Spotlight: 10 Timeless Hits From The British Reggae Scene
The deep dark corners of Bristol, electric streets of Leeds and Glasgow and underground basement parties in London have long been the production grounds of some of the world’s tastiest reggae beats.
I like to think of UK reggae like a good bottle of wine, and myself a pompous critic; bold, tangy beats that are full of flavour, the diamond in the rough with particular legs. And like a good red, the British reggae scene has matured and aged beautifully over time. Long-standing albums from the early 2000s still provide a gentle backdrop to a Sunday day-drinking session at Brixton Jam. Emerging artists blend elements of vintage Marley-era sounds with fresh social commentaries.
An article in the Guardian published in 2016 looked at how young British musicians were ‘bringing reggae back’. As though the genre’s Jamaican roots had been forgotten, used as a makeshift shelf for new genres to take its place. It’s 2018 and I still disagree. Reggae in Britain was never lost and these 10 tracks are shining examples of that.
Gentleman’s Dub Club – 'High Grade' (Leeds)
Northern reggae powerhouses Gentleman’s Dub Club have a reputation for putting on some of the most animated live shows, having refined their festival performances across stages at the likes of Glastonbury, V Festival, Secret Garden Party and Outlook. Released in 2012, ‘High Grade’ is a cheeky tribute to reggae’s most famously associated relaxant. Rich brass tones and muted electronic samples effortlessly lift the hooky chorus “If the truth be told / I’m a sucker for the high grade” and fuse elements of ska and dubtronica for an easy listening experience.
Hollie Cook – 'Milk & Honey' (London)
Daughter of Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook and champion of female-fronted rocksteady and reggae Hollie Cook has been crafting her individual style of “tropical pop” since the early 2000s. Channelling the sounds of Phyllis Dillon and Janet Kay, Hollie’s sexy self-titled debut album boasts opener ‘Milk & Honey’; a sultry, steady rhythmed grinder later presented by Prince Fatty in a saucy dub remix. It’s bygone impossible to not be hooked in by Hollie’s rebellious flare shrouded sweetly by such an enchanting tone.
Prince Fatty – 'Shimmy Shimmy Ya' (London)
Mike “Prince Fatty” Pelanconi is a Grandfather of British reggae. A sound engineer and record producer, he is committed to preserving the sounds of reggae and dub and nurturing new and emerging talent. It’d be ludicrous to even attempt to list the big names Prince Fatty has worked with over the years. ‘Shimmy Shimmy Ya’ is an upbeat, analogue-heavy track perfectly engineered for the dancefloor. Taken from his 2010 album Supersize, it’s a song that’s stood staunchly against the test of time.
Black Roots – 'Tribal War' (Bristol)
Serving up the best of Jamaican heritage is Black Roots. Hailing from the South Western underground hub of nightlife and culture, the Bristol-based band spatter vintage reggae tracks with personal and cultural references. ‘Tribal War’ is the sort of track you’d play for E.T. after he’d dropped into your back garden; an exemplary reggae beat, filled with tropical guitar twangs and janky piano cuts.
The Skints – 'This Town' (London)
In 2007 a punk band decided to turn their hand to reggae and thus, The Skints were born. Long-time lovers of the eclectic hustle of London life, the four-piece pull on their genre-fusing approach to classical reggae to produce tracks like ‘This Town’. Witty lyricism wraps London in a warming lyrical embrace (“London city I was born in / You know I love this town”) while the muted drums give the tune a characteristic bouncy rhythm. A real summer belter since its first release back in 2015.
Mungo’s Hi Fi – 'Did You Really Know' (Glasgow)
I don’t know about you, but before I listened to Mungo’s Hi Fi, Glasgow was one of the last places on earth I’d expect to be home to such an extensive range of reggae musicians. ‘Did You Really Know’ featuring MC Soom T is taken from the coveted album Sound System Champions in 2009, but still feels completely rooted in present-day reggae. Jaunty piano stabs give the track a flavoursome dance feel, and act as a groovey backdrop to Soom T’s husky vocals.
Zion Train – 'Zion High' (London)
Reverbing vocals, rich trumpets and clear-cut drums are signature roots sounds, cooked to perfection in ‘Zion High’ by London-based multimedia dub collective Zion Train. Over the years, their sound – born in Oxford - has been described as acid dub, reggae fusion and dancehall. To put it simply, Zion Train have found their own individual way of styling classical reggae elements by merging the contemporary with the classical.
Natty – 'Bedroom Eyes' (London)
Natty’s downtempo vibe is the product of years of fine-tuning his own sound. After growing up around Pink Floyd and David Bowie, Bob Marley and Sizzla, Natty has a special ability to blend emotive lyricism with dusty vocals and balmy, reggae rhythms. ‘Bedroom Eyes’ exploits simplistic guitar chords that lift his croons, giving this inherently Jamaican track a modern, Western city spin.
Laid Blak – 'Red' (Bristol)
The opening guitar riff to ‘Red’ is a well-known battle cry to all reggae lovers. The urban heavyweights paint a polished, soulful picture deeply set in reggae and drum & bass, but love to play around with smatters of funk, jazz, bhangra and ska. True festival showstoppers, the Bristolian collective have a diversely relatable sound, which over years of touring the world, has yet to stop swathes of infected music fans dancing the night away.
East Park Reggae Collective – 'Rough Diamond' (Leeds)
Hailing from the busy streets of Leeds, the East Park Reggae Collective are a ten-piece band combing the strands of DIY reggae together with pop, electronica and soul music. ‘Rough Diamond’ encapsulates the best of the band’s crisp horn section and Anna Stott’s authentic vocals for a danceable summer experience.