Working for the last year with the production team at Standard 8 and Mykaell Riley director of the Bass Culture Music Unit at the University of Westminster to try and make this slightly over ambitious exhibition project happen.
Bass Culture 70/50: UK’s largest Jamaican music exhibition highlighting the Windrush generation’s impact on Britainc70 years since Windrush and 50 years of reggae.
London, 25th October 2018: Bass Culture 70/50 – a four-week exhibition exploring the impact of Jamaican and Jamaican-influenced music on British culture finally opened and was very sucessful with great press and reviews .
The Bass Culture exhibitionfeatured previously unseen artwork, specially commissioned film, top industry speakers, UK reggae label pop-up showcases, live performances, and over 70 hours of individual testimonies, linking – for the first time – the memories and experiences of black British musicians, industry practitioners, academics and audiences.
Bass Culture photography was selected from the extensive historical archive at Camera Press, Ramesh Sharma, Herbie Knott, Oliver Waterlow, Chris Poole, Jean Bernard Sohiez, Adrian Boot, Richard Saunders, The Bristol Archive, Don Letts, Mark Painter, Urbanimage Media and many more.
The exhibition was staged by Bass Culture Research, a three-year Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project set up to explore the impact of Jamaican music in the UK. The project made headlines last year after issuing The Grime Report, which led to the withdrawal of Form 696, a controversial risk assessment form criticised for being discriminatory and targeting genres such as grime.
While Jamaican music has been fundamental to the development of multicultural Britain, its influence has arguably never been recognised. Following recent moves to ramp up police stop and search powers, together with claims that Jamaican-influenced genres such as drill are fuelling gang wars, marginalisation and discrimination risks being on the rise again. Bass Culture 70/50 seeks to challenge these negative interpretations and rather recognise the impact of Jamaican culture on not only the musical canon but on British culture and identity itself.
Photography and Biography – The most recent edition of my timeline project and it’s still incomplete and full of mistakes .. but slowly coming together. If anyone has a better recall than me, especially with dates, it would be much appreciated. I have to admit that back in those early years the fog of Sinsemilla often ensured a confused version of events. A journey into travel and music photography.
1970 – Finished University and moved to Jamaica to teach physics at Titchfield School in Port Antonio. My new wife Lynne and I travelled to Jamaica on the SS Begona together with hundreds of Jamaicans returning home to Jamaica.
Seasick for half the 3 wk voyage but did rediscover Reggae music in the below decks Shebeen. The Begona was finally broken up for scrap in 1975 after nearly sinking off the coast of Barbados.
1971 – 1972 Spent every hour of my spare time photographing Jamaica for a Thames and Hudson book “ Babylon on a Thin Wire” Now in its third edition, you can still buy it on Amazon etc. The archive of images that became this book can be viewed on my archive website HERE
1973 – First photographic commission to cover The Rolling Stones “Goats head Soup” recording sessions at Dynamic Sounds studio in Kingston Jamaica. Black and white film in a beaten up old Pentax, no flash just available light and processed in a blacked out cupboard back in Port Antonio. Shot the now iconic Charlie Ace’s Swing-a-Ling mobile record store on one of many excusions to Kingston. Spent the long summer school holidays travelling across the USA by Grayhound bus from Miami to San Francisco with a formative time staying with Rolling Stone writer Robert Greenfield in Carmel and Big Sur, the shooting ground of master photographer Ansel Adams. It was here i really discovered photography, armed with a copy of Adams Zone System book and inspired by the US west coast photographic community my sole interest changed from physics and chemistry to photography . Back in jamaica I managed to build a small darkroom, raiding the school science lab to make basic developers and fixers etc. and buying a second hand enlarger from the only photography shop in Kingston.
1974 – Returned to the UK from Jamaica. Freelance photographer for Island Records. Early photo sessions with Toots and Maytals, Eddie Grant and the Equals, Kevin Ayers.
1975 – Freelance for Blackhill Enterprises. Blackhill was a rock music management company as a partnership by the four original members of Pink Floyd with Peter Jenner and Andrew King. From their office on West London I photographed The Damned, many Roy Harper photo sessions, Alberto Y Lost Trios paranoias, The Edgar Broughton Band and Ian Dury. Covered the Abba London concert and Led Zeppelin London concert as a freelance. Opened the “Words and Faces” studio in Camden with the late great Finn Costello. Important photosessions with Marianne Faithfull , Peter Green, Ian Dury with Kilburn and the High Roads. The year climaxed in July with the iconic Bob Marley concert at London’s Lyceum Theatre. Photography on Urbanimage.TV
1976 – A year of crucial photosessions. The Ramones first London photosession, The Clash Westway sessions, Pattie Smith and Punk Rock for the NME and Melody Maker, Bob Marley Carlos Place photosession, Steeleye Span, The Stranglers studio session, Devo in Acron Ohio, Returned to Jamaica to cover the violent 1976 elections.
1977 – published BABYLON ON A THIN WIRE (Adrian Boot & Michael Thomas ), The Clash Camden and Belfast sessions, The Sex Pistols Oxford street sessions. Blondie live in London, Steel Pulse concert. Then back in Jamaica for Island Records photographing Bob Marley, Lee Perry, Burning Spear, Peter Tosh. London shoots with Graham Parker and the Rumour, The Ramones London concert, Bob Marley football match, Roy Harper and Pink Floyd at Abbey Road studios, Generation X at the Marquee and the Marc Bolan London concert. Everything in this Photographic Biography and more can be searched and viewed on my archive site www.urbanimage.tv
1978 – Staff photographer at Melody Maker, Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead in Egypt for the Melody Maker. Fela Kuti in Lagos, First Africa trip to Nigeria and Togo. The Rolling Stones in Jamaica, Blondie sessions in the USA, Peter Tosh Hellshire beach session, Bunny Wailer at home in Hectors river Jamaica, The Jam photo session, Jimmy Pursey for the Melody Maker (cover), Marianne Faithful studio session, Bob Marley Peace concert.
1979 – Photographing the NY Punk scene for the Melody Maker, Suicide in New York. The Grace Jones New York Rooftop session, and an evening at NY’s Studio 54. Back in Jamaica for Lee Scratch Perry “Black Ark” sessions, Goldeneye and Strawberry Hil Jamaica sessions. Hanging out with Bob Marley at Hope Road Kingston. Back in the UK with Siouxsie and the Banshees, Ian Dury, The Police, Buzzcocks in Manchester. Then back to the Caribbean – on set for the Countryman film in Jamaica and Dire Straits in the Bahamas. Chuck Berry, Rolling Stones London concert, Tom Petty in San Francisco, Steel Pulse Brixton and Berlin sessions, The Heptones, LKJ and Darcus Howe at Race Today and Third World.
1980 – Bruce Springsteen London concert, Marvin Gaye last London session, Kiss in Rome, Paul and Linda McCartney, The Runaways, Quadrophenia, Blondie USA, Three Degrees studio session, Kate Bush, early U2 concert and Bruce Springsteen. The Jam, Compass Point Studios Nassua Bahamas, Blondie in Texas, The Clash Manchester Apollo, The Pretenders, Sex Pistols concert, Andy Warhole at the Ritz, Matumbi.
1981 – The book “Bob Marley : Soul Rebel – Natural Mystic” published by Adrian Boot and Vivian Goldman, Aswad West London sessions, BB King, Eric Clapton, Marianne Faithful Island Fallout Shelter session. The Specials Brighton concert stage riot, The Slits, early U2 group session, Tom Tom Club in Nassua, Bob Marley’s funeral in Jamaica, The Beat, Al Green, Madness, The Stranglers, Ray Davies, Siouxsie Sioux Creatures bathroom session, Tom Waits in London, Marianne Faithful with Lucky Gordon, The Plasmatics for Stiff Records.
1982 – JAH REVENGE: BABYLON REVISITED (Adrian Boot & Michael Thomas), Peter Gabriel at home, Kid Creole New York sessions. U2 USA tour Atlanta and Chicago . Sly and Robbie, Jamaican Historic Buildings, Noel Coward exhibition at Firefly, Bananarama, The Slits, Sly and Robbie, Tom Tom Club at Compass Point studios Nassau Bahamas. Generation X, Dexys Midnight Runners and the Late Jamaican Poet Michael Smith.
1983 – B52’s Paris sessions, left The Melody Maker to become Island Records in house photographer. Working for Island Records in Jamaica Artists and Hotels .. Colombia .. Algeria .. Nigeria, and many other parts of the world. Grace Jones photosession New York, Gregory Isaacs Jamaica, Def Leppard, Simple Minds on the Clyde, and Aswad.
1984 – Grace Jones One Man Show and a year as Top of the Pops photographer for the BBC . Virgin Records Richard Branson, Photographer for Actual Magazine in Paris, Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Musical Youth and a Trinidad trip.
1985 – Working with Bob Geldoff, Official photographer for Live Aid, Philadelphia USA. Tom Waits in New York and Paris, Gil Scott Heron. Frankie Goes to Hollywood and the Live Aid book
1986 – Big Audio Dynamite sessions. With Chris Salewicz in Almeria Spain on the Straight to Hell movie set. Jamaica tourist photography, Courtney Pine and Carmel, Yellowman, PIL, Anthax.
1987 – On the road with the Motor Head European tour, Gregory Isaacs studio session, Annie Lennox in Paris, Trinidad sessions with David Rudder the Calypso star, Andy Sheppard, Randy Newman, Public Image Limited. and countless more. A busy time for a photographic biography like this, visit www.urbanimage.tv show for more, just type 1987 into the search box.
1988 – Chris Salewicz, Billy Bragg, Peter Jenner and myself take a winter break in the Soviet Union. The stories that unfolded during this cold war vacation became the subject of a book called Midnights in Moscow published the following year. Back in the USA photographed Depeche Mode at the Hollywood Bowl. Yusuf Islam Cat Stevens, The Cure, Algeria Rai Music, Los Van Van, Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra, Salif Keita.
1989 –Notting Hill Carnival sessions. Green peace and back to the Soviet Union, U2 in USSR and then to Jamaica Womack and Womack sessions. William Burroughs USA session, Duran Duran, Los Van Van concert, Lee Perry Zurich session, Thomas Mapfumo, Salif Keita, Erasure.
1990 – Music in Colombia – Medellin, Cartagena. Roger Water’s The Wall in Berlin. Begin photographing African Music. First Baaba Maal photosession. Alan Ginsburg. Bob Marley Songs of Freedom Exhibition London, Orbis Flying Eye Hospital Africa trip, Discos Fuentes, Africa National Congress, Barrington Levi, Benjamin Zephaniah, Tippa Irie
1991 – U2 Achtung Babe, LKJ studio session, Gerry Rafferty at home. Bob Marley Songs of Freedom Exhibition Paris and New York, Freddie McGregor
1992 – Greenpeace U2 at Sellafield Atomic Power Station.
1993 – Jimi Hendix Project – Ultimate Experience Exhibition. Collecting Jimi Hendrix photographs from photographers around the world .. I have never photographed Jimi, so it was interesting for me to curate an exhibition of other photographers work.
1994 – Jimi Hendix Ultimate Experience Exhibition London and New York. Baaba Maal concert.
1995 – JIMI HENDRIX: THE ULTIMATE EXPERIENCE (Adrian Boot & Chris Salewicz). BOB MARLEY: SONGS OF FREEDOM (Adrian Boot & Chris Salewicz), Baaba Maal Africa trip Senegal photosessions, Salif Keita, Luciano studio session, Chakademus and Pliers.
1996 – PUNK: THE ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF A MUSIC REVOLUTION (Adrian Boot & Chris Salewicz). Egypt Tutankhamun at the Cairo Museum, Elisabeth Valletti, Firefly Noel Coward museum project, Dean Fraser.
1997 – Nelson Mandella in London. 2nd Senegal trip. Ernest Ranglin, Lee Perry Indian Chief, Malik Sow, Angelique Kidjo, Prince Buster
1998 – First India trip, travel photography, Sidestepper, Palm Pictures, Talvin Sing, Los Van Van
1999 – FIREFLY: NOEL COWARD IN JAMAICA (Adrian Boot & Chris Salewicz), UB40 photo session, Tinariwen at Womad. British Council in Iraq and Jordan;
2000 – Lagos, West Africa Island Trading trip, Buju Banton, Morocco Trip, Wayne Wonder, Dillinger. Created www.urbanimage.tv with Felix Boot and Richard Horsey as a small independent eclectic photo agency.
2001 – REGGAE EXPLOSION: THE STORY OF JAMAICAN MUSIC by Adrian Boot & Chris Salewicz (2001). Trafalger Square Nelson Mandela concert. Baaba Maal Studio sessions, 2nd India trip .. Buddhism.
2002 – Reggae Explosion Museum opens after a 6 month build – Ocho Rios Jamaica. South Africa trip, Alextown and Soweto. Beresford Hammond, Channel One Studios
2003 – Hackney Ocean World Music awards. 3rd India Trip, Valley of the Flowers, Yoga, Cast in Morocco, Mad Capsule Markets in Amsterdam, Spiritualized.
2004 – One Giant Leap sessions. Palm Pictures photographer, Gilles Peterson, Sly and Robbie.
2005 – Jamaica again .. Hotel tourist photography, Baaba Maal, Goldeneye Hotel, Jakes Hotel , Strawberry Hill Hotel , The Caves Hotel, Baaba Maal, Notting Hill Carnival, Luciano in Senegal, Van Morrison, BB King
2006 – Brown Punk Sessions, Tricky. 4th India Trip – Ladakh.
2007 – Palm Pictures photography, Jamaica Hotels, Asian Dub Foundation.
2008 – Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Thailand travel photography. Ethiopiques at the Barbican London, Karen Hill Tribes.
2009 – Anoushka Shankar, Island 50 concerts. Island 50 Exhibition. Jamaica travel photography at Goldeneye, Strawberry Hill, Jakes, The Caves, Island Outpost Hotel sessions, Podor Concert, Senegal trip, Africa Express Liverpool
Jamaican music has had a thoroughly disproportionate effect on the rest of the world – an astonishing achievement for a tiny Caribbean island which has a population of just three million people. Spearheaded by the popularity of reggae and the figurehead of Bob Marley, its reverberating rhythms have found a resonance with a diverse international audience. This newly updated edition of Reggae Explosion charts the course of this extraordinary cultural revolution.
From the earliest emergence in the 1950s of the fiercely competitive sound systems fighting sonic battles in downtown Kingston the story of Jamaican music is traced through ska, the birth of reggae, dub, roots reggae and the impact of Bob Marley to the new, harder-edged developments that have emerged in the last twenty years, including dancehall, ragga and jungle.
Reggae Explosion contains many unpublished transcripts of interviews with key figures like Lee ‘Scratch” Perry and Prince Buster introduce the authentic voices of reggae history to Reggae Explosion – which blends deeply researched facts and rare images to create not only a sense of the pulse of the music, but also the contrasts of poverty, humour, desperation and joie de vivre that typify both the island of Jamaica and its music.
Reggae Explosion started life in the summer of 2000 as a heated argument. Should the project be called ReggaeXplosion or more accurately Reggae Explosion. ReggaeXplosion ( all one word ) won the day, but it didn’t last .. by the time the USA version of the book was published the name reverted to Reggae Explosion. The project was to be a book and an exhibition. On Friday 29th September 2001 ReggaeXplosion opened with with a launch party down in the brick passages and catacombs under The Roundhouse – Camden. All of London seemed to be there and one could imagine their numbers expanded by hippies still vainly trying to find their way out of the labyrinth since back in the Sixties. The visuals are set up on the raw brick passages which radiate like spokes from the building’s central space or, a welcome touch for contributors to this site, on panels of zinc fence and corrugated iron. Rootical rub a dub sounds were provided by the Mighty Tip-A-Tone Hi-Fi to a crowd well lubricated with free Appleton Gold rum punch and Carib beer. Among the heaving mass of thirsty reggae fans jostling at the bar were spotted Mark Lamarr the radio DJ, members of Aswad, Tricky the DJ and Massive Attack associate, Gaz Mayall of Gaz’ Rockin’ Blues and all the usual reggae suspects.
Then in 2003 the exhibition was expanded and moved to Ocho Rios Jamaica where it became the ReggaeXplosion Museum ..
The Reggae Explosion exhibition was a major reggae event and a model of how to present reggae to a larger audience. What comes across strongly is the range and diversity of the reggae experience and how much has been accomplished in fifty years by one small island. A ’50 years of cultural firestorm’.
BABYLON ON A THIN WIRE “Once upon a time in Jamaica”
Following is an excerpt by Michael Thomas from Babylon on a Thin Wire. The classic book by Michael Thomas and Adrian Boot will be available in a new hardback edition text in English with a French translation.
Flick it! Excuse me? FLICK IT! This is a bit rich. I’m standing stripped to my sox with my dick in my hand in an empty cell behind one of those doors you see at the airport, says NO ENTRY, and this little battyboy wants me to play with myself. How lucky can you get? I’ve run into the only gay cop in Jamaica. Country half the size of Wales, popn the size of Wolverhampton, where sodomy is not just against the law, not just a criminal offence, it’s a slur on the manly honor of a proud and virile nation, the world’s most over-publicised queer-bashing fag-phobic pillow-biter-hating poofter-averse society west of Turkey and Tehran – there’s always one, and I’m looking at him and he’s looking at me and he’s smirking. Flick it. He knows I’m gonna do it, I have no choice, he is THE LAW. There have been some changes made in Jamaica since this book first came out, but some traditions die hard, ie we both know this little turd-burglar’s got my nuts in a vice, he can at a moment of his choosing pinch a couple g’s from his pocket and tell the judge he found it up my ass…
May 2010, thirty years after The Harder They Come, Dudus is on the run. Kingston’s locked down, I’m getting desperate emails from Michelle she’s too scared to leave the house, it’s a massacre out there, they’re shooting people on sight as the police took on the Shower Posse and war broke out on the streets of Tivoli Gardens. They call ‘em the Shower Posse because that’s the way they shoot at you. 72 people died before they got him in the end, it was the biggest manhunt on the island since Jimmy Cliff died shooting back on Lime Key in The Harder They Come and that was a movie. Christopher Coke, the dude they call Dudus, is a prominent local businessman with friends in high places on backslapping terms with the leadership of the JLP, the Prime Minister himself is the MP for Tivoli Gardens and that’s Dudus’s garrison, the Shower Posse are his brethren, the Feds reckon he’s shifted more coke into the USA in the last few years than BP pumps guava jelly. The cops wanted to headlock Dudus before the Americans got him and extradited him and he starts naming names ..
Flick it for Sullivan, nuh. Whuh? He’s taking the piss. He’s pushing my APPREHENDABILITY to the max. Sullivan sticks his head round the door, but he’s not interested, he averts his gaze, he has to put up with this little weasel day in and day out: Sullivan’s interested in my Timberlands. He’s thinking about trying them on for size. He doesn’t say anything, he just boulders his shoulders and bunches his brows and flares his nostrils and he looks at me like a gorilla looks at a gnat and he whispers: SSSTRONNNG BOOTSSS.
I’m not in the mood for this. I need sleep. It’s been a long week, we’ve been rimmin it all over the island in Flugie’s bus, I miss this flight there’s not another one till Wednesday. I’m here to move the ball, I have friends in high places too, I’m practically a guest of the government. But the urine test never lies. Five minutes ago, I’m checking in at Virgin in Montego Bay and this gringo pulls me out of the line and searches my bag. He’s just going thru the motions, it’s too hot, he’s homesick, his hopes fade fast, but the girl cop’s not giving up, she’s burrowing like a badger in my laundry, chucking stuff over her shoulder, she’s sniffing my spoor, she’s on fire – You sure about this? I FEEEL IT! –
The man from the Yard gives my passport back, I check in etc, but it’s a trap. Gilbert and Sullivan are waiting for me airside. Now he has proof: my urine test is telling him my blood reeks of ganja, and the urine test is EVI-DENCE! FOOL PROOF! FI-NAL! Frankly, I’m not amazed. I’d be stunned if it came up anything different. Where do we go from here? Sullivan did the driving. We got to the Mobay District Hospital and this is the kind of little everyday setback you have to take in your stride in Jamaica: the X-Ray’s broke. Heh heh. Flick it yourself, Gilbert! Times like this, you dial up an Indian. Dr Mukherjee shows up, and a five year old girl in the ghetto could’ve told you this: the X-Ray’s not plugged in. I hate to wipe the smirk off your face: X-Ray comes up empty. There are no johnnies full of dandruff in my belly ..
I walked into a profile. Who knew? The Virgin girls on the plane tell me Dudus and the boys got fed up with all their silly babymothers getting busted at Heathrow, these days they look for panache, they employ louche war-weary silver-haired vets of a certain vintage as the mules de jour. Dudus didn’t fight the extradition, he knew better than that: he didn’t want to die in a fire in a cell in the lockup in Spanish Town like his father did so the Feds got their man. What everybody’s talking about now, what’s keeping the friends and family of the leadership of the JLP awake at night is this: will he spill the beans? What’s the fucking package!
The politicisation of crime and the criminalisation of politics goes back a long way, to the Manley years. This book came out back then, when I was opening the batting at Rolling Stone and we put Bob Marley on the front page, it’s the story of the Manley years, when the guns came to town and Johnny Too Bad took over the house – and at the same time wherever you went on the planet it didn’t matter, you could be rotting in a hammock on the West Coast of Guadalcanal or knee-deep in neon in a karaoke bar in Tokyo, somebody was singing along to No Woman No Cry. Things have changed, Michael Manley died in his bed a few years ago, New Kingston’s globalized, there are Russian hookers in the clubs on Beeston Street, there’s a KFC in every stripmall, everybody’s got a pay-as-you-go from Digicel etc. Blackwell’s old plantation house up at Strawberry Hill where Island used to send all their shellshocked rock stars for rehab got blown away by the hurricane, these days it’s a fivestar resort with infiniti pools etc. 56 Hope Rd, where global Jamaica was hatched, the old pink house that was Island’s HQ and later His Bobness’s residence is now the Bob Marley Museum. Hellshire Beach, where we found Countryman juggling live fish used to be a stretch of sand with a couple shacks, you had to have a 4×4 to get there. These days it’s 40 minutes on the motorway, it’s a teeming favela full of rum bars and old Rastas like my mate Electric-Power selling tonic to stretch your ejaculation to BREAK-ING POINT etc. But the waves roll in, the way they always have and always will ..