I first met Dave in Venice thanks to Chris Lane. Unfortunately we had little time to talk about Reggae at the time so I promised myself to get him on soulbrew.org sooner or later.
I have to publicly thanks David for lending himself to such thorough questioning and for being so extensive with his answers!
Read on people!!!
Please introduce yourself:
My name is Dave Hendley. In the 1970s I travelled to Jamaica, principally to collect records and to learn a bit more about reggae at it’s source. I took some photograph’s during my visits and somehow or other got more involved with the music than I had originally planned. Today I teach photography and contextual studies on the graphic design course at Central Saint Martins in London.
Q – From the Reggapedia page about you we gather you have been traveling to JA starting from the mid-seventies. But I guess your love affair with reggae began way earlier, tell us something about it.
A – I first heard Jamaican records, we called it Blue Beat then, in the mid to latter part of the 60s. Tunes like Al Capone, Guns of Navarone and Phoenix City not forgetting Desmond Dekker’s 007 which was a big hit during that time – then of course you also have the Johnny Nash tunes – ‘Hold Me Tight’ is a great rock steady tune, much better than many of those obscurities that people go mad over today.
I recall that the labels in particular were very compelling and somehow looked much more exotic than those of the established record companies. These records were just part of the general soundtrack of eclectic music that I grew up with. Back then I would listen to all sorts of music – Motown, Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Aretha Franklin alongside more way out stuff like Jimi Hendrix, The Small Faces, Love, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and even John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. There was a very nice time around 66-67 where as a kid you didn’t feel the need to categorise your listening so much.
One of my greatest pleasures back then was wandering around the record shops in Wood Green looking at all the 45s, EPs and LPs that I couldn’t afford, I used to look at the sleeves and imagine what the music might sound like. There was Derek’s in Turnpike Lane, Saville’s Piano’s on the High Street and a record kiosk in the Co-op department store.
Back then Wood Green was the centre of my universe, full of such simple pleasures.
Of course by the late 60s reggae had become very popular with white working class kids. I had lot’s of mates who were what became known as skinheads, so I became increasingly aware of the musics presence – It seemed tailor made for the look and mood of the time – but to be honest back then I was far more into the clothes than the records.
I made a gradual progression to reggae from soul and pop during the early 70s and started buying reggae records more seriously around 1973-74. Back then the deejay tunes really attracted me because they sounded so deeply underground and unlike anything I had previously heard. Big Youth’s ‘Screaming Target’ LP epitomises that sound.
Q – Did you actually go to JA just as a photographer or where you a journalist too?
A – I would never wish to describe myself as a journalist or writer. Initially I had wanted to be a photographer. Sorry but this is a bit of a long story. In 1969 I got a job as a messenger on the picture desk of The Times newspaper. I taught myself all the technical stuff and from 72 to 75 freelanced as a photographer for The Times, Sunday Times and Time Out. By 1975 I’d had enough – I just didn’t have enough commitment to pursue a career in photography. Spending time with my girlfriend and hanging out with my mates seemed far more important. At that time there was a great network of soul clubs in and around London and I was really more into dressing up in 50s gear and going out dancing than taking pictures. So I gave up photography, sold my cameras and got a job in a record shop in North London, I think it was called Revolver Records – It was in Park Lane, Tottenham to be precise. It was there that I first met Fatman, he lived just up the road in Northumberland Park and often stopped by for a chat. We’ve stayed friends ever since. I think one day he bought in Prince jammy who was on his first trip to England.
It was also around this time that I first met Chris Lane. Chris was working at Junior’s in Sroud Green Road and I recall spending an afternoon in the shop listening to pre’s and chatting about music – I remember buying Bim Sherman’s Tribulation and Gregory Issacs’ Way of Life that afternoon. A little while after Chris introduced me to his mate John MacGillivray. We went round John’s mum”s house in Putney where John played Dillinger and Tubby’s ‘Jah Jah Dub’ – hearing that was for me a real game changer. John described the tune as ‘this is the type of record I like.’ He also played Bob Andy’s ‘You Don’t Know’ – it was the ‘greek’ label bootleg that Rita & Beeny King were supposedly behind. Back then it all seemed wildly esoteric.
At that time Chris and John were starting up Dub Vendor, although back then it was just a few beer crates full of tunes they’d picked up in Jamaica and while junk shopping around London.
Meeting Chris and John opened a completely new dimension to my appreciation and understanding of reggae. They had such good taste and musical sensibility, real connoisseurs, and there seemed to be a very identifiable Dub Vendor sound. I learned so much from them and I guess my own taste in tunes has always emulated theirs – I can’t thank them enough really for opening my ears to so much good music. When I put together ‘Rebel Music’ for Trojan in 1979 it was really in tribute to Chris and John. I didn’t even want my name on it as the compiler because I felt that it was their selection really.
Chris, John and I became good friends and I went into partnership with them running a Dub Vendor stall in East London’s Petticoat Lane Market. This was around late 1976. We used to pull quite a big crowd of people around he stall, but there was a bit of a problem with noise and I guess a perception that so many black youths meant trouble, so the market inspector kept pitching us further and further away from the main market until we ended up rattling around in a car park with just one other trader opposite Tubby Issacs’ famous seafood stall near Aldgate East. We had the run about half a dozen extension cables to power up the record deck and amp. It all got to be more trouble than it was worth so we packed it in. Shortly after that the three of us went to Jamaica along with Chris’ girlfriend Theresa (now Mrs. Lane). By this time I was working at Contempo Records in Hanway Street and the owner John Abbey also published Blues & Soul from the same premises. I asked John if I could revive Chris’ reggae page for the magazine and he was happy to let me have a go. So the pictures I took in Jamaica on my first trip in spring 1977 were really just intended to accompany my interviews.
Q – In that period there might have been very few people travelling to JA for music reason only. How were
A – I was very lucky to go at that time as not too many foreigners then visited Kingston specifically for the music scene. Chris and John had both been before and of course Chris first visited in late 73 when he stayed with Scratch at the newly opened Black Ark.
The only other person from our circle who had previously been to Jamaica was Tony Rounce. Tony also has impeccable taste in tunes and his knowledge of many types of music is encyclopaedic.
We were generally very well received, particularly by the artists and producers. People were genuinely appreciative that we made that long journey simply for our love of the music. There were of course one of two dodgy moments. The walk from North Parade to Treasure Isle on Bond Street could be a bit sporting. Once we passed a bloke field stripping a pump action shotgun on the street, as we passed you could hear the noise of the action being racked. It also had the potential to get a little dodgy around Tubby’s if you stayed on the street too long, although once in the studio you were safe and sound. I can’t remember the deatails of this too clearly but there was one time we went over to Tubby’s and it was closed. Our ride had gone so we were stranded on Dromilly Avenue, of course 4 white faces in Waterhouse are going to attract a little too much unwanted attention, I think it was Winston Jarrett who came to our rescue.
Generally we were very well received and looked after. Scratch even spent an evening in Black Ark mixing down dubs onto master tape for us to take back to the UK. This was not for money I should add, but because of his relationship with Chris. I do remember that Carlton Jackson who sung ‘History’ was watering the plants in the yard while Scratch was mixing his song.
Q – You got to work with King Tubby, how was he in real life?
A – I wouldn’t ever lay claim to having ‘worked’ with King Tubby, Jammy, maybe yes, but I did get him to engineer a tune for me.
In real life Tubbys was a reserved man who really didn’t get what all the fuss was about. He wasn’t exactly shy as such but at the same time he didn’t seem to like to be in the lime-light. By the time I asked him to mix Horace Andy’s ‘Pure Ranking’ in 1979 he had more or less retired from the mixing board. He did a bit for producers he got on with like Yabby You, Carlton Patterson and Mikey Dread, but the day to day running of the studio was left to Jammy. I have to say that I don’t think dub music would be as influential as it is today had it not been for King Tubby. His understanding of what that board was capable of along with his sense of timing and musicality make him completely unique.
I do recall that he was quite reluctant to do the Horace Andy mix. Somehow I think that song had been primarily voiced for use on dub plates and never been intended for release.
Tubby had a great presence about him. He didn’t suffer fools. If the singers and producers waiting in the back yard of Dromilly Avenue were a bit too excited and noisy, Tubby would appear at the back door, give a stern look and a hush would descend – Like naughty school kids reprimanded by their teacher. He carried a lot of respect.
There was one incident we witnessed where Jammy was late. A big name artist was due to voice and Tubby reluctantly had to take the session. The artist’s lack of rehearsal was causing slow progress. I recall Tubby getting quite frustrated. He looked towards the heavens and said to the producers ‘why are you bothering with this idiot.’ He seemed really relieved when Jammy showed up and he could get back to his repair workshop.
Q – Did you ever get to meet the big guys, I mean, the heavy-weight, like Coxsone, Duke Reid, Prince Buster and Bunny Lee (the list can continue if you have more names!)?
How were they?
A – Duke had passed by the time I first visited but I do remember going to see his widow, the Dutchess, at her home. One morning Mr.Dodd took Chris, John, Theresa and myself on a guided tour of Studio 1 and then let us loose in the stockroom!
In Jamaica Studio 1 records were sold cheaper than regular releases as I remember.
Buster was not spending so much time on the Island then and I never actually met him until 1998. I was with my friend Paul Coote when we spotted him coming out of his shop on Orange Street and we had a little chat.
Q – Trojan Records, whoa! How was working there? I mean, the amount of material you probably seen/handled
would probably send crazy many a collector!
A – It was random circumstances that led me to Trojan. My friend Mo Claridge, who had a label and distribution business at that time told me that they were looking for someone for the A&R role, this was around late ‘78. I think Tony Cumming’s, who had edited Black Music magazine, had been there previously and had found it difficult to work with Trojan’s owner Marcel Rodd. Rodd had acquired the Trojan catalogue after the label imploded a few years earlier. At that time I had just stopped working with John on Dub Vendor’s early mail order venture so I was looking for a job. I phoned up and arranged a meeting with Mr.Rodd and he offered me the position there and then.
The trouble was that Marcel Rodd didn’t understand the reggae business, his background was in budget classical recordings. His company was Saga Records, they had a pressing plant on Kensal Road and Trojan was operating out of a murky office on the top floor.
Things had moved on a bit from the days of agreements signed on the back of fag packets. There were new players on the market like Greensleeves who built good relationships with producers by offering decent advances and paying royalties on time. However I had a good relationship with Marcel Rodd and was able to significantly raise the level of advances paid – The contracts though still had those dreadful in perpetuity clauses whereby a producer signed away their rights forever. I was never comfortable with that.
I have to point out that I wasn’t so interested in the back catalogue as I was in trying to re-establish Trojan’s presence on the contemporary market so my attention was on securing more contemporary releases for the label.
At that time, 1979, the Trojan tape archive was at Saga’s studio which was in the basement of Rodd’s house in Hampstead. It was poorly catalogued so tapes were quite difficult to find. Even so either Chris, who I’d asked to help, or I (sorry but I can’t remember), uncovered the tapes for Bob Marley’s ‘Natural Mystic’ and ‘Rainbow Country.’ We copied them off and promptly cut dubs for ourselves.
But to be honest I didn’t have the knowledge then to exploit the tape archive fully. What you also have to remember is that there was not such a great interest then in old tunes. Reggae then was a very contemporary music concerned with it’s present rather than it’s past
Q – What was your role in the company?
A – My official title was A&R manager and the label manager was Clive Stanhope. Clive was a very decent man, not strictly a reggae fan by any means, but he had a good understanding of the record business and a sense of fairness.
Q – Sufferers Heights was the label you and Paul Wateridge of Trojan fame founded. How did you come up with
the idea and the name?
A – Paul was production manager at Trojan/Saga and was, like me a little frustrated with working for a company that just didn’t get it. We hatched a plan to start our own label. Now in retrospect I see that Paul put in so much hard work in terms of finance, production and distribution. All I did was look after the content and label identity. The name ‘Sufferer’s Heights’ had been kicking around in my head since my first trip to Jamaica. It was a small hillside community on the way to Spanish Town that looked quite Biblical. I asked our driver (Fatman’s brother Bigga) what it was called and he said Sufferer’s Heights.
I wanted a very specific roots label that would deal fairly with the producers. Therefore licences were for the UK only and were only to last 5 years before all rights returned to the owner. I always felt that was important. We were prepared to offer better advances and terms than Trojan and I developed very good relationships with people like Jammy, Sugar Minott and Mikey Dread.
I don’t think we would have secured those tunes without that personal element.
Our first release was going to be ‘What A Great Day’ by Lacksley Castell. Jammy played me the tape at Tubby’s studio early in 1979 and I immediately recognised it as the type of tune I wanted for the label. We did a deal for that tune and Jammys did the mix while I was there. But on that same trip I met Sugar (in the back yard at Tubby’s) and asked him about the full vocal for the part vocals on Captain Sinbad’s ‘Pressure Rock’ that I had heard on pre a month or so earlier. Sugar played me the full vocal version, a reworking of Hopeton Lewis’ ‘Sounds and Pressure.’ This was of course ‘Hard Time Pressure’ – I knew this would be a huge hit on the UK market and the perfect song with which to establish our label. I asked Sugar if I could release it in the UK and he said yes. Sugar said he was due to come to the UK in a few weeks time and would bring the tape with him. We just had a gentleman’s agreement at that point and I returned to the UK. Paul and I pressed the Lacksley Castell tune but held it back. After a couple of nail-biting weeks Sugar, true to his word arrived with the tape. We got the 12” on the market as quick as we could. That was a big tune, it sat on top of the reggae charts for over two months and sold well throughout 1979. Sugar Minott was always very grateful for the fairness of that deal and for the royalties being paid on time. Years later he told me that I was the only man who dealt with him straight – That was a very satisfying compliment.
Q – How did you select the tunes to be released? Were they UK release of JA 7″ or were they handpicked and matched according to your taste?
A – Our intention had been to issue completely new material, although Ranking Joe’s ‘Youthman Promotion’ and the Rod Taylor tunes had been up on pre-release.
Earl Zero’s ‘Please Officer’ was I guess produced by me and Jammy in that I came up with the idea and funded it – Jammy of course actually produced it in the musical sense and negotiated with Pablo who I wanted to blow melodica on the flip side.
I thought it best to stay in the background as it might have become too expensive a project if my involvement had been known.
I have to say that that tune in sounds better today than it did at the time – same way with ‘Pure Ranking.’
My reason for abandoning Sufferer’s Heights was that Paul wanted to take Mikey Dread on tour with The Clash. I just wasn’t interested in anything other than the reggae market and knew that such a venture would gobble up the little money we had made. That torpedoed the label below the water line, but I left at the end of ‘79. There was one release after I left but I don’t count that, To me the catalogue will always be just 6 records.
Q – Pirate Records was your new venture and given the name, there must be something behind the name! Would you like to tell us about label background? And why only 12″?
A – In 1980 my friend Fatman came back from Jamaica and had produced this tune ‘Nice Time’ (‘Late Night Blues’) by Don Carlos. Once again it was a song that I loved and I new it would go clear. Fatman really helped me out by letting me release that tune. There is no significance in the label name, I guess I must have had the name in mind from the Studio 1 compilation ‘Pirate’s Choice.’ Noel Hawks came up with the label design and John at Dub Vendor allowed me to use the Dub Vendor 12” sleeve.
That tune was another number one in Black Echoes chart for about six weeks. It was good as well to do everything myself from mastering and distribution to sorting out the royalty payments.
I recall being in the Bali Hai, Streatham listening to Coxsone and Ray Symbolic when Jah Scew dropped it and Ranking Joe did a great toast over the dub, that in particular is a really nice memory. By the way it’s Pat Kelly at the controls on that tune. Voiced and mixed at Tubbys. 1980 was election year and it was especially dangerous in the area around the studio, Fatman told me how one afternoon a gunman took cover just in front of Tubbys and there was a lengthy exchange of fire across the street – Him and Pat had to duck down on the studio floor until the skirmish was over.
The trouble with the Pirate label was getting a strong follow up. I really wanted Jammy’s Johnny Osbourne tune ‘Jahovia’ but in the end it came out on an LP and the opportunity was missed. I put out a couple of stop gap tunes to keep thing ticking over but somehow lost interest. Some of the problem was that the music had become too formulaic. I still regard the early to mid 80s as one of the worst times in reggae.
Q – On this old Hardformat interview http://www.hardformat.org/collections/reggaes-got-soul/ you briefly talk about Roy Tomlinson – god knows how many times I’ve googled that
name in search for inspiration or more of his works – did you get to know others unknown design heroes in JA?
A – The answer to that is no. We did however meet Lloyd Campbell, of The Thing label fame. He ran Inter-Continental Printers on Orange Street and gave us some posters and pages of labels. It seems that those responsible for graphic identity of reggae are destined to remain largely anonymous.
Q – Photography: as I said before, you brought the world some of the most iconic reggae shots. Please tell us the three one you prefer and how they came about…
A – I like the shot of Tubby purely because it’s a photo of him. He was a genius and is perhaps the person I most admire from that time. The photo of Pablove Black and Tapper with Knowledge in Trench Town are also not bad.
Q – Are you still in touch with some of the artists you took the picture of?
A – Not really, I’m not engaged with the reggae scene anymore. But I count Fatman and Jammy as good friends, they are so much part of my experience of those days. It’s a shame that so many of the veterans have passed. Far too many of the people in those pictures are sadly no longer with us
Q – Book: you probably collected a gazillion pics over the years. When are you going to treat us with a nice book?
A – That’s a misconception about hundreds of pictures. I lost many images from that time by giving negatives away to people who wanted to use them on album covers or promotional stuff – I didn’t value those pictures at all. So perhaps half the photos survive on negative. There is so much I wish I still had, pictures of people like Fabian Miranda, who we met one day at Black Ark, and most of all the snap of me sitting at Tubby’s board. I have to say though that I didn’t want to be perceived as a photographer and always knew when to put the camera away and concentrate on the actual experience. You miss so much if you just see the world as a series of photo opportunities.
I am working on a book at present, but I really don’t want it to look a coffee table music book, so the design element is quite important. Anyway it should be out sometime next year.
Q – Say somebody wanted to purchase one of your prints, is there a website they can go to? Or should they get in touch with you?
A – Just email me, I’m not too hard to find.
(PLEASE PEOPLE DO SO! DAVE?S PICTURES ARE PART OF REGGAE HISTORY)
Q – Japan: we know there’s a massive Reggae scene in Japan – Mighty Crown, Drum & Bass records, Tommy Rock-a-Shacka and Gachapan being the most known names.
For this to happen there must be a big movement and support for it. You’ve been DJing in Japan several times, what can you tell us about the Reggae Scene over there?
A – In common with elsewhere, the reggae scene in Japan is not as big as it once was, but are still a lot of very knowledgeable and enthusiastic collectors. I have to say that I think both Dub Store and Drum and Bass, with their meticulous attention to sound quality and graphic detail, have set the standard for vinyl 45 re-issues.
Q – Top ten records, in no particular order, the tuff question I ask everybody 🙂
A – That’s impossible answer. I’m just going to list a few records in no particular order off the top of my head to give a sense of the type of tunes I like. Another day the selection might be quite different. I’ve listed 15 to make life easier!
1. Pride & Ambition – Leroy Smart – Tuff Gong : I loved this from the version on Screaming Target and couldn’t find a copy Jamaica. Eventually I bought a copy off a friend of a friend for £5 in 1977. I think I got a copy of God Helps the Man at the same time. They were the most expensive records in my collection.
2. Baby I love You So/KingTubby Meets the Rockers Uptown – Jacob Miller/Augustus Pablo & King Tubby – Pablo International : Perhaps the definitive Tubbys/Pablo collaboration. There are so many great tunes from this period on the Rockers and International label so it’s very hard to pick just this one.
3. I’ll Be Around – Otis Gayle – Studio 1 : What can I say? An amazing record on just about every level that always brings back good memories. It’s one of those tunes that always sounds as fresh as the day I first heard it.
4. This Population- Burning Spear-Bongo Man : I could just as easily picked Door Peep or Travelling, but I remember buying this from R&B Records in Stamford Hill one Saturday afternoon in 1975.
5. You Don’t Know-Bob Andy-Harry J pre: Great rhythm and one of the best songs ever written in any genre of music. Sung with soul and passion.
6. Queen of the Minstrels – The Eternals – Supreme : Terrific lead vocal and lovely harmonies over one of the definitive
7. The Power of Love/King Tubby’s in Fine Stile – Ronnie Davis – Rosie: This always reminds me of the time in 1975 when I worked in a record shop on Park Lane, Tottenham. I was friendly with a bloke called Tony who lived in a small flat just across the road. He was a Fatman follower and really serious about his music. This record is so typical of the deep roots sound he used to favour. He actually gave me my first copy of this. Great vocal and a killer rhythm backed by one of Tubby’s best mixes. This exemplifies the golden age of dub and King Tubby at the peak of his game.
8. Tonight – Keith & Tex- Island (UK) : I never tire of this rhythm. One my very favourite rock steady records and is so well crafted. Derrick Harriott produced some amazing tunes in this period.
9. Kingston 11/Round Town Skank – The Royal Rasses – Godsent : It was either this or Humanity (Love The Way it Should Be) – I choose this because it evokes my own memories of Kingston 11.
10. Fade Away – Junior Byles – Well Charge : Produced by Chinna – Sounds like the same session as ‘Saturday Night Special’ and very evocative of the time. There is a great Tubby’s dub to be found on the flip of I.Roy’s Rootsman.
11. Too Late To Turn Back Now – Alton Ellis – Impact: Perhaps the greatest reggae vocalist of them all on a great song set to a lovely choppy rhythm that really swings.
12. The Way It Is – Ricky Storm – Top Cat: Such a deep and moody early hours tune – Gothic roots at it very best!
13. Remember Me – Junior Byles – Ja Man : Could have just have easily picked Chant Down Babylon. Sound system anthems that are so evocative of the time.
14. Hurting Inside – Bob Marley & The Wailers– Tuff Gong : So hard to pick a single Wailers tune but this is for me one of Bob’s best vocals on a lovely song. Only ever had the 70s pressing of this.
15. Death Trap/Living Style – Tommy McCook/King Tubbys – Prophets : I had to include one Vivian Jackson production and opted for this flute instrumental over a typically heavy horns laden rhythm. Once again the package is completed by a brilliant King Tubby’s dub.
Q – What’s the most prized record in your collection? Reason being?
A – I really couldn’t make that decision. Just making the list above took all afternoon and I’ve not mentioned Ken Boothe, The Abyssinians, Dennis Brown, Delroy Wilson, Heptones, Lee Perry, I.Roy or U.Roy. Oddly enough It took me years to find a copy of Dynamic Fashion Way. Likewise a good copy of Big Youth’s Bide/Black on Black eluded me for several decades before I found a mint one.
The problem with prize records today is that they are equated to monetary value. When we were collecting back in the 70s these records had no value beyond that of the music itself. You really couldn’t give reggae records away. So a prize record was one of rarity and musical merit found by lots of footwork and patient crate digging. I don’t see what’s clever about collecting rare tunes by means of having a bigger cheque book than everyone else. Masa told me story about a Japanese collector who had all these big money tunes but didn’t know Dennis Brown’s Whip Them Jah Jah. That a fantastic record that’s overlooked because it can be picked up for a fiver.
Q – What are your projects for the future?
A – I have absolutely no plans in regards to music beyond a small book of the photographs. There are other photography projects I want to pursue, but these are not music related.
Those times in the 70s seem so distant, almost like someone else life.
The records and photographs are now not so important as the handful of enduring friendships that originally came from a shared interested in reggae.