CD / DL / LP
Released November 24th
Two separate albums consolidating the return of Louder Than War favourites Ruts DC as a brilliant proposition: the UK’s answer to Sly & Robbie having a Punky Reggae Party (in Dub). One, live recordings from 2013 / 14 and the other’s a reissue of the 1982 album recorded with the Mad Professor. Both indispensable says Ged Babey speaking for all of us at Louder Than War.
“When we trod this land, we walk for one reason. The reason is to try to help another man to think for himself. The music of our hearts is roots music: music which recalls history, because without the knowledge of your history, you cannot determine your destiny; the music about the present, because if you are not conscious of the present, you are like a cabbage in this society.
Live On Stage opens with the Misty-in-Roots Live at the Counter-Eurovision intro (which also appeared in the order of Service at John Peel’s funeral) only it’s wrapped in swirling keyboard sounds, rattling congas and reverb. It’s a perfect start, like a fuzzy memory of listening to the radio in the late 70s remembering the first time you heard those words.
Back in the day The Clash and Two-Tone helped unite black and white youth and music, but the Ruts & Misty made a massive contribution to grass-roots unity. (There’s a pun in there, ganga perhaps being the glue which cemented the relationship between many punks and rastas.) The Ruts debut ‘In A Rut’ was released on Mistys People-Unite label, so it’s only right that Smokes Intro opens proceedings on Ruts DC MK II’s Live album as a thank-you.
Anyone who has seen Ruts DC play live over the past couple of years is, I’m sure, gonna agree that they were / are one of the best bands they’ve seen for a while. The gig, whichever one it was, was a brilliant night, great atmosphere, the whole crowd behind the band, willing them on… because everyone, or at least half the crowd, knew the history, the story of the Ruts / Ruts DC. They knew that singer Malcolm Owen died tragically young in 1980 and that guitarist Paul Fox, comparatively recently. Even the young cynics who thought, “…it’s just the bassist and drummer and they’re fuckin’ ancient now…” had to agree that ” fuckin ‘ell they’re good”.
Ruts DC despite, and even ignoring the history, were and still are a great band. Guitarist Leigh Heggarty is brilliant. Replacing and replicating the late, great Foxy is a near-impossible task, but he does it well, adding his own touches when possible but without over-playing or diverging from the original script.
Molara, a long time Ruts fan when she was in Zion Train, is a force of nature. Her vibrancy and enthusiasm’s a vital part of the reanimated Ruts DC. She knows she couldn’t replace Malcolm Owen so sings only on the songs that suit her voice and gives a femininity to a band that could’ve easily slipped into a macho laddish path.
Seamus Beaghan provides organ and melodica, making the sound of Ruts DC a perfect combination of reggae, dub and rock.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that Ruts DC Live On Stage is one of the best live albums I’ve ever heard. (I’ve had it for nearly a month now and it just gets better and better … it really is up there with It’s Alive and Play by Magazine… the perfect encapsulation and souvenir of a gig, whether you were actually there or not.)
I made the mistake of listening to old recordings of the Ruts live (the BBC / Windsong split LP with Penetration) and realised how magnificent they were then. Laddish & rock-hard, fast and knockabout, but always with at least two more strings to their bow than most, the reggae stuff and the post-punk mid-pace stuff (It was Cold). OK, Ruts DC obviously don’t have the youthful energy but they do have the experience and dynamics to pace themselves perfectly. Live On Stage captures a band who have survived losing two key members and now, in their 50s, they want to pay tribute to them and their work and their friendship and to share it with an audience. There is sadness and joy in Ruts DC’s music, it’s a tribute to the past but very much a life-goes-on, life-affirming thing, full of dignity and self-belief, achieved by proving themselves as a great, re-activated band.
Molara’s singing on Whatever We Do, Love In Vain, Mighty Soldier and Jah War is sublime. When Seggs takes over lead vocals he does a decent job, but it’s the songs and playing which carry them. His banter between songs is geezerish and priceless. “That’s what they call Shredding” he says after a particularly hot piece of guitar-playing at the end of Mirror Smashed “Were you shredding there sir?” He refers to himself and Ruffy as ‘us old boys’ and the beautiful mash-up of SUS / Smiling Culture he does a disservice by dismissing it as “pseudo-political nonsense”.
When the band play a full minute of the lesser know Weak Heart as a false intro to the biggest crowd-pleaser Babylons Burning, Seggs bellows “Didya see what we did there!” ruining the subtlety of how the music turns on a sixpence.
The most beautiful and desperately sad version of an old Ruts song is Love in Vain, performed to perfection and as Segs says afterwards “It’s always emotional that song cos it’s about our friend, but sometimes it gets worse than others” and you just know that this is music from the heart, full of soul, music which has to be made as part of an ongoing healing process rather than a money-making concern.
The album is split evenly between Ruts songs and Ruts DC material, slower stuff and more uptempo numbers and as I said, it’s perfectly paced and well-executed. The banter and cheers from the crowd make it atmospheric and full of character. It is, simply fantastic. Essential…
…and as a result it makes Rhythm Collision Volume 1 seem a bit dry and slightly dated in direct comparison. The sensible option business-wise would have been to leave a month or more gap between releasing it and Live On Stage. But it just goes to prove that the band are artists rather than Biz-people and just wanted to make it available for fans who have been asking about it for a year or more now.
Originally released in 1982 it was re-released in 1987 on the ROIR label, remixed and re-released in 1999 as Ruts DC meets Zion Train and then again in 2002 as a double CD – original and re-mixes. This presumably is the definitive version, now featuring three previous unreleased versions / mixes in addition to the eight original tracks, bringing the running time up to six minutes short of an hour.
RC Vol 1 is very much a product of the relationship between the band and producer the Mad Professor aided and abetted by a big bag of Nigerian grass (a long story retold in the extensive sleeve notes). It’s the same as the Slits Cut – very much a collaboration sonically between producer and band. As Louder Than War colleague Joe Whyte says in his review of Vive Le Rock, there is a similarity between RC Vol 1 and PIL’s Metal Box, in its vibe and complex simplicity; although the funkiness of Militant and Push Your Self – Make It Work is almost into Spandau Ballet’s white-funk territory of Chant No 1 – We Don’t Need This Pressure On (yikes!) (I never knew, incidentally, that Fox and Ruffy pre-punk played in a funk band, Hit and Run, which included J.D. Nicholas who went on to join The Commodores in the U.S”. It’s amazing what you can learn from Wikipedia.)
Mitt Gamons harmonica features heavily on a few tracks, giving them an Augustus Pablo feel only on a different wind-instrument obviously. Weak Heart Dub is really cool dub and on a par with anything coming out of Lee Perrys Black Ark.
With the benefit of hindsight, Rhythm Collision Vol 1 was for its time a brilliant forward-looking album. Made at a time when the band were still reeling from the death of Malcolm Owen and after the lukewarm response to their Animal Now album. It sounds rootsy yet futuristic, danceable yet chill-out and a smokers album if we’re honest about it.
Whilst it is great that it’s available again, if money is tight then the live album is the one to get immediately. If you don’t, well then you are simply a cabbage in this society.
If, like me, you’re now eager to catch the band live then you’re in luck as they go out on tour from today visiting these places:
- Nov 13 The Liquid Room, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
- Nov 14 Buskers Dundee, United Kingdom
- Nov 15 Audio Glasgow, United Kingdom
- Nov 16 The Moorings Bar, Aberdeen, United Kingdom
- Nov 20 The Donkey Leicester, United Kingdom
- Nov 21 The Assembly Leamington Spa, UK
- Nov 22 The Hairy Dog Derby, United Kingdom
- Nov 28 Manchester Academy 3 Manchester, United Kingdom
- Nov 29 The Tivoli Buckley, United Kingdom
- Dec 11 Milton Keynes Craufurd Arms Wolverton, United Kingdom
- Dec 12 The Waterfront Norwich, United Kingdom
- Dec 20 The Fleece Bristol, United Kingdom
All words Ged Babey. More writing by ged on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive.