A World Without Worldwide FM

On Sunday October 30 the WWFM crew gathered at the Brownswood studio to celebrate the last six years before signing off at midnight leaving the station on hiatus until a new era beckons.

It took a few days to gather up the courage to listen back to my short, somewhat slurred, slightly inebriated contribution to the final WWFM broadcast. The studio was packed, there was a lot of love in the house for Straight No Chaser. but on reflection, beyond the humour of the moment, I can’t help but feel that going down in history as WWFM’s “drunken master” was, essentially, not a good look.

That said, I did have my jazz notes and a bass driven jazz tune courtesy of the Silt Trio at the ready. As a rule, it’s never good to dwell on past events so, moving on… in fact, what left this scribe most bereft was sitting down at my desk the morning after the party and having no WWFM to tune into… No Morning Mari and Shipping Forecast. No Balearic Breakfast. No Breakfast Club Coco. The silence was deafening and it immediately brought home to this listener both what I was missing and what had been achieved in that relatively short but turbulent six years.

My “jazz notes”….
GP under the watchful eye of the much missed Sean Rollins aka DJ Brownswood

Worldwide FM is the digital radio station pioneered by DJ, record producer and broadcaster Gilles Peterson. As I see it WWFM was GP’s legal pirate radio station – an extension through time of the pirate radio station that he had set up in his garden as a teenager. It’s always been a battle to get the music that we love onto the airwaves. As a long time associate and friend of Gilles we have consistently been fellow travellers in the struggle to enlighten people around the world to a host of brilliant but often underground artists…. players of instruments, singers, wordsmiths…. purveyors of the culture.

Back in the day we operated to the maxim -“Jazz is the teacher. Funk is the preacher” and in many respects that sentiment still underpins our musical world view. Music has a genuine function in our daily lives – it can make you happy or it can make you cry, it can make you move, it can educate, it can uplift you and transport you into another dimension. It can be mundane but it can be deeply spiritual and touch the soul….maybe that’s the root of my mission… the quest of going that bit deeper.

For a brief moment in time, in the early days of Jazz FM, I was regarded as a persona non grata at their studio for insisting that, as a “jazz” station, they needed to play Sun Ra in the daytime. That was weird! Around the same time , Gilles was sacked from Jazz FM for playing “Peace Jazz” … (‘Peace’ – Bobby McFerrin / Leon Thomas – ‘ The Creators Got a Masterplan’)… in response to the outbreak of the Gulf War. Basically, Jazz FM wanted the expertise and the audience that followed Gilles Peterson, Chris Phillips and Jez Nelson but as DJs/presenters they were still subject to the power of the gatekeepers and the money men who were afraid they would alienate their listeners by exploring the more challenging side of the music. In time honoured fashion anything vaguely radical was moved to the late night slots.

Gradually over the years there were slight shifts of consciousness but the arrival of digital radio provided the opportunity to break free of the gatekeepers and gave a station like WWFM an opportunity to unite a host of knowledgeable people across generations and across continents. The potential to elevate the curation to another level was thrilling.

Obviously WWFM was not alone. NTS pioneered the space and others followed. WWFM refined the musical curation of the station based on Gilles’ experience of travelling the world and playing alongside like-minded – seasoned or up ‘n’ coming – club DJs, musicians and producers. Like Straight No Chaser – the magazine – WWFM was actively focussed on building a community… a diverse, global, forward thinking, progressive community.

under t
The final WWFM session – Thristian BPM lets off!
Selectors Assemble: IG, Oliver Night, Alex Phounzi, Allysha Joy, Cengiz in the house!

There was breadth to the programming. In the early days there was Boko Boko’s Tash LC, Ezra’s Femi Koleoso, “ascending soulstress” Muva Of Earth, EZH’s Tina Edwards and Rome based afro futurist Khalab. WWFM LA with Jeremy Sol and Jimetta Rose was pioneered by Jonathan Rudnick and over time it led to Adrian Younge’s Artform crew with Marcus Moore, Nelson George, Moni Vargas et al,. The vision was in place. It expanded, shifted and morphed over the next few years to embrace regular offerings from Coco Maria, Colleen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy, Mari Kimura, Erica McCoy, Emma Warren, Tom Skinner, Esa, Toshio Matsuura, Thristian BPM, Shuya Okino, Pete On The Corner, Louie Vega, Osunlade, Francois K, Luke Unabomber, Debra Richards, Leanne Wright, Alannah Henry, Papoul, Haseeb Iqbal, Leanne Wright, DJ Paulette, Lex Blondin, Ouska, Kassin, Tim Garcia, Charley Dark, Ceylan, IG Culture & Selectors Assemble, Channel One … the list goes on!

Centre: Coco Maria, Haseeb Iqbal, Mari Kimura
Mera Bhai of Flamingods & First Word’s Aly Gilani
WWFM.. some of the production posse!

Jazz may be the foundation of WWFM but as you can see from the list of presenters above all corners were covered. The music on WWFM reflected the evolution of contemporary club culture as it spread worldwide and the presenters were all ready and able to dig deeper. Along with DJ culture WWFM readily absorbed the live scene that evolved London around Total Refreshment, Church Of Sound, Jazz Refreshed and Steamdown. Apologies for being so London-centric but that was the case at that time but maybe the impact of WWFM has helped boost scenes in other cities like Leeds and Bristol, as well as globally. WWFM was able to generate a unified live musical front that embraced the diversity of Alabaster De Plume, Shabaka Hutchings & The Ancestors, Cassie Kinoshi’s Seed Ensemble, Rosie Turton, Emma-Jean Thakray, Yussef Dayes, Comet Is Coming, Kokoroko, Da Lata, Makaya McCraven, Ashley Henry, Ben Le Mar Gay, Greentea Peng, Jaime Branch, Jeff Parker, Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, Lonnie Holley, Ezra Collective, Secret Night Gang, Wildflower, Tenderlonious, Tori Handsley, Steve Williamson, Okumu, Herbert & Skinner and the New Regency Orchestra.

It was the ability of WWFM to blend the dynamic potential of the live scene with the club scene that makes the station unique and that perspective fed directly into the We Out Here Festival and the Worldwide Festival in Sete. In my opinion, the impact that WWFM has had in promoting a new generation of musicians onto the local and international music scene has been profound and ought to have been recognised by those who fund the arts in this country. Interestingly, a quick scan of the current line up of forthcoming Arts Council festivals like the prestigious London Jazz Festival reveals they have fully embraced the emergence of this new generation of artists and the fans who have followed their evolution. Though periods of recession have in the past led to a flowering of the culture, the nature of the digital world feels like smoke and mirrors. Though the digital stations have relied on covert financial sponsorship, keeping them free of invasive advertising, it seems like it was only a matter of time before the financial pressures kick in. We have all prayed for the emergence of a philanthropic institution or visionary with a ready supply of cash but sadly, a period of dark austerity looms and much of the music scene will undoubtedly be forced back underground. 

#SNC98 – Summer 2017 + #SNC100

Back in 2007 I was forced stop Straight No Chaser due to the impact of the internet on our advertising revenue. Shorty after that someone suggested I approach the fledging NTS re. a Straight No Chaser show. Basically you had to pay to do a show and I was told that I’d easily make make the money back from the DJ sessions I’d get. As I had no interest in being a DJ I decided to pass on the idea. Fortunately, WWFM came along around the time I’d decided to relaunch Chaser /#SNC98. I was offered a show and readily accepted.

For my part, I would say that putting together my monthly Straight No Chaser show was always a revelation. The content was always dictated by whatever was new or re-issued. Rarely did I fall back on my own archive. Discovering nu-skool US players like Irreversible Entanglements,  Damon Locks & The Black Monument Ensemble, ,Kamasi Washington, Jeff Parker, Angel Bat Dawid, Heroes Are Gang Leaders, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, Tomeka Reid and Mazz Swift, James Brandon Lewis, Luke Stewart. Moor Mother, Chad Fowler…. that was a real buzz. Plus I was able to give serious props to elders like Wadada Leo Smith and Kahil El’Zabar who both continue to make amazing music. On a global tip there was Ife from Puerto Rico, who I first heard playing in an arch in Haggerston and there was David Idaduola. the final guest on my SNC show, who had no idea what WWFM was or what it represented but had created the ‘Lucumi Suite’ – an amazing fusion of Afrobeat and steel pan music. I give thanks that I was able to interview pioneering journalist and photographer Val Wilmer, reggaematical don and novelist Penny Reel before he passed away, Liverpudlian poet/author Malik Al Nasir, Black Top’s Orphy Robinson, award winning Trinidadian born poet Anthony Joseph and bring into the studio Trevor Herman and Dave Hucker to talk about the legendary Jumbo Vanrenen.

PB & Val Wilmer 14 / 02 / 18

WWFM – 25 / 01/ 17 : PB & Peter Simon aka Penny Reel RIP

Straight No Chaser’s by-line was “Interplanetary sounds:Ancient to Future” and that was the basis of the WWFM show. Never once was I asked to tone it down for those listeners who boldly logged in to savour one of those afternoon sessions or delved into it on catch up. It was what it was… mistakes ‘n’ all. It could be a little rough but it was live and direct. We could travel from Kingston JA to Cape Town to Helsinki to Accra to Recife to Chicago and back to London in a couple of hours. We could celebrate the elders and pay our respect to those who left us… Greg Tate, Pharoah Sanders, Jaime Branch… we lost too many.

Final session: Hugh Miller – Art Director Lockdown FM / L FM

I give thanks to GP, to all the presenters / DJs and to all the peeps who made the station run like clockwork. Six years flew by… with COVID in the middle. GP’s lockdown broadcasts provided me the opportunity to put my editorial skills to good use and work with Gilles and typographic don Hugh Miller on a book – Lockdown FM: Broadcasting in a Pandemic . It you are familiar with WWFM or not… you need this tome. It’s a 600 page hardback that goes directly to the heart of what defines WWFM and illuminates exactly why WWFM will be missed worldwide. Word has it there’s a few left in the WWFM shop, so don’t sleep on them.

Final day: Erica McCoy & Dante in the basement

OK, on a positive tip, Gilles is continuing with his Thursday morning jams… so who knows where that will take us! Also, the WWFM archive remains. There are hundreds of excellent shows to listen to. You can’t possibly have checked them all so, why not dive in, dream of the future and plot with your allies to create the next stage of the revolution. It might not be televised but it will undoubtedly be broadcast.

Final Tune: Laani let’s off!

PS: Also a positive tip: The final WWFM day raised £3000 for the Steve Reid foundation!! Respect is due to Ayian and the WW FAM!

https://worldwidefm.net/

#SNC Back issues – https://straightnochaser.bigcartel.com/

Words: Paul Bradshaw 15/11/22

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THE VOICE OF NEW AFRICA

Senegal’s Youssou N’Dour set the Barbican alight with pure positivity and a tight, compelling set of modern Mbalax

One of the most exciting and explosive live sets I experienced in the mid-eighties was Youssou N’Dour and the Super Etoile De Dakar at the short lived Venue in central London. Youssou was around 26 at that time and the mind blowing music they played was called mbalax – a music with sacred origins. His voice was astonishing and his well drilled band was underpinned by the rhymically complex exchanges between the tama / talking drum of Assane Thiam and the staccato crack of the sabar drums. Youssou was in the process of establishing himself globally as the voice of young Senegal.

Though Youssou has been signed to major record companies like Virgin, CBS and Sony his musical output has been largely self released and available via indie imprints like Jololi or Safrom making much of it unknown outside of Senegal. Both singer and activist, in 2007 Youssou hosted the award winning film Return To Gorée and in 2012 he was briefly elected Senegal’s Minister for Tourism.

Fast forward to November 2022 and Youssou is 62 years old,. He’s looking good and remains the premier voice of a thriving wolof speaking Senegambian diaspora. Upon hearing that Youssou was booked to play the Barbican my posse of long time fans were excited. While the world was still in the throes of the COVID epidemic Youssou released the excellent ‘Mbalax’ album on CD and that’s what I was expecting him to play at the Barbican along with a few time tested classics. I was praying for a session that would… just for a couple of hours… blow away the racist, xenophobic vibes that continue to haunt this currently wretched island.

Youssou N’Dour & Super Etoile … Barbican Thursday 3/ 11/ 2022 –  Pic: Sarah Lousie Bennett / Barbican

The audience at the Barbican was treated to a journey through time. Youssou dipped into a host of musical moments from his prolific recording career There were no songs from the ‘Mbalax’ abum but we were not to be disappointed. It was a full house and the sense of anticipation was high. The Senegambian community was out in full force – dressed to impress and in fine voice when it came to joining in on a repertoire that they were well familiar with.

The show kicked off with classic ‘Xaley Rewmi’ from the ‘Inedits’ album released back in ’85. The response was huge and Youssou followed it with ‘Serigne Fallou’ – a deep song with ill bass lines and delicate guitar over shuffling percussion. It’s a song that is dedicated to Serigne Mouhamadou Fallou Mbacké, the son of Sufi saint and religious leader Sheikh Amadou Bamba and the second Caliph of the Mouride brotherhood – a sect which Youssou follows.

Youssou looked relaxed and comfortable in front of his well crafted ensemble which totalled 12 musicians, two singers and a killer mbalax dancer, Moussa Sonko. The reflective ‘Lima Wessu’, which was lifted the ‘Nothing Is In Vain’ album, had the singer reflecting on growing older while the rapid fire medley of ‘Climat’, Walo’ and Niarr Fi Neh’ had the crowd phones in hand, on their feet and dancing. The timeless ‘Immigres’ followed and it was wonderful to see a black clad, hijab wearing sister in aisle, hands in the air and dancing.

With each tune the musicians would drift on and off the stage, shifting the musical vibe but ever present were drummer Abdoulaye Lo, basssist Thierno Sarr, percussionists Babacar Faye and El Hadji Omar Faye and tama /talking drum master Assane Thiam. Special props have to go Assane Thiam who delivered one magical solo.

Thierno Sarr, Youssou N’Dour, Birame Dieng… Barbican Thursday 3 /11 / 2022 –  Pic: Sarah Lousie Bennett / Barbican

Youssou dipped into albums known and not so well known – ‘History’, ‘Respect’, and ‘Afrika Rekk’ (which I feel means Africa is here… alive!). There were a few minor concessions to the non Wolof speaking fans. Yousou’ duet with Neneh Cherry on ‘7 Seconds’ had a massive global impact and on this night Neneh was deftly replaced by soulful Cameroonian singer Pascale Kameni Kamga. But hey, who’s gonna knock tunes like ‘No More’ or ‘Happy’ or the conscious and celebratory ‘New Africa ‘ which featured in the movie I Bring What I Love.

While not beating the sabar Babacar Faye did an excellent job as MC, guiding the audience participation… arms in the air… to the left to the right… on the beat… one two three… and the crowd loved it. Naturally, a dancer from the audience was invited onstage to test their mbalax dance skills and when a blond white girl whipped up storm of high steppin’ mbalax moves fully in sync with the drummers the initially stunned crowd went wild. The vibe in hall was one of positivity, togetherness… borders were broken… you don’t have to speak wolof to feel the spiritual positivity embodied in Youssou’s soaring vocals. His voice echoes centuries of praise singing while he embodies and projects his own well defined vision of modern Africa – it’s elegant, musically sophisticated, political and profanity free. Youssou is focussed on giving his audience a good time and the vibe in Barbican proved that.

The music that Super Etoile delivered came in percussive, rhythmic waves ensuring that most people were on their feet and moving… people filmed themselves, documenting the moment for future reference. The penultimate tune of the set was ‘Yaakar’ which translates as hope and sends out a clear message and our Senegalese host chose to finish the night with a deep homage to Oumar Foutiyou Tall a 19 century West African political leader, Toucouleur military commander. Islamic scholar and Tijani Sufi. It left us all on a devotional high.

As we filed out of hall, the people were wreathed in smiles. We had experienced something special, something that COVID had kept locked down for too long. Also let’s keep it real and celebrate the moment ’cause this Tory government is not gonna make it easy for any African musican to freely tour the UK now or in the future. Basically, we can give thanks that the Barbican pulled it off this post Black History month spectacular. As I write this I’ve digging back into Youssou N’Dour’s archive, dipping in on those Grand Bal concerts, listening to cassettes and tracking down LPs which had slipped beneath my radar. Right now, as I listen to ‘Bukki Yi’ – another highlight of the night – I can only pray that a new generation of young music lovers and dancers might just discover the stratospheric rhythms of Senegal and the phenomenon that is mbalax.

PB / #StraightNoChaser / https://straightnochaser.bigcartel.com/

Back in the day… Youssou N’Dour – ‘Immigres’ … a classic in Athens
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THE GREAT JAMAICAN SONGBOOK…

Jazz Warrior, Junglist, Educator, Innovator… Hackney born ‘n’ bred… Cleveland Watkiss returns to his roots and the music that shaped his youth…

It has to said that whenever I hear that a friend, or anyone else for that matter, is poised to do over a brace of reggae classics from the Seventies and early Eighties I’m struck with a serious bout of trepidation. So, when my good friend and collaborator, Cleveland Watkiss, declared he was set to rework a host of tunes, live and in the studio, that I’ve played in their original format hundreds of times, I was like… “Awoahhh!”

I deejayed at the very first “The Great Jamaican Songbook’ gig and got a solid idea of where Cleveland was heading with this project and he was clearly intent on hitting up classics from Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, Delroy Wilson, Junior Byles, Prince Lincoln, Bobby Melody and Burning Spear. Yes, that’s right, the warrior was poised to step into the shoes of some of the greatest singers ever… and he was loving the idea.

Cleveland grew up in Hackney. This is the music of his teens… the music that he and his bredren would have listened to at Brooke House school and would have picked up shops like R&B in Stamford Hill, Count Shelley’s on the High Road, Regal records on Lower Clapton Road or Music City in Ridley Road – where the outside speakers would punch these tunes out to shoppers engaged in the hustle and bustle of the market on a Saturday.

Similarly these were the tunes he would have heard via Fatman Hi Fi or Sir George or the sound men playing clubs like Four Aces, Phebes or Noreik. It was therefore natural for Cleveland, as an aspiring singer to find himself in studios like Easy Street dropping vocals on lovers tunes, sharing the mic with singers like Carol Thompson.

I punched The Great Jamaican Songbook cd into the player as I was cooking and pretty quickly found myself rocking along to the fat, solid bass lines and rewinding tunes to re-listen to the harmonies or the way Cleve had negotiated a particular melody. The thing is, Cleveland is a great singer. He has spent decades honing his craft. He has invested years studying the vocalese of the jazz masters – male and female – plus he has done backing vocals with the Who, Bjork and Stevie Wonder as well singing in operas! He is a master improvisor, he loves his technology and he knows how to listen.

The Great Jamaican Songbook on tour. Poster feat. a young Cleveland Watkiss.

The one thing about Jamaica is it has produced a flood of truly unique voices. Rock steady produced an array of vocal groups schooled on R&B and doo-wop from the States… the spirit of Curtis Mayfied and the Impressions loomed large! Harmonies… you have to love the harmonies of the Techniques, the Uniques, the Paragons… think Slim Smith, Pat Kelly, John Holt… and then you have the rootical combinations like the Wailers, Gladiators, Congos, Israel Vibration, Mighty Diamonds, Earth and Stone… the list goes on. Voices.. unique voices … nobody sounds like Gregory Isaacs or Dennis Brown at their peak… and definitely not like Burning Spear.

From the opening salvo of Gregory’s ‘If I Don’t Have You’ with its guitar licks, wikkid horns, edgy rockers drumbeat, rolling bass line and female harmonies you immediately recognise you’re in for a treat. Cleveland is clearly relaxed. This music… these songs are in his DNA and you feel instantly he’s enjoying the session. Jamaica provided him with the template and as with other UK reggae artists before him he’s totally at home gently extending that template, investing the skills that he and his his fellow musicians have honed in the decades that have elapsed since this music first hit the street.

His take on Junior Byles’ Scratch produced classic ‘Curly Locks’ is delivered as a sweet, minimalist lovers rock with nice keys from Phil Ramacon and I’ve always loved the line “your daddy is a pork chop”! I was thrilled that he’s taken on Bobby Melody’s always uplifting ‘Jah Bring I Joy In The Morning’ and his vocal range is more than a match for the original. Delroy Wilson’s ‘What Is A Man’ originally came out a Count Shelley 7″ and has great horns… Ray Carless (the don), Byron Wallen (trumpet /mystic) , James Wade (trombone). The horn arrangement (courtesy of Jason Yarde – another don!) seems to offer a bridge to New Orleans while Cleve’s sing-jay style meets U Roy. It’s followed by another Delroy classic,… ‘Cool Operator’… and as with ‘Only A Smile’ Cleveland is totally convincing as the penniless singer looking for love.

‘Babyon Too Rough’ offers up some lovely vibraphone courtesy of his long time spar Orphy Robinson and on the back of this album I can’t wait for Orphy to revisit the music on Lennie Hibbert’s Studio One LPs. D. Brown’s ‘Only A Smile’ features a languid bass line from Delroy Murray and some deft touches on guitar from Alan Weekes. Prince Lincoln of the Royal Rasses was another unique singer and ‘Humanity’ is given a new lease of life here. Before finishing the set with a smoking, hot stepping version of Burning Spear’s ‘Red Gold And Green’… respect to the bass-man and drummer Carl Robinson… Cleveland slides into Gregory’s ‘Night Nurse’ accompanied by some lovely trombone from James Wade.

Of all the singers who delivered the original songs on the album only the majestic Burning Spear is still with us. All in all, Cleveland’s homage to the Great Jamaican Songbook has just added another classic to the cannon of reggae music produced in the UK that boasts not only consistently great vocal performances but some wikkid musical touches, This is an album he can be deeply proud off.

Cleveland & Horace Andy at Blenheim Palace

CHECK IT HERE: https://clevelandwatkiss.bandcamp.com/album/the-great-jamaican-songbook

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What are you reading? Myself? Crime… Thrillers… From the deep South …. Virginia to Lagos and Accra and…. “

Here’s some summer reading if you fancy dropping into the genre of the crime thriller… but crime thrillers with a twist… there’s always a twist!

Basically, thrillers keep me reading. It feels good to keep the pages turning. To say I’m a fan of Walter Mosley would be a definite understatement. I live in constant anticipation of the next episode in the turbulent lives of Easy Rawlings or Leonid McGill or Socrates Fortlow and having just watched the AppleTV rendering of the The last Days of Ptolemy Grey, starring Samuel L Jackson and the excellent Dominique Fishback, I am further convinced of Mosley’s genius. However, the recent arrival on the scene of S. A. Cosby has presented us with a potential contender to the throne.

My first encounter with Cosby was Blacktop Wasteland. The writer drops us into the deep South … rural Virginia… and introduces us to a black ex con, Beauregard aka ‘Bug’ who is running a repair shop, trying to keep the wolves from the door and feed his family. Bug is an astute and good man but well capable of turning up the violence notch when necessary. As fans of the genre we all know shit happens especially when the option of staying on the straight and narrow suddenly vanishes. We enter the Bug’s world via an illegal car race and when he agrees to be the driver on one last heist we are rapidly drawn into into the land of trailer parks, small towns and confederate flags where the odds against a black man succeeding in a legit business are still stacked. Buckle up for the ride.

I waited nigh on a year for Cosby’s next book – Razorblade Tears – and I was not disappointed. A Black father. A white father. Two ex-cons and two murdered sons. We return once more to the deep south where S. A. Cosby resides. Ike Randolph has been out of jail for fifteen years, with not so much as a speeding ticket but after his son Isiah has been murdered – along with Isiah’s white husband, Derek – he is devastated. The police are not interested and Ike crosses the racial divide to unite with Derek’s father, Buddy Lee (you get the picture!) in order to seek revenge. The love they have for their sons forces them to confront their own ingrained homophobic and racial prejudices as they hunt down and rain vengeance upon those who killed their boys. Radical retribution and maybe even redemption.

Not surprisingly, Razorblade Tears notched up ’nuff acclaim and awards and if you’re a bit of a completist like myself you can check out Cosby’s first novel, My Darkest Prayer to see how the man’s work has evolved.

After chatting with a good friend and enthusing about S.A. Cosby he casually informed that all his recent reading consisted of African crime novels, all written African writers. Boom! After he’d hit me up with a couple of recommendations I was off and running.

First up, Making Wolf by Tade Thompson. This book is based on a London based supermarket/store detective – Weston Koji – returning home, to a fictional country in West Africa, for a funeral. After a few beers he starts telling people that he is with the London Met and is a homicide detective. In the blink of an eye he’s been kidnapped by a psychotic former school friend and member of the Alcacia Liberation Front (LFA). Weston is commissioned to investigate the death of Enoch ‘Pa’ Busi, a respected diplomat trying to broker peace between the the rebel factions. Ironically, our hero is subsequently forced to work for the LFA’s rivals – the rebel army of Our Lord’s Forces – to do exactly the same. With the threat of a Civil War looming, Weston enlists the help of an ex-girlfriend, Nana, in order to negotiate a path through the threats and the violence to prevent the country going up in flames. Making Wolf was a definite winner and paved the way for what was to come.

Easy Motion Tourist – a title lifted from a classic Rolling Dollar song – is Leye Adenle‘s award winning debut novel. An out of his depth British journalist, Guy Collins, gets embroiled in a gruesome murder that takes place outside a Lagos night club frequented by wealthy Lagosians and ex-pats. His saviour is Amaka, a woman who works under cover, devoting herself to the protection of the city’s working girls. In return for her assistance she expects the journo to deliver a story in the foreign press that will bring global attention to her campaign against the people traffickers and body-parts smugglers. It’s a seriously risky business and, as to be expected, the Nigerian mega-city throws up a quite a cast of shady, deranged and dangerous characters, from whom there appears no chance of escape.

I quickly moved on to Adenle’s follow up When Trouble Sleeps which is now subtitled an An Amaka Thriller. Our ‘oyibo’ journalist is now back in London and makes but a fleeting appearance. Amaka Mbadiwe – the self-appointed saviour of Lagos’ sex workers – is back with a vengeance and poised to pull back the curtain on the seedy underbelly of Lagos. When a plane crash kills the state gubernatorial candidate, the party picks a replacement who is assured of winning the election: Chief Ojo. However, Amaka knows the skeletons that lurk in Chief Ojo’s closet. She is the only person standing between Chief Ojo and election victory, and inevitably Amaka is caught in a deadly game of survival, against a backdrop of political corruption, sex, sleaze and violence. Top stuff!

Femi Kayode’s debut novel – Lightseekers – won the 2019 UEA Crime Writing prize and takes us down another path. Dr Philip Taiwo, is a professor in investigative psychology, who has recently returned from the US to his hometown of Lagos. He has just completed his PhD research on mob lynching in America. Little does he know that he is poised to be embroiled in a notorious incident, dubbed by the Nigerian media as the Okriki Three. This tragic incident involves three middle class university students being accused of stealing and after having been bludgeoned near to death by a mob of townsfolk they are burnt alive. Documented on smartphones and uploaded onto social media platforms the lynching inevitably goes viral, sparking a nationwide condemnation of the mob violence. Dr Taiwo is approached by a one of the grieving parents and asked to seek out the truth behind the incident and investigate “why what happened, happened”.

Upon accepting the mission our intrepid psychologist, armed with his expertise in analysing crowd violence, sets out for the small university town of Okriki to investigate. The question is, how does one allocate blame when a murder is committed by a crowd of people, especially when it is — “a unified force rallying behind a crime initiated by one, covered by all”.

As it evolves his journey is fraught with danger. There’s an uncooperative local police force, hostile townsfolk and university fraternities/secret cults. With the assistance of his streetwise “research” assistant – the quick-witted Chika Maruochi — the duo are determined to get to the bottom of what starts to reek of a pre-meditated crime.

Lightseekers is a complex tale with a tension-filled narrative. It highlights the realities of living in modern day Nigeria within a volatile political landscape, where wealth and poverty reside side by side, resulting in an ongoing menacing military presence, and deep seated corruption that feeds an underworld, where drugs, weapons and murder are the norm. Lightseekers is an intense and intriguing read.

More to come in Part 2

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The Duke & The Queen! The Suite… live!

As part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations the Nu Civilisation Orchestra led by pianist /composer Peter Edwards took to the stage at the QEH to deliver Duke Ellington’s legendary ‘The Queen’s Suite’ alongside a suite of brand new compositions inspired by the Duke.

ALL Nu Civilisation Orchestra QEH photography by Graeme Miall / Tomorrow’s Warriors

This photo seems to have captured that special moment. In an interview some years later, the Duke said, “I told her that she was so inspiring and that something musical would surely come of it. She said she would be listening, so I wrote an album for her.”

As part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee runnings Tomorrow’s Warriors presented the Nu Civilisation Orchestra at the QEH last Friday night. The mission: to explore a selection of Duke Ellington compositions including the once legendary ‘The Queen’s Suite’. The suite – which is in six parts – was co-written with Billy Strayhorn and was inspired by Ellington’s meeting with Queen Elizabeth II at an arts festival in Leeds in 1958. It’s a deep story.

Composer / Arranger Peter Edwards

Various reports from that time confirm the Duke was indeed a charmer and after the 22 year old Queen expressed some regret at not being able to check his gigs on that tour the band leader / composer’s face broke into a huge smile. He declared, “In that case, your Majesty, I’d like to write a very special composition for you—a real royal suite.”

From Christopher Carroll’s piece in Lapham’s Quarterly I discovered the following: In the wake of the recording of ‘The Queen’s Suite’ a master was prepared and a gold disc issued privately to the royal family. An agreement between Ellington and his producer, Irving Townsend ensured Ellington retained the rights to release the entire Suite at a later date. Eventually Ellington reimbursed Columbia $2,500 in production costs to buy the suite back from Colombia. Acccording jazz scribe Gary Giddins, hardly anyone outside of Ellington’s inner circle knew of ‘The Queen’s Suite’ until two years after his death in 1974. It was released posthumously, along with two other suites, by Norman Granz and in 1976 ‘The Ellington Suites’, released on Pablo records, notched a Grammy!

Peter and OG’s – Gary Crosby OBE & Rod Youngs

Appropriately, the 15 piece Nu Civilisation Orchestra kicked off the evening with a tribute to another queen… the piece was entitled ‘Royal Majesty – A Portrait Of Ella Fitzgerald Part 1’. It was great to see and hear Gary Crosby back onstage and holding down the bass seat. The man would clearly not have had it any other way. He has vivid memories of being presented with The Queen’s Medal for Music by HM herself and being told of her passion for both Ellington and acoustic instruments. Word is that her father, George VI had snapped up a few LPs by the Duke , and it’s well known that ‘Take The A Train’ and ‘People Will Say We’re In Love’ propelled the young queen and her Prince onto the dance floor more than once .

Peter Edwards

‘Royal Majesty’ set the scene and allowed both the band and the overall sound to settle. The piece was followed by a suite in four parts written by Peter Edwards. It was called ‘Above and Beyond The Horizon’. Inspired by Ellington’s hugely expansive and finely tuned repertoire of compositions he had boldly applied his own composing skills to craft a tantalising set of compositions that were inspired by the natural world, by nature and the elements. We went from ‘Evening Song’ to ‘Raindrops’ to ‘Thunder Claps and Lightning Strikes’ to eventually arrive at ‘Morning Song’. It was an evocative journey that won the elegant conductor and composer an approving wave of warm applause.

It’s been a while since I’d been immersed in the sound of a big band and in that concert hall setting, free from chatter and other distractions, you can’t help but be pulled into the swirling orbit of its instrumentation and the complex, constantly shifting arrangements. It was one of my fellow travellers who described the experience as immersive and surprisingly meditative.

Top: Mebrakh Houghton-Johnson + Maddy Coombs Below: Nu Civilisation Orchestra

The second set burst into life with the ‘Tattooed Bride’ an Ellingtonian masterpiece from way back in 1948. Initially composed as an 11-minute jazz symphony divided into four sections it took us on a journey of contrasts…. mood, tempo and dynamics… and delivered memorable solos from Mebrakh Houghton-Johnson on clarinet, Rosie Turton on trombone and Peter Edwards on piano. Props has also got to go to Rod Youngs on drums… the man shone, not just on this piece, but throughout the whole gig.

That session took us into ‘The Queen’s Suite’ . Reading from Ellington’s autobiography, Peter Edwards, homed in on the Duke’s own words to illuminate the location and the inspiration for the varying pieces in the suite. At the heart of ‘The Queen’s Suite’ is ‘The Single Petal of a Rose’, rightfully regarded as one of the most beautiful and personal melodies Ellington ever wrote. On this night, as on the recording, it sat in the warm embrace of compositions that represented different musical landscapes — a grove full of fireflies, a mockingbird singing at sunset, the Northern Lights — all experienced by Ellington on his travels around the world and, apparently, representing some of the most moving moments of his life.

Reading from Duke Ellington’s autobiography – Music Is My Mistress

The set followed the order of the album… ‘Sunset and the Mocking Bird’, ‘Lightning Bugs and Frogs’, ‘Le Sucrier Velours’,  ‘Northern Lights’  ‘The Single Petal of a Rose’  and, finally, the wild ‘Apes and Peacocks’ which was inspired by the Queen Of Sheba. The original recordings ran to around 20 minutes and the Nu Civilisation orchestra kept it tight but with some stunning solos. Big respect to Denys Baptiste, Maddy Coombs, Lewis Daniel , Rosie Turton, Joe Bristow, Kurt Mayling, Mebrakh Houghton-Johnson and Gary Crosby.

‘The Queen’s Suite’ is deep and the Nu Civilisation Orchestra rose to the challenge conjuring up an enthusiastic and deeply appreciative vibe from the audience. Listening to pieces there were moments when I felt like I was hearing Sun Ra without the more abstract avant-garde solos of Marshall Allen, John Gilmore or Danny Ray Thomson. That said, why not? Both Ra and the Duke were two master musicians who retained their big bands long after the demise of that era. Reflecting on the set, there was moment right at the end of the night, after a blazing tenor solo from Denys Baptiste, that I suddenly thought Rhiannon Jeffreys, who’d helped anchor the sound of the orchestra all night on baritone sax and bass clarinet, was gonna jump in and bust that baritone solo…. a wild Harry Carney or a bootin’ Danny Ray Thompson would have rocked the house. Sadly, it didn’t transpire… discipline prevailed! That said, a session was had and I shall now dust off some of some of the Duke Ellington LPs that I’ve shamefully neglected.

In 1976 ‘The Ellington Suites’, released on Pablo records, notched a Grammy!

AND HERE’S THE ORIGINAL …. https://youtu.be/uIr9m1gb6VU

References: Harvey G. Cohen – Duke Ellington’s America / Duke Ellington’s Autobiography – Music Is My Mistress / Gary Marmorstein – The Label: The Story of Columbia Records / Christopher Carroll – Lapham’s Quarterly

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Great Day In London…. Warriors come out to play-yay….

Braving an icy wind on a December Saturday morning… a new generation of jazz-orientated musicians defied that late sleeping, nighthawk stereotype and gathered on the Southbank to add to the lexicon of photos inspired by Art Kane’s legendary Great Day In Harlem. Later that evening those same musicians gathered under the Tomorrow’s Warriors banner at the QEH to celebrate 30 years of activism and dedication to the collective musical exchange that resides at the heart of this thing called Jazz. It was indeed heartical!

Photography by Steve Leigh aka Steve Funkyfeet / Tomorrow’s Warriors

Shabaka & Theon

As this story is all about a continuum, let’s begin with the London jazz scene post WW2. Caribbean born musicians like Joe Harriott, Coleridge Goode, Ernest Ranglin and Shake Keane were all incredibly active and hugely influential in the post Windrush era. These musicians, along with a community of players from West Africa… mostly Ghana.. and later South Africa paved the way for a new generation to emerge. They would become known as the Jazz Warriors.

It was during the mid Eighties that a collective of young black Londoners surfaced to blaze a radical new path. The Jazz Warriors were schooled on reggae, soul and funk. Formed out of Abibi Jazz Arts in 1985 they regularly came together in the Atlantic in Brixton in order to pursue the way of jazz… and hone their skills. The Jazz Warriors produced their one and only album, ‘Out Of Many, One People’ in 1987 and the opening track of ‘In Reference to Our Forefather’s Fathers Dreams’ still sounds as majestic today as it did the first time I heard it. That LP introduced the nation to the talents of Courtney Pine, Steve Williamson, Orphy Robinson, Cleveland Watkiss, Ray Carless, Alan Weekes, Philip Bent, Julian Joseph, Rowland Sutherland, Adrian Reid, Claude Deppa, Harry Beckett, Kevin Robinson, Michael and Mark Mondesir, and Gary Crosby. What a crew and I’m honoured that many of these players featured in the pages of Straight No Chaser… the “designer fanzine” that we launched in the summer of 1988.

It was one of the original Warriors, bassist Gary Crosby, who along with Janine Irons, was to build on the experiences of his generation and launch Tomorrow’s Warriors. That was in 1991. It began with a weekly jam session at the Jazz Cafe and the concept evolved to offer “a pioneering, comprehensive programme of learning and training throughout the year which, in particular, champions and supports young people from the African diaspora, girls and those whose financial or otherwise challenging circumstances would tend to lock them out opportunities to pursue a career in the music industry – 100% free at the point of access.”

Janine Irons MBE

“I know there are young people from a similar background to me who, if given the opportunities, can create great art. It’s not curriculum style, because what we are dealing with is art. the individuals are artists, I want to hear what they have got to say.” Gary Crosby.

The Great Day In London celebration at the QEH was to do exactly that. The place was buzzing with youth who all seemed to carrying instruments… from drum sticks to a tuba.to a basson! Bucket hats carried the swing. The place was alive with greetings and enthusiastic conversations… it was like the flood gates had opened after those strict Covid rules and long periods of enforced isolation.

It was down to the Junior Band to kick the show off with ‘Oyinbo’. It was genuinely touching to witness Gary Crosby – not long recovered from a stroke – on the bass. It was a master and apprentice vibe as the understudy looked on and took in the rhythm Gary that was laying down before being handed the instrument to continue the piece. The impact on the audience of 13 year old Nahuel Angius-Thomas on bassoon was immediate. His sound was deep! As their set progressed flautist Keira Chakrobarty, trumpet player Fin Hori-Ohrstrom and pianist Kyle Osbourne were joined by the mighty duo of Shabaka and Theon Cross. At the back of the stage excellent young drummer Nico Sargese was joined by Tom Skinner on another kit. The energy and intensity reached another level that was felt throughout the room. ‘Inner Babylon’ was deep ‘n’ funky.

Youngers + Shabaka & Theon
Zara McFarlane

Next up came a 10 piece ensemble by the name of the Soon Come orchestra. ‘Thank You’ by Sultan Stevenson was an angular complex composition and they carried it off with confidence and finesse. Zara McFarlane’s ‘I Am Warrior’ followed and the three vocalists, including Zara, were more than ably accompanied by the likes of Camilla George on alto.

The next set came from Female Frontline, five bold young women who homed in on Jeff’ Tain’ Watts’ ‘Autumn Leaves’. The quintet were eventually joined by Tomorrow’s Warriors alumni, Binker Golding, Moses Boyd and bassist Alex Davies. What a treat! Binker has a tremendous presence on tenor and his rapport with Moses – his regular co-p – wrapped around their fellow musicians and pushed the music to new heights. Once more, I was loving the energy and power of two drummers and seeing Birmingham based Romana Campbell breaking into a huge smile as she locked in with Moses was a joy to behold.

The Violet Room All Stars united the tenors of Shabaka, Nubya Garcia and Ruben Fox with the alto of suited and booted Nathanial Facey and the trumpet of Kokoroko’s Sheila Maurice Grey. Shirley Tetteh shone on guitar and props goes to Hamish Nockles-Mooe on bass. ‘Sonny Rollins’ Tenor Madness’ was pure old school and I have to say that this homage to the age of tuff tenors and the easy snappin’ rhythmic pulse of those smokey late night 40s/50s clubs felt real good.

Nubya & Violet Room All Stars
NU Troop

Nu Troop should need no introduction and while Gary Crosby held down the bass slot over two compositions – ‘Greater Love’ and ‘Wee’ – the interplay between a front line that featured Jason Yarde, Nathaniel Facey and Deny Baptiste was supa-chilled. They looked like they were having a real good time.

Pics Above: Cherise + Nubya Garcia

A duet between our compere, Cherise, and pianist Jonah Gumbley resulted in a stirring version of ‘Round Midnight’. It paved the way for the stage to be occupied… rammed to capacity with 20+ musicians. Led by vibe controller/conductor, Binker Golding, the Soon Come Orchestra delivered that final blast of words, sound and power that would send most of the audience off into the night. Composed by Denys Baptiste, the finale was appropriately titled ‘Warriors Rise’. That said, the partying in the foyer did continue with an endless queue of Warriors desperate to play on the “jam session” stage…. and, on reflection, having spent a few hours earlier in the week soaking up the excellent Life Between Islands exhibition at Tate Britain and and several hours in the QEH … I’d say that London is the place to be.

Late night Jam Session…. A Great Day In London

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LIFE BETWEEN ISLANDS: CARIBBEAN BRITISH ART 1950’s – NOW….

This radical and essential show at Tate Britain builds on the momentum of the Black Lives Matter Movement and will hopefully prove as educational and as popular as the hugely successful Soul Of A Nation.

THE FRONT ROOM – Michael McMillan, Liz Johnson Artur, Grace Wales Bonner

It’s midday on an icy Monday in early December and I’m meeting fellow scribe Andy Thomas for the press viewing of Life Between Islands: Caribbean British Art 1950s – Now. Still buzzing from Theaster Gates’ Clay Sermon’ at the Whitechapel, a few days earlier, my hopes were high.

Little did we know it but we were about to be blown away, room after room, by one of the most finely tuned and deftly curated shows I’ve seen in a long time. In the words of its curator – photographer, writer, curator, lecturer and cultural facilitator – David A Bailey MBE: “Although several years in the making, this exhibition has an additional sense of urgency in the wake of protests in support of Black Lives Matter and the Windrush scandal. These events have forced a national reckoning with British history, challenging institutions to rethink the stories they tell and the communities they represent.”

Denzil Forrester – Jah Shaka 1983

Life Between Islands‘ is broadly chronological show. The powerful content, which spans painting, sculpture, photography, film and fashion is constructed around different themes which embrace “the culture of decolonisation, the socio-political struggles that British-Caribbean people face, the social and cultural significance of the home, the reclaiming of ancestral cultures and the cross cultural nature of Caribbean and diasporic identity”.

The Afro Caribbean population in the UK have consistently battled against a hostile racist environment built on negative stereotypes and historical ignorance. A succession of Governments have failed to recognise the contribution of a community that has created a unique and distinctly Caribbean-British culture – a culture that has had a massive influence on modern Britain as a whole. This show is testimony to several generations of artists, practitioners, who have dedicated themselves to their practice despite discrimination and limited access to cross cultural spaces. I will never forget inviting a Gloucester based sound system to play at the art college in Cheltenham in the early Seventies. After stringing up the set, several young box boys were stood looking at the fish pond outside the refectory. They had entered another world and one quietly asked me, “Can black people come here?” It was good question.

Caribbean Artists Movement : Althea McNish – Golden harvest 1959

There are a host of names in this exhibition that I’m sure many people are familiar with – Frank Bowling, Steve McQueen, Peter Doig, Isaac Julien, Dennis Morris, Michael McMillan, Liz Johnson Artur, Lubaina Hamid (currently exhibiting at Tate Modern), Horace Ové, Zak Ové, Charlie Phillips, Pogus Caesar – but there a lot excellent artists here, many of whom are women, about whom I know nothing. That fact in itself is speaks volumes.

Our journey begins with Arrivals and those invited, in the wake of WW2, to the UK under the 1948 British Nationality Act. It was an invitation to “citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies” to “return to the mother country” and as writer George Lamming pointed out, that despite arriving from different islands with different identity’s and cultures in the Caribbean, “we became West Indian in London”.

Frank Bowling – Kaieteurtoo – 1975

This group of visual artists forged new paths. They found natural allies with others from the Caribbean whether writers or activists. Frank Bowling arrived from Guyana after doing National service in the RoyalAir Force. After studying at Chelsea School of Art he won a scholarship to the Royal College Of Art where his fellow students included David Hockney, Derek Boshier, Allen Jones and R.B. Kitaj. Bowling’s dedication to abstraction has more in common with Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane than the pop art of his contemporaries and the large abstract canvasses at this show sees him directly introducing references to to his African and Caribbean roots. It was genuine treat to see Frank’s long overdue retrospective at the Tate pre Lockdown.

As we progress through the space we next meet PRESSURE and a group of artist whose work confronted British racism head on. Black Power was on the rise in the late Sixties and Seventies and is well documented in the artworks here. There are photos of Stokely Carmichael, James Baldwin and Darcus Howe addressing a Mangrove protest. There are Neil Kenlock’s Black Panther school bags. There is the celebration of hard won spaces whether the West Indian Front Room, reimagined by Michael McMillan, Liz Johnson Artur and Grace Wales Bonner, or a painting of a Jah Shaka Sound System session. This was an era of resistance. There was the era of SUS, the New Cross Fire, the explosion at Carnival in ’76 and the ’81 riots that blazed in every major city in the UK. Make sure you sit through Isaac Julien’s Territories. Take your time. Let the works sink in. .

Black Power school bags – Neil Kenlock
Stokely Carmichael by Horace Ové

The Ghosts Of History rooms introduce us to the works of the Black Arts Movement of the Seventies and Eighties. They confront the legacy of slavery, colonialism and migration and the ongoing stereotyping, the demonisation, of a people, a community, whether in the media or through the state and policing. This work pulls no punches, it hits hard and it needs to for people outside the black community to realise just how invasive and consistently insidious it is.

MIchael McMillan chills on his sofa … Life Between Islands: Caribbean-British Art 1950s-Now

Caribbean Regained: Carnival and Creolisation carries us across the Atlantic. Caribbean Regained: Carnival and Creolisation carries us across the Atlantic. Here, we find ourselves at the global crossroads. These artists are working with the African cultural and religious retentions while exploring the impact of the cultures of the indigenous peoples and the practices of the indentured labourers from India and China. They take us to the roots of Carnival… of masquerade and shine a bright light on collective resilience. Look no further than Zak Ové’s evocative sculptures.

The art of Zak Ové
Grace Wales Bonner installation / Life Between Islands: Caribbean-British Art 1950s-Now

Also worth spending time with are Peter Doig’s paintings – a collaboration between the Trinidad based Scottish-Canadian painter and the Nobel Prize winning poet Derek Walcott from St Lucia. As we progress to the final chapter Past, Present, Future we witness a new generation of artists building the foundations laid by previous generations. They embrace creative multi-disciplinary and collective approaches to critiquing and furthering the struggle against the ongoing consequences of this country’s slave owning and colonial past. Past, Present, Future reminds of a quote from acclaimed cultural theorist Stuart Hall who wrote, “detours through the past” are necessary “to make ourselves anew”. That concept resides at the heart of Life Between Islands and confirms my view that this exhibition is truly radical and one can only hope that it generates the same kind of audiences that made their way to Tate Modern for Soul Of A Nation.

Life Between Islands : Caribbean British Art 1950s – Now is on @Tate Britain until 3rd April 2022.

PB/Straight No Chaser

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The Graphic Art of Ian Swift…. Here comes Vol. 2…

As 2021 draws to a close my long time collaborator on Straight No Chaser, the artist formerly known as Swifty, comes with the second volume of The Graphic Art Of Ian Swift. This second volume completes a comprehensive chronology of Swift’s career as a graphic artist to date. Volume Two follows on from Volume One, which covered his typo-grafix and design practice up to the millennium, bringing us to the present day with a further two decades of prolific output. 

Volume Two delves deeply into Swift’s archive covering a diverse selection of work that showcases an array of work which takes us beyond beyond the music industry commissions – Talkin’ Loud, Mo Wax, MELT 2000, Blue Note Japan, Far Out et al – that he has become so well known for. In this volume we see Swift pursuing more personal ventures and working on paintings, collages, assemblages, found objects, constructions, wall art and print editions. Much of this work was displayed in various exhibitions that he did in London and Australia. I loved the corner shop from his childhood that he replicated in a hotel room on Tottenham Court Road. I think that was the Red Dot Art Fair… Classic.

The book also features graphic art and designs – the man loves his Camo! – for the apparel industry including many seasons work for the street wear brand Addict Clothing Co., Ruff and Huddle, Hackney GT, Reebok and Stella McCartney.

The shadow of street and club culture is ever present in Swift’s art works whether it’s jazz, the world of Sound System or skateboarding. For a taste of the book check below!



Chapters also include his logo designs, title sequences, skateboards, sound systems, club graphics, merchandise and numerous commissions and collaborations.

Here’s the Specs….
Pages: 300
Size:  275mm (H) x 230mm (W) x 22mm Spine
Cover:  2 colour Pantone
Print:  Four colour Litho
Thread sewn Soft back
 
Each book will be signed and numbered by Swift
THE PRINT RUN IS ONLY 400 – YES ONLY 400.

WORD IS OVER HALF HAVE BEEN SOLD ALREADY… SO DON’T SLEEP ON THIS!
 

SHIPPING. £40 plus post and packing


 Buy Now

PLEASE NOTE: FOR CHRISTMAS DELIVERY
GET YOUR ORDER IN WELL IN ADVANCE OF CHRISTMAS POSTAL DEADLINES – DELIVERY TIMES ARE LONGER NOW ESPECIALLY POST BREXIT!
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THE RETURN OF PAULINE MELVILLE: A True Master Of Chaos

Last week I tuned into the online launch of Pauline Melville’s ‘The Master Of Chaos’ – a brand new book of fables… courtesy of her Scottish publishers, Sandstone. The award winning author is not keen on the term ‘short stories’…. it kinda lacks the magic and, in the case of this fresh and totally absorbing volume, I definitely agree.

Pauline

Though Zoom style events have become the norm in Covid… this potentially illuminating conversation between Pauline and Margaret Busby – her good friend and Britain’s first Black publisher – was fraught with techno blips. Pauline is more at home in the Iwokrama rain forest in Guyana than on the web and it seemed somewhat apt that at each pivotal moment of the reading she would vanish into the digital ether only return to pick up the thread on another continent or in a different city or in a different dimension. Brilliant!

Back in 2019 via #SNC100 I had revisited in the story that Pauline had penned for us after an encounter with Brazilian songstress Flora Purim. However, it was a more recent encounter with Alexei Sayle – who had worked with Pauline on the 80s alt-comedy series The Young Ones – that I was able to renew a friendship that goes back decades. All I had to do was find a red Nissan Micra.

Pauline Melville is a one-off. She has lived life and radiates enthusiasm for the absurd… she was thrilled at the story of Bolsonaro being hospitalised after a ten day bout of hiccups. She has roots in Guyana – both African and Amerindian – and in the Old Kent Road. There’s also a Scottish connection. Pauline is a traveller and a fabulous story teller. Both her first book Shape Shifter along with the prize winning Ventriloquist Tale are stamped into my consciousness.

On our first catch up – in what felt like a decade – she immediately informed me of this latest volume. I couldn’t wait to grab a copy and while awaiting its arrival I couldn’t resist ordering a couple of copies for friends… spread the word baby! Upon the book’s arrival I immediately hunkered down and demolished a few stories. Salman Rushdie is right… this is “a virtuoso performance”. The reader is transported. Fourteen fables for the times which span Georgetown, Glasgow, Yarmouth (& Hamelin), Petersburg, Buenos Aires, Grenada, Czechoslovakia, Syria….

Expect to encounter the unexpected… Pauline is a radics… her friends range far and wide across the cultural and political spectrum… and her visions reflect an openness that shuns dogma replacing it with a huge dose of humanity, often laced with a spritely and fierce humour. In The Dostoyevsky Room a group Russian intellectuals and writers ponder a grant from the EU. It’s a classic. One Guyana tale deals with fate and spans Georgetown and Lewisham while the other fizzes amid nature and introduces us to Uncle Tommy and Uncle Horace , the chief Arawak speaker of the Pakuri Village. There’s the dark shadow of the political prisoners and the discovery of a fascist murderer. The Fable Of A God Forgotten drop us into a visceral, all night, physical and mental fight for one’s life. On a suicide tip you can join a conversation between Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary in a room… waiting. There are tricksters and angels.

Welcome to the world of Pauline Melville. Dive in… and I definitely benefited from googling Hamelin and Ocelan! It’s the perfect read for yet another globally turbulent summer.

PB

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THEY CALLED HIM “FRENCHIE”… Photographer, fellow traveller & friend…. Jean Bernard Sohiez RIP

On the 9th June 2021 my good friend Jean Bernard Sohiez left this world. During the late 70s and early Eighties Jean Bernard and I roamed through the subterranean world of UK sound system and dedicated our words and photography to the promotion of the culture. This is a reflection of that window in time and a celebration of the journey and some of the incredible photographic work that he did.

WORDS: Paul Bradshaw

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Dennis Brown – London 1980 by Jean Bernard Sohiez ©

Back in the late Seventies I was doing part time youth work and writing about reggae for a Dougie Thompson’s fanzine Ital Rockers, Arif Ali’s monthly magazine West Indian Digest and the Morning Star. One of my regular West End stop offs was the office of the hugely influential Keith Altham PR company in Old Compton Street. Altham was a music journo with a serious track record and a music biz don. My contact there was the effervescent French PR Claudine Martinet and it was Claudine who declared one Friday, “I want you to meet this photographer who has just arrived in London from Paris… “

After experiencing Bob Marley live in Paris Jean Bernard Sohiez had made his way to London – the best place for reggae apart from Kingston JA – and Claudine clearly thought I would make a good guide into the scene. Born in Morocco to French parents, JB as he initially became known, was an archetypal Parisian. The leather jacket, the ever present cigarette… he was well read, massively into the art of photography and had decent English with a strong French accent. He was living in a shared house in West London that was not ideal and when a space came up in our communal household in Stoke Newington I organised for JB to move in… thanks to his mother, Simone, he was an excellent cook!

Obviously, he had to make a living and was doing the rounds of the music press. I was a regular at Ron and Nanda’s reggae nights at the 100 Club and during a session with Clint Eastwood Jean Bernard introduced me to the editor of the NME, Neil Spencer. On the spot he commissioned a review of the gig and that sparked a working relationship between JB and myself which in 1979 resulted in shorts and features for the NME on Trinity, Prince Hammer, Errol Dunkley, Michael Campbell (Dread At The Controls), Sugar Minott, Prince Lincoln & Pablove Black…. and Laurel Aitken.

Michael Prophet + Clint Eastwood – London 1980 by Jean Bernard Sohiez ©

Laurel Aitken – London 1980 by Jean Bernard Sohiez

The Laurel Aitken meet up was classic. I was working in Maroons Tunes in Greek Street with Leroy ‘Lepke’ Anderson (DBC) and Rae Cheddie and this older guy comes in the shop. Turned out to be Laurel Aitken. Rae vanished to his flat upstairs only to re-appear with a stack of the 7’s credited to this original rude boy. The man was living in the midlands, was fired up by the new generation (Specials, Selecter, Madness et al) and had cut a new tune of his own. Sensing a good story, I arranged a meet and a photo shook in Stokie. On the day Laurel arrived suitcase in hand, well prepared, fresh double breasted whistle, pork pie hat, darkers and two toy Lugers! JB’s portaits are classic and paved the way for him to sign to Arista and join The Beat on stage at the Lyceum.

JB and I became a team. I did the scribbling, JB did the shots and the driving. As a journo it has never been wise to depend on the PR’s and record companies. I shopped for music all the time and M&D in Dalston was where I bought most of my pre releases. The shop was always packed on a Friday evening with a host of hungry, just been paid buyers, eager to acquire the latest missives and music from Yard. That weekly gathering introduced JB to a unique form of etiquette. It’s the same etiquette that was required if you were to venture into the world of sound system… especially if you are intent on taking photos.

I was keen to introduce Jean Bernard into the world of sound as it was totally underground and in many respects undocumented. I’d first heard Sir Coxsone sound system in ’73 at the Jamaican Club in Gloucester – a mind blowing experience – and in ’75, given the opportunity to write about the music my first choice for an interview had been Lloydie Coxsone. He remains a charismatic spokesman for sound system culture… the man has history and gravitas. I regarded myself a Coxsone follower and once JB was active on the sound system circuit he simply became known via the Coxsone posse as “Frenchie”.

Dubplate: Coxsone posse – l-r: Blacker, Festus, Harlesden, Bikey Dread @ Acklam Hall 1979 by Jean Bernard Sohiez ©

Watching JB at work with people, he was affable, polite, open to conversation and his being French gave him an exotic edge… he was an outsider in an outsider world. Plus he was discreet. He carried a small bag and his weapon of choice was a small but excellent Leica. He never used flash in the dance. In fact, I recall being in Brixton Town Hall and witnessed another French photographer with a big ass camera firing off a bunch of shots on flash… boof boof booof… and having the camera snatched from his hand and dashed into pieces on the floor.

We did the 4 Aces, Colombos, Bali Hai… regular sound clashes and the big cup clashes. JB and I savoured the tension of those big sessions… at the Acton Town Hall one Friday night the session was in full flight… Lloydie was running late… he was coming from JA and straight to the session from the airport. Preshah!! There was a tangible sense of relief when he finally materialised and handed Festus and Blacker a pile of dub plates… the top one was marked ‘Cup Winnner’. That tune was ‘Five Man Army’.

Quite often on a Sunday afternoon JB would borrow, Ann Hodges’ Morris Minor and head off to check Lloydie and the crew playing cricket on Clapham Common. A major feature in Rock & Folk – the premier French music mag – carried a brilliant double page shot by JB of Lloydie tossing a cricket ball. Sometimes a summer sound clash might be preceded by a cricket match. Such was the case at one clash in Northampton… Sheep Street… Quaker City, Jah Shaka and Coxsone. A heavyweight clash. We took JB’s brother, Philippe, to that session. It was pretty intense and I’m not sure that Philipe had the most positive experience. Still, it was in at the deep end and he did survive.

Lloyd Coxsone – Sunday Cricket – Clapham Common Summer 1980 by Jean Bernard Sohiez ©

There are plenty of stories. The night that Bob Marley died we were almost refused entrance to Coxsone’s tribute. The gateman suspected we were police… jokes!… and as we waited for Naphtali to sanction our entrance JB was like… “Merde! What is this tune they’re playing… what is this version… ???”. The tune was ‘Rainbow Country’ – a long time Coxsone sound dubplate. Another time, on our way to Huddersfield with Blacker and Naphtali we ended up in the cells at Hinckley police station. I might write a short story about that little scenario one day.

With fellow scribe and reggae aficionado Penny Reel in tow, JB and I followed Coxsone sound to Amsterdam. As far as I know that was the first time a big UK sound system had crossed the channel into Europe. While the posse were clearly impressed with the herbal situation it was enlightening and depressing to see how the largely Surinamese party goers lived in fear of the local Dutch police.

Of course, JB dreamt of going to JA and in 1980 he finally made it. Just last weekend I was at a friend’s house in Bristol and on one wall was a lovely framed image of Bob Marley at Hope Road ready to play football. It was a JB Sohiez original print. Somewhat predictably, JB’s photo shoot at the Black Ark was fraught with problems. JB was desperate to shoot Lee Perry. All seemed to go swimmingly well but then again, Scratch was as tricky and volatile as ever. At end of the shoot he said, “Let me hold that film for safety.” JB wisely held one of two films back. Scratch deftly dropped the other into the fish tank. Gone.

Like all of us, JB could be a touch obsessive. At Augustus Pablo’s yard JB came across a vinyl… a pared back, raw, alternative version of ‘Catch A Fire’ LP. He needed to find this album. Despite all the evidence pointing to there being no such thing, and suggestions that it might just have been the ganja… JB held firm. It was the eventual release of the ‘Catch A Fire Deluxe edition CD, that would prove our wandering lensman right . Disc 1 delivered “the unreleased Jamaican recordings”. It would nice to revisit and reflect on some of the images from that trip… I loved the shots of Glen Brown in his yard. . . Pablo at Channel One.

Glenmore Brown in his backyard, Kingston JA 1980 by Jean Bernard Sohiez ©

Augustus Pablo @ Channel 1 – Kingston JA – 1980 by Jean Bernard Sohiez ©

Looking back 1981 was a very heavy year. The year commenced with the New Cross Fire. The blaze at a house party in south London killed 13 young black people. On the street the consensus was that a racist fire bomb had started the fire. The Black People’s Day of Action followed in March and was a genuine reflection of the anger and frustration. Placards read “Thirteen Dead, Nothing Said”, “No Police Cover-Up” and “Blood Ago Run If Justice Na Come”… and when the march reached Fleet Street – home to the UK press – the protestors were met with chanted monkey noises from the windows above them. Tensions continued to escalate into the summer and between April to July there were riots across the nation… Toxteth, Chapeltown, Handsworth, Moss Side, Brixton.

In February, between the New Cross Fire and the Black People’s Day Of Action, Neil Spencer boldy commisioned for the NME a major feature on UK sound system culture. That was a big deal. Believe! It featured a journalistic clash between myself (Coxsone Outernational), Penny Reel (Fat Man Hi Fi) and Vivien Goldman (Jah Shaka)… all photography by Jean Bernard Sohiez! It was totally ground breaking, especially as the NME had a weekly circulation of around 200,000+ readers. I think Neil got a bollocking from the publishers for that cover story. I loved JB’s cover shot of the box boys stringing up the sounds in Brixton Town Hall… radical runnings!

The NME feature… a classsic… February 1981. All photos by Jean Bernard Sohiez

It was in ’81 that I met and introduced Molly Dineen – an up n coming documentary film-maker – to the Coxsone posse. She struck up a friendship with Blacker Dread who was living in Armoury way in Wandsworth, as were members of the aspiring Young Lion sound system. Molly’s ‘Sound Business’ film was her degree submission and remains today an evocative and classic document of that time.

The militant soundtrack to that summer of ’81 was Black Uhuru and their performance at the Rainbow in Finsbury Park that July was electrifying, strangely attuned to the menacing vibe in the venue. JB and I both agreed this was not the place to take photos. The venue was mobbed. The crowd rushed the doors, there were fights, the bar was looted and one person died. A couple of days later I answered my doorbell only to find a couple of plain clothes police. I ushered them into JB’s studio and was immediately hit by the smell of ganja. JB had photographed Culture the day before! The look on my face must have been priceless. However, the detective just said, ‘We’re not interested in that, we’re murder squad, and interested in locating people who had been at the Rainbow that night… we’re trying to locate anyone who’d been filming or taking photos.”

One wikkid set of images in JB’s archive documents the Peace Dance that took place in the wake of the ’81 Brixton Riots. It was the day of the Royal Wedding (Charlie & Di) and was held in the adventure playground on Railton Road. When I was asked about this event some years later by a BBC researcher I couldn’t remember being there. Jean Bernard thought that was funny and sent me a bunch shots. It was a hot day and there I was, in a white tee, in the midst of a jam packed crowd of black Londoners. Seeing the shots it all came flooding back. Castro Brown was the Master Of Ceremonies. Coxsone Outernational played and the stage hosted a kids dance competition alongside the likes of Sugar Minott, Eastwood & Saint, Jah Thomas… all sporting the same Clarks shoes!

JB and I definitely felt like we were on a mission. I was designing logos and flyers for the Coxsone Outernational record label and working on a couple of paintings – based on images taken by Jean Bernard – that eventually graced the sleeve of the LP – ‘King Of The Dub Rock Pt. 2’. Sound system was the roots… the foundation… and we wanted to give it the respect it deserved.

Vivien Goldman –Launderette’ 12″ photography by Jean Bernard Sohiez

As the Eighties evolved so the musical landscape changed. JB did a lovely set of shots for Vivien Goldman’s ‘Launderette” 12″ featuring Viv and actor Archie Poole. A return to his native Paris beckoned and upon his return in ’82 Jean Bernard struck a relationship with Fanny Feeny – a school friend of Molly Dineen (small world!). Fanny was the co-owner of Blue Moon records – Paris’ premier reggae shop and record label. She was a regular ball of energy and at the epicentre of Paris’ deejay and dancehall scene. We can give thanks that JB made the odd foray in Jamaica on behalf of Blue Moon to shoot the new dons of the dancehall world.

Ninja Man Kingston JA 1993 by Jean Bernard Sohiez ©

When we started Straight No Chaser magazine back in ’88 Jean Bernard was my go to man in Paris. Together we went in search of the underground Congolese Sapeur scene – that was difficult! The photo shoot I commissioned with MC Solaar – who was massive in France and unknown in the UK – quite righfully made the cover of SNC and produced a classic spread inside. His photos of ‘Cachaito’ from the Buena Vista, who was playing in Paris with master congalero, Anga Diaz, were equally classic.

However, life is complicated. Maintaining one’s identity, especially as free lancer is never easy. The news that JB had split from his family and was living alone was sad and worrying. Adding to the pressure, he was being harassed and threatened by a man claiming to represent Festus Coxsone. He maintained that JB was exploiting Festus via the classic photo that has made Festus famous worldwide. Ironically, that image has to be one of the most bootlegged in reggae music. JB was principled, a purist, an artist, who would never have sold the rights for that image to be printed on a t-shirt or a tote bag. He was seriously stressed and deeply wounded by the whole scenario. It undoubtedly led him to close himself off from the world he once thrived in.

Classic shot of Festus Coxsone + Blacker Dread (l) & Bikey Dread (r) @ 4 Aces, Dalston 1980 by Jean Bernard Sohiez ©

In these times of Covid and self isolation we are all aware of how fragile our own mental health is and as the years have gone by JB’s health and well being was under serious assault from drinking. He was an alcoholic. I always hoped he would quit.. stop completely… pick up the pieces and enjoy his kids – Laurie, Dylan and Coco – and his grandchildren. Personally, I never witnessed him in meltdown but, all too often, his family did. So, I knew it was bad. But no matter how bad you think it is you are never prepared for the worst. And that’s what arrived via a phone call yesterday.

The last time I saw JB was in October 2017. Along with his sister Christine and his brother Philippe they had a stall in a flea market in Paris. We were on our way back from visiting another friend and artist, Frederic Voisin in Reims and it was so great to see alll three of them. It was a beautiful day. We had a Moroccan lunch and chatted about the usual stuff… friends, politics, music, art and photography. It was all good… positive… and looking at a picture we took that day, they were all happy. And that’s how I shall remember him. Jean Bernard was my spar at a pivotal moment in our lives.. my bredren… a great photographer and I, like many others, will miss him.

Christine, Philippe & Jean Bernard Sohiez – Paris October 2017

Au revoir JB….

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