Off-topic Sunday by guest blogger - DJ Dave Taylor.
The summer of ’76, rural Lincolnshire was not a hotbed of cultural diversity, but certainly bloody hot. I was nine. I vividly remember my dad hauling me out of bed one summer eve and running me down the garden to a small beck (stream) that was absolutely rammed with eels swimming/wriggling along the beck to get to another deeper water source due to the drought.
I was packed off to my Aunty Olive/Uncle Lenny in Leicester for school holidays. They lived on Eyres Monsell, a post-war council estate. My cousin Paul was ten years older than me and THE major influence on my formative years and forays into youth tribes.
He would have been classed as a post-suedehead smoothie, although he wouldn’t have been aware of that label, it has only been given that title in later years when street culture historians have attempted to overly analyse youth fashion. Let’s not get too rose-tinted about things, these were kids just buying the fashions of the day from high street stores. I firmly believe that today’s obsessive detail freaks that follow these quintessential British youth cults, get way too hung up on details and treat it like a Civil War re-enactment society.
Cousin Paul rode a turquoise Lambretta GP, wore cherry red 1460 DM’s with white trim tops (which he would ‘hot spoon’ black polish into the creases), Wrangler Bluebell parallels with ironed in front crease and sewn-in 1in turn-ups, Ben Sherman, Jaytex or Brutus candy checked shirts with penny or beagle collars (if the shirt was a button-down, it had to be a four finger collar) all purchased from Irish Menswear or Lord Anthony. His haircut was in the style of Bowie Aladdin Sane or Rod Stewart Shotgun Express.
Saturdays were football days. Filbert Street, Leicester City. The halcyon days of Frank Worthington (above), Keith Weller, Lenny Glover, Stevie Whitworth, Mark Wallington between the sticks...
I would sit in the stand with Uncle Lenny, Cousin Paul in the Kop. After the match, home on the bus, Paul would momentarily pop back home for a greasy spoon tea (Aunty Ollie’s homemade rissoles cooked in dripping were the diet of champions) served on brown Pyrex plates. Paul would then dowse himself in Blue Stratos, change into spray-on Farah slacks and head out to Tiffany’s in the market square...leaving me, now 10/11 years old, with his record collection. Wow. 7in singles of from the labels: Tamla, Stax, Bluebeat, Chess, Pama, Duke Reid, Treasure Isle, Trojan....easy to find this vinyl in Leicester with its large Jamaican/Caribbean community.
I was ‘in’. I had no idea what most of the Jamaican artists were singing to me. I knew the Detroit boys/girls were from a perceived world of glamour and glitz. I wasn’t sure what the men of Chess meant by getting their mojo working, but I liked it.
Back at home, in art class, I made my own Tamla Motown logo t-shirt. One of the older kids came to school on a Vespa 50 special. At lunchtime walking to the local Mace shop (where the owner would sell you a single smoke for 5p) I would walk past a modded Mk1 Vespa P200. I was in awe of that scooter, owned by Gary Fontaine, early scooter boy, who I still bump into occasionally.
By now school could go do one, I wanted me a slice of this (I didn’t know what to call ‘this’ yet). Chaucer and logarithms didn’t quite hold my attention as much as Otis or Wilson.
Thursdays, Top of The Pops and Smash Hits release day. 1979 The Specials perform Gangsters on TOTP (I think Madness were on the same show with The Prince). WTF is this? The downfall of my education started right there. ‘An earthquake is erupting but not on Orange Street’. A mysterious language to me. Note: Later on in my record collecting life I started coming across JA/Blank promo 7ins stamped by various producers with the Orange Street address. Then those lyrics made sense.
As this period of Two-Tone/ska/reggae/punk mash-up continued I would buy everything I could get my hands on, but had started to notice on writing credits that I didn’t recognise the names of my new musical heroes on the labels/sleeves. Further investigation was required. Cousin Paul would be the font of knowledge here. The B-side of Too Much Too Young [The Skinhead Symphony] is not credited to Hall/Dammers… Paul digs in the Sunblest bread basket where his 7s were kept, handing me Guns of Navarone by The Skatalites. ‘Listen to that, young ‘un.’
The jigsaw was coming together.
At about this time Trojan (*) records saw a new potential market and started reissuing their Tighten Up and Reggae Chart Busters series on 12in vinyl... Hallelujah! So the Specials didn’t invent ska music?
Keep in mind this is pre-internet days and I grew up in a house of Rogers and Hammerstein musicals and post-war big band. I was thus completely unaware of the legacy of Jamaican or Chicago/Detroit artists.
Clothes, scooters, tribes, booze, girls, light use of recreational pharmaceuticals all followed. If you have a modicum of interest in this field you will see a logical progression into collecting and discovering more and more black music. To this day I am still finding records that are 50+ years old that are new to me, and they nearly always have an interesting story behind them. Some are half-arsed cover versions or a virtual copy of their predecessor release. Take for example The Four Tops ‘I can’t help myself’, a million seller for Tamla Motown written by Holland Dozier and instrumented by the Motown house band, The Funk Brothers. Berry Gordy (CEO) obviously wanted to capitalise on this success and the follow up single was ‘The Same Old Song’ and it pretty much is!
In the same vein, The Capitols “Cool Jerk” followed up with “We’ve Got a Thing That’s in a Groove” And they certainly did, by re-recording The Cool Jerk with different lyrics!
*The Trojan record label as we know it was founded in Britain in 1968, to serve the burgeoning appetite for JA reggae/Ska/rocksteady to the new breed skinheads/rude boys. The name comes from Arthur “Duke” Reid’s sound system that was built inside a British-built Trojan truck. Duke Reid “The Trojan” was a notorious hard gangster/Yardie of the time, always seen sporting a pistol in his waistband. He founded the The Duke Reid and Treasure Isle labels and would distribute his new 7in singles from his truck to local radio stations. The 7s were stacked up on top of each other with no sleeves and would get badly damaged whilst being pulled from the piles...finding early promo mint/clean Jamaican 7in records is difficult because of this method of distribution. Reid and other sound system men were tough business men, always on the search for the next 'big' artist. They would get someone into the studio, record, push the record out to local stations and the artist may hear their tune being broadcast. The singer would then visit Reid to collect their royalties. ‘Hello I’m Tony Scott, I recorded for you a couple of weeks back, can I get my pay cheque?’ Reid would show them the 7in with the artist name as Toni Scotch... ‘I don’t know any Tony Scott, get out of here!’