UK’s Reggae Archive Records has done it once again – released a previously unissued album of a band among the many unsung heroes of reggae music. Last year they dropped Capital Letters‘ Reality and now they have released a “new” album from Black Symbol, a set that collects singles, compilation cuts from the two volumes of Handsworth Explosion and unreleased material from the early 80s. This is an album that does their music justice and place them among other reggae greats from the UK.
The first thing that comes to mind when listening to this self-titled set is whether this is Burning Spear or not. Vocalist and founding member Fatman, who is just like Burning Spear from St Ann’s in Jamaica, has a similar vocal style and the music itself is just as haunting, political and spiritual as the material The Spear turned out in the 70s.
This is roots reggae at its best and Black Symbol doesn’t sound like any other reggae band from the UK. They were darker, slower and more uncompromising always being conscious and cultural often with religious and radical themes.
The CD version comes with 16 tracks, of which four are versions, while the double vinyl collects twelve tracks. Both do however contain sleeve notes based on interviews with original band members Fatman, Blobbo and Rhino plus archive photos provided by bandleader Fatman.
Black Symbol didn’t put out much under their own name back in the days, but they did much for the local reggae scene in Birmingham because of the two self-financed volumes of Handsworth Explosion. Hopefully this solid collection of confident and faithful roots will provide them with new fans and followers from the UK and beyond.
For this year’s Record Store Day, Reggae Archive Records released a limited edition vinyl version of Black Symbol Present Handsworth Explosion Vol. 2. Now, ahead of the release of a CD combining both volumes, they have put out Black Symbol Present Handsworth Explosion Vol. 1, and once again it’s available in its original format – vinyl.
And just as with the second volume, the original of this release suffered from limited distribution and the original release sold in scarce numbers. Today it’s heavily sought after and fetches around £100 on the collectors market.
For this ten track compilation Black Symbol provided four other Handsworth (an area in Birminghm) based bands the opportunity to record their songs in a proper and well-equipped studio and then gave them a platform with this album, and each band get two cuts to showcase their talents.
The sound is rough and sparse and most tracks are underpinned by heavyweight backing tracks. Sceptre’s Ancestors Calling is one of the brightest moments with its refreshing female lead – alternating singing and deejaying – and deep bass line.
Then you have Truth & Rights, a crew that doesn’t sound British at all. Their New Language is a fine slice of early Jamaican dancehall in classic Henry “Junjo” Lawes style, and Saddest Moment, is a bit similar to Wayne Smith’s Prince Jammy-produced Time is a Moment in Space.
Also included is Burning Spear-influenced reggae, as on Black Symbol’s Spiritual Reggae, and the smoother sound of Gerald Love, who offers a slightly more polished approach and a more commercial feel.
This is classic roots demonstrating the quality of what Birmingham had to offer the reggae scene in the early 80s. Unfortunately it was overlooked at the time, and this is a well-deserved and long overdue reissue.
April 19 was Record Store Day and for that very special occasion Reggae Archive Records reissued a limited edition version of the extremely rare compilation Handsworth Explosion II, a set collecting and revealing talents from the Birmingham area in the early 80s.
All ten tracks were produced by Fatman, founder of Black Symbol and the band’s musical director. The sounds are deep, dark and haunting. Especially tasty are the two socially conscious cuts from dub poet Benjamin Zephaniah, who has a melodic and effortless flow. Other acts included are Mystic Foundation, Man from the Hills, Black Knight and of course Black Symbol.
Handsworth Explosion II is a musical capsule and unveils underground acts that shed light on the early Birmingham reggae scene.
Reggae Archive Records have also partnered with Fatman and licensed the entire Black Symbol back catalogue. Together they aim for a comprehensive reissue program throughout the coming year, including a combined CD release for both volumes of Handsworth Explosion.
Black Symbol – a rather unknown Birmingham-based reggae band from the late 70s and early 80s – has re-emerged with a brand new album titled Journey. And behind the release is legendary frontman Fatman.
Journey is Black Symbol’s second album under their own name and the first in 30 years. It was produced by the Grammy-nominated Paul Horton, who has previously worked with Steel Pulse and Pato Banton. The sound he and Fatman have created owes a lot to 80s Jamaican roots reggae.
Burning Spear and Ijahman Levi spring to mind. So does ex-Gladiator Clinton Fearon. He and Fatman have a similar tone in their voice and they also share a sincere and honest country feeling. An up-in-the-hills kind of thing.
Journey is a spiritual and sometimes meditative journey with sublime harmonizing and beautiful back-up vocals courtesy of Empress Bev. Her touch truly gives the album a character of its own.
Highlights include the nyabinghi-flavored Bongoman, the uplifting What a Joy and Let it Shine, a track with a hint of gospel in its glorious chorus.
With this consistent album Fatman and Black Symbol continue a journey that started more than 30 years ago, a journey that hopefully will go on for many years to come.