The Story of the Saxon Sound System

Saxon 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 Sound

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


Written by MARVIN SPARKS  FOR  COMPLEX UK
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!”

Greetings!

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!

Cockney Translation: Smiley Culture, Fast Chat and its effect on UK Hip-Hop

To quote Kool Herc, ‘hip-hop and reggae are cousins’. I’m sure most people reading this are familiar with the origins of hip-hop.  A young Jamaican expat who moved to New York with his family and wanted to recreate the sound systems he’d seen as a child in Jamaica in his new surroundings. The fact that those at the famous party in July 1973 reacted to the soul and funk records more than the reggae ones influenced hip-hop’s sound, but the connection with reggae and sound systems has always been there since the beginning. When it comes to the history of hip-hop, the two genres are intrinsically linked and I believe that it is in Britain where this explicitly becomes the case. Due to the colonial history between the two countries and the steady immigration from Jamaica during the twentieth century, the culture of the Caribbean island has gradually seeped into culture in the UK especially amongst younger generations. With second and third generation migrants there developed a need to find their own identity in Britain, the country they considered home. Over the course of the 1980’s for a number of youths this was played out in the progression from reggae to hip-hop, as hip-hop became the music for them to ‘document their own history’ (Back, 1996: 193) and helped to develop a hip-hop scene in London different from that in America. Hip-Hop in the UK has often, and unfairly so in my opinion, been derided as a cheap imitation of its American counterpart when it is this cross-cultural collaboration that has helped create music that is distinctly British in sound. The music’s hybridity has helped develop a number of styles utilising its aural sensibilities to create unique soundscapes. Consequently, reggae has a deep and strong connection to the hip-hop that grew out of London and has been vital as a means to voice identity politics in this multicultural city. As a result, reggae sound systems and the youths involved within them have had a lasting impact on the foundation and development of hip-hop in London during the 1980’s.

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  1. Living the Dream Tippa Irie 3:27