This is a book that isn't quite sure what it is. That isn't necessarily a problem, in fact given the subject matter - Jamaica - it's maybe inevitable that the context, framing, etc, will be all over the shop. Salewicz wrote for the NME in the 70s at the height of that era's Punky Reggae Party. Perhaps the best bits of the book cover his experiences during that period - witnessing Burning Spear's driving in all its white knuckle glory, spending time chez Tapper Zukie, and visiting the notorious Gun Court with none other than Bob Marley (the subject of a previous book by Salewicz).
There is a good feel to the autobiographical bits in the book - the author comes across foremost as a white guy into reggae, trying to unlock its puzzles and ending up more confused, but wiser. The route of his investigations necessarily takes in the history of Jamaica as a country, as a culture, as a node in the history of colonialism & slavery. Having recently read around this, I found these historical sections a bit sketchy (they would be great introduction), but there are some great passages where Jamaica's past crossfades into its present - a mechanic boasting of his maroon heritage, the manager of a posh hotel relating the activities of the celebs who had been guests there…
Jamaica's "present" (i.e. when the book was written - late 20th Century) is extremely chaotic, to say the least. Salewicz doesn't shy away from telling the more unsavoury sides of people's stories - whether they be reggae stars or larger than life people he has met during his many stays on the island. What the book is great at is conjuring up that uncertainty of being a bumbling englishman on a mission - there are a lot of "what do I do NOW?!" moments (some of them nearer to violent death than your average rock journalist will ever be) and some very pertinent questions asked (but not always answered) about rastafari, tourism, gangsta culture and corruption in high places.
Occasionally the narrative slips into too much detail and you wonder if the text was actually intended for a "Rough Guide to Jamaica" or some other travel book, except the prices and maps have been left out. There are also some needless detours into astrology! Small points. Ultimately you can't write about reggae without writing about Jamaica. Many recent books have covered it to a greater (Bass Culture) or lesser (People Funny Boy) degree, but Rudeboy has quite rightly put the people and places centre stage.
You only have to turn your back for 6 months and the thing has changed. Damn! The queue was alright - the usual mix of students and tourists (this is the West End after all). The doormen were being outrageously stringent, though. A full search, including having to empty my pockets AND my wallet. This is quite clearly taking this piss - everyone knows that THEY are supposed to pretend to search us, and WE are supposed to pretend not to have any drugs! It's a social contract, innit!!!
Anyway despite all of this I got in with my ready rolled, so all's well that ends well, I guess. Hmmph! Inside DJ Friction was playing a warm up set in the main room. It was pretty cool, kind of subdued in the way that I guess new DJs have to be. I had to do stuff the next day (rather than pretend to do stuff - my usual trick, like typing this at work!), so I wasn't able to indulge to my usual extent [just the 6 pills this time, then, eh? - JE] This meant that when Andy C came on and tore the roof off the sucker, I was thinking "oh typical, turn up the sound system when the 'star' comes on' rather than "Fuuuuuuuuuck me this goooood". Which it bloody well was - the trademark growling bass and beats, funky as fuck and twice as hard. SEH LEK TORRRR! This set took its toll on my ageing body and so we retire to what was the chill out room.
It still is the chill out room, of course. They've just moved the seating around so it’s more of a 2nd dancefloor. Some nice breaks and stuff. Unfortunately it is at this point at which I realise that I'm the oldest fucker in there, bar the DJs of course (who are, as usual, old enough to be some of the crowds' Dads - fukkin' Noel Edmunds Roadshow, or what?). Not only that, but the disgusting garridge aesthetic has now filtered through to mainstream d 'n' b nights. This is alright when the crowd shouts "Boooo!" (Was: Bo! - what's a few extra o's between friends, eh?) but it's FUCKING SHIT when you see 18 year old middle class white kids with champagne on ice to impress "the laydeez". Just Fuck Right Off, OK? (That goes for "the laydeez" as well, while I'm at it. We now are big on heels and dresses and low on trainers and sportswear). Sod off back to Ministry or maybe go to a real underground garage night and try pulling those gangsta poses, you wankers. My "I remember when it was all fields 'round here" rant over, we return to the main floor and I am becalmed by the twin influences of DJ Hype and a bendy joint (they always go bendy when I leave them in my pocket for too long - moral of the story? Don't leave them in your pocket for too long, mate!). Hype is rockin' it, though the sound engineer needs to have a word with himself. The set is stone cold Hype business - some stuff he's been playing out for the last two years, some new ones. It's all good. And in that frame of mind, an executive decision is made, and we head off into the sunset in his wake…
last month's reviews