Reggae Britannia – BBC4 Doc Celebrates Reggae’s Influence on British Music and Culture | i-reggae
February 15, 2011 § 3 Comments
It’s quite simply the story of black music in the 20th century, isn’t it? A music style is created and developed. It is ridiculed, ignored and rejected by the industry’s white establishment. It grows in popularity. It is embraced by rebellious white youth. It is co-opted by white musicians. Booyah! It’s suddenly “great sounding music, let’s play some records, shall we?” If you watch the new BBC4 documentary Reggae Britannia, you’ll find that that’s essentially what happened in the UK with the music from Jamaica called reggae. “We completely plundered reggae, without remorse,” admits Stewart Copeland of British rock band The Police, who came to prominence in the mid-70s. But in the 1960s, reggae artists and performers had the darndest time getting any pay for their records, and definitely no play on the radio. “A lot of the deejays had a snobbery towards Jamaican music, and sometimes it bordered on racialism,” says author Steve Barrow. Island Records founder Chris Blackwell reveals that he stopped sending records to the press and the radio because “nobody was interested in them.” Lord Creator, who came up with the classic “Kingston Town,” could only get 10 pounds for his records, with no chance of royalty payments! Even the BBC was the target of criticism in a 1971 protest song by Nicky Thomas, “It’s a Long Walk to the BBC.” Gradually, after a couple of reggae number ones – Desmond Dekker‘s “The Israelites,” and Dave and Ansell Collins‘s “Double Barrel” (featuring a 14 year-old Sly Dunbar on drums!) – and the huge success of the Jimmy Cliff movie The Harder They Come, reggae began to gain a foothold.
Directed by Jeremy Marre (Rebel Music: The Bob Marley Story), Reggae Britannia offers a chronological history of the music’s influence on British culture, music
and society, from Millie Small’s 1964 smash “My Boy Lollipop” to the late 1980s. The filmmaker was able to bring out really candid comments from the likes of the aforementioned Stewart Copeland, the late Sugar Minott, Dub Poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, The Clash’s Paul Simonon, Paul Weller of the Style Council, British reggae group Steel Pulse, Boy George, and many more. It does manage to pay overdue respect to British reggae, although some critics are annoyed about the absence of roots reggae band Misty in Roots (who actually started out as a backing band for Nicky Thomas). Not too sure if Reggae Britannia will be rebroadcast on the Beeb, but you can watch the full documentary online at the blog i-reggae, link below.
This past weekend, the Barbican in London held a Reggae Britannia live concert that was broadcast on BBC4 in advance of their broadcast of this documentary, featuring Ali Campbell of UB40, Dave Barker (Dave and Ansell Collins), Big Youth, Pauline Black, Ken Boothe, and producer Dennis Bovell. It was an event that showed quite literally how black and white could both “vibe in one room,” all thanks to the power of reggae music. It compelled Pauline Black to announce “multiculturalism rules!’ Ha! Take that, David Cameron. Bless…
- Reggae Britannia, Barbican, London (independent.co.uk)