from Sounds, 1984
Great to see some Jamaican dancehall, and on a London label, topping the chart.
This poem by Anthony McNeill (1941-1996) mourns Skatalites trombonist Don Drummond.
for the D
‘To John Coltrane: the heaviest spirit’
from Black Music, LeRoi Jones
may I learn the shape of that hurt
which captured you nightly into
dread city, discovering through
streets steep with the sufferer’s beat:
teach me to walk through jukeboxes
and shadow that broken music
whose irradiant stop is light,
guide through those mournfullest journeys
I back into harbour Spirit
in heavens remember we now
and show we a way into praise,
all seekers together, one-heart:
and let we lock conscious when wrong
and Babylon rock back again:
in the evil season sustain
o heaviest spirit of sound.
Cockney Translation was a pivotal record. Reggae had been big in London from back in the ska days of the mid-60s. Smiley Culture sprang from a firmly British reggae, not as angry as the roots from the likes of Steel Pulse and Misty but for all it’s cheek one that said ‘we’re black, we’re British, we’re here’. This record was loved by all sorts of people across the country through 1984. A year that needed a laugh and a bit of togetherness.
The Xmas NME, 22/29 December, 1984 illustrated the lyrics to several big records of the year, and Cockney Translation was rightly one of ’em.
From the NME, 22/29 December, 1984
Phoney Clash Mania!
A sad night. For all Joe Strummer’s renewed vigour and Smiley Culture’s wit and wordage, this was one of the worst rock shows your reviewer has witnessed in ages.
From the same South London stable as Asher Senator, Smiley Culture is the prince of the new wave of fast-patter deejays, delivering his raps in double-quick time and with tongue-twisting diction. Remember the days when reggae was supposed to be laid back? Smiley don’t and his “lyrics of quantity” spout from that grinning mouth at an alleged rate of 195 words a minute.
Backed only by a tape of some looping dubwise rhythms, the man in the tam and the sky-blue tracksuit slam-bammed his way through ‘Police Officer’ and ‘Cockney Translation’, the latter now embellished with Yankee-style abridgements, but his impact was severely dampened by an overdose of mid-song balderdash.
Stoned exhortations of “Everybody say Clash” and sermons on the joys of sweet sensimelia only punctured the pace and timbre of Smiley’s double-time talkovers. In the course of half-a-dozen toasts, there was simply too much twaddle and not enough serious talk.
Under the banner Arthur Scargill’s Christmas Party and in front of a backdrop depicting the bleak post-industrial silhouettes of a dying mining town, Strummer’s three new apprentices struck up the stark opening chords of ‘One More Time’ and it immediately felt good to know that The Clash were back.
Drawing liberally from a catalogue that now stretches back eight years, The Clash play for close on two hours but there is little coherence or crispness to their set. Compared to, say, The Redskins scampering through ‘Unionise’ or ‘Lean On Me’ in Hammersmith only a week earlier, Strummer and company dilute much of their political force by their fanciful and romanticised imagery.
And judging by their reception afforded the speech of a striking miner before their set – gobbed at, splattered in beer and eventually subjected to the indignity of having his papers torn up by a marauding punk who had forced his way on stage – any political points being made by The Clash are lost on certain sections of their audience.
The absurdness of regurgitating 1977’s sermon in 1984 aside, some of the new songs previewed on the last tour – ‘This Is England’ and ‘Are You Ready’ – promise better once they have been captured, litigation permitting, on vinyl.
But on stage, The Clash at the moment are a case of an excess of energy at best being misdirected and at worst going to waste. Like a rabbit caught in a snare, the more they kick the more entangled they seem to become.
It’s time they quit holding out and drew another breath.