I’ve been relatively starved of out-of-the-house entertainments since the onset of lockdowns great and small, so it was lovely to experience two such in just one afternoon a few days back - the celebration of ‘Dub Music in London’ at the Museum of London, and Ronnie’s, the documentary film about the famous jazz club. It’s certainly strange to see this music, which I immersed myself in from approximately 1976-1980, being monumentalised in a museum, especially when I remember how radical it seemed at the time.
David Toop reviewed Keith Hudson and the 2nd. Street Dreads’ Pick-a- Dub in Musics magazine 4 (October/November 1975, page 25), describing it as “Classical music”. I got hold of the album the following summer (the sweltering summer of ‘76) and initially couldn’t get my head round it (the cheap packaging and minimal content of the original Atco release, with its iconic cover drawing of a dread smoking a joint under a palm tree, contributed considerably to the its DIY vibe, at just about the same time as the bogus pomp of the record industry was gradually being questioned.) It took me a while to get used to the stripped-down nature of dub (which were prescient of so many fashionable ‘moves/movements’ in years to come), and I’m very pleased to see that Hudson’s (often under-acknowledged) work has now been placed at the very center of the music’s history, with Pick-a-Dub a certified early classic. It became one of the most hip sounds of the late-70s, and the likes of Public Image Limited concretised this with Metal Box, and the incredible ‘megamix’ of ‘Death Disco’ on a 12-inch deconstruction of that PiL game-changer.
For me, the dubs of so many ‘roots reggae’ songs of the 1970s remains the sine qua non of the whole genre. There are far too many to even begin to itemise here, but the undoubted master has to remain the late King Tubby (with Prophesy of Dub as the absolute pinnacle, with Yabby You’s vocals, imho, beautifully celebrated on CD on the great Blood and Fire label.) Sure, concepts like Macro-Dub Infection gained further currency in the 1990s, and the whole Pole/Oval ‘glitch’ ‘movement’ extended the idea on to white electronica auteurs, but these lacked (sorry) the sheer emotional heft of the roots-related material. It all began to end with the ascension of ragga onto the Jamaican scene in the early 80s (Scientist being an obvious exception, with his series of comic-book sleeves that contained fantastic digital dub within.)
Ronnie’s also comes highly recommended, and I would be interested to hear opinions from people who were there at the time. Understandably, it focuses on Ronnie The Man, as flawed and as human as he sounds. I would have been interested in a deeper investigation into 60s and 70s British jazz in general (for example, Ronnie’s generous offer to house the ‘new generation’ in ‘The Old Place’ in Gerrard from 1966-8), but I accept that this is a micro-view, and more properly the subject of another film. Great footage and some moving tributes remain, and I recommend the film without hesitation. What’s more, I am about to revisit the John Fordham literary biography, ‘Jazz Man’, enthused as I am. A brief glimpse of the celebrated Soho figure, John Jack, glimpsed on the door at 70′s Frith Street, reminded me of what a great loss to the history of counter-cultural Soho his passing represents. We need to further access and record these memories before it is too late.