BLUE BEAT, Ska, West Indian sounds generally — if the pundits of pop are right, we’ll be getting more and more of it in the next few months.
Triggered by the successes of such as ‘0-0-7’, ‘The Guns Of Navarone’, ‘Train To Ska-ville’, ‘Al Capone’ and so on, EMI have come up with their own Blue Beat series under the Columbia label. Behind the scene, in an executive production capacity, is Siggy Jackson — who has been in the field for years and actually coined the name “blue beat” some time back. He’s a one-man boosting campaign for cha-cha, calypso and so on.
He says: “I’ve been to France, Italy, Spain and the West Indies, ferreting out new talent. The new series, which has a yellow label and in a blue bag with white lettering, will feature all West Indian sounds and be presented in a big way, not only in this country but all over Europe.”
Two releases already. Laurel Aitken is one with his ‘Do The Rock Steady’, which represents a new discotheque dance. He told me: “Blue beat? We don’t know it as blue beat in Jamaica. There we call it Ska. Ska is West Indian music but with a touch of African music and a little bit of American jazz. In the West Indies, we got tired of dancing all the time to American rock records so we developed our own style. This gave some of our own singers a chance. My record of ‘Little Shiela’ was the first blue beat or Ska record to top the charts there… that was back in 1959.”
His own successes have been umpteen. One of his records sold 20,000 without a single radio plug. His ‘Marylee’ sold about 90,000 through the world. He’s also written a lot of songs which have been recorded. “My band is doing nicely. This ‘Rock Steady’ is a kind of slowed-down Ska. In every club I work it’s now the Rock Steady Sound.”
A great fan of the Beatles and Cilla Black, Laurel Antonio Aitken was born in Jamaica on April 25, 1930. He originally came to Britain to see if he could improve his musical ability. He starred on piano and guitar at the age of 20 and now studies regularly at the Goldsmith College of Music in London.
Released at the same time is ‘Jesse James Rides Again’, by the Bees, who are six young Jamaican boys. Incidentally they’re getting a useful extra plug via the Barron Knights, whose new single is called ‘Here Come The Bees’. Though there’s no connection, it’s one way of getting the name known…
‘Jesse James’ was written by Laurel Aitken and Siggy Jackson. The group was formed around two years ago by the present drummer and bass guitarist. But they turned professional only nine months ago and they’ve since toured England and the Continent.
Might as well meet the boys individually. There is Tennyson Neysmith, one time computer operator, who plays organ and says his ambition is to become a lawyer. He lists women as his likes, dislikes AND hobby. Drummer Frank Fitter, founder member, says he personally likes women, music, cricket and football… and hates drug-taking.
Michael Thomas plays bass, is over six feet tall, and lists his own likes as girls, cricket, art and horse-racing… “And I hate anything to do with war or fighting.” Roy Knight, tenor saxist, left school at fifteen to join the Merchant Navy. He is keen on jazz and movies and is an amateur weightlifter.
Josh Roberts plays lead guitar. He was originally taught to play by an uncle and now says his ambition to become a better musician. A swimmer and reader and girl-fancier is Josh. Then there is Roy Harrington, who plays trombone and sings. He’s an amateur boxer and also likes music, but dislikes not having the time to play!
Siggy Jackson passionately believes in West Indian music and is by way of being a walking encyclopaedia on the subject. Now he has the distribution of a major company behind him, he feels the time is right for a big breakthrough in the popularity of Ska.
And I’ve a feeling he’s right.
© Peter Jones, Record Mirror, 14 October 1967