Various Artists: Gay Feet – Album Review
Various Artists: Gay Feet
Released 13 October 2017
Reissue of the rare and sought after first album of Sonia Pottinger recordings originally released in 1966, with 12 bonus tracks included……LTW’s Ian Canty takes an audio trip to the sound of 60s uptown Jamaica…..
Following on from the excellent Dancing On Orange Street (reviewed here), Doctor Bird takes us further back in time to give, at last, another airing what was Sonia Pottinger’s debut album Gay Feet (named after her premier record label at the time). This recording was made up of some of her earliest productions efforts with of all tracks being recorded in 1965/66. Whilst there is plenty here of interest for Ska buffs, it also acts as a reminder that things were not as clear-cut with regard to the trends in JA music as it might seem on first glance.
Though it is true to say the island pretty much went Ska crazy for a while during the mid-60s, the bands that played live in the clubs always had more than that one string to their bow. Though Ska was undoubtedly the fashionable sound of the time (the pace would soon cool down with the Rocksteady craze coming in the year following the release of Gay Feet), the dancers still needed respite from the frantic beat. Also, older forms like Calypso, Boogie, Jump Up Blues rhythms and the still wildly popular American R&B held considerable sway.
The trumpeter and bandleader Baba Brooks was perhaps the key figure in Pottinger’s early producing career, providing 6 tracks on the original Gay Feet album and possibly backing the vocalists in their endeavours on the record too (can’t say this for absolutely certain, but it really sounds like it). He had started playing in the 50s and his own band made their breakthrough with the big hit “Independence Ska”. They had been a popular combo ever since, much sought after for sessions and live dates. At the time of the recordings here they had stormed the Jamaican charts again with Guns Fever, cut for Coxsone Dodd.
Brooks’ band were styled in a very similar fashion to the Skatalites (who Brooks played sessions with). They both came upon Ska from a Jazzy direction with lots of floating brass lines constructed over the top of the frantic Ska tempo and bewitching rhythms. Brooks and Co were dab hands at that lazy sounding, walking double bass sound that in a way pre-empted the Reggae boom of 1969, but also could easily handle the exotic native sounds of the island, US R&B and anything else they decided to turn their hands to.
Getting back to the album itself, Gay Feet opens up with not with a hot Ska number, but the charming R&B/Doo Wop ballad Every Night by Joe White And Chuck. Whether by accident or design this one is enlivened by the cracking drum sound Sonia got on it. Next track First Session by Baba Brooks brings us our first taste of Bluebeat that would have no doubt delighted discerning Modernists of the time, smooth guitar licks helping the track stand out. Faberge also by Baba is lovely, a lazy trumpet and horns atop that driving beat – super! The fast pace and soulful singing on the Techniques’ Heartaches makes for a treat and Bugle Boy by Baba Brooks has the sound of pure calypso, even if it is an instrumental. A youthful combo called the Saints provide two highlights, By The Sea which shows the influence Doo Wop had on Rocksteady on the album proper and the Hawaiian guitar infused Brown Eyes as an extra.
Also among the bonuses it is great to hear an early duet between two future legends, the “King Of Rocksteady” who had just left the Uniques, Roy Shirley and Ken Boothe (a big favourite of Pottinger’s). Their song Lollipop Tonight has that lurching, ominous rhythm and some great Hammond work – one for the Mod clubs for sure.
One can only imagine the excitement of hearing this record at the time, with its exotic sounds and irresistible rhythms making you feel warm and happy even in the dampness and drizzle of the UK. The band (who could conjure up that magic Blues Bustin’ formula at the drop of a hat to keep the people happy and moving) worked hard and along with their featured vocalists utilised their considerable skills well on this showing. Apart from being a thoroughly engaging listen, Gay Feet also tells us the story of popular music and nightlife in Uptown Jamaica in the 1960s. Another smart release from what’s shaping up to be the Reggae reissue imprint.
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All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here