Tag Archives: UK reggae

Capital Letters pay tribute to their hometown on first album in 30 years

CAP LETTERS View FOD106UK reggae legends Capital Letters reformed in 2013 and it hasn’t taken them much long to get back in the business and they have already announced a number of live dates in 2015.

Last year Reggae Archive Records released a set titled Reality, an effort collecting 15 tracks originally recorded in 1985, but not out until last year. And now they have a brand new set on Reggae Archive Records’ sister label Sugar Shack Records to share with their audiences around the world.

Wolverhampton is the first all new Capital Letters album in 30 years. It has been preceded by the rootsy single Wolf, which was – just like all other cuts – recorded together with former Taxi Gang and Maytals keyboard player Noel Browne. He has previously worked with artists like Luciano, Freddie McGregor, The Wailing Souls and Papa San.

This set is mainly roots themed and it kicks off in fine style with no less than three hard hitting roots gems in a row. But even though Wolverhampton revolves around politics and conscious messages the music is often upbeat with memorable melodies. Capital Letters also manage to throw in a number of more heartfelt tunes. The title track is one such and Jamaica and Movie Star are two others.

A number of UK reggae bands from the 70s and 80s have recently reformed and most of them have presented solid sets after leaving the music industry for many, many years. Wolverhampton is one such effort and it doesn’t sound like Capital Letters have been away for 30 years.

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Fine-tuned frequencies on The Skints’ new album

the-skints-fm-digi-cover-shot-1400x1400px-final-as-per-pressLondon-based reggae four piece outfit The Skints have recently revealed their third and latest album FM, a 15 track set inspired by a time when the band used to drive around in guitarist Josh Waters Rudge’s car, tuning in to the radio and trying to find new music.

FM follows their eclectic Short Change EP from last year and on the album they have pulled influences ranging from grime, garage and punk to summertime sound system reggae, dancehall, rocksteady and soul. It’s a tour of urban culture in its latest guise.

The album kicks off with the distinctively British This Town, featuring deejays Tippa Irie and Horseman, a celebratory ode to London with its sparse arrangement and tongue twisting vocal delivery. It’s followed by catchy hooks, infectious melodies and unexpected arrangements, as the up-tempo Friends & Business, whichmetamorphoses and suddenly borrows from The Specials’ legendary Ghost Town.

The Skints’ debut album Live, Breathe, Build, Believe was highly influenced by Californian ska punk and since that set they have definitely matured and ventured into a more reggae-oriented direction led by the mighty Prince Fatty, who has helmed production on their two latest albums.

FM is The Skints’ tribute to traditional radio culture, a culture when the DJ was king and you weren’t able make your own playlists listening to Spotify or Deezer.

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Solid UK roots from Shades of Black

10584271_10152637422317034_200930132_nUK roots and dub outfit Shades of Black return with a new album after a six year hiatus. Break Free follows their Michael Rose produced albums Great Expectations and Dub Expectations, released in 2008.

Shades of Black formed in the 90s and have put a number of solid roots numbers and their new album is no exception. It collects a hefty 18 tracks and the vocal talents of Paul Fox – who is one of the founders – along with Saimn-I, Jimmy Ranks, Jahman Dan and Michael Rose. Seven of the cuts are dub versions and one is an instrumental with horns provided by Moonshine Horns, a duo that deliver brass on several tracks.

Break Free is solid and tough UK roots with a mix of programming and live instrumentation. Michael Rose handles the microphone on the haunting Lion in the Flag, which has a synth reminiscent to the X-Files, and Paul Fox’ dramatic, soft and mystical singing floats nicely over a powerful steppers riddim on album opener Simmer Down.

Shades of Black has made an album echoing from the 90s when UK roots was the order of the day.

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Yet another sophisticated set from Adele Harley

adeleharleytimeless250When looking at the cover sleeve of British-born singer and songwriter Adele Harley’s second album Timeless it doesn’t tell you anything about its content. The sleeve is suitable for almost any genre.

Timeless is however reggae, the lovers rock kind. And just as with her debut album album Come into My Life she has again collaborated with acclaimed riddim duo Mafia & Fluxy.

And together they have crafted a sweet and sophisticated album with a mix of popular covers and timeless originals. It also featured legendary sax man Dean Fraser and a combination with the late John Holt.

It’s a mature album and Adele Harley certainly has a sweet and beautiful voice tailor-made for slick lovers rock, but Timeless also glances at ska, Rose Garden, and sweet vintage po, as on Venus.

Timeless is reggae for grown-ups and it definitely has an appropriate title.

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Top notch talents on Shemesh Records’ showcase

LabelUK label Shemesh Records – run by brothers Daniel and David Norland together with Aron Shamash – has recently dropped a strong compilation showcasing some of their best releases over the past 15 years along with brand new tunes and never before released cuts. Included is also music which has never been put on CD or digital download.

The riddims are often bright and uplifting, yet with firm conscious vibes, and built by Oxford’s own Makating using full horn section and analogue instruments. Mixes are provided by UK reggae heavyweights Russ Disciples and Dougie Conscious and it’s mastered by legendary producer and mixing engineer Nick Manasseh.

Shemesh Artist Showcase Part 1 features a mixture of Jamaican and UK-based talents. Sugar Minott, Michael Rose, Sandeeno, Afrikan Simba and Teddy Dan have all voiced cuts on this compilation. The late Slimma Levi, previous lead vocalist in Makating, is also included with the heartfelt Gift of Jah. The Makating collective is also represented vocally by Lorraine and Fireocious.

This set definitely includes the crème de la crème of the UK roots reggae scene and the quality of the material that has been put together is solid to say the least.

Stay tuned for part 2, which includes dub versions and will be given away for free.

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Scary good from Horseman

Horseman - Dawn of the Dread - ArtworkThis year has so far been graced by remarkably strong dancehall albums, and Popcaan and Jah Vinci’s debut albums are two prime examples. Horseman’s recently released debut is another. These three albums are something completely different compared to all the generic and poorly mastered dancehall sets that are regularly put out.

Horseman is a veteran on the UK reggae scene and has spent about three decades working largely behind the scenes, often as a very capable and well-respected drummer. He has over the past few years made solid guest appearances on several productions coming from Prince Fatty.

And Prince Fatty is also responsible for production and mixing on Horseman’s debut album Dawn of the Dread. This album sees Prince Fatty taking a new direction. It’s still vintage sounding though, but not vintage as in 60s and 70s. No, Dawn of the Dread is primarily rooted in the mid to late 80s dancehall scene. Bouncing bass lines, playful drums and lively synths make this twelve track set a joyous and fun excursion, an excursion on which Horseman and Prince Fatty have invited Tippa Irie, Winston Reedy and Earl Sixteen.

I’ve actually been longing for a full album from Horseman ever since I heard Prince Fatty’s excellent album Supersize four years ago. And this album was well worth the wait.

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Sceptre’s long lost debut has stood the test of time

SCEPTRE PackshotIn retrospect it’s interesting to note which albums that broke big and which didn’t. It often has to do with financing; distribution and marketing. Or maybe the circumstances surrounding the release weren’t right. Or the market wasn’t ready for the sound. Or the sound was regarded as outdated at the time.

The latter may have been at least one of the problems why Sceptre’s debut Essence of Redemption Ina Dif’rent Styley didn’t break at the time of its release. The interest for deep roots reggae in the mid-80s wasn’t huge. Dancehall and slick lovers rock ruled the scene at the time.

Fortunately the reggae champions over at Reggae Archive Records have a mission to reissue long lost UK roots dating from the late 70s to the mid-80s. And they have now dusted off this gem.

Sceptre was founded in 1981 in Birmingham and dropped Essence of Redemption Ina Dif’rent Styley in 1984. It’s a strong set with six out of ten tracks being essential early UK roots. Get up And Go is more on a funky tip, while the three remaining cuts lean more toward lovers rock with Jean McLean singing lead vocals.

It’s certainly a versatile set that has stood the test of time.

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Finally Handsworth Explosion Vol. 1 gets reissued

RARC015V Packshot NEW Hnadsworth OneFor 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.

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Onlyjoe drops fourth single for free download and prepares for debut album

Energetic and multi-faceted ten piece reggae band onlyjoe from the UK has just released their fourth single Hold Me for free download. It’s a summery and infectious cut with a catchy sing-a-long chorus and comes with a swinging dub version mixed by acclaimed producer and mixing engineer Nick Manasseh.

“We actually recorded the rhythm section and the horns a little while ago, and were looking for an opportunity to work with Manasseh on something, and this track seemed like the obvious choice to take to him, and as we had it finished and there was demand for it we really wanted to give it to people,” explains Harry Bradford, saxophonist in onlyjoe.

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The reason for giving the song and its two versions is simple – they wanted to give something to the people who have been supporting them over the last few years. And at the moment they are in the process of recording their debut album, a set with production helmed by forward-thinking bass producer Hylu, who travels with onlyjoe as engineer. He has also produced all their previous singles.

“We’re getting funding from wherever we can at the moment, and while we’re slowing down on gigs getting money through t-shirt sales, and donations on releases is really helping pay for future sessions,” says Harry Bradford.

Onlyjoe aims at releasing the so far untitled album next year, and it will hold a mixture of tracks and sounds.

“People will know the music from our sets as well as some other bits which we have developed behind closed doors, those tracks are a progression of the same sound, while some are more dubwise and some have higher energy. The main focus of onlyjoe has always been making conscious music to move a dance,” says Harry Bradford, and concludes:

“It all fits under the umbrella of reggae music in its many different forms. We definitely want some surprises on the album, and if the studio session a few weeks back is anything to go by it’s looking like there will be some!”

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Another deep and profound set from Black Roots

unnamedUK reggae band Black Roots is a favorite of mine and their self-titled debut album is one of the strongest sets coming from Britain. I was of course thrilled when I heard they had reunited a few years back and I was thrilled again when I realized they were also about to drop their first full-length set in more than 20 years.

On the Ground dropped in 2012. It completed their comeback and was a success.  It was followed by a stripped down and downright excellent dub counterpart in 2013.

Now I’m thrilled yet again. The reason? Black Roots is back with yet another scorcher. This time they’ve teamed up with French independent label SoulBeats.

Ghetto Feel is another deep and profound album from this Bristol-based band. It revolves around social challenges and Black Roots express their political standpoints on various issues. In the 80s they were at war with Margaret Thatcher, now their critique is directed at David Cameron, another Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party.

Even though Black Roots are outspoken with defiant lyrical themes, the melodies are often bright and they offer a good dose of slowly skanking vibes and uplifting grooves. Just listen to Albert Villa with its calypso-tinged melody or the gospel-fused Lonely Journey.

Ghetto Feel is the heart of vintage roots reggae and it could easily have been released in the early 80s.

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