Harry Belafonte meets Shirley Temple Uptown

Gloria (right) and other members of the Vida Walsh centre enjoying Solid Gold: Music from the 50s, 60s and 70s

One of the main reasons I set up the Intensely Relaxed blog was to capture my thoughts and feelings about the changes I am currently making in my career. I think Bowie may have hit the nail on the head when he said, ‘every time I thought I’d got it made, it seemed the taste was not so sweet‘. Nonetheless, I’ve got to say this past week has definitely been one of the sweeter ones of my life, and I’d like to use this post to explain why.

As part of a long standing in-joke, Natalie, a good friend of Sarah’s will often ask, what’s been your champagne moment of the weekend/holiday/trip to Sainsbury’s?* (*delete as appropriate.) I’m not going to explain why she does this but, trust me, it can be a surprisingly entertaining line of questioning. If pushed to answer this question, my sensible side would probably say my champagne moment was contributing as an external expert to an event on co-production Lambeth Council had organised, as part of its work to deliver on its goal of becoming a co-operative council.
 
Returning to my old stomping ground of Lambeth Town Hall as a guest brought home to me how committed I remain to local government. Even more than this, however, it also confirmed how much I have changed and developed as a result of having the chance to work for organisations such as FutureGov and thinkpublic over the past year. This event, together with a a number of other promising developments on the work front this week, has given me renewed belief that I can turn the changes that I am currently experiences into positive new opportunities.
 
As important as today’s event at Lambeth Town Hall was, from a purely personal standpoint, my champagne moment (or should that really be cava or even Lambrini, given the current parlous economic situation?) actually occurred earlier in the week, when I stopped by Age UK’s Vida Walsh centre in Brixton to attend the Solid Gold: music from the 50s, 60s and 70s music afternoon. The session provided me a great opportunity to find out about how older people feel about music and find out what they make of plans to bring older and younger people together through the power of reggae and dub.

Situated just off of Windrush Square, the Vida Walsh centre provides a range of activities for people over 55.  Upon entering the centre, two things struck me. First and most importantly was the warmth of the staff who run the centre. Erica Tate, the centre’s manager, thanked me for visiting and immediately made me feel part of the team. I also greatly enjoyed chatting with Trevor, who oversees the kitchen, not to mention Joyce, who plied me with more patties than one person should ever eat in one sitting. The second thing thing that struck me was, the actual warmth of the centre. Age UK definitely like to keep the place toasty – check the thermostat if you don’t believe me.

Keeping things toasty at Vida’s

Once I’d acclimatised to the room, I set about testing out my plans for a reggae and dub-based project with members of the centre. Recognising I was a guest at members’ music session, I did this in a low-key way, focusing on ensuring members were enjoying themselves and making the most of opportunities to informally discuss my ideas. To this end, I took on the role of DJ (or should that be selector?), asking members to suggest songs, which either myself or Erica would then find on YouTube and play via a surprisingly nifty set-up comprised of a laptop, video projector and portable speakers.

Centre manager Erica enjoying the music

While I had come along to the session with the intention of road-testing older people’s reaction to vintage ska, reggae and dub sounds, it soon became apparent that members’ tastes were surprisingly eclectic. So while Sound Dimension’s Real Rock instantly elicited some top skanking from Eric and even an impromptu toast from Trevor, Violet was just as pleased to hear Abba kick it it far from freestyle with Dancing Queen. Whether it was Gloria’s sweet singing along to Harry Belafonte’s  surprisingly suggestive Jump In The Line or Joan doing Karaoke to Elvis’ The Wonder of You, it was clear how much music meant to everyone at Vida’s. And yes, I’ll admit it, after some initial trepidation over losing my carefully cultivated indie image, I found myself enjoying even the more syrupy numbers in the infectious company of the staff and members of Vida’s.

Violet, Joyce and Pat enjoy the tombola raffle

So what does my experience of Vida’s mean for my plans to use the power of reggae and dub to bring older and young people together? In pretty good shape, actually. In between lining up the selections I managed to have a chat with quite a few people about my plans and everyone was very encouraging about my ideas and expressed interest in attending a community-based event.

Some of the songs requested

While it is clear from the requests we  received from Vida’s members that not everyone is a fan of reggae and dub, for those who had grown up with the music, my selections hit a nerve and sparked memories (to mix metaphors) of family life and good times. Although I do believe Erica is right to adopt an eclectic music policy for the Solid Gold session, I am not entirely convinced sure shots from the likes of UB40 and Shirley Temple would bring in the younger people I am also looking to engage through my project. Instead, I believe by deliberately focusing on reggae and dub I will be able to attract both older and younger fans of the music.

Thanks for sticking with me for what’s turned out to be a rather epic blog post. Still, how many other blogs do you know of that can turn you onto everything from David Bowie to Harry Belafonte and Shirley Temple by way of Sound Dimension? On second thought, maybe don’t answer that question …

The sounds of Vida’s

Sound Dimension – Real Rock. An absolute classic from Studio One. I used this as a statement of intent and it got Erica and Trevor moving and grooving.

 Harry Belafonte – Jump In The Line. Requested by Gloria. This really got members of Vida’s going. The message of ‘shake, shake, shake seniora’ shows that pop music really hasn’t changed all that much in the past 50 years.

Shirley Temple – On The Good Ship Lollypop. One of the more sugary numbers selected but, heh, what do I know?
Elvis Presley – The Wonder of You. Joan gave a great karaoke performance to this number.

UB40 – Red Red Wine. What can you say about UB40 that hasn’t been said before? Yes, they may have have only recently been declared bankrupt but there was no sign that this affected their popularity at Vida’s. For me, Red Red Wine is a true guilty pleasure.

Labi Siffri – Something Inside So Strong. A moving song and a Magic FM classic to boot. As requested by Pat.

Abba – Dancing Queen. Violet was keen to hear as many Abba songs as possible. Here’s one of them.

John Holt – Mr Bojangles. A nice slice of pop-reggae as selected by Erica.

 Theo Beckford – Easy Snapping. I learned from Erica that this song falls is technically blue-beat and not reggae. Apparently blue-beat is the link between ska and reggae.

Billie Holiday – God Bless The Child. Erica is a big jazz fan and enjoyed sharing with members three different versions of God Bless The Child. Two more to follow.

Stevie Wonder – God Bless The Child. This is more my cup of tea. Stevie smooths things out with his cover.

Jill Scott – God Bless The Child. A fresh, neo-soul take on a jazz classic. Gotta love Jill Scott.

The Amazing Jimmy

Jimmy contemplating the next hors d’oeuvre

As some of you may know, I am currently supporting The Amazings, a new social enterprise based in East London that helps people who are about to retire or have retired create amazing experiences with the skills, knowledge and passion they’ve picked up throughout their life.

It was thanks to this connection that last week I had the pleasure to attend an experience delivered by Jimmy, a rising star of The Amazings and all-round nice bloke. Jimmy showed me and the others who attended the session how to prepare a range of classic hors d’oeuvres. Suffice to say, after my evening in the company of Jimmy, dinner parties at my flat will never be the same again. I’d now like to tell you a little bit more about my experience.

My first impressions of the evening were very positive. I was greeted at Hackney Community College and brought up to a well-equipped professional kitchen where the culinary magic would be made. Jimmy was a fine host, immediately putting me and the others at ease with some friendly chat, stories from his youth and and the odd glass of wine or two.

Jimmy’s carefully prepared hors d’oeuvres menu

Once we were suitably refreshed, Jimmy presented us with a hand-written menu he had carefully prepared. We then worked through a series of classic hors d’oeuvres, each course slightly more challenging than the last. Each course followed the same pattern: Jimmy would demo a dish, making it look easy; we would then try to replicate his approach with our own efforts, with varying degrees of success. Despite not being the most confident of cooks, I found that with Jimmy’s support I was pleasantly surprised with the dishes I produced.

Here’s one of Jimmy’s hors d’oeuvres
And here’s one of my efforts …

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed getting to meet Jimmy and prepare lots of tasty food. If I were to make a couple of suggestions for how the experience could be improved, I would suggest the inclusion of one or two contemporary hors d’oeuvres so that we can impress even our Masterchef-watching friends. More importantly, though, I would ask that The Amazings remind people to bring a lunchbox so that they can more easily bring back their tasty treats on public transport. Balancing all those plates of food wasn’t easy but I managed it!

DJ David Katz’ in fine style

I had originally intended to use this week’s post simply to capture the solid progress I’m making on my Dub Revolution but after attending DJ David Katz’ Dub Me Always last night Upstairs at the Brixton Ritzy I felt compelled to do something completely different. Luckily, the feeling soon passed so I am still able to provide you with an update on where things are at, project-wise. But before I do that, please indulge me a little as I share my thoughts on why Dub Me Always is such as special night.

Dub be good to me

The flyer for Dub Me Always describes the night as a ‘reggae and dub extravaganza’. And for once a flyer delivered. After making my past the regular Ritzy crowd of cinema-goers we followed the low-key sign for the night and headed upstairs. There, we were greeted by the warm sound of vintage vinyl, with DJ David Katz sharing some of his rare and not-so-rare selections that stretched across rocksteady, reggae and dub. David delved deep into some heavy dub, all the while keeping things melodic and, dare I say it, infused with a jazz sensibility.

Besides the first-rate music being served up, Dub Me Always was notable for it’s relaxed and friendly crowd. While I appreciate a gathering of people in the upstairs space of an independent cinema in the middle of the week is always going to feel more chilled out than  a trip to Liquid on a Friday night, I was pleasantly surprised by the distinct lack of any hipster pretension that sometimes comes with specialist music nights. Instead, Dub Me Always attracted an unshowy crowd from a range of different ages and backgrounds who were clearly hear to enjoy some good music and good company.

Observing The Observer 

(Left to Right) Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee, DJ David Katz and Niney The Observer. Photo:  Louis Rougier

Whilst the music and mood clearly make Dub Me Always a great fixture on the London music scene, what made last night particularly special were the living legends of reggae and dub in the audience. After sitting down with a beer I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation of a group of older men and the recurrence of the nickname ‘Niney’. Surely that couldn’t be the legendary Niney The Observer, producer of some of the finest dub alongside King Tubby? And who’s that old guy with a yachtsman’s cap on? He looks kinda familiar. And come to think of it, the nickname Tapper rings a bell too.

After catching up with David I subsequently discovered that the group we had been sat next to did include some bona fide legends, namely Niney The Observer, Bunny Lee (sporting the cap) and Tapper Zukie. Although I was too awed to introduce myself to them, it was still great just to see them hanging out and having a laugh with each other as old friends. Seeing how much these living legends were appreciated by the younger audience makes me even more committed to making a go of my own project, which aims to use dub to bring people from different backgrounds together.

Next steps for Dub Revolution

I’ll look to provide a fuller update on my Dub Revolution in my next post but, for now, I just want to let you know that things are looking good.

Over the past week or so I’ve continued to build better links with the London reggae scene, most notably connecting with Sly and Reggie of The Suburban Pirate fame. I’ve also arranged to visit a music club for older people run by Age UK in Brixton, where I’m hoping I will get lots of valuable ideas on what older people think of my project. Lastly, I have also been exploring opportunties to partner with other organisations that are operating in a similar space.

All in all, I am really enjoying developing the project and have been blown away by the goodwill I have received from the people I have spoken with. Fingers-crossed I will be in a position to make some big announcements about the project within the next couple of weeks.

Watch this space …

Every revolution needs a soundtrack

There were so many good songs at last night’s event but, for me, the one that really stood out was Niney The Observer’s cracking take on Sly and The Family Stone‘s Everyday People. Enjoy:

And here’s the original:

Keep on Dubbing: building a Dub Revolution one day at a time

Mikey Dread selecting a track at Notting Hill Carnival, 2008. Source: Pyrere, Flickr
A couple of weeks back I used this blog to float an idea I had for using reggae and dub music to bring people from different backgrounds together to build a better society. You can read the post here
I am pleased to say I received a positive initial response to my idea, with colleagues and peers in the social innovation sector expressing interest in helping me to develop it, and friends and family engaging with the idea in a way that extended beyond the polite, ‘that’s nice, Francis’. This has given me the confidence to actively work on bringing my project to life.
I recognise that a key factor in the success of the project will be gaining the support of people with credibility in the London reggae and dub scenes. To this end, I set about pitching my project to two individuals I greatly respect: DJ David Katz and Don Letts. 
Unless you’re into dub in a fairly major way, the name DJ David Katz may not mean much to you. Fans of the music, however, will know him, amongst other things, as the acclaimed biographer of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, host of the Dub Me Always night at the Brixton Ritzy, and Guardian contributor. David wrote a great book called Solid Foundation, based on in-depth interviews with key figures in reggae. David’s strong relationships with many of the scene’s key players in London could play a key role in my project’s success.
The second name on my list, Don Letts, is probably more of a household name. You may have caught Don’s excellent Culture ClashRadio on BBC 6Music. Don has played a crucial role in bringing people from different backgrounds together through the love of music. Back in the day, Don is credited for introducing punks to the joys of reggae and dub, a move that helped foster Rock Against Racism, not to mention improving the danceability of a lot of rock music. He also played with Mick Jones in the 80s as Bad Audio Dynamite, a band which was pioneering in its fusion of musical styles. I would love him to advise on my project’s development.
Meatloaf once famously/infamously sang Two out of Three Ain’t Bad. While I can’t quite lay claim to this level of success from contacting David and Don, I’m pleased with the response I’ve received so far. David has been supportive about my plans and put me in touch with a person who has put on similar music-based project in the past. He has also offered to have a chat with me about the project at his next Dub Me Always night at the Brixton Ritzy on 12th October. I’ve not yet heard back from Don but I am hopeful I will receive a response from him shortly.
Now that I have established that there is interest in my project, the next step will be to work collaboratively to develop and refine my ideas for what the project should focus on. Right now, I am particularly interested in the possibility of bringing older reggae and dub pioneers together to share their first-hand experiences with younger fans of the music. As ever, I would any ideas you have for how reggae and dub music can bring people from different backgrounds together.
Project Development deserves a Soundtrack: Songs to keep a Dub Revolution Alive
Brent Dowe (produced by Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry) – Down Here in Babylon.
An inspiring song urging people to rise above the everyday struggles of life. Not sure I can sign up to the Rasta promised land but I can certainly relate to the social justice theme.
King Tubby – Dancing Version

 

A nice example of vocal dub. Nicely describes the experience of going to a King Tubby’s  HiFi session in the 70s.
   
The Pioneers – Long Shot (Kick The Bucket)
 
Dub is great and all but sometimes it’s nice to mix things up and listen to an uplifting early reggae track. If this doesn’t put you in a good mood, nothing will.