Back in 1980, finding reggae on your radio dial in London was no easy task. If the music had a tentative grip on the charts in those days, you were still struggling to get further than UB40 and Bob Marley on national daytime.
I remember how John Peel afforded generous time to UK roots artists on his late night show, but doubtless aficionados would have been scared off by the eclectic veteran’s more left-field DIY passions, some of which missed the punky reggae crossover party by a street.
It was into such a world that Neasden’s pirate station Dread Broadcasting Corporation appeared, live and direct on a Sunday afternoon. The station introduced the world to, amongst others, Ranking Miss P, who would later helm Radio One’s first dedicated reggae show.
Miss P, along with DBC co-founders Lepke and Mike ‘The Bike’, has assembled Rebel Radio, a pretty definitive two-disc set that splits roughly into the station’s early ’80s contemporary dancehall and spiritual ’70s reggae sounds on disc one, with warm and clanky ska, rocksteady and calypso mostly holding sway on the second platter.
Tracks are woven together with an agreeable helping of DBC’s original radio jingles, for the full pirate listening experience.
London’s own Aswad kick off the compilation with their anthemic Warrior Charge, putting you right there where it all began. It’s the inclusion thereafter of such names as Anthony Johnson (Gunshot), Prince Lincoln and the Royal Rasses (Humanity), and Papa Levi‘s Mi God Mi King that make Rebel Radio special, rather than the more obvious (though still great) selections by assorted Wailers, Gregory Isaacs, Max Romeo and Johnny Clarke. Levi’s pulsating one-time radio favourite has a wonderful toast that rhymes “Sugar Minott” with “Kenny Everett” and dates it like a postmark.
The second disc gives us the real Jamaican oldies: the R&B of Dave Barker‘s Prisoner of Love, Theo Beckford‘s always enjoyable Easy Snappin’, and Nora Dean‘s brilliant and bawdy 1969 track Barbwire, last heard sampled for a Vaseline ad. There’s a smattering of lovers’ rock covers (Errol Dunkley tackling the Beatles, Phyllis Dillon‘s exemplary take on The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face), and because nothing is ever completely logical in the world of Rebel Radio, calypso king Lord Kitchener is followed by Cocoa T (“mi wicked inna dancehall style”), Sister Nancy and Blood Fire Posse.
After a period of churning out regurgitated back catalogue, Trojan look to have got their act together lately, and this compilation is testament to the fine programming of Dread Broadcasting Corporation. It’s also a treasure trove for the novice, as well as the source of a discovery or two for the seasoned Jamaican music fan. Nearly a quarter of a century later, Radio One has 1Xtra, and black music around the clock. Rebel Radio is a reminder of how far things have moved on.