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Stabroek News

No preservatives on reggae history
published: Sunday | February 25, 2007

Reggae legend Jimmy Cliff (left) and Clement 'Sir Coxsone' Dodd. - File photos

Mel Cooke, Freelance Writer

Downtown Kingston looks very different from an air-conditioned bus than it does by car, on foot or from a public bus. The combination of elevation and comfort makes for not only a view, but also the circumstances to enjoy it.

On Tuesday afternoon, a busload of pioneers sat in such a bus that made its way from the Jamaica Conference Centre, up King Street and into history on the first Downtown Kingston Reggae Music Heritage Tour.

The abbreviated version of the tour, which is part of the Sounds and Pressure Committee's events to mark the 50th anniversary of the Jamaican recorded music industry, will be run by Reggae Vacations.

The tour covers once-fertile but often-forgotten ground in the birth of the sound that has rocked skinheads in England and freedom fighters in apartheid era South Africa, from sound systems in Europe and from transistor radios all over the world.

Dennis Howard of the Sounds and Pressure Committee narrated the extraordinary history lurking behind the hustle and bustle of downtown Kingston.

But while the tour covered the music's groudings, many of the stops and sites were not as timeless as the music they helped give birth to.

Age may have done wonders for the beat, but the places they sprang from were often not as well preserved. The Sounds and Pressure Committee plans to do substantial renovation work and identification of historical sites.

Hub of entertainment

The now closed Times Store was pointed out as once being "one of the major outlets for retail records," and the now St. William Grant Park (then Victoria Park) as hub of entertainment, where persons such as Adina Edwards and Richard Ace and his sons would entertain.

Rounding the corner by South Parade a spot was pointed out, opposite the end of a row of JUTC buses pointing up Orange Street, as once being the site of a mobile record shop, made popular in the movie The Harder They Come. The pedestrians passing the corner were unaware they were walking on history, as there is nothing but tarmac there.

Just before leaving Parade, Randy's Record Store, from which VP Records was born, was pointed out, but Joe Gibbs' musical establishment has taken wings and given way to Eagle Pharmacy.

The paint on Jazz Hut at 126 Orange Street is faded and, at the intersection with Charles Street, an unfinished building at number 45 was pointed out as where Sir Coxsone Dodd's Music City once stood. At a green door opposite was where Lee 'Scratch' Perry once operated.

"On any given day when the music was in its infancy, you would see people plying the street, talking about records, new rhythms," Howard said, naming people such as Phil Pratt and Clancy Eccles, who were to be found on the Orange Street music corridor.

"It is by no means an accident it was called Beat Street," Howard said.

The short tour's only walk started at 125 Orange Street, where a trip down a damp corridor ended in the wonderful world of the modern Leggo's Recording Studio. There, on the real tour, participants will be able to do an actual recording.

Beside Leggo's, at 127 Orange Street, the legend 'Prince Buster One Love Record Shack' is high on the wall, a faded drawing of the 'Judge Dread' closer to eye level.

But across the road, at the site of a Coxsone Dodd outlet, the writing on the wall is 'Hardware & Tools'.

The 'tourists' walked up to 135 Orange Street, where a set of well- worn concrete steps led up to a large, dilapidated wooden building. "All the musicians, the producers, gathered here," Howard said. Across the road, though, large paintings of Dennis Brown and Augustus Pablo are colourful and fresh.

At the site of Beverly's Records on North Street, where producer Leslie Kong worked with a very young Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Derrick Morgan and Desmond Dekker, there are plans to put up a large sign identifying the location of the pioneering label.

With the tour resuming by bus, Forrester's Hall on North Street was pointed out as the site of epic sound system battles among persons such as Coxsone Dodd, Duke Reid and Tom the Great Sebastian, the bus turning right from North Street on to King Street at the intersection where Jamaica's first stoplight, built by musician and innovator Headley Jones, controlled the traffic.

Nanny's Corner at the intersection of Beeston Street and Love Lane was visible from the bus, which paused on King Street, while on the other side at 127 Beeston Street, where a community centre now is, was where The Wailers had their set-up.

On an ordinary day Peter Tosh would be washing his Hillman Hunter, Bob Marley would be playing football and Bunny Wailer would be standing by himself with a spliff.

But the covering of history continued, with DerrickHarriott's King Street store now a beauty parlour.

"The people came from Trench Town and East," Kingsley Goodison of the Sounds and Pressure Committee said. "But the creativity and the commerce and exchange of ideas took place right here."

Morin Seymour of the Kingston Restoration Company noted the current rundown state of some of the points of interest on the tour by saying, "If we could only, in the next year and a half, get these tour centres up to standard, we can have something to be proud of."

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