Tim Wells has been (still is, in fact) one of the great stalwarts of poetry; as a poet, promoter, and historian of all things working class, for the past four decades. One of the original ‘ranters’ of the 1980s, he has been a regular on the London poetry scene, as well as wider shores, giving it large with poems about working class lives; poems that don’t pander to the type of melodrama or demonisation which undermines the notion of class as being some drop out numpty who drives a van with its break lights not working. “I was a teenage suedehead. Dressing sharper than the posh kids and our style was crucial to us. That, and I don’t drive,” he told me. (more…)
In 1980, the tower blocks of Hillfields that overlook Coventry city centre were mainly occupied by the working classes of West Indian and British origin. My friend had a flat on the eighth floor of Douglas House, a maisonette he shared with his girlfriend. We used to go round regularly, spending much of the night smoking weed and listening to reggae. One time, he wasn’t in so we knocked his neighbour and went through her flat, climbed over the balcony, shuffled along at one hundred feet up, and got in via his balcony. I still can’t comprehend the stupidity of that act now; just so we could find somewhere to hole up and get charged listening to Red by Black Uhuru.
Although the number of high rise blocks in the UK are nothing compared to those built throughout eastern Europe during the communist era, they were still the homes of choice for Grandgrind-like architects during post-war years. I swear, the architects of working class homes during the 1960s have a lot to answer for. Such housing was quickly seen as going against the way in which humans should live together. One early example was the Ronan Point Tower block in Canning Town, Newham which partly collapsed due to a gas explosion. Since then, many have been pulled down, like in Glasgow, where a quarter have been demolished over the past ten years. That is not to say however, that they should all be pulled down, at least not in the way planners often go about it, with little consultation, and without proper alternatives for rehousing.
So many remain, and with the most shocking disaster of Grenfell, their utility and safety has been brought into greater scrutiny. Nick Moss’, The Exact Reverse is True, is a powerful and angry poem that marries memories of reggae culture during the early 1980s, and the area of West London where Grenfell Tower now stands. “ ‘Murderer/ Blood is on your shoulders/ Kill I today you cannot kill I tomorrow’/ There are “Missing” posters plastered all round Ladbroke Grove./ The faces of the missing who are the not-yet-officially-dead/ Of Grenfell Tower.” The public inquiry has just begun after much delay and continuing controversy; heart rending stories are emerging to compound the reality of peoples’ lives now they are dealing with both grief and homelessness. It’s a tragic irony that it takes a disaster for change to happen, especially when financial considerations and lack of accountability, take priority over social needs and tenant concerns.
Nick Moss grew up in Liverpool but now lives in London. He was released from a prison sentence two years ago. He began to write poetry as a way of mapping his experiences in jail, and won Koestler awards for his collection The Skeleton Choir Singing, and his poem “Never Again?” In 2016 he was awarded a May Turnbull Scholarship, and had work featured in, and performed at, the We Are All Human exhibition at the South Bank. He performs regularly and continues to write because “if we keep shouting, eventually we’ll hear each other.”
the exact reverse is true
Ladbroke Grove used to have a Dub Vendor store
At number 150. Now that shop sells mobile phones.
I can remember some of the vinyl I bought from there.
A Delroy Wilson album with “Better Must Come”.
Michael Prophet ‘s “Gunman”
Wayne Smith, Tenor Saw
(“Victory Train” on a twelve alongside all his big tunes on pre )
All the Jammys and Taxi and George Phang tunes
That soundtracked my twenties.
Murderer by Buju Banton.
Murderer by Barrington Levy.
The Buju tune goes
Blood is on your shoulders
Kill I today you cannot kill I tomorrow”
There are “Missing” posters plastered all round Ladbroke Grove.
The faces of the missing who are the not-yet-officially-dead
Of Grenfell Tower, which stands now
A 24 storey fire-black column
Sucking all the light out of this year’s spring
And shadowing the Grove.
Not far from here Aswad recorded “Live and Direct”
Meanwhile Gardens, Carnival, 1982.
Music made to make you feel like a warrior
Horns callin’ down Jah fire and bassline thunder
And Brinsley Forde yelling “Murderah”
And the crowd all ravin’ and shoutin’ “Murderah”
But no-one’s ravin’ now.
“The £10m building refurbishment included the installation of insulated exterior cladding,
Mothers throwing babies from windows.
new double glazed windows and a new communal heating system
Mothers throwing babies from windows
The two year project, which was designed and delivered by KCTMO in partnership with Rydon Construction, was a complex one as it took place with all 120 flats occupied throughout. The logistics had to be carefully managed to minimise disruption. “
Mothers throwing babies from windows.
The windows all blown out now
You can still see shreds of curtains
And the patterns on some- a horse, an owl
At the next meeting
Of the full council at K&C
Shout “Murderah, murderah”
Til all of them reach jail
While remembering of course that
“The opponents of so-called austerity seek to paint
The supporters of sound finances as selfish or uncaring.
The exact reverse is true.”
We are the ungrateful bastard brothers and sisters of the burned –alive
Selfishly shouting “murderah , murderah, murderah”.
Another tune I remember buying at Dub Vendor
Johnny Osbourne “Thirteen Dead, Nothing Said.”
That one was produced by Aswad. And the Linton Kwesi Johnson album
With the track “New Crass Massakeh.”
John La Rose called the New Cross fire
“an unparalleled act of barbaric violence against the black community “
I guess history teaches us to be wary
Of words like “unparalleled.”
In the Ladbroke Grove rail crash 1999
31 killed, more than 520 injured.
The public enquiry that time round
Concluded there was
“A conflict between issues of operational safety and commercial considerations”
We will soon hear the same again, another useless echo.
Wormwood Scrubs isn’t all that far from Kensington Town Hall
But it’s a thousand million miles away.
Posters of the not-yet-officially-dead
In Ladbroke Grove
As we selfishly shout “Murderah”
And the trains to Henley Regatta always run on time.
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…)
Back in the late 70s and early 80s, two genres of political music came together – punk and reggae. Starting out with punk in ’77, I was introduced to what I believe was the high tide of reggae through the likes of Don Letts, The Clash, Mikey Dread, John Lydon. At that time there was an overt racism in the UK; when seeing The Stranglers, the support act was the Birmingham reggae band Steel Pulse. When they took to the stage large groups of the crowd began singing, ‘Gimme a Banana’.
But despite this, artists such as Burning Spear, Culture, Gregory Isaacs, Black Uhuru, Prince Far I, Big Youth, raised the consciousness of many punks about black history. Linton Kwesi Johnson in particular spoke about the discrimination faced by black people in the UK and wrote a poem about Walter Rodney. (more…)