The Jolly Boys: Great Expectation

Mento, the first Jamaican music to be recorded in the early 1950s, is usually seen as a counterpart to the calypso tradition of Trinidad. With its roots in local folk music as well as in popular influences from outside Jamaica, mento sounds today like a recognisably pre-reggae musical form. But unlike reggae and ska, mento never became particularly fashionable beyond Jamaica itself. No doubt this is partly because audiences outside Jamaica didn’t take mento as ‘seriously’ as they took reggae’s focus on themes of religious redemption or political liberation. The prurient themes of mento seemed trivial in comparison. Record companies in Europe and elsewhere were similarly uninterested in promoting mento, presuming it wouldn’t sell. Continue Reading “The Jolly Boys: Great Expectation”

Bob Marley – Catching a Fire

As we all know, the Wailers’ album Catch a Fire (1973) became a turning-point in the international development of reggae music. But its impact has been controversial, particularly in the way its original sound – the music of the Wailers themselves – was augmented by hired rock musicians designed to broaden its appeal. The ‘deluxe’ two-CD Catch a Fire (2001) provided a rare opportunity to compare the ‘original’ Jamaican versions of the songs alongside the album as released in the UK, and to re-evaluate the music within.

Prior to the early 1970s, the UK market for reggae had largely been confined to singles. These varied massively in nature and quality. Marcia Griffiths’ and Bob Andy’s Young Gifted and Black (1970) was straightforward reggae based on drums, rhythm guitar and bass, with the unfortunate addition of an overblown string arrangement intended to boost commercial appeal (try to hear the original without the strings – for instance on the Trojan Records sampler CD 2002, TJPCD 001 – it’s worth it). Jimmy Cliff’s Vietnam (1970) was a thoughtful attempt to move toward new audiences. Other releases maintained the depressing British tradition of the novelty reggae single: did anyone really buy Johnny Reggae by the Piglets (1971)? Apparently so, as it reached the top 3. In contrast, the socially conscious Jimmy Cliff got to no 46. Continue Reading “Bob Marley – Catching a Fire”

Lee Perry – The Ultimate Upsetter

Lee ‘Stratch’ Perry, pre-eminent reggae producer, started out in Kingston, Jamaica, in the late 1950s, initially working for Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd. Perry operated Dodd’s sound system and helped to bring acts like the Maytals to a wider audience. By the late 60s, Perry was established. Taking his nickname from the single Chicken Scratch, he worked briefly with leading producer Joe Gibbs before recording his seminal track The Upsetter, the name under which Perry’s many dubs, versions and musicians would henceforth be billed. Perry then went on to produce the Wailers at that crucial point between the late 60s and their signing to Island in 1972 (see feature on Catching a Fire…)

Perry’s skills now turned to perfecting his own style, which became synonymous with dub versions of his own vocal productions. Working alongside the first true dub producer Osbourne Ruddock (better known as King Tubby), Perry went on to build his own studio, Black Ark. From 1974 tto the end of the decade this studio provided the unique sounds to be found in the important collection, Arkology (Island, 1997). This three-CD set provides both an excellent introduction to his music and some of the best productions he ever came up with. Continue Reading “Lee Perry – The Ultimate Upsetter”