s intricate song writing leading you in to his thoughts and the wonder of his soaring voice twisting and pulling the words in to unbelievable strands of aural poetry.
The ragga world, of course, turned it’s back on this ‘old timer’ but those in the know were bowled over by the sheer power of the album. There was nothing but praise from critics and public alike for this landmark in reggae music. Not for almost twenty years had such a powerful message soaked album been recorded. Biting and succinct tracks such as ‘Hear Our Cry’, ‘Hard Times Come Again’ and the title cut all reflected a mature intellectual mind.
It seemed that the Prince’s time had come with this resurgence in creativity and more new music was hoped for as he cut a duet with his old time Tartans partner Devon Russell who had also relocated to North London.
Sadly Devon succumbed to cancer in June 1997 before a proposed album of the duo could be recorded. A year and a half later and Prince Lincoln also was stolen from us by cancer of the liver.
At the time of writing it is not known what, if any, music was being written or recorded but as of yet nothing has come to light. All we have is the legacy Prince Lincoln has left us of mesmerising, uplifting, spiritual music sung in his own unmistakable style.
Perhaps the last word should go to Chris May writing in Black Music magazine November 1979,
‘Lincoln Thompson….is one of the warmest, genuinely modest artists it’s ever been my pleasure to talk to..’
The Phenomonen of the Skinhead Movement and Reggae Music
“I want all you skinheads to get up on your feet, put your braces together and your boots on your feet and give me some of that old moonstomping……”
‘Skinhead Moonstomp’ – Symarip Treasure Isle Records 1969
The Skinheads of ’69 and Jamaican reggae music seem strange bedfellows but they are almost thought of as synonymous with each other these days. The love affair of the British youth with black based music started a decade before any Dr. Marten boot ever thudded its way across a record shop floor.
We have to go back to the mid 1950’s to find the roots of this devotion to black music and the birth of the 1969 skinhead movement. In Jamaica, American R&B;, very early soul records, and a slice of Nat ‘King’ Cole’s smooth jazz, were the mainstream sounds played by the radio and in the dancehalls around that time. As the British black population swelled and inner city clubs started playing the same records for their immigrant customers, the local white lads also started to appreciate their new neighbours musical tastes.
As early as 1954 The Duke Vin sound system had been pumping out the latest R&B;, Doo-Wop and pre-soul sounds to the West Indian population resident this side of the Atlantic. The sound system, or mobile discotheque to Europeans, was an integral part of Jamaican life. With out door and inside dances every night of the weekend and any public holiday it was a national pastime, so it was only natural that the same entertainment would surface within the Jamaican community in London and eventually every major city in the UK.
The Ska appeared around 1961in Jamaica as the music for the lower urban classes. It blended elements of US R&B; with touches of the native Poccomania religion and jazz in the blasting horn solos of masters like Don Drummond.
By1963 young white Mods who frequented the black clubs, in places like Soho and Brixton, were dancing to the pulse of the ‘Blue Beat’, as the Ska was called, after the label responsible for releasing the majority of the music in the UK. Not only did the Mods champion black music but they also took some of their styling from the artists and young Jamaicans in general.
The main influence from Jamaica on the Mods was the Rude Boy or ‘Rudie’ culture of the young ghetto youths that was hitting the island by1965. Problems had started in Jamaica after it gained independence in 1962 as a multitude of rural youths and young men flocked to its capital, Kingston, searching for work. The ghetto dwellers of Western Kingston could see no improvement now the colonial rule had gone and the massive influx of rural people only turned the heat up as flash points ignited, with violence, injury and death commonplace. This harsh living produced the dissatisfied ghetto youth who adopted his own stance against this forced way of life – the Rude Boy. The Rude Boys image was one of being cool & deadly and sharply dressed, and they certainly didn’t want to fling themselves around the dance floor like the white American tourists did when trying to dance to the ska beat. The Rude Boys wanted a slower tighter rhythm where they could look good while dancing. The music that they called for evolved pulling down the ska beat to a much slower tempo. The Rudies music was often played and sung by people who came from the same impoverished background as the ghetto dwellers and understood their needs and plight. Artists such as the Wailers, Alton Ellis, Derrick Morgan, Desmond Dekker and Prince Buster all produced work either glorifying or commenting on the Rude Boys. There’s a great sleeve shot of a young Rudy by the name of Derrick Morgan wearing a snappy two piece suit, trilby and thick shades on his Island album ‘Forward March’ as early as 1963 although the music is decidedly uptempo ska at this time.
The young Jamaicans this side of the ocean soon picked up on this style as did their white counterparts in the clubs, the Mods. By 1967 the Rude Boy culture had grown to epidemic proportions in the poor areas of Kingston and a great number of Jamaican singers were commenting with tunes like Joe White’s ‘Rudies All Around’ and Prince Buster’s set of three ‘Judge Dread’ singles. Many of the songs were issued in the UK as the Rude Boy style was shaping the Jamaican rhythm further to the cool beat to be known as Rocksteady. Even in the UK there was comment on the Rudy phenomenon from one Robert Livingstone Thompson, better known as Dandy, on a Ska Beat single called ‘Rudy A Message To You’ where he berates the wayward youths to ‘stop your messin’ around’. A near identical copy of this single was one of the first 2Tone releases by The Specials in 1979 using the same trombone player who was on the original, Reco Rodriguez.
The first skinheads, or ‘peanuts’ as they were also known, started to appear around 1967 as the Mod movement fractured into the more affluent or art-school orientated ‘ trendy mods’ and the so called ‘hard mods’. The hard mods were becoming dissatisfied with the elitism in the movement and the expensive tailored fashions that the trendy mods wore. Whilst they, too, would’ve liked the latest in Saville Row fashion, they had average jobs and average incomes which precluded them from being at the cutting edge of the group. While the neat and tidy aspect remained, along with the short serviceable hair, they took to wearing more work orientated clothing topped off with tough, hardwearing work boots.
Time moved on and the original Mods of the early 60’s grew out of the group while their younger brothers carried forward the new hard mod styles adapting and changing to make them their own. By late 1968 the skinhead was here. The Mods were all but gone and a new youth culture was firmly on the rise. The Mod favoured Levi jeans, Ben Sherman shirts and general neatness of person continued with the early skinheads as did the thick overcoat worn by the immigrant Jamaicans to ward off the hostile British winter. The overcoat became the beloved Crombie by 1970, although any coat would do at first as long as it was hard wearing and serviceable. The working class, work wear ethic was very firmly in place and the fashionable names so beloved by the Mods were distinctly ‘out’, except Levis who continued to vie with Wrangler as the number one jean.
The stereotypical boots & braces skinhead uniform was formed by the end of 1969, with Dr. Martens boots topping the footwear stakes as the original Hard Mod work boots were declared an offensive weapon. This was due to them normally coming with steel toecaps which could, and did, cause considerable damage at football matches and other close combat sports. The only exceptions were for evening outings where the rough and rugged style was swapped for a more Mod influenced Two-Tone Tonic suit or Levi Sta-Prest trousers and smart casual shoes such as Frank Wrights fabled tasselled loafers.
Regional fashions were very much in evidence with one town favouring brown boots and another oxblood. The same applied to the reggae records. Different clubs favoured different tunes thus creating a big demand in one town while the same record was unsaleable just a few miles away. Actually getting hold of the prized reggae 45’s was quite a task if you weren’t near to a major city as most record retailers didn’t hold any stock and everything had to be ordered.
By 1968 not only had the fashion changed but so had the music, and gone was the romantic, sweeping Rocksteady beat of Duke Reid and in came the brash, faster sound of the reggay, reggie or reggae.
Horn man Lester Sterling’s ‘Reggie On Broadway’, Stranger Cole’s ‘Bang A Rang’, Lee Perry’s Upsetters with ‘Return of Django’ and, of course, Desmond Dekker’s number one pop chart entry ‘Israelites’ were staple favourites of the skinhead crowd and younger West Indians as the decade drew to a close.
1969 through to 1971 were the best chart hitting years for reggae music mainly fuelled by the massive buying power of the skinheads who had adopted it as their own which caused over twenty records to hit the pop charts. From powerful organ instrumentals like ‘Liquidator’ by Harry J’s All Star band, featuring Winston Wright on funky hammond, to Dave & Ansil Collins, two yelping Dj pieces with ‘Double Barrel’ and ‘Monkey Spanner’ respectively, the reggae style was moving units. Max Romeo’s lewd ‘Wet Dream’ reputedly sold 250,000 copies and made number ten in the pop charts with out a single airplay as the BBC had banned it.
Beneath the charts was a strong flow of new records coming out each week and eagerly snapped up by skinheads even before the West Indians themselves could grab a copy. There had been UK pressed Jamaican R&B; and ska records all through the sixties starting with Melodisc’s Blue Beat label at the end of 1960 and the Starlite imprint run out of the jazz label Esquire, plus the home grown recordings put out by Sonny Roberts independent Planetone label. Island Records came next, along with Rita and Benny King’s R&B; Discs, (Rita and Benny Discs) later to name change to Ska Beat, but two companies really held the marketplace by the end of the decade.
The biggest and responsible for almost every pop chart hit was Trojan Records working out of north west London. The original Trojan label was part of a tie up with Lee Gopthal’s Beat & Commercial (B&C;) distribution company and Island Records owner, white Jamaican, Chris Blackwell. The pair were already pressing Studio One, Coxsone and Treasure Isle labelled records and selling them via Gopthals ‘Musik City’ record stores as well as wholesaling out to other West Indian record shops by 1967. Trojan was one of producer Arthur ‘Duke’ Reid’s original Jamaican imprints and was intended by Island/B&C; to use as a nameplate along with Treasure Isle for his productions they were to release in the UK. Island/B&C; issued twelve singles and one rare album between summer ’67 and the beginning of ’68 with the now familiar logo and all orange design Trojan label. By the end of 1968 more labels had been added to the roster including Amalgamated for producer Joe Gibbs and Down Town to provide an outlet for the UK studio work of Dandy Livingstone. As the skinhead boom was starting in late 1968 Lee Gopthal decided to split B&C; away from Island and took all the subsidiary labels with him just as the ‘600’ series Trojan singles were going into production. Trojan/B&C; also started to distribute Graeme Goodalls Doctor Bird Group of labels which included Attack, JJ, Rio and Pyramid as well as carrying on with Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd’s Studio One output.
Trojan/B&C; began adding new labels at a speedy rate to keep up with the rapid input of various Jamaican producers whose work was selling by the cartload to the new white market in the UK. Upsetter for all Lee Perry work, Jackpot for Edward ‘Bunny’ Lee productions and Grape for the home grown skinhead material from artists like Freddy Notes and the Rudies, to name but three of more than twenty. The Trojan empire was growing and producers and artists both sides of the Atlantic were aware of the new markets opening up and old hands like singer/producers Laurel Aitken and Dandy Livingstone began catering especially for the skinheads. Laurels Pama releases like the jumping ‘Skinhead Train’ along with ‘Jessie James’ were club staples while Dandy’s chart entry for Trojan, ‘Reggae In Your Jeggae’, kept the skins happy with it’s pumping rhythm and chant like chorus.
Not every thing was rosy for Trojan though, as they had a serious rival in Pama Records with a base in north London and were formed by brothers Harry and Jeff Palmer, in 1967. The original mauve Pama label was set up to release US recorded soul music but by summer 1968 the demand was such for Jamaican product that the decision was made start licensing and releasing it. In keeping with Trojan Records, Pama set up a number of offshoot labels to cater for the late rocksteady and early skinhead reggae issues from various producers. The first was Nu-Beat with a UK recorded tune, ‘Train To Vietnam’ by the Rudies closely followed by other labels such as Unity, Crab and Gas. By early 1969 Pama had almost as many labels as Trojan under their belt with superb design work on most. ‘Punch’ with its fist smashing through the pop charts or ‘Camel’ with the grinning cartoon animal all carried first class reggae music to the skinhead and West Indian community. The original Pama label had gone through a colour change with it turning to a tan brown for the rocksteady and reggae releases in 1968, and only reverting to the soul mauve for US imported tunes or home grown funky things such as The Mohawks with ‘The Champ’. Pama had the jump on Trojan to start with as they had the massive ‘Wet Dream’ chart single on their subsidiary Unity, but they didn’t have either Lee Gopthals distribution network or, indeed, his ear for adding strings to sweeten the sound. This UK over dubbing aided the singles to not only sell well to the younger generation but also added enough sweetener to make them accessible for radio play and move in to the mainstream.
By 1969 Trojan were way ahead in the pop chart stakes notching up hit after hit with their saccharin sweet string arrangements while Pama had very healthy sales but couldn’t crack the pop charts. Pat Kelly’s moving ‘How Long’ on Pama subsidiary Gas sold enormous quantities but only through more specialist shops and outlets that didn’t file chart returns hence no mainstream recognition.
Long play albums were a tricky market to crack as singles were the way most Jamaicans had traditionally heard and bought recorded music and one of a skinheads most prized possessions was his collection of reggae 45s. But Trojan took the plunge and released ‘Tighten Up Volume 1’ early in 1969 at the give away price of just under fifteen shillings or 75p. It contained a strong selection of their previous years hits and originally came on the all orange label design. It was an instant success and Volume 2 appeared in the autumn of the same year and reached number two in the UK album charts before disappearing three weeks later as budget price albums were to be disregarded in future weeks chart returns.
Both Pama and Trojan started to put out compilation album series. ‘Club Reggae’ and ‘Reggae Chart Busters’ followed alongside the ‘Tighten Up’ series for Trojan often duplicating tracks, while Pama hit out with the ‘Straighten Up’, ‘This is Reggae’ and ‘Hot Numbers’ string of albums. Pama also released generic round ups of their better labels such as ‘Best of Crab’ and ‘Nu Beats Greatest Hits’ which are chock full of quality skinhead reggae although all the tracks had obviously been out as 45s.
The Trojan album sleeve art left a little to be desired. Travel shots loaned from BOAC or scantily clad young ladies romping with snakes or in mounds of Dolly Mixtures were the order of the day, where as early Pama albums carried interesting shots of singers and club scenes along with sleeve notes – a novelty in the reggae market. Sadly, Pama soon turned to the pretty girl covers too and, if anything, their shots were more explicit than Trojan.
Single artist albums were also emerging both from Trojan and Pama. These albums were interesting affairs for the enthusiast as they normally carried many of the hit singles for that particular performer and sometimes, the odd recording that was actually nothing to do with him! Also it was quite often the first time the UK buyers had seen a picture of the singer if he hadn’t visited these shores on tour. Desmond Dekker’s ‘This Is’ collection for Trojan did very well in the mainstream due to his chart activity while Clancy Eccles Dynamites had the ‘Fire Corner’ LP and Derrick Harriott’s Crystalites with ‘The Undertaker’ album mopped up any spare money the skinheads had in their pockets. Interestingly, many albums that appeared to be single artist concerns were actually producer fronted and utilised a pool of musicians who assumed different group identities depending who offered the fee. Though Harriott and Eccles were accomplished vocalists both were catering for the fashionable skinhead market with semi-instrumental session albums they had produced with the above releases. There were a great number of superb single artist albums available such as Keith ‘Slim’ Smith’s sublime Pama release of ‘Everybody Needs Love’ or ‘Says Fire’ from skinhead stalwart Laurel Aitken on Doctor Bird to name two, but the compilation album had the edge in sales and desirability.
A few other labels were issuing current material such as Melodisc who had retired their Blue Beat label in 1967 as out of date and installed the modern titled ‘Fab’ imprint. There was very little difference in the output as Blue Beat, and now Fab, had been predominantly for issuing Prince Buster’s vocals and productions. He had always been abreast of the times with the ska, rocksteady and then reggae beats so it was business as usual, although Fab never managed to gain a large foothold in the skinhead market. ‘Bamboo’ and then slightly later ‘Banana’ had been set up by Junior Lincoln to deal with the output of Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd’s productions after the demise of the Island/B&C; distribution deal of the ‘Studio One’ and ‘Coxsone’ imprints. The sound was decidedly different to the jumping skinhead music coming out of Pama and Trojan, with a much more mellow feel thanks in part to keyboard ace, Jackie Mittoo, who was the principle arranger. Whilst the music is sublime it didn’t really fit the bill for the average skinhead in 1970 although it was very popular with West Indians.
By the middle of 1973 the skinhead faze had moved through to the short lived smoothie fashion which in turn gave way to the suedehead with longer hair, loafer shoes and patterned trousers, and with Glam Rock just around the corner there many defectors. The reggae sales suffered as the skinheads faded away and both Trojan and Pama, by the end of 1972, were releasing a considerable percentage of weak, watered down, string laden UK recordings which found no favour with the remaining skinheads or the general public. Both companies were to soon close many of their labels and minimalism operations due to lack of sales. Also the rise of the ‘back to Africa’ and ‘black awareness’ lyrics didn’t help the cause of reggae in the UK. Most of the white skinheads couldn’t identify with this new form of the music and as they didn’t like the slower rootsy beat they deserted it for Bolan and Bowie.
So Reggae music slid back underground, back into the West Indian communities and waited for the spark of Bob Marley to bring it back to the fore some years later on in the decade.
Racism and Violence
‘DJP’ was a sixteen year old black West Indian living in Toxtheth, Liverpool in 1970 and recalls, “I used to have to run and hide from the skinheads as I was sure to get a licking if they caught me”.
But to the opposite ‘RS’ a mixed race teenager from Lambeth, London remembers clearly “black as well as white skinheads all together” and “they (the skinheads) used to knock at the door to see if my older brother had got any new reggae records”.
A series of novels for the New English Library by Richard Allen did little to help, with his central character, Joe Hawkins, the king skin, only interested in bovver, beer and birds. ‘Skinhead’, ‘Skinhead Escapes’ and it’s successors had little story beyond forays with women and putting the boot in but they sold like hot cakes to the youth market.Reggae music and fashion sense were way beyond violent Joe and his gang.
With the hindsight of thirty years the only thing that remains clear is that the press loved the football and racist violence as it made great front pages and novelists made a living pulling out the grimy side of the movement.
Skinhead Reggae Recordings
As noted in the main feature, a number of producers in the UK saw the massive buying power of the skinheads and aimed their productions directly at that market.
Of the ‘made for the skins’ labels ‘Joe’ certainly has the edge in musical quality with a strong pumping sound just right for a good moonstomp. The ‘Joe’ was Joe Mansano, a record shop proprietor from Brixton, south east London, who produced Reco’s ‘The Bullet’ in 1969. So successful was the record that Trojan offered to release some of his work.
Mansano certainly had the touch as his productions of Dj Dice The Boss and the solid instrumental sides sold not only to its target audience of the skinheads but to black reggae buyers. Sales were so high for Trojan that they collected a sampling of his work on the ‘Brixton Cat’ album which in turn became a best seller with the skinheads.
Another producer with his eye on the skinhead market was Hot Rod sound system owner Lambert Briscoe who set up the Torpedo label with the aid of Equals bassist Eddie Grant.Briscoe went straight for the jugular with titles like ‘Skinheads Don’t Fear’ and ‘Skinhead Moondust’ although these titles hide rather weak and weedy instrumental sides. Briscoe also had the ‘Hot Rod’ label via Trojan, which put out a few uninspired cash-in tunes such as ‘Skinhead Speaks His Mind’, but it soon closed as the skinhead numbers depleted.
Other UK producers of note were Dandy, whose work was always worth a listen and was responsible for ‘Skinheads A Message To You’ from Desmond Riley. An interesting record as Des calls out to the skins to stop the violence. Old hand Laurel Aitken produced some great dancers in the shape of ‘Woppie King’ and the cultural ‘Heile Sellassie’, while Rudie ska man Derrick Morgan kept the nightclubs jumping with the template skin sound of ‘Moon Hop’.
Strangely, the ‘made for skins’ labels with the exception of Dandy’s ‘Down Town’ and Mansano’s ‘Joe’ must have sold minute quantities as very few original skins remember them.
Dj’s and Toasters
The art of the MC or Toastmaster in Jamaican dancehall was to liven up the audience, whether by talking, yelping or reciting rhymes over the top of the music, his task was to make the place move.
Early 1960’s pioneers such as Sir Lord Comic, Count Machuki and King Stitt not only shook the crowd live but laid their best moves down on wax. Comic and Machuki had faded by the coming of the reggae in ’69 while Stitt went on to hit the early skins with such shakers as ‘Fire Corner’ and ‘Vigorton 2’ for producer Clancy Eccles.
By 1970 the highest profile ‘toaster’ was, with out doubt, U Roy, whose debut recording was in 1969 but struck it big the following year by riding on old Duke Reid rocksteady rhythms.
More Dj’s came to prominence after U Roy’s success and names like Dennis Alcapone, Sir Harry and Jeff Barnes were popular both sides of the Atlantic and really carried the swing in to the 1970’s. Also a stiff dose of Jamaican Dj chatter, imported by immigrant workers to the ‘States, added to the output of The Last Poets and Gil Scott Heron provided the catalyst for the US rap scene of the mid 70’s – but that’s another story.
Thanks: Reg Stanley, Pete Fontana, Danny Hatcher, Bob Brooks at Reggae Revive and Roger Dalke for his bottomless pit of musical information.
Sources/Recommended reading: Reggae – A Peoples’ Music. R. Kallyndyr & H. Dalrymple – Carib-Arawak Publications 1972. The Dance Invasion. Orlando Patterson 1966 (Reprinted in Pressure Drop 1976). Reggae Reggae Reggae. Sunday Times Magazine main feature February 4th 1973. Black Music Magazine 1973 – 1979. The Rough Guide To Reggae. Steve Barrow & Peter Dalton – Penguin 1997. Skinhead. Nick Knight – Omnibus Press 1980. The Spirit of ’69 -A Skinhead Bible. George Marshall – ST Publishing 1991. Boss Sounds – Classic Skinhead Reggae. Marc Griffiths – ST Publishing 1995.
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