And now... The Story Of Lovers' Rock


Sunday, September 25, 2011

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THIS weekend will see the launch in British cinemas of a new film about reggae titled, The Story of Lovers' Rock. Although reggae is a hugely successful international phenomenon, movies about it are relatively rare and this alone marks out this film.

But the movie is also special because it is an ode to a uniquely British reggae product. Lovers' rock is the Black British contribution to reggae music.

The roots of lovers' rock lie in the early days of reggae, with Jamaican and American singers such as Ken Boothe, John Holt and Johnny Nash enjoying international hits with reggae versions of well-known love songs. But in the 1970s, the distinctive lovers' rock genre emerged in Britain. It featured, mostly, female singers performing romantic ballads to a reggae rhythm.

Popular Jamaican reggae of the time talked about Rastafarianism and the world of the Jamaican ghetto. The dancehall music of the current day is all about violence and a crude sexuality. But lovers' rock was different from both forms. It did not deal with political subjects or spirituality. And it was not crude or misogynistic like so much present day reggae. Instead it dealt exclusively with affairs of the heart.

As such, it particularly appealed to women. And it was perhaps more accessible than Jamaican reggae to British-born youngsters who had never heard of Trench Town or Marcus Garvey.

Most black dances of the era would end with a few popular lovers' rock. The women loved them and the men knew it put their female partners in the mood for romance.

One of the earliest lovers' rock tunes was produced by the London sound system run by Count Shelly. He issued Ginger Williams's Tenderness in 1974. In 1975, Lloydie Coxsone's legendary sound system produced the haunting Caught You In A Lie by Louisa Marks.

Then, Jamaican Dennis Harris opened a recording studio in south-east London with songwriter/producer Denis Bovell and guitarist John Kpiaye as the in-house players. They produced reggae cover versions of Motown and Philadelphia soul ballads with vocals from TT Ross, Cassandra and the harmony trio Brown Sugar, featuring Caron Wheeler.

Eventually, Harris formed a label called Lovers' Rock and the new music had its name. Perhaps the biggest single lovers' rock record of the time was Janet Kay's Silly Games. It went to number two on the British charts and never fails to bring the house down when she sings it today.

Lovers' rock gradually lost popularity in the 1990s. But revival concerts remain hugely popular. And in Japan they cannot get enough of it. Lovers' rock stars like Janet Kay and Carol Thompson continue to make a good living touring Japan. And Janet Kay has produced seven successful albums for Sony Music Japan.

So there is, potentially, a big audience for this new film by Barbados-born Menalik Shabazz. He is a brilliant filmmaker, potentially a British Spike Lee, who has never had the commercial success he deserves. He will be hoping that lovers' rock enthusiasts flock to his new movie.

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