Documentary about reggae's influence on British music and society, featuring Big Youth, Max Romeo, Linton Kwesi Johnson, The Specials, Dennis Bovell, Aswad, Steel Pulse and more.
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When Jamaican music first arrived here in the '60s,
it spoke mainly to the West Indian community.
Ska and early reggae were little more than novelties,
though they offered a new soundtrack for the working class teens, black and white.
But during the '70s, British reggae came out on the streets.
It joined forces with rock and then punk,
a rebel sound that was changing British music.
# Him kick de bucket... #
Reggae took on Babylon and, by the '80s, had become a mirror for
the cultural and racial changes that were transforming Britain...
# In the first race... #
..while Britain transformed and absorbed reggae into the mainstream.
# Get up, get up
# In the first race
# And him pull up the place
# Him kick de bucket... #
The Real Thing, Whenever You Want My Love.
And that's riding up the charts.
And now from sunny Liverpool to the sunny Caribbean with
the first reggae record ever to make number one.
Desmond Dekker and the Israelites.
# Get up in the morning slaving for bread, sir
# So that
# Every mouth can be fed
# The Israelites
# Get up in the morning slaving for bread, sir
# So that every mouth can be fed
# Oh-oh... #
Israelites was the first reggae number one,
reaching many who had never even heard the word reggae before.
# My wife and my kids they pack up and leave me
# "Darling" she said "I was yours to receive"... #
Desmond Dekker was like a breath of fresh air.
# The Israelites... #
He just sailed to the top of the charts with Israelites.
And I remember thinking it was, you know, a pop song with a reggae beat.
It made us want to be like that.
# I get up in the morning slaving for bread, sir
# So that every mouth can be fed... #
It was slightly different to a lot of the other records, wasn't it?
It had a bit of attitude to it and a bit of a strut.
It was a bit tougher than what you were generally hearing on the radio.
He was right at the right time, you know, the way he used to open his mouth.
-"It mek you haccidentally fall."
You know, brilliant lyrics.
Great hardcore reggae at the time.
# After a storm there must be a calming
# You catch me in the palm you sound your alarm... #
The Israelites and the hits, you know, that was my introduction to reggae.
You know, I was fascinated about how do you play it.
You know, even as early as that, I had the idea of merging
rock music with reggae music, and finding some sort of middle ground.
# Poor me, Israelites... #
Hits like Israelites may have sounded like novelty music at the time,
but they inspired a new generation with a taste for reggae, which they would eventually make their own.
I think people forget that there was this golden period in the late '60s, particularly early '70s,
where there was a lot of particularly melodic
reggae tunes having top 20 hits.
Hit the spot!
Black people on the telly period in the '60s and '70s, even if they were a criminal,
we'd be all... I was going to say ringing each other up, but we didn't even have phones in those days.
But we'd be knocking on each other's doors, "Black man on the telly, black man on the telly!"
If they were singing great music, even better.
Work! Work! Work! Work!
Your thing, baby, your thing.
On a twist spin, baby.
So by the time Dave and Ansell Collins had come along and was
doing a kind of Booker T, with a James Brown kind of voice,
"Huh! Hit it! I've made it! Uh!
Too much, I like it, huh!
What really got me was the fans.
We had to actually run for our lives.
You know, screaming and shouting
and grabbing and tearing off shirts
and all them things, you know, it was crazy but we enjoyed it.
I am the magnificent...
They would be banging on the door, they would be banging down the door,
and you're saying, "Man, these people are crazy."
It was a bit surprising, as well, to us at the time, because we never thought that English people
had so much oomph
where the music is concerned.
In the early '70s, reggae inspired both the West Indian community and white working class fans.
First mods, then skinheads.
I suppose sort of late '60s, early '70s,
when I was like a little suedehead, a little mini, sort of
post-skinhead, I mean, going to the local dances on a Thursday night and just hearing black music.
Desmond Dekker, Return Of The Django, Liquidator, I mean they were big records.
You know, you'd always hear them. And that was kind of it, really, that was the start of the love affair.
So in some ways for us it became our music, so to speak.
Because, I suppose, the lyrics, the sentiment was sort of like,
it was to do with a rebel stance, which we all associated with.
It's protest music, protest against injustice.
And they saw me as a rebel and identified themselves as such.
So there was some compatibility there,
I think so, because
you should have seen them.
An anthem of the Skinheads was Max Romeo's Wet Dreams.
They loved the rebel beat and risque lyrics that saw it banned from clubs and BBC.
# Every night me go to sleep
# Me have wet dream... #
# Every night me go to sleep
# Me have wet dream
# Lie down, girl, let me push it up push it up
# Lie down
# Lie down, girl, let me push it up push it up
# Lie down... #
I think what happens is that they have a lot of anti-social
feelings bagged up inside, and there was no way to actually spell it out.
And here I come, the rebel, blurting out something like that, creating an upstir.
So it was a good time for them to jump on the bandwagon and vent their anger.
# Lie down, girl, let me push it up, push it up
# Lie down
# Lie down, girl, let me push it up, push it up, lie down... #
That "chk, chk, chk, chk", it's just wonderful.
And I used to like it when I was 15.
I thought the dances that the girls did with all their little feather cuts
and their nice little tonic suits and things, that was just so cute.
# Throw all the punch you want to I can take them all... #
These records, which were helping transform teenage Britain, had been arriving from
Jamaica since the early '60s when they were distributed by a profusion of independent labels.
Producers like Jamaican-born Chris Blackwell were planting the seeds of the reggae music business.
We were just about
the first people who decided to record
Jamaican artists making popular music for a Jamaican audience.
# Well, won't you tell me tell me, baby
# What is a boy to do?
# Hey-yeah, hey-yeah
# Tell me, baby
# Don't you ever tell me, baby... #
Giant sound systems took these Jamaican hits all over the island.
# You're treating me bad... #
I used to go dance when I was very small.
I couldn't get in the dance.
And even Coxone Sound System used to come and play in my area.
And I've heard a lot of songs when I was looking for
Coxone Sound, which was champion sound, man. Trust me.
Sugar Minott was one of many artists who would later influence the British reggae scene.
He learned all about ska music there.
I used to imitate all those songs after the dance, the next day I used to know them all.
So that's where I know about ska, you know?
# You don't know you don't know... #
I took over the management of the jukeboxes when I had some of my own records.
SKA MUSIC PLAYS
If I took off a record, which had been on the jukebox for a bit and replaced it with a new record
that the people didn't like, you'd hear immediately.
It was something that I really learned, you know, from that experience.
Within about ten seconds they would say, "Take the record off."
They didn't want to give it the time. That was it, it was just done within ten seconds.
And then sometimes, you know, there'd be a record that they'd like
and everybody would get really excited.
You know, it was an incredible sort of experience of instant response.
SKA MUSIC PLAYS
You used to have people in Jamaica like Caribbean Distributing Company,
they used to make a good living by, even now,
buying records and sending them to England.
England is the gateway to real reggae music.
The name of the music in England was Blue Beat, it was called Blue Beat.
And so I was trying to sort of market the music
and everybody would say, "Oh, do you have some Blue Beats?"
And so I really pushed the name ska, because in Jamaica, it wasn't called Blue Beat.
In Jamaica, it was called ska, cos it's a sort of onomatopoeic word for the guitar on the offbeat.
So I really pushed the name ska.
The earliest ska performers arrived in Britain in the early '60s.
Singers like Prince Buster followed their records into this country, and were mobbed by West Indians
alongside adoring mods and skinheads.
The first big Jamaican success in the British pop charts came in 1965.
It was a Chris Blackwell production - Millie Small's My Boy Lollipop.
# I love you, I love you I love you so
# But I don't want you to know
# I need you, I need you I need you so
# And I'll never let you go-oh-oh
# My boy lollipop... #
This record of Millie, which I knew was going to be a hit when I finished
working on it, it never got to number one, unfortunately - it got to number two.
But it became a huge hit and it changed my life completely.
# My lollipop... #
By the early '70s, a small number of producers were firmly in control
of the Jamaican and therefore the emerging British reggae business.
Though tens of thousands of records were distributed around the UK,
many artists were not receiving much reward.
Accountability was always a problem.
Because it was about them.
"Oh, I'm selling your record in England and, you know, you'll just have to take my word for it.
"This is how it goes."
It was difficult to sue these people because you didn't know
who to sue. We were told that it went to Jamaica to the producer.
When we went to Jamaica to get our portion, we were told that it was left here and for Trojan
to give it to us.
I never really
You're supposed to get a percentage on every record that is sold.
That is royalty, mechanical royalties.
You could get publishing, money from publishing, copyright and these things.
And I never used to get that at all.
Just the £10 and that's it.
You discover that you haven't got anything to show
for what you have done.
I became very depressed
and I locked myself away
for quite a while.
Times were hard for Jamaican artists who had settled here
but found there was little support for their careers or follow up to their early successes.
Their records were one hit wonders.
It was the tunes that mattered, not the artists.
One reggae singer even recorded a musical plea to the BBC to play his people's music.
# It is a long walk to the BBC
# But I've got my walking shoes on
# Can't take a plane, a bus or train cos my money ain't that long
# But people, I believe
# Oh, yeah!
# That you love reggae still
# Oh, yeah!
# So I'm going to see the management Lord
# Oh, yeah
# To wipe away my fears I tell you to look out... #
A lot of the DJs had a snobbery towards Jamaican music
that sometimes bordered on racialism.
There was nothing played on the radio.
There wasn't a few, there was nothing played on the radio.
I never sent any of the records to the radio after a bit because nobody was ever interested in them.
I never sent them to the press because nobody was interested in them.
You know, according to rock press and the whole student rock scene, reggae was like idiot music, it was
regarded as some sort of weird novelty music.
It wasn't taken seriously at all.
# I am on my way, oh yes I will
# Long walk to the BBC... #
Determined to get radio play, producers began remixing
Jamaican recordings to make them sound sweeter.
First off, they reduced the bass frequencies, and then they added an orchestral sound.
It seemed like companies like Trojan,
to make the records accessible to the British buying public,
seemed to add strings to make it more classical.
And then there was things like Young, Gifted And Black,
that went into the charts, Bob Andy and Marcia Griffiths, Bob and Marcia, that had strings all over it.
# Young, gifted and black
# Oh, what a lovely, precious dream
# To be young, gifted and black
# Open your heart to what I mean... #
First time when he does that...
# The whole world, you know
# There's a million boys and girls
# Who are young, gifted and black
# And that's a fact... #
I was very satisfied and very pleased with the strings.
And so to hear a Jamaican recording, probably the first
to be so well endowed with such beautiful arrangements, I felt good to be a part of that.
It was the music that we identified with,
and my time in school, there wasn't many black kids in the class.
There was about three or four of us at the time.
-Present, Miss Atkins.
-We took our music to school.
It was our music. It was something that we said, "This was ours."
In the early '70s, British school curricula virtually ignored West Indian culture and history.
Bearing in mind, you know,
we were never taught about ourselves at the schools.
It was always about William the Conqueror, the Battle of Hastings, Elizabeth I, the Spanish Armada.
Things that really had nothing to do with our development,
our growth, spiritually, physically, mentally.
At that time, it was very important to me.
As a matter of fact, I've never looked back since in the direction I've decided to take.
As a first generation British-born black,
we'd seen how our parents were really getting shafted
by trying to anglicise themselves to be accepted.
And we weren't buying that.
What we did reject was the caution that our parents,
and the restraint that our parents had.
In a hostile racial environment, they were limited
in the ways that they could fight against racial oppression.
They had responsibilities. They had to put kids through school,
they had to put bread on the table, send money back home to their families and so on.
Though West Indians had been migrating here since the late 1940s,
to do the jobs the British didn't want to do, many were still haunted, well into the '70s,
by Enoch Powell's Rivers Of Blood speech condemning immigration.
Though violence sometimes broke out, irony was perhaps a sharper weapon.
COMIC JAMAICAN ACCENT: Hello 'dere.
DROPS ACCENT: Hey, you're lucky I came tonight, you know, cos I won't be here tomorrow.
Enoch Powell has offered me £1,000 to go home.
Which is great, really, cos it's only £10 on the train from here to Birmingham.
LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE
We wanted to be British. We wanted to be fitting and become a part of the society, but we found ourselves
in a racialised environment, and this is where reggae came in.
Reggae afforded us our own independent cultural identity.
We were rejected by the wider society, so this was our music, this was our culture.
My generation, we were the rebel generation,
and we refused to tolerate the things our parents tolerated.
Listening to the imports coming in from Jamaica,
you could keep in touch with what was happening in the society,
you could keep in touch with the language.
We knew what we were supposed to sound like, cos we were getting the music from Jamaica.
But there was no visual accompaniment.
I mean, I guess Bob would come along soon with the dreadlocks and everything,
but for imagery of Jamaica, it would invariably come from a postcard.
There'd be a man riding a donkey on a beach with a straw hat, or somebody limbo dancing.
But then I saw The Harder They Come. That would have been in the early '70s.
And I walked out inspired and empowered.
I mean, we were all empowered after seeing The Harder They Come.
I mean, it was the story of somebody who'd come from the country coming to the city to make it.
And again, that really appealed to us, as, you know, we weren't exactly foreigners, we were born here,
but we were made to feel like that.
So Jimmy Cliff's struggle,
yeah, it struck a chord with us.
While cinemas introduced the Jamaican rude boy image to these shores,
it was the sound systems that carried the music around the country.
Home-made monster speakers updated the old Jamaican equipment.
The sound system is totally responsible for the development of reggae in this country.
Because radio didn't play it.
In order to have the audience know that it was available, it had to be played on a sound system.
If the sound system didn't play a particular record, you could bet it wouldn't be a hit.
I remember in my teens standing up in front of the 18-inch bass speaker.
That used to be a great feeling,
hearing the bass running through your solar plexus or whatever you want to call it,
running through your system. The bass.
And Jamaican music is bass-led.
We would just be fascinated and in awe of these people.
They just look exciting, intriguing and different,
something you've never seen before.
They would be sitting in front of a speaker, and you could see their bodies going...
And I wanted to experience that.
And I used to stand in front of the speaker waiting for the beat of the bass line, so I could go...
Then you started to smell the weed, right, and it was part of their culture,
and it was a lovely smell. And I remembered dabbling, trying it out.
High as a kite!
There used to be, in the neighbourhood where I lived,
there always used to be house parties.
And I'd sneak out of my bedroom window
and go down the road to one of these house parties, stay there for a couple of hours.
And then come back, sneak back into the house,
hopefully without my parents finding out.
But occasionally I got caught and got the beating of a lifetime,
but for me, it was worth it.
What they were playing were the latest '70s imports
from Jamaica, featuring new artists like Big Youth.
The sound system, to be honest with you,
the sound system was our BBC and ITV and CNN and everything,
cos through the sound system we could get to communicate with the common people on the street.
To be perfectly honest with you, Big Youth took the scene.
Big Youth helped introduce the British reggae scene to mystical truths
about Jamaican street life, and the pride and the faith of Rastafari.
Big Youth came with kind of lyrics that were pertaining to what I wanted to know about, what I was studying.
It was Rasta lyrics, he was telling bits of scripture.
# So come on down along the sound The way is out, play
It was just an amazing thing.
It was like, "Wow, where did this guy come from?"
The proverbial wisdom of Big Youth's first UK hit record was inspired by his Yamaha S90 motorbike.
So I said, "Ride on, but don't you ride like lightning.
"Say, man, if you ride like lightning, you'll crash like thunder."
# So come on down along the sound and lead
# The way is out, play.
# Huh, good gosh! #
It was just like something totally new, totally original, never heard it before.
And I said, "yeah, I want to do that," you know what I mean?
Young British musicians were enthralled by these Jamaican records,
and were desperate to see the artists who made them.
Those artists were now fleeing the island to escape political gang wars.
The songs they brought with them told of rough justice on the streets of Kingston.
# My name is Capone
# Capone... #
If you listen to Guns Don't Argue and listen to the lyrics of that song,
because it was the time when the gun was just introduced to Jamaica.
You know, and it was introduced by the politicians.
What I was saying in that record, "I'm a defender, not an offender.
"So don't let the children cry, or you'll have to tell Al Capone why."
# Don't let the children cry
# Or you'll have to tell Al Capone why
# My bucka will drop you, don't you know?
# Yeah! #
All these Jamaican imports would change the style and sounds of the British reggae scene.
The latest recordings of producers like Lee Scratch Perry and Max Romeo
were hotly fought over in the specialist record stores that sold them at top dollar.
It's like, going to the record shop, I was excited, you know?
You're like a little kid.
OK, let me go to Dub Vendor,
or Black, or Dread Records, or whoever it was at the time,
you'd go there and say, "Right, what have you got new?"
On a Friday evening, I mean, I was there till 8pm-9pm sometimes.
And the shop would be packed. And this is a small shop.
And as soon as you put a record on, it's played five seconds
and ten hands have gone up, wanting that record.
Because sometimes you might be in there and there might be only two records left,
and you walk in, and so there'd be people in there saying "No, you can't have that."
You know, we'd be fighting over who's going to get that seven-inch and who's not.
It depends just how much they've got in stock, cos it's not even a wink.
It's like, "Me, I'll take this. I was here first!"
But there was one Jamaican whose music combined a rude boy image
with Rasta consciousness in a way no other artist had.
He would take Britain and the world by storm.
At last there was a reggae star who'd be promoted as a hit maker and as an artist.
# Slave driver
# The table is turned
# You've got your fire You're gonna to get burned
# Yeah, slave driver
# The table is...
# Got your fire Got your fire
# you're gonna get burned, oh... #
Marley, the importance of Marley on the black British youth,
it's almost impossible to put into words.
I mean, I saw him play and it was like a religious experience - I mean, my top gig of all time -
and walked out of there a new man, a reinvented man.
Because we saw somebody here that was being accepted on his terms.
You know, no straightened hair, no speaking English, it was his way or the highway.
I think Bob Marley probably had the most impact of any artist
on us collectively as a group of mates.
We went to see him, and that to me was the closest thing to a spiritual experience I'd had.
He was incredible.
The band were brilliant, the Wailers were great, but he was something special.
# Today they say that we are free Only to be chained in poverty
# Good God, I think it's illiteracy
# It's only machines that make money... #
The Wailers had been together as a trio since the mid-'60s,
but now they were about to transform the British reggae scene.
It was probably the most important event in my life.
I felt we should position him more as a rock act, as a black rock act.
And in so doing, I wanted to move the music away from being its raw reggae,
into having some elements which I felt would pull in the people
who are interested in rock music, that kind of music.
Catch A Fire's original Jamaican tapes were adapted for the rock market by Chris Blackwell,
who overdubbed American musicians onto the recordings.
They started playing this strange music,
I mean, I'd never heard the likes of. It was...
Compared to anything else I'd ever heard in my life, everything,
the R&B, the church music, anything I'd ever heard, this was backwards.
GUITAR RIFF PLAYS
And Bob had his guitar on and he was going "chicka, chicka,"
like they do. And I was just meandering on the organ, like...
And he said, "No, no, bumbaclart, rasclart," all this, you know.
So I made it a chord, and went...
It's what he could teach you about his music that helped you with your own music.
For my generation that bought that album,
not only did we not know that Blackwell did that and there was an
original roots version, we didn't care.
It was those things that made our ears prick up
and go, "Wow, this is somebody that's really doing something different."
# Darkness has covered my light
# And has changed my day into night, yeah
# Where is the love
# To be found?
# Won't someone tell me?
# Must be somewhere
# To be found
# Instead of concrete jungle
# I say, where the living is hardest
# Your concrete jungle
# Man, you've got to do your best
# Oh-oh-ho-ho... #
But Blackwell still needed the help of a major rock star to get
Marley's music to the mainstream that reggae had not yet touched.
Now, at that time, there was no bigger artist in England
and maybe the world than... than Eric Clapton.
And when Eric Clapton picked some material from Bob Marley,
that, I think, was probably Bob's biggest break.
# I shot the sheriff
# But I did not shoot no deputy... #
The rock audience was becoming aware of reggae.
And the record business wondered whether other British bands
would grab this opportunity to reach a new audience.
# Freedom came my way one day
# And I started out of town
# All of a sudden I see Sheriff John Brown... #
But the fledgling black reggae bands found themselves in the shadow of Marley's music,
and they faced sceptical fans who were now looking for an authentic sound.
We had a split audience.
We had the slightly older generation that looked to Jamaica,
and then we had the British audience, who were still in a flux
as to whether they looked towards the Caribbean, which was authentic,
or looked at what was happening on their doorstep.
The young roots bands sharpened their musical skills in local bars and clubs.
At the same time, we're rehearsing every week, hoping that the band's successful.
Meanwhile, the parents have no interest in music at all.
They had their share of musical snobbery and prejudice to overcome as well.
Lots of people were hurling criticism at reggae.
"You just have to know how to play two chords and you're there."
A lot of reggae has been two chords,
but two of the sweetest chords you could put together.
We were more interested in trying to fuse
a pop style with a soul style with a reggae beat.
If you said roots and British, the two didn't sit side by side comfortably.
Roots was Jamaican.
Roots and British
didn't really work.
One band that quickly gained credibility with reggae fans was Aswad.
They offered a British flavour to Jamaican roots sounds.
Our attitude has always been that the band and the music
was about our experiences in inner-city London.
And a lot of the bands at that time were just copying music that came from Jamaica.
They weren't telling their own story.
And I think this was probably the unique thing about Aswad, and
later on we were not only identified with by the black youth, but also
white kids, Indian kids were identifying, because we were talking about what was happening to us.
# It's not our wish That we should fi-i-i-ight
# It's not our wish
# That we should fight fight fight... #
We were confronting the system
and how the system created a negative space
for people of colour.
This is where we were speaking from.
We used to use the term Babylon.
The Sus laws was an expression of Babylon.
It was the long arm of the law
that said, "If we suspect you might be doing something,
"that gives us the right to strip search you, on occasions publicly."
Your parents would say, "Look, don't go out on your own, make sure you come in before it's dark."
"Don't dress a certain way,
"because that will give them an excuse to stop you."
Social divisions were growing.
The summer of '76 would be long and hot,
the hottest since records began.
# Then it was 96 degrees
# In the shade
# Ten thousand soldiers
# On parade
# Taking I
# To meet to the big fat one
# Sent from overseas
# The queen employ... #
At the Notting Hill Carnival, tensions were building.
The British roots bands and their families were arriving.
Aswad among them.
We had just released our first album, Aswad.
It was just a great experience, it was a great energy.
# You got me on the loose
# Fighting to be free
# Now you show me a noose on the cotton tree... #
Then suddenly from Portobello Road, someone came around screaming, "The beasts are coming!
"The beasts are coming!"
We was at the point under the Westway when there was some scuffling,
and like the police went in to arrest somebody.
Suddenly, it was like a whole separation of people, of police...
It was like them against us.
Well, the first thing that we had to do was to get our instruments into the van,
so while things were going and missiles were flying around, we were loading stuff into the van.
Yeah, I just remember me and Joe spending ages trying to set this
car alight that was upside down,
and then a police motorcycle zoomed through, and I threw a bollard.
And shit, I don't know what I would have done if the guy had come off,
but it hit his front wheel and it staggered for a moment.
# Send in the riot squad quick
# Because they're running wild... #
By that time, the police were coming this way, and they were hurling missiles.
And the next thing that we had to do was to find our parents.
We don't know where they went.
That was our carnival experience.
Inner-city riots spread all around England, including Handsworth in
Birmingham, home of Steel Pulse, reggae's most militant and musically adventurous home-grown band.
# We're walking along just
# Kicking stones Me minding my own business
# I come face to face with my foe
# Disguised in violence from head to toe... #
Ku Klux Klan warned of the danger
of American-style white supremacists gaining a voice in Britain.
My imagination just got the better of me, where I started to imagine
me minding my own business walking along the streets of Handsworth
and then getting reprisal
from some white extremists of some kind.
So that's how that song came into play.
The hoods were made out of pillowcases initially.
We simply cut slits for, er... the eyes.
So the hoods was a very powerful, confrontational, militant statement, saying, "We're here, we're here to
"stay, and we are prepared to fight for our position."
# Here to stamp out black man, yah
# The Klu Klux Klan... #
At that time, I felt that Steel Pulse had their finger
absolutely on the button of really furthering British reggae music.
They were putting out stuff which was highly charged, highly political.
These were black people doing this, and that was just shocking, it was absolutely shocking.
But a new musical alignment was taking place
between what had until now been separate musical cultures.
It would radically change reggae's impact and acceptance almost overnight.
# It takes a joyful sound
# To make the world go round... #
In the late '70s, young British blacks found a musical and ideological ally in the punks.
# It's a punky reggae party... #
What we were writing about was everyday life,
and what the reggae musicians were writing about was
every day, contemporary life,
what's happening now, the violence, the poverty, the injustices.
Out of the punky reggae explosion came Rock Against Racism,
which was really a response to the rise of the right wing that was happening in the late '70s,
during the kind of time of social crisis, you know.
Rock Against Racism brought together reggae and punk bands in musical protest and solidarity.
Up to that time, black bands didn't play on the same stage with white bands.
That's a really important point to make, people forget that now.
You had black concerts and white concerts.
We got increasingly large stages to perform in front of, where the audience were
saying, "We never instigated this segregation between the musicians, and we support this coming together."
The Clash offered reggae performers a new audience, but this was reggae in punk clothing.
We weren't trying to do a slavish copy.
We were trying to give our interpretation of ingredients to our
music, you know, and people say, "Oh, it's not like reggae."
It wasn't meant to be like reggae.
It was our... We were a punk group, you know.
# Police and thieves in the street
# Oh, yeah
# Scaring the nation with
# Guns and ammunition... #
The Clash embraced the work of respected Jamaican artists and producers like Lee "Scratch" Perry.
The thing is, Police And Thieves was quite a popular tune at that time.
We decided to do a cover of it,
which was quite interesting, because Lee Perry said, when we finally met him,
"What do you think of our version?" He said, "Oh, you ruined it!"
which made me laugh!
# From genesis
# To revelation
# The next generation... #
The punk movement had in
common with the reggae movement was that it was frowned upon.
People, you know, looked at it as an inferior genre.
So together... you know, they came out fighting, you know,
and then everybody wanted a piece of reggae in his punk tune.
Dennis Bovell was asked to produce the debut album of the punk band the Slits.
It's very normal for me to feel that music was a conduit for protest,
and that's what punk was and that's what reggae was as well,
and I think that's where the two really came together,
talking about life on the streets when you were an underdog,
where you had no money, you had no voice,
and you wanted to point out the wrongs in the world
and your only way through that was through music.
I think what reggae really taught punk musicians was about space
and being brave enough to let there be holes and gaps,
and dub even more than that.
Because punk was very strict, very fast, you know -
get through it as fast as possible - very, very urban,
whereas reggae also came from an urban background,
but it was about letting go, being loose,
and it was such a relief after the strictness and minimalism of punk.
This is a street way of getting your voice out there
and, you know, punk and reggae both did that.
Reggae was now finding its way into even the most unexpected corners of the country.
Hidden away in a leafy London suburb was a musical foundry
that would feed British sound systems throughout the land.
Why write no more?
Keep it dubbing.
We're working it, you know.
Rock-solid base. We rule, innit.
While thumbing through the Yellow Pages one time,
looking for a place to cut an acetate,
found Hassell Recordings.
Phoned up, gone over there.
An elderly gentleman, who was famed for smoking a big fat cigar - John Hassell - answers the door.
We go into his house, into his living room, right,
and he's got this wonderful
German disc-cutting lathe set up in his front room.
They had come to cut an acetate -
the metal dub plate from which vinyl records would be cut.
And his wife Felicity has offered us a cup of tea, a cup of coffee.
Then we put on these tapes and it's, like, reggae.
You know, imagine stumbling on that through the Yellow Pages, right.
Then we were telling other people, "Listen, we found a guy
"who knows how to cut reggae."
Doing straight dub, are we?
You can have a fantastic-sounding thing on the tape
and then it all falls to pieces at the cutting end of it.
And someone who would be sympathetic to the frequencies
and know how to capture that sound from the tape onto the disc...
And John was a master at that.
It's an esoteric world. It's a world of subtlety and refinements.
sound is important, it has a meaning,
so it has to be done right and professionally and proper.
Next stop for Bovell's British dub cuts were the sound systems
where DJs would preview new tunes
and gauge whether the dancers liked them.
But sound systems only wanted to preview Jamaican imports.
To get British reggae played required a further sleight of hand.
So we had this idea
to get a machine that could make a big wide hole in records
that were pressed in this country
and don't put on it, "Made in England".
HE LAUGHS That was another dead giveaway!
You know, put as little information as possible.
Then parade them as pre-release and mix them in with the Jamaican stuff,
and very often they passed off as that.
That was definitely the way of getting our music played on sound systems.
To decide which pre-releases would become hits,
sound systems used the old Jamaican tradition of bare-knuckle competition.
It's like, you know, Mike Tyson fighting Lennox Lewis.
People pay to see and people want to go
because they don't know what the outcome's going to be, but they go.
You know, the sound system clashes, it's the same kind of thing.
They want to see who's going to play the best music on the night.
The most powerful and respected sounds were Jah Shaka, Coxsone and Saxon.
Each sound had its own partisan following and its own DJs.
We were always looking to Jamaica,
but when Saxon came along, you know what I mean,
Jamaica started to look to us, which was never done before.
There was a new confidence and a sense of home-grown identity
to the British sounds coming out of the black communities in areas like Brixton.
Perhaps British reggae's most distinctive voice in the late '70s was Linton Kwesi Johnson,
who pioneered a distinctively British dub poetry.
# Ganja crawling creeping through my brain
# The cold light's hurting and breaking and hurting
# Fire in the head and the dread beat bleeding, beating
# Fire, dread... #
Dread is dread, dread is fear.
Dread is a kind of terror.
Dread Beat An' Blood is kind of a metaphor
for the tension and the violence that were part of...
that culture of resistance
to which reggae was so essential.
His record Dread Beat An' Blood absolutely knocked us for six.
It was his delivery, his words were so clever, the beats, it was so understated.
It was like nothing you'd ever heard before. He was like a god to us.
I don't begin with a piece of music.
I begin with the word.
The language of the verse I write
will determine the rhythm of the music.
I hear music in language, so that...
in a poem like, for example, It Noh Funny, I say,
"Dem wi' tek chance," and that's exactly what the bass plays.
And the horn section will play the same rhythm as well.
That was my aesthetic -
that I wanted to write verse that sounded like a bass line.
I wanted to write lines of poetry that sounded like a reggae bass line.
The mix of instrumental sounds,
the bass and echo effects in Dread Beat An' Blood,
were the result of an unusual partnership.
The great thing about dub is that
it's the engineer's art,
it's what the sound engineer does.
It's the deconstruction of a piece of music
and its reconstruction as an act of illusion.
By act of illusion, I mean you have a spatial dimension,
which is created with echoes and reverbs.
British dub is quite a lot different to its Jamaican counterpart.
Quite a lot of young British people like the fact that
the echoes will take them into a different world, you know.
You could hear your favourite song mashed up.
It was like making scrambled eggs.
Bovell's first experience of this musical bricolage
didn't come from Jamaica, but from an album he had at home.
I thought that the first dub I'd heard was Jimi Hendrix,
a song called Third Stone From The Sun.
The amount of echo on the guitars and the sound effects in there
were positively the first sort of dubbing I heard.
Then to find that creeping into reggae, it was like, "Yeah!"
It was this mixture of early influences from pop records, school friends and sound systems
that would earn him the title Godfather Of British Dub.
Dub sounds became part of the musical mix for many British rock and punk bands at that time.
Police came along and turned reggae into rock and roll,
by adopting the Jimi Hendrix Experience style
of a three-piece band - drums, bass and guitar -
and, em, playing reggae.
# Dreaming dreams of what used to be
# When she left I was cold inside... #
bastardised reggae. We plundered it without remorse.
We took from it what was useful to us, but we made no attempt to repackage it
and deliver it back unto the people, which would have been false.
The Police began life as a punk-reggae band in 1977 with an agenda all their own.
Roxanne, off their first album, became their signature tune.
# I've loved you since I knew you
# I wouldn't talk down to you
# I have to tell you just how I feel... #
The first time I heard Roxanne, I heard Sting come up with this song
and he had it as a sort of bossa nova with the chords going...
HE PLAYS BOSSA-NOVA STYLE GUITAR CHORDS
So it was very soft and a kind of sexy song.
"Yeah, really nice. But bossa nova? This is the punk scene.
"We're going to get killed!"
We started to sort of change it around.
We were sort of being influenced by reggae at that point,
to see if there was some way we could change the drumming.
And so we reggae-fied this bossa nova tune that he had written.
And it's not even real reggae.
Andy Summers, his guitar part, is not the up-chick, it's the downbeat.
He plays one, two, three, four, chick, chick, chick.
And that locks the whole thing together.
So with the straight four on the bar guitar
and the drums doing this kind of reggae feeling
and the bass line going with that - dum-DUM, da-da-da, dum-DUM, da-da-da.
# ..Oh, Roxanne, oh
# Oh, Roxanne, oh-oh... #
We tried to be as mercenary as possible
because we want to conquer the world, but actually we can't resist
playing with this thing that really is fascinating us and turns us on
and we find this new rhythmic formula,
which applies to Sting's new-found ability to write fancy chords
and with a guitarist who can play them.
It was like candy for us.
Here we go.
# You don't have to put on the red light
# Those days are over
# You don't have to sell your body to the night
# Roxanne... #
At the same time, there was a little group of mainly Midlands bands,
digging further back into Jamaican history.
In Coventry, they were reinventing the sound of the '60s.
2 Tone were a kind of musical commune that included Selecter, The Beat and Madness.
They injected old-school Jamaican ska with a new punk energy.
The 2 Tone guys, they were from Coventry,
and Jerry Dammers, the maestro who pulled that all together, which was the weirdest thing.
I never got to know Jerry at all.
Some of the other guys, yeah,
but Jerry seemed like a complete mastermind.
I don't know what part of his brain was working, but some part clearly was in focus.
I'd say we were the beginning of the imitation generation, you know.
At least we were one of the first to do it.
We were like The Jam.
It was like imitating the past, but in real life.
This was our inspiration.
'It would be really hard to say why retro culture happened,
'but it did and it was exciting.
'I think it was good'
from the point of view that it probably...
introduced a younger generation into that music.
You go and find the originals and it's like, "Oh, that's what it's about."
Then those originals lead you on to something else.
They're like stepping stones, I think.
I think 2 Tone was important from that point of view, you know.
The ska that we played was very different.
We didn't really know how to play Jamaican ska properly.
If you listen to it, it's actually a strange fusion
of bits of skinhead style, bits of Mod style, bits of Jamaican rude-boy style.
Mixing it and matching it and...
creating something, which never actually happened in the first place exactly.
# Now you're on your own
# I won't return Forever you will wait... #
There are, I believe, periods of huge energy and change.
I think youth always needs something to kick against
and if the political climate feels more oppressive to them,
they will kick harder and something bigger and better will grow out of it.
# Call me immature Call me a poser
# I'll put manure in your bed of roses
# Don't bother me Don't bother me... #
In a way, The Specials were playing out the kind of...
drama of British society on the stage, you know.
That was part of the concept.
# You done too much Much too young
# You're married with a kid when you could be having fun... #
2 Tone. I think that we were using elements
of that time of what Jamaican reggae artists and Jamaican ska artists
like Laurel Aitken, Prince Buster, all those kind of people,
and The Skatalites were doing, but we were really of the punk generation.
Recycle it, OK?
Three Minute Hero was about
what it was like to have a job clocking on and just living, in a way, just for the weekend.
# They asked you if you're all right
# You said yes
# But all the time you know
# It's a mess
# It's 5pm and you're on your way home
# It's just another day with that endless grey drone
# Three minute hero, I wanna be... #
It was possible for us to use political lyrics with that kind of music and still keep it high energy.
Pauline's band, The Selecter added the strongest punk stamp to this 60s retro-culture.
They toured the country alongside The Specials, with high-energy songs like On My Radio.
On My Radio showcased the vocals because of the very high...
(HIGH-PITCHED) # On my radio... # business going on.
It sort of sounded a bit like Kate Bush crossed with, I don't know, Millie Small,
crossed with some other kind of reggae thing that was going on.
# On my radio... #
'It had all the ingredients of a quirky pop song
'and people loved it.'
# On my radio, my radio My radio... #
With 2 Tone at the time of the ska revival, I always found there was
a closer connection with punk than there was with ska.
It was like what would normally be a punk band
would get up there and play an offbeat
and suddenly you've got something that sounds vaguely like ska.
None of us was really interested in being part of what was effectively
just a ska revival.
To start playing ska was like taking two steps backwards.
We wanted something a little bit more long lasting.
# He wields his flute with an expert hand
# Then, all too soon... #
The band that would take '70s reggae into the pop charts for the next 30 years
was a bunch of Birmingham lads.
We called ourselves a jazz dub reggae band when we started.
But we wanted to make reggae music, you know. It was important to us.
It wasn't going to be Jamaican reggae, you know, because we were
a British band and we wanted to make British reggae, like a hybrid.
# There are murders that we must account for
# Bloody deeds have been done in my name
# Criminal acts I must pay for
# And our children will shoulder the blame
# I'm a British subject I'm proud of it
# While I carry the burden of shame
# I'm a British subject and I'm proud of it
# While I carry the burden of shame... #
Our environment totally shaped who we were.
I think if you went to Balsall Heath,
which is where most of us grew up,
and grabbed eight guys off the street, they'd look pretty much like us.
The same kind of racial mix.
We were immediately more attractive, I think, to a British audience because we were mixed.
As far as our image goes, we had no image. We just wear what we wore anyway.
We weren't into dressing up in uniforms and suits and whatever.
What you see is what you get.
We were called UB40
because we were all signing on at the time.
A friend of ours suggested the name when we were trying to think of a name.
He said, "You've all got UB40 cards, why not call yourselves UB40?"
It was honest, as well, because we really did come from that.
Without taking dole money we'd never have been able to afford to rehearse.
We'd have had to get a job. We were actually in the middle of that.
It wasn't something we took from the outside hoping we might attract an audience.
We were responding to the circumstances we were in.
So, obviously, when we made our first album, it was just a natural progression to call it Signing Off
because we weren't signing on any more.
It was a facsimile of the UB40 card.
It was pretty clever because it gave us three million card-carrying fans instantly!
It sold eight million copies, you know.
For an album made in a bedsit, that was pretty good going.
# Refugee without a home
# A housewife hooked on Valium
# I'm a pensioner alone
# I'm a cancer-ridden spectre that's covering the earth
# I'm another hungry baby I'm an accident of birth
-# One in ten
-A number on a list
-# One in ten
-Even though I don't exist... #
To us, reggae didn't represent palm trees and beaches, it represented the inner city.
When I heard reggae music, that's the image I picture in my own head.
By the dawn of the '80s, new-wave reggae from 2 Tone to UB40 was taking on Thatcher's Britain.
# Do you remember the good old days before the ghost town?
# We danced and sang as the music played in any boomtown... #
We were touring the country.
Margaret Thatcher was busy closing down huge swathes
of British industry because they weren't profitable.
She was like...Al Capone, I would guess.
Because her mob weren't getting paid she was going to shut them all down.
That's what happened. We were touring the country and we could literally see it happening.
# This town is becoming like a ghost town
# Why must the youth fight against themselves? #
Ghost Town just captured what was happening
all over England at the same time.
It was all closing down.
Your local corner shops were closing down.
Dance halls getting closed down.
It meant something to you.
In Ghost Town...
I got a good solo in Ghost Town.
I think I did everything in that solo.
I was talking about suffering, I was talking about goodness.
If you listen to that solo, you hear everything that you like to hear in music.
I play my trombone to speak for all those who cannot speak
and because I have the opportunity to be there.
We know oppression very well.
We know oppression very well.
The death of Bob Marley, reggae's only superstar, saw him given a state funeral in Jamaica in 1981.
# I need strength to make my own way... #
The British roots bands that had once built themselves in Marley's image
now found they were losing the support of their record companies and their audience.
These bands - Aswad, Matumbi,
had gone...slower reggae and a bit more political.
And the...fun had gone out of reggae for a lot of those bands.
It was serious music now.
But the BBC playlists mostly remained a no-go area for reggae artists.
It's the brotherhood of flower pots. That's it.
'The industry still did not gravitate or cotton on to reggae music
'in its proper context.'
Music was still not played on the airwaves.
It still wasn't publicised in newspapers.
Interviews were still pretty much secluded to
the black community papers.
I can remember record company...
individuals saying to me, "Look, Michael,
"the audience likes to buy itself."
"What do you mean?" "You don't look like the audience."
# Red, red wine
# Goes to my head... #
Bands like UB40 we saw as cashing in
on all that hard work that we'd done to bring British reggae to a point
where we could exploit it, only to be superseded by what we thought at the time
was a more pastel, a weaker version, a commercial version of what we were doing.
# All I can do, I've done... #
I think there are some bands that think white guys
shouldn't be playing reggae and that we've stolen their music.
But they're as English as we are, you know.
# I'd have thought
# That with time... #
As the '80s unfolded, reggae moved away from its earlier militancy.
UB40 now did an about-turn and paid tribute to the softer
classic hits of the early '70s that had inspired them to play reggae in the first place.
# Red, red wine
# Stay close to me... #
Labour Of love, which was the album we'd wanted to do
from the beginning but everyone in this industry had gone,
"You can't do that, you mustn't do that.
"It would be commercial suicide."
And, of course,
as is usually the case, the opposite turned out to be the truth.
It turned out to be another stroke of accidental genius.
There was a more romantic British reggae evolving in the black community too,
for dressing-up, for feeling good, for a fun night out.
They called it lovers' rock.
We understand lovers' rock is similar to rock steady
but it's English style.
It's laid back.
The lyrics are a bit more soppy, know what I mean?
That's it, really.
But people love it.
It's love songs with a difference.
# Cos if I keep on seeing you, baby
# You're gonna make me feel so blue... #
Lovers' rock is...
one of the British-created vibes in reggae music.
You can be a revolutionary, you can be a soldier, but a soldier needs to come home to the family.
A soldier needs love, the same way.
It was time to dance with your girl,
whereas when you listen to the roots stuff,
it was chanting down Babylon on your own, basically, dancing on your own.
With lovers' rock, it was where you found yourself a girl to hold close
and dance to.
You dressed up to make an impression, right?
And if you knew someone who sang that tune, oh, you were famous.
It's a whole lifestyle, a lifestyle.
Just like the rasta and the roots culture was a lifestyle.
Lovers' rock IS the British sound.
Lovers' rock is the British sound of reggae.
From the days when people said "You cannot make reggae in London.
"You have to go to Jamaica, to get the feel."
In England, artists WERE the producers.
# Girl, you, high up above
# You are high up... #
British-based musicians were honing their musical and business skills.
In our case, we played our own studio, right.
We didn't have some executive. That's why we fell out with Trojan.
Trojan wanted us to do cover versions of songs.
So a pop song would come out and they'd go, "That's it.
"That's your next assignment. Reggae version of that, please. Thank you."
And then, someone else would cop all the publishing, you know.
We wanted to write and produce our own material and it came out that way.
Though lovers' rock was mostly sung by women for a female audience,
the production was still handled by men.
All the producers were male.
I dared to have an opinion, which I did often.
-And I would...
-..fall out with people!
-Fall out of favour very quickly, to have an opinion.
And I did often find that I'd have to filter my opinion through a male,
to have it realised. It was about the track, wasn't it?
Yeah, it was about the track, then by the time you got to the vocals,
it was like near the ending of the session
and then you'd have the producer...
"Time is money!" And it's like,
I want to get everything perfect,
but there's never enough time to get everything perfect.
The studio time used to cost so much money back in the day,
so you sing a harmony and think, "That's not right.
"I need to do it again." He's like...
My first track, the first record that came out, was a demo.
I just went in there to try out.
And I'm thinking, "Ooh, that sounds familiar" and I came down
and I thought, "That's me, that's my song!" And it was on the radio.
-The next day.
-And I hadn't even had a chance to go back and review it and make sure it was in tune.
I was just sketching it.
# When I'm in love
# Oh, baby
# When I'm in love
# I'm hopelessly in love... #
I think what... I think for you, I mean, because Janet came before me, I was inspired
by Janet, so I remember seeing Janet do Silly Games on Top Of The Pops and thinking, "Oh, that's fantastic.
I could do that.
# You're as much to blame
# Because I know you feel the same
# I can see it in the eyes
# But I've got no time
# To live this lie
# No, I've got no time
# To play your silly games... #
It was still rare for black British reggae artists to appear on Top Of The Pops.
Some things hadn't changed in a decade.
# Silly games. #
When I recorded Silly Games again, Silly Games was recorded in the same way that Caroll and I spoke about,
in that you'd go into the studio, you'd do a tune, you don't know what's going to happen.
You just go in there. It was played by the sound systems for a while.
And it circulated in the community for about six months
before it actually got into the British charts.
We didn't even know how many albums or how many singles we'd actually sell,
so we didn't know how many hearts we'd actually touched.
Lovers rock suffered from reggae's old problems.
It was a cottage industry, dependent on the sound systems for distribution,
with little or no support from the mainstream pop record business.
The effects of reggae music,
as becoming pop music in the '80s, didn't really affect me,
because...I wasn't really invited into that world.
That was a record company push, that was like Virgin and EMI and the rest of them.
They weren't really interested in looking at black talent involved in reggae industry.
We weren't really invited to that party.
Lovers rock... In a funny sort of way,
it was reggae music that didn't frighten white people!
Safe to say, isn't it?
It was kind of, "Oh, this is nice. "You can dance to this", you know?
# Do you really want to hurt me?
# Do you really... #
George's debt to lovers rock was obvious in Culture Club's first big hit.
# Do you really want to hurt me?
# Do you really want to make me cry? #
But tabloid critics remained sceptical of George's dread credentials.
White people have always seemed to have a problem with me doing reggae. Not black people.
Black people say, "It's a nice tune, you can sing reggae good." I always get complimented.
White people seem to have a problem. I remember the first review that we
ever got for Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?
They said it was "fourth division, Kathy Kirby, watered-down reggae.
"The only think Culture Club have got going for then is the hideously unphotogenic Boy George.
I still remember it, word-for-word.
# You've been talking but believe me
# If it's true you do not know
# This boy loves without a reason
# I'm prepared to let you go
# If it's love you want from me... #
Do You Really Want To Hurt Me? was actually written as
the B-side of quite a famous reggae record.
I remember turning it over and playing the kind of dub version
and coming up with a kind of melody idea and then Mikey coming up with that brilliant baseline,
which one of the most memorable things about the song.
# Do you really want to hurt me? #
The reggae thing crept into a lot of what we did, you know, as a band.
We were a multicultural band.
It was a big thing for us.
# Don't put your head on my shoulder
# Sing me in a river of tears
# This could be... #
But I loved what we became. It was much more fun, much more exciting, kind of mixing
genres around and just sort of throwing them into a big pot and seeing what came out.
# Your time is precious, I know... #
The new-wave British bands adapted their image for videos, designed for teenage MTV audiences.
The Police dyed their hair blonde and took reggae into the rock video stratosphere.
# Walking on the moon
# I hope my leg don't break... #
wearing the flag of convenience.
We were wearing the uniform de jour.
We had the haircut of the day - critical.
# We could be together
# Walking on walking on the moon... #
Well, every band struggles to get an audience. A bigger audience
and bigger and bigger and more and more and, at no time,
I don't think, is there ever a calculation of, "Well, am I now... Is this too much?
"Have I taken this too far? "No, let's take it further."
# This generation
# Rules the nation
# With version... #
The one black band that did briefly go global was Musical Youth.
Five school kids from Birmingham would turn an old reggae song
about smoking ganja into a homily to the cooking pot.
-Pass the dutchie 'pon the left-hand side
# Pass the dutchie 'pon the left-hand side, it gonna burn
-Give me the music, make me jump and prance
-It a' go done.
-Give me the music
-Do you know?
Musical Youth getting into number one with Pass The Dutchie was...
Well, it was important to me because I made the video.
You've got to understand, this video was shown on Blue Peter
one afternoon and the next day it went to number one.
It was actually on the national news and then went to number one in 18 countries around the world.
# How does it feel when you got no food? #
Apparently, that was the first all-black video on MTV.
# How does it feel when you got no food?
Musical Youth reflected two cultures.
The first was the Jamaican homeland of their parents.
The second was their British upbringing and schooling.
# Give me the music Make me rock in the dance... #
Like the music itself, the twin cultures could now flourish side-by-side.
# Eleven, ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one-a
# It's I, Smiley Culture with the mike in my hand-a
# Me come to teach you right
# And not the wrong in the Cockney Translation
# Cockney's not a language It's only a slang-a
# And was originated, yah, so inna England-a
# The first place it was used was over East London
# It was respect for the different-style pronunciation... #
It's two different cultures and I feel that respect's due to both,
because I know both, so I thought that I'd do something
to kind of compliment that. It's looking at what you've got
around you and and making it into a lyrical thing.
# Say Cockney fireshooter We bust gun-a
# The Cockney say tea leaf We just say sticks man-a
# You know them have wedge while we have corn
# The Cockney say, you first, my son, we just say gwan... #
Whatever the lyric was, it was about the lyric and the whole story worked
as a story, as opposed to just having a verse here and a little thin chorus and,
you know, I think now it's more and more coming that way, but I think we were really ahead of our time.
# Rope chain and choparita Me say Cockney call tom-a
# Say cockney say Old Bill We say dutty Babylon...
Great. Not so much reggae, but the music is
definitely reggae-influenced, you know.
Smiley Culture had learned his style of video MC-ing with the
Saxon Sound System, which had been touring the UK since the mid-'70s.
He travelled with Saxon colleagues like Tippa Irie.
You used to just take styles from each other,
but the main thing is that we defeat the other sound, that's stringed up over there.
# No, me humble, me conscientious You know me righteous
# You want me on the ground Please wait, don't rush
# Tippa Irie is life and London blood
# But it's good to have the feeling you're the best... #
It's Good To Have The Feeling is really a lyric
that I wrote about the sound system stacks.
# Yes, it's good to have the feeling you're the best
# Cos I can show the north, south, east and west
# In London and Birmingham Enough to confess... #
But always original, always our own.
We wouldn't follow what they were doing in Jamaica.
# Putting that beat back... #
I think sometimes the understated backbone of British black music is the sound system.
It is reggae.
And we've all evolved out of that
collective experience of reggae in different ways.
It has spawned many sub-genres and many interpretations of it.
One of the best examples of that was Soul II Soul.
Reggae was being marketed for the '80s, packaged appeal to everyone, here and in the USA.
# Because it's all about expression... #
Our idea was based on the sound system.
We came up with an idea of a happy face, a thumping bass for a loving race.
One of our ideas was obviously to take the idea of the dread uptown.
So we were kind of creating a different style, a new myth, as it were.
And the whole effect of us trying to put all of these things into this
incredible melting-pot, which allowed us to be inclusive.
# I think you should come down
# And try to express yourself
# Yourself, be there
# Be there, be there, be there
# Be there I want, I want I want you to be there... #
The culture's blending.
It's merging more. I think that people...
It's hard, like I said, to distinguish between colour
as much any more, even though people kind of want to keep it black and white. I think you can't do that.
I think that it's just not going to happen any more. It's becoming people as opposed to just colour.
# Keep on moving
# Don't stop like
# The hands of time... #
In the 30 years since reggae first arrived here,
it had propelled and reflected many changes in our music and society.
And though reggae, as we knew it, had passed away, its musical descendants survive and flourish.
# This way, yeah
# Keep on moving, don't stop, no
# Keep on moving
# Keep on moving
Keep on moving, don't stop, no
# Keep on moving
# It's so tough
# It's tough today
# The right time is here to stay
# Stay in my life
# My life always... #
The acclaimed BBC Four Britannia series moves into the world of British reggae. Showing how it came from Jamaica in the 1960s to influence, over the next 20 years, both British music and society, the programme includes major artists and performances from that era, including Big Youth, Max Romeo, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Jerry Dammers and The Specials, The Police, UB40, Dennis Bovell, lovers rock performers Carroll Thompson and Janet Kay, bands like Aswad and Steel Pulse and reggae admirers such as Boy George and Paul Weller.
The programme celebrates the impact of reggae, the changes it brought about and its lasting musical legacy.