Sunday, August 15, 2010

banksy may, or may not, have been here



Well. The origin of this post - the inclusion of this one song here, at least - is convoluted and curious. A matter of chance. Straightened roots. Jonderneathica - from Underneathica - certainly provoked, in part, this latest slide into phase 2 of the dub. With timely intervention and nod to Ari Up's mischievous association with On-U-Sound. Her continuing adventure in a black market cut. The role of Keith Levene in aiding and abetting.

And then, more specifically, there was the matter of my friend, Jon - the other Jon, the New Jersey refugee with Tillie from Asbury Park still breathing in his armpit - and his very recent account of how "Staggering Heights" provided lucid relief from "too much liquor, guns, drugs, unhappy girls, poverty and small town life."

Or absolute surrender to a script straight out of "comedy central". 

I did not recognise the sleeve. I did not stop to measure up, or try on the jacket.

In fact, were it not for yet more coincidence - the "Copper Shot Dub" of Roots Radic on a passing bus -  I might have never made the connection. And that would be an abysmal shame.

Recording "War of Words" for Adrian Maxwell Sherwood's London label in late '81, proto dub syndicate, Singers and Players was - loosely - a collaboration between various musicians formed out of celebrated Kingston session players, Roots Radics, and top flight superstars including Prince Far I, Bim Sherman, Mikey Dread. Guitarist, Eric "Bingy" Lamont and bassman, Errol "Flabba" Holt were seasoned professionals; contributing to a string of dance hall hits as part of Channel One house band, The Revolutionaries. Half a decade before the the departure of Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare prompted a change of identity, if not direction.

The On-U-Sound back catalogue, mirroring those Kingston launched imprints Sherwood coveted, is an impenetrable tangle of poorly indexed releases. Myriad pressings. Mixes. Much of it, allegedly, incompletely represented in later compilations.

Sherman's "World of Dispensation" from "War of Words" - released through Ed Bahlman's NYC based 99 Records in the US - would be reprised on the dub, "Resolution (Part 2)" on the On-U-Sound sequel, "Revenge of the Underdog" in early '82, but by 1983 Ashanti Roy - formerly of The Congos - brought a wholly lighter flavour to the table. 

While the resulting "Staggering Heights" may be fondly remembered for Far I's splendid and fanciful, "Bedward the Flying Preacher", or Roy's "African Blood" - issued as an appetizer ahead of the LP - closer inspection reveals the following song to be something of a show stealer. Stripped to the bone and fleet of heel.

Gamely dodging bullets. Bouncing over cracks. Like The Clash shadowing Junior Murvin after a bright summer's drinking in the park.

And that is probably exactly how one should hear it, on balance. On a boombox. A ghetto blaster. Not basking in the shade in front of a finger smeared monitor on a Sunday afternoon, fatigued from god knows what or when. The bass tuned out a little, the brilliance of clarity dimmed by a yellowing blind.

Still. I made it to the supermarket. The chilled aisles packed either side with exotic fruits and choice meats. I bought a mango. I smoked two or three cigarettes between underground rides; I endowed my default browser with a new persona; I tidied my desktop.

I watered an orchid.

The skies are ablaze. I will share the mango when it has ripened on the window sill. The cigarettes I could do without, but can't.

Written and sung by Roydel Johnson.

SINGERS AND PLAYERS: SNIPERS IN THE STREET from "Staggering Heights" LP (On-U-Sound) 1983 (UK)

11 comments:

M4SK said...

good stuff, as you say, a very difficult back catalogue to access but worth the indulgence. Bedward was always a big tune because of that battery of drums that erupts as the song drifts into the dub.
I honestly spent most of my life thnking Keiths Levene and Leblanc were the same bloke, part of me still does.
MP3 in the post (almost)

Jon said...

I recently shared some memories of moving 2,000 miles because I had met a girl with a good record collection. Before we decided to combine our collections we wooed one another with mixtapes. The best of my mixtapes led off with this song. I believe this was the song that won her heart.

ib said...

M4SK:

You have my ear.

Incidentally, there are several very surreal dopplegangers wandering around in my head too. From old Holywood matinee idols to television personalities. Once the identities inexplicably merge, they cannot be extricated.

Jon:

Thanks, man, for tipping me to this.

Sheer class. If i were a doll, you might well have wooed me too.

I remember you mentioning a lost gem of dub a good while back. I didn't remember it then, I don't believe I have heard "Staggering Heights" before, definitely not in its entirety. If I had, this would surely have leapt out. What a great song.

And the production, the mix, is awesome too. Spare as hell.

All these fine dubs...

I remember when Tom Tom Club released "Genius of Love" in '82 or 3. Referencing Sly & Robbie. I got hold of a copy and crudely spliced it with PIL's "This is Not a Love Song". It made perfect sense at the time. Hard to mix the two seamlessly without twin decks, but damn it, it turned out pretty good all things considered.

said...

I can't believe On-U Sound coming off the bleachers. I had mentioned them in past comments the last time dub reared its head here & I thought you eschewed the 2nd Generation Dub. Greats like Tackhead & Africa Head Charge have always been in my listening stacks, but Keith LeBlanc, now you're talking. Along with Skip McDonald & Doug Wimbish, they made some fantastic musick. Little Axe is perhaps one of my favorite bands of all times...The Wolf that House Built is always an excellent listen, there is not much finer.

ib said...

Take 2:

(Now I'm even editing - occasionally deleteing - my comments. Like the ministry of disinformation.)

Well. I have nothing against 2nd Generation Dub, per se... I am a purist only so far as my sometimes lamentably uneducated - or just plain resisistant - palate allows.

In defence, in the 1980s I was not very enamored with most things. Including the diluted, synthesized not-quite-dubs which infiltrated the UK and European charts. That was a bitch. Sugar Minot. Aswad.

I many ways, I feel, those technological advances which helped make for great House music also watered down things until the whole plant was in danger of drowning. That is why the line between Tubby and Scientist and walking it is such a perilous tightwire.

I switched off to a lot of things.

A lot of good shit, no doubt, passed me by; On-U-Sound included.

In fact. Now that I think on it, it's a fucking wonder I made it through the 1980s with any sense of taste intact at all.

In spite of it all. I'm open to rehabilitation. Seems like a better option than extinction, maybe.

jonderneathica said...

I am pleased to be the provocateur, and glad that you are enjoying the On-U Sound. One of my favorites is "Threat to Creation" (credited to both Creation Rebel and the New Age Steppers). There's lots of Keith Levene guitar noise on that one.

The On-U catalogue is confusing indeed, but I think the best of it was recorded in the early 80's, when Sherwood brought together the post-punk scene (members of PiL, the Slits, and the Pop Group) and expatriates from Jamaica (Prince Far I, Ashanti Roy, Bim Sherman, and the Revolutionaries). The fewer synthesizers involved, the better I like it.

ib said...

Further to M4SK & NØ's specific mention of Keith LeBlanc:

See. This is what I mean about the 80s; it never registered - or I had entirely forgotten - that LeBlanc was behind "Malcolm X: No Sell Out".

My memory of it is shot to pieces, although I still have the Island 12" tucked away in its cellophane sleeve. I have not listened to it in maybe 20 years.

Round about this time I was on friendly terms with a Nigerian who was compelled by his State to come and study here. I lent him my Corgi paperback of "Malcolm X Speaks", and gave him a cassette copy of "No Sell Out" and some Chicago & Detroit based Electro shit.

He was a good bloke, and constantly in fear that should his grades slip his wife and extended family would be held accountable.

Doug Wimbish I have no knowledge of, I don't believe. Skip McDonald only vaguely through his association with the Sugarhill Gang Band.

ib said...

jonderneathica:

I will keep my ears peeled for "Threat to Creation". And Sherwood's connivance with the Slits & Pop Group.

I agree. The less synthesizer, the better. Although. The drum pads on "Snipers On the Street" is astounding.

said...

Here’s Little Axe - The Wolf that House Built. Little Axe is Skip McDonald, yes, of Sugarhill Records & “Rappers’ Delight". You can read a great write-up about the album here. But give this a listen, let me know what you think. I know it is one album I would never get rid of as I lighten myself of debris.

jonderneathica said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jonderneathica said...

Nathan, I remember reading that Moby's hugely successful album "Play" owed a great debt not only to the blues and gospel artists whom he sampled, but also to the very similar album that Little Axe made five years before Moby. It reminds me of all the fuss that was made over "My Life in a Bush of Ghosts" when the samples of preaching and singing had been used before (and to better effect) by Holger Czukay on his album "Movies".

Ib, Doug Wimbish is a bass player who has lent his talents to the bands Tackhead and Living Colour.