Looking ahead to the closing party for Moving Targets and Jamaican Pulse with Don Letts on 11 Sept, Arnolfini’s Head of Brand and Communications, Tim Bleszynski recalls his own experiences of the Culture Clash between Punk and Reggae as a teenager in the 1970’s.
Punk From Elsewhere
As a 15 year old in 1977 nothing really prepared you for the twin impacts of Punk Rock and Reggae. Growing up in the non-urban outer reaches of North East, Scotland there was little immediate access or reference points for what was about to come. To be totally honest, the first flurries of Punk Rock in 1976 were a little bit scary. It was definitely a jolt to the system personally and it certainly had a similar effect on the establishment.
God Save The Queen
It was with great glee at school that we celebrated the Queen’s Silver Jubilee public holiday in summer 1977 with the news that The Sex Pistols’ infamous God Save the Queen had been banned by ‘the authorities’ after reaching Number 1 in the charts. And is if that sound was somewhat alien to our young ears, more so was the sounds coming from Jamaica in the form of Bob Marley, Inner Circle & Dennis Brown and then in the more home grown from of Steel Pulse, Misty in Roots and Aswad.
Punks & Dreads
For some strange and somewhat inexplicable reason these seemingly unconnected genres appeared to go hand in hand as each music style started reflecting the other and sharing their core audiences. I guess at the time what connected the two sub-cultures was the sense of being an outsider. Mostly disaffected youth, mostly urban, mostly bored with the staple diet of glam, pop, disco and prog rock on mainstream radio. Both cultures shared DIY as an ethos, not because it was a calculated romanticism; it was a necessity to make do with what you could get your hands on.
The Rest is History
On a personal level they both equally inspired me to pick up a guitar, learn three chords and then form a band. Three years later aged 18, I packed by bags and headed to London to get as close as I could to the epicentre of where it was happening. The rest they say…. is a footnote in history.
Meanwhile, here is a sample selection from some of the sound track of my (extended) youth that I think makes-up the best ‘Punky Reggae Party Playlist’
Marcia Griffths Don’t let me down (1969). A very adventurous cover of the famous Beatles tune for 1969 when the Beatles were still going. Marcia went on to become one of the legendary I-Threes backing singers with the reformed Bob Marley & the Wailers from the mid-1970s.
Dillinger Cocaine In My Brain (1976). Jamaican Dillinger adopted this name from a notorious gangster. His visits to the UK possibly led to the toasting cockney rhyming lyrics: Knife and a Fork and Bottle and a Cork, that’s the way we spell New York. Or maybe it was just the drugs.....??
Bob Marley Punky Reggae Party (1977). The track wasn’t ever included on any album which suggests (along with the lyrical content of the song) that Marley recognised there was something seismic happening culturally between punk and reggae that needed commenting upon and thus he name checked The Dammed, The Jam & The Clash.
The Clash Police and Thieves (1978). There are so many songs across The Clash’s career that could have been selected. Nottinghill native, Joe Strummer grew up listening to the sounds on the street from his Jamaican neighbours in West London. So their cover of Jamaican artist Junior Mervin’s 1977 song became a fitting punk anthem. Check out Daddy Was a Bank Robber / Robber Dub to appreciate the full impact that reggae had on The Clash.
Steel Pulse - Ku Klux Klan (1978). Steel Pulse were the first non-Jamaican act to win a Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album for Handsworth Revolution. The artwork of the album alone is a masterpiece of pop-art / punk iconography.
The Ruts – struck dub gold with Give Youth a Chance (1979) A rather unlikely and less well known dub expression in the form of a B-side off their Something That I Said 7” vinyl punk single. More popularly known for their bigger hit Babylon is Burning.
Speaking of The Police – pre-tantric Sting and the boys’ Regatta de Blanc debut album was a paean to rock reggae. The Bed’s Too Big Without You is basically Lover’s Rock on sulphate.
Bad Manners - Lip up Fatty (1980). One of the least likely or comfortable Culture Clash features of punk and reggae was the skinhead inspired love of all things Ska, Something which has been well documented by Shane Meadows’ This is England film series.
Selector - Three Minute Hero (1980). 2-Tone outfit fronted by Pauline Black who flew the flag for natty feminism (and still does today). This was an alarmingly prescient update of Andy Warhol’s aphorism that we’d all be famous for 15 minutes. That’s inflation for you…. I think it’s down to 30 seconds these days!
The Specials - Ghost Town (1981). 2-Tone companions to the Selector. Again you could choose anything from The Specials’ repertoire to represent Britain at its multicultural best. But this song came hard on the heels of a number of riots in various inner cities of Thatcher’s Britain which were characterised by urban decay, de-industrialisation, unemployment and violence. But best of all listen to the extended version to savour Trombonist, Rico Rodriguez’ dublicious and haunting solo.
Lionrock – Rude Boy Rock (1992). Sounds spookily old-school for this era but all down to the heavily sampled Skatalites as a tribute to their 1965 recording Nimrod.
Tricky - Black Steel (1995) Bristol’s finest, Tricky of Wild Bunch and Massive Attack fame struck out on his own to record his debut solo album, Maxinquaye. There is so much sonic territory explored here in the companionship of the fabulous Martina Topley-Bird on vocals.
What are your suggestions for adding to this playlist? Let us know using hash tag #bristolpunk before 9 September and we’ll include them in the closing party track listing. Better still, join in the party...
Arnolfini and RWA invite you to join us for a special CULTURE CLASH closing party with 6 Music DJ, film maker and Reggae/Punk impresario Don Letts.
Sunday 11 September 2016, 20:00 to 23:00
£5/£3 (£8/£6 on the door)
Play Tim's full playlist here.