There Are Always Connections
Shop Around Ö pt 12
I have to confess that Iíve been so busy shopping around that Iíve been ignoring my reggae. Not that itís as simple as that. I have just not been listening to very much reggae. I havenít felt the need to listen to very much reggae. Or rather I hadnít.
The underlying reason has been the state of the reggae salvage industry. On one hand Trojan has been saturating the market. Call me a snob, but I really donít like Trojan collections. Aesthetically they are all wrong. And the sound never seems quite right. But the more bespoke outlets seem to have been going through lean times. Unless Iím missing something Blood and Fire has been remarkably quiet. And Adrian Sherwoodís Sounds and Pressure organisation, and its offshoots, seems to have vanished. These things happen. For all sorts of reasons these things happen.
Suddenly, however, things are livening up. The venerable Steve Barrow from Blood and Fire is curating a new salvage series on the Hot Pot label, and itís got off to a flying start. It looks and sounds great, and itís well worth indulging in the first two releases. One is Glenn Brown and Friends, collecting some great tracks from the underrepresented producerís work in the early to mid-70s. The second, and my personal favourite, is a Revolutionaries dub set, with King Tubby at the controls. And if, like me, you thought you had become immune to the joys of 1970s dub reggae, then this will be a lovely surprise. Itís like falling in love all over again.
Speaking of which, one salvage set that has been around a while now, but which I have only just picked up, is the Lovers Rock Story on Kickiní. Itís an absolute joy, and a perfect introduction to this criminally neglected area of British music activity. Lovers Rock was almost the homegrown response to Jamaican roots reggae in the mid-70s. The British twist was to return reggae to its rocksteady roots and link it again to the soul genre. So in basements and garages and garden sheds, sweet soul harmonies were married with some wonderfully basic reggae tracks on a budget of ten bob and all the better for it.
One name synonymous with UK lovers rock is Dennis Bovell, and this compilation collects some of his earliest activities. A lot of you reading this will know his name from his involvement with the pioneers of punk and beyond, like the Pop Group, Slits, and Orange Juice. Maybe itís as a result of hearing about Edwyn Collinsí awful illness, but I have been revisiting the records where Orange Juice collaborated with Bovell to such great effect, and I just canít get 'Sad Lament' out of my head.
Another record Bovell had a huge hand in was the soundtrack to Babylon. You could be glib and say that this was the Black British response to Quodrophenia. Or should that be Bronco Bullfrog? Anyway the soundtrack has just been salvaged (with great sleevenotes from Viv Goldman), with added tracks from Bovellís Dub Band which were thought to be lost. The soundtrack itself is peerless, and indeed includes some lovely lovers rock from Cassandra who is also on that earlier compilation I pointed you in the direction of. Itís those lost Bovell tracks that particularly appeal, because they take dub into the same strange soundtrack territory that people like Jean Claude Vannier are being (rightly) celebrated for. We just need the film itself of Babylon to be reissued on a nice cheap DVD. Or perhaps it has been? Whenever I check, I just see pages of Babylon 5 discs, which reminds me of something else I was going to mention.
Oddly one record I always do expect to see Dennis Bovellís name all over is that of the Basement 5. It is in fact the other British reggae Dennis though, which is Dennis Morris who was the force at work there. Morris is well known for his photographic work, particularly with Bob Marley and the Sex Pistols. His friendship with John Lydon led to close PiL links, and he designed the famous logo and the early sleeves.
The influence of PiL is very much in evidence on the recordings of the Basement 5, frustratingly few though they are. Morrisí colleagues included Richard Dudanski (who worked with PiL and the Raincoats) and Leo Williams (who went on to join Big Audio Dynamite). The sound was a strange mix of punk noise and reggae space (as opposed to straight rhythm). They recorded the confrontational 1965-1980 set and the complementary In Dub one.
Of particular interest is the presence of Martin Hannett at the control desk, which works a treat and helps create the very unsettling, claustrophobic feel to the recordings. These are tracks that evoke a grey sense of foreboding in Britain at the turn of the Ď80s. The work of the Basement 5 seems to have been very much overlooked, which ironically may be something to do with major label involvement, but I understand the records may be available on line as part of the Island archive.
The Basement 5 work covers similar ground to that of Adrian Sherwood, Keith Le Blanc, and Mark Stewart, and indeed you also expect to see the On-U logo on the sleeve somewhere, but there are always connections.
© 2005 John Carney