'Curious Roots & Crafts': Record Shops and Record Labels amid the British Reggae Diaspora

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


    This chapter is concerned with the inter-related nature of both reggae-orientated record labels and reggae-supporting records shops amid the Birmingham and Bristol reggae scenes during the 1970s and 1980s. Indeed, those two cities/scenes are focused upon here, as, according to de Koningh and Griffiths (2003), the former – the UK’s ‘second city’, Birmingham – was “the country’s biggest reggae stronghold next to London and had the second-largest West Indian Community” (p.158), whilst the latter – Bristol, and despite its far smaller, St Paul’s-centered black community/reggae scene – contributed, quite significantly, to British reggae, and beyond, with bands such as Black Roots, who not only “recorded the signature tune for a BBC TV series, The Front Line (1984)”, but “an LP of the same name appearing on the [band’s own] Kick label” (p.197). Moreover, according to Sullivan (2014), because of Bristol’s pivotal role in the global transportation of slaves during the 1700s, “[t]he subsequent African-Caribbean influx gave – and still gives – Bristol a distinctly multicultural demographic that sets it apart from other cities in the southwest of Britain, and indeed from many other British cities” (p,147).
    Indeed, this proposed chapter is concerned with what was happening during the 1970s and 1980s in both Birmingham and Bristol as, from around 1974 onwards, “dreadlocks, red, green and gold, combat fatigues and impressive-looking staffs were common-place on Britain’s inner-city streets” (Bradley, 2001, p.429). Yet, despite this period being a ‘golden age’ of reggae – whereby acts were achieving chart success following their signing to major record labels such as Virgin – “artistic compromise was sometimes involved” (Katz, 2012, p.240). Thus, at the very time that reggae was ‘going global’, there was a parallel move towards the self-protection and the self-nurturing of ‘local scenes’ – again, such as those to be found in Birmingham and Bristol – in order for those involved to reinforce their distinctive, grounded authenticities via a loyal dependence upon record labels, record shops, and other musical facilities and talent, that were to be found upon their very own, inner-city doorsteps. Thus, in the sleeve notes to The Midlands Roots Explosion – Volume Two (2016), school-based centres of vibrant activity (such as that to be found at Broadway comprehensive, Perry Barr/Aston, Birmingham), and the in-demand ‘sound system’ engineers from the area, such as Whooligan (who many were flocking to in order to record their music), are given due credit. Moreover, Martin Langford asserts, in the booklet that accompanies The Bristol Reggae Explosion – Best of the 70s/80s CD (2018), the importance of city-based micro labels such as Shoc Wave and Third Kind Records cannot, quite simply, be overstated, as the latter especially was “almost totally ignored at the time, but it also left a legacy of recordings much appreciated by connoisseurs of independent British reggae”.
    As such, then, this proposed chapter is an attempt to map the diasporic, roots/dancehall musical and social networks that linked the reggae-orientated record labels and reggae-supporting record shops to be found at the very heart of both the Birmingham and Bristol reggae scenes during the 1970s and 1980s.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationNarratives from Beyond the UK Reggae Bassline
    Subtitle of host publicationThe System is Sound
    EditorsWilliam 'Lez' Henry, Matthew Worley
    Place of PublicationLondon
    PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
    Number of pages24
    ISBN (Electronic)978-3-030-55161-2
    ISBN (Print)978-3-030-55160-5
    Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 Nov 2020

    Publication series

    NamePalgrave Studies in the History of Subcultures and Popular Music
    PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
    ISSN (Print)2730-9517


    • Birmingham
    • Bristol
    • British Reggae
    • Diaspora
    • Networked Communities


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