Whilst on a digital reggae tip, here’s a magnificent tune from two 80s dancehall heavyweights, Red Rose & King Kong. This tune was released on King Tubby’s Firehouse label at a time when Tubby’s star was perhaps waning a little, with his former protege King Jammy firmly in the ascendancy, presiding over an endless string of dancehall smashes. Firehouse though still had its fair share of sound system belters throughout the 80s, as Tubby, alongside his right hand men Fatman and Peego, made light work of the transition from analogue to digital recording techniques. The compilation “Firehouse Revolution: King Tubby’s productions in the Digital Era” gives a comprehensive flavour of the sound coming out of Tubby’s studio at the time. Anthony Red Rose enjoyed a string of hits on the label, most notably with “Tempo”, a record with perhaps the most extraordinary use of delays and echoes in recorded music whilst King Kong needs no introduction, cutting some of the finest reggae records of that decade. Check out his single Babylon which played out on Citizen Smith’s inspired mix for Club Soda last year, and features one of the most plaintive and under-stated vocal deliveries, that ranks alongside any of his more famous contemporaries like Dennis Brown or Gregory Isaacs.
It’s only in recent years that the productions from this era have come to be accorded the recognition they deserve, for many years over-shadowed by the more accessible roots reggae from the “golden era” of the 1970s. It’s possible that only now, with digital production so firmly embedded in the musical fabric of our time, can we see how incredibly ahead of their time producers like Tubby, Jammy and Scientist were. Listen to the early digital offerings from the 80s UK pop scene, and as good as some of it undoubtedly is, it sounds crude and unrefined compared to the obsessively polished hits of today (no bad thing mind, but that’s just the way it sounds). In comparison the dancehall tunes of the mid-80s sound no less sophisticated than those coming out of studios today, with none of the tell-tale signs that characterised so much of the mainstream’s musical output in that decade.