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”

The Wailers: Live at the Cluny, Newcastle

Following the cancellation of the Green Phoenix Festival – where the Wailers were due to headline – the Jumpin Hot Club managed to secure the band to play here in the small club atmosphere of the Cluny. Pity about the festival, but even before cancellation the organisers had been concerned that their commendable reliance on natural sustainable energy just wouldn’t be enough to power the bass requirements of the Wailers, and, judging by tonight’s formidable output, they were probably right.

Much of what you would want to hear from the Wailers’ catalogue was here, including Natural Mystic, Rastaman Vibration, Trenchtown Rock, Kaya, Bend Down Low, Jamming and a lengthy encore that started with Redemption Song and found its way into Exodus/Punky Reggae Party. Two of the highlights were not necessarily the most obvious: one was an excellent driving take on Soul Rebel which, if anything, conjured up the sound of the Gladiators/U-Roy versions even more than the memory of the original; the other was a strong rendition of Kinky Reggae which, in its live incarnation on the ‘B’ side of No Woman No Cry, included a memorably relaxed bass interlude, reproduced here nicely by the remaining Marley-era Wailer, Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett. Continue Reading “The Wailers: Live at the Cluny, Newcastle”

Toots and The Maytals: Live at O2 Academy, Newcastle

No need to persuade the audience here, who were clearly revved up for a Toots and the Maytals greatest hits session, and that’s exactly what they got. Opening with Do the Reggay from all those years ago, familiar songs followed in rapid succession, with Time Tough ratcheting up the rhythm from reggae to ska in the final bars to get people moving, a trick nicely repeated throughout the set.

After all this time, Toots clearly knows exactly how to work an audience in a seemingly effortless way, and it was straight into Pressure Drop, Amen, Sweet and Dandy, Reggae Got Soul, Louie Louie, Funky Kingston, Monkey Man and more. Continue Reading “Toots and The Maytals: Live at O2 Academy, Newcastle”

Easy Star All Stars Live: Mouth of Tyne Festival

The New York reggae outfit with a strange habit or reinventing rock albums we thought we all knew to saturation point already must have wondered what to expect from this venue – we’re playing where? On a summer’s afternoon on a stage set on a headland stretching itself out in the North Sea against a backdrop of buildings from the 13th century – some new bits were added in the 15th century – with medieval flags fluttering in the warm breeze this is definitely a different sort of place to see the band, just as it must have been to play. It seemed to have an effect on crowd and band alike with an infectious kind of positive energy. The set started in a lively style with Bed of Rose from their EP ‘Until that Day’, then it was into selections from their three covers of classic rock albums. These were principally drawn from last year’s ‘Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band’, starting with Sergeant Pepper then into With a Little Help from my Friends, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and She’s Leaving Home. Continue Reading “Easy Star All Stars Live: Mouth of Tyne Festival”

Trojan Foundation Dub

This newly-released double-CD of dubs from Trojan Records is a pleasant surprise indeed. While yet another budget-priced dub collection from the Trojan archives might seem an underwhelming prospect, suggestive of a further serving of familiar sounds with superficial repackaging, this is different. First, it’s a definitive selection of versions. Second, there is a lot of it (40 tracks). Third, and important, the tracks are listed with both actual and ‘aka’ titles which makes it much easier to trace the dub back to the original vocal cut.

It opens in great style with Buckshot Dub from Rupie Edwards. This is one of the many dubs on the ‘skenga’ rhythm constructed from Johnnie Clarke’s Everyday Wondering, though it’s listed here as aka Everyday Wandering. (See also feature ‘Let There Be Versions’ on this site, 13 September 2007). Augustus Pablo follows up with Gun Trade (aka Fire Burning dub), a melodica-driven dub with a sharp percussive sound, produced by Tommy Cowans. Then it’s the unmistakable Lee Perry production of Susan Cadogan’s Fever, rendered here in the dub suitably entitled Influenza Version. Thus the pattern continues. Continue Reading “Trojan Foundation Dub”

Joe Gibbs: 12″ Reggae Showcase Volumes 4 and 5

These two further collections of extended 12” mixes from the Mighty Two – Joe Gibbs and Errol Thompson – completes the excellent collection that began last year with the release of the first three volumes (see album reviews 29 December 2009 for a review, together with a brief history of the music of Gibbs and Thompson).

As before the tracks are all presented in complete 12” format with a listing of musicians that includes Tommy McCook, Vin Gordon, Bobby Ellis, Tony Chin and Sly and Robbie. With tracks recorded at Joe Gibbs’ studio at Retirement Crescent, Kingston, volume 4 covers the period around 1979 and 1980. The results are pretty diverse. Opening strongly with the familiar bass line of Junior Byles’ Dreadlocks Time and its intriguing version from Kojak and Liza, the next track is Hortense Ellis’ take on Ann Peebles’ I Can’t Stand the Rain, a mainstream MOR sound which is made more interesting by the addition of Prince Weedy’s Same Complaint version. Ruddy Thomas’ attempt at Michael Jackson’s Shake Your Body Down to the Ground is unusual indeed. Continue Reading “Joe Gibbs: 12″ Reggae Showcase Volumes 4 and 5”

FC Apatride Utd: Firing the Truth

From Urban Sedated records, whose reggae releases commendably respect both the rights of the artist and the integrity of the music (see ‘news’ on this site, December 23, 2008), comes this new album from FC Apatride, seemingly the only stateless Marxist Muslim football club in the world.

Recorded in central Serbia, it reflects the interior atmosphere as well as the recent history of a troubled country: constrained, dark, but also hopeful. The storms of the mountains where it was recorded are reflected in the opening and closing instrumental tracks, featuring acoustic and slide guitar. The tracks in between are pure reggae: guitar, bass, vocals and drums. There are no studio embellishments. The arrangements are sparse and the mood is sombre, with the deep vocals from Abdelraheem Kheirawi prominent in the mix. The bass is powerful and the tempo is slow, sometimes very slow (as in Selling Illusion) where the rhythm almost stops and we can hear the silence in between. Continue Reading “FC Apatride Utd: Firing the Truth”

Jammy’s: From the Roots 1977-1985

This double-CD release from Greensleeves Records presents a key collection of tracks from producer Lloyd James, aka Prince Jammy, and is a fine introduction to his distinctive production style. Recorded at King Tubby’s, Harry J’s, Channel One and Jammy’s studios, musical input includes contributions from both the Aggrovators (featuring amongst many others Sly Dunbar, Ansel Collins, Bobby Ellis and Robbie Shakespeare) and the High Times Band (notably Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith).

Prince Jammy served his apprenticeship under the guiding hand of King Tubby but, unlike the original generation of 1970s dub producers, Jammy took the changing sound (and changing digital technology) of reggae music firmly into the next decade and beyond. With his teenage experience in putting together some of the early sound systems, he later became the bridge between the analogue era of bass-driven dub and the emergence of computer-driven dancehall. The first CD contains some excellent sounds along the way, notably What a Great Day by Lacksley Castell, a standout song of spiritual freedom atop a powerful bass line, moving from the vocal track into a formidable version that dubs along happily for more than nine minutes. Conscious Speaks by Black Crucial has a strong Aggrovators’ rhythm at its core, while the dub production in the mix of Junior Delgado’s Love Tickles Like Magic is characteristic of Jammy and his particular production style. Jah Gave Us This World from The Travellers goes straight into its version – Natty Dread at the Controls – by U Black which gives Jammy the chance to dub it up in good style. Continue Reading “Jammy’s: From the Roots 1977-1985”

Trojan Sound System

The sound system was the way in which reggae promoters and producers of the 1960s brought their music directly to a Jamaican audience not yet plugged into any national infrastructure. By creating a powerful sound system, fired up by its own generator, the new wave of producers and DJs managed to reach a mass audience at first-hand and, at the same time, blast their rivals out of the way. In using more than one deck, in presenting recorded music as a ‘live’ performance, and in DJ-ing over the rhythm until a new music emerged, the sound system pre-dated the way in which later generations of dance and club DJs would use both the subtleties of the mixing desk and the power of sheer volume. Within reggae – where this all began – the sound system was an essential part of the experience. The manner of transmitting the music to its audience was crucial to how the music itself developed, the medium being the message, to use a cliché. Continue Reading “Trojan Sound System”