Laurel and Hardy were a pair of reggae toasters. This interview is from Sounds, Nov 27th 1982
Two geezers wiv more patter than a fortnight of rain, Laurel and Hardy
Though evidently confused, the effete teenie hordes who flocked to Culture Club’s recent Lyceum gigs in their bobtails, stick-on-dreadlocks and expensively misfitting Viv Westwood ‘street urchin’ threads were politely appreciative of Boy Geo’s unexpected support act – a pair of young and indubitably macho black toasters decked out in bowlers, Thirties whistles, dicky bow ties, white gloves and walking sticks, exactly in the manner of their currently more popular comic namesakes Laurel and Hardy.
Confusion and appreciation grew in unison as the assembled pop populous heard familiar Cockney phrases punctuating the more familiar broken English of reggae toasting. The more sussed among them realised that they were experiencing was not just another pair of DJs ‘inna combination style’ but the first known example of toasting ‘inna Cockney style’.
Regular Peel listeners will already be familiar with the first vinyl fruits of this revolutionary new development,her the tasty top notch ten inch ‘You’re Nicked’ which sees the dangerous duo employing the eminently suitable ‘Old Kent Road’ rivvum for an amusing précis of police attitudes to young blacks. It begins predictably enough with ‘Now this is a warning to the younger generation/ To learn about the wicked police system/ Ca’ they will lick you with their truncheons and take you down the station’ but before long adopts a more Minder-oriented tone for ‘With a left-right, left-right, evening all/ What ‘ave we ‘ere?/ YOU’RE NICKED/ Get in the back…’ and similar Dury-meets-Dixon endearments.
Those who’ve caught either the Peel session or their live performance will know that this is no flash in the pan, but just the jestful tip of an invigorating iceberg which spans such equally evocative titles as ‘Clunk Click’, ‘Levi Jeans’ and ‘Ere John, What’s Your Game?’
Not too surprisingly our young heroes are part of the top notch Lavender Hill mob which has also spawned Papa Face, and indeed it’s in the basement of Papa’s brand new Battersea branch of Dub Vendor that I eventually find the diamond duo who are busting their bowlers to explain the logic behind their innovations.
Hardy, the taller of the two, takes up the tale. “When we started there wasn’t a lot of DJs talking about this country, so we thought we’d come up with a more English sort of style.
“For example, ‘You’re Nicked’ came out of the riots when there were so many people getting nicked. From the start we’ve always tried to include things that happen in this country…”
“Lots of DJs waffle on about things white people don’t understand,” Laurel adds. “But we want to be understood by black and white.”
“Not many people use English phrases,” Hardy explains. “But I’ve always been fascinated by that sort of thing. Me and Laurel were Cockney talking all the time. After all, we were born here, we’re not putting on an act.”
In fact Hardy (Tony Robertson) and Laurel (Phaul Isleywren) were both born in Battersea 20 years ago, going on to attend Spencer Park school, now infamous as the breeding ground for Matumbi, the Reggae Regulars and the Moa Ambessa Sound amongst other notorious notables.
After a brief early teen flirtation with the Global Village soul scene, mostly on the look-out for crumpet, the patter-happy pair moved back into reggae four years ago following a sartori style seaside experience.
Laurel: “I just started making up rhymes about the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke and hardy joined in. We just started saying thins to each other and it was sounding right.”
Though briefly in a sound called Playboy Entertainers and temporarily apart in male/female pairs (Laurel’s being Punch and Judy, Hardy’s Albert Tatlock and Ena Sharples — “The girl couldn’t handle DJ’ing Coronation Street stuff, she was just too into roots”) it was together as Reverand T and Pope Phaul that the deadly duo first started to make a hilarious impact on the reggae scene.
But their producers talked them away from the religious imagery and the names of Laurel and Hardy came naturally from the jovial duet’s deep love of humour.
Hardy: “I’ve always liked people like Norman Wisdom and Larry Grayson — shut that door.”
“And Chas and Dave are definitely a big influence,” continues Hardy who’s horrified to hear of the Barton block on those two fine chaps. “I’d like to invite ’em to our show. I’ve got my own version of ‘Rabbit’. Benny Hill’s great too, him and Papa Face, and especially General Echo who originated most of the stuff you hear now.”
“Carry On films for me,” says Laurel. “Dick Emery and good old Keith Douglas. We’re trying to get hold of his next backing track.”
“I think Lenny Henry’s doing something really good,” Hardy adds, “He’s the sort of guy I really model myself on.”
“Yeah,” agrees Laurel. “If you can’t take the piss out of yourself, you can’t take the piss out of anything.”
For their part L&H take the piss out of just about everything, loading their conversation with scatty catchphrases and jokey asides. It’s no surprise to hear rhymes about Persil Automatic, Pedigree Chum and Heineken lager popping up in their toasts – all part of their campaign to relate to everyday English life.
“We do a few raps too,” Laurel reveals. “That interests us as well. Grandmaster Flash is great but we’re more into Kurtis Blow. Half the problem today is nobody’s prepared to take a chance any more. That’s the thing about reggae nowadays, it all sounds the same.”
Hardy: “Which is why we’re trying to develop our own Cockney style. But we can’t do it until the records sell more.”
‘You’re Nicked’ has sold more remarkably averagely in the roots conscious black market – and despite Peel plays hardly at all in the pop market because of limited distribution (buy it mail order from Dub Vendor today).
Laurel: “Every time we do it live people shake with laughter – but they just won’t buy it. A lot of them moan because we don’t stick with tradition.”
“It’s true we don’t take things very seriously,” Hardy admits. “There’s so many serious records about, we like to do records with a bit of humour. ‘You’re Nicked’ actually started at Gossips as just one line off the cuff but everybody stopped dancing cos they thought we were police, so we developed it out of that.”
Laurel: “Shaw Taylor plays it on Police Five“.
On stage, which is more likely to be in a North London pub than a dance hall, they augment their act with props like an Old Bill helmet for ‘You’re Nicked’ and a seat-belt for ‘Clunk Click’. Soon they hope to get in a couple of female DJs too – purely to enhance the sound y’understand. There’s Mother Nature, a white girl from Twickenham sadly lacking confidence at the mo, and two young black girls Marilyn Monroe and Diana Ross (no relation).
Hardy: “I wanted to get a black girl with blonde hair but I couldn’t find one. Maybe we’ll get Marilyn to wear a blonde wig on stage.”
The Culture C;ub gigs were definitely in line with the boys’ wider ambitions.
“We want to do more supports like that,” says Hardy. “We’d like to cross over to a mixed pop audience and reach the black and white public together. We’re not really into the club scene.”
How do you rate the 2-Tone bands?
“I really like Ranking Roger out of the Beat,” Hardy reveals. Laurel: “I like some of the pop groups. I liked Culture Club’s single.”
What with Boy George and Larry Grayson you could start picking up a gay audience.
“Anything for money,” Hardy giggles. “No I’m getting into pop more, and papers like Sounds.”
So what’s next?
Hardy: ” Well, we want to do an album and we’ve got loads of ideas up or sleeves for singles, though as I say we might have to do a more rootsy one next just to build up our audience.”