Interview: Chris Lane, Reggae Writer – Part 2

April 7, 2013

In part two of the interview with pioneering reggae journalist Chris Lane, Angus and Chris lose the narrative thread of the discussion completely but cover a variety of topics such as the state of reggae music and reggae criticism today…


Was it ever on the cards to write a book about reggae?

Yeah, probably in about ’77 or ’78, because Nick Kimberley and Penny Reel had done this Pressure Drop magazine and I got roped in for the second one. We were going to do a third one because we all agreed at the time that 1972 had been such a classic year for reggae. We were going to do a 1972 edition of Pressure Drop and write it as though it was actually 1972: “Look at this great record from Glen Brown, Merry Up. It’s like nothing you’ve ever heard before”. Of course we never got round to it but Nick knew someone at Pluto Press and we actually signed a contract and got paid a very small advance to write this book about reggae. It was going to be the history of reggae and I remember at the time that I even did a thing about dub and how dubs are mixed, the track layouts, why the Studio One dubs on the albums sound the way they do because they come from 2-track tape, how the Tubby’s dubs sound the way they do because they’re using 4-track tape, and the Channel One’s… blah, blah, blah. So I had that sort of technical thing going. I understood how those things worked because I’d seen it done in Jamaica and so on. But for whatever reason it never happened.

One of the things about writing a book about reggae now is that you have to be quite careful, especially if it’s something quite definitive, that if you miss something out then someone’s going to get really annoyed and so on.

To me it’s one of the biggest problems about writing about reggae now. I’m not a great one for internet forums, I go on one forum because I’ve got a couple of mates on there and I enjoy most of the company on there, but there’s just so much rewriting of history that’s gone on in the last 20 or 30 years. Things that I’ve known since I was in my teens are suddenly “Oh no, that’s not the way it was”. Like dub. Everybody’s definition of what a dub is, is different now. I used to cut dubs. I know that originally “to dub” means “to copy” and that’s why acetates or dubplates were called dubs. If you had a dub of something you had, not necessarily a different mix, but you had a copy of something on acetate because it wasn’t yet released on vinyl, so you had it on dub. Then that sort of shifted into “That’s a dub mix” which meant that you’ve got a different mix.

Right, you mean like a special or a dubplate?

Yeah, but not a special in the modern sense where you’ve got a singer singing about you and your sound system… it’s when you’ve got your own mix. We – me and John and Dave Hendley and my missus –  were very lucky to get Scratch to mix us some exclusive dubs in the Black Ark. We got dub mixes of ‘I’ve Got The Groove’, ‘History’ and a couple of others, all mixed live and direct on to tape from the 4 track. A couple of those have surfaced on CD’s now. And of course sounds used to go into Tubby’s and whatever tapes he had lying about from Bunny Lee or Yabby You or whatever you could ask them for an exclusive mix. Me and John and Dave Hendley and my missus did this. We got these Yabby You dubs that Jammy mixed for us, to our specification, because we were over Jammy’s shoulder at the time saying “Cut the drums and bass out. Cut the rhythm out. Echo this. Echo that” and really, really getting on his tits as well, as he told us later. This was ’77, I think. About a year later Dave Hendley was interviewing Jammy for something and I went along. It was in Fatman’s flat up in Tottenham, and Dave said to him “Jammy, is there anything that annoys you in the studio when you’re mixing?” and he looked at both of us and he went “Yeah, when I’ve someone behind me, looking over my shoulder, telling me what to do and what to cut out”.

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