As a bookend to an exciting week of Marley-related posts, I leave you with one of my favorite articles by noted journalist and Wailers superfan and biographer Vivien Goldman“Jah Punk: New Wave Digs Reggae” was published in Sounds on September 3, 1977-the year of the punk.  It discusses the relationship between the Rasta and punk movements-a relationship that was first documented in song by both Bob Marley and UK poet/musician Linton Kwesi Johnson.  By 1977, the punk movement in the UK was in full effect and Marley memorialized the movement in the song Punky Reggae Party.

“Punky Reggae Party” did not appear on any studio album.  It was released as the b-side to the Jammin’ single in some countries and was later released as a live single on Babylon by Bus. Subsequently, it appeared on a number of compilations and ‘Best of’ albums as well as the Deluxe Edition of Exodus and the 2002 CD Reissue of Legend.

The song was written by Bob Marley as a positive response to the release of a cover version of Junior Murvin‘s “Police and Thieves” by English punk band The Clash, on their first LP.  Referring to the party of the title of the song, the lyrics mention several punk and reggae groups: “The Wailers will be there, The Damned, The Jam, The Clash – Maytals will be there, Dr. Feelgood too.”

The song was referred to in the Sublime song “Garden Grove” and the Robyn Hitchcock song “Antwoman.”

In addition to providing this rare article, I have included several versions of “Punky Reggae Party” and a documentary titled Exodus 1977, which chronicles this volatile year through the music of Exodus.. Enjoy!

Click here to read on Issuu.

Jah Punk: New Wave Digs Reggae
Vivien Goldman, Sounds, 3 September 1977

‘We’re gonna have a punky reggae party…the Wailers will be there, the Slits, the Feelgoods, and the Clash…’

‘Black people are being supressed and we are being supressed, we’ve got something in common’


‘It’s the first white movement that I can relate to as a black man’


‘We’re not given a chance. The record companies just pussy foot around instead of investing’


IT WAS the red, green and gold Patti Smith button that clinched it for me. I was walking in to the lumbering grey Hackney Town Hall for the Rock Against Racism gig with Generation X and the Cimarons on the same bill, and there was this regulation blue-haired punk with the abovementioned button on, and there was Dennis Morris, the Jamaican photographer, formerly reggae-pix-a-speciality, fresh from snapping Scandinavia with the Sex Pistols walking into this punky reggae party with me, and…

One of those divine flashed where all the energy line’s fuse and the outlines stand crystal clears. It goes something like this:

1. Basic premise: Jamaican music is to punk music what r’n’b music was to 60’s beat groups. The Rolling Stones cut the Valentinos’ ‘It’s All Over Now’, the Beatles cut Barrett Strong’s ‘Money’, the Clash cut Junior Murvin’s ‘Police And Thieves’, and Generation X do a reggae-style dub version of their own song ‘Listen’ on the John Peel show, guitars showering in shattered fragments on the airwaves.

2. Yet more evidence. Patti Smith bouncing around clapping her hands in excitement in her bedroom at Blakes Hotel when Lenny Kaye walks in the room to say they’ve tracked down their favourite reggae toaster Tapper Zukie and he’s gonna come and visit ’em backstage for their second night at the Hammersmith Odeon. In the event, Tapper joins them onstage and toasts along with ’em, with Don Letts, rasta DJ at the Roxy, the original punk club, helping out on drums. Later, Patti and Lenny fly Tapper out to New York to be a kind of roots consultant for their projected revival of the Mer label.

Don Letts and Bob Marley

The Clash go into the CBS studios with Lee Perry, the magical mystery Jamaican producer, whose crystalline star war productions are impossible to reproduce, and cut ‘Complete Control’.

That same week Bob Marley’s in town recovering from yet another football injury to his big toe. I walk into the room carrying a copy of the Clash album with their Westway rocka ‘Police And Thieves’ on it – remember, Lee Perry (let’s call him Scratch) not only worked with Marley but also cut the original version of ‘Police And Thieves’ with falsetto-swooping Junior Murvin.

Markey grunts, clocking the long player and my newly bleached hair. “Wha’ appen, Viveen? You turn into punk-rocka?” he teases, inference being it couldn’t be more uncouth. “You shoulda change your hair to red, green and gold!”

That’s next week, Jah B. Now, just check these sounds awhile…Marley and Scratch are both surprised. Impressed. “It good, t’raas claat!”

And the week after that I’m in a listening room at Basing Street Studios, and Bob’s voice is rolling in magical command out of the huge speakers: “We’re gonna have a party, and we hope it will be hearty, it’s a punky reggae party…the Wailers will be there, the Slits, the Feelgoods and the Clash…rejected by society, treated with impunity, protected by their dignity, it’s a punky reggae party…”

I’m not sure how many punks, in it to have fun, would recognise themselves in Marley’s typically emotion/politics charged description, but it sums up the crucial reason why punk and reggae are linked – when you get right down to it, punks and dreadlocks are on the same side of the fence.

Bluntly, who gets picked up in the street by the police? Answer: those natty dreads and crazy baldheads. Girl choruses syncopate behind Marley’s throbbing, dangerous lead vocals “new wave, new craze, Jah Punk…” Thanks for the title, Bob.

Bob Marley and Lee Perry both said it, sitting in the thick white carpeted luxury of Basing Street. “The punks are the outcasts from society. So are the rastas. So they are bound to defend what we defend,” Marley paused, flexing his arms. He’s wearing a bright blue tracksuit, and he’d just finished telling us why he wears just tracksuits and faded denims onstage. It’s because he doesn’t want to wear flash clothes that the youth will admire, envy, and feel frustrated ‘cos they can’t have.

Remember all those declarations in the early days of punk that echo his sentiments? Anti-chic, poor people’s fashions, dustbin liner chic. If you can’t afford a packet of safety-pins, you can pick ’em up in the street…

“In a way, me like see them safety-pins and t’ing,” Marley continued. “Me no like do it myself, y’understand, but me like see a man can suffer pain without crying.”


Apart from the fact that all the original safety-pin brigade faked it, that comment spotlights a heavy difference in punk/rasta attitudes.

To understand it precisely, just think about the different and contrasting names of reggae bands and punk bands.

Culture…The Only Ones Tradition…Generation X

It’s so clear – the first generation Jamaican bands of disaffected youth seek their identity by looking beyond their parents heritage – they seek to understand by probing deeper and deeper into the roots of their cultural heritage for wisdom. Similarly with the music, the rootsier the better.

In contrast, the punk bands are the lost generation, the misfits, the outsiders, who struggle to forge a new set of rules for life. They want the right to work; the rastas want truths and rights; where the old generation just asked – have I the right to kiss you?

In case anyone wonders why young black kids have a deeper need to impose some meaning on life, Delroy Washington’s lyrics (from his new Virgin album, Rasta) say it all – “Brothers in trouble can’t find no job pressure is on them so they gotta rob…you’re on the outside looking in, you think you’re seeing but your vision is dim, brothers in trouble can’t stop to rest, when the pressure’s on it’s like a pain in the neck, can’t find no work, can’t find no job, living is hard in a Babylon, you’re on the outside looking in…”

Brought up on tales of the beauty of Jamaica by parents who emigrated here under the illusion that if the streets weren’t paved with gold, they could at least give their kids a better life, and found themselves living on the dole in the cold, cheerless streets of Brixton or Ladbroke Grove.

If you’re gonna be poor, you might as well be poor in the sunshine. Not surprising that first generation English kids of Jamaican descent prefer to hook up with the last bit of the description – especially since this country hasn’t exactly welcomed Jamaicans with open arms.

Matumbi’s Webster Johnson described to me in almost painful detail the shock he felt when he asked a girl at school out for a date, and she turned to him and said – “What are you – crazy? I wouldn’t go out with you, you’re black!” Webster’s parents had never warned him about racism; they hadn’t wanted to encourage him to approach white English people with suspicion.

The Clash, along with Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols, have been the most vocal supporters of reggae. Their manager, Bernard Rhodes, used to have a record shop specialising in reggae records in Kilburn, an area of North West London with a strong Jamaican community. He’s watched the growth of reggae in this country with a special interest.

“A lot of it’s due to the fact that soul lost a lot of its impact, so reggae picked up more people automatically. There were no other records to listen to. And somehow the two movements have become great friends. Like, bands and people involved have the same identity crises in both camps. To me, reggae gives the emotional rhythm and punks give the dynamic vocabulary.

“But the difference is, at last year’s Carnival in Notting Hill, I watched the black kids run along the road picking up bricks, bottles and planks, and while they were running they kept on coming across new sound systems giving out spiritual Jah Rastafari music. So they were getting the spirit, all they needed was the means to carry it out – like the bricks. We’ve got the means to carry it out but we lack the spirit.”

ROUGH TRADE Records, in Kensington Park Road, is literally the only shop in London to specialise in punk and reggae.

Their mail-order newsletter is instant proof that Geoff Travis, who controls the shop, has an equal love and insight into both forms of music. He’s been helped lately by Richard Scott, a long-hair ex-architect, who is coincidentally the manager of Third World, the Jamaican reggae/soul fusion band. They’re perfectly situated to observe the relation between the two musics, since punks and rastas that normally never meet hang out together in the shop.

Geoff: “You just need to play something brilliant to people with an open mind, and they’ll appreciate it. More white people would have listened to reggae long ago, except that so much reggae is released every day, and so much of it is completly cornball- ridden M.O.R., that most shops didn’t know where to begin in sorting out the brilliant stuff and stocking it. I mean, we’ve sold 100 copies of Culture’s 2 7’s Clash album on import from Jamaica, and only 15 copies of Bob Marley’s Exodus…”

Richard: “Punks are usually quite new record-buyers in the 12-20 age group. They’re an uncommitted market who haven’t decided which way to go. But they know they want things that are immediate, honesty which they don’t find in 90% of general releases. So it’s very easy to understand why Culture fits in side by side with the Desperate Bicycles.

Larry Clarke of the Non-Stop Music Centre, a reggae shop in Blenheim Crescent (round the corner from Rough Trade), pointed out the punks who come into his shop are usually only into the heaviest dub rhythms. “They’re just not interested in the commercial stuff.”

And it’s the heavy, heavy dub that almost invariably carries the message of Jah Rastafari, of spiritual enlightenment. Not that it necessarily falls on receptive ears.

Paul Simonon is the bass player with the Clash. He typifies one reason for the sudden surge of young white interest in black Jamaican music. A former skinhead, he went to primarily black schools – William Penn in South London, (“Sticksman [i.e. robber] school dat” observed d.j. and film maker Rasta Donovan Letts) and Isaac Newton in Ladbroke Grove.

“I started listening to ska at the Streatham Locarno every Saturday night with my friends. Everyone of my own age was listening to the kind of ska you heard on the radio, like Desmond Dekker. Then when I moved to the Grove I started hearing reggae again, ‘It Mek’ and ‘Long Shot Kick The Bucket’ by the Pioneers. There was only one other white Kid in the entire school. That’s when I started hearing dub, like Rupie Edwards.

“Reggae, punk, it’s not like most of the stuff you hear on the radio. It’s something you can relate to, kids your own age – they’ve got their battles, we’ve got ours. Black people are still being suppressed, we are being suppressed, so we’ve got something in common.

“But personally, all that about Rastafari bores me. Kids can relate to us singing about social things, like some reggae does, because they’re living it. If we started singing about God, it would be fantasy, like it’s all green when you die because you’ve been good. I don’t think there ever would be a God-music punk band, because punks want to tear down everything that’s establishment, like church and police.”

TREVOR BOW is the lean, skeleton-faced singer with the Sons Of Jah, who just scored a reggae hit with ‘Tell Them Jah Son’ on Grove Records. We’re sittting round a table in the back room of the Metro Club, an ILEA funded Youth Centre and unofficial Ladbroke Grove community centre just down the road from Westbourne Park tube station. Trevor strums a guitar and thinks aloud.

“To me, the punks are the conscience of society. That’s why Babylon can’t stand them. I would definitely play a gig with a punk band, but – me is a man like hear people hail Rastafari. Like when the people clap and things that’s nice too, but me like it with the youth down at Metro seh HAIL Rastafari!” his face thrills in reflex response to the instant spiritual high.

Chaka, doe-eyed guitarist and main singer for Aswad had been sitting by that same table a couple of hours earlier, discussing the advent of punk music on his life with George, Aswad’s bassplayer.

“The way I check the punks, it’s just what were skinheads in a different form, because they used to check for reggae music too. But at that time many black youths didn’t know about rasta. Now we’ve sighted rasta and we have our culture, we’re moving in one direction and they’re still trying to find one for themselves. They’re the sons and daughters of Babylon – by that I mean they were born in this country – who have sighted up and say, we don’t want no more of this. And the only way they can do it is to move completely away, they turn against their parents. Like the Scriptures say, sons against fathers, daughters against mothers…

“We want to play more concerts with punk bands, (Aswad were the first roots band to do it, when they toured with Eddie and the Hot Rods last year) but you have to be careful to find the right clubs. And then you have to promote it in two different ways, one for the punks and the blacks, so that they’ll both know what a go on. But I and I’s not hypocrite, we want it, that’s what we sing about and so of course we want to do it – one love, one unity.”

George leaning perilously back in his chair guffaws – “See my trousers now? They’re done up with a safety-pin and man call me a punk. But it’s the same with the holes in my t-shirt – I wear it like that because I haven’t got another. The punks do that to be outrageous…” Not always true, but those mohair jumpers with prefab holes do cost £26.00…

Chaka: “Yes, Rastafari strictly…humble, y’know? Discipline. It’s opposite ends of the scale. We have to get to the centre of it to sort it out because we’re under the same pressure. The directions may seem opposite, but really they’re parallel.”


WHETHER your destination is Zion or CBGB’s, it seems like we’re on the way. One thing rastas and punks are in complete agrement on. Marcus Garvey prophecied that in ’77 events would come to a head as Culture describe in ‘2 7’s Clash’. Unbeknownst to them, Joe Strummer was yelling, “In 1977, I want to get to heaven, ‘cos I’ve been too long on the dole…”

In other words, ’77 may be the year when everybody will be so disappointed if some kind of shit doesn’t hit some kind of fan that they’ll do something to make it happen.

Since Rasta Donovan Letts began playing reggae at the Roxy Club, reggae music is the staple dance sound at every punk club. Don says, “That’s why punk is so interesting – it’s the first white movement I can relate to as a black man without feeling like I’m doing some kind of black and white minstrel show.”

It was on account of Don that the Roxy was staffed largely by dreadlooks youth. Because there weren’t enough good punk sounds for him to play, he started playing the music he loved – reggae – and soon found that the kids were coming up and requesting obscure one-off Jamaican pre-releases, and then started bringing in their own fresh-from-Jamdown discs. It was at the Roxy that many punks discovered that there were more highs than speed.

There’s no such thing as coincidence. Elroy, the bass player with Black Slate, one of the most aggressive, militant and exciting young roots bands was drinking mint tea and eating egg on toast in my kitchen when he reminisced about leaving school at sixteen:

“I was learning to do clerical work – it sickens my head now to think of it: Then I worked at a brush firm making brooms. It was supposed to be – opportunities!” Elroy laughs, but he sounds cynical as all get out. “There were four different stages. I was in the finishing stage first, then I was supposed to get a break and learn to be a spindle operator, but” his voice drops to a sardonic whine, “it’s an extremely dangerous operation because your finger could get cut off…”

Sounds familiar? Remember how Mick Jones the Clash guitar man was inspired to write ‘Career Opportunities’ after he was offered a Post Office job sorting through the mail to look for letter bombs?

Elroy continues, “Notice, they put me in the finishing stages first.”


ONE OF the greatest effects of the punk movement is the way it’s encouraged women to get out there and play. Siouxsie and her Banshees, the Slits (who incidentally were once managed by rasta Don Letts,) Snatch (who are or were, they’ve just split, the only punk band with a bona fide reggae musician – Phil Ramocon, the jazzy keyboards player who doubles in Rico’s band,) and X Ray Spex are four of the most visible examples.

I was always conscious of the fact that there aren’t any militant sisters getting out there and playing in reggae, but don’t worry – it’s coming. Angela plays keyboards and Grace sings with Brimstone, a reggae band that’s just starting on the road.

Grace, Angela and myself sat in ballad-singer King Sounds’ car outside Angela’s flat, arguing those same old arguments…Rasta is a notoriously sexist creed, not that the punks-in-the-street are necessarily different, and King Sounds proved that he’ll be top of the list when the right time comes.

The basic argument is this. Man was first on earth, according to the Bible. Woman was second, almost an afterthought, and was added for the specific purpose of keeping house and breeding. She’s intrinsically inferior, and incredible though it may seem to all you gals in SOUNDSland reading this, there are a lot of bright rasta women generally known as sisters, or daughters, who blithely agree.

“You can never make me believe I’m equal to man!” Sister Judah, a sparkling, talkative rasta woman exclaimed in a shocked voice outside the Twelve Tribes Of Israel meeting place in South London. All the rasta men standing round nodded sagely and asked me why I was wearing overalls – did I think I was a man or something? No, it’s not that, it’s just that they’re work clothes, see it? And I work.

No effect.

Anyway, back to the car. I explained to King Sounds that there were two ways of construing the facts set out in the Bible. To me it seemed just as, if not more, likely that woman was the new, improved, streamlined version of man incorporating all the good points and adding a few more.

Another argument invalidated.

King Sounds was staggered at my cheek.

“But of course women are inferior!” he yelled, as if his whole world was on the verge of disintegrating if he didn’t get this sorted out right now (and how right he is…) “Women were put on earth to breed! That’s why there aren’t more women musicians! They were put on this earth to fuck! Don’t listen to her, girls!”

Grace and Angela turned slowly and stared at each other. Angela said, “I never thought you felt that way. I hope you don’t start treating me like that,” and started getting out of the car. “Pay no attention to Vivien,” Sounds called out, “she’s talking from the devil!”

Angela’s neat perky locks bobbed back through the window. “I don’t need to listen to her. I have my own thoughts. But I agree.” Chant down Babylon, sisters.

APART from the Letts-instigated tradition of reggae records between sets, the main impetus for punk enthusiasm for reggae is down to the musicians. The Clash definitely lead the way – their cover of ‘Police And Thieves’ is the strongest vinyl evidence to date of new wave sympathy for their black peer group. Even down to the shot of the rioting under the Westway at the ’76 Notting Hill Carnival on their album sleeve, the Clash have always laid their souls on the red, green and gold line. Bernie Rhodes was right when he described them as “a roots band.”

Johnny Rotten, turned on by his old friend John Grey, may not have done exactly that, but the influence of his recent Capital Radio interview may well prove to be incalculable.

The shock of hearing Dr. Alimantado’s exquisite rhythm and melody as he sings, “If you feel that you’ve got no reason for living, don’t determine my life,” was heightened as Johnny calmly told the peak-time listening audience that when he got home after being beaten up in the street, this was the single he put on to soothe his soul.

Dr. Alimantado wrote this song after being knocked over by a bus driver who, the Doc feels sure, psyched right out of the good driver’s code when he saw Tado’s natty, natty dreadlocks flying in the breeze. The sentiments extended over distant seas and wound up applying to a punk-rock musician with devastating accuracy. Personally, once the initial shock of hearing the Culture pre-release was over, it was a joyful experience simply because it proved how great roots reggae sounds on the radio, liberated from the ghetto stigma of A Reggae Show (necessary though they are, what with the crummy backward thinking of all radio bods with the exception of our own Jah Peel, Johnny was leaning nonchalantly/watchfully against the back wall of The Other Cinema waiting for the Slits to appear when I went up and told him how great the show had been.

“It’s only what I listen to at home, what the great mass of the British public ought to be able to hear but can’t,” Johnny said, semi-ironic, semi-bitter, very pointed.

Do you mainly check for dub, militant stuff, or do you listen to the lovers music too? “I listen to everything. I love music, and I make very sure I know all about it.”

No jestering. I remembered when Rotten had laid into me backstage at the Roundhouse one day for not being up to date because I’d only just reviewed Pablo Moses’ ‘Revolutionary Dream’, – just available on British release, it had been knocking around for months on Jamaican (i.e. expensive) pre-release.

Squished up against the wall of The Other Cinema, punks to the right of us, punks to the left of us, Johnny talked about British reggae bands like the Cimarons with a sensitivity and insight that proved he takes his music as a serious thing.

“I don’t like the idea of a lot of emphasis on punk and reggae. That way both the musics could get diluted.”

Johnny is fearful of reggae becoming the latest in thing, a trendy bandwagon – “I’ve seen how the punk movement was almost killed by the media, I’d hate it to happen to reggae too.”

But I reckon there’ll always be an underground roots scene. And for the moment, it’s a case of reggae bands simply being able to survive, to eat, to keep a roof over their heads, like the Diamonds sing. Besides, they really want to have their music heard. Surely you, of all people, can tune in to that – dodging round the country playing under assumed names because of The Pressure, I’ll bet that wasn’t how you imagined it was gonna be in the pre-100 Club days. You must be under more pressure than anyone in this cinema…

Johnny’s deathshead smile lights up. “If you mean, do I get knifed more than anybody else, yes, that’s true…”


“WE’VE just come from playing in Scotland, and there’s a lot of people who want to see punk rock up there but other people won’t let them. That’s persecution, to me. That’s what tonight’s about too, people being persecuted for looking different.”

BILLY IDOL yelled at the audience at Hackney Town Hall. Friendly strong men stood two-deep, arms linked to hold back rabidly enthusiastic nay, hysterical, Generation X fans. It was a triumphant set for Gen-X, alarming for anyone liable to be knocked over in the excitement. Meanwhile the Cimarons were cooling out in a brown-leather panelled council meeting room, thwacking dominoes on the oak refectory table with stylish body movements and warlike whoops – just like back home in Jamaica, where dominoes are played in every back street at night, lanterns flickering on rickety card tables.

The Cimarons sauntered on stage. When you’ve been playing together for a decade, getting audiences up and cheering from Japan to Germany to Jamaica to the Apollo, Harlesden, you don’t get neurotic about following up a barnstormer set.

The sudden adjustment in rhythm and tempo might have thrown some of the audience – for a lot of the predominantly white punk audience it was their first exposure to live reggae – but it was well cool, the way the pogo people at the front who’d been damaging the rather fragile stage with full frontal hurls started to shift their hips in new rocking beat.

And then, a jam, suggested with slight diffidence by Red, the Rock Against Racism organiser, and enthusiastically received by the Cimarons and Gen-X both.

It started out with just Tony James playing bass with the Cimarons, and wound up a wholesale ital stew – Derwood, Gen-X guitarist laying into neo-reggae drums, singer Billy Idol playing guitar, with Locksley Gitchie, the Cimarons guitarist, flashing those great horses-hoofs Upsetters ska style cymbals.

Nobody wanted to stop playing; the Slickers’ great ‘Johnny Too bad’ (hear it on Island’s Harder They Come soundtrack album) even Tapper Zukie’s ‘M.P.L.A’, hit highs of energy, foaming over as the whole hall chanted ‘black, white, unite’.

Tony James lay back, on his bed later on at home, coming down slow after the emotional sweep of the gig.

“It was so great to be playing along with reggae drums after trying to play reggae bass alone in your bedroom,” he sighed, blissed-out.

“I really want to apply reggae techniques to rock and roll. I don’t want to be a white guy playing reggae, I want to play our songs, but understand what they do with production, use the way they leave gaps – like you have a switch that applies treble, I’d like a switch to put more gaps in…

“From the bass point of view, I love the way they keep up the rhythm – like you’re still nodding, but the bass player’s stopped playing. Thats what I wanna be, I want to see punks pogoing but I’m not playing! Because the rhythm’s still in your head.

“You know, they’re the only guys who are taking music and using ’77 production ideas to create something different – like you have a version, and a dub of the version…you create some sort of other music from the original, like the Beatles did with the backward tapes in Sergeant Pepper. It’s real exciting – all I want for Christmas is an Eventide Digital Delay Unit…

“Only thing is, it’s hard to play dub at punk rock speed, ‘cos by the time you’ve left a gap, the song’s over!”

Too true, rasta. I could almost hear the nail being hit on the head repeating itself all round the room, dub-wise.

Over To Carl Levy, Cimarons’ organist, to elaborate on the distinctly one-way traffic in punk/rasta listening habits. That is, the punks listen to reggae, but rastas never, generally, listen to punk music.

“It freezes the mind, when it hits you. It’s suddenly being exposed to total volume all the time. Reggae’s more orientated around the bottom, the bass, it’s closer to the ground. Punk music is more toppy. That’s why there’s no way you could get that screechy kind of volume in reggae.”

I told Carl about Tony’s ideas for using Jamaican production techniques in new wave music. He was silent for a second. He appeared touched, moved even, by the spontaneous gesture of musical respect. It’s nice to be appreciated.

“You see, we have a lot to offer, but we’re not given the scope, not given the chance. Reggae isn’t a trend, or a fashion. It’s an audacity the way the major record labels have always seen it, pussyfooting around, getting a little thing together on the side. They just – try a thing, instead of investing in it in the right way so the people involved can grow…”


EVEN WHILE Carl was speaking he was aware that times are on the move. After all, the Cimarons have already been offered deals by two major international labels. Although not specifically linked with a black or white militant movement, they’ve built up a very verbal and enthusiastic white following through having been the first reggae band to consistently play on white territory. Their Gen-X gig wasn’t a new experience – the Cimarons made a lot of converts to reggae when they played with the Jam at the Royal College of Art earlier this year.

That Rock Against Racism gig was the culmination of a series of punk/reggae gigs over the last 18 months. It started out with Aswad supporting the Rods on that ill-fated tour last year – Aswad claim they were thrown off the tour by their former record company, Island, because they’d blown the Rods off the stage at some gigs, and been treated with hostility by other audiences who hadn’t been exposed to reggae and had ears only for Barrie Masters. Plus a certain amount of standing up for their rights with regard to soundchecks and the like.

Then there was the time when Generation X played a hilarious set at the reggae club Noreik, to an audience of SOUNDS staffers (the Noreik’s just a gob away from Holloway Road,) and the Clash – no advertising.

Cimarons plus Jam felt good, but it was like – well, here’s a reggae band. And now, here’s a punk band.

The Slits/Steel Pulse gig at Clouds, a mainly black disco, in Brixton, felt very different. Deliberate. Conscious. Both bands knew that in playing together in this particular environment, they were doing something radical. Steel Pulse had already shown an almost uncanny affinity with punk audiences when they supported Generation X at the Vortex, a white punk club. The appearance of the Slits attracted a whole bunch of punks down to a club they’d normally be wary of entering, so that for once you had the unusual sight of a half-black, half-white audience.

The success of the night (which would have been better attended if it hadn’t been so extremely expensive to get in,) was, natch, down to two extremely hot sets. It looked like it was the first taste of punks for most of the blacks there, and they were very obviously staggered at Arianna singing refrains from the newest Jamaican pre-release singles between numbers – they weren’t to know that the Slits listen to loads of reggae, used to be managed by a Rasta (Don Letts,) still have a Rasta roadie, and selected this gig as a place they felt they’d actually enjoy playing.

The Slits are (for me, blissfully) the antithesis of the Rasta ideal of a kinder-kuche-kirche good little woman. They’re aggressively free in the way they move onstage, the energy of their playing, and very much a threat to male complacency simply by relishing playing/being with each other at least as much as being with a man.

When Arri screamed “UNDER HEAVY MANNERS AND DISCIPLINE!” a basic Rasta catchphrase, bouncing up and down like an ecstatically pogoing scarecrow, the Jamaican male contingent almost dropped their glasses of Red Stripe in shock.

Steel Pulse, even David the militant one, acted like they’d seen a coach-load of duppies (Jamaican ghosts) when the Slits roared into a rather dull photo session, jumping round in ferocious union just like Jimmy Cliff in his gangster suit and t’ing in The Harder They Come, like they were all enriched with nourishing marrowbone jelly and Steel Pulse had been stuck with brand x.’

By the time Stevenson had finished shots, Steel Pulse had found the groove too. Just another instance of the way cultural interchange can be fun, and also result in finer art.

OK, Looking back over this article it reads like there’s a suspicious amount of sweetness and light going down in the way of co-operation. In all fairness, every punk and every rasta I spoke to at least expressed an interest in the counterpart movement, an awareness of some kind of link. But Geoff from Rough Trade also told me that he’s had beer glasses thrown at him for playing reggae records at punk gigs.

It’s not that I think we’ll be hearing reggae sounds that last three minutes of treble-quick time, or punk sounds that vanish and suddenly re-appear just behind your left ear.

It’s just that something’s going on, and we might as well try and understand what it is. New young reggae bands are springing up as exuberantly as punk bands, and more and more bands are trying to break down the traditional dividing lines between black turf and white turf. Not to try and imitate each other, just to get a hit off the other’s energy. For most of the reggae bands, it’s a way of getting the great white record-buying majority to hear their music, for most of the punk bands it’s a buzz to be around the musical energy that gives them a lot of inspiration.

If I suddenly disappear off the face of the planet, you’ll know the National Front Have got me. But I still think that even if there’s just a chance that racial barriers can be whittled down even slightly through music, it’s worth supporting.

It’s like this. When the music hits you, you feel no pain – even if you’re purple with orange spots.
And only in Sounds next week – a complete (well, just about) guide to all the reggae bands gigging around the country, complete with pix and interviews. Shine up your dancing shoes in preparation, and we’ll see ya there.

© Vivien Goldman, 1977

Punky Reggae Party (Album Version)

Punky Reggae Party (Shelton, CT 1978)

Punky Reggae Party (Black Ark Demo)

Punky Reggae Party (Pavilion de Paris, 1978)

Watch the documentary Exodus 1977, a BBC/Arena production which tells the story of this volatile year through the music of Exodus.

Exodus 1977