A Little Way Different: Errol Dunkley – ‘Darling Ooh!’

With bonus cuts galore and a lost Trojan compilation, what are you waiting for?

“Darling Ooh! is one cool record. Its smouldering grooves are produced by Sonia, and the tempo allows Errol to squeeze every drop of passion and character out of the lyrics. Errol and Sonia, backed by Gay Feet’s studio band, The Gaytones, created an impressive piece of work.”

Born and raised in West Kingston, Errol Dunkley’s career has spanned Jamaican music from the latter days of ska in 1964 to the present day. Bringing his sounds over to London in 1973, Errol’s super cool vocal, reggae productions and persona amassed a UK-wide following during the decade and his biggest hit, OK Fred, was simply massive. His version of John Holt’s ‘yagga-yagga’ song became a worldwide phenomenon, with Errol even making several prime-time television appearances, including a memorable one with Basil Brush!

Prior to this, Errol recorded and released his debut long player, Presenting Errol Dunkley (aka Darling Ooh!) in 1972. Recorded with Sonia Pottinger (More on Sonia Pottinger here), it was issued on Sonia’s Gay Feet label in Jamaica and got a UK release on the Trojan subsidiary, Attack. It was reissued in the early 1990s, but this Doctor Bird release represents its digital debut. There is also the debut release (anywhere!) of the Trojan compilation, Joy To The World. With detailed and immensely enjoyable sleeve notes by Harry Hacks, some nineteen unreleased cuts and a selection of beautiful period photographs, what are you waiting for?

Darling Ooh! is one cool record. Its smouldering grooves are produced by Sonia, and the tempo allows Errol to squeeze every drop of passion and character out of the lyrics. Errol and Sonia, backed by Gay Feet’s studio band, The Gaytones, created an impressive piece of work.

Proceedings begin with You’ll Never Know, a brooding do-over of the Beatles classic. Also known as I’ll Be Back, it is credited to Errol, using the Fab Four source as merely ‘guidance.’ The trombone leads the way, and descending section of the verse particularly effective. Errol oozes effortlessly over the top. One of Errol’s island hits, Movie Star, is up next. A significant track – it was the first cut released on African Museum, the label Errol formed with Gregory Isaacs. This roots track was also recorded by Delroy Wilson – Errol’s young ‘rival’ according to some commentators in the sixties. And there’s more! Movie Star was the chassis for Big Youth’s first 45 – Movie Man.

Every track is a highlight, from the superb skanky bounce of the title track, the dark, minor key soundscape of the spiritual Crested By The Father and the updated version of Errol’s first smash hit, You’re Gonna Need Me, in its new reggae format, to Errol’s first self-production, Baby I Love You (a reggae do-over of Alton Ellis’s rock steady gem Ooh Wee Baby) and one of Errol’s biggest songs, A Little way Different.

Two chirpy instrumentals by The Gaytones (Jamaican Hi-Lite Parts 1 and 2), bookend side two of the original vinyl issue. A nice touch, with The Gaytones warming things up, allowing Errol to walk in and do his stuff, before letting the band cool things down again. The bass player for The Gaytones? Future Jamaican superstar, Boris Gardiner.

It is a real shame Errol and Sonia didn’t work together much after Darling Ooh! but with Errol spending so much time in the UK, this was hardly surprising. Darling Ooh! is bolstered by twelve bonus steaming reggae cuts in the form of Jamaican hits and B-sides released on both High Note and Gay Feet.

Of the bonus tracks, only Baby Be True is by Errol. It was a single released on Gay Feet on the island but not at all in the UK. A comedy version, What’s Your Mouse by Pete Wilson follows. Complete with telephone rings, dialogue and satire, commenting on the reggae scene constantly re-using existing material. ‘One thousand five hundred versions of da same riddim.’ Ironic, huh?

Disc two focuses on an unreleased Trojan compilation, Joy To The World. It’s a mystery why it was never issued – these things seem commonplace in Jamaican music. Certainly, the quality of the dozen cuts isn’t in question. Featuring the likes of Max Romeo and Scotty, it is augmented by eleven bonus cuts from the Pottinger catalogue.

Judy Mowatt, best known for being one third of I Three, the heavenly vocalists who backed Bob Marley after Peter and Bunny’s departure, contributes a quarter of the tracks, a super reggae reading of the Three Dog Night song Joy To The World starting things up. Judy’s bouncy and singalong I Shall Sing and She Kept On Talking are equally strong.

A further highlight is The Righteous Flames’ Run To The Rock, a strong message of faith in youth, and Max Romeo is on fine form with the awesome Pray For Me. Likewise the colourful Scotty bringing us his smile and charm on Unbelievable Sounds.

Errol Dunkley played a significant part in reggae’s evolution in the UK and has continued to record, perform, and release material into the 21st century, remaining a talent that both the UK and Jamaican reggae scenes are lucky to have. Darling Ooh! is a fine, fine long player and overdue its Doctor Bird treatment. As ever, by packaging it with bonus cuts galore and a long lost, unreleased compilation album, Cherry Red Records’ Doctor Bird label has issued an immensely enjoyable item. If you only know Errol for OK Fred, then waste no time whatsoever and grab this.

Errol Dunkley: ‘Darling Ooh!’ Expanded Original Album (Doctor Bird DBCDD083) released 9 July 2021 by 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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