Monday, 17 December 2012

Get a No. 1 cut, pull on yer Doc Martens and yer braces - and prepare to do the reggae!

Theophilus Beckford
I’ve long believed that the first ska record was recorded in New Orleans by Fats Domino – namely “Be My Guest", which reached No. 8 in the US charts in October 1959: walking bass, guitar providing the accent on the upbeat, joyous horns. It is perfect (for proof, click here). However, I may have to bow to the claims of the splendidly-named Theophilus Beckford, whose rather more laid-back “Easy Snapping” (listen here) was supposedly also released in 1959 (although Beckford has claimed 1956 and some have it listed as 1960).

Well, it doesn’t really doesn’t matter, and, given that the Fat Man was one of the most successful recording artists of the 20th Century, he doesn’t need any more plaudits. So, Mr. Beckford, take a bow.

Whoever got there first, Jamaican Ska - and its successors, Rocksteady and early Reggae – had an enormous and almost entirely beneficial impact on the UK music scene, having, weirdly, almost entirely bypassed America. Obviously, Millie’s “My Boy Lollipop” was the first ska record most of us heard. I think the next big hit was Romford boy Chris Andrews' rather lumpy “Yesterday Man” in 1965. Then there was a bit of a lull, before skinheads  embraced Ska/Reggae as their musical genre of choice in late ‘67/early ’68.

After that, it seemed to be everywhere for a while, including the Grønmarks' kitchen where, for some odd reason, our ancient but beatylicious Blaupunkt phonogram ended its days. A friend lent me Prince Buster’s 1968 FABulous (sic) Greatest Hits album and, when nobody was around, I used to whack up oiur mighty record player's industrial-strength bass control and do that simple, clod-hopping reggae stomp that suited people like me who couldn’t actually dance (see a sample here).

I won’t pretend to have turned into a life-long adherent of Jamaican music – but I still love the stuff from that odd era when white working-class English boys adopted a musical genre which was entirely the preserve of the black immigrants whom skinheads supposedly despised (Jamaican popular culture has once more been adopted by working class youth, many of whom have even adopted “gangsta” speech patterns - plus ça change...)

Here, in no particular order, are some of my favourite Jamaican classics, starting with the genre's first true superstar:

Here's Lee 'Scratch" Perry's houseband, The Upsetters:

The Pioneers created possibly my favourite all-time Jamaican disc:

When it comes to favourites, Toots and the Maytals weren't far behind with this heart-rending tale of police oppression:

Here, Symarip pays tribute to the thugs we spent our mid-teens avoiding:

The soundtrack album of the Jimmy Cliff film, The Harder They Come, included a number of classics, including this moody thumper from Scotty:

Intensified! an album of '60s Ska classics released in 1979 introduced us to tons of great tracks most of us had never heard before, including this one from Baba Brooks:

And because it's impossible to get enough of Prince Buster, here's the mighty original of Madness's first hit:

Here, David and Ansell Collins wear the sort of outfits habitually sported by popular entertainers in the 1970s (for reasons best known to themselves):

Susan Cadogan did a great job on this 1975 Lee Perry-produced classic:

Now that we've definitely moved into the realm of reggae, I'll leave you with my favourite Bob Marley track:


  1. "My Girl Josephine" has more of a ska or blue beat feel to it,but was recorded a year or so later.
    Nice post:takes me back to the Walton Hop,The Blue Orchid Croydon and later on The Patio in Wimbledon(I defy anyone to tell me where the last one was located.)And various other locations in sarf London.

    1. Yes, indeed, that and "I've Been Around" both sound like pure Ska to me.

      The Patio? Sarf Wimbledon, one presumes?

  2. And not forgetting the Suite Ballroom in Purley, the scene of many a sordid teenage encounter before the evening ended in pointless skinheadery.

    Presumably it was simply good taste that made you leave out "Wet Dream" by Max Romeo, or "A record by Max Romeo" as the BBC termed it for Top of the Pops purposes. I hadn't listened to "Long Shot Kick the Bucket" for years so thank you for the reintroduction to the soundtrack of a partly misspent youth. In the interests of balance, it's worth making the point that there was a fair amount of ska and reggae crap too. If you can find Mel and Kim's version of " Spinning Wheel" produced by Lee Perry, you'll never forget the experience. Lyrically, Benjamin Zephyr Zodiac wes an enormous debt to Big Youth and his "Natty No Jester", who apparently "no come from Manchester".

    Great post.

    1. "Wet Dream" got left out simply because I always found it boring.

      Thank you for recommending Mel and Dave's "Spinning Wheel". It is truly abysmal. Lee must have run out of ganja, or had access to too much of it.

      And the Big Youth number has BZZ's fingerprints all over it - especially the very poignant admission: "no wear polyester" (which, of course, rhymes - significantly - with "Manchester").

      Benjamin's been very quiet recently, I must say. I wonder what he's up to.

    2. The Patio was just by the Great Western pub opposite Wimbledon train station and was one of the manor's premier shebeens with links,allegedly,to the Richardsons and other illegal drinking dens in Catford.Entrance was by word of mouth and teeny boppers and skin heads were unlikely to gain admittance.In order to try and evade the licensing laws a portion of the dance floor was permanently set with half a dozen tables sporting the full monty of plates and cutlery waiting for the diners that would never arrive.Music was thus clearly peripheral to other activities,except for one seemingly endless summer when Typically Tropical's 'Barbados was played relentlessly.It was raided and closed in 1975.