Morwell Unlimited / Prince Far I & The Arabs reviewed

❉ Two innovative dub long players, featuring two legendary studio bands.

As reggae moved through the 1970s the emergence of dub mixes became more and more prevalent. The early work of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and Augustus Pablo paved the way for mixing desks to chop and cut up music, add sound effects and deep reverberations to create new soundscapes. The seminal 1973 recording King Tubby’s Meet Rockers Uptown made by Osbourne Ruddock (aka King Tubby, of course) shone a spotlight on the producer, rather than just on the artist. A significant moment.

This dub flavour spread during the seventies. Well known tunes enjoyed alternative versions, giving the audience more to take in. All reggae labels soon had at least one dub long player in their catalogue, and dub collaborations with the likes of Marcia Griffiths became common. The genre soon had its own superstars such as Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare and Prince Jammy.

The backroom staff, including engineers, session musicians and producers, became as notorious as the artists. Two such figures were Maurice Wellington (‘Blacka’ Morwell) and Michael Williams. Both were already ‘artists’, Wellington as a founder of the vocal group The Morwells. Wellington also operated as a producer, and as a leader to his band of session musicians. This assemblage would go on to have a crucial role in developing the dub genre, giving a live platform to the sound. Williams’ alter-ego was, of course, the deejay and chanter, Prince Far I. These figures are responsible two dub classic long players, A1 Dub and Cry Tuff Dub Encounter Chapter IV.

There were three other Cry Tuff Dub Encounter albums produced by Williams, but Chapter IV is regarded as the cream of the crop. Rightly so. For detailed information on Prince Far I click here.

Doctor Bird have put together these two albums as examples of innovative dub long players, together with nineteen bonus cuts featuring two legendary studio bands. With sleeve notes from Tony Rounce and a selection of great photographs, it is a sweet package.

Morwell Unlimited’s A1 Dub was released by Trojan Records in 1980, and is rightly regarded as a classic. Wellington’s production is crisp, innovative and full of sparkle. The feel is bright, spacious and experimental – remember this is 1980, and technology was very much limited. It was Wellington’s third dub long player, after Dub Me (1977) and 1978’s Dub Baby.

Opening cut Different Style slams home what this record is about. Nifty production touches abound over the dance-hall reggae groove of the chassis track. It flows beautifully, with drop outs and spasm style effects.

The bright tones continue into the staccato guitar chop of the up tempo, West Side Ranking, which is also full of pops and clicks. Slices of vocal are rare, but do appear on both Different Style and the steady Waterpump Skank. Pressure Rock is a virtually naked version yet retains structure.

A high-point is undoubtedly Depth Charge. The synchronicity of Morwell Unlimited is beautiful, bright and sympathetic, with plenty of room left for Wellington to do his stuff. The bright and cheerful Down Town Rebel continues this sonic, the resonance of the percussion especially apparent. All whilst Eric Carter’s bass retains the most solid melody and rhythm.

The busy drumming patterns of Well Crucial are effective behind (or is that over?) sporadic keyboard notes and echoes. Survival Dub jumps in with its dramatic opening but immediately eases back. Clarke’s off piste drumming again is a feature. 7 Drunken Masters (great title) closes the set, and is a band at work. Morwell Unlimited were full on attack at times, jamming on other occasions, but always moving forward, experimenting. With Wellington at the helm, they created a album that pushed boundaries, showing how dub principles could combine with a band in the new, in 1980 anyway, dance hall style. The result was a fantastic record.

Cry Tuff Dub Encounter Chapter IV is, simply, sensational. There is no trace of Far I’s distinctive vocal growl at any stage; the album is entirely instrumental. As was the case with all of his solo deejay albums, there is no fat whatsoever. Eight cuts, all hypnotic, muscular and very much made in the man’s personality.

The sound is heavy dub. Guitars riff in and out. The snare snaps sharp and strong. The bass growls deep. The melodica jumps in and out. The sax is hot, steamy and sizzling. The feel is claustrophobic.

The album featured Roots Radics members (and Morwell Unlimited participants) Lamont, Carter and Clarke. The Arabs (as Far I’s backing group were known) were joined by guest musicians and Hitrun label boss and producer Adrian Sherwood. The UK influence of Sherwood helped give the album an edgy sound, obvious when you consider Far I divided his time between London and Kingston. Furthermore, Dennis Lovell, producer of The Slits’ Cut, was also involved.

The steam from a saxophone on Foundation Stepper is the starting gun for this masterpiece. The rock heavy beat of the drum and percussion steps in and we’re off. Cool doesn’t come any icier. Deadly Command rubs in the point. The sax riff is maintained with crashing sound effects, bleeps and sirens keeping the listener on edge. Enough to wake any spliffer from their hazy, semi-comatose state. With a start.

The pace eases marginally on Time Stone Turning. Its deliberate rhythmic stomp is maintained throughout with sharp guitar swoops and licks colouring the brooding landscape alongside shuddering echoes and bashes.

Jazz? Yes it’s here. On Sound Gesture. Enough to make an impact. Horns are tucked in unison with the melodica backed by a powerhouse rhythm. But the soloing is jazzy and free flowing. Critically, it is given space in which to move and gives the cut its unique flavour.

Guitar riffs? Why, sure. Earth Stone Shakedown. A killer track, full of six string action. The keyboard breakdown, together with the squashed thud of the bass drum and subsequent build up is so effective.

The drive of Lion Stone allows special effect experimentation galore behind the bass n drum. Stone African Ground and Destruction Sound Battle draw the album to its conclusion. Both retain the grit, soul, claustrophobia and muscle of the other cuts, and underline the contribution Prince Far I and the Arabs made to dub music in 1981.

The two albums are a perfect foil in this collection. The bright production and performance on the Morwell Unlimited long player versus the brooding might of the Far I and the Arabs album. Both appear together her on digital disc for the first time, each providing a perfect accompaniment for the other.

The second disc is entitled The Revolutionaries and Roots Radics In Fine Style. It comprises at nineteen bonus cuts, some rare, some not so. All feature the previously mentioned Roots Radics or The Revolutionaries. The legendary Revolutionaries’ presence on any dub compilation is mandatory. Formed in the mid-seventies, they preceded The Roots Radics as the most in-demand Jamaican group and are responsible for the creation of the groove cut in so many classic recordings. Their presence here is as a backing band rather than in their own right. Their core ranks boasted Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare, Ansell Collins, Ossie Hibbert, ‘Duggie’ Bryan (guitar), Errol Thompson (keyboards), Tony McCook and Vin Gordon (trombone). Along with a fairly fluid collection of other musicians, of course.

Opening up is the thrilling Jammin’ For Survival. A track familiar to Morwells’ followers possibly since it was the flip side of their Kingston Twelve Shuffle 45, which was released in the UK on Attack Records in 1979. A workout written by Wellington and Lamont, it features Prince Jammy as well as Morwell Unlimited. The vocal spliced Born Free (Dub) is another Jammy number included.

Highlights on the disc are numerous. David Isaacs’ rootsy Just Like A Sea Version backed his single of the same name (minus ‘version’) in 1979. Roots Radics’ guitarist Noel ‘Bailey’ Sowell has two cuts credited to him and the Radics in Bali Hi Special  and Aces Rock. Both are a subtle collage of sounds, vocal chants and inevitable guitar licks, including his wah sound.

The Roots Radics contribute several cuts of their own. Of these, Scientist in Fine Style, again released in the UK on Attack, is worth a shout out. The B-side of Barry Brown’s Separation, it was a rare track until it appeared on the This Is Trojan Dub compilation of 2018. This Linval Thompson composed cut has a bright key lick and the feel perfectly balances dance-hall, space effects and barren landscapes. The partnership is also featured on Caring For My Sister and Pop No Style Dub. The Barry Brown connection is repeated on Cool Pon Your Corner (version).

The glorious summer strut of Why Don’t You Come Home (dub) by Witty’s All Stars is obviously a joy, and Bim Sherman’s Ball Of Fire mixes in horns, toasting and roots rhythms in ‘fine style’.

All in all, a case can be made for every cut on this second disc. The digital sound certainly enhances these tracks, most only previously appearing as a version on a b-side. Try ‘em for yourself.

By incorporating two contrasting but entirely compatible albums, Doctor Bird are straight away onto a winner here. The inclusion of a multitude of bonus tracks, all featuring the Roots Radics or The Revolutionaries, supplements the collection superbly and gives both the connoisseur and the newcomer to the dub reggae genre every reason to tune in.

Sit back and immerse.


❉ Morwell Unlimited & Prince Far I & The Arabs: A.1 Dub / Cry Tuff Dub Encounter Chapter IV, 2CD (DBCDD065) was released 11 September 2020 by Doctor Bird/Cherry Red Records, RRP £11.99. Click here to order directly from Cherry Red Records.

❉ Cherry Red Records have been releasing and reissuing the most innovative and independent thinking music since 1978. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.

❉ Paul Matts is a writer from Leicester, England. His first novella, ‘Donny Jackal’, a kitchen-sink coming of age drama set in English punk rock suburbia in 1978, is out now both in paperback and as an E-book. His fiction has been featured in Punk Noir Magazine, Brit Grit Alley and Unlawful Acts. Paul also writes articles on music, in particular on the punk and new wave movement, and is a regular contributor for We Are Cult, Punkglobe, Razur Cuts and Something Else magazines. See https://paulmatts101.wordpress.com/ for more details, and to subscribe for updates.

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