Jimmy London: ‘Bridge Over Troubled Waters’

❉ There’s much to enjoy in this beautifully pure album, complemented with rare grooves from Randy’s Records.

“Released two years after the massively successful Simon and Garfunkel album of the same name, the record was nonetheless a huge hit in Jamaica. It performed exceptionally well in the UK reggae charts. The title track topped the Jamaican hit parade, with the album providing two more island hits, Shake a Hand, and A Little Love. The latter is effectively Jimmy’s signature tune and is expressive and emotive with its percussive touch providing true character.”

Jimmy London was born Trevor Shaw in Redwood, Jamaica, in November 1949. His mother moved to Kingston when Trevor was a small boy. However, mother and son were reunited later when Trevor moved to the capital in 1967. He met up with Billy Dyce (aka Ranny), and The Inspirations were born. Legendary vocalist Roy Shirley gave the duo plenty of guidance and an introduction to Karl ‘Sir J.J.’ Johnson, who released The Inspirations’ debut single I Need Money.

Unfortunately, it bombed, and the duo ended up at Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s door. Tighten Up was the first product of the new working relationship and was a runaway success. However, despite the fantastic follow-up, You Know What I Mean, the relationship soured, and the duo moved to Joe Gibbs’ Pressure Beat. No further hits transpired and eventually The Inspirations split, and the pair went separate ways.

In 1971 Jimmy forged a relationship with Clive Chin, the son of Vincent ‘Randy’ Chin who owned Randy’s Record Mart in Kingston. A well-known, nay essential hang-out for aspiring and established musicians – ‘if your tune ain’t distributed by Randy’s your tune ain’t going nowhere.’

A shrewd move on Jimmy’s part. Randy’s record label was born out of the store and was soon providing hit after hit, issuing in the UK via Trojan. Much of this is showcased in this collection. This Doctor Bird package is, as ever, complete with period photographs and informative sleeve notes from Harry Hack. Let’s tune in.

1972’s Bridge Over Troubled Waters is a beautifully pure record. Jimmy’s voice is crystal and soulful, emanating feeling with every word projected. The backing is spacious, edgy yet gloriously melodious, almost dreamlike ease on the ear.

Released two years after the massively successful Simon and Garfunkel album of the same name, the record was none the less a huge hit in Jamaica. It performed exceptionally well in the UK reggae charts. The title track topped the Jamaican hit parade, with the album providing two more island hits, the fore-mentioned Shake a Hand, and A Little Love. The latter is effectively Jimmy’s signature tune and is expressive and emotive with its percussive touch providing true character.

All three hits share important features crucial to top pop music; lyrics that are easy to relate to, easy to follow and presented with minimum fuss and maximum impact. Jimmy’s Bridge Over Troubled Waters (the song) stands tall next to the enormity of the original. It opens the album and this collection, and though it may lack some of the orchestral drama and Art Garfunkel’s vocal histrionics, it is an interpretation that is very much Jimmy’s own. It has honest, unruffled vocal delivery, presented in a celestial manner, with the music showcasing the island’s groove.

There are two more classic songs given a do-over on the album. Both the Temptations’ Just My Imagination and Elvis Presley’s It’s Now Or Never get similar treatment, and it is again a huge compliment to Jimmy to say his effortless vocal stands proud. Every word, every beat, oozes from the speakers.

Elsewhere, Jamboree, the fourth cut on side one of the original vinyl issue, is smouldering and mournful, articulating a young man’s longing to attend the said jamboree – but meeting the resistance of his mother. Hanging Up My Heart is funky, with melodic lead bass rumbling from the sound system. It works fantastically with Jimmy’s silvery tone. Make The Night A Little Longer is up-tempo dance joy, with superb falsetto backing vocals on the chorus. To be fair, the backing singing throughout is wonderful, working in genuine harmony with Jimmy’s lead lines. This is in evidence on Walk With Love. Nice rhythmic wah-wah guitar in its middle eight, also.

A classic Jimmy London original, They Don’t Know, closes the album. It is a story of the pain of singing certain songs. The audience, impressed by the man on the stage, not realising the heartache those songs bring to the singer. Tragic. But a great, introspective tune.

The bonus cuts kick in with the groove of Hip Hip Hooray. A lively snatch of roots reggae, an ode to Jamaican people, the flag and to its festivals. Speaking of which, Jimmy’s entry into the 1972 Jamaican Song Contest, Jamaican Festival 1972, follows, with the same keyboard riff as the previous track. Another bustling number which finished runner-up in the infamous contest to Toots and the Maytals. Both numbers were penned by Jimmy, credited to his birthname.

More convincing reggae do-overs, Dusty Springfield’s I’ll Never Find Another You and Sam Cooke’s Sad Mood bring an end to Jimmy London’s tracks on the collection. The resonant piano on the latter jumps out above a fabulous, deep bass line yet leaves space for Jimmy to operate. Which as ever, he does in his own smooth, poignant and dulcet manner.

The remainder of disc one is taken up by an unreleased Trojan album entitled A Little Love. These are a selection of recordings made in 1972 and released on Randy’s Record Mart in the UK, and on Impact in Jamaica. And underlining the importance of Randy’s Record Mart, there are some big names involved.

Renowned bassist with The Revolutionaries and The Professionals, amongst others, and solo singer Lloyd Parks opens the unreleased album with Stars, a cut with angelic, pure backing vocals. Especially in the way the word ‘devotion’ is sung. Nice keys too. The track bookends the album with its own ‘version’ courtesy of legendary producer Dennis Alcapone.

A youthful Max Romeo is featured backed by the heavenly harmonies of The Freedom Group on Sing A Song Of Freedom. A great performance from Max on a number that has a simple and direct lyric for people all over the world. Somehow, this track has slipped through the net over time.

The remaining tracks involve the Impact All Stars. Every Jamaican studio and label had their own in-house band, usually involving a liquid set of musicians often moving from studio to studio. And from label to label. Members included Winston Wright (The Dynamites, the Revolutionaries on organ), Ansell Collins (The Revolutionaries and Dave & Ansell Collins, keyboards), Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett (Bob Marley, bass) and Vincent and Clive Chin themselves. Saxophonist and founder-Skatalite, Tommy McCook guests on the slightly haunting Harvest In The East. There is also a steady do-over of Down By The Riverside.

Disc two is entitled to Randy’s Reggae, 1971-1973. Again, it is crammed with household names. The Ethiopians get the disc underway with the chirpy Free Man. A classic really, also known as Peanut Shell, backed in the US by a version of Mr Tom, the original of which is included later. Despite taking up the reggae tempo, the group’s sound still has a rough and melodic rocksteady style to it. This is particularly prevalent on the slower Sad News. There is a quintet of Ethiopians’ tracks on the disc – the quick and funky Me Want Gal, and classic reggae stomper Rim Bim Bam complete the line-up.

Particularly important is track number four, Java, by Augustus Pablo and the Impact All Stars. It was a massive Jamaican hit, and included harmonies from the vocal group The Chosen Few featuring Errol Brown. Pablo’s trademark melodica is prominent as is the cool guitar work. The cut was voted ‘Top Instrumental Record’ on the island in 1972 and is an early example of dub reggae, with the mixing desk adding plenty. Incidentally, the word ‘Java!’ is repeated chant-style and is the only ‘lyric’ in this ‘instrumental’. It has its own version, inevitably, by the in-house band. And another deejay version courtesy of Dennis Alcapone, Mava. Cracking stuff.

‘Godfather of Rocksteady’ Anton Ellis provides a touch of gold with the wonderful chorus and love story on Too Late To Turn Back Now. The fact Anton featured on a new dub album in 2020 with Jimmy London emphasizes that this music always has a future and strangely, these vintage collections underline this fact.

Bridge Over Troubled Waters is another quality collection. By taking the golden voice of Jimmy London and joining it with the likes of Dennis Brown, Messrs Dillon and Taylor from The Ethiopians, Anton Ellis and Max Romeo and many more, Doctor Bird have indulged us. With the addition of vibrant early dub and swashbuckling in-house band instrumentals, there is plenty to love.

Jimmy London: ‘Bridge Over Troubled Waters’ – Original Album Expanded (DBCDD070) released 8 January 2021, 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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