In 1980 I organised a short-lived reggae night on a Monday in a pub back home. We had the usual agreement with the gaffer; it was free to get in, free to have the space, and he would make money at the bar on what is typically a dead night. It was a success in terms of the number of punters (an assortment of rastas and retired punks). But everyone was skint, and those that weren’t just bought Lucozade. We lasted three Mondays. That was my single attempt to marry my new musical love, reggae, with the punk which by now had dissipated. It was a year before the riots and the scar of Thatcher’s claw.
Punk was linked to reggae at an early stage, for the two movements had much in common. After I had seen the line of punk bands that played in our town; Clash, Pistols, Buzzcocks, Banshees, etc., reggae artists started to appear. But it was still very divided. There were few white people at the gigs for the likes of Gregory Isaacs, Burning Spear, Culture, or Prince Far I’; this was what I call the high tide of reggae, which I got into via the likes of Don Letts, Adrian Sherwood and a Mike Dread. And of course there were a number of good UK reggae bands such as Misty in Roots, Matumbi and Steel Pulse.
Someone who has much deeper roots in this history and whose site, Stand Up and Spit, chronicles many great moments of these times of punk and reggae, is Tim Wells. In his poem ‘Version’, he describes the time he first heard the great ‘dub poet’ Michael Smith, “That hard yard voice rumbled from the deck;/so unlike ours, but it spoke to us all the same.” The conditions of unemployment, poverty, and discrimination were described in a common situation experienced in the cities of the UK & US during the late 70s and 80s. “We were shook awake: no jobs, no money, no future./Hackney, Detroit, Johannesburg or Kingston JA.” (more…)