Andy M reports direct from Jamaica on the passing of Gregory Isaacs – The Cool Ruler.

I feared the worst when I woke up, turned on the radio and instead of the usual payola stuff it was wall-to-wall Gregory. I changed station and there he was again. His death is front page news here and has hit hard. He was a flawed character but he was honest about it and loved all the more as a result. As one caller to Irie FM, the nation’s favourite, put it “Last one, two years, Alton Ellis gone, Joe Gibbs gone, Sugar, now Gregory. We cyaan lose any more icons til the next generation step up.”

I was lucky enough to see Gregory live a few times. Two occasions stand out. The first time was at a council-sponsored event in the middle of a housing estate in Camberwell in about 1995. It was chucking it down with rain, falling from grey skies onto grey concrete. But when Gregory stepped on stage in a three piece powder blue suit and hat, he lit the place up. From being a miserable wash-out of an event, it turned into a magical moment. The contrast and union between the immaculate Cool Ruler on stage and the motley group of dreads, scallies, students, pensioners and kids in the crowd – skanking under our umbrellas, clutching our cans of Stella – will live long in the memory.

The most recent time was in July this year (see photo above) at what turned out to be his last show in Jamaica (his appearance at the Big Chill was apparently his last ever). I knew he was in bad shape by this point as a mate had seen him being carried off a flight into a wheelchair at Kingston airport a few weeks before. But the prospect of a double-bill of him and the Mighty Diamonds at Studio 38 wasn’t to be missed. The trademark suit, fedora and swagger were still there and he raced through the hits in front of an adoring audience. He wasn’t so pristine anymore, the jacket came off after one song, then the top button on his shirt was undone, half his shirt came out next, then the tie was off and finally the shirt open revealing a natty string vest. The drugs had taken a toll on his voice too but he still delivered an energetic and entertaining, if brief show. As he said before coming back for an encore, “dem still want more”.

TRACKS FROM ANDY’S HI FI

Gregory Isaacs – Cool Down The Pace 10” mix

This is one of my favourite Gregory tracks aided and abetted by the Roots Radics with Wally Badarou. Ride on Cool Ruler.

Buy it on iTunes here.

[Andy M]

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When you need a break from the city and a rejuvenating beer in beautiful surroundings, the Pelican Bar is the place. The best bar in Jamaica is a mile out at sea, off the south coast of the island. Local fisherman Floyd had the vision to build a wooden bar on stilts on a sand bar in the middle of the ocean.

You can be picked up by boat from the mainland and enjoy a blissful few hours all at sea. Delicious fresh fish and curried lobster are prepared on a tiny gas stove and cold Red Stripe appears from the fridge. Meanwhile, you can divide your time between relaxing on the deck and snorkeling in the crystal clear water.


It’s just a shame when you have to leave…

[Andy M]

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Andy’s back with more reportage on life in Jamaica, this time its back to ’88 in Jamaica as Wallabies hits the dancefloor.

You can’t keep a design classic down: the Clarks revival is not just a British phenomenon. Vybz Kartel has once again shown the popular influence of dancehall artists with a trilogy of songs about Clarks shoes. Jamaicans of all generations have always loved their Clarks but the local market has exploded since the release of ‘Clarks’, its follow-up single ‘Clarks Again’ and new release ‘Clarks 3 (Wear Weh Yuh Have)’. Not since Run DMC’s ‘My Adidas’ can a footwear brand have had as much free publicity from a song.

Local newspapers report a significant increase in sales of Clarks shoes – from the street sellers in downtown Kingston to uptown malls. The latest street style is cutting off the bottom of your jeans to reveal your wallabees or desert boots in their full glory. Prices are rising and, in an illustration of the demand, the police report that thieves stole GBP15,000 of the shoes from two local stores last week. The DJ says that he received no payment for the songs and that they were just motivated by his love for the brand. “My own Clarks collection, I have like 47 pairs. I’ve been advertising Clarks for a while now. Clarks is as Jamaican as ackee and saltfish and roast breadfruit.”

Ever the businessman, the word is that having realised his influence on the shoe market, Kartel’s charmingly titled Unlimited Daggering Company now plans to launch its own West Bank shoe line.

Check the ‘Clarks’ video for some useful tips on shoe cleaning:

[Andy M]

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Happy to welcome Andy M back with more stories on island life and a mix of favourite dub sounds.

Saturday night – ‘Soup and sound’ with Dexter Campbell (below), the Ska Professor. Now, as multi-sensory concepts go, soup and sound leaves Jean-Michel Jarre’s son et lumiere trailing in its wake. A low-key downtown bar in Kingston with tables outside, full of characters with stories written all over their faces. Groups of old guys playing dominoes. An old woman in the corner sits on her own all night listening and meditating (or is that sleeping?) to the music. Dexter runs the Echo Vibration soundsystem and at 70 he’s still going strong and regularly tours Europe and Japan. He played an amazing selection of rare-as-hen’s-teeth ska, rocksteady, early roots and jazz all night. The first time in my almost three years in Jamaica that I’ve heard vinyl being played out and a welcome change from the usual diet of dancehall and the canon of 20 reggae classics that gets rinsed out in 30 second/tune doses at most dances. A great night, although I woke up in the morning feeling slightly cheated. The rum had been flowing so freely that we forgot to sample the soup…



Sunday morning – beach cricket with Luciano.
The best thing to do when the kids wake you up with a sore head on Sunday is to head half an hour out of town to Fort Clarence beach. A beautiful stretch of white sand, fringed by almond trees and with a little shack that sells the freshest fish. Mid-morning and the beach cricket was in full swing when the bowler’s head was turned by a fragrant aroma and greeted by the sight of Luciano (‘Jah Messenger’, not the minimal DJ) striding through the covers resplendent in a HIM style solar topee, drawing on his pipe.

Sunday night – Beres Hammond in concert.
I’m still amazed that there’s not more live music in Jamaica. A lot of the great old artists are more in demand and make more money touring Europe and the US these days. When they do play it’s normally at ‘stage shows’ with 10-20 artists on the bill sharing an unfamiliar backing band. The show always starts late, only leaving time for two or three songs per singer before the next act is rushed on. Thankfully someone has spotted the gap in the market and Pulse have started hosting regular full-length concerts – John Holt and Freddie McGregor in recent weeks were followed by Beres Hammond on Sunday. He put on a great show and had the 500-strong crowd on their feet singing along with every word. Jamaican crowds don’t hold back which I like. My personal highlight was Ken Boothe walking through the crowd, blessing everybody and shaking hands with one hand whilst carrying a burning joss stick in the other.

And finally, I’ve been listening to a lot of dub recently. Sadly it’s disappeared from the music scene here but dub is the foundation…

Andy’s Hi-Fi: Dub Is The Foundation

Tappa Zukie: MPLA Dub
Augustus Pablo: Pablo In The Dance
The Mighty Light Of Saba: Lambs Bread Collie
Wareika Hill Sounds: Tears In Exile
King Tubby And The Aggrovators: Ruffer Version
The Skatalites: Herbsman Dub
Russ D: Spiritual Dub
Jah Shaka Meets Aswad: Aswad Special
Dennis Bovell: Rowing (12″ Version)
Rhythm And Sound With Cornel Campbell: King In My Empire
3 Generations Walking: Midnight Bustling (Midnight Rockers Mix)
Musical Youth: Pass the Dutchie (Special Dub Mix)

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[Andy M]

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Andy M moved to Jamaica in 2007 and will be sending occasional postcards from the land of wood and water to Test Pressing on music and island life.

Today marks the start of reggae month in Jamaica. An odd concept in an island where music infuses life 365 days a year, but a fitting way to honour the birthdays of the Crown Prince and the King of reggae. Dennis Brown would have been 53 today and Bob Marley would have become a pensioner on the 6th.

Dancehall is now the jittery heartbeat of the nation’s youth and Mavado and Vybz Kartel the new heroes. Graffiti proclaiming ‘Gully’ or ‘Gaza’ covers walls across the country, scrawled by the partisan followers of the two rival DJs (Mavado comes from Cassava Piece a poor community on the banks of a gully, and Vybz Kartel was brought up in an area in Portmore known as Gaza for the high level of violence). Whether this tribal loyalty is just a natural expression of teenage identity or something much more dangerous is a heated topic of debate. What’s clear is that many schools are divided into Gaza and Gully gangs and there have been countless violent incidents between rival groups if not any deaths as yet. Politicians and commentators bemoan the hyped feud between the DJs as a symbol of moral decline and the negative role of dancehall music in society.

At first this reminded me of the hysteria a few years ago over the alleged role of gangster rap in youth violence in Britain. But in a significantly more violent society with widespread illiteracy and few alternative role models for young boys, the posturing of DJs can have a much more insidious impact – this is no suburban fantasy for middle class kids. The Gaza/Gully conflict got such media attention that the Prime Minister organised a summit in December that brought together the two artists to sign a peace treaty.

Too much ism and schism as the old song goes. Last year 1604 people were murdered in a country of just 2.7 million citizens. The police say gang violence was responsible for two thirds of these deaths. Many of these gangs have political links and receive state contracts that sustain them. All this is nothing new. In 1978 in a bid to quell the political violence, Bob Marley organised the One Love Peace concert and brought together onstage the leaders of the two main parties. It may not have succeeded, but it was a noble effort. How Jamaica needs a reggae star now that will stand up for, rather than manipulate, the youth and urge action to sever the ties between politics and organised crime which is holding this great country back.

SONGS FROM ANDY’S HI-FI


Bob Marley – Rainbow Country

A joyous skank. Play loud, shut your eyes and feel the sun.
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Dennis Brown – Why Seek More (aka Give A Helping Hand) 12” Mix
A two-part rocker from Dennis Emmanuel with Niney the Observer at the controls. Amazing bass and drum work-out.
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[Andy M]

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