Errol Dunkley – Darling Ooh!Errol Dunkley – Darling Ooh! – album review

Doctor Bird


9 July 2021

2CD set built around OK Fred hitmaker Errol Dunkley’s 1972 album produced by Sonia Pottinger. This LP is bolstered here by the first release of the Joy To the World compilation, which was originally due to be issued by Trojan Records back in the early 1970s. This record featured contributions from Judy Mowatt, Max Romeo and Scotty among others. Also included is a raft of bonus tracks from the Pottinger archive. Ian Canty dunks these musical biscuits…

Errol Dunkley is best known on these shores for his 1979 hit single Ok Fred, a version of a John Holt song, which reached number eleven in the UK hit parade. By that time he had well over a decade of experience in music, starting his recording career back in 1965 with the Gypsy single, a Lindon Pottinger production. He then recorded with Prince Buster before teaming up with Joe Gibbs fruitfully during the rocksteady era, after an introduction from Bunny Lee. The Explosive Rocksteady set, also released by Doctor Bird this month, features some of their work together. After leaving Gibbs’ set-up he spent time cutting discs for Coxone Dodd and Rupie Edwards. In the early 1970s Dunkley returned to the Pottinger fold, now with Sonia at the helm, for his debut album.

Darling Ooh!, otherwise known as Presenting Errol Dunkley, was released in the UK on the Attack label in 1972. This record is a masterpiece of cool, laidback 70s reggae with strong roots leanings, plus a marked soul element to the vocal style. Errol is expertly backed by studio outfit The Gaytones on the album. They featured the lively bass playing of Boris Gardiner and conjure up a sound that was fresh and modern. This gave Dunkley an edge at the time and he takes full advantage of this on a mostly self-penned set of songs. The exceptions were the slow and steady skank of the Holland/Dozier/Holland cover title track, a version of Alton Ellis’ (Ooh Wee) Baby I Love You and the Gaytones’ Jamaican Hi-Lite 1 & 2, a pair of instrumentals with a touch of mento about them.

The smooth trombone-led set opener You’ll Never Know and the more roots Movie Star get the LP off to a bracing start. Created By The Father is another impressive roots tune and a leisurely-paced A Little Way Different is excellent too. Showing that Errol wasn’t at all po-faced, Like To Be Boozed Up is a wry if slightly bitter look at people’s failings and the state of the art sound of I’m Not The Man For You matches a pleasingly thick production to Dunkley’s sweetly plaintive vocal. In summary, Darling Ooh! is a great collection and thoroughly deserving of this reissue.

In many ways it is a real shame that Errol Dunkley didn’t record more with Sonia Pottinger. They were so well suited, but he was close to a permanent move to England, so it wasn’t to be. As a result he only contributes one more track to this collection, the cool dance/proto-lovers rock single side Baby Be True, which was not released in the UK at the time. The remainder of the first disc and the whole second is thrown over to more Sonia Pottinger productions from around the time of Errol’s album.

The bonuses on disc one feature a comic dub version of Baby Be True entitled What’s Your Mouse by Pete Weston. This track starts with a phone ringing and then a scripted and nasal skit develops, satirising the constant reuse of rhythms on the reggae scene. This is somewhat of an irony, as all producers recycled their material widely back then, Sonia included. We appear to be in the thick of the medley craze as we get The Melodians and DJ Dennis Alcapone each giving the listener two part medleys of their better known numbers. This repeats on disc two with the same pair re-treading a few more of their hits. Stranger Cole’s gospel reggae Let The Power Fall On I is a peach and The Heptones’ wonderful voices are deployed to full effect on H-E-L-P.

Disc two of this set gets underway with 12 tunes from the unissued Trojan compilation Joy To The World. The title track is given a neat reggae treatment by Judy Mowatt and she’s also featured on the LP with the tight rhythm of I Shall Sing. Later, among the bonus efforts, she shows up again in very much in a soul vein on a cover of Rescue Me and the pure r&b of Cry To Me. Jackie (Linton) Brown’s soulful reggae number One Night Of Sin is built around the tune of It’s Now or Never and the same rhythm forms the basis for Dennis Alcapone’s bonus track Medley Version (Part 2). A DJ much like Dennis, Scotty toasts agreeably on his Unbelievable Sounds, stating “Cassius Clay, sweeter than Sugar Ray” and the great Max Romeo shines with some fine vocalising amongst the bright bursts of rhythm on his spiritual Pray For Me.

Less known are The Undergrounds. Their rocksteady sax and flute instrument Skavito produces a pleasing result, but their similarly title bonus number Savito is far more mento based. Lennox Brown’s organ and sax combo Heart Of The Knights sounds like it belongs to a good five years prior the release of the Joy To The World LP, but it is jolly good too and The Righteous Flames’ Run To The Rock comes over as an inviting vocal group item. All things considered, the Joy To The World LP was a perfectly good selection and it is difficult to see why it wasn’t released having gone as far as being scheduled by Trojan before it was pulled.

Dipping into the bonuses further, Lou Sparkes’ Return To Me is a decent romantic reggae ballad and The Heptones come up with the goods again with the fairground organ/doo wop sound I’ll Take You Home and a very cool I’ve Been Trying – those voices simply couldn’t fail. The jumping beat of Ugly Man by Jackie Brown is a goodie and the medleys are pretty entertaining, if inessential by nature. All things consider, the bonus tracks highlight the strength in depth Sonia Pottinger had to call on at the time.

Errol Dunkley decamped to the UK soon after Darling Ooh’s release. It is good to report that as recently as 2019 he was recording with the OK Fred LP. This naturally revisited that big hit, but here there is much proof among his efforts here to show he was at top of his game well before reaching the UK. The extensive bonus sides included made for very pleasurable and diverse listening too, all resulting in a well put together and great sounding set. I wish Errol had recorded more of Mrs Pottinger, but what is presented on this Darling Ooh! collection is right out of the top drawer.

All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here

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