I bought a lot of reggae this year. At the end of 2019 I found a copy of a 12 voiced by an old friend, and this sent me off down memory lane. I`d written a little about our school days in South London, so I thought I`d dig out some tunes and write a little more. For comparison I re-read Alex Wheatle`s East Of Acre Lane – his account of the Brixton Riots is super sound – and that sent me trawling 70s and 80s Jah Shaka play-lists. Music is always central to the story. Then the pandemic hit, panned out, and for a while reggae, and dub, was all I listened to. Comforted by the bass, and encouraged – not to give up – by lyrics that railed against Babylon…
The size of Lee Perry`s archive would appear to be infinite. While I own a fair bit of Perry-produced material already, every year seems to yield reissued sides that have either sat for eons on wants lists, or are so damn strange that they can’t be ignored. 2020 was no exception, and Scratch continued to demonstrate his business savvy, with the same cut often licensed to different labels across differing formats – comps, 7s and 12s. Studio 16`s latest installment of their Disco Devil series – Volume 5 – featured two extended mixes of Junior Murvin tunes that I`d been after for a while, namely the tear-jerking Memories, and Cross Over`s call for universal understanding.
Truth, Fact & Correct`s Babylon Deh Pon Fire appeared on Disco Devil Volume 4, and then on a 45 from Belgium’s Roots Vibration.
Roots Vibration were also one of the two labels to reissue former Black Ark rarity Seskain Molenga & Kalo Kawongolo`s Roots From The Congo – the other being Superior Viaduct off-shoot, Antarctica Starts Here.
VP put Jah Shaka Black Ark favourite, Guidance, on a Record Store Day 12. Pressure Sounds did the decent thing with Bree Daniels` Oh Me Oh My.
Another Perry tune that I`d been looking for – at a decent price – for an age, was Pussy Galore. Its tongue-in-cheek slackness could be found in a Soul Jazz boxset titled Studio One 007 – a collection of 60s and 70s TV / film themes, subjected to ska covers. Other personal standouts were Jackie Mittoo`s too funky Hang `Em High, and the otherworldly rock & roll exotica of The Soul Brothers` James Bond Danger Man.
Perry also surfaced as one of the guests on Denise Sherwood’s dynamite debut LP, This Road, released in cahoots with Prince Fatty`s label, Evergreen. The track Uncertain Times couldn’t have been more prophetic.
France’s Booker Gee covered The Soul Brothers` Granny Scratch Scratch, and Soul Jazz put out two more Studio One 12s – essential double-headers from Booker’s spiritual mentor, Mr. Mittoo, and Wailing Souls. Pairing Oboe with Wall Street and Trouble Maker with Run My People.
Further AA-attacks came from Greensleeves, who partnered more sought-after Jah Shaka sanctioned sides in the form of Wayne Wade`s Poor & Humble, Bunny Lie Lie`s Babylonian and Keith Hudson’s Felt We Felt The Strain.
Jamwax released a few things but it was the twin talents of Robert Ffrench and Shortie Ranks that truly shone for me.
Music On Vinyl moved a lot of reggae in 2020, and for me the prize was Rod Taylor`s His Imperial Majesty – put together in a 10” package containing takes by Jah Grundy, and Michael “Mikey Dread” Campbell, it was worth the price alone for King Tubby`s spoken intro on the version, Dread All The Way.
If you were after something a tad less traditional, something left of centre, then there was Tropical Energy’s groovy La Destinee and Mwanamke Mwafrika`s African Woman Abroad, both reissued by Common Ground International, with the latter mixed by Mikey Dread and Mad Professor.
If you needed Linn drums popping, and synths soaring, your divas a little more “disco”, Numero released the Dhaima retrospective, Love Lives Forever, and Isle Of Jura edited Yvonne Archer`s vamp on Chaka`s Ain`t Nobody.
On post punk dub front Staubgold`s repress of Vivian Goldman`s Launderette / Private Armies 45 was a steal and Alternative TV`s Life After Life, on Ethbo, was a cute 7 that I personally dug.
Before leaving the unburied treasure I need to give a shout out to Freddie McKay`s Bring Back The Good Old Days, on Typhoon – a song that, now discovered, I simply can’t stop playing.
It wasn’t exactly new, but fresh label Chrome launched with the release of Acid Hall. I think it was the first time that the 20 year-old rhythm made it to widely available vinyl, and proceeds from the 45 righteously went to the Windrush Justice Fund.
As far as new music went, as well as that Denise Sherwood LP, Gaudi`s 100 Years Of The Theremin, on Dubmission, also got a lot of spins. Celebrating the instrument`s centenary, the record, which features collaborations with Dennis Bovell, Mad Professor, and Denise`s dad, Adrian, transcended any idea of novelty – particularly on the follow-up single, a cover of Sam Carty`s Milte Hi Ankhen / Bird In Hand.
Modern, increasingly heavier, sounds were emitted in the twisted shapes of Kibir La Amlak`s Ascension Rock, on Whodemsound, and Toni Wobble`s Like A Fish, on Basscomesaveme. ZamZam entertained with the almost industrial stomp of Dayzero`s Orbit Dub.
Favourites from time returned with killer 12s – the Disciples teaming up with producer / flautist Don Fe for the spiritual Revelation, overseen by Jah Fingers, and Smith & Mighty recruiting vocalist Dan Ratchet, for future classic, Love Is The Key, on Pinch`s Punch Drunk.
Reggae 2020 Part 1 / Lovers
Dhaima – Reggae On Sunset – Numero
Junior Murvin – Memories – Studio 16
Robert Ffrench – I Am Wondering – Jamwax
Shortie Ranks – Dance In A Skateland – Jamwax
Dhaima – Feel No Way – Numero
Edison Electric – Acid Hall – Chrome
Bree Daniels – Oh Me Oh My – Pressure Sounds
KC White – No No No – Reggae Fever
Yvonne Archer – Aint Nobody (Isle Of Jura Edit) – Isle Of Jura
Tropical Energy – La Destinee – Common Ground International
Wailing Souls – Trouble Maker – Soul Jazz
Junior Murvin – Cross Over – Studio 16
Smith & Mighty – Love Is The Key – Punch Drunk
Reggae 2020 Part 2 / Dub
Kibir La Amlak – Twists & Turns Dub – Whodemsound
Gaudi – Cinematic Dub – Dubmission
Toni Wobble – Dub Like Water (Senor C Mix) – Basscomesaveme
Black Ark Players – Guidance – VP
Jackie Mittoo – Oboe – Soul Jazz
Gaudi – Theremin In Hand – Dubmission
King Tubby – Dread All The Way – Music On Vinyl
12 Tribes Of Israel – Bury The Devil – Common Ground International
Jacin – My Country (Melodica Cut) – Roots Vibration
Disciples – Revelation (Dub 4) – Jah Fingers
Sub Basics – Walk & Skank – Lion Charge
Dayzero – Orbit Dub – Zam Zam Sounds
Disrupt – Chip On Fire – Jahtari
Booker Gee – Granny Scratch Scratch – Gee Recordings
Jackie Mittoo – Hang Em High – Soul Jazz
Reggae 2020 Part 3 / Roots
Star The Marshall – Natty Plant It – Horus
Wayne Wade – Poor And Humble – Greensleeves
Denise Sherwood – Uncertain Times – Evergreen
Wailing Souls – Run My People – Soul Jazz
Bunny Lie Lie – Babylonian – Greensleeves
Rod Taylor – His Imperial Majesty – Music On Vinyl
Freddie McKay – Bring Back The Good Old Days – Typhoon
Truth Fact & Correct – Babylon Deh Pon Fire – Roots Vibration
Seskain Molenga & Kalo Kawongolo – Bad Food – Roots Vibration
Vivian Jackson – Conquering Lion – Pressure Sounds
Light Of Saba – Everyday – Light Of Saba
Ovations – Too Much War – LGM International Record
Keith Hudson – Felt We Felt The Strain – Greensleeves