Sounds familiar? Remember how Mick Jones the Clash guitar man was inspired to write ‘Career Opportunities’ after he was offered a Post Office job sorting through the mail to look for letter bombs?
Elroy continues, “Notice, they put me in the finishing stages first.”
ENTER THE RUDE GIRLS, HAVING A GOOD TIME…
ONE OF the greatest effects of the punk movement is the way it’s encouraged women to get out there and play. Siouxsie and her Banshees, the Slits (who incidentally were once managed by rasta Don Letts,) Snatch (who are or were, they’ve just split, the only punk band with a bona fide reggae musician – Phil Ramocon, the jazzy keyboards player who doubles in Rico’s band,) and X Ray Spex are four of the most visible examples.
I was always conscious of the fact that there aren’t any militant sisters getting out there and playing in reggae, but don’t worry – it’s coming. Angela plays keyboards and Grace sings with Brimstone, a reggae band that’s just starting on the road.
Grace, Angela and myself sat in ballad-singer King Sounds’ car outside Angela’s flat, arguing those same old arguments…Rasta is a notoriously sexist creed, not that the punks-in-the-street are necessarily different, and King Sounds proved that he’ll be top of the list when the right time comes.
The basic argument is this. Man was first on earth, according to the Bible. Woman was second, almost an afterthought, and was added for the specific purpose of keeping house and breeding. She’s intrinsically inferior, and incredible though it may seem to all you gals in SOUNDSland reading this, there are a lot of bright rasta women generally known as sisters, or daughters, who blithely agree.
“You can never make me believe I’m equal to man!” Sister Judah, a sparkling, talkative rasta woman exclaimed in a shocked voice outside the Twelve Tribes Of Israel meeting place in South London. All the rasta men standing round nodded sagely and asked me why I was wearing overalls – did I think I was a man or something? No, it’s not that, it’s just that they’re work clothes, see it? And I work.
Anyway, back to the car. I explained to King Sounds that there were two ways of construing the facts set out in the Bible. To me it seemed just as, if not more, likely that woman was the new, improved, streamlined version of man incorporating all the good points and adding a few more.
Another argument invalidated.
King Sounds was staggered at my cheek.
“But of course women are inferior!” he yelled, as if his whole world was on the verge of disintegrating if he didn’t get this sorted out right now (and how right he is…) “Women were put on earth to breed! That’s why there aren’t more women musicians! They were put on this earth to fuck! Don’t listen to her, girls!”
Grace and Angela turned slowly and stared at each other. Angela said, “I never thought you felt that way. I hope you don’t start treating me like that,” and started getting out of the car. “Pay no attention to Vivien,” Sounds called out, “she’s talking from the devil!”
Angela’s neat perky locks bobbed back through the window. “I don’t need to listen to her. I have my own thoughts. But I agree.” Chant down Babylon, sisters.
AND THE PLAYERS OF INSTRUMENTS SHALL BE THERE
APART from the Letts-instigated tradition of reggae records between sets, the main impetus for punk enthusiasm for reggae is down to the musicians. The Clash definitely lead the way – their cover of ‘Police And Thieves’ is the strongest vinyl evidence to date of new wave sympathy for their black peer group. Even down to the shot of the rioting under the Westway at the ’76 Notting Hill Carnival on their album sleeve, the Clash have always laid their souls on the red, green and gold line. Bernie Rhodes was right when he described them as “a roots band.”
Johnny Rotten, turned on by his old friend John Grey, may not have done exactly that, but the influence of his recent Capital Radio interview may well prove to be incalculable.
The shock of hearing Dr. Alimantado’s exquisite rhythm and melody as he sings, “If you feel that you’ve got no reason for living, don’t determine my life,” was heightened as Johnny calmly told the peak-time listening audience that when he got home after being beaten up in the street, this was the single he put on to soothe his soul.
Dr. Alimantado wrote this song after being knocked over by a bus driver who, the Doc feels sure, psyched right out of the good driver’s code when he saw Tado’s natty, natty dreadlocks flying in the breeze. The sentiments extended over distant seas and wound up applying to a punk-rock musician with devastating accuracy. Personally, once the initial shock of hearing the Culture pre-release was over, it was a joyful experience simply because it proved how great roots reggae sounds on the radio, liberated from the ghetto stigma of A Reggae Show (necessary though they are, what with the crummy backward thinking of all radio bods with the exception of our own Jah Peel, Johnny was leaning nonchalantly/watchfully against the back wall of The Other Cinema waiting for the Slits to appear when I went up and told him how great the show had been.
“It’s only what I listen to at home, what the great mass of the British public ought to be able to hear but can’t,” Johnny said, semi-ironic, semi-bitter, very pointed.
Do you mainly check for dub, militant stuff, or do you listen to the lovers music too? “I listen to everything. I love music, and I make very sure I know all about it.”
No jestering. I remembered when Rotten had laid into me backstage at the Roundhouse one day for not being up to date because I’d only just reviewed Pablo Moses’ ‘Revolutionary Dream’, – just available on British release, it had been knocking around for months on Jamaican (i.e. expensive) pre-release.
Squished up against the wall of The Other Cinema, punks to the right of us, punks to the left of us, Johnny talked about British reggae bands like the Cimarons with a sensitivity and insight that proved he takes his music as a serious thing.
“I don’t like the idea of a lot of emphasis on punk and reggae. That way both the musics could get diluted.”
Johnny is fearful of reggae becoming the latest in thing, a trendy bandwagon – “I’ve seen how the punk movement was almost killed by the media, I’d hate it to happen to reggae too.”
But I reckon there’ll always be an underground roots scene. And for the moment, it’s a case of reggae bands simply being able to survive, to eat, to keep a roof over their heads, like the Diamonds sing. Besides, they really want to have their music heard. Surely you, of all people, can tune in to that – dodging round the country playing under assumed names because of The Pressure, I’ll bet that wasn’t how you imagined it was gonna be in the pre-100 Club days. You must be under more pressure than anyone in this cinema…
Johnny’s deathshead smile lights up. “If you mean, do I get knifed more than anybody else, yes, that’s true…”
UNDER HEAVY MANNERS
“WE’VE just come from playing in Scotland, and there’s a lot of people who want to see punk rock up there but other people won’t let them. That’s persecution, to me. That’s what tonight’s about too, people being persecuted for looking different.”
BILLY IDOL yelled at the audience at Hackney Town Hall. Friendly strong men stood two-deep, arms linked to hold back rabidly enthusiastic nay, hysterical, Generation X fans. It was a triumphant set for Gen-X, alarming for anyone liable to be knocked over in the excitement. Meanwhile the Cimarons were cooling out in a brown-leather panelled council meeting room, thwacking dominoes on the oak refectory table with stylish body movements and warlike whoops – just like back home in Jamaica, where dominoes are played in every back street at night, lanterns flickering on rickety card tables.
The Cimarons sauntered on stage. When you’ve been playing together for a decade, getting audiences up and cheering from Japan to Germany to Jamaica to the Apollo, Harlesden, you don’t get neurotic about following up a barnstormer set.
The sudden adjustment in rhythm and tempo might have thrown some of the audience – for a lot of the predominantly white punk audience it was their first exposure to live reggae – but it was well cool, the way the pogo people at the front who’d been damaging the rather fragile stage with full frontal hurls started to shift their hips in new rocking beat.
And then, a jam, suggested with slight diffidence by Red, the Rock Against Racism organiser, and enthusiastically received by the Cimarons and Gen-X both.
It started out with just Tony James playing bass with the Cimarons, and wound up a wholesale ital stew – Derwood, Gen-X guitarist laying into neo-reggae drums, singer Billy Idol playing guitar, with Locksley Gitchie, the Cimarons guitarist, flashing those great horses-hoofs Upsetters ska style cymbals.
Nobody wanted to stop playing; the Slickers’ great ‘Johnny Too bad’ (hear it on Island’s Harder They Come soundtrack album) even Tapper Zukie’s ‘M.P.L.A’, hit highs of energy, foaming over as the whole hall chanted ‘black, white, unite’.
Tony James lay back, on his bed later on at home, coming down slow after the emotional sweep of the gig.
“It was so great to be playing along with reggae drums after trying to play reggae bass alone in your bedroom,” he sighed, blissed-out.
“I really want to apply reggae techniques to rock and roll. I don’t want to be a white guy playing reggae, I want to play our songs, but understand what they do with production, use the way they leave gaps – like you have a switch that applies treble, I’d like a switch to put more gaps in…
“From the bass point of view, I love the way they keep up the rhythm – like you’re still nodding, but the bass player’s stopped playing. Thats what I wanna be, I want to see punks pogoing but I’m not playing! Because the rhythm’s still in your head.
“You know, they’re the only guys who are taking music and using ’77 production ideas to create something different – like you have a version, and a dub of the version…you create some sort of other music from the original, like the Beatles did with the backward tapes in Sergeant Pepper. It’s real exciting – all I want for Christmas is an Eventide Digital Delay Unit…
“Only thing is, it’s hard to play dub at punk rock speed, ‘cos by the time you’ve left a gap, the song’s over!”