Dubbing With The Royals

Negusa Nagast (If You Want Good)
Nose Hole (If You Want Good)
Waizero (Facts Of Life)
Wigwam (Blacker Black)
Llongo (Pick Up The Pieces)
Pride Of A Black Man (Pick Up The Pieces)
Monkey Fashion (Pick Up The Pieces)
Land Of Milk & Honey (Promised Land)
Manna From The Sky (Malnutrition)
Peace, Love And Dub (Peace & Love)
Tirang (Only For A Time)
Tekla (Sufferer Of The Ghetto)
Mia (Way Of Life)
Jemima Antonia Dub (Oh My Love)
Sugar Candy (Ghetto Man)
Oongaan (Ghetto Man)
Janhoi (Make Believe)
Jammy's Dub (Make Believe)
Dub The Wrong (When You Are Wrong)

"To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven."
Ecclesiastes Chapter 3, Verse 1.

"Those that are denied other means of expression have to sing in order for their voices to be heard" but this Royals album features only fragments of their superb vocals. It emphasises just how important the rhythm is in reggae music even to a group as firmly rooted in the Jamaican vocal tradition as The Royals. Every songwriter explores the connection between music and lyrics but the rhythm is the additional omnipresent factor in Jamaican music. It has become an almost separate entity that makes reggae what it is. An album of this nature focuses on the rhythm alone and illustrates just how essential it is to the structure and development of the songs. 'Dubbing With The Royals' stands on its own incredibly high musical merits but 'Pick Up The Pieces' by The Royals (Pressure Sounds PSCD36) or any of Roy's fine Tamoki Wambesi Dove vocal albums are recommended as the perfect listening companion to this set.

What the general public now knows as 'dub' music was usually made as backing tracks for vocals although Winston Edwards' 'King Tubby Meets The Upsetter At The Grass Roots Of Dub' album is a notable exception to this particular rule. However dub music has rather ironically tended to take on a far greater importance to the rest of the world than it has within reggae music itself. Roy Cousins takes up the story.

"In the early days the music came out on seven inch records with an A and a B side and dub plate was for the Sound man alone. The majority of the early dubs we did make were made for the Sound Systems. Me did never believe in it at the beginning but the public became interested and it brought the Sound System business into the record business. We'd record the rhythm on one track and the voice on the other. We never used to tie the voice and the rhythm together as that way you could run the rhythm for whatever purpose you wanted. If you dropped the voice out then the Sound System deejay could talk over the rhythm. In the beginning Dynamics and the bigger men wouldn't do it and engineers such as Byron Smith and Karl Pitterson never used to mix the dubs. Those engineers wouldn't sit down and work the board like Tubby's. In my knowledge he was the first and that's how Tubby's got such fame. All of them dub things used to carry on at Tubby's."

In many ways vocalists such as Roy could not help but feel some asperity towards the public's preference for dub and deejays but his deep knowledge and understanding of the music made him fully aware that reggae would always have to be built on a solid foundation of vocal music:

"As an artist and a producer I did see it differently because a man who sings and plays the music sees it differently to a man who just puts up the money to make an album. In my time in the business it wasn't easy. We had to learn everything properly and had to be rehearsed for the one take. That's how we learnt music. Later on it became easier but we, the older generation, had to learn the hard way. We had to sing harmony and sing it properly so you either stood the test of time or just leave the business alone. Auditions would be held on a Sunday so we'd go to Gladdy at Duke Reid and you'd go in and start to sing. If you made the simplest mistake you'd be told to go home and don't show your face for three months... so you'd walk to Studio One where you might get luckier but when you're up against The Melodians and all them people it was a ding dong battle! You had to get it right. Then you'd go up on stage at the Carib or the Ward Theatre or even one of the Vere Johns talent shows where if you entered you'd had to win or you wouldn't get recorded. You had to win a competition before you could go to the studio... but then you'd get sent upstairs at Treasure Isle alongside Alton Ellis & The Flames or The Jamaicans and your problems were still not over. The competition was stiff."

And even if you did eventually manage to get your songs recorded there was still no guarantee that they would ever be released on record:

"Hundreds of men recorded and the producer never put it out. Coxsone never wanted to put out 'Pick Up The Pieces' and if it wasn't for Larry Marshall it would never have seen the light of day. The first Studio One pressing was credited to The Tempests but I would never record a song and then record it over. I would have left it if I'd known it was going to come out because if I did sing something for a producer I'd never sing it back."

In order to ensure that his music was released Roy made the first steps in self production:

"'Pick Up The Pieces' came out on the Uhuru label. I find Uhuru in a book I was reading (Uhuru is the Swahili word for freedom). That is the origin of my self production work and then 'Monkey Fashion' came out on Tamoki label. My first wife, Eunice, was a Jamaican Indian and Tamoki was an Indian Chief from America so I called the label for her. After that I moved to Wambesi. The Wambesi were a peaceful tribe of African farmers... the names of the dubs such as 'Llongo', 'Tirang' and 'Yakud' all come from Phantom Comics."

It is not difficult to sympathise with the reaction of the established artists to the phenomenon of dub as what were originally regarded as nothing more than gimmicks came, for a time, to be the predominant form of music. Roy is not bitter about this, producing a string of fine dub albums for Tamoki Wambesi Dove when he started to concentrate on production in the eighties, but it did tend to overlook the inherent qualities in the music that he loved to create:

"I felt that people like dub in England and on the Continent because they didn't understand what the singers were singing about and that's my understanding of why reggae didn't sell. If they listen to the dub and instrumental side they can appreciate it without understanding it. But that's not the thinking of a proper reggae artist who likes the music heavy and hard with good musicians and decent lyrics... but if you stuck to your roots then you're not making money."

Reluctant at first but pragmatic when it came to be put to the test Roy began to realise the beauty within of his superb rhythm tracks and just how much a different dub mix could add to them but he would never lose sight of the fact that you can never make something out of nothing:

"King Tubby's always said that if the original engineer didn't do his job properly and the first take wasn't spot on then no engineer could get nothing from it."

When it came to the first take Sylvan Morris initially at Studio One and then at Harry J's was the foremost recording engineer:

"He's the greatest. He's so good that if it wasn't for him Studio One wouldn't exist. He's a qualified electronics technician and before he went to Studio One the board would break down every five minutes but he did repair it. Same thing at Harry J's. No-one ever complained about Sylvan Morris."

And Roy began to see just how different the approaches of the mixing masters could be:

"Lee Perry always expect to come up with something new! From the beginning him try improvisation and that's what made him great. People thought his equipment was a joke but Lee Perry made it work... Ernest Hookim has never got the recognition. When he took over at Channel One he revolutionised the whole reggae sound and moved it twenty years forward. Ernest was a perfectionist and Jo Jo always made it his business to drive round and know what was going on."

Roy never stopped caring about the quality of the music that he was making:

"If me record a singer me guide him along but most of the people can't even tell when they're going wrong. You have to be able to play your instrument or you have to be able to sing..."

So don't look here for unrestrained deconstructions of The Royals' recordings. This is a completely different approach rooted in an empathy for the nature of the songs and their lyrical content allowing the music alone to run free with only the most subtle of touches to augment its beauty. The dignified delicacy of The Royals' vocals is matched note for note by the mixing engineers' different approaches and it serves to illustrate and emphasise how perfectly formed and well crafted the rhythms are.

"People don't know how these songs were made. People don't know the mood that make them."

This album represents a golden opportunity for us to be able to see into the processes of how The Royals' songs were made and to further our acquaintance with Roy Cousins and his work. As the set opens Roy's good friend, the late Prince Far I, advises us to be good to the people we meet on the way up because it is inevitable that we will meet the same people on the way down. Roy has always been good to everyone but his constant self-effacement has meant that even now not enough people are sufficiently familiar with his beautiful music... yet he will always be on the way up.

"This is the proper way of putting out music! I'm doing this for the next generation that come up but if a man don't know me just leave it at that. Leave it be."

Harry Hawke - July 2004

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