The Story of the Saxon Sound System

Saxon Sound SystemSaxon Sound System

Written by David Katz

One of the most iconic British sound systems of all time, Saxon has made an indelible impact on popular culture over the past forty years. David Katz meets founders Lloyd ‘Musclehead’ Francis and Denis Rowe to trace its steps from teenage obsession to international soundclash masters.

The training ground for Smiley Culture, Maxi Priest and Tippa Irie, Saxon helped bring British reggae onto Top of the Pops in the mid-1980s, their collective ethos inspiring the ‘funki dreds’ of Soul II Soul. An unparalleled ‘clashing’ sound that has battered top-ranking sets in reggae’s birthplace, as well as at dancehalls in the Jamaican underbelly of New York, Saxon is probably the only British sound system to appear at Reggae Sunsplash in Jamaica. Chuck D, Wycliffe and KRS-One were all blown-away by Saxon sound tapes back in the day, and the Saxon crew have been long-time sparring partners with David Rodigan. Doing things of their own volition and demolishing stereotypes along the way, Saxon brought incredible kudos to the sound system landscape during a time when British reggae was still deemed second-rate.

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Without The Windrush Generation, British MC Culture Would Be Non-Existent

Saxon SoundSaxon Sound

No Wiley. No Ghetts. No Skepta. Could you imagine?

Contributor | Twitter: @marvinsparks

June 22, 2019, marked the first Windrush Day on the anniversary of the HMT Empire Windrush bringing Caribbean migrants from Jamaica to Great Britain. Passengers on the first voyage to the “mother country” included a few notable people. Sam King—a Jamaican ex-serviceman and first black Mayor of Southwark—helped Claudia Jones organise Notting Hill Carnival, and Alwyn Roberts, the calypso legend from Trinidad (also known as Lord Kitchener) sang “London Is The Place For Me” upon arrival at Tilbury Docks, Essex, in 1948.

Of the reported 492 Caribbeans aboard Empire Windrush, more than half were from Jamaica with the rest mostly from Trinidad and Bermuda. Optimistic Caribbean migrants were met with unwarranted hostility and harassment from English men and women. White homeowners with “room to rent” signs in windows often refused blacks, the Irish, and people with dogs. Likewise, few nightclubs were available to black folk. As a result, the blues dance, or shebeens, were usually held in the basements of their homes, or “captured houses”/derelict houses. Despite all of this, the descendants of the Windrush Generation would go on to build legacies that would change this country forever.

Music played a pivotal role in reuniting the community on new shores. 50 years ago, Desmond Dekker’s “Israelites” became the first reggae song to enter the UK singles chart, at No. 9, and in the summer of ‘78, Althea & Donna’s “Uptown Top Ranking” was the first deejay song to reach number one. The deejay style, popularised by U-Roy and his chanting over riddims, had now crossed over. Other early adopters, such as Tapper Zukie and Dennis Alcapone (Stefflon Don’s uncle), soon relocated to the UK.

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The Heatwave and Tippa Irie Make Dancehall “Tun Ova!”


Tippa Irie is a Dancehall legend who built his success based on a solid foundation.  He began with his Father’s sound named Musical Messiah, and went on to perform with King Tubby’s and Saxon Sound (for younger DJs readingthis email, performing live on a sound is not as easy as it appears; you mustbe the cream of the crop to earn that residence).

Performing live developed Tippa’s ear and the ability to know what lyrics and which riddims connect with audiences.  When Tippa heard one of The Heatwave’s productions, he immediately reached out to Gabriel to arrange a recording on one of the groups riddims.  The result is “Tun Ova!”

Released on The Heatwave’s own label, the single is being embraced in Europe and making its’ way across the Atlantic to fans who respect the voice and delivery of the great Tippa Irie!

Here the single “Tun Ova!” When you play it, make sure you send feedback to @tippairie and @the_heatwave!

  1. Living the Dream Tippa Irie 3:27