It was in 1991 - and mainly because of 'The One Love Concert' which took place at West London Sport Stadium on Sunday 21st July - that we decided to go on a trip to London. Although announced reggae stars like Gregory Isaacs and Frankie Paul didn't appear on stage it was truly worthwile being there. The vibes were right and fine and sometimes notable reggae moments were provided by artists like Ras Michael, Israel Vibration, Alton Ellis, Earl Sixteen, Junior Reid, Culture, Freddie McGregor, Barrington Levy and Big Youth but, in the end, the most impressive and memorable performance had to be credited to Bob Andy. Exactly eight years after 'The One Love Concert' we went back to London, however not - as one may presume - to be present at the 'Reggae Sunsplash U.K. 1999' (due to other commitments that made it impossible for us to be in London on the day that this festival took place), but in this case for having a good time and meet some people who are involved in the London reggae scene.

So, if you are seriously thinking of visiting London sometime this article may provide you some useful background information and other interesting matters from a reggae point of view. Read about the Record Shops, the Clubs, Reggae on the radio, the Sound Systems, Sound Tapes and also how Britain and London in particular became an important centre for Reggae Music.
To start with the latter : UK's reggae history in a nutshell.

Long before Bob Marley & The Wailers became very successful on an international level Jamaican migration had already ensured that the UK had become the major market for the Island's music.
The musical tastes of these Jamaican émigrés made that Jamaican produced music thrived in Britain's inner-city areas where Jamaicans had settled. First Ska, Rocksteady and then Reggae in the late sixties. It was thanks to the British white youth - the so-called "skinhead audience" - that reggae 45s made a concentrated part in the British pop charts with more than twenty reggae singles reaching these charts between 1968 and 1971. Among the most successful were The Upsetters' "Return Of Django", "Liquidator" by the Harry J. All Stars, Dave & Ansell Collins' "Double Barrel" and "Monkey Spanner", Max Romeo's "Wet Dream", Bob and Marcia's "Young, Gifted And Black" and "Pied Piper" and Nicky Thomas' "Love Of The Common People".

During the mid-seventies talented musicians and singers had emerged from the expatriate communities to form strong self-contained bands. Matumbi, Aswad, Cimarons and Steel Pulse can be reckoned to the outfits that established themselves and became very successful in the late seventies/early eighties. However, the most distinctive contribution to reggae of the seventies and eighties was the hugely popular 'lovers rock', a style of reggae music that Britain made its own but, although a broad audience loves it, is still pretty much ignored by the music media. When the early eighties dancehall music emerged in Jamaica original and fresh UK-based artists soon followed the trend. Deejays and singers such as Macka B, Smiley Culture, Mikey General and Andrew Paul managed to draw notable attention. In the nineties - when digital riddims ruled the dancehalls - deejays like Top Cat, General Levy, Glamma Kid and Starkey Banton proved that they could come up with tunes which certainly weren't inferior to the tunes delivered by their Jamaican contemporaries.

If you're searching for contemporary reggae music produced in Jamaica as well as in the UK, London is definitely the place to be. Next to the shelves with compact discs there is plenty of vinyl available in the specialized record shops. Most of them have the latest 45s in stock, sometimes presented in a 'juggling' style when a customer asks for the hottest riddims and tunes of the day. However, if you want to purchase 45s make sure you have a real up-to-date list as we experienced when we handed over a piece of paper with our most wanted recent 45s. We were truly astonished when we heard that we couldn't purchase more than four 45s from our list because it contained 45s that were more than four weeks old !! They were already sold out. Furthermore you can also get 12" singles, LPs, magazines and books.
Due to its well organized mail order dept. with customers all over the world Dub Vendor is probably London's best known record shop. Dub Vendor are actually two record shops : one at 274 Lavender Hill (near Clapham Junction Railway Station) and the other at Ladbroke Grove (near Ladbroke Grove underground station). At the moment the cheapest when it comes to purchase the latest 45s is Blacker Dread Muzik Store at 406 Coldharbour Lane in Brixton. Furthermore you can go to Klassique Records, Daddy Ernie's nice little record shop, situated in Unit 13 Wembley Market at Lancelot Road, Wembley Middx. If you're also looking for revive stuff Supertone Records at 110 Acre Lane and Alltone Records (near Blacker Dread's record shop) both situated in Brixton are probably the best to check out as they have the most extensive oldies collection in stock. When you are at Portobello Road in Notting Hill you can check out Honest Jon's record shop for reggae on compact disc, but if possible do visit the Portobello Road market at Saturday and take time to search for some nice reggae stuff.

Versions across two new Stone Love riddims - "Branch Off" and ""Ripp Off" - as well as those on Tony 'CD' Kelly's "Ki Ki" riddim and the "Curfew" riddim, the latter on the new "Lynx" label, were the hottest tunes to be heard in the record shops. Also Mr. Vegas, Beenie Man, Buju Banton and Ky-Mani Marley's wicked combination song "Party In Session" (another Stone Love production) was heard more than once. Besides that revive 7" singles from Dennis Brown, who passed away on the 1st of July 1999, were seemingly in demand. Top 5 of respectively best selling 7" singles (Pre's), LPs/CDs and revive LPs/CDs were as follows (according to Dub Vendor):

7" Singles
  1. Terry Linen : Your Love Is My Love (Raggedy Joe)
  2. Capleton : Rome Ablaze (Pickout)
  3. Mighty Diamonds : Slave Ship (Fat Eyes)
  4. Morgan Heritage : Saddle Up (Penthouse)
  5. Johnny Osbourne : Israel (Reggae Vibes)
  1. Sizzla : Royal Son Of Ethiopia (Greensleeves)
  2. Xterminator All Stars : MLK Dub (RAS)
  3. Xterminator All Stars : No Gabbon (Xterminator / Jet Star)
  4. Beenie Man : The Doctor (Jet Star)
  5. Various : Greensleeves Reggae Sampler 19 (Greensleeves)
Revive Lps/CDs
  1. Various : The Crowning Of Prince Jammy (Pressure Sounds)
  2. U Roy : The Lost Album ~ Right Time Rockers (Sound System)
  3. Various : Roots Techniques (Pressure Sounds)
  4. Max Romeo : Open The Iron Gate 1973-77 (Blood & Fire)
  5. Theo Beckford & Friends : Trench Town Ska (Jamaican Gold)
Collectors of Sound Tapes and/or videos can also check out the specialized record shops as there is always some nice stuff to purchase. Sound Tapes - and also videos - include live performances (as e.g. "Rebel Salute" or "Sting"), Sound System clashes as well as Juggling business. Bionic and Sir Roy Promotions are the two most prominent tape providers. Besides bringing his material to the record shops Bionic himself also sells his stuff on Friday and Saturday. If you take a walk through Brixton on one of the aforementioned weekdays you will probably catch him selling tapes out of the boot of his car. Sir Roy tries to discern himself from the other "tape providers" by focusing on a well-groomed presentation of his material. He always tries to take care of small details which are often crucial for tape collectors such as mentioning the date and place of the event and providing recordings of all Sounds involved in a clash so that one can check out what sound really won the battle. Besides that he attemps to deliver the best sound quality possible by always dubbing from the "mastertape" at normal speed and using TDK tapes, because - from experience - they have proven the best under all kind of circumstances.

Being in London you can also check out what's happening on the FM dial, so make sure to take a portable radio with you (as we unfortunately didn't). There is plenty of reggae music in the air and we are pretty sure you will be able to pick up some of it. On Saturday BBC One - Britain's public radio - hosts Chris Goldfinger's 'Reggae Dancehall Night' and the ranking Miss P's programme schedule on BBC GLR 94.9 FM includes the 'Friday Night Jam' from 10.30pm till 1am and three hours of solid reggae music in 'The Sunday Best' on the Sunday afternoon. Besides that there are a lot of local or pirate stations which provide you different styles of reggae music. Just to mention a few hosts and radio stations : David Rodigan at Kiss 100 FM ; Daddy Ernie at Choice FM ; Robbo Ranx with his "The Street Experience" show twice weekly at Unique FM 101.2 ; Vibes FM with Jackie Maro and Lady G ; Bigfoot, Sister Gad and Stevie Roots at Station 89.9 FM ; Mikey Dread at SLR 97.7 FM ; Julian Fairshare and Don Angelo at Bassline 93.8 FM and CJ Don at Powerjam 92 FM.

For your musical pleasure at night there are some clubs where you can share your love for reggae music with other reggae fans. At Wednesday you'll have to choose between David Rodigan's reggae club (mostly with guest apperances) at the 'Subterania', 12 Acklam Road, Ladbroke Grove and Chris Goldfinger from BBC Reggae Dancehall Night and Asha World Movements alongside Robbo Ranx, Johnny & Skelly from London's award winning Muzik Street Twinspin with guest deejays like Daddy Ernie, Commander B and Nasty Love on rotation at 'Samantha's', 2 New Burlington Street in the West End. On Thursday night roots fans are welcome at the 'Dub Club' in 'Club Phoenix' at 259-261 Seven Sisters Road, Finsbury Park. Every Friday and Saturday Revival and Soul selection at the 'Chopper', 58-70 York Road, Battersea. It's best to check out the flyers - available in the specialized record shops - which provide information about what's happening in town. Furthermore the weekly appearing music magazine "Echoes" is a good source when you are searching for places to be during your stay in London.

We ourselves visited the 'Subterania' where David Rodigan's reggae club featured guest appearances by singjay Chukki Starr alongside Saxon Sound with Lloydie Saxon. David 'RamJam' Rodigan and Papa Face - at daytime working in the Dub Vendor Record Shack at Ladbroke Grove - played a well varied set of current dancehall killers and revive stuff, the latter including some excellent tunes on 12" from Johnny Osbourne. In the meantime the crowd in the club was getting larger and many reggae fans were seemingly waiting for the selectors of Saxon Sound to take the stage. Saxon didn't let them - and us - down as the played a truly wicked selection with their "Tribute to Mr. D. Brown" being one of the highlights of this night. Then it was time for Chukki Starr and his posse to come on stage. Chukki Starr started off with a killer tune entitled "Praise The Creator" - to be found on the recently released compilation album "Ruff Cut DJ Bonanza" - after which he give his audience four more songs including an impressive acappella sung tune against violence. It was a short but powerful performance, but we witnessed a talented artist who has improved since we saw him perform in Maastricht, The Netherlands, about a year ago. We are sure we are going to hear a lot of him in the near future. (Check out the review of that concert). It was a thoroughly enjoyable night at the 'Subterania' where David Rodigan's reggae club provided us some of the wickedest reggae vibes.

A stay of three days turned out to be too short and we could have done and enjoy a lot more, but that we will have to save for our next visit to London, because it's definitely worthwile to go back.
For making our stay in London a very enjoyable and pleasant one we would like to give thanks to the following people : Janis P., Ray Hurford, Ray Cheddy, Sir Roy, David Rodigan and Saxon Sound featuring Chukki Starr.

Teacher & Mr. T

Source "UK's reggae history in a nutshell" :
The Rough Guide To Reggae   Written by : Steve Barrow & Peter Dalton
Published by : Rough Guides Ltd London, October 1997.

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