â&#x20AC;¦ your heart out
This edition of Your Heart Out takes as a starting point the sequence of LPs Eddy Grant recorded in the late 1970s and the context in which they were recorded and first heard. Are there any pop figures as full of contradictions as Eddy Grant? He is so famous that he‟s almost invisible. He is an enduring global superstar, but how much is really known about his work? His hits like Electric Avenue and I Don‟t Wanna Dance are known the whole world over, but what about all his other activities? Compilations of his Greatest Hits are easy enough to buy, but how often do you see his old LPs?
chapter on reggae activity in Britain, shedding valuable light on the business side of things.
Eddy Grant is in a pretty unique position in that aspects of his work are revered by all sorts of musical communities. He is regarded as a pioneer by connoisseurs of skinhead reggae and soul, freakbeat, glam rock, rare groove, disco, soca, electro, house, and so on. But there is no one definitive discography or documentary, book or boxed set, which draws all these strands together. Strut had plans to do something at one time, but this seemed to fall through. Bill Brewster did a marathon interview as part of that project, but all that seems to be available are teasing snippets on message boards of what Eddy said about his work.
“Eddy Grant, the former lead singer with the Equals, a local pop group that became popular in the middle to late 1960s, has, since the group‟s departure from their former record company, Kassner/President Records, become more involved in the business aspects of the record industry. He now owns the Coach House Studios, which developed from a sixteen-track studio (formerly owned by Manfred Mann) to a twentyfour track. His record label, Ice, has achieved gold status in Nigeria while only recently breaking into the charts in this country under the support of the Ensign label (a subsidiary of Phonogram) with his own composition, Living on the Front Line. Grant has also bought out his former boss of President Records who owned a pressing plant in South London. By achieving these goals, Grant has become the only black entrepreneur to control an important aspect of business life in this country. The only serious area he still needs to control is the offer of a distribution deal by one of the majors. In spite of Grant‟s verbal resolution about the preference for a distribution – rather than a licensing deal – he has finally signed his label over to Virgin Records after an abortive negotiation with Warner Brothers Records. Grant has also managed not to confine himself to Reggae by getting involved with different black artists performing a variety of music.”
There are very few artists who have been as passionate about independence and selfsufficiency, but you won‟t find many mentions of him in high-brow titles published by Faber. There have been few artists of Caribbean origin who have been as successful, but he gets barely a mention in Dick Hebdige‟s Cut „N‟ Mix. There have been few singers as outspoken about the Black British experience, but you won‟t find a chapter on him in Paul Gilroy‟s There Ain‟t No Black In The Union Jack. He is, like Jorge Ben, a master of musical miscegenation, but his artistic achievements are not analysed at length by academics. One of the more interesting passages on the work of Eddy Grant comes in Sebastian Clarke‟s Jah Music: The Evolution of the Popular Jamaican Song, which was published in 1980. Clarke, who became Amon Saba Saakana, was born in Trinidad and moved to the UK in the mid„60s. As a writer he was involved with the underground press. His brother Brent ran the Atra label and had been involved with Bob Marley in Britain before he found fame with Island. Sebastian‟s book has a particularly good
The book is written from the black perspective, a purist Rasta viewpoint, reflecting the views of someone who has observed the development of reggae in the UK at close quarters. The passage on Eddy Grant comes at the end of the closing chapter Step Forward/Backward: The Changing Future. This is worth quoting in full, partly because the book is out of circulation and partly because it provides a great summary of Eddy Grant‟s activity and why he is important:
exploit them. The song could apply equally well to youth on the streets of Trenchtown, Kingston, Ladbroke Grove, Brixton, Handsworth, Moss Side, St. Pauls, Toxteth, New York, Paris, and so on
MESSAGE MAN Curfew. It‟s Our Time. Cockney Black. Race Hate. These are exactly the sort of stencilled slogans as song titles, with all the emotional impact of a tabloid headline, which fit perfectly with the remembered rhetoric of the punk rock explosion. These, however, were not the work of some young garageland hopefuls inspired by seeing The Clash. They were, instead from Message Man, Eddy Grant‟s 1977 LP on his own Ice label. Eddy looks suitably mean and moody on the cover, in his leather jacket and dreadlocks, scowling, wonderfully surly. The cover oozes attitude. It looks of its time. But Eddy didn‟t really bother with the punky reggae party. Plenty of UK reggae acts did get access to the punk circuit: Steel Pulse, Aswad, Black Slate, Merger, Misty, Reggae Regulars, Capital Letters, Cimarons, and so on. But Eddy didn‟t really play live, and he didn‟t really play reggae. Eddy Grant on Message Man didn‟t sing about Jah or smoking weed or going back to Ethiopia or Rastafari. On Message Man the closest he comes to straight roots rock reggae is Jamaican Child, which could easily be a contemporaneous Bob Marley cut, complete with I-Threes style harmonies. It‟s sweet, addictive, with an achingly lovely melody. “Hear they put a price tag on your food, enough to make a rich man brood”. He highlights the attitude of the authorities who want to stop the young Rasta running wild, and “cut off your dreadlocks child”. But, importantly, he warns the rude boys about the well-wishers who want to get inside their minds, co-opt them, tame them,
Such open-endedness is part of Eddy Grant‟s songwriting genius. People the whole world over identify with his lyrics. He didn‟t overcomplicate things. And that was certainly true, musically. He could take very simple ideas, build on them, stretch them. He used repetition on occasions as well as James Brown, Hamilton Bohannon, Fela Kuti, Can and the Munich disco producers. Paradoxically Eddy is unable to stick to one musical form, over the course of a long playing record, hopping from one thing to another, which could be disorientating or a delight, in the same way people might have strong views one way or the other about Sandinista by The Clash , Dennis Bovell‟s Brain Damage, Orange Juice‟s Rip It Up, and so on. Beyond the reggae or funk context usually favoured by critics, Eddy Grant‟s Message Man can be seen as a work from a time where War were having hits and Osibisa finally hit the charts with Sunshine Day and Dance The Body Music. Indeed Eddy had been lined-up to produce the first Osibisa LP, before Tony Visconti and Martin Rushent got the job. In terms of style there were certainly similarities between what Eddy was doing and what outfits like Osibisa and War were doing. But Eddy was not part of a big collective drawing inspiration from a variety of musical and cultural backgrounds. He was a lone wolf, a meticulous maverick, doing it all himself. On Message Man he played most of the instruments, did most of the production and technical bits himself, all in his own Coach House recording studios in Stamford Hill, north London. Critics have fawned over Prince, Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Todd Rundgren, Mike Oldfield, Eno, Van Dyke Parks, Brian Wilson, and so on, for doing far less. The two opening tracks on Message Man, Curfew and It‟s Our Time, have all sorts of ideas percolating away. Something like Stevie Wonder‟s You Haven‟t Done Nothin‟ might be a good reference point. It‟s a similar sort of reggae meets funk concept to what Mike Dorane was also exploring at the time with his reimagining of the O‟Jays‟ For The Love of Money as the Disco Dub Band. Chris Blackwell‟s Island had liked Dorane‟s ideas so much he let
him set up two labels, Rockers and Movers. A little later Island had chart success with Third World‟s reggae disco fusion and a cover of Now That We‟ve Found Love, another song from the O‟Jays‟ Ship Ahoy. British reggae group The Cinamons also played a cover of Ship Ahoy for punks at Rock Against Racism gigs in 1977. Mike Dorane didn‟t have any commercial success with his ideas about mixing reggae and funk, and in 1977 he re-emerged with Barry Ford and Winston Bennett having recorded Merger‟s Exiles Ina Babylon LP. Musically it‟s perhaps the closest thing from that time to what Eddy Grant was doing on tracks like Curfew and It‟s Our Time. The group‟s name itself reflected their ideas to attempt musical mergers. While the Rasta themes are familiar the music is anything but, and at times the record captures something of a hypnotic jazz fusion or afro rock feel. One of the highlights of Message Man is Eddy‟s song Cockney Black. It is unusually specific: "Why can't they just treat me like a man, than just treat the colour of me? I would rather be white and live in a shack, than live in a palace and be called a Cockney Black." It tackles the questions of identity, race, recognition, respect. Eddy‟s case was pretty unique at the time. He had tasted success at a very early age. He was the first successful black songwriter in a British pop group, but he wasn‟t given credit for what he had achieved. “I don‟t know just where I stand,” sings Eddy, powerfully giving vent to his confusion, despair, and anger. With a song as fiery as Race Hate on the LP it would be expected that the emerging Rock Against Racism campaign group would have seized upon it. But there doesn‟t appear to have been any interaction between the RAR organization and Eddy. That may just be because Eddy didn‟t play live at the time, or it could be that he wasn‟t a joiner. It would be easy to be suspicious of the motives of a group run by white left-wing intellectuals, no matter how laudable its aims. Eddy would have been a perfect fit, but he doesn‟t get a mention in Beating Time, David Widgery‟s intoxicating book on Riot „n‟ Race „n‟ Rock „n‟ Roll. Widgery is intent on pointing out that: “RAR was not started by university graduates but by cultural autodidacts”. Or as one of the founding members Roger Huddle put it: “The most staggering thing about RAR was that not only did
revolutionaries who were my age also happen to have gone down the mod clubs in Wardour Street in the early sixties, but they never even let on that they were also J.B. Lenoir fans and had obscure Delta blues records tucked away in the back of their collections. With RAR we could all come out.” Widgery wrote: “RAR‟s official slogan was Reggae, Soul, Rock and Roll, Jazz, Funk and Punk: Our Music but the label sewn inside our zoot suits read By Courtesy of Constructivism, the Cinema and the Electric Guitar: Our Culture”.
The political left in Britain has always had an uneasy relationship with popular culture, and this was something the founders of RAR were painfully aware of. Little has changed over the years. A search of the Socialist Review archives, for example, would reveal a letter from Ian Birchall, printed in April 1983: “Noel Halifax‟s article The Sounds of Struggle (SR 52) marked a welcome break from the recent cultural policy (or non-policy) of Socialist Review. When a boring ex-Trotskyist called Ted Grant was thrown out of the Labour Party, Socialist Review dissected the manoeuvre with loving care. But when an exciting black singer called Eddy Grant got to number two in the charts with a record openly advocating street violence, Socialist Review did not deign to notice.” Beyond the politics, where Message Man gets really interesting is the musical ground it covers with staggering ease. A few of the songs seem to be put together with elements of calypso and highlife, reggae and disco, rock and soul in a
Hello Africa and Neighbour Neighbour, upping the Caribbean content in the sound. The Kalyan LP also included a soca reworking of Jesse Green‟s Nice „n‟ Slow and the gorgeous, infectious groove of Disco Reggae. Both Neighbour Neighbour and Hello Africa were songs that Eddy himself had reworked for Message Man. Neighbour Neighbour had appeared on Born Ya, a 1976 LP on Mercury by Eddy‟s old group The Equals. This was one of two LPs by The Equals that bookended Message Man. And while Eddy had officially left the group three or four years before he remained very much involved behind the scenes as songwriter and producer for his old friends.
logic-defying natural way. Indeed, Eddy had been playing with these ideas for some time. Before soca was codified as a musical genre Eddy Grant was one of the pioneers in mixing Caribbean calypso sounds with funk, soul, disco. He had a go at calling the form kaisoul (kaiso being the traditional name for calypso). As ever there are on-going debates about who was the first to fuse this with that, but Eddy threw more ingredients into the pot than most. A great example of this approach is Get Down Soweto. While this may not be the song the title and its timing suggests, in the context of the struggle against apartheid and the Soweto Uprising of June 1976, musically its carnival disco mix of calypso and highlife is irresistible. While African sounds may have had a certain cachet at the time, calypso was rather dismissed. Nevertheless Eddy‟s commitment to his first musical love was genuine. Through his Ice label in the late „70s he released pioneering soca or classic calypso recordings such as Lord Kitchener‟s Sugar Bum Bum, Diane‟s You Gotta Give Away, Calypso Rose‟s Come Leh We Jam, Trinidad Bill‟s Back to School, and Mighty Sparrow‟s King Kong. Since then, having been based in Barbados for many years, Eddy has done much to preserve the musical heritage of the calypso greats. In 1977 the Trinidadian group Kalyan covered two of the songs from Eddy‟s Message Man LP,
When The Equals released Born Ya they had not had a hit in the UK since 1970 when they had defiantly insisted on putting out the remarkable Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys. Nevertheless they had become popular music stalwarts, with old hits like Baby Come Back and Viva Bobby Joe getting regular plays on Radio Two. With all of the magic that made the likes of Hendrix, the Stones‟ Get Off Of My Cloud, The Temptations‟ psychedelic soul, the Four Tops and bluebeat and ska so great, The Equals had something for everyone. They could be family favourites, with absurdly catchy numbers, but they were pure punk in approach and attitude and way, way ahead of their time. Numbers like My Life Ain‟t Easy, Poor Man, I‟m Gonna Dance All Night, I Can See But You Don‟t Know, and so on, were as tough and as savage as any „60s sounds.
Beyond the big hits the clues were always there about The Equals‟ magnificence. In the punk era the Purple Hearts covered The Guy Who Made Her A Star and The Clash did, of course, Police On My Back. But it wasn‟t really until John Reed‟s 1999 Sequel Equals double-CD anthology appeared that a real sense of The Equals‟ splendour was readily available. And with the later tracks on that collection, like Diversion and Stand Up and Be Counted, it was clear The Equals were doing glam rock before the singalong stomping sound was codified, and Slade, Mud, The Sweet, etc. topped the charts. All those lovely little riffs in The Equals‟ songs were pure T. Rex, plus Eddy and the guys were dressing up in full-on exaggeratedly flamboyant Regency dandy fineries when Slade were dressing down as bovver-boys. The Equals were as strange as hell. They probably benefitted from being the main act on Ed Kassner‟s President label, which gave them a slight detachment from typical industry machinations. There was no Svengali behind them, no songwriting or production team working for them. Eddy wrote the hits. They had a successful LP before they had singles success in the UK. They did very few covers. And live by all accounts they could whip up a storm. The YouTube generation has the advantage of being able to revel in old TV clips of The Equals, particularly from the Continent where they were massive, and always the group are frighteningly good, bouncing up and down like lithe young boxers. The establishment must have been appalled: an articulate gang of kids, tough and smart, streetwise and independently-minded. Eddy withdrew from The Equals 1972-ish after a health scare caused by a heart condition. The Equals‟ punishing schedule can‟t have helped. Kassner had his acts churn out product. And Eddy had numerous side-projects on the go at the height of The Equals‟ fame. His extracurricular activity included production work and recording projects which allowed him to indulge his wider, wilder interests. Recording as Zap(p)atta Schmidt and as the 32nd Turn Off he explored funkier, heavier sounds. History books are not exactly brimming over with information about Eddy‟s late „60s recordings outside of The Equals, and the records are maddeningly rare and out of circulation.
The 32nd Turn Off LP is perhaps the most wellknown of these side projects. Released on Jay Boy, what was then a new off-shoot of President, it was the first LP on the label (the second was the baroque jazz rock fusion masterpiece Spinning Wheel by The Roundtable). The label itself generally specialised in what are now classic soul sides licensed from the US (e.g. Bob & Earl, Jackie Lee, Erma Franklin, Jerry-O, Watts 103rd St Rhythm Band), then finding success with KC & the Sunshine Band and George McCrae. The 32nd Turn Off is an incredible record, like Dyke & The Blazers or the Chambers Brothers, heading towards a heavier Hendrix, Vanilla Fudge/Iron Butterfly sound. It‟s got just about everything. Used To Be A Tiger is pure punk raw power. And there‟s a touch of reggae, a celebration of West Indian Women, and a fantastic pop art sleeve. Best of all is Young People, with Eddy rallying the youth and testifying: “Don‟t need a bomb to make the people hear you, don‟t need a gun to make people fear you ...” It‟s like Ian Svenonius and the Make-Up 30 years too soon There‟s not a lot of information out there about the 32nd Turn Off LP. Eddy Grant wrote the songs and produced it, and from his exhortations on Young People and the way he introduces the group as Brother Wendell on guitar, Brother Conrad on drums, and Brother Fuzz on bass, it seems reasonable to assume these were Wendell Richardson, Conrad Isidore and Fuzzy Samuel who also played together as Sundae Times, a group Eddy produced and who released the ridiculously rare LP Us Coloured Kids on the Joy label, another off-shoot of President.
like the irresistible rise of reggae, the emergence of Jimmy Cliff and Bob Marley as superstars, Sly & the Family Stone, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Headhunters, Bohannon, the Sound of Philadelphia, the whole Parliament/Funkadelic thing, and so on. The opening tracks on Born Ya capture perfectly the mélange of reggae and funk Eddy was working on. But it‟s Funky Like a Train that is the track people know from this LP. The song took on a new lease of life as a classic on the „80s rare groove scene, and was reissued as a 12” on the Club label. British rapper MC Duke later sampled it on his I‟m Riffin‟ track.
Conrad and Fuzzy had been the rhythm section in Joe E. Young & the Toniks, the soul outfit on Vicki Wickham‟s Toast label, fronted by Colin Young who would join The Foundations. Conrad and Fuzzy recruited Wendell on lead guitar and vocals, and they became a pioneering all-black power trio. After a successful gig at the legendary Bag O‟ Nails club Fuzzy was whisked away to play with Stephen Stills‟ new group. Conrad got involved too. And Wendell went on to be a founding member of Osibisa after the Nigerian drummer Remi Kabaka made some introductions. It‟s easy to see where Eddy Grant‟s connections with Osibisa would have come from. One afro rock classic Eddy did produce was the amazing 1972 Danta single Freeway c/w Mau Mau. The flip has resurfaced recently on a Psych Bites compilation, alongside the brassy blast Someone in the Crowd, one of Eddy‟s Zapatta Schmidt sides. De-Hems were another group Eddy produced around that time. They were also a North London outfit, and their Don‟t Cross That Line has a very funky Equals sound and is highly rated by psych/funk collectors. By 1976 when The Equals released Born Ya their sound had evolved, and why wouldn‟t it? These were ideas Eddy had been working on and with over the preceding two or three years, a single here and there, as he explored ideas about funky reggae, disco dub, using Fender Rhodes, horns, and so on. In some ways he‟d given the world a chance to catch up, and in some cases he‟d been able to absorb new developments
There are still some wonderful traces of the old idiosyncratic Equals. There‟s the gorgeous If You Didn‟t Miss Me and the early attempt at Neighbour Neighbour. The Caribbean sounds are also there on Irma La Douce and Kaywana Sunshine Girl, with strange echoes of the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys, but maybe that‟s not so absurd thinking of Kokomo or Van Dyke Parks‟ fascination with calypso. The album closes with Ire Harry, which is as strange as anything ever made with a reggae foundation. It‟s the story of a guy who lives in Brixton and he‟s got a degree, who was born a loser with too much soul, and can be seen walking down the street with dreadlocks blowing in the wind. Ire (as opposed to the Irie spelling) was an interesting word for Eddy to seize upon, as Rupie Edwards had an unexpected Top 10 UK hit with Ire Feelings (Skanga) on the Cactus label in late 1974, introducing dub to the hit parade. The second of the great lost Equals LPs was Mystic Syster, released on Ice in 1978, again with Eddy Grant in charge of composing and production. This had more of a cohesive funky reggae sound. It felt like a denser sound, quite treacly, with serpentine synths and that itchy Sly and Stevie W. thing going on. Rock „n‟ Roll Star is the one curiosity, sounding like a reggae T. Rex, with a Chuck Berry homage thrown in, which is appropriate as it‟s almost Eddy‟s story and Chuck was his big musical hero. One track, Red Dog, had more of an uptempo disco sound, and is totally glorious, pointing the way towards what would come.
with Eddy declaring he doesn‟t want to play the fame game with cocaine messing up his brain. And Eddy was on the frontline in the sense of putting his head above the parapet, being an innovator, trying to make his own music his own way on his own terms, avoiding outside interference wherever possible. He is quoted as saying that one advantage of doing his own recording was that he could keep things simple. And that is the essence of Living on the Frontline‟s appeal, beyond the reggae-notreggae and disco-not-reggae thing. It‟s the repeated four-note bass/synth motif. It gets inside the brain. The four notes were all that were needed to make the song work.
WALKING ON SUNSHINE
In the summer of 1979 Eddy Grant had his first big solo hit when Living on the Frontline crashed into the UK charts. At the time it seemed to come out of nowhere, but it was a good time for something unexpected to be a success. Other hits from around the same time included Earth Wind & Fire‟s Boogie Wonderland, Janet Kay‟s Silly Games, Gary Numan‟s Are „Friends‟ Electric and Cars, Anita Ward‟s Ring My Bell, The Specials‟ Gangsters, Gibson Brothers‟ Cuba and Ooh What A Life, Sparks‟ Number One Song in Heaven and Beat The Clock, Slick‟s Space Bass, PiL‟s Death Disco, Chic‟s Good Times, Sister Sledge‟s We Are Family and Lost in Music, McFadden and Whitehead‟s Ain‟t No Stoppin‟ Us Now, the Jacksons‟ Shake Your Body, The Ruts‟ Babylon‟s Burning, UK Subs‟ Stranglehold, the Beach Boys‟ Lady Lynda, Ian Dury‟s Reasons To Be Cheerful, and Dennis Brown‟s Money In My Pocket. Records seemed to be transcending the specialist shows and defying the usual marketing campaign logic. Living On The Frontline is one of Eddy‟s great songs about the human condition. It appealed across the board, to punks, the new 2 Tone crowd, reggae fans, funkateers, and the wider pop audience. It would be adopted as a London anthem, particularly in context of later Brixton riots, but really its theme was global, like the O‟Jays‟ Love Train, referring to brothers over in Africa shooting one another, the Palestinian conflict, and ends by looking towards America
Eddy enthusiastically embraced and explored the emerging extended disco mix 12” format. He relished the opportunity to stretch his creations into epic workouts. And it‟s no surprise that the more enlightened American clubs picked up on what Eddy was doing with Living on the Frontline. The song is cited as a classic on playlists from David Mancuso‟s The Loft, for example. And another track from that time, Walking On Sunshine, became a massive favourite with DJs like Larry Levan who played it regularly at The Paradise Garage. It was there that Arthur Baker first heard the song, and he and Jellybean Benitez covered it with Rockers Revenge, producing a track that along with Planet Rock heralded a new age. The irony is that Eddy was there already. Walking On Sunshine was the title track of Eddy‟s 1979 LP. Unfortunately it pretty much disappeared at the time. The LP had been licensed to Virgin, but they didn‟t do anything with it, much to Eddy‟s disgust. Nevertheless the LP has finally acquired classic status, and is available now in an expanded deluxe edition. Once again Eddy played pretty much everything on the LP, and did most of the technical bits. The deluxe edition contains excellent detailed sleevenotes, by Strut‟s Quinton Scott based on interviews with Eddy, with the composer‟s stories about each track and the different ideas and influences at work. The closing track on the original LP, We Are, is one of Eddy‟s greatest achievements. The core of this afro disco classic song is almost a mantra: “We are the sunshine. We are the light. We are the love in our hearts. We are the land”. Eddy is
joined on vocals by Jackie Robinson and George Agard of The Pioneers, and musically it‟s a dazzlingly radiant mix of African and Caribbean rhythms, heavy on the percussion, with some searing jazz rock guitar.
For most UK artists crossover means removing rough edges to make music more appealing for daytime radio controllers. Eddy Grant however has had very different ideas. His music has reached parts of the world that almost defy logic. This has partly been by design and partly by chance. Say I Love You, from the Walking On Sunshine LP, is a perfect example. It‟s a deceptively simple song, but it‟s irresistible. There is a very strong Caribbean feel to it, so it‟s no surprise that it became massively popular in Trinidad, for example. But it‟s been picked up on elsewhere and covered successfully. Willie Colon took it up and reinterpreted it as Amor Verdadero in 1981, and then Australian singer Renée Geyer had a huge hit with it in 1982 when it was released as a single from an LP coproduced by Ricky Fataar of Beach Boys fame. Eddy‟s successful ventures, taking his creations to the wider Caribbean audience, beyond reggae, didn‟t limit his drive. He was also looking towards Africa. Nigeria had proved to be a lucrative market for reggae. Jimmy Cliff was a massive star there. Virgin particularly found it particularly profitable to export reggae to Nigeria until the authorities clamped down on foreign products flooding the market. In 1978 Eddy recorded a version of Say I Love You specifically for the Nigerian market and stretched it to 15 minutes to appeal to the target audience. He got Kofi Ayivor from Osibisa to
help out on congas with the extended version, entitled Wipe Mo Nfe E, and it was apparently Kofi‟s idea to use some Yoruban lyrics. The record was a huge success, adding to the popularity Eddy was already enjoying out in Nigeria. The track itself is available as one of the bonus tracks on the Walking on Sunshine deluxe edition, and is sounds phenomenal, particularly when it breaks down into just the drums. Of course it wasn‟t just one way traffic in the 1970s. African musicians had quite an impact, one way and another, on the British scene. Ginger Baker and Traffic in particular used African musicians, like Reebop, Remi Kabaka. Speedy Acquaye also played with Ginger Baker‟s Airforce, having already played with Georgie Fame and Herbie Goins. Gaspar Lawal was very much in demand for his session work. Biddy Wright played with Ronnie Lane and Ronnie produced the amazing 1972 LP by Biddy‟s group Akido. There was Osibisa, of course. Matata from Kenya were active on the UK scene, and recorded for President. And The Funkees from Nigeria tried their luck in the UK. Their congas player Sonny Akpan would later work frequently with Eddy Grant, including on the Walking On Sunshine LP. The popularity of reggae in West Africa is perfectly understandable. There was an established tradition of Caribbean music being popular in the region. The pioneering British label Melodisc had been enjoying success since the early „50s recording calypso and highlife sounds. When these were recorded in the UK the label had used wonderful mixes of ex-pat Caribbean and African musicians. And the label‟s releases were popular in West Africa. Honest Jon‟s has released a wonderful collection of calypso from West Africa. The accompanying notes to the Marvellous Boy set mention: “The Tempos' drummer Guy Warren once recalled a trip to London, where he'd played in Kenny Graham's pioneering Afro Cubists: 'When I was in London I went to the Caribbean Club somewhere near Piccadilly, the haunt of a lot of West Indians. It was all calypso every night. When I came back I brought some of these records and we learnt to play them as I knew straightaway that these musical inflections were so highlifish.' And most likely he would have thrown in some of Ambrose Campbell's London recordings of calypso highlife with the West African Rhythm Brothers, including horn players from the Caribbean — at
that time making an back home in Nigeria.”
Sonny Okosun or Okosuns was one of the first in Nigeria to explore reggae influences in his music. With his group Ozziddi he figured prominently in The Face, April 1981, which featured a lengthy Peter Murphy piece on „Rock in Nigeria‟. The feature mentions Sonny‟s group playing five hour sets and describes his music as “combining Highlife, Rock and Soul with African roots as well as his forays into Reggae which, again predictably, produced a narrow-minded backlash from cultural purists within the country”. Eddy Grant and Sonny Okosun seemed to recognise one another as kindred spirits, and naturally they worked together. In 1979 Eddy took a couple of Sonny‟s biggest songs; reworking, remixing, reimagining them for a disco 12” on the reggae label Radic. The 12-minute mix of Papa‟s Land is incredible, with its infectious groove and the passionate plea for African independence: “We want to know who owns the land ... our papa‟s land”. The other side was Fire in Soweto. In Beating Time David Widgery mentions how for Rock Against Racism 1977 ended with a gig at the Royal College of Art: “And as Nick Cash of 999 lunged through the mayhem, one of the three projectors flashed behind him a photo of Steve Biko‟s funeral with the handwritten scrawl He will be revenged. Misty played their Old Testament songs of justice and retribution, unstoppable till 1.30am. The following night Alexis Korner played Sonny Okosun‟s Nigerian record Fire in Soweto on his radio show and in his intimate, beautifully modulated voice inquired: „There are still some people who preach forgiveness. Forgiveness? Soweto?‟”. Sonny‟s LP Fire in Soweto was recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London. While this was not
unusual at the time for Nigerian artists, it would have been particularly exciting for Sonny as he was a massive Beatles fan and had a passion for borrowing their song titles. The LP‟s sleevenotes offer special thanks to Mike Odumosu and Jake Sollo of Osibisa, Harry Mosco of The Funkees, and Eddy Grant. The record itself is dedicated to African freedom fighters. Wonderfully, it features Sonny‟s trademark social commentary and protest songs (Liberation, Revolution) next to Steady „n‟ Slow, a risqué Serge G./Jane B. or Sylvia-style Pillow Talk number. Sonny‟s 1980 LP Third World was partly recorded in Eddy Grant‟s Coach House studio, with backing vocalists including Liza Strike. It‟s got some lovely syn drums on too, and in order to get his message across Sonny was always prepared to try something new, like using disco stylings as he does to great effect on Tire Ni Oluwa. He even made an LP with the calypso great Lord Superior in 1978 to help export his sound and explore new markets. When Sonny died in 2008 some of the heartfelt tributes were enlightening. The comments from Uchenna Ikonne, of the With Comb and Razor site, was particularly interesting: “It was in the 1970s and 80s that Sonny Okosuns achieved his greatest success, forcefully projecting through his music a message of African unity, pride, resistance to oppression and sympathy for the struggles for independence raging across the continent. The repressive apartheid policy in Southern Africa was the central target of his attacks, so much so that in 1978, his Fire In Soweto LP was officially banned by the government of South Africa. “Over the years, various critics (myself included) have occasionally questioned whether his persistent railing against repressive governments in South Africa, Mozambique, Angola, etc. might have been something of an opportunistic publicity ploy. After all, Naija was not exactly the New Island of Utopia either, but Sonny never went out of his way to indict any of Nigeria's brutal military dictators or civilian kleptocrats on wax. If anything, he was pretty chummy with a lot of the leaders. “But regardless of all that, Okosuns' music did do a lot to raise awareness among the masses as to what was going on in Africa. Speaking for myself,
being a kid at the time, I didn't know anything about the situation in South Africa. Hell, I didn't even know that there was a situation in South Africa until Sonny told me. First time I heard the word "apartheid" was in the song "Fire in Soweto." I didn't know where the hell Soweto was or why there might be fire there, didn't know that there was any sort of unpleasantness going down in Namibia--I found out about all that stuff because Sonny Okosuns sang about it. I'm sure many people my age (and even older) might offer a similar testimony.” Uchenne‟s own sumptuously presented compilation, Brand New Wayo, a superb collection of “funk, fast times & Nigerian boogie badness 1979-1983”, captures what happened when disco hit his part of West Africa. And it‟s easy to seize upon similarities between some of the recordings, the disco distortions, the off-thewall responses to Off The Wall, included on this incredible compilation and what Eddy Grant was doing with his reworking of Sonny Okosun‟s Papa‟s Land and in his own music, where he was experimenting with the possibilities presented by the disco form, particularly on the 1980 LP Love in Exile.
LOVE IN EXILE Whitsun Bank Holiday Monday, 25 May 1980, was National Soul Day in the UK, and the soul tribes gathered to celebrate at Knebworth. The tradition of soul all-dayers and weekenders had by then been established for two or three years. Ordinarily a weekender would be held at a seaside resort like Caister, so to hold the event at Knebworth was almost to invade rock territory. Funk along with punk, in the broadest use of the terms, was dominating the UK charts, so it‟s no surprise the National Soul Day attracted 15,000 plus. All the top DJs from the soul and funk scenes were there: Greg Edwards, Froggy, Chris Hill, Robbie Vincent, Jeff Young, Colin Curtis (“from the North”, as he was billed), and so on. Radio Invicta 92.4 VHF the soul station in London broadcast highlights. The live acts included jazz funk legend Lonnie Liston Smith, the British funk act Light of the World, and headliners G.Q. from the Bronx whose performance there is still rated by some as the best live show ever. And at the time they had only had the one minor hit in the UK with the phenomenal Disco Nights (Rock Freak). Eddy Grant was on the bill too, appearing with his Front Line Orchestra. Both he and Light of the World had been signed to the Ensign label by the incredibly influential DJ Chris Hill. It had been
Chris Hill who had played a key part in breaking Living on the Frontline the previous year. And in the history of the UK‟s soul and funk scene there are few more important players than Chris. His nights at the Lacy Lady in Ilford and the Goldmine on Canvey Island are truly legendary. And as an A&R man at Ensign he was responsible for signing (and giving the necessary push towards the charts) UK funk and reggae acts like Light of the World, Eddy Grant, Black Slate, Beggar & Co. and Incognito. After the unpleasant interlude at Virgin Eddy Grant signed long-term with Ensign to release his Ice recordings, and by the end of 1980 started a string of hits with Do You Feel My Love. Before that, however, came the Love in Exile LP which is in many ways his masterpiece, albeit a criminally overlooked one. It doesn‟t contain any of Eddy‟s hits, but it does feature a number of his greatest moments. And while in some ways it was an act of consolidation, refining ideas and songs that had been bubbling away over the past
few years or more, the reggae-disco infusions and so on, it still sounds like the future, anticipating the more esoteric and mutant disco forms. Much of the LP could be considered full-on disco, and in terms of Eddy‟s work the sound is quite plush, almost in a Philadelphia International way. There are string arrangements and horns aplenty. The featured percussionists are world class: Sonny Akpan, Kofi Ayivor, Bill Summers and Gaspar Lawal. And the female backing vocals sound heavenly. It‟s hard to believe that a song of the quality of My Turn To Love You, for example, has never been a hit. Chris Blackwell may well have had Third World and Inner Circle playing catch-up, but Eddy as in his Equals days here demonstrates his ability to knock-out a true earworm effortlessly. This could easily be a release on any of the ground breaking US disco labels of the time like Prelude, Solar or West End. Sleeping Bag wasn‟t even up and running at the time. Exiled (From The Love I Know) is a bit of a change of direction, being more of a straight lovers rock number, but by the end of the track‟s 10-minutes Eddy gets as intense as Winston Rodney does on any of the great Burning Spear recordings. And then if anyone should suspect things are getting a little too cosy, there‟s Eddy pointing fingers at the leaders in church, saying don‟t be fooled by the hymn singing. Preachin‟ Genocide is a subversively, insanely catchy soca meets highlife affair, with Eddy naming names like Sonny Okosun does with his Fire in Soweto: in South Africa, Rhodesia, Mozambique, etc. He closes by stating that over there in the USA we know what they‟re doing, accompanied by mad electronics. A few of the songs on Love in Exile were ones Eddy had been playing with over a period of time. Feel The Rhythm (Of You & I), for example, was the title track of an LP Eddy masterminded for The Pioneers which came out on Mercury in 1976. The Pioneers had success in the UK singles chart during the heyday of the skinhead reggae era, and having visited the UK decided to stay on. Typically Eddy decided to steer The Pioneers in a new direction, and provided the group with some quality modern soul/disco tracks. The title track has since become a favourite in modern soul/northern soul clubs, and the slightly later and every bit as great single My Brother James
(also written and produced by Eddy) now sells for silly money. Love in Exile‟s closing track Everybody Dance had previously appeared in 1978 on the flip of the Wipe Mo Nfe E 12” in a revolutionary 18minutes form. It was a disco symphony in the true Alec R. Costadinos sense. The original cut is magnificently minimal, and makes brilliant use of repetitive synths, with Kofi Avivor‟s driving conga playing, and brilliant use of dub effects and prominently-featured handclaps from Eddy, Ron Telemacque and old comrade Conrad Isidore. It‟s no wonder there‟s a famous photo of Larry Levan with an Ice label cover on the wall behind him in the DJ booth. On the LP Everybody Dance sounds like Giorgio Moroder doing afrobeat, and will surely have been cited as a proto-house recording by DJ historians.
Nobody‟s Got Time is another Eddy Grant track with an intriguing provenance or pedigree, and there is a slight unease at defining this. It seems to have first appeared as a single by Eddy back in 1975 when it had more of a funky afrobeat feel. The Equals then did a version on their 1978 Mystic Syster LP. This had more of a strippeddown disco-dub sound. Eddy then put the song out as a single himself in 1978 on Ice with extensive use of electronics and an incongruous harmonica solo, and it again sounds like a house prototype. The flip was an instrumental disco dub version, credited to the Coach House Rhythm Section. The dub version would again be revisited on the flip of Eddy‟s Electric Avenue as Time Warp. Both the vocal and dub versions of the synthesized Nobody‟s Got Time became massive favourites in the freewheelin‟ freestyle New York clubs. Masters At Work would go on to cite the song as a major influence, and DJs and producers are still tinkering with it.
Another track, No Such Thing, credited to the Coach House Rhythm Section appeared in 1980 on one side of an Ice 12” shared with Stormy Weather by Atlantis People. It‟s an instrumental dub of another early solo Eddy Grant single, I‟m Coming Home, which he recorded as Marco, named after his publishing company. This very much sought after 12” has a gloriously tight funky Fender Rhodes driven groove, with what Lonnie Liston Smith used to call „electronic colorations‟. It again became a big Larry Levan/Paradise Garage track. While it must have been rewarding to be revered in New York‟s most forward-thinking clubs, for Eddy in the UK there was no escaping the painful irony that while he was toiling away at rhythm invention the whole 2 Tone thing was taking off. Here were The Specials, Madness, The Selecter, The Beat, The Bodysnatchers, Bad Manners, UB40, all getting chart success, referencing explicitly sounds and styles that were around when Eddy was first having hits. And there was Dexys Midnight Runners at number one with a song about a time, a place and a performer The Equals would have known very well. Some of the old ska legends benefitted from these developments. Rico became a member of The Specials. Laurel Aitken was signed to Secret Affair‟s I-Spy label and played with The Ruts. Desmond Dekker was signed to Stiff and paired with The Equators, contemporaries of The Beat in Birmingham. And Prince Buster‟s name was everywhere. His FAB Greatest Hits collection was available again. The Specials based Gangsters on his hit Al Capone. Madness took their name from another of his songs, and wrote The Prince for him. But when The Beat covered Prince Buster‟s Rough Rider how many made a direct connection to the guy with the dreadlocks singing about living on the frontline? Rough Rider was first recorded by The Four Gees, on the flip of a 1967 single on President. The Four Gees name is a reference to the four credited songwriters: Eddy Grant, the Gordon brothers from The Equals, and P. Grant (Eddy‟s brother, presumably). Eddy produced the record, and music was provided by the group that would become better known as The Pyramids, who had backed and supported Prince Buster on his successful UK tour that year when Al Capone had finally crashed into the charts.
Eddy had discovered The Pyramids when they were still playing as The Bees, and were the first real home-grown ska/reggae group. The group had already been playing around on the scene for some time, backing Laurel Aitken, getting involved with the legendary Siggy Jackson of Melodisc/Bluebeat fame, and so on. Eddy loved what they were doing, and brought them to the attention of Ed Kassner at President. Eddy started writing songs for them, and Kassner had the group record under a series of different names, such as the Four Gees, the West Africans, the Jamaican Cousins and the Original Africans. But it was as The Pyramids that they had real success, reaching the charts at the end of 1967 with the Eddy Grant composition Train Tour to Rainbow City, a few months before The Equals had a hit single with I Get So Excited. Some of Eddy‟s compositions for The Pyramids were real gems, like All Change on the Bakerloo Line, one of the most joyous of London songs. President collected its 1967-vintage early reggae recordings on an LP for Joy called Sounds Like Ska, which included a few cuts by Eddy with his little brother Rudy, who later had some success toasting as The Mexicano. Sometime around 1969 The Pyramids met up with Graeme Goodall, one of the important behindthe-scenes people in the history of Jamaican popular music, who was by then based in the UK and owned the Doctor Bird stable of labels (including, ironically, the Pyramid imprint), and this led to them moonlighting as Symarip and recording the immortal Skinhead Moonstomp. Technically they were still under contract to President at the time so before he would release them Ed Kassner had The Pyramids record a series of sides which were issued on Jay Boy
under a number of different names, like E.K. Bunch, Rough Riders, The Bed Bugs and The Alterations. As The Pyramids they appeared at the first Reggae Festival at Wembley in 1970, playing to 15,000 plus, as immortalised in Horace Ové‟s film. They also backed Millie, and provided the music on her great LP Time Will Tell. As time passed, and things moved on, The Pyramids started playing afro rock as Zubaba, and featured alongside Sidney Poitier in the 1973 film A Warm December. And at the start of 1980 they found themselves unexpectedly back in the charts with Skinhead Moonstomp as Trojan plundered its archives to cater for the resurgence of interest in ska and skinhead-era reggae sounds. The Pyramids chose to record Skinhead Moonstomp in 1969 as a tribute to the new audience that their music was finding. And there were plenty of others making music and releasing records in the UK keen to exploit the skinhead market. Laurel Aitken, Rico & The Rudies (who became Greyhound), Dandy Livingstone, and so on were among those who made hay while the sun shone. Joe Mansano had his own reggae productions, on the Dice The Boss and Brixton Cat theme. And Eddy Grant was active too, being involved in running the Torpedo label with Lambert Briscoe the Hot Rod sound system operator. Sebastian Clarke‟s Jah Music is particularly useful as an almost contemporaneous account of the UK record labels active in the ska-into-reggae market: Emile Shalit and Siggy Jackson with Melodisc/Bluebeat, Sonny Roberts‟ Planitone, Chris Blackwell‟s Island, Rita and Benny King‟s R&B, Trojan, Pama, Creole, Graeme Goodall‟s Doctor Bird, and all the offshoots of these labels, Junior Lincoln‟s Bamboo and Ashanti imprints, and so on. Torpedo isn‟t mentioned in the book, but it has an impressive catalogue of releases which are now highly sought after by collectors and connoisseurs of skinhead-era reggae. Some of the skinhead-era Torpedo releases were written and produced by Eddy Grant, and usually published by his own Grant Music company. Some were by Lambert Briscoe. Another UK reggae legend, Larry Lawrence, was also involved. A number of the releases were by the Hot Rod All-Stars (who were the Cimarons) and could be called skinsploitation: Skinhead
Speaks His Mind, Skinheads Don‟t Fear, Skinhead Moondust, Moonhop in London, and so on. Other titles give a good indication of what was going on in popular culture at the time, with references to Virgin Soldiers, the space race, psychedelic birds, maxis and minis, The Longest Day, The Graduate, A Fistful of Dollars, Peyton Place, among others. While a number of these sides may have been primitive, formulaic, organled instrumentals, they were nevertheless exhilarating and in many ways completely avant-garde. And often the vocal interjections or sound effects were completely surreal. Among the Eddy Grant compositions that were part of the 30 or so singles Torpedo put out around 1970 is the Bovver Boys‟ glorious A.G.G.R.O. Bunny Lee would later say that Eddy‟s habitual use of the phrase „aggro‟ was the inspiration behind him using the name for the Aggrovators group and his Agro Sounds label. Other Torpedo compositions by Eddy included Twizzle & Hot Rod All Stars‟ Jook Jook and Peace and Tranquility, as well as Willie Marshall‟s Loosen Up Strong Man. The label put out great vocal sides too, by Silkie Davis, Errol English, Les Foster, Winston James, Denzil Dennis, Winston Groovy, Eugene Paul, and Betty Sinclair, as well as funkier, heavier cuts like Urban Clearway‟s Open Up Wide, and Little Grant & Zapatta Schmidt‟s Let‟s Do It Together. After a few years away, Eddy reactivated Torpedo in 1974, partly as an outlet for his early solo work, including early versions of Nobody‟s Got Time and Hello Africa, and the itchy funk of Marco‟s I‟m Coming Home, as well as productions like Jerry & the Bluebells‟ superb lovers rock cover of The Moments‟ hit Girls. He also licensed great Jamaican reggae 7”s such as Johnny Osbourne‟s Put Away Your Gun, Marcia Griffiths‟ Survival, Eric Clarke‟s Fight Against Babylon, Tyrone Taylor‟s Move Up Blackman, Gregory Isaacs‟ Way of Life, and releases from greats like Joe Higgs, Ken Boothe, and Judy Mowatt, as well as a couple of singles by Buster Pearson, father of the Five Star .
Love You Yes I Love You, with the backing of Ensign. The phenomenal success of I Don‟t Want To Dance and Electric Avenue were just around the corner. The tracks on the live LP, however, draw exclusively on the three LPs featured in this issue. There may be very practical reasons for this. But the effect is to underline Eddy‟s belief in these older songs, ones which he acknowledges the audience may not have heard before.
LIVE AT NOTTING HILL The Beat had a minor hit in the summer of 1981with Doors of My Heart. One of their finest songs, it featured Cedric Myton of The Congos on backing vocals. The group‟s Go-Feet label put out a couple of Congos LPs including the immortal classic Heart of The Congos. The video for the single was set amid the celebrations of the Notting Hall Carnival, with the group among the revellers, playing on the back of a truck, and so on. It was the ideal setting for the group to be captured in, and its charm and implicit message of unity is undimmed by the years that have passed. Over the August Bank Holiday weekend of 1981 Eddy Grant and the Frontline Orchestra played a triumphant set at the Notting Hill Carnival. This was captured for posterity on a double-LP. British reggae acts like Misty-in-Roots and Aswad built their reputation on live performances, but Eddy steered clear of that treadmill. But as this live set demonstrates, and the live video footage included with the Walking on Sunshine deluxe edition proves, Eddy was electrifying live. Who better than Eddy to appear there? Carnival is steeped in Caribbean tradition and the sounds of calypso, reggae, and so on, so musically it‟s made for Eddy. And pretty much everyone there could claim a part of him: “He‟s one of our own” The 1981 Carnival took place in the aftermath of the Brixton riots and after media reports of a neo-Nazi bomb plot planned to disrupt the festivities. The stage was set for a singer who knew about party music and politics. That year Eddy had notched up three hits: Do You Feel My Love, Can‟t Get Enough Of You, I
There are five songs in the set which appear on Message Man. And the ten-minute version of Cockney Black is remarkable, one of the most emotional and intense but ultimately joyous performances ever. “You know, sometimes I stand here and I wonder,” begins Eddy in the opening rap, going on to mention all the people there who are stars in their own right but who don‟t get the recognition. He goes on to declare how “we” don‟t get played on the radio much, don‟t get played on the TV, and have only just about got our own newspapers. The bass from Marcus James is fluid and funky and nicely prominent, and Sonny Akpan on congas drives the whole thing along. The backing singers are sensational, and come across like a much larger gospel choir. The impact is as powerful as the choir singing on Kevin Rowland‟s rendition of Rag Doll: “They‟re singing it for you ...” Eddy bears witness about how his audience feels when things get unreal on the streets of England. He name checks the streets, the youth standing on the corner, of Stamford Hill, Brixton, Kentish Town, Harlesden and the Grove. He sounds at his most plaintive, his most weary, his most vulnerable when he declares: “I don‟t know just where I stand”. For Eddy it had been a strange old journey to get to this new level of success. In 1974 when he was just beginning his solo career there had been a flurry of reggae releases hitting the Top 10 in the UK. Ken Boothe had hits with Everything I Own and Crying Over You, John Holt scored with Help Me Make It Through The Night, and Rupie Edwards had Ire Feelings (Skanga) in the Top 10. But these didn‟t open the floodgates. Sebastian Clarke in his book Jah Music goes into some detail about the difficulties Trojan had promoting these records, getting producers of the prime radio shows to listen to reggae releases without prejudice. And then when the
be articulate, to be intelligent, is like an affront to the white cats, editors, sub-editors, or whoever they are.‟ Clearly my collaboration in perpetuating the myth that Black views are irrational was being sought.” Val was so outraged by the tone of the Arts Editor‟s rejection that she wrote another piece challenging attitudes in the press about racial stereotypes and submitted it to Time Out. There was, however, uneasiness about running it, and ultimately the article never appeared.
occasional records did crossover and become hits in the real world rather than simply in the specialist charts there were snide comments from the mainstream media. Reggae was generally regarded as something of a novelty. But this wasn‟t what the public thought when they danced to a Ken Boothe single. In Val Wilmer‟s memoir, Mama Said There‟d Be Days Like This, she recalls what happened when she wrote an article for The Guardian on Sebastian Clarke‟s book: “However, on reading what Clarke had to say, the Arts Editor‟s reaction was to challenge the veracity of his remarks. He asked me to produce a „less self-effacing redraft‟ – in other words, to rewrite the piece in a way treating Black opinion with disdain. He disputed the fact that my own experience had led me to agree with Clarke‟s point: that Blacks are rarely allowed to comment on their own culture in the white media. „For a Black guy to
In an interview with Val Wilmer, published in Time Out at the end of August 1980, Eddy Grant expresses similar views about the struggle to be accepted as articulate. Eddy was featured on the cover of that issue, and celebrated as someone who was responsible for his own vocals, music, arrangements, engineering, production, studio, pressing, finance, and who was label owner of Ice Records. When, in the interview, Eddy talks about the struggle to get credit he is not referring simply to recognition. He means the day-to-day practicalities of being a black person running a record label in 1980, for whom it would be far more difficult getting a bank loan than it would be for, say, a TV executive who just happens to run a record label for fun. And yet not every TV executive who could branch out into record label management would be like Tony Wilson and his adventures with Factory Records. And there are few people on the planet with the vision to achieve as much as Eddy Grant within the music business.
With special thanks to Per-Christian Hille and his invaluable archives, and to everyone else who has in some or another helped to shed light on and celebrate Eddy Grant‟s activities. www.yrheartout.blogspot.com
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