01. BIG YOUTH ‘Notty No Jester’ (A Side 1975 Impact Import)

02. U-ROY ‘Dread Locks Dread’ (A Side 1975 TR Groovemaster Import)

03. MIGHTY DIAMONDS ‘I Need A Roof’ (A Side 1975 Well Charge Import)

04. JOE HIGGS ‘More Slavery’ (A Side July 1975 Grounation UK)

05. RAS MICHAEL & THE SONS OF NEGUS ‘None A Jah Jah Children’ A Side August 1975 Grounation UK)

06. FRED LOCKS ‘Black Star Liner’ (A Side August 1975 Grounation UK)

07. I-ROY ‘Rootes Man’ (A Side September 1975 Love UK)

08. JUNIOR BYLES ‘Fade Away’ (A Side September 1975 Eagle UK)

09. SYLFORD WALKER ‘Burn Babylon’ (A Side 1975 Belmont Import)

10. BURNING SPEAR ‘Marcus Garvey’ (A Side October 1975 Fox Import)

11. BIG YOUTH ‘Wolf In Sheep Clothing’ (A Side 1975 Agustus Buchanan Import)

12. U-ROY ‘Natty Rebel’ (A Side October 1975 TR Groovemaster Import)

13. DR. ALIMANTADO ‘Best Dressed Chicken In Town’ (A Side 1975 Capo Import)

14. DILLINGER ‘CB 200’ (A Side 1975 Well Charge Import)

15. MIGHTY DIAMONDS ‘Right Time’ (A Side November 1975 Well Charge Import) 

16. PRINCE FAR I ‘Blackman Land’ (A Side 1976 Cry Tuff Import)

17. THE HEPTONES ‘Sufferers Time’ (A Side February 1976 Black Art Import)

18. MAX ROMEO ‘War Ina Babylon’ (A Side March 1976 Island UK)

19. BURNING SPEAR ‘I and I Survive’ (A Side March 1976 Island UK)

20. JOHNNY CLARKE ‘Declaration Of Rights’ (A Side May 1976 Jackpot Import)

21. DILLINGER ‘Cokane In My Brain’ (A Side May 1976 Island UK)

22. PRINCE FAR I ‘Talking Rights’ (A Side 1976 Cry Tuff Import)

23. MAX ROMEO ‘One Step Forward’ (A Side May 1976 Island UK)

24. JUNIOR MURVIN ‘Police And Thieves’ (A Side July 1976 Island UK)

25. THE GLADIATORS ‘Know Your Self Mankind’ (A Side July 1976 TR Groovemaster Import)

26. TAPPA ZUKIE ‘MPLA Version’ (B Side August 1976 Klik UK)

27. DILLINGER ‘Flat Foot Hustling’ (A Side January 1977 Third World UK)

28. KING TUBBY ‘Psalms Of Dub’ (B Side February 1977 Black & White Import)

29. JOHNNY CLARKE ‘Roots, Natty Roots, Natty Congo Version’ (B Side March 1977 Virgin UK)

30. CULTURE ‘Two Sevens Clash’ (A Side March 1977 Joe Gibbs Import)

31. PRINCE FAR I ‘Heavy Manners’ (A Side April 1977 Heavy Duty Import)

32. I-ROY ‘Point Blank’ (A Side May 1977 Third World UK)

33. ISRAEL VIBRATION ‘Why Worry’ (A Side 1977 Orthodox Import)

34. YABBY YOU ‘Deliver Me From My Enemies’ (A Side July 1977 Vivian Jackson Import)

35. CULTURE ‘Work On Natty’ (A Side 1977 Sky Note UK)

36. THE REVOLUTIONARIES ‘Leftist Version’ (B Side 1977 Disco Mix Import)

37. JAH STITCH ‘Black Harmony Killer’ (A Side July 1977 Third World UK)

38. AUGUSTUS PABLO ‘East Of The River Nile’ (A Side July 1977 Hawkeye UK)

39. TRINITY ‘Three Piece Suit’ (A Side August 1977 Lightning UK)

40. CULTURE ‘Natty Never Get Weary’ (A Side August 1977 High Note Import) 

 

From the day it opened in the autumn of 1975 at the top of the escalators on the first floor of Reading’s Butts Shopping Centre, Quicksilver Records provided an individual customer service to its regular clientele by locating and stocking hard to find releases. And yet to my mind its greatest legacy, certainly during the golden years of my teenage, was its resolute spirit. To purchase a record at its counter was to become involved in a limitless series of negotiations, diatribes, monologues and disputes held in an atmosphere of high anticipation. These exchanges were held between staff and customers who regarded the depth of their love of music as immeasurable and sacrosanct, so much so that upon entering it felt like you were standing on holy ground. And it never felt holier than when reggae was blasting out of the shops ridiculously loud, kick in the guts, sound system.    

   A little over a year later reggae would become an integral part of punk, not because of the rebel music, mutual outcast’s theory, Johnny Rotten or Joe Strummers love for it or Don Letts spinning dub plates in the early days of The Roxy, but because of my generations long standing affinity with the genre stretching back to the early seventies, pop reggae hits by the likes of Johnny Nash, Jimmy Cliff, Dave & Ansel Collins and Bob & Marcia.  Closely followed in my ever expanding musical education by The Wailers revelatory 1973 albums Catch A Fire and Burnin’, roots and relative unknowns Big Youth, Mighty Diamonds, U-Roy, I-Roy, Prince Far I, Dillinger and Burning Spear were a natural progression from Bob Marley’s righteous yet studio sweetened songs. Authentic and raw, therefore less rock orientated, at a time when my enthusiasm for glam rock, prog rock, hard rock or rock of any kind was fading fast, that could only be a good thing.    

   From the start Quicksilver sold huge quantities of roots records. Every week a delivery would arrive distributing singles and albums from a cluster of tiny UK reggae labels and direct from the Jamaican source, a network of vans and drivers carrying a smorgasbord of exotic vinyl delights. Suddenly I had gained access to records that were never going to find their way into Reading’s old fashioned music shops Rumbelows and Hickies or the big chains like Boots or WH Smith. The artwork on these records was rudimentary, the album sleeves often featuring unsophisticated drawings, paintings or an Instamatic snapshot accompanied by hand drawn lettering. The single labels had virtually no information on them and were nearly always off centre while the vinyl itself contained plenty of surface crackles and pops.

   Coming from the streets of Kingston, they were created in a closed, defiantly DIY production line, the studios in which the music was recorded having direct access to Jamaica’s pressing plants and once manufactured selling the end product in their own shop fronts. A handful would find their way across the Atlantic into the racks of Quicksilver and the network of similar UK independent outlets during a period when there was precious little reggae around. In fact, the mere act of holding an imported Jamaican seven inch in my hand made me feel like I’d just received an invite to the greatest party in town, the feeling of exclusivity undeniable!  

   I knew nothing of Jah, Rastafari, Haile Selassie, Marcus Garvey, Kingston or where or what Babylon was and never pretended to but that didn’t seem to matter. Just through hanging around Quicksilver on a Saturday I discovered that simply by nodding my head in time to the bass, roots was a music created for the physical experience and that the power and directness of records like ‘None A Jah Jah Children’, ‘Fade Away’ and ‘Marcus Garvey’ was all-pervading. Sonically too they provided an important lesson, the eeriness and dread representing some kind of ineffable truth with warrior like lyrics covering life’s hardships, ghetto suffering and the repatriation of an exiled people underpinned by some seriously disorienting, heavy duty instrumentation, the meaning of the words restated as calls to prayer and rebirth.

   On the B Sides the lyrical message of roots was generally replaced by the ‘version’. Instrumental dubs of the A Sides featuring barely recognisable fragments of the melody and vocals, they concentrated more on creating shadowy, abstract reinterpretations of the originals. The space left by stripping the song back to the bare bones was overlaid with effects that magnified its dimensions, ghostly tones and frequencies created with echo and delay conjured up as if by some ancient form of alchemy.  

   I was enchanted and by the high summer of 1977 had collected a prized singles box full of roots and dub singles, with those that made the most impression (if only because I can remember them over forty years later) listed here. But as my life changed and the excitement and newness of post punk gathered momentum, and my involvement in the DIY underground filled my every moment, I found myself playing them less and less until a couple of years later when I sold them off for next to nothing when times were especially tight. By then I’d long since stopped going into Reading to buy records, which was just as well because with the inevitable coming and going of sales staff Quicksilver’s emphasis had switched from reggae towards the unfathomable New Wave of British Heavy Metal (the only photo I could find coming from the same period).

   It didn’t last long after that, the shop briefly becoming Lazer and then Listen Records around 1982. As for roots, while it would be be easy to say that the movement died with the death of Bob Marley on 11th May 1981, in truth as Jamaica suffered another period of violence, unemployment and poverty at the hands of its unscrupulous leaders, dancehall eschewed the serious nature of consciousness to drag reggae back to the sound systems, dances, parks and yards of its birth.

 

November 2019

 

NB: in the mid-seventies the chaotic nature of the Jamaican recording industry was more akin to the Wild West so specific release dates other than the year are damn near impossible to define. Those I have managed to uncover are taken from reputable sources like the quite wonderful 45cat.com.