review: The Story of Lovers Rock


A good night out at the BFI on Tuesday for the world premier of The Story of Lovers Rock by Menelik Shabazz.

Clearly love is in the air right now, with King Midas Sound also citing lovers rock as an influence. And as I’ve said before it really is the “cinderella sub-genre” of reggae, hugely important for its audience, but strangely absent from the standard historical documentation by music nerds. In fact the BFI had clearly underestimated the importance of the film – they had to move the screening to a larger auditorium because of its popularity.

Menelik spoke briefly before the showing and explained that what we were about to see wasn’t the finished article because of funding issues. So I had visions of some amateurish stuff with timecodes running along the bottom of the screen, but I needn’t have worried. What we saw was great – a beautifully crafted film which was composed of interviews with virtually all of the key players, live footage from the Brixton Academy “lovers revue” show last year and some excellent comedy skits set in a dancehall.

The best “celebrity” interviewees for me were Dennis Bovell (who always gives good quote), John Kpiaye and Janet Kay who together explained the origins of the Lovers Rock label and the genre it spawned, as well as going into fascinating detail about the creation of “Silly Games” (and the huge response to it).

We also saw some brilliant recollections and live performances from Maxi Priest, Lorna Gee, Victor Romero and some white reggae specialists who may have included Fashion’s Chris Lane. Linton Kwesi Johnson, Mad Professor and especially Lez Lyrix were also great assets – providing the political and cultural backdrop but categorically NOT in a dry academic way.

And there are a host of other contributors I couldn’t identify – captions are promised for the final cut, resources allowing. The accounts from artists were almost eclipsed by some of the first person accounts from every day life from people who just loved the music and went to the dances: close dancing in dark basements. Their were howls of laughter from the women in the audience when someone on screen remembered the lights going on and finding she had been dancing with a man who wasn’t all that. And how embarrassing must it have been for everyone when someone’s MUM came in the dance and got on the mic, ordering her teenage son to come home?

My life in the early eighties was nothing like this of course, but I still loved the sense of emotional intensity, female empowerment, and fun that the film conjured up. There were many moments when the enormous affection people have for lovers rock shone through.

Victor Romero and Janet Kay spoke briefly about the film afterwards during the q&a.

Menelik Shabazz is currently trying to raise the extra 50k needed to finish the project off – most of this will go on funding archive footage to be cut into the film, which I think will make it even more essential viewing. In fact, writing this review makes me want to see it all over again, so if there are any culturally-minded millionaires checking out this blog, you know what to do…