In 1973, The Old Grey Whistle Test presented a special showcase of Reggae music to a rather restrained audience of twenty-somethings at the Edinburgh Festival. It was an audacious move at a time of long hair, flared trousers, Heavy Metal and Prog Rock, and though the presentation looks uncannily like a Butlin’s stage show, this is an important and historic concert, as it brought together some of the original Trojan artists who helped reggae crossover from Jamaican dance halls to UK chart success. These are The Cimarons, Winston Groovy, Dennis Alcapone, The Marvels, Nicky Thomas and The Pioneers.
After a brief introduction from the infamous Ska and Reggae performer Judge Dread, the concert opens with The Cimarons, who formed from Harlsden via Jamaica in 1967. The Cimarons were mainly a covers band, who later released versions of “Kung Fu Fighting”‘ “You Can Get It If You Really Want”, “Over the Rainbow”, “Rock Your Baby“, and a major hit cover of “Snoopy vs. The Red Baron” under the guise of The Hot Shots, with producer Clive Crawley on vocals. Here The Cimarons perform “Ain’t No Sunshine”.
Next up is Winston Groovy who gives his version of “I’m a Believer”. Groovy moved to England in the late 1960s, where he had a hit with Lee Scratch-Perry produced track “I Want to be Loved”. In the 1970s, Groovy covered Dr Hook’s “Sylvia’s Mother” and a version of “Don’t Slow Down“, which he later re-recorded with UB40.
Dennis Alcapone is on next with his hits ”Cassius Clay” and “Wake Up Jamaica”. Alcapone is a legendary figure in Reggae, who released 130 singles between 1970 and 1973.
The Marvels who had a doo-wop approach to Reggae, perform “Jimmy Browne”, “One Monkey”. The Marvels had a variety of incarnations from their early hit “Rock Steady“, through sessions as backing vocalists – appearing on Top of the Pops with Dandy on “Suzanne Beware of the Devil”, to having hit covers with “Then He Kissed Me” and “He’s Got The Whole World in His Hands”.
Then comes the highlight of the seeing the late, great Nicky Thomas who fires in with his hit singles “Is It Because I’m Black”, and “Love of the Common People”. Thomas had a song called “BBC“, which was a condemnation of the Beeb’s lack of radio play for Reggae artists. Sadly, Thomas committed suicide in 1990.
The Pioneers were the first reggae band to tour Japan. Here they give their version of Jackie Wilson’s “Higher and Higher” and The Temptations’ hit “Papa Was A Rolling Stone”. The Pioneers went through a variety of line-ups, musical styles and suits in their long career, and are still performing. Best known for their classic tracks ”Long Shot Kick de Bucket“, which proved such a hit that the band relocated to England after their first UK tour. They went on to have hits with Jimmy Cliff’s “Let Your Yeah Be Yeah” and “Give and Take”.
The host is Judge Dread, a former “debt collector” for Trojan Records, who had a long and celebrated career as a white Ska and Reggae artist, who released a series of infamous obscene songs, starting with “Big Six”, nearly all of which charted though he never received any radio air play. Dread had more Reggae hits in the UK Charts during the 1970s than any other Reggae artist (and that includes Bob Marley), and is in the Guinness Book of Records for having the most number of banned songs – 11.