The Other Island – Best of British Reggae and Ska 1964 – 2019

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The music of Jamaica has been popular in Britain since the 1960s. British artists such as Georgie Fame and The Beatles showcased Jamaican influences in their music as early as 1964. The first British Ska and Rock Steady groups such as The Cimarons, The Bedrocks, and Symarip began appearing towards the end of the decade. The 1970s saw the development of the British sub-genres Two-tone Ska and Lovers Rock. Groups like The Specials, Madness, The Beat and Bad Manners brought Ska to a new generation. British-born artists such as Janet Kay, Carroll Thompson and Deborahe Glasgow  all found fame with Lovers Rock hits.  The 1970s and 1980s saw the rise of British Reggae bands including Steel Pulse, Aswad, Black Slate, and Matumbi. For better or worse, non-Reggae artists tried their hand at Reggae numbers throughout the 1970s and beyond. In Britain these included The Clash, The Police, Culture Club and The Rollings Stones. The best known example is Eric Clapton’s 1974 take on ‘I Shot The Sheriff’. Whether it’s Ska, Rock Steady, Lovers Rock, Dancehall or Dub, British artists have continued to be a part of the worldwide Reggae scene. Below is a list of  100 of the best examples of British Reggae and Ska.

  1. Humpty Dumpty – Georgie Fame And The Blue Flames (1964)
  2. Tom Hark Goes Blue Beat – Georgie Fame And The Blue Flames (1964)
  3. El Pussy Cat – Georgie Fame (1967)
  4. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da – The Bedrocks (1968)
  5. Skinhead Moonstomp – Symarip (1969)
  6. Skinhead Girl – Symarip (1970)
  7. Black And White – Greyhound (1971)
  8. Love is Strange – Wings (1971)
  9. Big Six – Judge Dread (1972)
  10. C Moon – Wings (1973)
  11. I Shot The Sheriff – Eric Clapton (1974)
  12. I A Rebel Soul – Aswad (1976)
  13. After Tonight – Matumbi (1976)
  14. Cherry Oh Baby – The Rolling Stones (1976)
  15. Back To Africa – Aswad (1976)
  16. Silly Games – Janet Kay (1977)
  17. Watching The Detectives – Elvis Costello (1977)
  18. Police & Thieves – The Clash (1977)
  19. Up With The Cock – Judge Dread (1977)
  20. Feel Like Making Love – Elizabeth Archer And The Equators (1977)
  21. Prodigal Son – Steel Pulse (1978)
  22. I Do Love You – Janet Kay (1978)
  23. Empire Road – Matumbi (1978)
  24. Can’t Stand Losing You – The Police (1978)
  25. Walking On Sunshine – Eddy Grant (1978)
  26. Dreadlock Holiday – 10cc (1978)
  27. Emotion – 15 16 17 (1978)
  28. Five Nights of Bleeding – Poets And The Roots (1978)
  29. Ku Klux Klan – Steel Pulse (1978)
  30. Bluebeat And Ska – Matumbi (1978)
  31. Roxanne – The Police (1978)
  32. Living On The Frontline – Eddy Grant (1978)
  33. Rat Race – The Specials (1979)
  34. One Step Beyond – Madness (1979)
  35. Ranking Full Stop – The Beat (1979)
  36. A Message To You Rudy – The Specials (1979)
  37. On My Radio – The Selecter (1979)
  38. Night Boat To Cairo – Madness (1979)
  39. Fite Dem Back – Linton Kwesi Johnson (1979)
  40. Points of View (Squeeze A Little Lovin) – Matumbi (1979)
  41. Too Much Too Young – The Specials (1979)
  42. Madness – Madness (1979)
  43. Walking On The Moon – The Police (1979)
  44. Arrow Through Me – Wings (1979)
  45. Forces of Viktry – Linton Kwesi Johnson (1979)
  46. Too Much Pressure – The Selecter (1980)
  47. Lip Up Fatty – Bad Manners (1980)
  48. I’m So Sorry – Caroll Thompson (1980)
  49. Inglan is a Bitch – Linton Kwesi Johnson (1980)
  50. Let’s Do Rock Steady – The Bodysnatchers (1980)
  51. Mirror In The Bathroom – The Beat (1980)
  52. Warrior Charge – Aswad (1980)
  53. Living In Babylon – Dennis Bovell (1980)
  54. Murder – The Selecter (1980)
  55. Food For Thought – UB40 (1980)
  56. Hands Off….She’s Mine – The Beat (1980)
  57. Amigo – Black Slate (1980)
  58. The Bed’s Too Big Without You – The Police (1980)
  59. Bankrobber – The Clash (1980)
  60. Too Experienced – The Bodysnatchers (1980)
  61. Special Brew – Bad Manners (1980)
  62. Baby Come Back – The Equators (1980)
  63. One In Ten – UB40 (1981)
  64. Walking In The Sunshine – Bad Manners (1981)
  65. Ghost Town – The Specials (1981)
  66. Pass The Dutchie – Musical Youth (1982)
  67. Do You Really Want To Hurt Me – Culture Club (1982)
  68. A Slice of English Toast – Ranking Ann (1982)
  69. The English Connection – Mad Professor (1982)
  70. Red Red Wine – UB40 (1983)
  71. Police Officer – Smiley Culture (1984)
  72. Borrowed Time – John Lennon (1984)
  73. If It Happens Again – UB40 (1984)
  74. Mash Up The Telly – Pato Banton (1985)
  75. Cockney Translation – Smiley Culture (1985)
  76. Hello Darling – Tippa Irie (1986)
  77. Everything I Own – Boy George (1986)
  78. Wild World – Maxi Priest (1987)
  79. Don’t Turn Around – Aswad (1988)
  80. Give A Little Love – Aswad (1988)
  81. Champion Lover – Deborahe Glasgow (1989)
  82. Making Love – Barry Boom (1989)
  83. Slipping Away – Royal Blood (1990)
  84. Close To You – Maxi Priest (1990)
  85. Rastafari – Alpha & Omega (1992)
  86. Mad Them – General Levy (1993)
  87. Boom Shack-A-Lak – Apache Indian (1993)
  88. Champagne Body – General Levy (1993)
  89. Shine – Aswad (1994)
  90. Baby Come Back – Pato Banton (1994)
  91. That Girl – Maxi Priest feat. Shaggy (1996)
  92. Night Nurse – Simply Red (1998)
  93. Cupid – Amy Winehouse (2008)
  94. Fire – Gentleman’s Dub Club (2009)
  95. Heaven In Her Eyes – Gappy Ranks (2010)
  96. Call Mi A Yardie – Stylo G (2012)
  97. This Town – The Skints (2016)
  98. Amsterdam – Mungo’s Hi Fi (2017)
  99. Murder – Reggae Roast (2018)
  100. Over Tonight – Empress Imani (2019)
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Rewind ‘n’ Come Again – 50 Years of Leeds Reggae

Setting The Scene

11 March 1967, The International Club, Francis Street, Chapeltown, Leeds.

A young American musician leaves the club; he’s just played to one of the toughest audiences of his career. Having a top 30 single in the charts at the time hadn’t helped to improve the resection. Outside the club a man approaches the shy musician. “Hendrix, you’re shit!” he shouts. Jimi Hendrix had perhaps been booked to play at the International Club in Chapeltown because the area was known for its black community. However, the West Indian community of Chapeltown were not Rock fans. In 1967, Ska and Rocksteady were the ruling sounds of Chapeltown. Even Calypso had lost favour with the Chapeltown youths; as local Calypso singer Lord Silkie discovered when he tried performing a few Lord Kitchener songs at the local youth club. The audience there only wanted to hear Rocksteady.

Bedrock Foundation

Providing Rocksteady for the local youths was The Bedrocks. Formed as The Bedrock Sunshine Band in 1966, the band played a mix of soul, ska and rocksteady at pubs and clubs across the country including gigs as far as London. The six piece band had a unique style, going from one song to another without stopping. They shortened their name to The Bedrocks in December 1967 and turned professional four months later. The band was spotted by Norman Smith of EMI at a concert at Barnsley Town Hall in the autumn of 1968. The song they had been playing when Norman Smith saw them was a cover of The Beatles’ newly-released album track ‘Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da’. Norman Smith invited the band to London to record the song at Abbey Road studios. After borrowing £25 to hire a van, the Bedrocks arrived in London, penniless, in December 1968. The band was signed to Columbia and recorded both sides of their debut single in a four-hour session on 4 December. The single was recorded, mixed, pressed and in the shops within two day, by which time the band had returned to Leeds. The single was a success and peaked at number 17 on the NME chart in January 1969.

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Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da single by The Bedrocks, 1968.

The success meant the Bedrocks made several television appearances, made a promo video and even met The Beatles. A follow-up single, ‘The Lovedene Girls’ was released in February. A lack of radio play meant the single didn’t do as well as ‘Ob-la-di,Ob-la-da’ but the Bedrocks proved popular with live audiences and another three singles were released during 1969 and 1970. By their third single, ‘Wonderful World’, the band had evolved from Rocksteady to Reggae. The B-side to their fourth single, ‘Musical Clowns’ showcased an early example of toasting. The Bedrocks continued to perform live until their break-up in 1972. Their bass player, Owen Wisdom, went on to play with the funk band Rokotto who had chart success in the late 70s and early 80s. The Bedrocks’ success in the late 60s and early 70s would go on to inspire a number of Leeds-based Reggae groups. But first came the education of music, roots, culture, spirituality, and engineering that only the sound systems could provide.

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Mavrick Sound System, 1979. 

Champion Sounds

In the 1970s, very few venues in the city centre would play Reggae music. One of the few exceptions was the Mecca Locarrno Ballroom, who, in 1972, employed Hunter Smith, a DJ known for playing Soul and Reggae. Hunter Smith ran a mobile disco and had established the record store Jumbo Records in September 1971 as a way to make some money on the side. Originally run from the back of another shop in the Queen’s Arcade, Jumbo Records was one of the few suppliers of Reggae records in the city centre. The store later moved to the Merrion Centre in 1974. In May 1974, Hunter Smith was sacked from the Mecca Ballroom who had now enforced a ‘pop music only’ policy. A number of venues in Chapeltown such as the International Club, Strega Blues Bar, Gaiety pub and Hayfield pub became known for playing Reggae music. House parties and Blues clubs were popular in the Chapeltown and Harehills areas, providing venues were Reggae could be enjoyed all night and into the next morning, long after clubs, bars, and pubs had closed. Blue spot radiograms were common place in West Indian homes and were used to play the latest Ska, Rocksteady and Reggae releases at house parties. Taking their name from the radiograms, these parties became known as Blues. By the end of the 1960s the blue spot radiogram had been replaced by larger and louder sound systems.

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Sir Yank’s Records, 1976.

One of the earliest Sound Systems in Leeds was Sir Yank’s, located at Sir Yank’s Records  on Gathorne Terrace. Sound Systems in the 70s and 80s not only played at Blues but also played at venues across Chapeltown. Regular venues that featured sound systems included Studley Grange, Potternewton Park, Chapeltown Community Centre, the Mandela Centre, the West Indian Centre,the International Club and Roscoe Church. Leeds Sound Systems made regular appearances at the Rock Against Racism gigs held at Leeds University. Sound systems used large speaker boxes and turntables to create a heavy bass. The ‘selector’ (DJ) would play the records and a ‘toaster’ (MC) would toast (Rap) over the instrumental

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Poster for a Blues Dance featuring Mavrick and Emperor, 1984.

version (Riddim) found on the record’s B-side. This was a job that not only required rhythmic skills but the ability to write lyrics. Prominent toasters included Body Popper, Stylo and KD Ranks who all brought their own unique style to the sound systems. Some sound systems included a ‘Singjay’ who would sing over the Riddim rather than toast. One of the best known Singjays from Leeds was Fluid Irie.

The first generation of British-born West Indians brought sound systems to the forefront and out into the open. It is estimated that during their heyday (1975 -1985) there was over 40 sound systems operating in Leeds. Popular Sound Systems during this era included Maverick, Jungle Warrior, Channel One, Ras Sparta, Genesis, Blacka Spot, Magnum Force 45, Screaming Target, Dragon Hifi, and Emperor. These sound systems were operated by teams of ‘Sound Bwoys’ who required a number of skills including engineering. Speaker boxes were usually built from scratch, occasionally liberating materials from building sites and homes. The selector’s job involved knowing what to play and when. It was the selector’s job to ‘nice up the dance’ by playing the latest releases and premiering dubplates (test pressings) to ensure the sound system’s title of ‘Champion Sound’.Selectors would travel across the UK to purchase records. Parties often had themes and different types of Reggae (Rockers, Dub, Lovers Rock, Rub-a-Dub, Roots and Culture) were played. Two or more sound systems would compete in a ‘sound clash’ and sound systems from Leeds battled it out with sound systems from near and far including the famous London sound system Saxon Studio International. Sounds systems also played a significant role in encouraging young black men to take up dance as an art form and career, particularly in the forming of Phoenix Dance Theatre in 1981. 

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Advert for John Holt concert, 1974.

Live And Direct

Sound systems helped young British-born West Indians form their own identity. Reggae not only gave an education in roots, culture and spirituality but it also acted as a link with the Caribbean. Reggae fans could also see some of the genre’s biggest names live and direct in Leeds. Desmond Dekker, John Holt, Nicky Thomas, The Heptones, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Toots Hibbert and even Bob Marley performed in Leeds in the 1970s. Increasing pressure to include Reggae sound systems at Leeds West Indian Carnival led to the first sound systems appearing in Potternewton Park on Carnival day in 1980. Maverick provided sounds in the park that year and Mackie’s Disco became the first sound system at the Carnival Queen Show in 1982. The Rock Against Racism Carnival held at Potternewton Park in July 1981 was the first time a Reggae concert had been held in the park. Headlined by British bands Aswad, Misty In Roots and The Specials, the bill also included local band Black Steel. Free annual Reggae concerts began being held in Potternewton Park in August 1986, attracting international stars such as Burning Spear, Maxi Priest, Mighty Diamonds and Wayne Wonder in the first couple of years. The concerts also acted as a brilliant showcase for local talents including Supa Youth, Enuff Sed, Sister B, Clinton Ire, Stone Roots and Exiles Intact.

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Advert for Leeds International Club, 1973.

Following in the footsteps of The Bedrocks, the 1980s saw the rise of Leeds Reggae bands. Among the best-known were Stone Roots. Formed around 1980, the six-piece Roots Reggae band was managed by Derek Lawrence. As well as performing in their own right, the band was often used to back singers at the Reggae Concerts held in Potternewton Park. Stone Roots continue to perform today and guitarist Chris Campbell has played a key role in a number of other Reggae outfits including Mojah and The Ship-Tones.

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Stone Roots, 1989.

Another well-known band, Exiles Intact was formed out of the band Malika in 1984. The band’s members included singing sisters Annette and Paulette Morris who had previously been in the band Black Steel. The band’s drummer was Carl Robinson who also drummed with Stone Roots. Managed by Winston Smith, the band quickly built up a fan base while touring the university circuit. An appearance on the TV show ‘3,2,1’ led to a contract on the Wonderful Musical World of Chris Dixon label and a single, ‘Who Is There’, was released in 1985.The single was popular with Reggae fans and sold out locally. Exiles Intact performed at the first annual Reggae Concert in Potternewton Park in 1986 and performed at the concert every year until their break-up in 1989.

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Exiles Intact on ‘on 3,2,1’, 1984

After Exiles Intact’s break-up, Annette and Paulette Morris formed the duo Royal Blood in 1989. They made their TV debut on ‘Ebony On The Road’ later in the year performing ‘Things I Would Do’ backed by Stone Roots. Royal Blood were signed to the Ariwa label and in 1990 they travelled to London to record with producer Mad Professor. They recorded their debut single ‘Slipping Away’ in one take. It was a hit on the Reggae chart and was followed by a second single ‘Conscious Love’. A third single ‘I Don’t Wanna Be The One’, released in 1997, was followed by a self-titled album in 1998.

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Royal Blood album, 1998.

Journeys

Reggae’s influence on Leeds artists is clear. Even non-Reggae artists have been influenced by the genre. Leeds born singer-songwriter Corinne Bailey Rae references Bob Marley’s 1977 song ‘Three Little Birds’ in her 2006 single ‘Put Your Records On’. In 2011 she covered Bob Marley’s ‘Is This Love’ for The Love EP. Corinne Bailey Rae also displays her love of Reggae in her live shows with her Reggae cover version of the song ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’. Kaiser Chiefs frontman Ricky Wilson performed guest lead vocals with the Leeds Reggae-Indie band The Ship-Tones on their 2015 cover of the Kaiser Chiefs’ 2011 song ‘Little Shocks’ (Given a Reggae makeover, The Ship-Tones’ version was title ‘Ickle Shocks’). Formed in 2014, the Ship-Tones’ 2015 debut album ‘Indie Reggae Revolution’ was number one on the Reggae New Releases chart. The band’s members included Lara Rose, Chris Campbell and Paulette Morris. Chris Campbell is also a member of the Reggae band Mojah who have been the resident band at the Sela Bar in Leeds since 2012. Playing covers of Jimmy Cliff, Toots and the Maytals, Jackie Mitoo, and Bob Marley, the five-piece band’s lead singer is Paulette Morris who is occasionally joined by her sister Annette. Leeds-based Reggae artist Garfield Yearwood released two albums in 2009. His debut album ‘Leeds For Life’ was followed by ‘Kuntri Comes To Town’.

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Leeds For Life album, 2009

Royal Blood continue to perform today and have toured with Boyzone, Peter Andre, Finley Quaye, and Martha Reeves. Their second album ‘The Journey Pt.1’ was released in 2015. They were one of the acts to perform at the Salute To Reggae concert at Millennium Square, Leeds in 2018. The Salute to Reggae concert was the first outdoor Reggae concert to be held in Leeds City Centre. The concert’s opening act was Empress Imani.

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Empress Imani, 2018.

Award-winning Empress Imani is the latest Reggae star to come out of Leeds. She began her recording career in Spain in 2013 when she laid down the track ‘Rasta Love’ in a three-hour-long session. She began performing around the UK and releasing tracks on Soundcloud. Her 2015 single ‘Conscious King’ was produced by the Royal Sounds and released on iTunes. It was featured on BBC Radio 1xtra and became an underground hit. In August 2015 she appeared at the annual Reggae Concert in Potternewton Park which was celebrating its 30th anniversary with a new name – The Black Music Festival. Empress Imani went on to make several appearances on radio including ‘Women in Music’, ‘Journey Through Reggae’ and ‘Live Lounge’. Her 2016 single ‘Falling’ has gained over 45,000 plays on soundcloud. In 2016 she performed at the Legends of Reggae concert in Brixton, sharing the stage with Marcia Griffiths, Freddy McGregor and Junior Reid. She also appeared on the UK Reggae Culturefest Tour in 2016 and in 2017 she performed at the Wembley Arena in London. More singles followed in 2016 including ‘Rocky Road’ and ‘Pull Up Dat Reggae Tune’ which received support from BBC Radio Yorkshire and charted on the Hottest Singles Chart. Her 2017 single ‘What’s Good For The Goose’ has proven to be a crowd favourite and the 2018 music video, shot in Leeds, has had over 15,000 views since its release in July.

In Dub

Sound systems have remained popular in Leeds and the city is considered by many to have some of the best sound systems in the UK. Influenced by the first generation of Leeds Sound Systems, the Iration Steppas Sound System was founded in Leeds in 1990. Founded by Mark Iration, the sound system took a different direction from the traditional style of Leeds’ other sound systems. Iration Steppas played exclusive unreleased dub mixes. The sound system also used minidiscs and CDs, giving them a wider range of material to pick from. Mark Iration began making his own Dub music in 1993 and Iration Steppas’ debut single ‘Scud Missile’ was released in 1994. A number of singles were released in the following years and their debut album ‘Original Dub D.A.T’ was released in 1996. With unique dubs, Iration Steppas were able to grow extremely popular and have played across Europe, the USA and Japan. They have supported such acts as Burning Spear, Lee ‘Screatch’ Perry, Scientist and Mad Professor. Iration Steppas have also appeared on stage as a live dub outfit at festivals world-wide.

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Flyer for Iration Steppas, 1998.

Another live dub band from Leeds is the Gentleman’s Dub Club. Formed in 2006, the band is made up of nine members. They have played to crowds at festivals across Europe including Glastonbury, Bestival, V Festival and Ostroda Reggae Festival. They have made several appearances on BBC Radio and have supported a number of artists such as The Streets, The Wailers, Busy Singnal and U-Roy. Their debut album ‘FOURtyFOUR’ was released in 2013 on the Ranking Records label. Since then the band has released three more albums and a handful of singles. Reggae and Sound System culture is one of the major influences on UK Grime music. Popular Grime artists from Leeds include Dialect, who has thousands of Social Media followers and has released two singles since 2018, and MOBO Award winning Graft who released the album ‘All Sorts’ in 2017.

From Royal Blood and Empress Imani to Iration Steppas and Gentleman’s Dub Club, the Leeds Reggae scene is alive and well in 2018 and has been for the last 50 years. With new artists constantly emerging and bringing fresh ideas and styles with them, there is no doubt that Leeds Reggae will last another 50.

With special thanks to Reggie Challenger, Max Farrar, Hashim Equiano, Claude ‘Hoppa’ Henderickson and Annette Morris.

Royal Blood From Paradise

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St Clair Morris.

St. Clair Morris was born in Ottley’s Village in St. Kitts on 28 June 1938. Music had always played an important role in his life. His grandfather had been a drummer with a troupe of Masqueraders in St.Kitts and his father had a passion for music too. St. Clair began playing Steel Pans and singing at the age of 14. He began his own family in St.Kitts in the early 1960s. His wife, Gloria, also came from a musical background and had a beautiful singing voice. She would sing in the church choir and still sings in a choir today. Her aunty had wanted to take her to America and start her singing career but Gloria decided to stay in St.Kitts and marry the love of her life, St. Clair Morris.

St. Clair travelled to England alone in 1961, leaving his family behind in the Caribbean. He first lived in Birmingham but the racist atmosphere of 1960s Britain made life difficult. Work and homes were hard to find for a black man living in Britain. Most Landlords wouldn’t rent rooms to black people and when he applied for work he was told the jobs were already gone. St. Clair moved to Leeds after hearing there was a community of people from St. Kitts and Nevis living there. In Leeds, the West Indian community helped each other out, they helped each other find jobs and buy homes. Once he was settled in England, St. Clair sent for his wife and daughter who joined him in Leeds in the winter of 1963. Gloria and her young daughter arrived in England a day earlier than planned and St. Clair wasn’t there to meet them. Mother and child had to make their own way from London to Leeds, giving St. Clair a pleasant surprise when they arrived.

St. Clair Morris took on a number of jobs over the years including bus driver, builder and DJ. His passion for music meant St. Clair Morris owned a large record collection that included folk, soul, calypso, and reggae records. His love of music shaped all six of his children, five of whom took on music as careers. St. Clair worked as a band roadie, transporting steel pan bands such as Esso Steel Band and Desperadoes Steel Band to gigs in his van. A friend suggested that he formed his own steel band, after all he already had the van and so St. Clair Morris formed Paradise Steel Band in September 1973. The band’s first line-up consisted of six players. (One tenor pan, two sets of double seconds, two sets of double guitars, one set of four bass, and one set of drums). St. Clair built and tuned steel pans in his basement. He taught drums, bass and steel pan in his home on Gathorne Terrace and encouraged his children to be musical. He bought his daughter Annette a bass guitar when she was eight years old and the family would often jam together with daughter Paulette sitting behind the drums. Some of his children even joined Paradise Steel Band and performed at the Leeds West Indian Carnival. Young Annette found the bass guitar to be too heavy and gave it up, preferring to sing. Her mother Gloria taught her to harmonize. While driving home from a gig on 5 November 1975 St.Clair Morris and his wife Gloria were witness to riots taking place in the Chapeltown area of Leeds. Without explanation, St. Clair was arrested and held at the local police station. St. Clair had not taken part in the riots and was simply trying to go home after work. Gloria Morris was kicked out the Chapeltown Police Station when she asked how to contact a solicitor. She was then taken to hospital.

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St Clair Morris with The Paradise Steel Band playing at Leeds West Indian Carnival, 1984.

St. Clair worked as a preacher for a time, travelling the country at weekends and giving sermons. His family would travel with him and after the sermon St. Clair would play guitar and his family would sing hymns. Paradise Steel Band would play gigs around Chapeltown and further afield and St. Clair’s daughters Paulette and Annette were fascinated by the live music and would follow the band around. They were often kicked out of the venue by their father but would listen in from outside. The two girls shared their father’s love of music and during the hot summer of 1976 they spent the whole summer playing records into the street on their father’s double turntable record player. Their music tastes varied from George Benson and Roberta Flack to ABBA and Gary Glitter but it was reggae music that gave the teenage girls a sense of identity and belonging. Artists like Bob Marley and Burning Spear delivered a message to a new generation of British born West Indians and their music acted as a link to the Caribbean. It was around this time that, at the age of 13, Annette grew dreadlocks and became a Rasta.  Artists like Third World, Steel Pulse, Aswad, Jimmy Cliff, Dennis Brown, The Royal Rasses and The Twinkle Brothers were big influences on the sisters along with the music education they received from their parents.

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Sounds of Yorkshire.

St. Clair Morris became a Steel Pan teacher in 1976, travelling to schools across Yorkshire to teach steel pans to children when schools were allocated money to help combat racism and promote arts from other cultures. It is now believed that St. Clair was the first Steel Pan teacher in Europe. St. Clair Morris planned lessons, chose the repertoire, managed classes and even transported the instruments from one school to the next in his own van. Children from the school would help St. Clair unload and re-pack the van. The steel pans had been bought by the Leeds Music Support Service. Because he was their father, Annette and Paulette were not allowed to sit in on the lessons. Over the years St. Clair taught some of Leeds’s best players who have gone on to teach and run their own steel bands. These include Melvin Zaker (teaches pan and runs New World Steel Orchestra), Wanda Thorpe (runs Oulton Steel Band), Charlotte Emery (runs South Steel), Bex Ainge (runs East Steel), Eileen Butterworth (runs St. John Fisher Band in Dewsbury), Victoria Jaquiss (runs Foxwood Steel and Leeds Silver Steel Sparrows) and Pauline Williams (runs Pantazia in London).

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St. Clair Morris (far left) and Wanda Thorpe with the Leopold Primary School Steel Band, 1987.

Paradise Steel Band’s line-up changed over the years but St. Clair remained with the band for 44 years. Paradise Steel Band made an appearance on the TV show 3,2,1 in 1982. More TV show appearances followed including Emmerdale Farm, Songs of Praise, Look North, and Calendar News. The band also made appearances on radio including Radio Leeds and Radio Aire. In 1985 they were featured on the album ‘Sounds of Yorkshire’ performing the song ‘Breeze In’. St. Clair Morris made several other recordings as the Paradise Steel Band.  The band travelled across the UK and even Europe to make appearances. They made several trips to Germany and performed at the Battle of the Flowers in Jersey.

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Paradise Steel Band and limbo dancers on 3,2,1 in 1982.

Inspired by performances by the Great Despers and the Catelli All Stars, St. Clair Morris added more players to his band and formed the Paradise Steel Orchestra in 1984. Among the orchestra’s players was St. Clair’s 11-year-old son David Morris who, taught by his father, had become a very talented drummer. By 1986 David was teaching the orchestra himself. Their repertoire included ‘Zampa Overture’, ‘Pan In A Minor’, and ‘The Hammer’.  The Paradise Steel Orchestra made their debut at the National Steelband Festival in Warwickshire in June 1984. As the Paradise Steel Orchestra, the band’s popularity grew during the second half of the 1980s. In the first six months of their career alone they made performed at Police Day at Roundhay Park, the Grand Theatre in Leeds, Leeds West Indian Carnival, and the Labour Party Conference. They also made appearances on Calendar, Look North and Radio Aire. 1984 also saw the forming of the New World Steel Orchestra in Leeds. All of the orchestra’s original members had been students of St. Clair Morris. The Paradise Steel Orchestra returned to the National Steelband Festival in 1987. They were then invited to take part in the Panorama contest in London, becoming the first steel pan band from the North of England to enter the contest and the first Northern Steel Band to perform at the Notting Hill Carnival.

Annette and Paulette Morris joined their first band in 1980 while still in their teens. The reggae band Black Steel already had two singers but wanted something fresh and different and Annette and Paulette were asked to join the group. Annette was in the hospital ill at the time but agreed to join Black Steel after her sister turned up to the hospital excited about the proposal. Annette was still ill when their first gig came around but was determined that the show went on. They were one of the local bands to perform at the Rock Against Racism concert held in Potternewton Park in July 1981, sharing the stage with The Specials, Misty In Roots and Aswad. The sisters later joined the band Malika who later became Exiles Intact. The band played gigs across the country, toured the university circuit and built up a fan base. Under the management of a local man named Winston Smith, Exiles Intact made an appearance on the ITV game show 3,2,1 in 1984. The same show Paradise Steel Band had appeared on two years earlier. Making an appearance on television was a great achievement, especially for a group of black youths from the north of England. Before the show, Annette and Paulette were taken shopping by a woman from the wardrobe department to buy new outfits while the other band member’s outfits were picked out by their manager who wanted to ensure the band looked fabulous while making their TV debut. Exiles Intact performed a song Paulette Morris had written called ‘Lazy Day’.

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Exiles Intact on 3,2,1 in 1984.
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Who Is There?

The TV appearance led to a record contract on the Wonderful Musical World Of Chris Dixon label. From there, everything happened very quickly for the band.  They recorded a single at Woodlands Studios, located in a bedroom in Chapeltown. The A-side, ‘Who Is There’, was written by the Morris sister and the B-side was a cover of The Drifters’ song ‘On Broadway’. Both sides were produced by Neil Ferguson. The band was then taken on a photoshoot and in August 1985 they were one of the acts at the very first Reggae Concerts (then called the Black Heroes Concert and now called the Black Music Festival) in Potternewton Park. Annette and Paulette continued to perform with Exiles Intact in venues around Leeds for the next couple of years and the group were returning headliners at the annual reggae concerts held in Potternewton Park. The band went through a number of line-up changes, with members leaving and being replaced and in 1989 the sisters were offered a record deal and left the band. Exiles Intact split up not long afterwards.

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Royal Blood.

Annette and Paulette Morris formed Royal Blood in 1989. Backed by Stone Roots they made a TV appearance on Ebony On The Road later in the year preforming ‘Things I Would Do’.  The segment was recorded at The West Indian Centre in Leeds and St. Clair Morris was at the front of the stage to support his daughters. Royal Blood were signed to the Ariwa label and in 1990 they travelled to London to record with producer Mad Professor. They recorded the vocals for their debut single, ‘Slipping Away’, in one take and it was released with ‘Twin Gate Dub’ on the B-side. ‘Slipping Away’ was a hit on the Reggae Charts and was included on the Pure Lovers Volume 1 compilation released by Charm in 1990. It was followed by a second single, ‘Conscious Love’.  In 1992 Royal Blood featured on the Black Story single ‘Will We Stay’, a song they had written.  In 1997 they recorded the single ‘I Don’t Wanna Be The One’ which was produced by Barry Boom and released on the Real Ting label. It was also included on Charm’s Pure Lovers Volume 10 compilation. The duo later signed to Phase One Records and in 1998 they returned to London to record an album. Their debut album, ‘Royal Blood’, contained ten tracks, eight

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The Journey Pt. 1

of which had been written by Paulette. Three singles were released from the album (‘One Love’ (an original song not a cover of the Bob Marley song), ‘Reasons’, and ‘Waiting In The Park’) but none of them had the same success as ‘Slipping Away’. A chance meeting in the studio lead them to touring with Boyzone from May – July 1999 which was followed by a tour with Peter Andre. A tour with Finley Quaye took the duo across the UK, Europe and South America. In 2006 the sisters wrote ‘They Live In The Sky’ which was recorded by William Orbit for his album ‘Hello Waveforms’.  The sisters also provided backing vocals on the track. In 2014 Royal Blood toured with Motown Legend Martha Reeves.  In March 2015 the duo released their second album ‘The Journey Pt. 1’.  Annette and Paulette still perform as Royal Blood and in 2018 they were one of the acts at the Salute To Reggae concert at Millennium Square in Leeds.

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Royal Blood.
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Esoteric Hydroponics.

All five of Annette’s children are musical and many of them have recorded albums. It’s no wonder Annette jokingly refers to her family as the Von Trapp Family of Chapeltown. Her eldest son, Ethan, is a rapper who goes by the names Dreadman and Big Cush.  His single ‘I’m Evil’ was released in 2015. He has released a number of albums on the Invizible label including Annesia Haze, Esoteric Hydroponics, and Percival Street. Another of her sons, Kyrann, also raps under the name K-One and in 2012 he released the album Natural Density. Annette’s youngest son, Hesh Rob, is also a rapper and has recorded with his two brothers.

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Natural Density.

Annette’s twin daughters Tila and Tavelah Robinson have been singing together since the age of 3. Tila and Tavelah have appeared on stage in shows that include the Carnival Messiah and The Wiz. In 2012 they performed at the Olympic Torch Ceremony in Leeds. The twins, who were born in August 1995, appeared on the TV talent show The Voice in 2014. The girl’s father, Carl Robinson, was the drummer with Exiles Intact and has also drummed with Finley Quaye and Cee Lo Green. On their first appearance on The Voice, the twins performed

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Tila and Tavelah on The Voice in 2014.

The Black Eyed Peas’ song ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ during the Blind Audition round. Backstage Carl and Annette and other family members cheered them on. They were picked by judge Ricky Wilson and were sent through to the next round. Ricky Wilson coached the twins for the remainder of their time in the contest. Tila and Tavelah’s appearance on The Voice resulted in them receiving national media attention and they quickly became fan favourites.  Unfortunately, the twins didn’t make it to the third round of the contest.  In 2015 they won the ‘Rare Rising Stars’ award and in 2016, under the name TnT, they released the single ‘So Good’ featuring S.H.F.M.O. Tila and Tavelah Robinson continue to perform and recently they were headliners at the 2018 concert ‘A Taste of The Caribbean’ in Leeds.

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Indie Reggae Revolution.

The twin’s aunty, Paulette Morris, has also worked closely with Ricky Wilson as a member of The Ship-Tones. Formed in 2014, the Ship-Tones blended Reggae and Indie on their 2015 album Indie Reggae Revolution which featured Ricky Wilson on the track ‘Ickle Shocks’. The album also featured Ryan Jarman & Gary Jarman (The Cribs), Justin Young (The Vaccines) and Edwyn Collins. The album was number one on the Reggae New Releases chart.

St. Clair Morris passed away in Leeds, England on 6 October 2017. His legacy lives on in his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and the hundreds of students he taught music to. His death made local and international news and he was posthumously honoured at the C50 awards on 22 October.  His funeral, which took place at St Aidan’s Church on 27 October, was featured on the local news programme Look North.  St. Clair Morris continued to play with Paradise Steel Band until the week of his death. The steel band continue to play at venues across the country, continuing St. Clair’s legacy. The Morris/Robinson family’s musical talents show no signs of slowing down. St. Clair’s five-year-old great-grandson has already shown a keen interest in playing the drums, making him the sixth generation of the family born with a passion for music.

Special Thanks to Annette Morris who provided a lot of the information in the above piece.

Tighten Up – The Best Jamaican Music Of The Sixties

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The 1960s was a remarkable period for popular music with genres developing and evolving at an extraordinary rate and Jamaican music for no exception. The 1960s saw the development of Ska from Jamaican R&B and the birth of Reggae via Rock Steady. In Britain, Jamaican music helped unite British and Caribbean youths through music, dance crazes and fashion trends.  With sound systems and clubs dedicated to playing Jamaican music, it was the sounds of Jamaican that united the British Caribbean communities during the sixties. The decade saw the development of sampling, dub, and toasting and the rise of stars such as Prince Buster, Jimmy Cliff, Millie Small, Desmond Dekker, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and even Bob Marley and The Wailers. Below is a list of 150 of the greatest examples of Jamaican music released during the sixites that help tell the story of Jamaican music. It includes R&B, Ska, Rock Steady and Reggae.  All dates given are UK single release dates unless specified otherwise.

  1. Boogie Rock – Laurel Aitken (1960)
  2. Fat Man – Derrick Morgan (1960)
  3. Dumplin’s – Byron Lee And The Dragonnaires (1960)
  4. Easy Snapping – Clue J. And His Blues Blasters (1960)
  5. Running Around – Owen Grey (1960)
  6. Boss Girl – J.E. Stick & Drumbago All Stars (1961)
  7. Luke Lane Shuffle – Rico Rodriques (1961)
  8. Blackberry Brandy – Roland Alphonso (1961)
  9. Bar Tender – Laurel Aitken (1961)
  10. Humpty Dumpty – Eric Morris (1961)
  11. Let The Good Times Roll – Derrick And Patsy (1961)
  12. Mash! Mr. Lee – Byron Lee And The Dragonnaires (1961)
  13. Carolina – The Folks Brothers (1961)
  14. Feel So Fine – Derrick And Patsy (1961)
  15. Forward March – Derrick Morgan (1962)
  16. Independence Song – Prince Buster (1962)
  17. Miss Jamaica – Jimmy Cliff (1962)
  18. Housewife’s Choice – Derrick And Patsy (1962)
  19. Hully Gully Miss Molly – Basil Gabbidon And Buster’s Group (1962)
  20. Blazing Fire – Derrick Morgan (1963)
  21. Honour Your Mother And Father – Desmond Dekker And Beverleys All Stars (1963)
  22. Ten Commandments – Prince Buster (1963)
  23. Tears On My Pillow – Derrick Morgan (1963)
  24. Fever – The Vikings (1963)
  25. King Of Kings – Jimmy Cliff (1963)
  26. Enjoy Yourself – Prince Buster (1963)
  27. One Cup of Coffee – Robert Marley (1963)
  28. Madness – Prince Buster (1963)
  29. King of Ska – Desmond Dekker And His Cherry Pies (1964)
  30. Number One – Eric Morris (1964)
  31. She Loves You – Prince Buster (1964)
  32. Jamaica Ska – Byron Lee And The Dragonaires (1964)
  33. My Boy Lollipop – Millie Small (1964)
  34. Sea Cruise – Jackie Edwards (1964)
  35. Want Me Cock – Owen And Leon Silvera (1964) (UK release 1965)
  36. Eastern Standard Time – Don Drummond And Band (1964)
  37. Sammy Dead – Byron Lee And The Dragonaires (1964)
  38. Penny Reel – Eric Morris (1964)
  39. Soon You Will Be Gone – The Blues Busters (1964) (No UK release)
  40. Sweet William – Millie Small (1964)
  41. Simmer Down – The Wailers (1964)(UK release 1965)
  42. My Girl – Prince Buster (1965)
  43. One Love – The Wailers (1965) (No UK release)
  44. Al Capone – Prince Buster (1965)
  45. I Should Have Known Better – Roland Alphonso (1965) (UK release 1966)
  46. Guns of Navarone – The Skatalites (1965)
  47. What’s New Pussy Cat? – The Wailers (1965)
  48. In The Mood For Ska – Lord Tanamo (1965)
  49. Bonanza Ska – Carlos Malcolm And The Afro Caribs (1965)
  50. Girls Town Ska – Baba Brooks Band (1965)
  51. One Step Beyond – Prince Buster (1965)
  52. El Pussy Cat – Roland Alphonso (1965)
  53. Lion of Judah – Buster’s All Stars (1966)
  54. Keep On Running – Jackie Edwards (1966) (No UK release)
  55. Rub And Squeeze – King Perry And The Soulettes (1966)
  56. James Bond – Roland Alphonso (1966)
  57. Respect – Prince Buster (1966)
  58. Bend Down Low – Bob Marley And The Wailers (1966) (UK release 1967)
  59. Pied Piper – Rita Marley (1966)
  60. I’ve Got A Date – Alton Ellis And The Flames (1966) (UK release 1967)
  61. Phoenix City – Roland Alphonso And The Soul Brothers (1966)
  62. Storm Warning – Lyn Taitt And The Boys (1966)
  63. Take It Easy – Hopeton Lewis (1966) (UK release 1967)
  64. Stop That Train – Keith & Tex (1967) (UK release 1968)
  65. Judge Sympathy – Duke Reid (1967)
  66. Fattie Fattie – The Heptones (1967) (No UK release)
  67. Tougher Than Tough (Rudi In Court) – Derrick Morgan And The Aces (1967)
  68. Judge Dread – Prince Buster (1967)
  69. Duke of Earl – Alton Ellis And The Flames (1967)
  70. Let’s Do Rock Steady – Dandy (1967)
  71. 007 – Desmond Dekker And The Aces (1967)
  72. Stir It Up – Bob Marley And The Wailers (1967) (UK release 1968)
  73. Train To Skaville – The Ethiopians (1967)
  74. Train To Girls Town – Prince Buster (1967)
  75. I’m Still In Love – Alton Ellis (1967)
  76. And I Love Her – Prince Buster (1967)
  77. Rude Boy Train – Desmond Dekker (1967)
  78. Train Tour To Rainbow City – The Pyramids (1967)
  79. The Tide Is High – The Paragons (1967)
  80. You Don’t Love Me – Dawn Penn (1967) (No UK release)
  81. Puppet On A String – Ken Boothe (1967)
  82. Darker Shade of Black – Jackie Mittoo (1967) (From the LP “In London”)
  83. I Will Get Along – The Melodians (1967)
  84. Real Rock – Sound Dimension (1967) (No UK release)
  85. Mellow Mood – The Wailers (1967) (UK release 1968)
  86. Rudy A Message To You – Dandy (1967)
  87. Blam Blam Fever (Gunfever) – The Valentines (1967)
  88. 54-46 That’s My Number – The Maytals (1968)
  89. A It Mek – Desmond Dekker And The Aces (1968)
  90. The Upsetter – Lee Perry (1968)
  91. Soul Limbo – Byron Lee & The Dragonaires (1968)
  92. There Is A Man Who Lives Next Door – The Paragons (1968) (UK release 1969)
  93. Engine 54 – The Ethiopians (1968)
  94. Do The Reggay – The Maytals (1968)
  95. No More Heartaches – The Beltones (1968)
  96. Nanny Goat – Larry And Alvin (1968)
  97. Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da – The Bedrocks (1968)
  98. Hold Me Tight – Johnny Nash (1968)
  99. Feel Like Jumping – Marcia Griffiths (1968)
  100. Israelites – Desmond Dekker And The Aces (1968)
  101. Kansas City – Joya Landis (1968)
  102. The Scorcher – Prince Buster And All Stars (1968)
  103. Watch This Sound –The Uniques (1968)
  104. Cuss Cuss – Lloyd Robinson (1968)
  105. People Funny Boy – Lee(King) Perry (1968)
  106. A Place In The Sun – David Isaacs (1968)
  107. Tighten Up – The Untouchables (1968)
  108. Angel of The Morning – Joya Landis (1968)
  109. All My Loving – Prince Buster And The All Stars (1968)
  110. Spanish Harlem – Val Bennett (1968)
  111. It’s Reggae Time – D. Tony Lee (1968)
  112. Rudi’s In Love – The Locomotive (1968)
  113. Donkey Returns – Brother Dan All Stars (1968)
  114. Wet Dream – Max Romeo (1968)
  115. Reggae In The Wind – Lester Sterling (1968)
  116. Cupid – Johnny Nash (1968) (Uk release 1969)
  117. I’m Your Puppet – Dandy (1969)
  118. Monkey Man – The Maytals (1969) (UK release 1970)
  119. Wear You To The Ball – Hugh Roy And John Holt (1969) (UK release 1970)
  120. Reggae In Your Jeggae – Dandy (1969)
  121. Pressure Drop – The Maytals (1969)
  122. Return of Django – The Upsetters (1969)
  123. The Liquidator – Harry J. All Stars (1969)
  124. Loch Ness Monster – King Horror (1969)
  125. Red, Red Wine – Tony Tribe (1969)
  126. Wonderful World, Beautiful People – Jimmy Cliff (1969)
  127. People Get Ready – Dandy (1969)
  128. Elizabethan Reggae – Boris Gardner (1969)
  129. Moon Hop – Derrick Morgan (1969)
  130. Wreck A Pum Pum – Prince Buster And All Stars (1969)
  131. The Ugly One – King Stitt (1969)
  132. Don’t Let Me Down – Marcia Griffiths (1969)
  133. Give Peace A Chance – The Hot Chocolate Band (1969)
  134. Long Shot Kick De Bucket – The Pioneers (1969)
  135. Skinhead Moon Stomp – Symarip (1969)
  136. Wreck A Buddy – The Soul Sisters (1969)
  137. Fattie Fattie – Clancy Eccles (1969)
  138. Ain’t Too Proud To Beg – Slim Smith (1969)
  139. How Long Will It Take – Pat Kelly (1969)
  140. Fire Corner – King Stitt (1969)
  141. Dynamic Fashion Way – U-Roy (1969) (No UK release)
  142. Barbwire –Nora Dean (1969) (UK release 1970)
  143. Sweet Sensation – The Melodians (1969)
  144. Clint Eastwood – The Upsetters (1969)
  145. Birth Control – Lloyd Charmers (1969) (UK release 1970)
  146. Sitting In The Park – Alton Ellis (1969) (USA release only)
  147. Ali Baba – John Holt (1969)
  148. Hailes Selaise – Laurel Aitken (1969)
  149. Herbsman Shuffle – King Stitt And Andy Capp (1969) (UK release 1970)
  150. Selassie – The Reggae Boys (1969)

Train To Skaville – Jamaican Music in Britain, 1960 – 1969

Blue Beat

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Boogie Rock.

When Laurel Aitken arrived in England in 1960 wearing a sharp suit, shades and a pork pie hat he was surprised to see his singles were already on sale in the record stores. Born in Cuba in 1927, Laurel Aitken (real name Lorenzo Aitken) moved to Jamaica with his family in 1938. He began his career performing mento songs at nightclubs and in 1958 he began recording and releasing singles in Jamaica. In Britain, the Kalypso label had been the first to release music by Laurel Aitken when, in 1958, they released his single ‘Boogie In My Bones’. Produced by Chris Blackwell, the single was the first time Jamaican popular music had been released in the UK. Laurel Aitken continued to have singles released in Britain on the Starlite and Melodisc labels. He arrived in London in 1960 and settled in the Brixton area. He was signed to the newly formed Blue Beat label and became the first artist to be released on the label with his 1960 single ’Boogie Rock’.

Blue Beat was founded in London in August 1960 as a sub-label of Melodisc Records after the success of Laurel Aitken’s release of ‘Lonesome Lover’ on the Melodisc label. Sigimund ‘Siggy’ Jackson was in charge of the label and chose the name Blue Beat because the music sounded like “blues with a great beat”. During the label’s first year, Blue Beat released 24 singles by the likes of Laurel Aiken, Byron Lee And The Dragonaires, Derrick Morgan and Duke Reid And His Group all performing rhythm and blues with a Jamaican flavour. Jamaican rhythm and blues quickly evolved into ska music  with artists such as Clancy Eccles helping to bridge the gap. Singles released on the Blue Beat label became extremely popular with the West Indian communities living in Britain and ska music began being known as ‘Blue Beat’.

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Byron Lee in Dr.No (1962).

Byron Lee And The Dragonaires became one of the label’s biggest stars. Originally formed in Jamaica in 1950, the group had played mento and calypso music before moving to ska at the end of the 1950s. They released their debut single, ‘Dumplins’, on Blue Beat in 1960 which was followed by ‘Mash! Mr.Lee’ in 1961. The band’s big break came when they were cast as the hotel band in the 1962 James Bond movie ‘Dr.No’. A couple of their songs appeared on the album soundtrack, exposing white Britain to the music of Jamaica.

Independence Song
Although it would be a few years before ska music would make the charts in Britain, by the end of 1962 it had become popular with the mod sub-culture in London and other parts of England. In Jamaica, ska had quickly become the island’s national music and with songs like ‘Independence Song’ by Prince Buster, ska became the soundtrack of an independent Jamaica.  Born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1938, Prince Buster (Real name Cecil Campbell) began his recording career in 1961 and released his debut single ‘Little Honey’ that year. He also began producing music and produced the Folkes Brothers’ version of ‘Oh Carolina’ in 1961, which was released on the Blue Beat label in the UK.  With its Niyabinghi-style drumming and chanting, ‘Oh Carolina’ became a landmark single in the development of Jamaican music.

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Bob Marley.

Prince Buster arrived in the UK in 1963 and with releases on the Blue Beat label; he became Britain’s biggest ska artist during the 1960s. In 1963 he had success with ‘Ten Commandments’, ‘Enjoy Yourself’ and ‘Madness’. 1963 also saw the UK debut release by a young Jamaican who would go on to became reggae’s biggest star, 18-year-old Robert Marley. Born in Saint Ann Parish, Jamaica in 1945, Bob Marley began recording in 1962. He recorded four tracks at Federal Studio and in 1963 his debut single ‘Judge Not’ was released on Island Records both in Jamaica and Britain under the name Robert Marley. In 1964, along with his group The Wailling Wailers, Bob Marley was signed to the Coxsone label in Jamaica and released the single ‘Simmer Down’ which sold 70,000 copies. The Wailers, with Bob Marley and sometimes Peter Tosh taking the lead, continued to release singles throughout the 1960s and in 1966 they released their debut album “The Wailing Wailers”. Despite their success in Jamaica, the ska group failed to make an impact in Britain.

The Blue Beat Girl

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I Feel The Spirit.

The first ska song to make the charts in the UK was Millie Small’s take on ‘My Boy Lollipop’. Millie Small (Real name Millicent Dolly May Small) was born in Clarendon, Jamaica in 1946 and began recording in 1962 at the age of 15. She released duets with Owen Gray and Roy Panton before recording on her own. Chris Blackwell became her manager in 1963 and he took her to London later in the year. In London she recorded ‘My Boy Lollipop’ using an almost all-white British backing group. Unfamiliar with ska music, the session musicians took a quick lesson from Chris Blackwell before the recording took place. The Blue Beat label were also using English musicians on their recordings. In 1963, Georgie Fame played Hammond organ on Prince Buster’s “I Feel The Spirit” album – the first ska album released outside of Jamaica.

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The Roaring Twenties poster.

Georgie Fame had met Prince Buster at Count Suckle’s club, The Roaring Twenties. The club was opened on Carnaby Street, London in 1961 and was one of the first clubs to play ska outside of Jamaica. Some of the records played by Count Suckle at The Roaring Twenties were sent to him from Jamaica by Prince Buster and hadn’t been released in the UK at the time. Once Prince Buster arrived in England in 1963 he became a regular customer at the club along with English musicians such as Georgie Fame, The Rolling Stones and John Paul Jones. In 1964, Count Suckle opened his second club, The Cue (later The Q), in Paddington, London. The Cue became a regular venue for touring Jamaican musicians during the sixties including Prince Buster, Don Drummond, Rico Rodriguez, Tommy McCook, Roland Alphonso, and Baba Brooks. In London, ska music could also be heard at clubs such as the Marquee Club and The Flamingo. With sound system owners such as Count Suckle and Duke Vin playing the latest sounds from Jamaica, clubs such as these helped introduce ska music to a white British audience that included some of Britain’s biggest pop stars such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

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Millie Small, The Blue Beat Girl.

Millie Small’s version of ‘My Boy Lollipop’ was released in February 1964 and went to number two on the UK singles chart. Despite being released on the Fontana label, Millie Small became known as ‘The Blue Beat Girl’ and had another top 30 hit in the UK in June with her single ‘Sweet William’. Millie Small became popular around the world and in Britain she made several appearances on television including Top of the Pops, Ready, Steady, Go!, Juke Box Jury,   and Thank Your Lucky Stars.  In May 1964 she appeared on the TV Special ‘Around The Beatles’ and in December she made her acting debut in the ITV drama ‘The Rise and Fall of Nellie Brown’.  In January 1965, Ready, Steady, Go! gave Millie Small her own special titled ‘Millie In Jamaica’ which featured Prince Buster, Jimmy Cliff, and Byron Lee.

Dance The Ska
By mid-1964, thanks to the success of Millie Small, a wider British audience had been turned on to the sweet sounds of Jamaican ska. Artist like Jimmy Cliff, The Maytals, Eric Morris, Byron Lee, and Desmond Dekker had all become popular with working class teens both black and white. Ska became the latest dance craze and teenagers could learn how to ‘dance the ska’ with step by step instructions printed on the back of various LPs. The BBC aired the documentary ‘This Is Ska’ which featured numbers by Jimmy Cliff, Prince Buster, The Maytals and Byron Lee. The latter cemented the idea of ska as a dance craze with his 1964 single ‘Jamaican Ska’ which included lyrics that gave instructions on how to do the ska (“swing your arms, shake your hips”). The documentary, hosted by Tony Verity, showed the ‘authentic style’ of the new dance craze, and gave step by step instructions on ska dance moves.

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Rhythm & Blue-Beat.

Ska rhythms slowly began appearing in pop music with an early example being The Beatles’ 1964 song ‘I Call Your Name’. Georgie Fame, who had recorded with Prince Buster, was hugely influenced by ska music and in May 1964 he released the EP ‘Rhythm And Blue-Beat’. Along with a cover of Prince Buster’s song ‘Madness’, the EP also included a version of the Eric Morris song ‘Humpty Dumpty’ which in turn was covered by Tommy Quickly and The Remo 4 as well as Jimmy Nicol And The Shubdubs. These releases gave Britain its first taste of cod-ska and for a short period ska became the latest trend in the British dancehalls. 1964 saw the release of several ska compilation albums, the first of their kind in the UK. They included ‘Fly Flying Ska’, ‘Jamaica Ska’, ‘The Jamaica Ska’ and ‘National Ska’.No dance craze would be complete without novelty dance numbers. Dinah Lee released ‘Do The Blue Beat’ while Ray Rivera released a different song of the same name. The Beazers released the single ‘Blue Beat’ and Brigitte Bond And The Blue Beats recorded ‘Blue Beat Baby’.

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How To Dance The Ska No. 1

After a brief period in the limelight, ska returned to the underground music scene. In cities with large West Indian communities like London, fans of ska music could find Jamaican imported records in their local market places but the majority of record buyers had to rely on British labels that released Jamaican music. In the first half of the 1960s, Blue Beat was by far the most popular of these but by 1965 fans of Jamaican music had a number of labels to choose from.  Island Records was founded by Chris Blackwell in Jamaica in 1959. Chris Blackwell relocated to Britain in 1962 and began releasing music by artists that he had signed in Jamaica. Island Records’ first UK release was ‘Independent Jamaica Calypso’ by Lord Creator, released in June 1962. Discs by Owen Grey, Derrick Morgan and Jimmy Cliff soon followed. The ‘Ska Beat‘ label was founded in London the following year. It was a sub-label of R&B Discs Ltd, a British record company set up in 1959. They released records by the Baba Brooks Orchestra, Tommy McCook, and The Skatalites.

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Island Records.

Rudy, A Message To You
By 1965 the term ‘ska’ was beginning to replace ‘blue beat’ as the name used to describe the Jamaican music but both names were used until the end of the decade with some even considering blue beat and ska to be separate genres. The name ska began to appear more frequently in song titles such as Lord Tanamo’s ‘In The Mood For Ska’, Carlos Malcolm’s ‘Bonanza Ska’ and Baba Brooks Band’s ‘Girl Town Ska’. Another term that began cropping up in ska lyrics was ‘rude boy’ or ‘rudy’. Originating in the poorer sections of Kingston, the rude boy sub-culture of Jamaica was associated with violence and crime and was an increasing problem during the mid-1960s. The Rudies admired

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Laurel Aitken.

American Westerns and Gangster movies as well as the British series of James Bond movies. This was reflected in their natural music of choice, ska. Songs like Roland Alphonso’s take on the James Bond theme and Desmond Dekker’s ‘007 (Shanty Town)’ are prime examples. However, a majority of ska artists were against the rude boy sub-culture in Jamaica and addressed the problem in song. In 1967, Dandy Livingstone recorded ‘Rudy, A Message To You’ which advised “stop your fooling around, time you straighten right out, better think of your future, else you’ll wind up in jail”. In Britain, it was the fashion of the rude boys that had the biggest impact. Mods in London, and later across Britain, began adopting the style of young Jamaica: Short and tidy hairstyles, sharp suits, thin ties, shades, and pork pie or Trilby hats.  Laurel Aitken was an early pioneer of this style in Britain from as early as 1960 but it was with the mods and West Indians in London in the mid-1960s that the look first took off.

Let’s Do Rock Steady

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Alton Ellis.

In 1966 a new style of ska began to emerge when musicians recorded songs with a slowed down tempo. This new sub-genre of ska became known as rock steady. An early example is Alton Ellis’ 1966 single ‘I Have Got A Date’. He followed it with ‘Rock Steady’ in 1967, the first song to refer to the name of the new genre. Born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1938, Alton Ellis began his recording career in 1960 recording for Coxsone Dodd at Studio One. He recorded Jamaican R&B before switching to rock steady in 1966. His biggest success came in 1967 with the release of ‘I Am Still In Love’.
In 1967 Alton Ellis toured the UK with Ken Boothe. The same year also saw Prince Buster touring the UK at the height of his fame. His single ‘Al Capone’, first released in 1965, had gone to number 18 on the UK singles chart in March 1967. His UK tour followed in the spring with one performance at the Marquee Club being recorded and later released as the album ‘Prince Buster On Tour’.

While ska had been fairly underground during the 60s with very few artists becoming mainstream, rock steady brought Jamaican music to the forefront and onto the UK singles chart. The Skatalites had a minor hit with ‘Guns of Navarone’ in April 1967, Desmond Dekker had his first chart success  with ‘007 (Shanty Town)’ which peaked at number 14 in July and The Ethiopians took ‘Train To Skaville’ into the top 40 in September. 1967 also saw a British ska group chart for the first time in the form of The Pyramids. Formed in London by Frank Pitter and Michael Thomas, the band consisted of members of West Indian descent and was originally called The Bees.  As The Bees they recorded a number of singles for Blue Beat and were produced by Laurel Aitken. In the spring of 1967 they supported Prince Buster on his UK tour before being signed to President. They changed their name to The Four Gees and then The West Indians, and the Original Africans before settling on The Pyramids. As The Pyramids they released the single ‘Train Tour To Rainbow City’ in 1967. The single was written and produced by 19-year-old Eddy Grant and peaked at 35 on the UK singles chart in November. These hits, as few as they were, were the first time ska songs had been in the UK charts since 1964.

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Eddy Grant.

Like ska before it, rock steady was more than a genre of music. From the get-go, rock steady was a dance craze. Alton Ellis’ 1967 song ‘Rock Steady’ was the first to mention the new dance. The song opened with the lines: “Better gets ready; come do Rock Steady, you got to do this new dance”.  Dandy Livingstone’s 1967 single ‘Let’s Do Rock Steady’, originally the B-side to ‘We Are Still Rude’, helped cement the idea of rock steady as a dance craze.  Dancers could learn the latest steps from the back of various LPs such as Byron Lee & The Dragonaires’ album “Rock Steady Explosion” and from music newspapers. Although the genre was short lived, it did see a number of compilation albums released including “Get Ready Rock Steady” (1967), “Rock Steady” (1967), “Put It On, It’s Rock-Steady” (1968) and “Rock Steady Coxsone Style” (1968).

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Back cover of ‘Rock Steady Explosion.

Rock steady was also responsible for bringing Jamaican music to the attention of the British music press for the first time in years. Music newspapers such as Melody Maker began publishing a ‘BlueBeat Hot 10’ chart but it would be some time before Jamaican music was considered anything but a novelty and as one Melody Maker reader put it in 1969 –  “joke music”.

Superstonic Sound
With the rise of rock steady, ska took a backseat and by the end of 1967 Blue Beat had stopped releasing singles and shut up shop completely the following year.  New record labels such as Pama and Trojan, both founded in 1967, began releasing Jamaican music. Trojan Records was formed after Lee Gopthal merged his record retail chain Beat & Commercial with Chris Blackwell’s Island Records.  The label took its name from one of Jamaica’s best loved record producers Duke Reid who was known as ‘The Trojan’. Trojan’s first release came in July 1967 with Duke Reid’s single ‘Judge Sympathy’.

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Trojan Records.

In Jamaica, Duke Reid (real name Arthur Reid) had begun his career as a sound system owner in 1953. Sound systems had been a part of Jamaican culture since the late 1940s, playing American R&B and later Jamaican R&B along with calypso and mento before switching to ska. Duke Vin founded England’s first sound system, Duke Vin The Tickler’s, in London in 1955. The sound system consisted of a turntable, one speaker and an amplifier. Count Suckle set up his sound system, The Count Suckle Sound System, the following year which led to England’s first ‘Sound Clash’ in 1958. Sound systems became popular in London in the sixties. Members of the West Indian community would build their own sound systems to provide the community with the latest sounds from back home. These sound systems usually consisted of one or two large speakers around 3-4 feet tall and a turntable. The front of the speaker would often be painted with the name of sound system. Once a week, they would be taken to an indoor public place such as a church hall and a dance would be held, bringing the community together. One example of a late sixties sound system is the Duke Letts Superstonic Sound run by St Leger ‘Duke’ Letts in Brixton, London.

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Duke Letts Superstonic Sound.

Sound systems would play records not just by Jamaican artists but by local talent too. Dandy Livingstone (real name Robert Livingstone Thompson) was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1943 and had moved to the UK at the age of 15. He began recording in 1964 as a duo with Tito ‘Sugar’ Simone. They were billed as Sugar ‘N’ Dandy and their debut, ‘One Man Went To Mow’, was released on the Carnival label in 1964. The duo’s biggest success came later that year with the single ‘What A Life’ that sold 25,000 copies. Dandy Livingstone began recording as Dandy in 1966 and in 1967 he found success with ‘Rudy A Message To You’. The song, although not a hit on the charts, was popular with

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Rico Rodriquez.

England’s rude boys and featured another local talent on trombone. Rico Rodriguez (real name Emmanuel Rodiguez) was born in Havana in Cuba and grew up in Kingston, Jamaica. He became a session musician and began recording for Coxson Dodd in 1956 and later worked for Prince Buster. He recorded his first solo effort, ‘Rico’s Special’, in 1960. He came to England in December 1961 and his debut was ‘Luke Lane Shuffle’ released on Blue Beat. He formed his first group, Rico’s Combo, in 1962. As well as recording with his own group under various names, Rico Rodriguez continued to work as a session musician, playing on records by Laurel Aitken, Prince Buster and Dandy Livingstone.

Do The Reggay

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The Maytals.

During the second half of the sixties, Jamaican music underwent rapid developments. Ska had evolved into rock steady in 1966 and by 1968 rock steady had further evolved into a brand new genre of music. This new music was known as reggay (later spelt reggae) and like rock steady; it started life as a dance craze. The Maytals were the first to mention ‘The Reggay’ in music with their 1968 single ‘Do The Reggay’. ‘Do The Rggay’ is one of three contenders for  the first reggae song. The other two are ‘No More Heartaches’ by The Beltones and ‘Nanny Goat’ by Larry Marshall. Despite the important role all three songs played in the development of Jamaican music, none of them charted in the UK. In fact, not a single Jamaican artist made the UK chart in 1968. The closest it came was when American singer Johnny Nash took the rock steady number ‘Hold Me Tight’ to number five in September. Born in Texas in 1940, Johnny Nash had travelled to Jamaica in 1968 to record rock steady music. While there he met with local talent Bob Marley And The Wailers and signed them to his JAD label. Under the name ‘Bob, Rita and Peter’, the group had their American debut in December 1968 with ‘Bend Down Low’ backed with ‘Mellow Mood’. Both songs had already been released in Britain.

Despite its lack of chart presence, Jamaican music began having an influence on British rock and in London a group of musicians that included John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Eric Clapton were all being influenced by Jamaican sounds. Rock band The Spencer Davis Group signed a recording contract with Chris Blackwell of Island Records in 1964. In 1965 they recorded a rock version of ‘Keep On Running’, a ska song which had originally been recorded by Jackie Edwards. They took the song to the top of the charts in 1966. It was followed by another song written by Jackie Edwards, ‘Somebody Help Me’, which became the group’s second number one single in 1966. British and Jamaican artists had a two way love affair and Jamaican artists recorded covers of British rock songs. Prince Buster was among the first when, in 1964, he used the chorus of The Beatles’ song ‘She Loves You’ in his own song of the same name. A year later The Wailers recorded their version of the Tom Jones song ‘What’s New Pussycat?’ and in 1966 Rita Marley recorded a version of the song ‘The Pied Piper’ which had been recorded by English pop singer Crispian St. Peters.  In 1968, The Beatles recorded the ska-influenced song ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ which was released on their

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The Bedrocks.

‘White Album’ in November.  The song was later recorded by Prince Buster in 1969 by which time it had already been a hit for one of the UK’s first rock steady groups, The Bedrocks. Made up entity of West Indians, The Bedrocks were formed in Leeds in 1966 and began recording in 1968. Their debut single, ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’, was released in 1968 and became a top twenty hit at the beginning of 1969. They were joined in the chart by an all-white group called The Locomotive. They had formed in Birmingham in 1965 and began recording two years later. They recorded a cover version of the Dandy Livingstone song ‘Rudy A Message To You’ in 1967 and followed it up with ‘Rudi’s In Love’ in August 1968. The single peaked at number 25 on the UK charts.

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The Spencer Davis Group.

As the new Jamaican music reggae became increasingly popular towards the end of 1968, ska and rock steady artists began to adapt their repertoires. By 1969, rock steady had become a thing of the past and reggae was here to stay. British musicians were quick to cash in on the popularity of the latest trend. Groups began forming with the sole purpose of covering reggae songs. In Brixton in 1968, a Jamaican singer called Errol Brown and his bassist friend Tony Wilson from Trinidad joined such a group. Calling themselves The Hot Chocolate Band, they recorded a reggae version of ‘Give Peace A Chance’. Before releasing the single, the band sent a copy to the song’s author, John Lennon, for his approval. John Lennon liked their version so much that he offered the band a contract with The Beatles’ record company, Apple. The single was released in October 1969 but failed to chart. Another group, formed in Wolverhampton in 1966, took advantage of the controversy surrounding fans of reggae music at the end of the sixties to attract publicity. Despite being a rock group, Ambrose Slade (later known as Slade) changed their image to match that of the much-feared skinheads.

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Slade

Skinhead Moonstomp
Originally known as ‘peanuts’ or ‘bovver boys’, skinsheads (skins for short) began emerging in London around 1968. Their style of dress was based on the rude boys of Jamaica with a British working class twist.  The short hairstyles were kept but the sharp suits were replaced with polo shirts, jeans with braces, donkey jackets and hobnail boots. Like most youth sub-cultures of the day, skinheads were considered to be a danger to society. Melody Maker reported on the danger of skinheads in February 1969 and in December the BBC aired the documentary ‘Man Alive’ that explored the “truth about Hell’s Angels and Skinheads”. The BBC documentary highlighted how skinheads had moved from fashion to fascism in the space of a year. As the sub-culture spread from

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The Symarip.

London to other working class areas of Britain, it had become less about ska and reggae and more about football hooliganism and racism. While most skinheads had no problem with West Indians, it was Pakistani immigrants that became the victims of the savage ‘Paki bashings’.  As the popularity of skinheads increased, British ska bands began to cater to the new trend. The Symarip re-wrote the lyrics to Derrick Morgan’s ‘Moon Hop’ and turned it into a skinhead anthem under the name ‘Skinhead Moonstomp’. The Symarip became a favourite among skinheads along with Laurel Aitken, The Pioneers, and Desmond Dekker.

Tighten Up

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Desmond Dekker

Desmond Dekker (real name Desmond Dacres) was born in Saint Andrew Parish, Jamaica in 1941. He began his recording career in 1963. Backed by the Beverleys All Stars he released his debut, ‘Honour Your Mother And Father’ both in Jamaica and Britain in 1963. He quickly became popular in Britain with releases on Island Records before moving to Pyramid in 1966. He had his first chart success in 1967 with his single ‘007 (Shanty Town)’ – a favourite among rudies. Desmond Dekker continued to release singles aimed at a rude boy audience that included ‘Rudie Got Soul’ and ‘Rude Boy Train’ (both from 1967). His most successful year was 1969 with two of his singles making the top ten in the UK. Released in 1968, ‘Israelites’ became the UK’s first reggae number one in April 1969. It was followed by ‘It Miek’ which peaked at number seven in July – making it the first hit single to include Jamaican patois in the lyrics. The success of the two singles led to Desmond Dekker moving to England in 1969 – making him the latest in a line of talented Jamaicans that came to live and record in Britain in the 1960s. He made several appearances on British television, including five separate appearances on Top Of The Pops in 1969 alone.
Desmond Dekker wasn’t alone in the charts, reggae hits made the chart throughout 1969. Johnny Nash took his version of ‘Cupid’ to number six in April and Tony Tribe had a minor hit with his version of ‘Red, Red Wine’ in August. November was reggae’s most successful month of 1969. The month saw top ten hits by three Jamaican artists. The singles chart from 23 November had Jimmy Cliff at number 7 with ‘Wonderful World, Beautiful People’ followed by The Upsetters at number 8 with ‘Return of Django’ and at number 9 was Harry J. All Stars with ‘The Liquidartor’. The Pioneers also had a top 30 hit in November with ‘Long Shot Kick The Bucket’.
With so many reggae numbers making the charts, compilation albums were bound to follow. Among the first was ‘Reggae In The Grass’, released by Studio One in 1968. Others, such as ‘Reggae Hits The Town’ (1968) and ‘Reggae Time’ (1969), soon followed. The most popular of these reggae compilation albums was the first in a series of ‘Tighten Up’ albums released by Trojan Records in 1969 with Volume 2 following later in the year.

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Tighten Up.
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Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry

During its formative years, reggae underwent massive developments. Artists such as Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry introduced new elements to the genre such as sampling and early examples of dub. Johnny Nash was one of the first reggae artists to add strings to his recordings beginning with 1968’s ‘Hold Me Tight’. The 1960s also saw the rise of DJs such as King Stitt and Hugh Roy (U-Roy) as well as female artists such as Rita Marley, Dawn Penn and Nora Dean. Stars like Prince Buster with his 1969 song ‘Wreck A Pum Pum’ and Max Romeo with his 1968 song ‘Wet Dream’ brought a rude element to reggae. The latter was extremely popular among skinheads and became a top ten hit in the UK in August 1969, despite being banned by the BBC and spending 25 weeks moving up and down the chart. By the end of the decade, reggae had begun to move away from its association with the skinheads in Britain and the rude boys of Jamaica and began its lasting relationship with Rastafarianism. Early examples being Laurel Aitken’s ‘Hailes Selaise’ and ‘Selassie’ by The Reggae Boys, both released in 1969.

Rocksteady Bedrock – The Bedrocks 1966 – 1971

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The Bedrocks.

The Bedrocks were a six piece soul and reggae group formed in the Chapeltown area of Leeds around 1966. They were originally called The Bedrock Sunshine Band, taking their name from the fictional town of Bedrock from the popular cartoon series The Flintstones. For the majority of the group’s career the members were:

Trevor Wisdom (organ and vocals)
Owen Wisdom (bass and vocals)
William Hixon (lead guitar and vocals)
Leroy Mills (trumpet)
Paul Douglas (tenor saxophone)
Reginald ‘Reggie’ Challenger (drums)

All six members of the group were West Indian migrants who had come to England from various Caribbean islands;  three from Jamaica (Trevor, Owen and Paul), two from St.Kitts (Reggie and Leroy) and one from Montserrat (William). The Bedrock Sunshine Band were just one of the black groups playing in Leeds at the time but their unique style made them stand out from the rest. Drummer Reggie Challenger was the last to join the group, replacing original  drummer Rick.

 

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Reggie Challenger.

Having had a passion for drumming from an early age, Reggie took up the instrument while living in Leeds. “My forte was soul music” he said in 2017 “we call it soul drumming, with a lot of emphasis on your bass drum.” Around 1965 he began playing with a band named The Opells, playing in pubs around Leeds. It was at a gig at the Spinning Disc in 1966 that Reggie first played with The Bedrock Sunshine Band when their drummer, Rick, was unable to play. In 2017 Reggie recalled “we had a gig to play there and because their drummer had put his hand through a plate glass window…he couldn’t play, so they asked me”. Playing with The Bedrock Sunshine Band proved to be a challenge for Reggie. “I had never played with them before” he recalled in 2017 “they had what they call a running show, non-stop. When they start off they never stopped, they go from one into one into one.” This style of playing was unfamiliar with Reggie who only had a day to learn it.

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The Bedrocks.

Reggie was taken on as the band’s regular drummer. In 1968 Reggie gave Melody Maker a quick history of the group. “We have all played with other groups before but never had any success” he told the music newspaper. They played one night stands in pubs around Leeds. (In 2017 Reggie named The White Swan and The Mucky Duck as two of the pubs they played at).

The Bedrock Sunshine Band shortened their name to The Bedrocks in December 1967 and turned professional around April 1968. The band would occasionally rehearse in a friend’s (Mr and Mrs. Wynter’s) basement on Cowper Street in Chapeltown.  They took on a local man, Stanley Sher, as their manager/agent. “He was an agent actually” Reggie recalled in 2017 “He used to book us to go play. He was our agent and a manager, but he was more of an agent as opposed to a manager.” Stanley began booking the band gigs as far as Barnsley and London. “We have been playing round the country for a year” Reggie told Melody Maker in December 1968 “but people who hadn’t seen us didn’t want to know. But when we did get a booking, the audience liked our music”. Reggie went on to tell the newspaper what music the band played. “We play soul, ska and blue beat” he said “that’s what we like” he added. Once the band had played a venue once, they could almost grantee a re-booking. “We always got re-booked” Reggie told Melody Maker in 1968. To travel the country, the band needed transport and so bought an unused ambulance to take them from gig to gig. A road manager, Ian Masson, was hired to get the band around. 

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Trevor Wisdom.

The Bedrocks often performed with a singer named Lou Prinze. Originally from Barbados, Lou Prinze lived in Birmingham and performed calypso music under the name Lord Prinze. On several occasions he had entered the annual Calypso King contest held during the Leeds West Indian Carnival from 1967 to 1972. By October 1968 the group had built up a nation-wide following. They made their TV debut on the BBC 2 programme ‘Colour Me Pop’ which aired on 9 November 1968. On that occasion they were billed as ‘Lew Prinz and The Bedrocks’ [sic].

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TV listing, 9.11.1968

The Beatles’ ‘White Album’ was released on 22 November and included the ska influenced number ‘Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da’ which was quickly added to The Bedrocks’ repertoire. It was during a gig at Barnsley Town Hall that The Bedrocks first got spotted in the autumn of 1968. “Somebody was there who liked us and asked about us” Reggie recalled in 2017. After speaking to Stanley, the band were invited to play some gigs in London. In 1968 Reggie told Melody Maker what happened next. “We’d played in London a couple of times and on one of our gigs, Norman Smith of EMI heard us and liked the band.” By the time Norman Smith had contacted the band they had returned to Leeds.

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Paul Douglas.

“He asked us to come to London and record a song he’d heard” Reggie told Melody Maker in 1968. ‘Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da’ was one of the songs they played the night Norman Smith saw them. Norman Smith had liked what he heard but had one problem; he didn’t feel any of the three singers were good enough for recording purposes. Instead the band recuritted singer Lou Prinze to perform the lead vocals. Still an unofficial member of the band, Lou was used for session work only and made very few public appearances with the band, and was rarely mentioned in any publicity.

The Bedrocks also had a problem, their ambulance had broken down and they had no money. “We had spent all our money the last time we’d been in London” Reggie explained to Melody Maker in 1968. Not wanting to miss the opportunity they managed to borrow £25 and hired a van to take them to London. They arrived in London, penniless, in early December 1968. As Reggie explained in 1968 “We had no money at all. We didn’t eat for the two days we were in London. We used a club called the London Cavern to rehearse the Beatles’ number in and they let us kip down on the floor”.

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Leroy Mills

After signing a contract with Columbia records, the band’s first recording session took place at EMI studios on 3 December. During the four hour session they recorded both sides of their debut single. With Norman Smith behind the production desk, The Bedrocks recorded a version of ‘Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da’ and a song written by the band’s booking agent/manager Stanley Sher. The single, ‘Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da’ b/w ‘Lucy’ was recorded, mixed, pressed and in the shops within two days. By which time, the band had already travelled back to Leeds.

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Lou Prinze.

 

William Hixon
William Hixon.

The single received a lot of radio play and first appeared in the charts on 18 December at number 34. A version by the Scottish band Marmalade had already been in the charts two weeks and was currently at number nine. “Everyone likes the record” Reggie told Melody Maker in 1968. “The song’s good and it’s a good number for a West Indian band to do.” The following week the single had rose to number 30 and by the first week in January 1969 it had reached number 20 while Marmalade’s version was number one. Looking back in 2017 Reggie suspected some foul play. “They actually bought themselves into the charts” he claimed before adding “If you had the money you could go and say ‘listen, I want to buy 10,000’ and then it gets into the charts and once it gets into the charts people will buy it and then you just sell them back at a price. And that’s what used to happen.” The Marmalade version wasn’t the band’s only competition. The Spectrum and Joyce Bond also released versions of the song in 1968. However, only Marmalade and The Bedrocks charted in the UK. In December 1968, Melody Maker reported that “The Bedrocks were slightly disappointed that the Marmalade’s version beat them into the charts” and quoted Reggie as saying “But we believe in live and let live”.

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Melody Maker, 28.12.1968

The Bedrocks weren’t alone in thinking their version was better than Marmalade’s. In December 1968 one newspaper reported “I would have thought the Bedrocks’ rendering was by far the best. The Marmalade have, however,  the name behind them and that, it seems, is that.” The success of ‘Ob-la-di,Ob-la-da’ led to the band making several TV and radio appearances in late 1968 and early 1969.  A black and white promo video was filmed at Kirkgate Market in Leeds.

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Record review, December 1968.

By January 1969 The Bedrocks had reached the attention of The Beatles, in particular Paul McCartney and his then girlfriend Linda Eastman who discussed the song during The Beatles’ Let It Be sessions in January 1969. The couple agreed The Bedrocks’ version of the song was their favourite, putting it above versions by The Marmalade and Arthur Conley. The Bedrocks even managed to meet the Fab Four. In 2017 Reggie recalled the meeting: “We did a programme for African TV in London and they (The Beatles) were there. You know, John, Paul, George and Ringo. Because they liked our version of it, because they said it sounded more authentic and more what they would like it to be, a bit more upbeat.”

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Dutch single.

On the official UK charts, The Bedrock’s debut single didn’t chart higher than 20 and beginning in the second week of 1969 the single started slipping down the charts. By February it had left the charts completely. However, the NME Top 30 from 22 January 1969 shows The Bedrocks at number 17 – their highest position. The Bedrocks’ debut did better outside of the UK reaching number one in Japan and number two in South Africa and Australia.The single also reached the top ten in Sweden. In December 1968 The Bedrocks had high hopes. Reggie told Melody Maker “We’re hoping that this is the start for us. And that we can go on from here and make a lot more records”.

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Swedish Top Ten 1968.
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NME Chart, 22.1.1969

More records followed with The Bedrocks returning to EMI studios in 1969.There was even talk of an album. On 3 January the Newcastle Journal ran a story about three local songwriter, brothers Alan and Graeme Nicholson and Irving Bamford, who had been successful in selling some of their songs. It was reported that Dave Hunter was to record ‘I’ll Get By’ and that The Bedrocks were to record ‘You’ll Come Back To Me’ for their forthcoming album. If the song was ever recorded, it was never realised nor was an album. When asked in 2017  Reggie Challenger didn’t recall any mention of an album.

For their following single they recorded a version of the rugby song ‘The Lovedene Girls’. The B-side, ‘I’ve Got A Date – La La La’, was written by the band’s saxophone player Paul Douglas. Once again the single was produced by Norman Smith and was released in the UK on 7 February 1969. It was also the band’s only release in America, released in March 1969. With its up-tempo ska beat and sing-a-long chorus, ‘The Lovedene Girls’, had all the hallmarks of a hit and seemed like the perfect follow-up single for ‘Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da’. Unfortunately, a lack of airplay meant the single failed to chart and one reviewer called it “pointless”.

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Record Review, February 1969.

Not everyone felt the same way however. Matt Nodwell, the manager of the Irish band The Philosophers, had heard the song on Gay Byrne’s ‘New Releases’ radio show and liked it. He felt it would be perfect for The Philosophers and they recorded it as a comedy number but stuck to the ska beat of the Bedrocks’ version. The Philosophers version, released in mid-May, also made no impact on the charts.

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Newspaper Ad, December 1968.
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Newspaper Ad, February 1969.

The Bedrocks continued to perform across the country, playing their hit single. December 1968 saw them performing at the All Fours Club in Liverpool where they were billed as ‘The Bedrocks with Lou Prince’ [sic]. In February 1969 they were at The Newmarket Discotheque in Bridgewater, Somerset with plenty of other gigs in between. In July they were the headlining act at the ‘Soul Mania’ concert held at Torquay Town Hall. The same month saw a newspaper ad, with photo, declaring that the group were “now accepting cabaret engagements”.

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Soul Mania ticket, 1969.
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Soul Mania poster, 1969.
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Newspaper ad, July 1969.

The Bedrocks received a couple of mentions in the entertainment newspaper The Stage. One from October 1969 referred to them as “one of clublands better groups”. It also announced the release of their third single, a reggae cover of Sam Cooke’s 1960 song ‘Wonderful World’.

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Press cutting, October 1969.

The B-side, ‘Before You Came’, was again written by a band member. The funky soul number was written by the band’s bass player Trevor Wisdom. Both sides were again produced by Norman Smith and both sides had hit potential and the single received good reviews. One reviewer wrote “I am very critical of reggae music nowadays as there is so much rubbish being released lately. This one isn’t so bad.” Another reviewer wrote that the single “may well increase the bank balance of a group that has already had its fair share of hits”. But the British public were not yet used to reggae and, despite an appearance on BBC radio the day of release, a lack of radio play meant the single went almost unnoticed.

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Review, October 1969.
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Record review, October 1969.

 

1969 was, without a debut, the peak of the Bedrocks’ career. A series of events during the following year however would lead to the band’s downfall. The first two months of 1970 was a tough time for the band. New Year’s Eve saw them performing a gig at the Scene Around Discoteque in Glossop, Derbyshire. After the gig, the band members helped roadie Ian Masson upload their equipment into the van. As the equipment was uploaded, a drunk driver crashed into the back of their stationery vehicle causing serious injuries to guitariest William Hixon. He was taken to Aston-under-Lyne Hospital. Both his legs had been crushed in the accident. His left leg was badly fractured and his right leg needed to be amputated below the knee. The story made national press, appearing in several newspapers the following day. A spokesman at the hospital reported that William was “rather poorly”.  The almost identical news reports all give William’s name as ‘Hickson Cadwell’. William stopped playing with the band while he recovered. 

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Press cuttings, January 1970.
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Press cutting, February 1970.

 The band continued to travel the country without him and by the time he had fully recovered the Bedrocks had broken up. Known to his friends as ‘Lanks’ due to his height, William Hixon continued to play guitar and built up a large collection of Jazz LPs. He passed away in August 2008. The band’s bad luck continued into February. On 22 February 1970, the group’s van crashed in Aldershot, hospitalising their driver Ian Masson with a broken leg. A mechanical breakdown led to them missing a gig later in the month. In April a newspaper reviewer wrote “The Bedrocks just can’t escape bad luck.” No longer performing with the group took a financial toll on William. To help him out, a charity concert was held on 6 March. Magicians Stanley Watson and Diane were the star attraction at the concert held  in Farnborough Town Hall. Later in the month,  The Bedrocks performed at The Cobweb in Hastings. An advertisement in the local newspaper described the band as “6 Specialists of Soul and Beat”. 

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Press cutting, March 1970.
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Ad for The Cobweb in Hastings, March 1970.

The Bedrocks’ fourth single, ‘Hit Me On The Head’ was released on 10 April. ‘Hit Me On The Head’ was another up-tempo ska number with a sing-a-long chorus. It was the kind of number the band had now become known for. It was backed with an almost instrumental Reggae song, ‘Musical Clowns’, written by Trevor Wisdom. ‘Musical Clowns’ showcases an early example of toasting – talking or rapping over a rhythm (riddim). The single didn’t receive good reviews and failed to chart.  

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Owen Wisdom.
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Record review, April 1970.
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The Bedrocks in March 1970.

The Bedrocks’ fifth and last single, ‘Stone Cold Dead In The Market’, was released on 17 July 1970. It was a cover of the calypso song composed by Harry Houdini. For the B-side they recorded a song written by the band’s trumpet player Leroy Mills, ‘Every Night And Every Day’. For this single The Bedrocks were no longer produced by Norman Smith and instead Gene Latter arranged and produced both sides. Again, the single failed to chart and the group never recorded again. The band remained popular and continued to perform live. An Ad from October 1970 bills them as “Britain’s No. 1 Soul and Reggae group, Stars of TV and Radio”.

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Newspaper Ad, October 1970.

In November 1971 they returned to Hastings to perform at a student’s dance held at the Aquarius Club. The Bedrocks eventually broke up around 1972. 

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Newspaper Ad, November 1971.

 

Reggie Challenger continued to play drums and even tried his hand at steel pans, becoming a member of the Esso Steel Band. During the 1980s he was a compere for the Leeds West Indian Carnival Queen Show. Bass player Owen Wisdom also tried his hand at steel pans. In 1975 he travelled to Dundee in Scotland with singer Cleveland Walker to join a steel band there. The pair didn’t play with the steel band for long and instead joined Scottish musicians to form their own band, Rokotto. In November 1977, ‘Blues & Soul’ magazine reported that the band’s name was “the word for ‘making love’ in some African dialect”. The multi-racial band also included Stuart Garden from Perth on keyboards, Derek Henderson on guitar,  drummer Howard ‘Bongo’ McLeod and Hugh Paul and Sister B. (real name Lorna Bannon) on vocals, all from Dundee. The Funk band were signed to State Records in August 1976 and released their debut single ‘Get Up And Dance Now’ in May 1977. Their follow-up single, ‘Boogie On Up’ was released in October 1977. The single reached number 40 on the UK singles charts and the group appeared on Top Of The Pops. In November Rokotto went on a UK Tour with Motown legends Four Tops. The tour included a concert at the Albert Hall in London on 9 November. Another tour in 1978 saw them share the stage with Brass Construction. By July 1978 the band had added two more members, Neil Ferguson and Geoff Inns had both previously been members of the group Bus Co.

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Owen Wisdom as a member of Rokotto, 1977.

A self-titled album was released in 1978. The album’s closer, a cover of ‘Brick House’ showcases Owen Wisdom’s bass playing. The album also showcases Owen’s skill as a songwriter. Four of the album’s ten tracks were co-written by Owen Wisdom, Cleveland Walker and Howard McLeod. The team also wrote a number of B-sides for the band. Rokotto continued to release singles until 1981 and had a second top fifty hit in 1978 with ‘Funk Theory’ which peaked at number 49. The success of ‘Funk Theory’ lead to the band making another appearance on Top Of The Pops. The band made several more appearances on TV including appearances on The Entertainers and Roadshow Disco. Rokotto broke up in 1982. State Records released ‘The Best of Rokotto’ album in 1996. Owen Wisdom went on to found Wisdom Coaches in Leeds. In 2007 Cleveland Walker began performing as a Barry White tribute act called ‘Cleveland Walker and the Love Disciples’ The Love Disciples included Owen Wisdom on bass. Lou Prinze formed the soca and highlife group The Macassars in 1985. As a touring group, The Macassars found success across Europe and released an EP in 1986.

The true legacy of The Bedrocks as pioneers of reggae music in the UK is often overlooked. Today, the band are remembered for their hit single ‘Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da’, which many consider to be the best version of the song. Apart from several appearances on sixties completions, The Bedrocks’ music has never been released on CD. However, fans can find most of the group’s singles on Youtube and ‘Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da’ can be heard on Spotify where it has over a million plays.

Full Discography 

All releases on Columbia

  • Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da/ Lucy (DB 8516) 6.12.1968
  • The  Lovedene Girls/  I’ve Got A Date – La La La (DB 8539) 7.2.1969
  • Wonderful World/ Before You Came (DB 8620) 10.10.1969
  • Hit Me On The Head/ Musical Clowns (DB 8669) 10.4.1970
  • Stone Cold Dead In The Market/ Every Night And Every Day (DB 8699) 17.7.1970

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