So what about this situation with the lovers rock versus dub scene?
C: “A party is nothing without girls and the girls check for lovers.”
As I said in my lecture at Audio Poverty, I got into UK MC reggae records because they were cheap, because I liked their local lyrics and the fact that their existence told a story about the city I live in. Personally I would rather spend time rummaging through a pile of cheap vinyl than scouring the internet for those RARE collectors items everyone seems to be after.
But inevitably things change, and the prices of UK MC records have gone up. Tunes that were knocking about for two or three quid eight years ago are now selling for up to 5 times that. It’s hard not to feel validated by this, but I’m obviously wary of letting the market dictate what is good or not. Certainly you can’t put a price on the pleasure that my copy of Peter Bouncer’s “Rough Neck Sound” 12″ has given me.
And anyway, the rummaging continues. These days it’s often accompanied by some raised eyebrows: “7 quid for Tippa Irie’s ‘Panic Panic’ 12” – are you sure?”. But then perhaps the eye is drawn to the floor beneath the seven quid racks, to a pile of dusty records alongside a notice in felt tip pen proclaiming their unpopularity: “everything in this pile £1”. Ah… hello, my friends.
Most record collectors are male – boys seeking boys’ things. So it is hardly surprising that the reggae records which have been most resistant to collector-mania have been the ones which don’t deal with the sort of things that blokes check for. There are lots of Ebay Earners about war, overcoming tribulation, weighty spiritual issues and smoking ‘erb. So yes, these days much of the bargain bin reggae was originally sung by, and ultimately aimed at, teenage girls. Teenage girls are like kryptonite for record collectors, I think.
I’m not going to lie, there have been a good few things that I’ve picked up and then chucked out after hearing 30 seconds of screechy singing over artless digital backing. And yes, some of the tunes here are widely recognised as being the pinnacle of the sub-genre (and in some cases would make many people’s top 100 reggae tunes ever, I think).
This mix was thrown together one night a year ago whilst I was playing with a new effects box. I figured it was a bit rough and ready and I would get around to re-doing it one day. Then Paul Meme expressed an interest in collaborating on a mix again, so I bunged it his way. He is responsible for actually bringing it to your earholes, so praise is due. Paul has added a ton more effects and removed my most heinous mistakes as well. There are still some ghostly echoes of other things in mix, but I think that adds to it all.
I make no claims at being definitive, there are other places to go for that (see especially the compilations “The Lovers Rock Story” on Kickin’ and “This Is Lovers Rock” on Greensleeves). I would also wholeheartedly recommend Menelik Shabazz’s film “The Story of Lovers Rock”.
I would like to dedicate this mix to my long-suffering partner. I’d like to, but I won’t. Whilst she appreciates a good bassline, she finds high pitched vocals akin to scraping a cat down a blackboard.
Track by Track
1. Louisa Mark – Caught You In A Lie (Safari 7″)
“You… said she was your cousin…”
It all started here, in 1975. Apparently “Caught” was originally a soul song by Robert Parker, but I can’t bear to track that down after hearing this. Louisa was 14 years old when this was recorded for south London soundman Lloydie Coxsone. You can really hear all that adolescent anguish being channeled into the grooves. I was in a lock-in the other night where someone insisted in playing anthemic stadium rock. Louisa Mark reaches peaks of emotional intensity that middle aged rockers can only dream of. The backing band here is Matumbi, who we will hear from again in a little while.
2. 15-16-17 – Black Skin Boys (DEB Music 7″)
Again, the group were schoolgirls – their name came from the age of each singer in the trio. Lovers with a bit of afro-positive consciousness snuck in for all the rastamen in the dance. (See also Brown Sugar’s “I’m In Love With A Dreadlocks”). DEB was Dennis (Emmanuelle) Brown’s label whilst he was based in London.
3. Matumbi – After Tonight (from “Lovers For Lovers vol 3” LP)
UK reggae legend Dennis Bovell’s group in fine form, with the man himself on vocals I think. And yes, this is off a compilation album with a soft focus photograph of a naked couple on the cover.
4. Shade of Love African Blood – Tell Me Bout The Love (Arawak 12″)
Arawak is Bovell’s label, but the production on this is credited to B Spencer, D Luetaim and P Dover. No idea who they are and still no clue as to the identity of the vocalist. I think “Shade of…” is the name of the group rather than an individual. Any clues welcome!
5. Lorita Grahame – Young Free And Single (Intense 12″)
Bit of a disco number, almost into “Woo” Gary Davies Radio One Roadshow territory, but not quite. Lorita would go on to be a member of indie group Colourbox in the eighties, notably re-doing Jacob Miller’s “Baby I Love You So”. The NME did a double header feature with them and Augustus Pablo in 1986.
6. Melanie Fiona – Sad Songs (Island 7″)
Melanie is a new Canadian vocalist. Island snuck this out about a year ago, in a nice replica of their sixties seven inch singles. It obviously and blatantly leads us to:
7. Janet Kay – Silly Games (Scope 12″)
Everyone’s heard this, right? It was a number 2 hit in the national charts ferchrissakes! Still an outstanding record to this day. Dennis Bovell (for it is he, on the buttons, once again) is very amusing about this in the book about The Slits. He was producing their “Cut” album in some posh rural studio (where the legendary mud and flesh cover photo was taken) when Ari Up told him “Silly Games” was playing on the radio. So he dashed from The Slits to perform alongside Janet Kay on Top of the Pops. Contrast or what?
Janet recently appeared as a fairy godmother in panto at the Hackney Empire, much to the pleasure of all the Dads present. We even got treated to a brief rendition of this tune into the bargain.
8. Peter Hunnigale – Mary J (from “Free Soul” LP)
Mr Hunnigale is proper UK reggae grafter. To say he seems popular with the ladies is something of an understatement. This track is a bit of an anomaly – is it a love song or reality lyrics about a woman forced into making ends meet any which way? The LP this is taken from is superb – all sweet Hunnigale vocals over crisp original Studio One riddims, courtesy of the Peckings label.
9. Joy Mack – Reality (from “Lovers For Lovers vol 3” LP)
Yeah it’s that comp again, sorry purists, if you made it this far! I don’t know much about Joy, but this is a belter. In recent years she’s appeared in the stage version of “The Harder They Come”.
10. Maxi Priest – Strolling On (Level Vibes 12″)
Pretty much everything I wanted to write about Maxi is already here. Check the comments to see some of the love that abounds for the man. This is still one of those tunes to put on to reassure you everything is alright. Summer vibes in the middle of winter.
11. Massive Horns – Flowing On (Level Vibes 12″)
Massive Horns did loads of dubs for Fashion, including a whole album, “Merrie Melodies” which is awesome. They are credited on that LP as Annie Whitehead (trombone), Tim Sanders (alto sax, tenor sax), Al Deval (tenor sax) & Barbara Snow (trumpet). Whitehead is a bit of a legend, having also worked with Evan Parker, The Penguin Cafe Orchestra and Jah Wobble, who is very nice about her in his autobiography. I need to get around to researching the rest as well.
12. Kevin Henry & Kate – Born Again (Rhythm Force 12″)
I think this was the first Lovers Rock tune I bought. It was a dull day in Leicester, where I’d been sent by work. I found a record shop on the first floor near a market and it had about two things in I was interested in, the other being Greensleeves late 90s ragga twelve. This is proper trippy, sort of a Rhythm & Sound thing going on with it. I’ve not heard that many duets in Lovers Rock, but I think the vocal combo on this is stunning. It’s a Clem Bushay production – he also had a hand in some of the Louisa Mark tunes, for example her other huge hit “Six Sixth Street”. No idea who Kevin Henry, Kate or the band here are though.
13. Janet Kay – You Bring The Sun Out (Black Roots 12″)
I try not to repeat artists on mixes, but I will make an exception for Janet Kay in this (and indeed, in most things!). This is produced by Studio One’s keyboard king Jackie Mittoo and features him tinkling the ivories over the riddim pon the flip. I’m guessing this was recorded while Jackie was in London, right?
14. Trevor Walters – Love Me Tonight (Magnet 12″)
Easing into cheese territory perhaps, but Paul adds an avalanche of brutal effects to restore a healthy balance. In fact that tension between hard bass and sweet vocals is what makes all the tunes here work.
15. Kofi – Didn’t I (Ariwa 12″)
Mad Professor production – for a while he was releasing just as much lovers as roots and dub material, which just goes to show how popular the genre was. Kofi was originally in Lovers Rock super-trio Brown Sugar, alongside Caron Wheeler, later of Soul II Soul.