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Fashion Records back in the day
PURE HONEY FROM THE SUGAR SHACK
By Gerry McMahon
Sugar Shack records have been trading since 1985. So they sure took their time before releasing this treasure trove of sweet sounds. The main achievement of ‘THE MIDLANDS ROOTS EXPLOSION’ Volume 1 is that it leaves you lusting for Volume 2. It’s that good.
Reggae Archive Records and Sugar Shack undertook an eagled eyed survey of middle England’s bygone era to compile this collage of classic clips. It’s set when some first dared to sing with pride about their roots and culture. This was not an entirely popular choice on the part of a minority in a foreign land. In fact, it may still not be an entirely popular choice in contemporary general election gripped Britain.
The set opens with Steel Pulse’s daring ‘Kibudu-Mansatta-Abuku’, in both original and instrumental formats. Oozing with roots credibility, this is exactly what made the band’s name a beacon thereafter. Then comes ‘Redemption Day’ by Man From The Hills and ‘Blood Fi Dem’ by Eclipse, with themes of righteousness and giving thanks and praise featuring heavily.
I always thought that Musical Youth (of ‘Pass the Dutchie’ fame) were some kind tutored novelty act. But hearing the fifth track ‘Political’ – changed that. It’s fantastic lively score pleading ‘we want work, politicians give our children a chance’. The lead vocal (of Fred Waite) splits the air here, before the ladies come stomping in via Sceptre’s ‘Ancestors Calling’. It’s so sweet it’s hard to believe there’s a political message therein. But no mistaking it when Benjamin Zephaniah lets rip with ‘Unite Handsworth’ – a pounding political preacher with lyrics adorned by righteous roots music. Great sounds and great messages prevail.
Then Oneness strike out with a deadly beat on the future of ‘Rome’, before Sugar Shack’s favoured Black Symbol slide in with a spiritually spacey ‘In The Name Of Jah’. Groundation’s lengthy ‘Fa-ward’ offers spiritual and political direction before the lovely brass embellished Mystic Foundation’s female lead vocalist chills the blood on ‘Instruments’ – that is ‘the instruments they used to kill us in Africa’ – another truly top take on this album.
The high standard is maintained with Iganada’s ‘Slow Down’ space-age sound backdrop, warning of the perils of too much pace in proceedings in a world of spirituality and magic – ‘live upright’ is the message and flying saucers is the musical image! But no problem, because Capital Letters ‘I Will Never’ brings you back to earth with a bump, promising to ‘never turn my back on you Jah’, set to a slower but still grounded roots reggae rhythm. The penultimate piece is the higher pitched Carnastoan’s ‘Mr. Workhard’ , before Zephaniah slows down the pace via ‘Free Man’, bringing this classic compilation – from the black dispossessed of middle-England 1970s and 80s era – to a close.
This album’s content both easily compares with and shows some influence on todays’ practitioners and pacesetters – from Alborosie to Protoje. Occasionally you get a good track or two on a compilation. But this issue is packed with sugar and spice and too many things nice.
The main drawback to this sometimes vibrant, sometimes moody, often rebellious and all the while seductively soothing CD, digital and double vinyl issue is that it ends after 15 tracks. I am really looking forward to Volume 2.
‘BLACK SYMBOL presents The Complete Handsworth Explosion’
Released on CD and Digital Download 29th June 2015
To preorder follow the link:
Last year saw Reggae Archive Records answer the prayers of many UK reggae fans with vinyl reissues of “Black Symbol presents Handsworth Explosion” and “Black Symbol present Handsworth Explosion II”. It was always intended to follow these LP releases with a combined CD release of both volumes and the 29th June, will see the albums arrive on CD for the first time as “Black Symbol Presents The Complete Handsworth Explosion”.
It’s hard to overestimate the importance of what Black Symbol did for their local community, in Birmingham’s Handsworth neighbourhood, by providing bands with studio time at the well equipped Outlaw Studio and then releasing many of the finished results on the two original vinyl LPs. They have left us with a unique snapshot of the Handsworth scene in the early eighties; a scene that was at its creative peak but would very soon almost entirely disappear.
Black Symbol member Blobbo stated their aims on the rear sleeve of “Handsworth Explosion Volume II”:….. “Handsworth Explosion is a brand new revolutionary idea originated by ‘FATMAN’ the producer, lead vocalist and founder member of BLACK SYMBOL. The intention of this album is to provide a much needed link between Symbol and other Ghetto bands, to reveal, an as yet undiscovered talent suppressed by the music machine.
The Handsworth Explosion shall open up the eyes and hearts of many, yet it shall explode in the minds of many; this combination of music can only be played in the Ghetto by musicians who live in and bear the weight of their society. Handsworth Explosion sets out not only to satisfy musically, but be an inspiration and revelation.”
It’s never too late to discover talent and hopefully this CD release will indeed open the eyes and hearts of many to the great bands and singers featured: Sceptre, Zephaniah, Truths And Rights, Gerald Love, Mystic Foundation, Benjamin Zephaniah, Black Knight, Man From the Hills and last, but by no means least, Black Symbol themselves. The music is mostly roots reggae, but the tracks also provide a great deal of variety whilst maintaining a high quality threshold.
Back in the early 1980s, Black Symbol faced an uphill struggle to get their albums distributed and few people who lived outside Birmingham or near a specialist reggae shop ever got the chance to buy a copy and hear this wonderful music. Today with the World Wide Web, “Black Symbol presents The Complete Handsworth Explosion” is finally available for everyone to enjoy.
“Black Symbol presents The Complete Handsworth Explosion” is released by Reggae Archive Records on 20 track CD and digital download on the 29th June and is available from all the usual outlets.
ARTIST: Various Artists
TITLE: “Black Symbol presents The Complete Handsworth Explosion”
RELEASE DATE: 29th June 2015
LABEL: Reggae Archive Records
DISTRIBUTION: Shellshock / SRD
FORMAT: CD and Digital Download
CAT NO: RARC018CD
GENRE: Reggae, Dub
1. Sceptre – Ancestors Calling
2. Truths & Rights – New Language
3. Black Symbol – Travelling
4. Gerald Love – Jah Children
5. Zephaniah – Music Business
6. Truths & Rights – Saddest Moment
7. Black Symbol – Spiritual Reggae
8. Gerald Love – Scandal Man
9. Sceptre – Living On Strong
10. Zephaniah – Free Man
11. Benjamin Zephaniah – Stop The War
12. Man From The Hills – Redemption Day
13. Mystic Foundation – Life In The Ghetto
14. Black Symbol – Feeling Is Irie
15. Black Knight – Lets Make Up
16. Black Symbol – Trouble Trouble
17. Benjamin Zephaniah – Unite Handsworth
18. Man From The Hills – How Long
19. Mystic Foundation – Handsworth
20. Black Knight – Feeling
BIG NEWS FLASH
THE MIDLANDS ROOTS EXPLOSION VOLUME ONE – Track listing announced and available to pre-order now: PLEASE SHARE
Bandcamp link: https://reggaearchiverecords.bandcamp.com/album/the-midlands-roots-explosion-volume-one
Track listing 2 X LP (Deluxe Gatefold Sleeve) CD and Digital same running order
1) Steel Pulse – Kibudu-Mansatta-Abuku
2) Steel Pulse – Mansatta (Instrumental)
3) Man From The Hills – Redemption Day
4) Eclipse – Blood Fi Dem
5) Musical Youth – Political
1) Sceptre – Ancestors Calling
2) Benjamin Zephaniah – Unite Handsworth
3) Oneness – Rome
4) Black Symbol – In The Name Of Jah
1) Groundation – Fa-Ward
2) Mystic Foundation – Instruments
3) Iganda – Slow Down
1) Capital Letters – I Will Never
2) Carnastoan – Mr. Workhard
3) Zephaniah – Free Man
Birmingham may be England’s second city but when it comes to reggae music, there are plenty of reasons for it to claim first place. Perhaps no band has done more for British reggae than Steel Pulse whilst Musical Youth, not only found chart success but took reggae to the nation’s children in a way no other band could, not forgetting UB40 who also experienced huge international success. These bands didn’t exist in isolation, Birmingham and the other towns and cities that make up the Midlands were a powerhouse of British reggae. Finally, it’s time to shine the spotlight on some of the lesser known acts that spent years performing and recording without achieving those levels of success.
“The Midlands Roots Explosion Volume One” from Reggae Archive Records, is the first in a series of compilations that hope to showcase some of the unreleased, forgotten and barely known musical gems from what was such a vibrant scene. It’s only appropriate that the first volume leads off with the band that put both Handsworth and Birmingham on the musical map, Steel Pulse. We’ve included the band’s first release from 1976, the very scarce “Kibudu – Mansatta – Abuku,” a track that strongly hinted at the heights they would soon reach. As a bonus, we’ve also included the instrumental version from the original B side; both tracks are making their debut on LP and CD.
For those familiar with Musical Youth’s later chart hits, “Political” may come as a surprise, with grown up lead vocals by former member of Jamaican hit makers The Techniques, Frederick Waite Snr., and a hard roots edge to the lyrics. This was the band’s first release issued on a small Birmingham label and another track worthy of far wider exposure.
Steel Pulse and Musical Youth found fame beyond reggae and reached the national charts. Wolverhampton’s Capital Letters may have only topped the reggae charts but they were a hugely successful live act in Europe introducing tens of thousands to live reggae. For this release we’ve been digging in the tape vaults and discovered “I Will Never”. Previously unreleased, this recording has a harder roots edge than their Greensleeves releases and is all the better for it as they slow the tempo down with a celebration of their faith in Jah.
Contemporaries of Steel Pulse and one of Birmingham’s leading bands Eclipse, surely deserved more success. Here we’ve included “Blood Fi Dem” released as a single in 1981 more; great songs from Eclipse can be found on our previous CD release “Corrupted Society”.
The formation of Black Symbol was inspired by fellow Handsworth residents Steel Pulse; here we feature “In The Name of Jah” featuring the band at their spiritual best. We also have a track from Black Symbol spin-off group Oneness, with “Rome,” previously only available on a very hard to find 12”. Black Symbol provided the opportunity for many other Handsworth artists to record their music and this compilation features several: Man From The Hills “Redemption Day”, Sceptre “Ancestors Calling”, Benjamin Zephaniah “Unite Handsworth”, Zephaniah “Free Man” and the fantastic and previously unreleased “Instruments” from Mystic Foundation. Why “Instruments” had laid forgotten on the master tape for thirty years, is unknown but it more than earns it’s place on this album as a stand out track. More tracks from Black Symbol and the Handsworth bands can be found on our previous releases; “Black Symbol”, Sceptre’s “Essence Of Redemption Ina Dif’rent Styley” and the two volumes of “Black Symbol Present Handsworth Explosion”. Handsworth’s last but by no means least contribution is from Carnastoan with “Mr. Workhard,” the B side of the band’s classic 12” single.
Birmingham’s contribution is rounded up by Iganda, a band whose long career sadly only produced one 7” single released in 1979; fortunately it was a classic and here we have the A side “Slow Down” The Midlands are further represented by Leicester’s Groundation and the nearly 8 minute long monster of a track that is “Fa-Ward”. We’ve previously reissued this on 12” and hopefully, there are more recordings to come from the Groundation tape vaults.
“The Midlands Roots Explosion Volume One” is just a snapshot of the abundance of musical talent in the region during the 1970s and 1980s. It barely scratches the surface but even so, it’s one of the strongest reggae compilations available and shows that the English Midlands were second to none when it came to roots reggae.
With sleeve notes from Jim Weir who was a musician involved in the Birmingham reggae scene, the album will be released on 29TH June 2015 available on high quality double vinyl in a deluxe gatefold sleeve, on CD and as a digital download.
ARTIST: Various Artists
TITLE: “The Midlands Roots Explosion Volume One”
RELEASE DATE: 29th June 2015
LABEL: Reggae Archive Records
DISTRIBUTION: Shellshock / SRD
FORMAT: 2xLP (Deluxe Gatefold Sleeve), CD and Digital Download
CAT NO: RARC017V / RARC017CD
BARCODE: 5052571059913 / 5052571059920
GENRE: Reggae, Dub
PRESS CONTACT: Mike Darby, E: firstname.lastname@example.org / T: 07885 498 402