Ever since the 1950's, Jamaican immigrants have settled in the UK looking for prosperity, and with them they brought the music and culture from their homeland. One of the things Jamaicans brought with them was the sound system, and by 1954, Duke Vin, who was originally a selector for Tom The Great Sebastian's sound in Jamaica, had started his own sound in the UK. This is highly regarded as Englands first genuine Jamaican sound system.
In the early 1960's, ska had taken off in Jamaica and it wasn't long before the immigrants in England would introduce the music to the youth of England, who at the time were mods. Once the right market was built up, even Jamaican singers and musicians began moving to England to cut record and play shows. Two of the most popular were singer Laurel Aitken and trombone player Rico Rodrigues and also top guitarist Ernest Ranglin. They all would score minor hits in England but it wasnt until 1964 that there was a one off hit for singer Millie Small called "My Boy Lollipop" which became a number one record. Unfortunatly for ska though, the music was only known as a novelty music and was not taken serious. Other ska hits came late in 1967 with Prince Busters "Al Capone" and the Skatalites'"Guns of Navarone".
It wasn't until reggae began around 1968 though, that Jamaican music was taken seriously (at least partly serious). And as soon as reggae took off, a whole heap of UK based producers would record their own versions of Jamaicas top sounds. Some of the main UK reggae producers of the time were Dandy, Laurel Aitken, Joe Mansano, Lambert Brisco and many others. All the producers were given subsidiary labels though for their own works through the two top reggae labels in UK at the time, these being Trojan and Pama. Dandy was given the Down Town and J-Dan labels from Trojan. Laurel Aitken got Nu-Beat from Pama. Joe Mansano had the Joe label which shared his productions with Duke Reids Jamaican productions. Lambert Brisco was given by Trojan the Hot Rod label (named after Mr. Brisco's sound system) and the records sold considerably well, especially to the new UK youth cult going around at the time, the skinheads.Laurel Aitken
Laurel Aitken is mostly widely known as being both the Godfather of Ska as well as the High Priest of Reggae, which he was soon to live up to by the late 1960's on Pama's Nu-Beat label. He produced not only songs he sung himself but also songs by other singers, most notably deejays Tiger and Winston Groovy which he not only produced for his Pama label, but also for other Trojan labels as well. Some of Laurels biggest hits of this time though were "Skinhead Train", "Scandal In A Brixton Market", "Jesse James" and the rude reggae of "Pussy Price". All of these records were well recieved especially by the Skinheads who welcomed Laurel Aitken with open arms (and continue to to this day).
Joe Mansano and Lambert Brisco are two other producers to hit it big with skinheads. Joe is mostly known for his instrumental sides by his Joe's All-Stars band. This group had skinhead hits like "Skinhead Revolt" (which was credited to Joe The Boss), "The Bullet", "Brixton Cat" and so on. Most of these songs can be found on Trojans "Brixton Cat" LP. Lambert Brisco is also another producer known for skinhead instrumentals. His Hot Rod All-Stars recorded songs like "Skinheads Don't Fear", "Skinhead Speaks His Mind", "Moon Hop In London", "Skinhead Moondust" and so on. Most of these records were released initially on the Torpedo label set up by Trojan until they finally set Lambert up with his own Hot Rod label. Most of Lambert Brisco's productions though have not been released on a full compilation and are now mostly found only on compilations. They arent bad at all though, most of them are now considered skinhead reggae classics.
Undoubtedly the most successful producer of this time though was Dandy who produced not only his own records, but records by other singers as well. Dandy started off initially recording for the old Ska Beat label before moving to Trojan. He has scored many hits with songs sung himself like "Rudi, A Message To You" (featuring the trombone of Rico Rodriguez), "Reggae In Your Jeggae", "Move Your Mule", and his cover of "I'm Your Puppet" among many others. One of his most successful productions though was a cover of Neil Diamonds "Red Red Wine" done by Tony Tribe. Other people he produced during the time were his own studio group Brother Dan All-Stars ("Donkey Returns"), The Music Doctors ("Bush Doctor"), Desmond Riley ("Lead Them"), Audrey ("You'll Lose A Good Thing") and so on. Dandy was very successful until the end of the skinhead era of reggae music, when Trojan started losing money and shutting down its labels. Dandy's Down Town and J-Dan labels were closed by Trojan in late 1970 with Down Towns final hit being Boy Fridays excellent "Version Girl".
Some performers who were known in the UK were of course Rico, who put out a LP produced by Joe Mansano which is pretty good and is called "Blow Your Horn". Rico has remained in the UK to this day, getting quite a boost in popularity in the late 70's and early 80's by playing with ska revivalist group The Specials. "Blow Your Horn" is very good instrumental reggae music from the late 60's and features a group called the Rudies as his backing band. Some essentials off this LP are "Reco's Message" and the most popular of the album, "Niyah Man". Anything by Rico is pretty much reccomended though.
On the poppier side of things though, Greyhound was another group based in the UK who had some big hits with "Black and White", "Moon River" and "Peace and Love". This groups sound is extremely poppy and commercial and not really suited to my personal tastes, but Mick Jagger really liked them as he hired them to play at his wedding. They released one album on Trojan called "Black and White" but I haven't heard it so I dunno how it is. I'm sure though its quite poppy as most of their stuff is."Skinhead Moonstomp"
Another group during this time was Symarip who is well known as being popular among skinheads. They released one album on Trojan called "Skinhead Moonstomp" featuring the title track (which was a rip off of Derrick Morgans "Moon Hop"), "Skinhead Jamboree", "Skinhead Girl" and so on. The group really isn't that great, but everyone should own a copy of "Skinhead Moonstomp" as it is pretty much required listening in the skinhead reggae scenes it seems. My personal favorites on this record are "Must Catch A Train" and "Stay With Him" and "Skinhead Girl" is entertianing at times also.
Of course theres plenty of other producers and performers that made a place in reggae history that didn't get mentioned here, and for a more indepth feel for UK Reggae I would suggest reading Marc Griffiths "Boss Sounds" book as well as getting the Symarip, "Brixton Cat" and Rico albums already mentioned. Trojan also put out a recorded devoted to UK Reggae called "Reggae In Your Jeggae" which is also pretty good. And don't forget to check out the record reviews which will have more in-depth reviews of the albums mentioned above.
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