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.