The A-Z of reggae: B is for… Dennis Bovell, Burning Spear, Junior Byles and…

B is for Dennis Bovell… and Blackbeard (same thing). A book could and should be written about Dennis Bovell and his journey through dub, reggae, post-punk and electronic music. In fact, I think those nice chaps at Sounds of the Universe said one was being written but don’t quote me on that. I might be spreading an unfounded rumour.

Anyway, Bovell has such a long track record that I cannot do it justice with much depth here. But a quick resume would mention that he: practically invented Lover’s Rock and certainly produced its defining moment with Janet Kay’s Silly Games; produced the UK’s premier dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson on several albums; was a massive influence on post-punk via productions for The Slits, The Pop Group, Orange Juice and more; was part of the UK roots reggae vanguard with his band Matumbi; released perhaps the best dub album to come out of the UK in the shape of Dub Conference: Winston Edwards & Blackbeard at 10 Downing Street; plus a whole heap more dub in the shape of a string of albums as Blackbeard and The 4th Street Orchestra; and he continues producing fantastic records to this day with the likes of Steve Mason, Steve Cobby and Golden Teacher.

 

 

Burning Spear… Winston Rodney (the man who is Burning Spear) is perhaps the most soulful singer on the planet. Between 1973 and 1980 he released a string of albums that rank with anyone’s run of form you care to mention. Yep, right up there with The Beatles, David Bowie, Stevie Wonder or Prince.

So listen to any one of Studio One Presents Burning Spear; Rocking Time; Marcus Garvey; Man in the Hills; Dry & Heavy; Social Living; or Hail H.I.M. If you have already, then you’ll know what I mean and if you have not, then it’s my pleasure. Enjoy.

Studio One Presents… and Rocking Time represent the artist emerging and contain some of his most beautiful love songs. Marcus Garvey is the poppy one that Island over-produced but contains a fair few stone cold classics. Man in the Hills is the pastoral one for a sunny day. Dry & Heavy is basically the early tunes polished up for a wider audience. Social Living is the deep, rootsy one; a journey into the heart and soul of rastafari. Hail H.I.M. is Spear’s polished entrance into the 1980s; as hypnotic as roots reggae gets.

This one’s from the incredible Spear Burning compilation that brings together Spear’s own singles productions from 1975-1979. It is essential listening for anyone with an interest in dub or roots reggae.

 

 

Junior Byles… The first Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry production in the A-Z. There will be a stack more.

Junior Byles gave mellifluous voice to some of Perry’s most strident rastafari works. His 1973 album Beat Down Babylon is one of Scratch’s best.

Byles released a slew of singles throughout the 1970s but he was a fragile soul. The death of Haile Selassie in 1975 prompted an unsuccessful suicide attempt and Byles disappeared from the reggae scene until 1986. Records – and appearances on other people’s records – have appeared sporadically since then but none could compare with his biggest hit ‘Curley Locks’.

 

Barry Brown… 1970s Jamaican singer who teamed up with Linval Thompson and Sugar Minott. This is a nice slice of early 80s rootikal bizness.

 

 

Karl Bryan & The Afrokats… is a name previously unknown to me but not to the selector that is Prince Sherman, who found this on the B-side of Burning Spear’s 1972 single ‘New Civilisation‘.

 

 

With thanks and praise to Steven Cumming, Grim Dewar, James Fyffe and Graham Sherman. Jah Bless.

 

 

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