Volume 5 of ‘Dub Influence’ brings us a very special chart from none other than UK jazz legend, saxophonist Mr Nat Birchall. I’ve been a big fan of Nat’s music ever since hearing his stuff played on Gilles Peterson’s radio show around 5 years ago when Nat’s ‘Guiding Spirit’ LP had just been released. It was clear that the spirit of Pharoah Sanders and John Coltrane was alive and well… and living in Manchester! I’ve seen Nat play live many times since then, as part of trumpeter Matthew Halsall’s band, and last year I had the pleasure of witnessing Nat’s own incredible quintet play at The Vortex in Dalston. Their ‘Live in Larissa’ 2xLP from last year is a modern classic. I can’t recommend it enough. Nat’s new album ‘Invocations’ is due for release on Jazzman very soon… so look out for that, I can’t wait to hear it.
What some people may not know is that Nat is a great lover of reggae and dub, and has been buying it since the early 70s. He is incredibly knowledgable about the music and has put me onto many great records over the last few years. If you haven’t checked it, take a read of Nat’s brilliant writings about some of his favourite dub records on his own website. The man is deep!
For his VERSION ‘Dub Influence’ chart Nat has treated us to a Disco Mix 45s special! For those who may not know, when the New York disco 12″ phenomenon took off in the mid 70s, the 12″ format also became popular in the world of reggae, with labels releasing special ‘disco mix’ 12″s. The difference with the reggae disco mixes is they comprised of 2 or more different versions of the same tune edited together and released on a nice fat sounding 45rpm 12″ (as opposed to the NYC disco approach of one track being extended and remixed a la Walter Gibbons’ mix of Double Exposure). Anyway, less of my waffle, time to hand over to the man himself. Take it away Nat…
1. Yabby You, Trinity & King Tubbys – ‘Chant Down Babylon Kingdom/King Pharaoh Plague’ (Vivian Jackson – JA, Prophets – UK) 12″ Disco 45 1976
This is probably my all time favourite 12″ Disco mix. When the Disco mix phenomenon took hold in Jamaica in 1976 not all the songs released in this fashion took advantage of the benefits this new format made possible. This one is an exception and fully maximises the potential available in the 12″ 45 pressing. On both sides the vocal part is heard first, with a more dubbed-up mix than the 7″ or LP versions, the Deejay (Trinity) version follows and in both cases is segued skilfully from the vocal part without dropping a beat. This disco mix is also LOUD! The sound is BIG and deep, with excellent bass made available by the fact that the 12″ record allows for the groove (for a relatively short amount of music, usually around 5 or 6 minutes) to be “spread” across the whole side, thus enabling a bigger sound as well as superior sound reproduction in general.
These songs are from Yabby’s LP “Chant Down Babylon Kingdom/Walls Of Jerusalem” (Nationwide – UK, Prophets – JA) and represent, to me at least, the pinnacle of his work. Catching everything at a high, the songs, Roots rhythms, musicianship, recording quality, King Tubby’s dub mixing, extended vocal/Deejay, big 12″ sound. Perfection without objection.
2. Horace Andy, Jah Stitch & King Tubbys – ‘Zion Gate/Every Wicked Have To Crawl’ (Carib Gems – UK) 12″ Disco 45 1977
This record shares many of the same qualities as the Yabby You – Tip-top rhythm/song/mix, with the vocal segueing perfectly into the deejay version by Jah Stitch. And a BIG sound again. Some of the better Disco mixes are typically twice as big and loud as the LP counterparts, and about 30-50% louder than the 7″ pressings. Jah Stitch was one of my favourite Deejays in the 70s, his voice alone was Dread and he always had something interesting to say. When he dropped his lyrics on a rhythm like this, with King Tubbys in full effect, the effect was devastating. Jah Stitch was shot in Kingston in 1976 but lived to tell the tale, immortalising the incident in his “No Dread Can’t Dead”, a version of Cornell Campbell’s “Stallowat”.
3. Dennis Walks, I. Roy, MBV, Bongo Herman & King Tubbys – ‘Combination Drifter’ (Moodisc – JA) 12″ Disco 45 1977
When the Deejay style started to take over the music scene in the early 70s many of the producers started to record the talkers on old hits from their back catalogue. U. Roy had numerous hits toasting over old Treasure Isle songs from the 60’s for producer Duke Reid for instance. Harry Mudie was not a prolific producer but a lot of his output was pure gold. Dennis Walks’ big 1969 hit song “The Drifter” is one of those rhythms that has spawned a thousand versions. Not without good reason, this rhythm is MASSIVE in every way. I. Roy cut his version (simply called “Drifter” on its original release) around 1970 and it was issued on 45 in JA and the UK as well as in the USA. But this 1977 disco mix version brings together the original vocal, I. Roy’s deejay cut, plus the horns version “Midnight Drifter” by MBV and the Bongo Herman bongo cut “Car Pound Drifter” plus that version’s dubside “Nitty Gritty Drifter” in a tour de force mix up that is spread over both sides of this seriously heavy piece of wax. Tubbys starts to dub up the rhythm right from the very start of the vocal side and gets in some wild dub effects along the way. Showing remarkable ingenuity King Tubby takes the original spoken intro to the Bongo Herman version (all the different versions segue into each other beautifully again) and splices it into the mix right at the very end of side two, just before the music fades. “Bongo Herman, Bongo Herman, them gone with the car, them gone with the car!” “Which part??” (ie “Where?”)
4. Augustus Pablo & Professor/King Tubbys – ‘Israel In Harmony/Israel Dub’ (Rockers – JA/US) 12″ Disco 45 1979
Augustus Pablo was a legend in my world of the early to mid 70s, still is of course. His very name (which he “inherited” from producer Herman Chin-Loy) was enough to conjure up mystic images and moods. He was prolific both as a musician, playing melodica plus various keyboards, and as a producer of both his own material and that of other artists. This deep, deep instrumental/dub excursion first entered my world in 1981 when a friend of mine put it on a cassette tape along with some other music of the time. This tune was my favourite of them all, and it took me a good while to getting around to finding out what it was called and locating a copy on vinyl. The tune is Pablo’s melodica version of Earl Sixteen’s “Changing World” and is one of my favourite Pablo tunes. Mixed at King Tubby’s studio probably by Professor in 1979.
5. Faybiene Miranda & The Black Disciples – ‘Prophecy’ (Tribesman – UK) 1976 12″ Disco 45
Faybiene Miranda only made two records for Ocho Rios-based producer Jack Ruby to my knowledge. The other one, “Destiny”, doesn’t work quite so well as this classic, for me anyways. Born in Panama, via the USA, she visited Jamaica in the mid 70s and eventually cut this huge piece of music with the Black Disciples, which was Burning Spear’s band when he recorded his classic albums for Jack Ruby, “Marcus Garvey” and “Man In The Hills”. This is kind of an example of something that might not work so well in theory, American hippie writing and singing a song about Marcus Garvey and freedom for the people back when the US was only just being introduced to this music. But it works brilliantly, the rhythm is stunningly heavy with a killer intro and bass line, perfectly rendered to wax on another LOUD disco 45. The band featured the real heavyweights of Jamaican roots at the time, including Horsemouth, Robbie Shakespeare, Chinna Smith, Dirty Harry, Skully, Touter, Bobby Ellis and Herman Marquis. And the vocal is delivered perfectly with an utterly convincing confidence and “cry” that belies Faybiene’s non-Jamaican roots.
6. Glen Brown & God’s Children Band & King Tubbys – ‘Melodica International’ (South East Music – JA) 12″ disco 45 1978
Glen Brown is a legend of Jamaican Roots music, with good reason. His catalogue is filled with heavy rhythms that are considered classics. Tunes like “Dirty Harry” and “Save Our Nation” have been re-cut many, many times and every version is a killer. This particular tune is on the B side of Wayne Jarrett’s “Youth Man” which utilises the rhythm track of Glenroy Richards’ “Wicked Can’t Run Away”. This extended disco 45 begins with a dub mix. After the clatter of drums at the intro Tommy McCook’s tenor saxophone heralds what is to come in his inimitable fashion. McCook is one of my heroes of the saxophone and always played with a strong, clear tone. His phrasing is exceptionally strong, even by Jamaican standards. The melodica version follows the dub, played by Glen Brown himself, not Pablo as some US issues state. King Tubbys did all Glen Brown’s mixing I believe and it was a deadly combination.
7. Devon Irons/Lee Perry, Anthony “Sangie” Davis/Doctor Alimantado – ‘Vampire/Words’ (Black Art – JA) 12″ Disco 45 1978
In 1977/78 Lee Perry’s output as a producer was at its height. The sounds he was conjuring up using his basic equipment in his Black Ark studio were at their most deep and dense. Some of the 12″ mixes in particular were like artefacts from another world, such was the mystic quality of the sound contained in the heavy vinyl grooves. These two songs, as well as some others like Watty Burnett’s “Open The Gate” or The Twin Roots “Know Love”, are pinnacles of the Upsetter’s methodology. The rhythms are first class to begin with. “Words” uses the rhythm track of the original release of the song (as “Words Of My Mouth” credited to The Gatherers) from 1973, but has extra layers of instrumentation which add to the density and intensity of the music. Lee Perry’s percussion and swirling dub effects add to the mystique of the music, which was mystical enough to begin with. In the second part an alto saxophone is introduced and Lee Perry himself deejays over the mix. But the other side is even dreader than this! “Vampire” begins abruptly with dubbed horns and vocals before the drums roll into the rhythm and the journey begins. Dubbed horns and backing vocals enter and leave the mix at various times, all the while the dub mix drives the music onward gathering intensity as it progresses. At the half way stage Doc Alimantado declaims at the top of his voice “Nah true dready! Everything the Rasta man do he got to fight!” and the rhythm stops and then immediately starts again from the beginning. Alimantado was at the height of his own powers at this time and he builds the intensity all the way, with Perry’s dub mixing adding to the effect. The best music always transcends notes, words and rhythm etc and this is an exceptional example.
8. Militant Barry/Keith Hudson – ‘Idi Amin Disco/Blood Up/Free Black People’ (Conflict – UK) 12″ Disco 45 1977
Keith Hudson was responsible for some of the deepest, most profound and often the most experimental roots music coming out of Jamaica from the late sixties/early seventies and into the late 70s. His output was recorded in Jamaica for the most part but often remixed and/or overdubbed in the UK. This underappreciated disco 45 featuring UK-based deejay Militant Barry appeared in 1977 and is a long time favourite of mine. The lyrics celebrate (!!) the then topical subject of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. “Sounds called Idi Amin on ‘im golden anniversary” In a bizarre personality reversal Militant Barry states that “Amin come fe free black people” 1977 was the year of Queen Elizabeth’s silver jubilee in the UK, but Militant Barry continues with “Him first (beat) the queen” (In 1977 the UK ceased diplomatic relations with Uganda and Amin declared himself “CBE” Conqueror of the British Empire!). We might believe the deejay wasn’t being entirely serious however, as he also declares “He was seen on the moon…and it wasn’t too soon.” Whatever Militant Barry’s lyrical intention, at the half way stage Keith Hudson’s grave voice eases into the mix intoning “Woaah, them a people yah no change, them a people yah no change. Same mouth free Barrabas, same mouth free Barabbas. (It was the same thinking and the same type of people that freed Barabbas instead of Jesus). But I and I no free Barrabas, natty dread a free Selassie I.” Meaning Rasta should praise Haile Selassie instead of Idi Amin. Hudson continues with “Pilate wash him hands so clean, but Pilate hands a blood up, blood up, blood up.” All of which may possibly be interpreted as Hudson washing his hands of the deejay’s controversial lyrics!
The B side is an extended dub mix of the same thumping rockers rhythm and it manages to keep up the searing intensity of the A side.
9. L. Jones – ‘Day Dreaming Of Africa’ (Xamayca Music – UK) 12″ Disco 45 1977
I have no idea who L. Jones is, some people say it’s Lloyd Jones but it doesn’t sound like the same guy who did the classic “Rome” to my ears. And I have no insight into the origins of this record. The label states “Produced: Clivey” which means absolutely nothing to me! But the music means a lot. It’s a very beautiful piece of music and a nice rhythm which at first sounds a little like Alton Ellis’ “Hey World” but isn’t. It’s a very understated piece of music and like all such music it grows on you until it gets right under your skin. The vocal is beautifully sung and along with the lyrics conveys an upbeat optimistic quality that pervades the whole record. “I stretch forth my arms, and call my sons home. I throw out oppression… And create a brilliant civilisation once again. And wake up my children, from their eternal sleep…” The vocal segues perfectly into the dub by a very skilful tape splice, further evidence of the considerable effort put into this music by the engineers involved.
10. Sylford Walker/King Tubbys – ‘Africa’ (a.k.a Our Father Homeland a.k.a. Jah Jah Power) (Kingley Sounds – UK, South East Music – JA) 12″ Disco 45 1979
When I was buying fresh roots music in the mid 70s I would buy anything I could find with Sylford Walker’s name on it. Which wasn’t very much. I first bought his stunning “Burn Babylon” on the Birmingham-based Locks record label in 1975 and was very taken with both his voice and his style. I subsequently bought 45s of “Lamb’s Bread” and “Clensyness Is Godlyness” plus this UK-pressed disco 45. In later years I found his “Deuteronomy”, “Jah Golden Pen” and “Chant Down Babylon” 45s and in 1988 Greensleeves issued his “Lamb’s Bread” LP which had even more tunes that had eluded me back in the 70s. All these tunes, with the exception of “Burn Babylon” and “Jah Golden Pen”, were produced by the great Glen Brown. As I have written above, Glen Brown and King Tubbys was a deadly combination and this one is no exception. The rhythm utilised is Glen Brown’s version of Isaac Hayes’ “Do Your Thing” which has inspired a few Jamaican versions, including The Chosen Few and The Tornadoes. This 12″ mix has some inspired trombone by the great Vin Gordon a.k.a. Don Drummond Jr. making this a weighty excursion all round. The second half is given over to a great Tubbys dub with more trombone featured dub-wise style. This rhythm was used for quite a few songs by Glen Brown’s roster of artists, including the absolute classic “Two Wedden Skank”, and also one of my very favourite dub mixes ever, a 45 entitled “Black Dub”.