Unheardwords of Writers of Colour

unheardwords - tracking back to hackney


Shared: Tracking back to hackney

(80s Schoolboy's Playlist)

I'm trying to remember when I first heard certain music, what it meant, and in a circular way why I remember it. What was it that made it stand out and why do I associate the hearing and the doing?

In 1977 I went to secondary school. Before this my music had been that brought into the house by my siblings who could afford the singles and occasionally albums of American soul artists.

Average White Band (pick up the pieces), Stevie Wonder, Billy Paul (Mrs Jones), Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, The Isley Brothers, Heatwave (mind blowing decisions), Candi Staton (Young Hearts Run Free), Gladys Knight (The Way We Were).

This music, despite the basic HiFi system it played out on, was immediately pleasing, smooth, harmonious, soulful. It’s backstory was a blissful work of my imagination, a Hackney boy born and bred I knew nothing about the actual United States, only what I’d seen on TV shows - that left a lot of colouring in for my mind to do.

At the same time, I was growing up and blundering my way through changes that would take me across the tracks; from a world in which identity hadn’t crossed my mind, into one in which identity was a conscious state of mind.

My real music selection memories begin at this crossing point; where "half-caste" boy (no mixed-race at that time), raised solely by a loving and ‘doing-her-best’ white mother, finds a black side to his existence.

I’ve interspersed some of these tracks with a little more recollection of my figure-it-out-as-you-grow boyhood.

Roy Ayers, Everybody Loves the Sunshine (1976)

Such a kool track from a great “modern” Jazz man, and of course, how could you not love the sunshine of these silk-smooth sentiments.

Modern Jazz – as I still call it, mindful that it was probably modern in 1970 – had been introduced by my Sister’s boyfriend, George; a tall lean young man with a unique individualistic take on life.

Harvey Mason, Do you take my love (1977)

A more commercial sounding Jazz-soul track from another great Modern J man.

George introduced albums by the likes of Freddie Hubbard, Freddie Hammond, Herbie Handcock, Stanley Clarke, Chick Corea, Eddie Henderson, and Harvey Mason.

To me (council estate bound) this sounded like music from another world.

Funkadelic, One nation under a groove (1978)

This brought it all together. Rough edges and quirkiness of p-Funk – as in Parliament - but with a commercial appeal. Felt as though the music I'd formerly been enjoying in secret had broken through, and was now being picked up by my skool buddies.

McFadden and Whitehead, Ain't no stopping us now (1979)

What can I say – a pretty irrespirable all-time classic anthem. Soul rooted in the early 70s but with added ‘retro’ irony.

Atmosfear, Dancing in outer space, (1979) - British

Whilst there was no denying the production qualities of the States-side stuff we got to hear and loved, our hearts yearned for a resonant resounding response by British-bands.

I Heard this on a sound system that had been setup in one of our school pre-fab classrooms. Not sure why or how but one of the more mature guys in my class had persuaded our John Lennon round tinted spectacle wearing form tutor to have a sound system set up. And this was the sound check – the sonic experience was completely amazing; me and my spars just starring at each other as the track went down crisp, clear and bassy – memory that lives on.

Light of the World, London Town (1980) – British

It’s a British thing. Strangely enough this track and other stuff that the Light of the World crew did – think some members were at the heart of a British soul / acid Jazz revolution (dudes like Paul Williams, Jean Paul Maunick and David Baptiste) – production never sounded spot on to me but they gained on home advantage, minor imperfections faded fast.

Sugar Hill Gang, Rappers Delight (1980)

I’m ashamed to say, I took the 12” home and using proper old-school curly wire headphones played and re-played each groove so that I could write out the rap; which I then practiced until word perfect. This was the school-yard-wide breakthrough tune of my day; and you had to know it to maintain cred. ‘And next on the mic is my man Hank, come on Hank do your thang.’

Freez, Southern Freez, flying high (1981) (and who could forget ‘Southern Breeze’) - British

A British band that brought a revolutionary vibe that was much hailed. Tracks that were like a breath of fresh British air.

My life up until the age of 17 was very much on the set of a dense, hard, grey, green (the park) Hackney. The ground I covered ranged from Stoke Newington (‘Stokey’) where I was born, to Clapton, where I spent adolescence onward, and all in between.

Maze, before I let go, (1981)

One evening – somehow – I ended up at the most incredible large house party (party in someone’s large house) and found myself still dancing with such liberated spirit in the early hours of the morning, sun coming up on London streets (‘that’s the golden time of day’-like). The host must have been a lover of Maze and when this track broke out I was just glad to be alive and on my feet.

Slave, album ‘Show Time’, track Snapshot (Steve Arrington) (1981)

Combines the funkiest of funky sound with a deep dark bass, and off-mic atmospherics; great album cover and somehow retains a modern acoustic.

Everlyn Champas King, Love Come Down (1982)

More retro-soul sounds from Miss King; think my background made me a bit of a sucker for the abandoned if somewhat repetitive chorus.

Thinking about it, the more sophisticated music that me and my friends inherited came down to us from the gen-before. On the long walk home from school or at someone’s house, outside it, if not allowed in, we’d talk about music, girls (I went to an all-boys school) and lives we could only imagine we’d live in futures yet to come.

Chuka Khan, Ain't Nobody (1983)

At the outta-edge of my school years but one of my favourite dance tracks. I remember I used to fancy this girl who lived in my block of flats but I was too shy to talk to her. One miraculous day I went to a friend-of-a-friend’s house party and there she was; ‘Ain’t Nobody’ came on and baby, I got to dance with here to THIS track. Truly magical.

As now, groups and identification were important growing up in 80s Hackney. The divide was between the self-styled reggae radicals who hurled ‘soul-boy’ as a term of abuse at those who they deemed had taken a wrong turn and gone sof’ somewhere along the way. And, the overly self-styled kids who deemed themselves young soul rebels. Me and mine, of course, could see both points of view. We weren’t dub-steppers and we certainly weren’t soul-boys; rather we were modern jazz-sophisticates – cutting our own line between ‘roots reggae’ and ‘popular soul’ - we were about hard core musicians and some of the greatest music ever made – which as every self-styled group likes to think – made us something different all together.

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