Just picked up the promotional CDs that DJ Chuck Wren of Jump Up Records made especially for Rude Girls: Women in 2 Tone and One Step Beyond! And I am beyond–excited about this collection of rare 2 Tone inspired tracks from around the world which will be given away free to the first 200 orders of my book at skabook.com. It all drops on International Women’s Day, March 8th!
Chuck Wren is the ultimate collaborator and supporter of ska. He founded Jump Up Records 30 years ago and he is responsible for nurturing the careers of so many bands that we all enjoy, new and old. He has organized countless events including Jamaican Oldies shows, and he works behind the scenes of others, like the City of Chicago, the Chicago Reggae Festival, and Supernova, just to name a few. He is a connector. He is a true skamrade. Help Chuck celebrate his 30th anniversary as we all get ready to celebrate the women in ska!
February is Reggae Month in Jamaica which features the Institute of Jamaica’s “Grounation” event hosted by the Jamaica Music Museum. This event is always enlightening with lectures, music, film, and reasoning. This year’s series looked at the sociopolitical, creative, and artistic response to developments and their consequences since Jamaica gained independence in 1962. Today they talked about the oppression of the Rastafari, the Coral Gardens Massacre, and Bob Marley
The Jamaica Music Museum houses a number of crucial artifacts, but top on my list is the accordion used by Adina Edwards. Read about her in Songbirds: Pioneering Women in Jamaican Music, as well as the blog post here which contains a chapter excerpt on her life and career:
The popular series Outer Banks has just released season three on Netflix and as my son was watching the show, I was pretty pleased and surprised to hear a few Jamaican classics. First of all, the Melodians’ tune “Rivers of Babylon” features in the first episode as the cast(aways) find themselves on a deserted island. The next tune was “You Don’t Love Me (No No No)” by Dawn Penn, so thought I would offer up her own words on this song. You can read all about Dawn Penn in my book, Songbirds: Pioneering Women in Jamaican Music, as well as dozens of others; and the women of ska in the UK in my forthcoming book, Rude Girls: Women in 2 Tone and One Step Beyond which drops on March 8th, International Women’s Day! Order here!
Dawn Penn writes in her book, Story of My Life, “I had some friends who visited Studio One regularly including my friend Cherry who got married to Tyrone Evans of the Paragons and one Sunday in 1967 I followed them there and did an audition. I sang, ‘You Don’t Love Me, ‘ and Mr. Dodd said I had a jazzy voice. He gave me some tips on how I should sing the song and said that I should return the following day to record. Musically, Jackie Mittoo and I arranged the music for the song using major 9th, augmented and diminished chords. I was sitting beside him on the seat as he put them in to make the chords sound fat and big. Johnny Moore arranged his solo part that he played on coronet. Nonetheless I was set to do this track backed by Tommy McCook and the Skatalites including Lloyd Brevett who stood and played his string bass while Roland Alphonso played his saxophone. Also in the recording, the band made a mistake—they should have changed the progression chords and they didn’t. It didn’t sound too noticeable and they kept it instead of starting all over.”
She elaborated on this further during a conversation I had with her in the spring of 2014. “If you know music, and you know the song, you will figure it out. The band was playing the theme because in those days, when we record, everyone has to be on the same page. Everyone had to listen to each other. If there was any mistake you have to start from scratch, start from the beginning. They play the song but they construct part of the song with bridges where they are supposed to change the chord and the song they didn’t change the chord there. We just ride it out. Johnny Moore, who played the solo, he never got paid either and he was saving up but he had a problem with his girlfriend and that’s why he played like that.” Dawn says that an argument with his girlfriend over finances distracted Moore from the chord change. “My woman and I may have had a problem that is why I played the horn the way I did,” Dawn quotes Johnny Moore as telling her.
Penn told me about this song, and others, and how the producers exploited them for profit, which is widely known today. “I moved to Prince Buster’s place and did one of my original material, ‘Blue Yes Blue’ written by me alone. The saxophonist was Mr. Val Bennett and Gladdie (Gladstone Anderson) on keyboard, a pick up studio band with Lyn Taitt they later called themselves The Jets. On another note I played the violin on one of my original track called ‘Here’s the Key’ recorded for Prince Buster as well. I went to Duke Reid’s studio at Bond Street. He had a liquor store managed by his wife and he was doing an album project with Phyllis Dillon from Linstead. At the time I had a song, ‘I Just Can’t Forget About You,’ this she sang, and I sang, ‘Why Did You Lie,’ my originals. Boris Gardiner was playing in the session and Boris and I, along with the band, created an instrumental track called ‘Moody Ska.” Mr. Reid was an ex-policeman and he wore twelve rings on his ten fingers. If you were not recording or singing as you should, he would just fire some gun shots and the scare alone would make you neither miss the key note nor the words. Also if you sang a hit he would follow the same procedure, plus he had his police friends visiting him from time to time. He also had a lot of pigeons living at the balcony on the roof of his building. Loads of singers were there including Alton Ellis and the Flames, the Jamaicans, the Melodians, and many more. I always went to record for Prince Buster. Prince Buster hasn’t paid me either. And his lawyer is saying to prove that I am the writer of the songs. Prince Buster put his name like he wrote the songs I sung for him. He never did write no songs for me though. And you know what Coxsone told me? Coxsone told me he wrote ‘No No No’ and he put his name and then I put my name on it,” she says. “
No No No (You Don’t Love Me)” was Penn’s most successful song, recorded in 1967 for Studio One. “Because I was a woman, I haven’t got any royalties from all these years I did ska and rocksteady and all this different music. We didn’t treat our music as a business so we never had a manager, knew about publishing and all these things so it was a problem. We never knew until 20 or 30 years later that it went worldwide. We were never getting royalties or anything like that.”
I only hope that Ms. Penn receives some royalties now, as her song has reached global audiences, including a whole new one with the Outer Banks.
So excited that Rude Girls: Women in 2 Tone and One Step Beyond will be released on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2023! Before then, I wanted to take a moment and discuss the cover, since I have had a few people ask me about the woman in the photo. The cover features none other than Sarah-Jane Owen, guitarist for the Bodysnatchers and the Belle Stars. This photo was taken by Toni Tye whose iconic photos of the 2 Tone era also grace the cover of Rhoda Dakar Sings the Bodysnatchers’ album, seen below, as well as one of my other books, Ska: The Rhythm of Liberation, also seen below.
Sarah-Jane Owen features prominently in Rude Girls: Women in 2 Tone and One Step Beyond and her stories of how the Bodysnatchers formed, touring with the Specials, the Go-Go’s, Madness, and Bad Manners–it is not just part of history, but it’s as close to being there as you can get! There are also plenty of photos in the interior of the book, many of which are exclusive, including this one that didn’t make it into the book. This is from the personal collection of Penny Leyton from the Seaside Tour. That’s Sarah-Jane Owen in the blue shirt, top right–see any other familiar faces?!
For more on Toni Tye’s photography, check out her website at tonitye.com.
Photo of Terry Hall by Heather Augustyn, 2016, Chicago
Terry Hall was one of the pillars of 2 Tone. His performance was a dichotomy of profound emotion and non-emotion, of energy and aloofness, of statement and saying nothing, all at the same time. He was the perfect front for the movement.
Losing Terry Hall to the cruel swiftness of pancreatic cancer this past December was a shock to everyone who ever sang along with his voice. Many of us grew up with the sounds of Terry Hall and so he was part of our identity. And for those who were close enough to call him a friend, and for those who collaborated with him, Terry Hall’s death was even more painful. Terry Hall was a true musician, constantly connecting with new performers to produce new sounds. He was, by all accounts, generous and funny and a loyal friend. Terry Hall will be missed by all whose lives he touched.
June Miles-Kingston, the female voice on the Fun Boy Three version of “Our Lips Are Sealed,” as well as their drummer, and drummer for the Mo-Dettes, was close to Terry Hall. She says that the vision for assembling an all-female band to back the three fun boys was Hall’s design. “Because they came after the Specials, there was still all that 2 Tone feel. And I think Terry was trying to escape that a little bit and do something a bit new. And I think it was political to have all females. I think it was a little bit romantic for Terry as well because he was kind of thinking of like, what’s that movie with Marilyn Monroe where you’ve got all the women on tour? [Some Like It Hot] I think he kind of liked that imagery. He’s really into his imagery stuff. And so it would kind of shake it up a bit and it is a bit political in that way. But we didn’t feel like that. We just thought, well, we’re good musicians!”
Nicky Holland recalls being recruited as musical director for Fun Boy Three while playing piano at the Gatwick Hilton. Her career has been significant, but one moment remains especially meaningful for her—working with Terry Hall on his song, “Well Fancy That.” She tells the story of the song’s creation and states, “I’m really proud of that one and I felt honored to help tell that story. It must have been a really hard story for him to tell. I don’t know whether anyone ever asked him about the meaning of it at the time. Sometimes, you know, sitting in a room with someone, watching a song being born—there’s a lot of trust involved.”
Annie Whitehead who performed trombone with Terry Hall in Fun Boy Three says, “I loved the music. I loved Terry’s singing and everything. I was really thrilled that they asked me. I went in and did the session. It was great touring, traveling the world, doing gigs. Terry was great.”
Anouchka Grose played guitar and sang as part of the trio Terry, Blair & Anouchka. She was a novice compared to Terry Hall and the other vocalist, Blair Booth, and she recalls Terry’s kindness in nurturing her musical abilities while recording. That was the best experience. Terry just had his baby Felix then so his wife was around a lot. And it was nice. It was kind of relaxed. I think I was very patchy, like, sometimes I just couldn’t do things. And other times I would really be able to do things. But they never gave up on me, because some days it was just good. But not every day was good. And so I think they probably were being incredibly patient.”
Jenny Jones, drummer for the Mood Elevators, remembers seeing Terry Hall when he and his band supported the Clash. “The support band were something else—a Midlands band who called themselves the Coventry Automatics. Terry Hall, the lead vocalist, had floppy hair,” Jones recalled, but then a short time later she remembers them differently. “But now, Terry Hall’s hair was as charismatic as his deadpan delivery, the band had the sneering attitude of punk and the Special AKA had a sound that seemed entirely new. That night was our first experience of hearing ska and rocksteady rhythms driving memorable songs about social issues and it was unlike anything we’d heard before. It was electric.”
We all know that words can have multiple meanings and that context is everything. As a student and teacher of rhetoric, I will refrain from digressing here, but suffice to say that when The Specials in the 2Tone era chose their name, the word “specials” was a reference to the one-off acetate recording (later called the dubplate) that sound system producers would use to test on their audience to determine reception. If the crowd liked it, they pressed vinyl for sale in their shops. It was special because it was one-of-a-kind until the other recordings followed. This was apropos for the 2Tone band because they were one-of-a-kind, others did follow, and they also paid respect to the Jamaican ska influence.
But prior to The Specials in the 2Tone era, and prior to specials in the recording and sound system era, there was another Specials–Doc Bramwell and the Specials. They were sometimes billed at Doc Bramwell and the Specials, sometimes as Doc Bramwell and the Springfield Specials, and sometimes as Doc Bramwell and the Springfield Special Orchestra. Doc Bramwell was born Oscar Bramwell in 1907. He was a trumpet player and band leader for this 11-piece orchestra. The first record of their performance was in a Daily Gleaner advertisement in the December 21, 1938 issue on the very same page as an article titled “Capone Held ‘Dangerous'” on the gangster that would go on to inspire Prince Buster and subsequently The Specials in the 2Tone era. But Doc Bramwell’s orchestra was originally called “His Bournemouth Boys” since they performed at the Bournemouth Beach Club in southeastern Kingston (the site is still undergoing reconstruction today). They also performed that holiday season as Doc Bramwell and His Band as well as Dob Bramwell and His Swingsters at the Lucas Cricket Club for “invited guests only,” and in this era of segregation, one can only assume what that means.
They performed dance music and orchestra music for tourists and the wealthy who came to visit Jamaica which was still a British colony for another two-plus decades. They were especially popular at the Springfield Beach Club since tourist liners like the S.S. North Star would arrive and deliver instant clientele looking for a “jolly time.”
What did the term “Specials” mean for Doc Bramwell’s band? The following article explains the nomenclature:
So CHEERS! Maybe I’ll name the next band The Green Gras-ska-ppers!
Original Sound Clash
Doc Bramwell and The Specials rose to fame through winning competitions–against other orchestras. That’s right, it was the original sound clash! The first one took place, according to the Daily Gleaner on March 23, 1939, at the Carib Theatre. The article stated, “Springfield Club’s orchestra, ‘Springfield Specials’ proved their worth as one of Jamaica’s best orchestras on Sunday morning when they won a contract to appear at the Carib Theatre during the summer season. Altogether three orchestras went up to the Carib on Sunday for auditions, but it was not difficult for the judges to choose the best. Playing with their usual mastery of the difficult modern swing-tempo, the Specials came through, with flying colours, especially in their interpretation of Jamaican melodies. The specials will appear two or three times a week at this theatre with native shows; and it is believed that the Carib management will also bring down American entertainers sometimes for the amusement of their public. These also will be accompanied by the ‘Specials.'” The rest of the article provided information on the identity of the judges.
The next sound clash (to be clear, it wasn’t called that, as this is a modern moniker) took place when Doc Bramwell and The Specials performed at the Palace Theatre in a contest judged by public applause which was billed as the “Knockout Orchestra Contest.” The Specials faced off against Swaby’s Pep Wizards.
Here is how reporters promoted the competition:
The Specials won that round and went on to the next elimination:
The Specials were named victors, moving on to face Steve Dick and His Orchestra on April 20, 1939, all the while playing on tour ships and at the Springfield Beach Club. Unfortunately, they lost that round, but boy, what a ride! Still, they performed all that summer at the Carib Theatre and the Springfield Beach Club.
If you’re thinking that this competition sounds a little like the Vere Johns’ Opportunity Hour, you’re not that far off base. Vere Johns and his wife Lillian “Lady Luck” Johns started their talent show competition in Savannah, Georgia in 1937, bringing it back to Kingston in 1939. Who performed backup music for many of those talented youngsters looking to get their start on the Palace Theatre stage during Opportunity Hour? Why none other than Doc Bramwell and The Specials themselves.
They also performed at the Glass Bucket, at gala events for nurses, and alumni events for local high schools. At Sea View Park on November 11, 1941 they gave patrons a “night of Jump, Swing, and Jive!” They performed multiple times a week, every week from 1939 through 1943. In 1944, however, Doc Bramwell, whose band was now billed as the Jive Gentlemen, performed only sporadically. Whereas he would perform five times in two weeks, Bramwell only performed five times in that one year. 1945 seemed to pick back up for Doc Bramwell whose band was now known as the Gay Caballeros and they performed at the Palmerston Club on East Queen Street. He played up until the week before his death. Doc Bramwell never married and died at Kingston Public Hospital at the age of 39 on November 19, 1949 of a perforated gastric ulcer which became blood borne causing toxemia. The newspaper account from the Daily Gleaner on November 11, 1946 follows:
Sister Iggy’s Garrard turntable, Museum of Pop Culture
Sister Iggy was a deejay. A selector. A collector.
In order to help instruct her boys in the Alpha Boys’ School Band, Sister Mary Ignatius Davies curated her own record collection, enlisting the help of Alpharian Floyd Lloyd Seivright who sadly passed away in November 2018. Seivright, Winston “Sparrow” Martin, and numerous other Alpha Boys had told me about Sister Ignatius playing her record collection for all the boys, and I always wondered–exactly what was in her collection.
Knowing that Sister Ignatius sold a large number of artifacts to the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle in 2003 in order to raise much needed funds for her boys, I consulted the staff to inquire. This museum was owned by Microsoft founder Paul Allen and rumor had it he had purchased her collection personally since he was an avid record collector himself. Sure enough, I received a list of Sister Ignatius’s records, all located at the MoPop! There are over 600 records that were part of her collection, now housed in storage at the MoPop in Seattle, along with other artifacts of Jamaican national heritage such as the iconic Alpha Boys’ School sign, one of Don Drummond’s trombone and case, photos, and Sister Ignatius’s Garrard turntable (photo above).
Kenneth Davy, Mutt & Jeff Soundsystem
Daily Gleaner, Feb. 14, 1958
You can read all about Alpha Alpha Boys MoPOP Material Query_SI AlbumsBoys who recall Sister Ignatius spinning records for them, how she helped to build and retain the Mutt & Jeff Soundsystem for fundraisers at the school, and how Seivright made these purchases for Sister Iggy in the book Alpha Boys’ School: Cradle of Jamaican Music which I authored with Adam Reeves. Click on the home page of this site to see all of my books for sale. You can also read more about Sister Iggy and the Mutt & Jeff Soundsystem HERE, and her turntable HERE. But in the meantime, here is the list of Sister Mary Ignatius Davies’ records!
You can hear it in her voice–she is definitely her mama’s child. But Jaelee Small does not, by any means, sing in the shadow of her mother, Millie Small. Jaelee is her own woman, with her own sound and her own deeply creative vision which is on full display in her new EP titled Memoirs (Part II). This five-song collection, released on October 11th, showcases the many facets of Jaelee–sweet and glimmering, catchy and feisty, soulful and layered. Woman has got some chops!
This is Jaelee Small’s first EP. She studied at LCCM, the London Centre of Contemporary Music, graduating with honors and earning a bachelor of arts degree in Vocal Performance and Music Production.
Check out Jaelee’s new video for the enchanting “Memoreveolody.” This song is a soundscape, aural poetry, a wisp of light and air. Her video for “Home” is a fun and catchy breakup song, and “Tic Tok” channels Kate Bush with dramatic vicissitudes in pitch that skip effortlessly like a fluttering butterfly. “Small World” is ethereal layer upon layer of harmony.
This work was recorded at Antonio’s Fish Factory Studio, St. Johns Studio, and Steve’s Flat and was mastered by Mike Cave at Loft Mastering in Liverpool.
Though she is the daughter of Millie Small, Jaelee Small’s voice, both in its physicality and personality, is all her own.