❉ Get your hand stamped, ears open and dancing feet ready!
Arthur ‘Duke’ Reid’s contribution to Jamaican music was colossal. His Treasure Isle record label released some of THE classic rock steady and reggae tunes. By the time dance hall reggae became a thing in the late ‘70s, the Treasure Isle catalogue was again in huge demand. Sonia Pottinger now owned its classic repertoire, and it became the key ingredient for a new breed of toasters and deejays. Classic rock steady backing + cutting edge rhyme and production = dance hall magic. The musical evolution of the twelve-inch single allowed artists to show their capabilities further. It was too restrictive to squeeze verse into the confines of a seven-inch single. Disco mixes – ‘discos’ – were the result, extended and often running on for several minutes.
Doctor Bird Records have issued a three-disc, thirty-eight track collection of these discos. All but eight are given their digital debut, and four cuts are being released for the first time. Period photographs and sleeve notes by Harry Hacks are included. There are some famous tunes inside Treasure Isle. Get your hand stamped, ears open and dancing feet ready.
An obvious advantage of this collection is the catalogue from which it is derived. It is almost impossible to fail with the wealth of material on Treasure Isle. These revised, innovative and fascinating recordings are by deejays, engineers and artists eager to make a mark in 1977.
The takes were ultimately remixed by Errol Brown – Sonia’s studio engineer. Ansell Collins, Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare overdubbed keyboards, bass and drums, respectively. All over original backing tracks by the Duke’s house band, Tommy McCook and the Supersonics.
It doesn’t mess about. Take the opening cut on disc one. If I Could Rule The World by Alton Ellis. It is the first of three Alton classics on disc one. Brown’s mix features an extended breakdown section, following on seamlessly from the point at which the original ends. Ooo Wee Baby (aka Baby I Love You) is also remixed beautifully. The second part contains subtle reverberations and keyboard touches that float across its dub soundscape like warm gusts of breeze.
Ranking Trevor was a significant figure in the arrival of the twelve-inch single in Jamaica. Basically, Ranking Trevor took over and toasted on the first of these, Truly by The Jayes, when the vocal came to an end. He did the same thing on the Techniques’ You Don’t Care, one of three tracks here based on the bands’ work. Trevor was hot stuff in 1977, scoring UK reggae chart hits. He jumps right in with devastating effect, toasting on from gorgeous vocal harmonies. The second Techniques number is Queen Majesty, toasting provided with muscle by Jah Walton. Cool dub touches are in the mix. I’m In The Mood For Love completes the threesome.
The Paragons My Best Girl will stand out on any compilation. Tasty, funky keyboards bounce alongside the harmonies on the original 45. Toaster Jah Stone takes over as the vocals disappear, taking the track home during its new instrumental breakdown. The smouldering Riding High, again with Stone, is strong. Stone’s toasting elevates proceedings with his verse moving chronologically through the years. Highly effective.
Joya Landis’ sprightly Kansas City has plenty of effects in the mix, with crashes and echoes mingling in with Joya’s voice before Brown’s desk takes over entirely. Nice to see the original woodwind instrumentation used so well.
Brown’s dub mix of Ken Parker’s True True presents an interesting sonic. Most of the drum kit is basically removed whilst the bass guitar rumbles on, leaving only the snap of the snare working with sporadic bursts of guitar, keys and Ken’s warm vocal. Phyllis Dillon has her Get On The Right Track given the treatment. A superb track, funky, sexy and provocative. It is made for extending and comes complete with gorgeous trumpet work, and no toasting.
Disc one closes with a previously unreleased recording of the A-list classic Ali Baba by John Holt.
A stand-out on disc two is The Sensations’ Those Guys. The beautiful, charming and earthy rock steady vocal on the original leads the way before, very gradually, production techniques creep in and the mixing desk stretches the track, with those techniques becoming increasingly prevalent.
Rock steady harmony group The Jamaicans have Peace And Love remixed with sliced vocal takes and dynamic dropouts across the backing. Naughty reggae aunt Nora Dean contributes her ode to sexual frustration, Barbwire. The humour is very much intact, with the backing vocal yelps, calls, cries and phrasing working well. They literally beg for reverb in the mix. The version here is released for the very first time.
The Techniques score another hattrick, with Ranking Trevor electrifying the opener Love Is Not A Gamble. His verse links with the Techniques’ vocal slices with real intent. Travelling Man is an absolute banger and restarts nicely allowing the disco to freestyle. Nice guitar work by Mr Ernest Ranglin. The third track is the floating It’s You I Love, again with a freestyle jam vibe.
Ranking Trevor shines brightly on the first of three using Alton Ellis cuts, You Make Me So Very Happy. The lolloping mix of I Can’t Stand It has the horn continually looped and is consequently hypnotic. Papa Ritchie toasts on Breaking Up, the mix again literally starting up when the original ends. It is full of contemporary sound effects. The disc closes with The Supersonics’ own instrumental version.
Joya Landis Moonlight Lover is the chassis for an excellent dub mix by Brown, Joya’s vocal soaked in echo and reverb with the brass dropping in and out. Phyllis Dillon’s infamous Don’t Touch Me Tomato is given similar treatment, albeit with less vocal slices. Its thunderous melodic bass pattern nails the groove to the floor with stabs from rhythm guitar.
The third disc has the same cast plus rock steady heroes The Melodians, saxophonist Carl Bryan and toaster Jah Thomas.
The Melodians’ classic You Have Caught Me gets a heavyweight mix. Colossal reverb and echo announcing its arrival, the technique repeated throughout. Nice, sparse guitar splices and crisp percussion link with the booming bass. The mix on this occasion, outweighs the original 45.
The Techniques score a brace on disc three – albeit including a Trevor-free second mix of You Don’t Care. The group are teamed with toaster Jah Walton on I Wish It Would Rain.
Alton Ellis’ social commentary Chatty Chatty People is remixed innovatively from the off. Brown does not just wait for the end of the original to start his work. Cry Tough is tremendous, the song and disco indeed having a ruff tuff feel. Echo is used sporadically, with space in the backing. In effect, these recordings often combine the original 45 with their instrumental version B-side. All in a new, shiny twelve-inch disco.
The disco of Holt’s Stealing receives its debut release. The Jamaicans’ world-famous Baba Boom Boom is chopped in half in synth-tastic excitement by Brown. Ken Parker’s I Should Have Known disco is compelling. The effects come and go, with Ken’s pure falsetto utilised and drenched in reverb.
All keep the groove going with voices, effects and instrumentation dropping in and out at will. Simplistic maybe, but several art forms were coming together here in a pioneering, exciting new format.
The disc closes with Jah Thomas and the Supersonics brilliant Musical Best – utilising the fore-mentioned Baba Boom Boom once more as a thrilling example of what I mean.
Classic Treasure Isle cuts were used to record ground-breaking musical forms in 1977. Deejays, mixing desks, extended vinyl – all working on a classic chassis. This collection has the bonus of providing the digital debut for many cuts, including the first release of four of them.
❉ ‘Duke Reid International Disco Series – The Complete Collection’ (Doctor Bird Records DBCDDD075) was released April 9, 2021 by Cherry Red Records, RRP £14.99. Click here to order directly from Cherry Red Records.
❉ 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.