Trojan source: ‘The Ska From Jamaica’

❉ Lindon Pottinger was an under-appreciated influence in ska music, and this lost album puts this right.

It must be exciting to discover a tape loaded with tracks by legendary artists intended for release but destined never to see the light, as things appeared to have turned out. To make the discovery fifty-four years after an intended date of release must be akin to archaeologists wetting themselves as they unearth something like an iron age axe head.

But that’s what happened to Laurence Cane-Honeysett. He was working in the archives at Trojan Records and found an artefact which was in fact a quarter inch production master tape of an unreleased ska compilation scheduled for issue in 1966 on R & B Records. Entitled The Ska Of Jamaica, it contained a collection of high-quality numbers from The Maytals, Derrick Harriott and Clancy Eccles, amongst many others.

R & B Records was a small but important record label run by Rita and Benny King. It was a leading Afro-Caribbean Music operation, a position it held throughout the 1960s. Another label of the King’s, Ska Beat, issued a run a 45s between 1964 to 1967. These singles competed strongly with those put out by Blue Beat, Island and Rio during those ska years. Indeed, The Ska Of Jamaica was compiled using these 45s. However, by the time it was ready, the ska boat had sailed from the port, with a new one arriving off-loading early rock steady grooves.

R & B Records kept going through the rest of the sixties, until Rita and Benny wound up their record production in the early 1970s. They sold the rights for any unreleased material to Lee Gopthal’s Trojan Records.  Thus, the Ska Of Jamaica master tape disappearing into Trojan’s archives. It was discovered in 2020, and its twelve tracks were released by Trojan on vinyl in time for Record Store Day in August 2020.

The tracks were produced by a familiar name; Pottinger. This time, the producer was Lindon Pottinger, the husband of Sonia. Lindon was a businessman first and foremost and built a recording studio behind the matrimonial home in Kingston. He soon became a leading light in Jamaican music production. However, following a run of success Lindon quit the business and separated from Sonia, who took over Lindon’s record production. The rest is history, as they say. For more information on Sonia Pottinger, click here.

It is right though, that Lindon’s output is appreciated and given a high pedestal in history. Not only does The Ska Of Jamaica feature his material, but there are 47 other productions of Lindon’s contained across the collection’s two discs. Lindon Pottinger was an under-appreciated influence in ska music, and this Doctor Bird package aims to put this right, including period photographs and words from Laurence Cane-Honeysett – the individual who uncovered that long lost production master.

Now it makes its expanded CD debut on Doctor Bird Records, a division of Cherry Red Records specialising in vintage Jamaican sounds.

Disc one kicks off with the entire unreleased album, The Ska Of Jamaica. It starts proceedings courtesy of Ska star of the early sixties, Jackie Estick. Jackie released several 45s for a variety of labels, including Coxsone Dodd’s Studio One. The Ska (From Jamaica) was issued on Ska Beat and was ostensibly a celebration of the sounds coming from (sweet) Jamaica during the era.

Several future superstars of Jamaican music feature. None more so than Toots Hibbert. The Maytals were a lively ska vocal harmony group in the beginning, as is shown on the electrifying Let’s Jump. It is a tune penned by the man himself together with fellow Maytals member Raleigh Gordon. A second tune, Joy And Jean, comes along later. It is a rock n roll shuffle-ska fusion and contains a hint of the ‘whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa’ vocal hook that was immortalised on Pressure Drop.

Another legend showcasing his early material is Clancy Eccles, with the unerringly catchy Sammy No Dead, again written by Eccles, as is Miss Ida, his second track on the disc.

The future legends keep on coming. Derrick Harriott was already a main player in the Jamaican music scene and another catchy number, Monkey Ska, was included on the unreleased record. Like all the ska here, the tracks are high in tempo with a clear, resonant production. There is even a duet from singing superstars of tomorrow, Roy Shirley and Ken Boothe, entitled Paradise. It is one of the stand-out cuts, with a pumping rhythm which penetrates right through to your innards. Great saxophone, too.

Less well known is Ben Levy. His number, recorded with trumpeter Baba Brooks, Doreen, has made regular appearances on ska compilations over time. Its pledge of allegiance to a lover (‘no more will I roam’) would have touched many a heart in coffee shops and dance halls. Ben appears again on the disc’s bonus tracks with the ultra- positive and vibey Keep Smiling. Its title tells you all you need to know! Its driving rhythm powers the message home – it doesn’t matter how life grinds – just smile on through! There is a further cut by Ben, Never New Love. This is not actually a ska number – it is a US-style rock n roll teen ballad. No problem with this, mind, as it shows Ben Levy’s clear and emotional vocal talent from a different perspective.

The only artist afforded two tracks on the original Ska Of Jamaica was Winston Samuels. Winston’s clear, gentlemanly and masculine vocal is superb on What Have I Done. It does the same job on Time Will Tell. Winston also contributes three bonus tracks. Of these, the bright and sharp Be Prepared is a highlight, its big and vibrant ska sonic shining through on the production.

There are two instrumental cuts. Both feature future legends, naturally. Laurel Aitken and The Carib-Beats breeze through the traditional Bells Of St Mary, under its revised moniker, Ska Mary. Excellent, with lovely busy harmonica. The pounding Wayward Ska closes the original album, performed by Skatalite Tommy McCook with Lloyd Brevitt.

The bonus cuts do feature a small number of non-ska numbers. R & B Records was an Afro-Caribbean label, remember, and issued records across the genres. Ska just happened to be on trend in the early 1960s. The calypso of Dry Weather House by Count Lasher is such an example. As well as The Maytals and Ben Levy tracks mentioned earlier, Jimmy James provides a fantastically soulful vocal on the teen ballad Your Love.

I Don’t Need Your Love by Chuck Josephs and Dobby Dobson shines brightly. Despite its declaratory dismissive lyric, their smiling voices spread sunshine. And there is a guitar solo – rare on this record.

Vocal harmony group The Charmers croon across the smooth ska groove of My Best Friend. Female singers are in scarce supply on the first disc, but the iconic Yvonne Harrison duets with Roy Panton to great effect on the fantastic Stop Knocking. Yvonne’s voice lifts the number, and gives it some great flavour, instantly lifting it. The pair were one of the first male-female duos in Jamaican popular music and were included on many a tour of Jamaica as ska was taken out to the population. A second track by the duo, Tell Me, is the penultimate track on disc one.

A standout bonus track is the urgent Butterfly by Horell Dawkins. Horell has a track on the lost Ska From Jamaica album, Cling To Me. His easy on the ear vocal complements the up-front harmonica on Butterfly, the result being a light-hearted battle royal between the two of them.

Disc two is called The Ska Is Here To Stay. How true … but it had to share the billing with rock steady, blue beat and then reggae as the decade progressed.

Karl Bryan’s Ska Is Here To Stay starts things up. The disc’s title track doesn’t let you down, crisp, high tempo and with a story of a young man’s evening dancing to ska and searching for romance. All over a lilting melody, provided by saxophonist ‘Cannonball’ Bryan. Sweet.

Most of the artists on disc one reappear. The Maytals (My Darling), Jackie Estick (Baby (I Love You)), Ben Levy (I’ll Make You Glad). All good, strong tracks. Clancy Eccles has a trio of numbers. It’s easy to see why the man, like Toots Hibbert, became a pioneer and leader in the island’s music scene. All tracks are written in-house, are performed with great individuality and completely rock. The subtle groove of Don’t Do That is wonderful.

Winston Samuels has a further five cuts on the disc, including the second cut – the fantastically bustling Up and Down. The frenetic tempo of the opening three tracks is particularly impressive, culminating on the pulsating Calling, a further duet between future superstars Roy Shirley and Ken Boothe (Everything I Own etc).

Derrick Harriott’s Derrick (Come To Bed) splashes more humour on the collection, something often never too far away from ska music. It is music to smile to, after all. The yodel style vocal on this number catches the ear, for sure, mimicking Harriott’s woman calling him in the song’s narrative.

Cricket fans, and there have always been and will be many in the Caribbean, will love the tribute to the legendary West Indies batsman Sir Garfield Sobers. It is a calypso number, once again by Count Lasher. Very enjoyable. There are further non ska tunes, teen ballads, again by Dobby Dobson, this time with backing band the Teddy Boys. Good examples of the ever-present influence of the USA in Jamaican sounds.

However, the standouts for me here are the instrumental cuts. Trumpet supremo Baba Brooks chips in with a gloriously smooth Matty Rag. Scaramouche by Bobby Aitken (Laurel’s brother) and the Carib Beats has a rawness that pounds on and on. A familiar track to many, but well worthy of inclusion. The Carib Beats backed many a recording during the sixties and included keyboard legend Ansell Collins in their ranks. Their storming Thunderball Ska, based very loosely on the James Bond theme, appears later. Bombastic stuff, and the tough studio sound is so alive sonically to this day.

Another member of the Carib Beats, drummer Winston Grennan, has two tracks credited purely to him. The crashing backbeat on Funny leads the way. Winston was a hugely in-demand session musician, not only in Jamaica but later in New York City. The man could sing, too. He sadly passed away from cancer in 2000.

The Ska Of Jamaica is another snapshot provided by Doctor Bird Records of a time in the history of the music of Jamaica. Its fifty-nine tracks have virtually all lain undetected for years and over thirty of them unavailable in any form since the 1960s. Any ska lover should be very thankful for the archaeological work of Trojan Records employee and writer of many a fine sleeve note, Laurence Cane-Honeysett.


❉ Various Artists: The Ska From Jamaica: Original Album Plus Bonus Tracks (DBCDD067) was released 13 November 2020 by Cherry Red Records/Doctor Bird, 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.

Header image; The Maytals. (Michael Ochs Archives.)

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