Birmingham and the wider West Midlands area of England have been massively significant in the development of reggae music, whether in the uncompromising sounds of Steel Pulse or Benjamin Zephaniah, or in the more chart-friendly singles of Musical Youth or UB40. This collection is the first of a series which aims to highlight some of the unreleased and lesser-known music from in and around Birmingham. It also serves along the way to demonstrate that some of the bands later to be seen as mainstream pop-reggae in fact started out with a sharp and radical take on roots music, especially evident here in the inclusion of ‘Political’ by Musical Youth. The album opens with the slow deliberate bass-driven sound and powerful message of ‘Kibudu-Mansatta-Abuku’ from Steel Pulse, their first single release from 1976 and as strong as ever, followed here by its original B-side, the largely instrumental version of the same track. With ‘Unite Handsworth’, Benjamin Zephaniah offers his characteristic spoken-word delivery over a driving reggae rhythm, while Black Symbol (see full review of their album at reggaemusic.org.uk, 7th April 2015) bring us the spiritual sound of ‘In the Name of Jah’. The Mystic Foundation’s previously-unreleased ‘Instruments’ is quite a find, with its striking vocal delivery and full-on rhythm backing. Further, in common with most of the tracks here, its very clear sound and high production values are surprising, given the age of the tapes from which this must have been transferred. The Capital Letters contribute another previously-unreleased track, ‘I Will Never’, followed by Carnastoan’s ‘Mr Workhard’, another strong song from Handsworth. Within its fifteen tracks, the compilation brings together some classic reggae that deserves its belated moment in the sun, given the enormous influence of the music and artists herein.
Midlands Roots Explosion volume 1; released on Reggae Archive Records, double-vinyl, CD and DDL, 29th June 2015