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)


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