Kenny V Passley reminisces on the ‘good old days’ of Reggae Music - Part 2
In Part I, we explored the UK’s Reggae music scene and looked at industry practices of the early days, comparing it to the present. On this journey, I’ll be taking you through the experiences of a ‘raver’ back in those days. So, for those of you who can remember the clubs, the dress sense, the lifestyle, the Sound Systems and of course, the dance moves, let’s go back… ‘the good old days’ … was it really that good or is the 30-year plus generation simply old fashion?
Seeing our children wear the same style of clothes that we used to wear and trying to tell them about it, only to be laughed at, is the really weird thing! If you really want a big laugh out of them, mention that in 1973 it would cost a hard earned 50 pence to get into the club Blues Ville in Wood Green to hear the big Sound Systems play. And, for the same money, you could buy a seven-inch single, hot off the press! They seem to find it hard to believe that real enjoyment existed before the invention of mobile phones, computer games, the Internet and cable TV. The kind of excitement we used to get preparing ourselves for a night out, shopping for new clothes and hoping no one else had the same outfit – that whole thrill of getting dressed and rubbing your hands together in eager anticipation of the night’s raving ahead.
In those days, everyone was mad about Kung Fu and in particular Bruce Lee who, was the world’s biggest movie star. So, first we would head to the late night cinema for a Kung Fu flick then on to a rave – that was the craze. Everyone would pile onto the buses after the rave trying to get away with paying the child’s fare of 5 pence – many couldn’t even afford the mini cab fare, let alone a car. So the choice was between catching a night bus or walking all the way home with your friends, joking and talking about all the tunes you’d heard.
Things were certainly different back then. All the Sound Systems had their own definitive style and colour of speaker boxes, often with the name of their Sound painted on it. The Speaker boxes didn’t all look the same as they do now. When our generation thought of the seventies, the clubs come to mind. You know the ones…The Four Aces in Dalston Lane, Hackney with Count Shelly as the resident Sound on a Friday night – that was an unmissable session. A wall of Speaker boxes on the stage, reaching up to the ceiling with lights on them to give a powerful impression. Then there were the mind blowing, mostly unobtainable tunes being played all night... guys on one part of the floor in trilby hats, playing table football – a very popular pastime back then… people drinking Long Life beer, Special Brew and Cherry B wine while skanking to the latest Big Youth tune. At the end of the night, people would leave the club merrily in the morning, walking down the road singing ‘…wow baby, live it up one time’!
In the early seventies, as a man going to a Reggae dance, you were not considered ‘dressed’ unless you had on a Two-Tone suit, Cromby coat, Ben Sherman shirt and brogues or loftier shoes. You were looked upon almost like a tramp if you turned up in the gear that people wear these days, like trainers and having your shirt out! You could not go up to a girl and talk to her unless you looked sharp! There was definitely very little of this ‘bad boy’ ghetto business. People dressed up to hear Reggae music and be with other people who wanted to do the same. Before the Roots scene started to dominate Reggae dances, most of the big Soundmen dressed like important gentlemen in sports jacket with badges, a shirt and tie and shiny shoes, ready to do the business.
But not everyone went to the big Sounds sessions. As like in society you get all kinds of people with varying tastes, our entertainment world was no different. Some preferred the sophisticated surroundings of the more up-market night-clubs so they could show off their clothes and pose. Many of these places played Reggae music in a calm atmosphere with a quieter delivery of tunes such as The Bouncing Ball and Mr. Bees in Peckham, The Palm Tree in Edmonton, Count Suckle’s Q Club in Paddington, the Apollo in Willesden. Moonlighting in Soho, the Podium in Vauxhall, Night Moves in Shoreditch (where I was a resident Reggae DJ for many years) and not forgetting the longest running and most successful club of them all, the All Nations in Hackney.
All Nations was a Reggae raver’s paradise that had people from all over the country descending on it. Three floors of music and for many, the ultimate pick-up joint bringing me to the subject of dancing with girls. ‘Rubbing’ inna dance is a uniquely Reggae dance tradition that most ravers, male and female, found essential to the raving experience back in those days. This is how it worked: you stood behind a girl, tapped her on the shoulder or held her arm and until she turned around to look at you. She already knew what the question would be and if her answer was ‘yes’, you would hold each other tight, rocking in time to the sweet tune. This led to all kinds of possibilities.. dancing with each other for the rest of the night or a new friendship. And, if you made the right choice, it might even lead into participating in the creation of the next generation. On the other side of the coin, if she turned around and looked you up and down and shook her head, depending on the feistiness and renkness of the refusal, this sometimes left some men with the feeling of being a little undesirable.
Sometimes it was the look alone that made you say to yourself ‘I better not even ask this one’. But then again, you had the smoother type Brothers who approached from the front, stretched out his hand and whispered, ‘can I have this dance please’, often receiving a positive response. The DJs on the record created a lot of the terms and phrases used by people in those days. What about all those different dances everyone used to do during the mid ‘70s, in the spirit of the Kung Fu craze? The popular ‘Chuckie’ dance done to songs like Al Brown’s ‘Hear I Am Baby’? There was even a TV show with Fatman Sound boxes in the studio and dancers giving a demonstration of the new dances in 1975, as our music culture and creativity was beginning to attract mainstream attention. Sometimes it was worth paying the money to get into clubs just to see the way the people reacted to their favourite tunes. Tappa Zukie’s ‘Phensic’ in 1978 was one such tune that, when played, couldn’t be heard for the people were singing so loudly. Everyone loved Delroy Wilson, Dennis Brown and Gregory Isaacs. The start of a Delroy, Dennis or Gregory tune was the cue for action as they put the people in the mood. Jacob Miller was another singer with his unique style that extracted instant happiness from the crowds. John Holt, Alton Ellis, Ken Boothe, Pat Kelly, Jimmy London and Marcia Griffiths all had the same effect.
The Afro hairdo, worn by everyone in the seventies, was more than just a hairstyle - it was a statement and a sign of identity. Some girls had Afro puffs, some had pin on ones which, sometimes came off in the dance! Then there was the Flying Saucer style that the ladies loved. Bright coloured dresses with high heels and yes, we lived through the sexy hot pants, long boots and alter neck era. But the effect of ‘hot pants’ on society was far more sensational than any dress form of today as it was the first time in history that woman had really expressed themselves in that way. Guys in different coloured flared trousers plus three belts in their waist worn with big ‘super fly’ hats and platform shoes were common sights in the dances of the early ‘70s.
Then there were those who were influenced by The Great Gatsby film (based in the twenties) where the star was rich and wore the wickedest clothes. So it was straw hats, pinstripe suits, white patent shoes and some people were even a little extra and went for the full effect of using a walking stick and white canes, styling it out. The film Shaft in 1971 had plenty people running leather coats in the dance, going on cool with nuff attitude. During the late ‘70s, the designer label business really came into play in the Reggae clubs – Farrah slacks, Gucci belts, snakeskin shoes and silk shirts – Cecil G clothes were also popular for men.
All of this may come as a bit of a surprise to many outsiders who have got use to a diet of negativity about our lifestyle; problem orientated news stories; depressing TV documentaries and newspaper articles, put together with the sole intention of making us look like we had nothing. For as a people, we were not supposed to be having all this fun but living a life of misery when the true picture was (as most in the street knew it) we were the trend-setters of style and some of the happiest people living in the big cities. I guess now the real question is, just how big is the Reggae Generation Gap?
Let’s face it, the youths of today are completely different – these are different times. Back in the ‘70s, it seemed that we had a lot more love for each other and our culture than there is now. To our generation, the music and our heritage were everything. It was a big source of our pride, even other races tapped into this where a record like Marcia Griffiths and Bob Andy’s ‘Young Gifted And Black’ (is where it’s at) sold to millions. The young can now go to most modern cities around the world and get a mini hero’s welcome from the respect that has been created over the years by the Reggae movement! But the world has changed and our youths with it. With modern technology, the invention of portable music devises such as CDs, mini disc and MP3 players, radio stations and cable TV playing the music the DJs want to hear - not everyone feels the need to go out and socialise anymore. Although we all enjoy using the latest equipment and modern habits, there are a lot of things that we took for granted in the past that should have been left alone!
All this freedom that has been given to the average teenager by their parents today leads to a situation where they seem to mature earlier, are a lot bolder and more confident. Living in a society where they are a little more accepted than we were, a significant amount look less towards their heritage - a position that confuses those of us who’ve been through hell whilst defending our culture. It was once said that a sign of getting old was when you stop criticising the old and start criticising the young. Walking down that road too far is not beneficial to any of us. Most societies respect people who respect their past. Maybe we are victims of our over-creativity and therefore, many throw away the things we created too soon. This is not all the fault of the young but more the lack of us having our own institutions to document and promote our Reggae music’s heritage. We recognise that there are young people of different mentalities and it’s only a certain type that let us down. After all, I have a lot of admiration for many of them and their spirit; they are the ones who are influencing the young of other cultures right now.
The comments made here are more out of a concern that the batons of responsibility for the future of our music has been passed on to people who care. One of the advantages of being older is that we have lived through so many changes and hyped phases that we don’t get so easily excited by new things – we pick and choose more, although I find it amazing what’s been done with Reggae theses days. This generation has done some great things with it – Bashment/Ragga, Lovers Rock, Roots – taking it into different directions and markets with Hip-hop, R&B, Garage, House, all mixed with a little Jamaican flavour, making us many new friends!
I can imagine in thirty years time, adults pulling out and dusting off a copy of one of my favourites, Elephant Man’s ‘Log On’ and explaining how great that tune was. Or showing an old video of the dance moves and then making their kids in 2033 roll around with laughter as, by then, the music and everything else will be even more commercialised and synthetic. Well, after all that’s been said by me in these last two analyses of the generations’ differences, there is one thing that seems to have no gap and that is the spirit of creativity that has remained in the Reggae world. We always manage to invent new ways of enjoying ourselves under every condition…. One Love and Unity!!
SEE ALSO SOUND SYSTEMS & ROCKSTEADY STORY [Tabs top Left]