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Dub reggae is a form of roots reggae music which originated in the Caribbean and Jamaica. Later this year our Dub London display will be opening at the Museum of London. Here, Curator of Dub Cedar Lewisohn shares 10 of his favourite Dub records which tell the story of Dub London.
When I first started working on Dub London, my partner said one thing to me: “You can’t buy any more records!” So, strictly speaking, I was banned from buying any vinyl for myself while contributing to this project. That was always going to be tricky. A huge part of the project involved interviewing the owners of reggae record shops around London, and asking them to recommend reggae and dub records that should go into the Museum of London’s collection. It would have been rude if I didn’t pick up a couple of records on my many visits to these shops. The research was also an opportunity for me to look deeper into some of the records already in my collection and discover the backstories that shaped the music and culture.
The list of records I’ve selected below is not comprehensive – I recommend everyone check out the godfathers of dub such as Lee Scratch Perry, King Tubby, Joe Gibbs and Augustus Pablo. But these are 10 of the records I found a personal connection with while curating Dub London.
Peckings Record Shop is a cornerstone in the history of reggae music in the UK and London. Like so many others, George Price, AKA Mr. Peckings, travelled in the early 1960s from Kingston in Jamaica to London, via Southampton. With him he brought the music of the Studio One Records label; without question one the most influential reggae record labels of all time.
Peckings Record Shop on Askew Road, Shepherd’s Bush, was for many years the sole distributor of Studio One Records in the UK. This gives a clue to the huge influence this shop has had on popular culture in London and on the UK’s music more widely. This record gives a glimpse into the music Mr. Peckings would listen to himself, when working in the shop.
Sir Lloyd Coxsone is well known as one of the kings of UK soundsystem culture; what we’d call “a foundation man”. He produced many records including the Lovers Rock classic, Caught You In A Lie by Louisa Mark.
Though he was born and grew up in Jamaica, Lloyd Coxsone represents UK soundsystems and the history of the subject in relation to London. There is even a track on the LP called Piccadilly Circus Dubb. Originally released in 1975, this LP takes you back to the legendry club nights at The Roaring Twenties night club, where Lloyd Coxsone’s soundsystem played alongside DJ Festus.
Another Mad Professor classic. Quirky analogue dub. There is something retro sci-fi about this record, while also being Afro-futurist. I always loved the cover art, which probably greatly influenced my purchase of it. I must have brought this in the mid 90’s, possibly in Dub Vendor or Blacka Dread. The address on the back of the record says it was produced in Ariwa Studios, 42 Gauntrey Road, SE15, Dub Peckham.
I think it is important to acknowledge Mad Professor’s huge influence on bringing Dub music to the mainstream in the UK and beyond. His Ariwa record label has released over three hundred records. This is a cornerstone of British and Caribbean reggae music.
I love the D.I.Y look of this record. It’s not messing around and you know it’s rare as hen’s teeth. I am fairly certain I brought this record in Blacka Dread record shop in Brixton in the early 90’s. Buying records at Blacka Dread in the 1990’s was not an easy thing to do, especially on Friday or Saturday nights. Particularly for me, a slightly mixed up art-school kid from the boarders of Kent and South London.
The shop was a small room on Coldharber Lane. You had to fight your way through a thick cloud of dope smoke to get in. Then, once inside, records would be played for a few seconds, then slammed on the counter like dominos. But I kept going back, and Blacka started recommending tunes I should listen to. Over twenty years later, everything I brought in there still sounds amazing.
Before starting research on the Dub London project for the Museum of London, I’d never been to Hawkeye Records in Harlsdon. In fact, I’d never been to Harlsdon. It turns out Brent and Harlsdon have played a vital role in the history of the UK reggae music industry.
Hawkeye Records are an important part of this story. This record, released by Hawkeye, shows the calibre of the music they have brought to the UK. I’m a big fan of the Scientist side of this record. Scientist is dub music’s answer to Ernest Hemmingway, maybe with a touch of Olivia Butler. His beats and melodies are so crisp and precise. He uses echo and delay with such precision. He is the definition of ‘engineer as musician’. I’d love to know who all the people are on the cover of the record, I can definitely see Bob Marley and Mick Jagger.
Released in 1982 and mixed at Ariwa Studio by Mad Professor this record captures some of the spiritual bass and uplifting vibrations of going to see a soundsystem session of Jah Shaka. I would basically describe seeing Jah Shaka live as a religious experience. In fact, record shop owner and sound system operator Jah Lingwa did say to me “soundsystem is our church.”
I picked up my copy of this record in Jah Lingwa’s shop, Universal Roots in Brixton. Jah Shaka himself does very few interviews, but actually lives near me in South London. I saw him the other day and he said two words to me: “Blessed Love.”
Produced with the father of UK Dub, Dennis Bovell, Bass Culture by Linton Kwesi Johnson is a modern masterpiece. All the more relevant in the world of 2020, LKJ’s mix of political protest, social activism, education, and community focused engagement, makes for completely compelling listening forty years after its initial release.
Designed by photographer Dennis Morris, the minimal cover design of this record is also something special. I bought my copy of this record in the now closed Daddy Kool in Soho. Daddy Kool is fondly remembered by reggae music fans, who knew it as not being the friendliest place in London to buy records. The day I brought this record, Keith - the owner of Daddy Kool - insisted that I had to by a Gregory Isaac record, The Lonely Lover, at the same time. He would not let me out of the shop without the two records, even though I only had budget for one of them. We must have made a deal (i.e. he took all of the money I had, and I didn’t have dinner that night).
I still, happily, have both records. The last thing I’d say about Linton Kwesi Johnson is that his influence on the spoken word artists of today cannot be overestimated. He paved the way for Kate Tempest, George The Poet, and Roger Robinson.
Dennis Mixman and Blackamix Productions is one of my favourite Dub music producers. His style is a slightly faster form of dub music which emerged in the early 1990s. It actually sounds timeless and has aged very well. The dubbed out vocals on the record are political, and embedded in Black History. One of the tracks is called Kill Nebucanhezzer. This is Babylonian history: imperial Dub!
A copy of this record has been added to the permanent collection of the Museum of London, as suggested by the excellent record shop Massive International in Camden.
Greensleeves was always such a great record label that brought Jamaican music to the UK. What I’ve always loved about Greensleves records, as well as the music, is the cover art from their 1980s 12’’ records. The illustration is a timeline of Jamaican Reggae music, starting with what looks like a Mento band, then moving though Ska, Rockstready, Roots and then ending up with a Sound System in West London called, cheekily, City Quake Sounds.
It’s a genius piece of visual storytelling by illustrator Tony McDermott who designed many of Greensleeves’ iconic covers. What is also special about this record for me, and many other Greensleeves records in my collection, is that my uncle gave it to me when I visited Jamaica. I love the idea that my uncle took his records from England to Jamaica, and that the records feature Jamaican music released on an English record label. Then I brought them back to London.
The Twinkle Brothers represent a strong link between Jamaica and London. They formed in 1962 and are still releasing music today. They have worked with many of the great reggae and dub producers such as Duke Reid, Lee “Scratch” Perry and Bunny Lee.
This LP is a good introduction to their more Dub orientated work from the 1990s. I picked up my copy of this record at Supertone records in Brixton; one of the original Reggae record shops in London.
Along with shops like Peoples Sound, every time I visit these record shops, I learn so much from the owners. It might be about the music, London’s history, or local politics. These shops are the “crown jewels” in London’s cultural landscape, so it’s important to support them, go inside, have a chat to the person behind the counter, and buy loads of amazing music.
SoundClash: London’s dub reggae roots – Immerse yourself in the history of dub reggae in the capital with exclusive interviews, articles and photographs from our collection. Click here to visit the dub reggae hub page.
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