Various – Duke Reid International Disco SeriesVarious – Duke Reid International – album review

Doctor Bird

3CD/DL

Released 9 April 2021

The complete Duke Reid International Disco Series collection, made up of 12 inch cuts that were remixes of classic Treasure Isle rocksteady grooves. These were put together in 1977/1978 by Errol Brown and overseen by Sonia Pottinger and the updated mixes enabled these old tunes to ride high once more in the dancehall era. This 3CD set includes four previous unreleased recordings…Ian Canty goes international…

By the time that the remixes that make up this Duke Reid International Disco Series set were originally released, Duke himself had died. Before his death he had passed Treasure Isle into the hands of his friend Sonia Pottinger and she launched a reissue programme of the material with a difference. 12 inch vinyl singles had at the time had become fashionable on the Kingston music scene, with long dub parts often being added to old songs that were first taped back in the mid-1960s. The fuller sound that was achievable on these 12″ discs was ideal for bass-led 70s reggae and as a result these cuts soon were very popular at the local dances and discotheques. This in turn led to these records being nicknamed disco plates by dancehall DJs, which was then abbreviated to discos.

Sonia was keen that the Treasure Isle archive should be pressed into service to this end, which led to what we have here, The Duke Reid International Disco Series. These singles were issued on the Treasure Isle and High Note imprints, both of which were at the time under Mrs Pottinger’s auspices. She set studio engineer Errol Brown to work on updating some quality rocksteady sides for use on the dancehall scene of the late 1970s. Brown’s methods in the main seemed to liberally apply echo to the original recording, include additional instrumentation where required (Ansel Collins and Sly & Robbie were among the crack team of musicians on hand for this) and bulk up the running time by using new DJ toasts and/or lengthy dub sections during the second half of these extended mixes.

For the most part, these decade-old rhythms where so elegantly constructed initially that they easily crossed over into the dancehall environment. It is difficult to see how you could go wrong with such strong source material, but even so there is the odd pretty clumsy sounding segue, for example The Paragons’ heavenly Riding High rather stutters into its second half GT.195 by Jah Stone. Even from my low level of musical knowledge I can see that the tune doesn’t really lend itself to the sort of lengthening tactic employed, but I suppose the dual nature of the track’s title does give the listener fair warning of the fairly bumpy cut ahead. On Joya Landis’ Kansas City the new additions and adornments sound a bit forced too, but the jauntiness of Joya’s delivery saves the day.

Apart from that observation, disc one of Duke Reid International Disco Series is graced with three classy offerings from Alton Ellis, including the righteous If I Could Rule This World, which has a neat drop out dub part added. The Techniques are paired with Ranking Trevor and Jah Walton on a bouncy You Don’t Care and their soulful rocksteady beauty Queen Majesty respectively and also the new, dub percussion version of I’m In the Mood For Love impresses. The famous and fabulous Ali Baba by John Holt is also included too in a previously unissued guise, with some big percussive crashes enlivening the dub section.

The talented Phyllis Dillon’s Get On The Right Track was lovely in its original form with some lyrical brass. The toasting bit of The Paragons’ My Best Girl is pretty well accomplished and Ken Parker’s True Love opens up coolly before quickly going dub-wise. Overall this first disc is full of inventiveness, with the old rhythms retaining their verve while the new amendments make a mark.

As these revived tunes proved a success with dance patrons, more Treasure Isle classics were dusted down for this new age. Moving onto disc two we have another set of familiar rocksteady and boss reggae tunes given an overhaul. This platter gets underway with The Techniques’ cool charmer Love Is Not A Gamble being given dub echo touches and Ranking Trevor again joins up to marshal the second half in a DJ style. Additional, watery sounding percussion and a toast is appended to I Can’t Stand It by Alton Ellis, which actually works rather well. Travelling Man by The Sensations however is another one with a clunky crossover point to its instrumental second part. The guitar is highlighted in the later stages and the work Brown and his musicians put in pretty subtle apart from that segue, keeping a lot of Duke Reid’s production in place.

Both a very jolly Peace And Love by The Jamaicans and The Paragons’ Mercy, Mercy, Mercy are similarly rendered and disc two does tend to see a touch more restraint employed in the mixes. Ranking Trevor lives up to his repute with a cool toast on an elongated and dubby take of Alton Ellis’ You Make Me So Very Happy and It’s You I Love by The Techniques sounds positively heavenly with added echo. Nora Dean’s bawdy reggae classic gets the same treatment, but doesn’t work quite as well, which may be why it remained in the archive until now. Having said that, the double of Alton Ellis and Papa Ritchie with Breaking Up and The Supersonics’ Breaking Up Dub bring things to a finish on this portion of the collection in a stylish fashion.

The final disc of this set finds us with another 13 items for our consideration, from many of the same top-level artists that star in the other two platters, like The Melodians, The Paragons and John Holt. The quality of the source material is not really in question. For instance, we kick off with The Paragons’ beauty Baby Love, which morphs into Jah Stone’s toast on the rhythm Westmoreland Flood. Some Alton Ellis tracks from his heyday as the king of rocksteady are remixed, including Cry Tough, where the rhythm is slowed down a pace for the dub section. I know there is an argument that you shouldn’t meddle with the classic Duke Reid originals, but Chatty Chatty People also works well with light dub moves applied.

Ken Price might not have made the same impact as Alton or John Holt, but his I Should Have Known is an excellent slice of rocksteady. Here Errol Brown gently teases out the dub elements with drop-out, percussion, organ and echo in a very pleasing manner. The Techniques cover of The Temptations’ elegant I Wish It Would Rain turns into a languid Jah Walton toast It’s Raining and You Have Caught Me by The Melodians adds more echo to the vocals and then falls away into an extensive drum and bass section. On this disc we also have previously unheard versions of John Holt’s Stealing and The Jamaicans’ Baba Boom Boom. The former strips away to the rhythm and eventually leaves just a sliver of John’s voice and the latter’s smooth skank gives way to a toast and warp sounds. Finally, The Supersonics chip in with two cuts, with sax man Carl Bryan taking the lead credit on a very cool Red Ash and Jah Thomas putting on a good show DJ-wise style on Musical Beat.

While I wouldn’t go as far to say that these updates are improvements on the originals, they also aren’t that detrimental to them either. The new mixes offer a different slant on these mostly well-known tunes and imbue them with a vitality, fresh energy and style that took you closer to how you would hear them at a dance at the time. Certainly, as far as the reuse of classic material in a modern context goes, these mixes are huge step up in quality from the sort of “Stars On 45” kind of thing that had a reign of terror the UK charts in the early 1980s. The toasts and dub sections are lively and entertaining for a start and the respect that the new breed of JA reggae had for the previous wave is never in doubt. Recycling oldies for another day in the sun had always been a feature of Jamaican music since the ska days, so it seemed natural for these excellent discs to get a refit in the modern age.

This is Doctor Bird’s first three-disc release I think and is very well put together. It is full of good tunes, with the base material being so strong to begin with. Yes, the original offerings were truly were built to last, but more relevantly here they are given a convincing spruce up for late 1970s dancehall. It was something which gave people like me hundreds of miles away from those events at least a taste of the real atmosphere of the dance and that has value enough in itself. On listening to Duke Reid International Disco Series, the mixes here still fulfil that role, where someone at home can imagine a skilful DJ toasting freestyle to whip up the crowd into an agog state, whilst dub plates are manipulated expertly on the turntable. That is the true joy of this set – bringing the party direct to your home in these solitary times.

All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here

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