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Roots Rock Rebels–When Punk Met Reggae 1975-1982 Guest Blog by Mike O’Connor

We’re really chuffed to feature this guest blog from Mike O’Connor aka Scottish Post-Punk. Ahead of the release in July of Roots Rock Rebels – When Punk Met Reggae 1975-1982  (we’ve got our pre-order in) Mike tells us how this long-planned compilation came about…over to Mike.

a man and a woman standing in front of a brick wall

Mike O’Connor & Gary Crowley

I blame Gary Crowley…

It all really kicked off when I met Gary in person for the first time in August 2022 after several years of social media interaction. I was a regular and avid listener to his Punk and New Wave Show, with his mucker Jim Lahat, on Soho Radio. In the interim I had started a (very) amateur fortnightly show called Unamerican Broadcasting on Stranger Radio (an Internet station started by some exiled Canadians in NYC), we got chatting and GC has been a great supporter of my show, which is now over 150 episodes old.

  • Date: 16 August 2022
  • Venue: The snug of the Barley Mow pub near Baker Street, London.
  • Attendees: DJs GC & “Mike Hunt”.
  • Beverages: Peroni Italian lager.
  • Agenda: Blethering.

GC kindly gave me an advance copy of his latest Lost 80s box set and asked me if I’d ever thought about curating a compilation and, if so, what would be its theme.

Big mistake, GC…

I’d never actively thought of compiling my own collection (why would I have?) but had always thought that there was a gap in the market where nobody had covered the impact of reggae on punk. There have been a number of reggae compilations from that era and a couple of low-key sets of reggae-influenced punk/post-punk. But, nothing to bring the two genres together.

My own, largely misspent, youth saw me buying records and attending gigs from a young age. I was a member of Edinburgh’s earliest reggae club (held every Sunday in the basement of Nicky Tam’s in Victoria Street – now a Virgin hotel, I think). It was run by a young mixed-race couple and they served “Trenchtown Hotpot” in order to get a late drinks licence – better than the chicken in a basket on offer under the plastic palm trees of Tiffany’s. My pal Stewart and I rarely missed a night there.

Nicky Tam’s was also the scene of some early pre/proto “punk” gigs with early shows by Sale (later Valves), The Monos and The Skids.

My first reggae single was ‘No Woman, No Cry’ by Bob Marley and The Wailers, followed (inevitably) by the Live! At the Lyceum LP.

Many of the early punk gigs I attended featured reggae being played (as there were few punk records available) and, for us, both genres almost became synonymous. Early reggae gigs I attended included Cimarons, Reggae Regular, Merger, Steel Pulse, Culture, Tradition & Aswad.

‘Rock Against Racism’ was another catalyst and I was on the March from Hillside Crescent to Craigmillar in August 1978 for the Edinburgh Carnival Against the Nazis – The Clash were billed but apparently never booked and Aswad played an excellent headline set – they were ably supported by several excellent local acts: The Monos, Valves. Scars, Freeze and Deleted.

text, calendar, map

So…many gigs, many records & many years later I found myself in a London boozer nattering away to GC over a few pints of lager and there it was – my concept for a compilation album!

Gary was immediately enthusiastic and said that he’d have a think about who might be interested in releasing such a set.

A few days after I got back home he was as good as his word and had emailed John Reed at Cherry Red Records introducing us “virtually” and hinting that I had a concept that he might be interested in. John asked for a brief outline via email and we had an hour-long follow-up call the same day. One of their project managers had a similar idea so we agreed to get together to discuss in more detail.

I was in London again in October 2022 and met Danny Keene (project manager & co-compiler of Roots Rock Rebels) in a central London Costa and hooked up with John later the same day in the Cherry Red offices at Power Road Studios in Chiswick.

The vague concept I had became, with John & Danny’s input, more focused and we concentrated on the key period of 1975 to 1982 and restricted the punk/new wave bands to British acts only. We included some early Jamaican acts but, again, primarily featured UK & UK-based reggae artists.

The early working title of (predictably) ‘Punky Reggae Party’ was soon discarded after Universal refused to license the song (probably due to the impending release, at that time, of the One Love film and the resultant Bob Marley reissues campaign).

My suggestion of ‘Inglan is a Bitch’ (which seemed apt to me as a Scotsman) as a title was quickly ruled out and John came up with Roots Rock Rebels inspired by the lyrics to The Clash’s ‘(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais’.

Our initial first choice tracklist of 50+ songs soon altered somewhat as we either struggled to identify who owned the rights or were refused licensing for one reason or another.

Sony declined our request to include The Clash which was a major disappointment. I mentioned this to GC in a catch-up call and he said that he had met someone from their management company at a Galen & Paul gig a few days earlier.  He sent me her email address and I contacted her to ask if the band would reconsider being included. She asked which song we had requested and I replied saying that our first choice was ‘Police & Thieves’ and our reserves were either ‘(WM)IHP’ or ‘Guns of Brixton’. A week or so later she came back to say that all THREE had been approved by the band!  Unfortunately, this caused a wee bit of friction between Sony & Cherry Red and I was rapped across the knuckles for that one (sorry, guys!).  But HUGE thanks to GC, Selena and The Clash for getting us those three for the comp.

In another scoop Danny managed to get a great foreword for the sleeve notes from The Rebel Dread, Don Letts, himself!

And further icing on the cake was to get one of the legendary Syd Shelton’s ( most iconic photographs as the cover image; a picture of black and white youths at the Leeds Carnival Against Racism in 1981 – a gig I attended and which featured Misty in Roots, The Au Pairs, Aswad and, headliners, The Specials.


Roots Rock Rebels Compilation cover photo by Syd Shelton

The finished product, featuring legends such as Culture, Burning Spear, Steel Pulse, Linton Kwesi Johnson, The Clash, The Ruts, Dennis Bovell, Elvis Costello, Althea and Donna, The Pop Group, Janet Kay, Stiff Little Fingers, Public Image Limited, The Specials, The Slits (and many, many more) has surpassed my expectations.

Almost two years in the making (and forty years in the “planning”) – long periods of inactivity and the whirlwind of the last few months have summed up what a great experience this has been for a music industry outsider.

Social media response has (so far) been really positive and I hope, when it finally lands on 19 July, that it takes listeners back to their youth; to a time that, if they’re anything like me, shaped their musical taste and political & social awareness.

Looking forward to working on Volume Two next….

Link to pre-order: