‘Par­ty­ing runs through ev­ery­thing’

The Guardian - G2 - - Lost in showbiz -

In the late 70s, soundsys­tems be­gan blast­ing out dub in Manch­ester dance­halls, pro­vid­ing a cul­tural cor­ner­stone for the black com­mu­nity – and a reg­gae scene to ri­val Lon­don’s. Now it’s in­spir­ing a new gen­er­a­tion. By

In the late 1940s, the roots of reg­gae and dub ar­rived in Bri­tain along with Ja­maican im­mi­grants, even­tu­ally turn­ing the is­land into a lovers’ rock. As West In­dian com­mu­ni­ties set­tled in Brix­ton, Not­ting Hill and Bris­tol’s St Pauls district, Manch­ester was more Ge­orge Formby than Jah, but for those new­com­ers who did make Moss Side, Hulme and Old Traf­ford their home, the sound of their home is­land never changed. Ja­maican cul­ture came to the cob­bles, and King Tubby bass lines would play in the front rooms of ter­raced houses.

“We had a strong mu­si­cal cul­ture that we car­ried with us from Ja­maica,” says Kun­tri Ranks, vo­cal­ist of Dub Smug­glers and for­mer mem­ber of vet­eran soundsys­tem Jah Guide. Ranks has been a voice of Manch­ester since the early 80s – a pro­ces­sion of peo­ple in cars stop to pay their re­spects to him in the street. “It’s in our blood: we grew up see­ing our elders play mu­sic and we tried to repli­cate that as young­sters,” he says as an­other driver waves through the wind­screen.

From the late-70s, reg­gae soundsys­tems – spe­cially built and cus­tomised speaker set­ups – such as Lord Rocket, Cos­mic, Kilo­watt and Baron Turbo Charge made Moss Side’s Reno, the Nile Club, the Moss Side Youth Club and oth­ers week­end refuges. In Old Traf­ford, mean­while, the new vi­bra­tion was the Me­ga­tone soundsys­tem. “When we be­gan, we had the Na­tional Front on the rise and a lot of peo­ple from our com­mu­ni­ties faced racial abuse in the streets,” says Me­ga­tone found­ing mem­ber Mega Dread. “The mu­sic al­lowed us to ex­press our­selves against what was hap­pen­ing in the world. We wanted peo­ple to hear our voice and our feel­ings. There was a lot of love in it, and it cre­ated a har­mony peo­ple ral­lied around.”

Manch­ester is un­recog­nis­able from when Me­ga­tone de­vel­oped their sound, a time of lovers’ rock play­ing in cramped liv­ing rooms and mi­cro­phone show­men hec­tor­ing dance­halls. But Moss Side’s past trou­bles still cloud per­cep­tions of the area. In 1981, the Brix­ton ri­ots, sparked by stop and search poli­cies, were fol­lowed by sim­i­lar un­rest in Moss Side. It was a cat­a­lyst for fur­ther po­lice crack­downs, and be­came a ve­hi­cle for the Na­tional Front’s racist nar­ra­tive.

“My role in the Moss Side ri­ots was get­ting my friends away from there,” says Trevor Roots. He was a reg­u­lar on Moss Side’s Front­line FM, Manch­ester’s first 24/7 reg­gae sta­tion, and now fronts Trevor Roots & the Col­lab­o­ra­tors. “Princess

Road was a war zone. Po­lice cars, petrol bombs, it was hor­ri­ble. It wasn’t Moss Side lo­cals there caus­ing the trou­ble, though, but the back­lash came down on them.”

Few relics of that pe­riod still ex­ist. What stood at the cor­ner of Royce Road and Clay­burn Street dif­fers de­pend­ing on whom you ask: the Rus­sell Club, Caribbean Club, the birth­place of Fac­tory Records. To reg­gae fans, how­ever, it’s the PSV, a so­cial club for off-duty bus driv­ers, and an iconic dance­hall that lives on in grainy Youtube footage of clashes be­tween soundsys­tems from across the UK.

“It was a spe­cial place,” says Ranks, glar­ing at the or­ange-bricked flats that re­placed it.

We are now just up the road sit­ting out­side the Proc­tors Youth Cen­tre in Hulme. It re­mains to­day, even if the dance’s last or­ders have long been called. “These places are corner­stones for the youth,” says Ranks. “Higher pow­ers are very quick to close down a venue where our mu­sic’s be­ing played. We don’t have a chance, it’s not fair, it’s un­bal­anced against us, and when you see those things it makes you wonder …”

He breaks off as he no­tices some­one ap­proach the car win­dow. “It’s not us you want, king,” he says af­ter the man asks: “Are you sell­ing any ...” It’s fol­lowed by a swift “Oh, OK,” and the stranger cy­cles off. “That’s an­other thing, the stereo­typ­ing,” Ranks says. “You can’t get away from it. We’re just liv­ing the best way we can.”

Be­fore the cur­tains fell on these pre­cious Caribbean dance­halls, the clash was where you’d prove your­self, armed with one-of-a-kind dub­plates (an ex­clu­sive ac­etate of a track), and tow­er­ing speaker stacks that made the foun­da­tions trem­ble. “You’d have two sounds who would go at it all night,” says

Tappa Benz of Hus­sla Sound, sat in the front room of his friend’s flat, Ja­maican flag hung on the wall, Count­down on the TV. “Ev­ery orig­i­nal sound had a DJ, a singer and a selec­tor. It wasn’t solely about play­ing your Den­nis Brown records or your dub­plates, you had to en­ter­tain the crowd. If you did that, you smashed it. That was the dance.”

What did Manch­ester do dif­fer­ently? “Lon­don’s the cap­i­tal, but Manch­ester has swing,” Benz says. “We’re some of the most crit­i­cal peo­ple, and you come here to prove your­self. If we boo you, it’s game over, and when we’re in a clash, we pin­point cer­tain things that will cut you deep when we speak on the mic. We don’t have to prove any­thing, and that’s why we’re the best at it.”

“We have some of the best dancers here in Manch­ester,” says Earl Free­dom of the “orig­i­nal dub ad­ver­tis­ers” Free­dom Masses, who also in­cluded Clive and Yasin Free­dom, both nod­ding in agree­ment be­side him. Ow­ing their mu­si­cal ed­u­ca­tion to late men­tor Pres­i­dent Sound, Free­dom Masses came to­gether at Old Traf­ford’s Great Stone Road school in the early 80s. Clive spent his youth build­ing speaker boxes

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.