Sunday 27 February 2011



Album Reviews of:
and ‘BIG FIVE’ (Westmoor Music CD’s)

‘AL C’PONE’S GUNS DON’T ARGUE!’ A startle of sten-gun fire. A screech of tortured tyres. And then the rhythm. That perfect ooze of sensually loping Bluebeat rhythm…

The sixties Mod Scene may have been many things – elitist, narcissistic, pill-scrambled and ego-centred, but alongside its early championing of Stax/Motown imports, it was perceptive enough to recognise the nascent energies of black creativities closer to home. That raw stew of R&B jive that mutated into Ska, Rock-Steady, and – eventually, into Reggae. But meantime, no self-respecting Lambretta pillion was complete without the visual flash of Ska-Face Prince Buster’s ‘Fabulous Greatest Hits’. A decade-and-something later it was rediscovered in the bleak environs of recession-hit Coventry, and shocked back into the charts through a new Mod generation of manically inspired Two-Tone covers. Madness started out as “Madness” – the title of a Prince Buster single on Bluebeat BB170, and a featured track on ‘On Tour’ (originally issued as Bluebeat BBLP808). Just as their “One Step Beyond” was the original ‘B-side of the sublime “Al Capone” (BB324) – opening cut on ‘Fabulous Greatest Hits’, and the first-ever Top 20 hit for Emil Shallit’s Shepherd’s Bush based Bluebeat label…

Cecil Bustamante ‘Prince Buster’ Campbell – never a particularly accomplished musician himself, had worked his way up through Coxone Dodd’s sound-system as DJ into early notoriety as songwriter, toaster and singer in his own right. He used the cream of Kingston players, honking and blaringly dissonant brass with production effects often anticipating Dub, which oddly found even greater acceptance in Britain – where he recorded with members of the Georgie Fame Band, and even in the USA, than he did at home in Jamaica. While all his best Rude Boy moments, all you REALLY need to know about Prince Buster, can be found on the ‘Fabulous Greatest Hits’ – “Judge Dread”, “Free Love”, “Too Hot”, the outrageously cod-macho “Ten Commandments of Man”, the bizarrely unstructured “Ghost Dance” (‘…give him my regards, / tell him Prince Buster says ‘hello’…’) and the mega-bragging “Earthquake”. On the strength of such a pulsating roll of offbeat power he played a seventeen-date British tour through April into May 1967 including such unlikely venues as the Reading College of Technology and the Ritz Ballroom Swansea, as well as the Brixton ‘Ram Jam’ Club and a ‘Ready Steady Go’ slot. His ‘Prince Buster On Tour’ album was supposedly taped from these gigs but is actually a London studio romp with added sounds provided by a tiny invited audience dubbed across “Al Capone” (again), “007”, “Sound and Pressure” and a most outstanding outing of “Cincinnati Kids”. ‘Great for your Mod parties’ opined the ‘Record Mirror’ review at the time of its first release.

Unfortunately, by the time he got around to recording ‘Big Five’ (originally Skank Records SKA BB3, from 1970) the buzz had gone elsewhere. The teasing sexism of “Ten Commandments” had become grotesquely risqué, a nudge-nudge-wink-wink zone better exploited by cheeky newcomer Max Romeo. Even Buster himself later admitted dissatisfaction with material like “Sister Big Stuff”, “Wash the Pum Pum”, and “The Virgin” – mutilating Ewan MacColl/Roberta Flack’s “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” with lyrics that go ‘you should have told me it was your first time, my love, / I would play around the edge, / tickle the little thing and make you sing…’. Or the title song ‘today I smoked an ounce of weed, / tonight I’m going to plant a seed / in her womb, alright’. Bluebeat seldom came bluer.

Buster’s been off and on various catalogues ever since their vinyl debut – including Melodisc, Skank and Spartan, but eventually the Prince also made CD status in time to spark a third Ska-wave. With the sounds digitally-preserved as crudely earth-quaking as ever, plus the bonus of loving reproductions of the original cut-and-paste album sleeves. Sure, you can listen to the latest Ragga and Two-Tone compilations, but do yourself a favour, skip back to ‘Fabulous Greatest Hits’ too, and re-groove into ‘my name is KERPOWN! C-A-P-O-N-E! DON’T CALL ME SKA-FACE…!!!’

1 comment:

Gerald (SK14) said...

Hey man ah remember Prince Buster - I had a few Ska records in my collection of old 45s including some demo discs - my favourites were "Higgs & Wilson" if i recall t'name correctly.