Tag Archives: Laurel and Hardy

General Erection

In the lead up to the 1983 general election, music paper Sounds was strongly pro-Labour. Garry Bushell’s article here leaves that very clear. The paper also canvassed many of the musicians of the day. The Oi vote is pretty much Labour, and even further left. Interestingly the Heavy Metal is more Tory but with Ozzy Osbourne vehemently against Thatcher.
Cheryl Baker of Bucks Fizz was, of course, a Tory.
These clippings are from the June 11, 1983 Sounds. The election was on June 9, 1983, the music papers were dated the week after they came out.
Despite this street level swell the election turned in the most decisive victory since Labour in 1945, this time the win went to the Tories and saw Margaret Thatcher in for her second term as Prime Minister. The Tories took 42.4% of votes cast.
The miner’s strike wasn’t far away.


Smiley Culture – Sounds, July 21, 1984


“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?”

Jack Barron

Inna Cockney Stylee – Laurel and Hardy

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.”
Garry Bushell