All the seats are taken, all the rows I pass
So I walk a little further, an’ enter first class
6.30 in the morning, really out of the game
Body feeling tired, legs feeling lame
So I tried to get some sleep, legs across the seat
Then there’s a grunt opposite, from some middle class creep.
At first he said nothin’, I think he was a little scared.
He just sat doing his puzzle, and trying to find a word
But every now and then, he gave me a hard stare
I think he was trying to say something,
But I think he wouldn’t dare.
I started to laugh, I found it really funny
Him sitting next to me, him with all that money
Now I could see he was getting angry, and a little hurt
The thought of voting Conservative and seeing it not work
I decided to get up and go down the buffet
I could see what he was saying, I knew he was calling me scruffy.
As I walked down the aisle, I started to smile
I knew I could win, I could do him in
But that wasn’t it, that wasn’t the way
I knew if I did that, I’d have to pay
I’d just sit next to him all the way there
knowing he was a mug, who paid double fare
but as I got back, he’d gone
So then I knew I was the winner, I was the one
The working class hero had truly won
He never had the bottle to stand his ground
The capitalist bastard had lost his crown.
Mick Turpin was a Scouse, skinhead poet who had several poems in early ranting Oi ‘zine Another Day, Another Word from Liverpool.
This poem, along with appeared on the 1983 Son Of Oi album.
He also released a couple of cassettes: ‘Classic Fights Tape’ and ‘Bad to Worse’.
NME 13th November, 1982
The year when any gook could gatecrash the stage to read duff poetry and still be entertaining is drawing to a close.
Performance now is paramount and, if Seething Wells hasn’t built a comic act of quite the same quick-fire completeness as Little Brother, he has perfected his delivery, a harsher slickness, a more violent comic crack.
SWells still carries too much deadweight – a year in the act and Tetley Bittermen is just so much excess baggage – but his content sharpens all the time.
Tonight he covered all this week’s news items, trapped all your favourite taboos and threw them back fast at the audience’s brickwall liberal conscience.
The audience, of course, lapped it up. SWells patted them on the head, jibed mercilessly and, dutifully, the audience clapped more buckets.
Lots of sex and lots of speed, the new material flies all over the shop. SWells is a vicious gag.
Angry young poets tire easily if they fail to charge their spite with new fire, new rant, new targets. It’s not long before real nasty becomes real boring.
While he mocks himself, Seething Wells, the counter-culture hyper-fad, is still crucial – a working-class clown. The problem with working class heroes is that they take themselves too seriously.
Sat 2 Oct
Adams Arms, Conway St, W1
Attila the Stockbroker
Pete Murry & Glenn Smith
Out Bar Squeek
Sat 9 Oct
Sat 16 Oct
Bernie & Patric Cunnane
Sat 23 Oct
Staunch Poets & Players
Sat 30 Oct
In and Out
Sat 6 Nov
Sat 13 Nov
Slade the Leveller
Sat 20 Nov
Knife in the Light (Jay Ramsay, Ferenc Aszmann, Michele Roberts, Mark Schlossberg, Keith Jefferson)
Sat 27 Nov
Sat 4 Dec
Sat 11 Dec
Ana & the Allsorts
Sat 18 Dec
Andy D Poet
Stace the Face
Out Bar Squeek
Many thanks to Russell for this list of gigs from Apples & Snakes’ first year.
Seething Wells and Attila the Stockbroker
Contrast: “Biddy-biidy bong-bong, biddy bong-bong, biddy bong-bong, biddy men. Bong bong, biddy bong-bong, biddy bong-gong, biddy geng, biddah-men ahwooy biddy-men. Ehyaaah!” (Rough translation of intro to ‘Ganja Smuggling’, 1981)
With: “Deh was a man ‘oose name was Hih-Hitler, ‘im jus’ go like ‘im superior, while other races ‘im say is inferior . . . Jah Jah know dat it was really true, ‘ow Hitler ‘im kill millions of Jews. 200 thousan’ Polish children ‘e did kidnap, and they did not come back. All night all day long he provoke, ‘e use some of them skin and turn to soap. Remember dis is ‘istory and it ain’t no joke” (‘SS Nazi’, forthcoming).
And: You glean an idea of the stylistic breadth of the Jamaican singer under your eyes – concerns from unadulterated doggerel to “lyrics which make man know ‘imself”.
The person in question is Eek-A-Mouse, a name which by any standards displays a fine appreciation of absurdity, especially in view of the fact that Mouse wouldn’t need a ladder to take up first floor voyeurism. Tall seems such a short, stumpy word to describe his stature.
The world’s biggest rodent laughs crazily, something he does often, displaying a breezy gap between his upper incisors. The sort of gap you could spit a waterfall through.
“I used to bet on ‘orseracing, you know?” His voice scatters around the hazily out of order service flat he’s ensconced in a couple of waves away from the gaudy throwback of Portobello Road.
“All the while an’ ting there was a ‘orse named Eek-A-Mouse that used to run inna Jamaica. When I back the ‘orse it always lose. But one day I did not bet on the ‘orse and it ‘ave won and pay out a lot of money. Me friend dem thought that I catch the ‘orse. When I tell them ‘No’, they say ‘Chaaa! You really is an Eek-A-Mouse’. It came about like that . . . Some people feel that the name is for a short person. But I’m tall, you know? Six feet six inches above sea level. Yeah, huh-huh-huh!”
The chuckling rodent stoops down to play a while with Shaka, the young daughter of Henry ‘Junjo’ Lawes, owner of Volcano records and – going by sleeve credits – currently Jamaica’s most successful producer.
Shaka, dressed in a Hatton Garden gathering of jewellery and looking like a line out of Mouse’s ‘Modelling Queen’, obviously enjoys the lanky man’s company. He has a natural affinity with kids, something I notice during our several meetings. No doubt this has something to do with his own pressurised upbringing . . . which follows shortly. . .
‘Modelling Queen’, a live-in-the-dancehall version of which has just emerged on the ‘DeeJay Explosion’ album via American label Heartbeat, is just one of a litter of hits which have tripped up the roots public’s imagination.
You see, prior to the recent outbreak of fever for Volcano/Greensleeves fellowman Yellowman, the rodent was – to mix metaphors – king rat in the Isle of Springs as can be judged from his spot with the Wailers on the ‘Reggae Sunsplash’ album – one of the few gems glittering in an otherwise dull package.
The song he performs on ‘Sunsplash’ is ‘Wa Do Dem’, a bendy blend of unique scat and idiosyncratic singing welding to offbeat lyrical contempt. One of the monsterpieces of 1981 when he recorded it with the omnipresent Radix band. ‘Wa Do Dem’ was Mouse’s first major success and glued itself to the zenith of the reggae charts, both here and in JA, for a period that seemed like forever.
As the vocal imitators began to breed in a frenzy spurred on by the cloying aroma of a money spinning formula, an LP also entitled ‘Wa Do Dem’ surfaced on Greensleeves in January followed by another, ‘Skidip’, in August.
Assessed by our own Michael Roots to be one of the sparklers of the year, ‘Skidip’ scuttled to number 61 in the national charts, outselling the label’s two baaad DJs, Eastwood and Saint, in the process.
However, some of most prime rodent droppings are to be discovered on pre: ‘Assassinator’ (56 Hope Road) and ‘For Hire And Removal’ (Volcano) to pick a crafty couple at random.
You can always tell when you enter the abode of an artist who has just arrived from Jamaica. You walk through the door, shake hands, and shortly thereafter your armpits turn into swimming pools of sweat as the cranked up to lethal heating hits.
Today the perspiration point is further aggravated by the number of people breathing in on the interview. Mouse offers to conduct the proceedings in private, but what the hell, the more involved the better as far as I’m concerned.
And more there certainly are. Apart from Shaka and Junjo, stable mate DJs the amiable ranking Trevor and the petulant Billy Boyo are among the people who’ve accompanied Mouse on his first trip to England en route to do some gigs in California.
Billy especially seems an odd character incorporating a permanently zonked 13 year old tetchy mentality in an 11 year old body. He doesn’t say much, just slouches on the couch, a blood red stare emanating from his bugged out eyes. A classic subject for child psychology is our Billy.
No wonder his last paean was to Janet Sinclair, the agony columnist of the Jamaican Gleaner! ‘One Spliff A Day’ is his theme tune. It’s definitely an underestimation, I reckon he stops counting after breakfast.
In between bursting into song, posing for photographs with unselfconsciousness, playing some stunning as yet unreleased songs – ‘SS Nazi’ – being one of many – and jumping up to do the odd skank step, the curly whiskered rodent holds forth. Since this is his first brush with the British music press, Mouse also records the proceedings (as a memento?!?). here’s an abridged report.
Your real name is Ripton Hylton and you come from Jones Town (described as “one of the first class ghettoes of the island” by Bob West from Zion Gate on the sleeve notes of ‘Bubble Yu Hip’ – the ‘Skidup’ import version)?
“Yeah. Kingston 10.”
That’s as much as I know. Tell me how you got involved in music?
“Well, from when I was a kid, I loved singig all the times, even when I was going to primary school. . . In 1974 was the first time I went to record. . . I cut two singles, ‘My Father’s Land’ and ‘Creation’. In those times I wasn’t singing in the Eek-A-Mouse style. Them was on the Eek-A-Mouse label but I sing as Ripton Hylton.
“So I jus’ say ‘Chuuuh! I got to find a style’. So I stop from 1974 until 1981 (when he was at secondary school). Then I met producer Junjo Lawes an’ ting. . . an’ I record this one called ‘Wa Do Dem’. It patois now, saying ‘what’s the matter with them?’”
‘Wa Do Dem’ had strange lyrics. Is it a true story?
“Yeah, mon! Ca’ my girl is short, four feet eleven, and every time we walk on the road people always jeer us, you know, ‘He’s too tall and she’s too short’. . . Reality, mon.”
So how did you develop that style? ‘Wa Do Dem’ is often seen as the first example of singjay.
“In London they say that I singjay. But I no singjay, nor toast nor deejay. I’m just singing and when I stop singing the lyrics I just slurring. . . The Eek-A-Mouse style now, well sometimes I go all the movie, you know? An’ I hear the Japanese man, the Chinese man, African, all kinda people, de white man dem, making a sound. So me just find a sound too . . .
“But at the same time now, I was a singer at a sound system. Beca’ in Jamaica for an artist to get famous yuh have fe hold the microphone at some sound business that going round.”
So what sounds did you work with?
“Well, uh, all kinda sound. Sound name Pappa Root, Gemini, Black Ark, Jah Life. . . Black Scorpion, Virgo, you know?. . .”
On the ‘Dee-jay Explosion’ album on your track you say something to the effect “Eek-A-Mouse inna de dance hall legal now”. And according to the sleeve notes you were arrested as you were about to take the microphone on the first night of recording. What was all that about?
“Well, dat’s just a minor happening an’ ting. A mix-up ting. I accidently break a bar (car?) glass an’ ting.”
It says it was due to a dispute between you and a producer?
“Yeah, but a cool profile now, you know? We ‘ad a small dispute but everything upfront now ca’ me an’ the producer is upfront. . .”
Which particular producer?
(Mmmm, no wonder Mouse doesn’t want to expand with the man in question next door in the bedroom.) How personal are the majority of your songs? Are they slices of your life?
“Yeah, mon. Part of my life and part of my bredren life. Ca’ I have a tune ‘For Hire And Removal’ Henry Lawes released up her. It go ‘Me momma, me momma… Jah know she grow me without a poppa. . . Me nly have one big sister and dem kill me breddah. Eeeyah! They say ‘im fight black power. . . Me live in area a no residential. Pure old car some of them marked For Hire And Removal.’
“Ca’ in a ghetto places you no see fancy cars inna Jamaica. Though in the ghetto area you some trucks marked For Hire And Removal. Beca’ every day we try to move out of poverty.”
So ‘Too Young To Understand’ (a plaintive lament concerning the young Mouse’s inability to comprehend the splitting up of his parents to be found on ‘Wa Do Dem’) is true as well?
“Yeah, when I was about six year old . . . The West Indian education system is not really up to standard, beac’ even when a man ‘im pass out of high school in Jamaica, ‘im ‘ave fe go abroad to some big university to study more. . . But differently, my father ‘im caught me gambling at that time. . . We wus gambling for ha’penny, playing Peter Pat, a three card game. An’ he caught me an’ call me in the house. Before dat ‘e ‘ad hardly come to the house cos him up and down ca’ ‘im a book man (student), very intellectual.
“But I don’t know why like ‘im don’t like me as a son, treat me hard as a youth, flog me rough. Sometime me mommy cry an’ ting. – I was afraid of him. I still love him ca’ ‘im brought me ‘pon earth, but ‘im supposed to owe me a lot of apology. . . Anyway ‘im call me in the house and say that I must spell a word name ‘Philosophy’. . . and I couldn’t spell it. So ‘in beat me up, box me in the mouth, and give me soap to eat, carbolic. . . Me mother say ‘im can’t do that, so ‘im decide to leave.
“So me mother alone she work at Kingston Public Hospital. . . the oldest hospital inna Jamaica right now, over 200 year old. An’ she cleaned mess an’ schooled me. Yeah, she work inna ward as a ward assistant. Sometimes a patient make urine or pass dem faeces and kyaan carry it out. An sometimes man mess on the floor and say ‘Wipe it up’. So, you know I just grow with the vibes that I must help her someday.”
Is that why you’ve got a sympathetic view towards women? Cos a lot of DJs (Billy Boyo, originator of some of the most misogynist lyrics around, begins to take interest) really degrade women?
“No, well women now. . . You see, why most men degrade women is just through one woman – Delilah. . . But if you hang(?) a woman that way, that mean you hang your mother that way too because she is a woman. And if she were Delilah she wouldn’t ‘ave bring you forth on the earth ca’ she feel a lot of pain.”
This is the somewhat convoluted reasoning behind why Mouse prefers to characterise females as virgin girls and modelling queens in his songs. Mind you, his concept of virginity is equally arcane. Every woman who he has not had a carnal relationship with is a virgin in Eek’s eyes regardless of whether she has 20 children and is 80 years old.
Although we don’t discuss it at the time, in retrospect this view strikes me as being an uncomfortable compromise between his obvious respect for women and the pull he must feel of the overtly sexist ideology running through most modern reggae propped up by religious interpretation. . . On the other hand, this piece of hack psychology might just be, uh, what’s the word. . . shit. On to different matters. . .
Errol Shorter (the DJ who toasted ‘Wild Inna 81 Style’ on the flip of ‘Wa Do Dem’) was killed a while back. Tell me about that?
“Yeah, Errol Shorter was a good friend of mine you know, ‘im also live in the area an’ ting. He died one morning ca’ he was where they (the police and army) claims is a wanted man called General Starky. . . But Errol was at the place sleeping. They’d been keeping a session an’ it finish. Some men decide fe go home and some decide to stay back. Well all those who stayed back died, about nine men including Errol Shorter. ‘Brains and marrow eat out’. That’s why I sing about ‘Operation Eradication’.”
‘Do You Remember’ (the current Greensleeves single) and ‘Tell Dem’ (Black and White) are a change for you, harder more social comment. Do you see that side of your act developing more in future?
“Yeah, it looks that way. Sometimes I sing a few songs pertaining to love and nature. . . ca’ you can’t leave out those two things. But me ‘ave fe sing sentiments of love and nature , beca’ some people just sing ‘I love you, I want you. I need you and come to me closely’. The whole world know about that.
“That music, ‘Do You Remember’, it show that ‘Do you remember the days of slavery’. It wasn’t black man alone who died through slavery. Though the Indian, the white man, the Chinese suffer as slaves, we the black men suffer the hardest way until today.”
With luck, not something that most reggae tours experience in this country, Mouse will return to warm up our dank shores with performances in January. Yellowman, who according to Junjo Lawes is being ripped off by pirating producers (hence the deluge of Yellow recording in the past two months), is also due at the same time.
If so it will be interesting to witness the showdown. Yellowman might still be the toast of the toasters, but in a different style altogether Mouse has a new armoury of wounding words.
“I want to say I hope to top the pop charts in due season, “ the rodent reasons. “Because I have the lyrics, the voice and the right music behind me.”
“Sweet as a nut? Just level vibes, seen?”
Recognise the refrain? No!
Where have you been? perhaps having an enforced holiday at the hands of what Smiley Culture calls, in his opus of dual interpretation, either “Old Bill” or, more appropriately, “Dirty Babylon”.
“Slam-bam, Jah-man, hail dem fashion,” I seem to recall were some of the MC’s opening shots on his debut slate. And that’s exactly what the reggae buying public did, going wild enough over ‘Cockney Translation’ to send the Minder speak-meets-patois-patter to the zenith of the charts for six weeks, as the ‘Real Rock’ rhythm lived from Hackney to up the Junction at Clapham.
The latter South London location is where myself and Smiley – given name Emmanuel Brown – bucked upon each other for a few hours. More specifically the gaff at Dub Vendor, the stable which has already spawned new-style deejaying in the forms of Papa Face and Laurel And Hardy.
“Hardly anyone knows me by that name (Emmanuel Brown), ever since primary school I’ve been called Smiley Culture. What it was, like, there was a group of boys in the school at that time, which was our posse, and we used to play this game,” explained the MC, gold chains and buzzer-shades shining.
“What this game was, meant any girl that passed us we’d have a go at talking to her,” the tall blade, with a distant facial resemblance to General Saint, continued. “The idea was to make the girl smile and look over at the posse to make them know you were getting through.
“But what I used to do was just ask the girls to look over at the posse and smile for me please, nothing else, and I used to get away with it. Since then I’ve just been called Smiley, and since I’ve been an MC it’s true in that I don’t preach slackness.”
It’s been a long road for the 24-year-old deejay between getting his moniker bestowed on him at Saint-Lee primary school in Brixton and the cutting and subsequent killer pay-off of ‘Cockney Translation’.
Like many entertainers in all fields, Smiley started off practising in front of the mirror at home, “not thinking I would ever chat at a dance, much less make a music.”
In the late 70s the London sound system scene was not as formalised as it is now., with each crew having its own exclusive selector of rhythms and deejay outriders, according to Mr Culture.
Round about the period he waved goodbye to the educational system at Tulse Hill, Smiley began to chat at blues with Buchanan Sound, now operating as Studio Mix, where he combined with his spar Asher Senator and formed a partnership which is still going strong today.
The pair gradually filtered through virtually every major London dance hall outfit, from Supertone and Black Harmony to murder-watt specialists like Coxsone, Frontline and others, eventually ending in a semi-permanent residence with the mighty Saxon, home of Philip Levi.
But Smiley and his partner Asher, though they are closely associated with Dennis Row’s sound, prefer to keep themselves freelance.
“Me and Asher, we don’t go full out to the dance halls and all that business. If we have got something directly to do we’ll go out but only then, or if we’re inspired.”
This preference for independence has, of course, been made all the easier by the success of ‘Cockney Translation’, a record which shifted enough copies to chart nationally, but in keeping with the discriminatory manner in which these things are compiled, didn’t figure in the top 100.
“Before (the hit) we used to do three, four, or five hours on a sound, not feeling no way about it, for £25 or whatever. Now I do three things (chats) and get fifty times that,” continued Smiley, dropping a heavy hint about his earning power.
Obviously there have been weeks when Mr Culture’s finances weren’t so healthy and if dances were scarce on the horizon he would supplement his income by hustling jewellery from connections in Hatton Garden in an above-board manner, or sell shave-ice during summer.
Like ‘Mi God Mi King’, the tune that broke Levi, the element which made ‘Cockney Translation’ stand apart from the competition was, indeed is, that it tells a whole story as opposed to being linked by loose and ill-fitting themes. And in a similar manner to Phillip’s approach, Smiley emphasises the necessity of getting the whole thing down on paper before entering the studio, a move that breaks with the traditional MC scam of improvising on the spot in the recording booth.
Tired of attempting to interest producers in his and Asher’s talents, Mr Culture decided to wait until the right people approached him at the right time with the right offer. Those people were Chris Lane and John of Dub Vendor, who were very impressed by Smiley’s slot on last year’s competition between JA’s Gemini Sound and Saxon.
“it happened that at the time I thought about doing a music about a split personality,” recalls the deejay on the genesis of ‘Cockney Translation’. The idea was that this would give him flexibility of drawing on a number of characters all rolled into one artist, and hence allow for complicated bit intelligible toasts.
The exact nature of this split-personality motif must remain a secret because, although it was superceded by ‘Translation’, which operates on a similar principle, Smiley plans to execute this sound excursion into schizophrenia on a slate at a later date.
While Mr Culture might be this month’s hottest deejay, unlike other practitioners of the genre he didn’t really check MC records as a kid… “The only time I can remember myself listening to deejay music was when I-Roy and Jazzbo were putting down each other.” Very viciously, it must be said.
“But I didn’t even really think about those works as MC’ing or deejaying at the time. I just thought of them as songs in the same way I get little white kids or little black kids coming up to me and saying ‘Oh, I got that song’ when they’re talking about ‘Cockney Translation’.
“Apart from them, I must mention Nicodemus who I heard much later on a Jamaican dance-hall tape which was another competition between him and Brigadier Jerry, who in fact never turned up for it. Respect is due anyway to Brigadier Jerry because a lot of his styles have been exploited by MCs. I respect anybody who does original things because they’re exciting to listen to.”
Smiley Culture goes international! Yep, on the many merits of his debut 45 the man suddenly found himself performing in Germany, an experience which he said made him think twice about the media coverage reggae gets in the UK. Jimmy Cliff, for example, was given four hours of peak viewing time on Kraut TV to strut his skank. It’s difficult to imagine the same thing happening here.
Still, the way the genre is still locked in its little ghetto by the BBC and other broadcasters doesn’t really aggravate the MC, who is as amicable as his name would suggest. In fact, the only thing over which he got steamed up about during our interview was the “burial business” prevalent in deejaying.
“Both me and my partner Asher are really against the MCs who go into the dance and mock another man’s name, saying things about their mothers and so on.
“It has never happened to us right from the days of Buchanan maybe because we know all the MCs personally. The other thing we don’t like is slackness, we prefer to teach and preach the truth or something sensible, and something sensible has obviously got to be the truth,” reckoned Smiley with Buddhist-like logic.
“Slackness is a thing I think MCs use as a gimmick. Because there was a time when General Echo was still alive and everybody went slackness crazy. Then Brigadier Jerry came along and chatted ‘Slackness bite the dust, culture must come first’. And suddenly everybody was onto his style again.”
At present, in the same way British based bands like Aswad and Misty are forging forward compared to most of their Jamaican brothers, deejays like Smiley and Phillip Levi are proving that we can expect England to spawn the next generation of genuine MC innovators.”
Or as Mr Culture would say, “Just level vibes, seen?”