An abiding childhood memory of mine is hearing ska and early reggae tunes playing in the front room on a Sunday morning. Time-wise, we’re talking about 1970 onwards, a few years before I started primary school. It’s a piece of nostalgia that many of the Windrush generation and their children will recognise and identify with, irrespective of which island that they or their parents and grandparents hailed from. This was also the period when the original skinhead movement was at its height in Britain, adopting the new songs coming out of Jamaica as its anthems.
The music also has a strong association with food, specifically the delicious smell of Jamaican rice, peas and chicken that my mum would have been preparing. Ska and reggae tunes pumping away, sometimes the occasional pre-ska JA pop by Wilfred ‘Jackie’ Edwards, along with the waft of the expectant big dinner. In a way, the vibes from those tunes were a hidden ingredient that went into the food. Even at that tender age, I understood that this was my parents’ way of maintaining ties with ‘back home’. Strengthening the link further, we even had the Jamaican Weekly Gleaner newspaper delivered to our home on Sundays, where we could find out about current events on the island.
I’ve many a favourite song from that period, far too many to mention. Standouts are Monkey Man by The Maytals, Double Barrel by Dave and Ansel Collins, Them A Laugh And A Kiki by The Pioneers (aka Soulmates), the whole of the Tighten Up Volume Two album, Here I Am Baby by Skin, Flesh & Bones – the list goes on! For me and my brothers, having being born in England, we were getting a glimpse into our parents’ world, the island that had nurtured them. They’d tell us about how a song such as Long Shot Kick De Bucket (about a racehorse that died during a race) was based upon real events. There always was a little sad undercurrent to the way the Pioneers delivered the story with their sublime vocal harmonies.
One thing I noticed was, those records were only played in our home on Sundays, except at Christmas time. For the rest of the week, it was Radio One at breakfast and around teatime, with its selection of mainly British and American pop, and of course Top Of The Pops without fail every Thursday. There was also some ‘crossover’ because in the early 70s, reggae frequently featured in the UK charts. Things such as Let Your Yeah Be Yeah by The Pioneers, and Bob and Marcia’s Young, Gifted and Black were on constant rotation. Yet it was English artists that we heard predominantly on the radio, and, by a neat coincidence, our family meals on weekdays were mostly the same dishes that you’d find in any English home – give or take the odd serving of plantain, dumplings or yam now and again. This would have been pragmatic on the part of my parents; making an elaborate Caribbean meal would have taken up too much time after they’d come home from work. Hearing ska and reggae only one day a week took on a special significance; I’ve also no doubt that by hearing such a wide variety of music throughout the week is the reason why my tastes were eclectic from day one, and remain so to this day. Though I still like to play reggae tunes on Sundays – keeping a great tradition alive, you might say.