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Creation Rebel - Music Making In A Hostile Environment

Words by John Masouri. Photo by Jeff Pitcher.

To describe Creation Rebel’s new album Hostile Environment – named after former Home Secretary Theresa May’s impoverished and shameful vision regarding UK immigration – asbeing long overdue goes way beyond understatement. That’s because it’s been more than forty years since Lows And Highs and yet from the moment that Swiftly ([The Right One]rumbles from out of the speakers, there’s still no mistaking them for anyone else. “Live” dub bands always were a rare commodity, and especially now that we’re living in an era when so much dub music is made on a laptop or by people who aren’t musicians. Today’s Creation Rebel are the real deal however, and their comeback album – mixed and produced as always by Adrian Sherwood, and featuring a select group of guest musicians – is a haunting reaffirmation of their powers.

“We enjoyed what was happening when we were doing it and so we wanted to do it again,” says guitarist “Crucial” Tony Philips. “We were ready. We arranged the recordings, booked the studio and worked out what we were going to play, then we gave Adrian the parts so he could mix them and do whatever it was that he wanted to do.”

“We’re a live band,” confirms drummer Charlie “Eskimo” Fox, an Alpha School graduate who played with Davrocks and Freedom Fighters before joining Creation Rebel. “We like being on the road and playing dub because that’s the real vibe. We’re coming down the line from the real thing and dub is a part of our language. It’s part of the roots of our music and so we’re coming from all of that and when we go out and play dub for the people, it seems to work. We stopped doing it for a little time but it’s come back round now, y’ know? It’s all about the stages of life and so we decide to come back and give it another try and show the people what we have to offer. That’s the main reason that we as a live dub band are coming back now, as Creation Rebel…”

The third member of the core trio is percussionist and occasional vocalist Mister Magoo, who is optimistic that the wheel of fortune has turned in their favour, and the band can finally receive the acknowledgement and respect they deserve. Authenticity is a key factor and this is something Creation Rebel have in abundance on account of their rich history, and having cut their teeth in the company of Prince Far I, whose gravelly pronouncements – which earned hm the epitaph “Voice Of Thunder” – are scattered throughout the new album like so many fragments of holy relics.

“They called him “the Psalms God” because he would read the Bible and then talk it on his records,” notes Doctor Pablo, who was raised in the Jamaican parish of St. Thomas before exchanging Kingston for the streets of Harlesden. “Prince Far I got a lot of respect for having done that, y’ know?” “He was the first person that we backed and supported,” adds Tony. “That was at the 100 Club in Oxford Street. We backed him in that tiny club and that was the beginning, then after a while Adrian got us some bigger shows and we went on tour with him, Bim Sherman and Prince Hammer. That was in 1979, on the Roots Encounter tour.” “Prince Far I was already putting out albums by then,” states Mister Magoo. “He started out with Coxsone and Joe Gibbs but then he developed into something else. I really don’t know where he came from with his mindset because he was ahead of his time, but you had to be a real enthusiast to have known of him in those days. There were a lot of punks who got into reggae around that same time, in the late seventies. Reggae was just kicking off with them but from they heard us, they got a liking for reggae as well. We ended up playing with the Clash, the Slits and punk bands like that, who were coming up also back then.” “We used to leave all of that to Adrian, because what we were listening to came mainly out of Jamaica,” says Charlie Fox, who was in a band backing Gregory Isaacs when Adrian first saw him. “We always viewed reggae music through those same roots and we never worried about all the different offshoots. We were more into the rebel music and we were always a live band. We were always creating music, y’ know? That’s how it always was with us and then we had Adrian doing his thing in the studio and giving us the right mix. That’s how we came to bond together as Creation Rebel, and with him as the engineer. He would be there to uplift what we were thinking, and then we created the music together, step by step.”

Adrian Sherwood had worked for Pama Records from the age of fifteen before he and Joe Farquharson set up a distribution centre from a rented office on Craven Park Road. From there, and with help from Anthony “Chips” Richards, they launched Carib Gems from premises in Rucklidge Avenue, again in Harlesden. This was the label that issued Prince Far I’s debut album Psalms For I in 1976, along with music by U Roy, the Revolutionaries and most of Sonia Pottinger’s productions from that era.

“We carried all that stuff on our van, together with all the import stuff from Jamaica,” Adrian explains. “During that period I was experiencing the whole Jamaican thing because I met Claudie Massop, Bucky Marshall and Tek Life… I kept meeting all of these unsavoury characters who came in to see Chips and I thought they were musicians! At that same time I met Prince Far I with Fish Clarke and Flabba Holt, and that’s when we recorded Foggy Road. I went to the studio for the first time when we recorded that, and it was a very good start, although I’d previously been on a calypso session with the Mighty Volcano from St. Vincent. He was a neighbour of mine in High Wycombe and then I decided I wanted to run a session for myself. I basically hummed all of the bass lines to a bass player in High Wycombe called Clinton Jack and then I hired Fish Clark, Crucial Tony, Bigga Morrison and Doctor Pablo, who was my close friend and partner in HitRun. That’s when we named the band after the Burning Spear song, and made the first Creation Rebel album Dub From Creation.

“What happened was, Pablo had worked for me and Joe. He was a year older than me. We both lived in High Wycombe and used to get stoned together and listen to music so when it all went wrong with J&A, his dad chipped in £500 and we got HitRun going. I was only nineteen when we did Dub From Creation. Chips Richards introduced me to Dennis Bovell so I went down to the studio and I’d be there telling him, ‘more reverb! More delay!’ But what really turned me onto mixing was doing it live because I went on tour with Prince Far I and we’d be confronted with these fat white guys who were used to doing sound mixes for rock bands. I’d be telling them to put more emphasis on the hi-hats and stuff like that until they got really fed up and told me to do it myself, so I’d just try and balance it how I heard it. That’s how I got started. I think it should be mandatory to do a bit of live sound first so you understand the placement of the sound.”

The second album he worked on was Creation Rebel’s Starship Africa, although it wasn’t actually released until 1980.

“We did that album in 1977, and it has all of those delays and reverbs on it. It was recorded at Gooseberry studios in Wardour Street where Mark Lusardi used to work. People like David Rodigan hated it and asked us what we thought we were doing, but I wasn’t try to please everyone. I was trying to make records that were different.”

He certainly succeeded in doing that, and has made a career out of it ever since because Sherwood’s On U Sound catalogue is unlike that of any other producer you could mention. His music is inventive, challenging at times, glorious at others and never, ever mediocre. He’s worked with a diverse cast of artists, musicians and collaborators that would be impossible to list here, although there’s little doubt that Adrian’s friendship with the late Prince Far I was pivotal during the early stages of his journey from brash upstart to acclaimed record producer, DJ and label owner. In order to get HitRun up and running, Far I gave Adrian and Doctor Pablo some of his productions to release, and he also voiced Frontline Speech on the title track of Dub From Creation. HitRun then helped to organise live shows for Prince Far I in the UK and Holland, with Creation Rebel as the backing band.

“Far I was very helpful to me,” Adrian concedes. “He came to stay at my mum’s house and called her ‘Mummy.’ She called him ‘the Honey Monster,’ and he’d be there doing Elvis Presley impersonations! He was a right laugh but he became convinced that people were working black magic on him and would always be feeling ill. He was a complex character. I’ve actually started writing a book called Raise The Champion which is about that period of time. He was obsessed that people were working obeah on him and looked what happened…”

Prince Far I had recommended they bring drummer Lincoln “Style” Scott over for those shows and he played on Creation Rebel’s next albums Rebel Vibrations and Close Encounters Of The Third World but then took ill just before the band’s show at the Rainbow with the Slits and Don Cherry. After recovering he went back to Jamaica and formed the Roots Radics, around the same time that Starship Africa came out. Style had overdubbed drums onto the original recording, whilst Adrian’s creativity had flown to the outer limits as he oversaw the final mix at Berry Street studio in London and experimented by turning over the tape and playing it backwards. Their fifth album Psychotic Jonkanoo was recorded at Richard Branson’s Manor studios in Oxford, and when the follow-up Lows And Highs yielded a single – A Love I Can Feel– that actually got a decent amount of airplay for a change it seemed as though Creation Rebel were finally going to break through to the next level. Alas, lead vocalist and bassist Lizard was then jailed for twelve months and a year later, Prince Far I was murdered at his home in Jamaica.

Creation Rebel folded although the musicians in and around the band never stopped working, either for Sherwood or elsewhere. Crucial Tony became a stalwart of Undivided Roots and the Ruff Cutt band and together with Charlie Fox and Mister Magoo, has done more than most in maintaining Harlesden’s reputation as British reggae’s foremost musical hub, as celebrated in tracks on the new album like Jubilee Clock, Crownhill Road and The People’s Sound [Tribute To Daddy Vego]. The latter is a reference to pioneering soundman the late Daddy Vego, owner of the People’s Sound record shop on All Saints Road and mentor to at least two generations of reggae people in London NW10. It’s heartening to see him being remembered in this way, and to welcome back a band who’ve clearly got the drive, talent and ambition to make a difference. The handful of shows they’ve done so far – some of them as support to Horace Andy – have been electrifying. “We took the roof off!” exclaims Mister Magoo, and there are more tours planned for next year, including possible festival dates.

This is a revised version of an article that first appeared in the October 2023 issue of Echoes Magazine.


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