Adrian Sherwood, the man who sought out the very best Singers and Players in reggae to create his own signature On-U Sound is now poised to change the sound of contemporary dub with fellow Music Killer and brother-in-bass Pinch.
Sherwood is bored with desktop dubbers and laptop liquidators. The music needs something fresh, something new – a whole new sound and vibe.
“Dubstep has already had its day. It’s old hat now. It is almost corny to be saying dubstep, dubstep. Sherwood & Pinch, we are making modern dub music you know, call it what you like. The records are reggae records really, but more of a contemporary sound.”
The dynamic duo of dub dropped their “Music Killer” 12″ EP in November 2013, which follows quickly on the heels of their initial EP release “Bring Me Weed.” Both are heavyweight modern dub experiments marinated nicely in Jamaican dub, hip hop, and dancehall. The new sound is a downright brutal assault on the senses, with Sherwood orchestrating the ground game while Pinch takes flight over the intense battle being waged below.
Oh, and then there is the live performance. Sherwood and Pinch headlined the 2013 Dub Champions Festival and introduced the stage show to a shellshocked New York City audience.
“I was very satisfied with our show. We were relaxed and we were playing on a good system. The crowd was going nuts about it so I think it was a good show all around. I’ve got a work visa for the next couple years so I’ll be around hopefully.”
“I’ve got to try and re-establish myself because it has been a long time since I’ve worked America for various reasons. emch of Subatomic Sound System is a fan of ours and he invited us out for Dub Champions. I did the festival last year with Lee Perry too. emch has invited me to Vienna for the festival there and I’ve done two in the States.”
The concept behind the live show is an ambitious experiment in onstage indulgence: 1) construct a studio on-stage complete with mixing board, 2) add noise machines, a host of other sound effectors and amplifiers, and 3) blow the roof clean off the place.
“What we do is build a mixing board so that it’s like having a studio on-stage. It’s all new music. We’ve got twelve channels of audio with bass drum, snare, high hat, bass, all these bits. Then we’ve got a couple of noise pads, two delays and three reverbs and a noise machine. So it’s effectively almost like a large studio meets the sound system where we are playing live and dubbing it live. If you go to a show these days and there’s a couple of nodding dogs onstage it’s really boring. We’re doing a live performance and we’re doing quite a lot behind the boards. We are very physical and hands on with it and it’s quite lively.”
This isn’t Sherwood’s first ambitious endeavor to raise eyebrows and turn dreads. Experimentation is the central tenet behind the On-U Sound. It is also one of the few things that has remained a constant throughout Sherwood’s career in the music business.
When recording his debut album Dub From Creation in 1977, he not only steps out of the box, he kicks it aside, bravely forging a new path and creating a sound all his own – the On-U Sound. It is a lesson he absorbs early on from his heroes, super-producers like Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and King Tubby, who created the new sounds of dub in the early 1970s.
Sherwood, who begins DJing at the age of thirteen for kids at a High Wycombe dance club, launches the Carib Gems record label at seventeen and records Dub From Creation at nineteen.
It was dub, sort of. It was reggae, but not.
“I started out at the age of thirteen playing records to kids at a club in High Wycombe. It’s the same club that Dave Rodigan played his first ever gig at. By seventeen I was a junior partner in the Carib Gems label. We released the first Black Uhuru record, early Trinity, Dillinger, and we also put out Prince Far-I’s debut record, which is how I met him. The label started out as a roots label and later changed over to lover’s rock and some other stuff.
I grabbed some of the musicians I knew through the label at the time, hummed the bass lines to the bass player, and went in and made an album in about three days. I called it Dub From Creation by Creation Rebel. I just named it after the Burning Spear track. I liked the sound of the name so I used it for the name of my studio band. That band evolved into a real band. I wrote ‘Mixed by Adrian’ on the sleeve, not even using my second name. I just did it for fun really, not thinking anything of it. Then John Peel got a hold of it and started playing it on his show. People seemed to like it a lot so I decided to make another one. So I did Rebel Vibration and Starship Africa, both before I was twenty-one. Soon we were touring Europe backing Far-I as Prince Far-I and Creation Rebel.”
Sherwood, the young, white British mixologist and Prince Far-I, the tough, black Rasta heavyweight from Spanish Town, Jamaica take to each other like ‘rice and peas,’ developing a close, personal friendship that lasts until Far-I’s untimely murder in 1983. The friendship is a symbiosis of sorts with Sherwood providing Far-I with a distinctive sound and a talented and dependable band of musicians to tour with. Far-I provides guidance and becomes a mentor to Sherwood, giving him the credibility needed to pursue his musical ideas with the most talented Jamaican artists and musicians. The two talents launch the Hitrun label in 1978 in order to release the Prince Far-I and Creation Rebel albums as well as material from the growing list of artists recording with Sherwood.
“Me and Far-I were from much different backgrounds so it becomes a question of what you’ve got in common with somebody. With the Jamaicans, a lot of them grow up in a rough situation, and there are very few opportunities. Many probably have never met a white person except for maybe a white Jamaican who is just like them, except probably richer. The blacker you are, the harder it is. It’s still like that today to a certain extent.
With Far-I, we really got on because I really enjoyed what he did, and we were both a bit mad. I was trying to always push the music forward, trying new stuff. So when I got quite proficient at mixing, it was only then that he recorded some songs for me as a producer. Prior to that, I had mixed a lot of his albums and they pretended to come from Jamaica. I mixed all the Cry Tuff Dub Encounter albums and I never got credit for it because it wasn’t really hip at the time.
So Far-I would come to England every year or twice a year and play live shows. Whatever anybody says, Far-I was the main driver behind the live reggae scene in Europe. He was doing live shows in like 1977 and 1978 and pushing the whole roots thing forward.”
On one of these visits to the UK in 1979, Far-I brings along two fellow Jamaican artists for the tour. Beris Simpson, better known as Prince Hammer, is a Jamaican reggae deejay, singer, and record producer whose album Roots and Roots was released by Sherwood’s Hitrun label. The other is a Jamaican-borne solo artist, record producer, and label chief named Jarrett Lloyd Vincent. Sherwood knows him by the name Bim Sherman, the dread with the golden voice who, over the previous four years, released a string of brilliant singles in Jamaica on his Scorpio label.
Adrian recalls first bringing Sherman to England.
“Bim was my favorite singer, ‘is’ my favorite singer. I brought Bim to England in 1979 when I was twenty-one. I knew of all his records from when I worked at Palmer’s record shop on summer holiday when I was in school. So I heard those records he was doing in Jamaica and I asked Far-I and Jah Lloyd to record him for me. Then I spoke to him on the phone and I asked him to come to England to do a tour. So he came up with Far-I and Prince Hammer for a tour we called the Roots Encounter Tour. He ended up staying here and living in England.”
The 1979 Roots Encounter tour features Prince Far-I, Bim Sherman, Creation Rebel, and Prince Hammer, who often performs in a black cloak with vampire teeth. Gothic Dread Ina Rub-A-Dub Style. Bim Sherman, who has never been on a proper tour, does not enjoy performing live.
“When Bim started performing he was a bit nervous. He did improve though and eventually became a really great live performer.”
Sherwood and Sherman form a bond during that 1979 tour and become very close friends and frequent collaborators. Over the next 20 years, Sherman will become a major contributor to several On-U Sound projects including Lincoln ‘Style’ Scott’s Dub Syndicate, Singers & Players, and the New Age Steppers.
“Contrary to what many people believe, I only produced two albums with Bim. I produced, or co-produced with him, the first album called Cross The Red Sea and I produced the album Miracle in 1995. Miracle is one of my favorite things I’ve ever done. It was a labour of love for me.
As you know, I did record him and work with him on many projects between those two albums with Singers and Players and I also helped him set up his label called Century. Bim always had his own labels. He was a very independent man. He had the Century label, Red Sea, Scorpio, and a few others.
In Jamaica he recorded with his own musicians, wrote his own material, recorded the material, and put it out on his own labels. He did do a couple tunes for Dudley “Manzie” Swaby on the Ja-Man label, and maybe another tune for somebody else, but primarily he was responsible for his own stuff, the type of guy you’d see selling his records on the corner.
When he came to England we decided to do the first record I didn’t want to have my hands in and to be responsible for someone else’s career so I helped him set up the Century label. So I hooked him up with distribution and for his whole life he ran his own label and had his own business and he didn’t have to worry about someone else messing in it.”
Sherwood then takes on a more solemn tone.
“I’ve actually got an unreleased set of Bim Sherman recordings that we’ll eventually get around to putting out and that is very good as well.
“Bim was a very much loved man. He was a very, very popular person who everyone knew and loved him. And he was the most wonderful singer and songwriter. I’m in my lounge at the moment and I’m sad. In my lounge, where I’m sitting, there is his picture right above my head. He is missed. Very missed.”
Creation Rebel releases seven studio albums between 1978 and 1982. However, it all comes crashing down on September 15, 1983 when Prince Far-I is brutally murdered in his home in Saint Catherine’s, Jamaica. Attackers smash their way into his house while Far-I is watching television with his wife, shooting him dead and severely wounding his wife.
The news devastates Sherwood, shaking him to the core. He turns away from Creation Rebel and reggae altogether for the next four years.
“In the early 1980s things were changing and they were changing very fast. The sound of the music was changing. The beat was changing. Then Far-I was murdered and for me that was like, you know what, ‘I’m finished doing reggae records.’ It was a total shock to me. Some of the people he associated with were political types and gunmen as well. The whole of the reggae scene was filled with these shadowy characters who were always around the musicians. There was always a Claudie Massop type or whoever and they were always friends with the artists. Like Bob Marley, poor man, he had these guys around and you always had to keep this one happy or that one happy. The whole business was awash in cocaine money. These characters would pay an artist three times the going rate to perform in places like New York City. It was nuts. Real mafia business.
When Far-I was killed it was right after his friend, who was one of the biggest, most dangerous people on the island, was killed. I could write a book about that period, you know, I won’t name names but yes it seemed to me at the time, through my eyes as a twenty-five year old, that the whole business was like ‘what’s the fucking point’? There was a bad man always lurking everywhere. I knew all this but it hit me really hard when Far-I was murdered. This is why I chose the people I worked with very carefully.
So when Far-I was murdered I didn’t make another reggae record for four years. The first reggae record I did after Far-I was murdered was Time Boom X De Devil Dead, which was an album I did with Lee Perry and co-produced by Style Scott who was already heavily involved with the Dub Syndicate.”
(To read more about Prince Far-I CLICK HERE)
Lincoln Valentine “Style” Scott comes to Creation Rebel in 1979 by way of Prince Far-I, who recruited the star drummer for his backing band The Arabs. As a member of The Arabs, Scott is featured on Cry Tuff Dub Encounter Volume 3, which also features young Sherwood under the pseudonym “Dub Syndicate” as producer-in-charge. Scott is recruited to join Creation Rebel and eventually plays in several On-U Sound collectives.
It is with Dub From Creation and Creation Rebel’s highly experimental studio and dub albums released between 1978 and 1983 that Sherwood develops the On-U Sound – a highly experimental, innovative, and downright heavy cross-pollination of punk, industrial, drum and bass, and Jamaican dub mixed to perfection by the unapologetic conductor extraordinaire himself. It is also during this period, especially starting in 1980, that several different musical collectives form, composed of the musicians that Sherwood personally seeks out for their musical abilities.
Sherwood forms his On-U Sound label in 1980 in order to release the growing number of studio projects that he is stocking away working with this evolving collectve of talented and dynamic musicians. Dub Syndicate emerges out of these sessions. Over the next several years, Dub Syndicate releases a handful of notable dub experiments, including a few collaborations with Lee “Scratch” Perry, the famed dub reggae mastermind behind the Black Ark sound. It becomes increasingly evident that the heart and soul of Dub Syndicate lies in Style Scott and he steadily becomes the band’s driving spiritual force, recording most of the riddim tracks in his native Jamaica and having them overdubbed and mixed by Sherwood in England.
Sherwood doesn’t mince any words when it comes to Scott – he is the best dub reggae drummer on the planet.
“I’ve been working with Style since 1978. By the time Far-I was murdered in 1983 he was recording and working with Gregory [Isaacs] and Roots Radics. The Radics actually got their start with Prince Far-I as Cry Tuff and the Originals. It’s on the credits for Dub To Africa. I don’t think he gets any credit for that. He joined Far-I after recording David Isaacs’ “A Place In The Sun.” That is the first tune he played on. So I would see Style every time he came to London with Gregory and I would record him.
Style is amazing if he is with the right musicians. He slashes the snare and bashes the cymbals like no other. His high hat playing is simply the best.”
So what is it that makes Style Scott such a dominant drummer? According to Sherwood it all starts with tuning.
“He tunes every kit meticulously before he plays so that whenever you hear him you are hearing the same Style Scott no matter what he’s playing or where he’s playing. His high hat playing is just amazing, the best I’ve seen. His timing with the cymbals, his drum rolls. He walks the baseline with the foot drum. So when you listen to all those early dancehall records that the Radics played on that’s my man making those beats.”
A lot of those records that were cut in Jamaica using Roots Radics were recorded very specifically always using the same drum sound with a mix by Scientist or somebody, and there was a special connection between the producer, the band, the engineer, and the studio. You will never see that magic again. I recorded Style a bunch over the last three years in London, brilliant stuff, an Arabic version of ‘War,’ and ‘To Be Rich Should Be A Crime’ by Jeb Loy Nichols. I will be the first to tell you that Style Scott still has his chops. He’s fantastic.
Whether Dubbing to Africa with Prince Far-I, making a Miracle with Bim Sherman, or “Pounding The System” with Style Scott and Dub Syndicate, Adrian Sherwood has been a Creation Rebel from the start. He is the man who made it possible, and even prudent, to rebel against creation, step over the line, kick aside the boxes, and experiment with a new sound.
“I’ve been very blessed in my career. The only instrument I play is the mixing board. I’m sort of the conductor I guess and I finish everything off with my style of mixing which is quite unique as well.
I’ve been lucky in that I’ve always worked with brilliant musicians like Skip McDonald or Style Scott or a host of many others. I’ve worked with so many great people in my career. I’ve had the opportunity to work with all my heroes. I always try to come up with something new, not a repeat or recycled sound, but something fresh. It is one of the most valuable lessons I learned from working with Lee Perry.”
To purchase the Bring Me Weed and Music Killer Eps from Sherwood and Pinch, please visit the On-U Sound store.
For Sherwood & Pinch tour dates visit http://www.adriansherwood.com/live-dates/
Great interview. I spent last night writing about seeing the Roots Encounter tour in 1979. Creation Rebel played for around 3 hours & Far I just ripped the joint…a great night. I saw CR at a “Legalize It” gig in Brixton too. Will check for Sherwood & Pinch right now. Peace.
CRUCIAL RUNNINGS ADRIAN SHERWOOD,truly heartfelt and informative….i appreciate the work you have done to the nth degree & i identify with almost everything you’ve shared with one & two(who am i kidding) with millions GIVE PRAISES