Strawberry Jammin’

My longstanding disdain for white people with dreadlocks is well known, and even extends to the otherwise charming and helpful young man in the local music shop who insists on addressing me as though we are lost siblings*. Even in Upside-Down World, if Hak is to believed, they have Pasty-farians:

“[O]ne of Sydney’s more annoying buskers in the Central Railway Station tunnel [is a] twenty-something Caucasian male, he has the full dreads and teacosy hat, and hops around, obviously convinced that he’s chanelling Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. Except that, er, instead of hitting the offbeat, he hits the downbeat everytime. Watching the faces of passersby – as they realise what’s going on – is truly comical.”

I too have witnessed this strange phenomenon of musicians who don’t quite get reggae. Specifically, they seek the skank, but instead obtain the oompah. This phenotype is not linked to melanin expression. One of the best dub bass players I have ever heard looked a bit like Coronation Street‘s Reg Holdsworth.

In the 70s and 80s the so-called serious music press would mock Sting for his Jah-mehk-i-an accent, and for playing “cod reggae”, but gave the likes of Joe Strummer** a free pass for their attempts at assimilating the style. But The Police got it; The Clash never quite did. And who did the People of Colour subsequently fall over themselves to sample and collaborate with? The widely (whitely?) despised Geordie bassist. It’s also worth noting that within a year of Gordon Sumner (Sting) being born to a milkman in Newcastle-on-Tyne, John Graham Mellor’s (Strummer’s) diplomat father was probably putting the freshly-slapped infant down for the private Surrey boarding school he would go on to attend before beginning his career as a class warrior. Mind you, even today, Sting still can’t seem to keep himself from playing a bass like a guitarist and getting just a smidgen ahead of the sacred pulse. I wonder if Kipper is ever tempted to nudge him back a few milliseconds…

And, for all those no-longer-young Germans who always asked the question when I first met them on school exchange trips to the free half of their country in the 80s, no, I still can’t “break-tanz”.

While I’m on the subject, Christ at Gak Maximum is very angry.

[*I used to go out with a very, very funny and somewhat posh-sounding girl who delighted in mocking herself by saying in a loud RP voice as we walked out of London establishments where I had been addressed by the beige-or-darker, “Goodness! You do have a lot of brothers, don’t you?”]

[**I only recently saw Grosse Pointe Blank. Despite the—in parts inspired—script, the film was nearly ruined by its soundtrack, a cavalcade of cack featuring some godawful musical scribbling from Strummer. If you haven’t seen it yet watch out for Dan Akroyd’s delivery of “Workers of the world unite” as a punchline. Genius.]


  1. Hak Mao
    Posted 26Sep05 at 10:33 | Permalink

    Joe Strummer? A proletarian hero of the City of London Freemen’s School Soviet. Perfect music for middle class toy revolutionaries and the radically chic. The Wikipedia article about Strummer is curiously … scant.

  2. Morgan
    Posted 26Sep05 at 11:20 | Permalink

    A tad unfair: The Clash were the first (and last?) white band to have their likeness painted onto the wall of Lee Perry’s famous Black Ark recording studios in Jamaica. That might suggest they got something right.

  3. Hak Mao
    Posted 26Sep05 at 11:30 | Permalink

    Just realised that the Shakespearean Insulter has my Pasty-farian bang to rights.

    Thou fobbing knotty-pated fustilarian!

  4. Posted 26Sep05 at 13:58 | Permalink

    My God, it’s took you that long to watch Grosse Pointe Blank. Now I know why you get tetchy about spoilers!

  5. Posted 26Sep05 at 15:16 | Permalink

    Best performance of a white guy with Dreads? Gary Oldman in True Romance, almost forgiveable. He was a truly mean character in a fantastic movie.

  6. Posted 26Sep05 at 16:02 | Permalink

    Worst performance of a black guy with dreads?…

    Top tip, video shop browsers: Denzel Washington has very rarely been in out-and-out bad films, except for Virtuosity where he first appears on screen in a dreadlock wig so absurd that I defy anyone familiar with his work not to laugh out loud. It’s a movie that Russell Crowe probably wants to forget as well. To layer on the irony, it was probably the high point of Traci Lords‘ career.

  7. A
    Posted 26Sep05 at 17:21 | Permalink

    Spot on. The Police’s “Bed’s Too Big Without You” was covered by several Jamaican singers and the bass line was left exactly as it was.

    (when living in Brum 25 years back I met a white rasta in Don Christie’s legendary reggae shop in Sparkbrook. Couldn’t understand a word he said, which was impressive as I was working alongside Jamaicans every day. But his patois was impenetrable.)

  8. Posted 26Sep05 at 19:04 | Permalink

    You’re right about The Police and Strummer.

    Ever listen to the cringeworthy dialogue talked over the leadbreak in ‘The Last Gang in Town’?

    “Owlright? Wanna do sumfink? Jimmy got married! Mikes in the slammer! Makes you wanna just give up mate!”

    Dialogue from someone who learned about the proles by watching Mary Poppins or Up the Junction.

    I’d take So Lonely or Walking on the Moon anyday.

  9. David G
    Posted 26Sep05 at 19:10 | Permalink

    The Clash’s version of “Police and Thieves” is a great cover though. I think both the Clash and the Police “got” reggae, in different ways.

  10. Posted 26Sep05 at 19:19 | Permalink

    Dr Frank has picked this post up at SuicideGirls [possibly not safe for work] where commenter d20 says “[drummer] Stewart Copeland set The Police apart”. I think (s)he might have a point, but Copeland’s being born in the Middle East to a CIA bureau chief would have slightly undermined the rest of my argument.

  11. morgan
    Posted 26Sep05 at 21:03 | Permalink


    Would you take ‘De-doo-da-da-de-doo-da-da’ over ‘Armegideon Time’? I wouldn’t. By the way, I’ve not seen Sting venerated in any JA studio on my travels.

  12. Morgan
    Posted 26Sep05 at 21:16 | Permalink

    Sorry, I’m not very good at nonsense. I meant, of course, De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da!

  13. Posted 27Sep05 at 23:46 | Permalink

    ‘De doo doo da’ etc is a weak point in my argument. But Armegideon Time was a cover version. Like ‘Police & Theives’, the original was better.

    Try using Guns of Brixton as an argument instead. Dig the slack-jawed hint of patois?

    Patronising Jamaicans as well as the proles, eh?

  14. Posted 29Sep05 at 21:49 | Permalink

    Armagideon Time pinched title, tune and words from Willie Williams, but it was already a famous reggae bassline – I think from a record called “Real Rock” by Sound Dimension. The bassline was so good even the Clash and Amazulu couldn’t totally ruin it, try as they might.

    Be fair though – even the Clash’s hamfisted reggae can’t compare with the Rats’ ‘Banana Republic’ or the Members’ dire ‘Offshore Banking Business’.

    The Ruts could do reggae well though. And in a slightly different stylee, Queen’s ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ bassline has been used unaltered by a few rappers.

  15. Posted 08Oct06 at 19:33 | Permalink

    Reggae lovers!!!! check out this site (oomgallery) by the Birmingham filmaker Pogus Caesar, over 20 years he’s photographed an impressive collection of roots reggae artists. the likes of Augustus Pablo, Junior Delgado, Mighty Diamonds (photo taken on Soho Rd Handsworth).. Dennis Brown (photo taken at Alpha Tower City Centre!!!! A great way to while away the hours and thinkin about those 12 in 45’s…and a Red Stripe.

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