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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Part Three

Antoinette had provided me with the entry into the world of Jamaicans - first in New York, then in Kingston Jamaica.

As I have mentioned before, my brother Brian had early-on hipped baby brother Patrick and I up to Jamaican rock steady and reggae which possessed a huge variety and vitality away from Bob Marley who was OK, but we were always a little sceptical of the acts the US musical establishment selected for us to worship after all, they were the same hack journos that had shoved the Eagles, Rush and Fleetwood Mac down our throats for the past 5 or 6 years. We preferred to take advice from people we could trust like Lester Bangs.

So while the hippies were digging One Love along with their Grateful Dead, we could see the  Jamaican link to US blues and R&B in Toots,and John Holt, Lynn Tait & the Jets, the Techniques, Skatellites, etc.
We were already well versed by the time the punks came along and busted reggae internationally, and the floodgates were opened. We knew the singers of songs and the players of instruments, likewise we knew the quality performers from those just making a joyful noise unto God.
And just like when I tried to play my original Elmore James, Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf records for my school friends, they didn't understand why it might be better to check the Wailers over Clapton, or Tosh over 10CC. They had been left behind.

So along with the music came for me an appreciation of other aspects of Jamaican culture -food, of course and clothes. Jamaican men all had immaculately tailored trousers, suits and waistcoats.  I found out that bespoke tailoring still existed, nay thrived, in Jamaica and in Jamaican communities abroad. Those who are of the belief that Rastas only wear jeans and t-shirts with sandals, have never been to a big reggae show in Kingston, London or New York.  Man those brothers really turn out! Antoinette lost no time in pointing out to me that sneakers or "booga" were not acceptable footwear if I was to accompany her out in public in New York City or anywhere nicer than the park for that matter.

So, adjustments had to be made and were, besides it always felt unseemly for me to wear shorts in a city and even today I put on some sort of trousers when visiting Kingston except perhaps on a weekend.

At this time came the first ska revival which arrived on the back of the punks but wasn't driven from Haircut1000 punk-is-dying London but from the English Midlands where many West Indians had emigrated and now their sons (and daughters!) formed bands with their white English mates from places like Coventry and Birmingham
2-Tone was born and Walt Jabsco the iconic image in a pork-pie hat became our idol.

Jerry Dammers was the founder of the band the Specials and also 2 Tone the Record label which consolidated the whole movement. He was the chief songwriter arranger and keyboardist. Throughout the 80's Dammers and Shane MacGowan "the Toothless Twosome" were my heroes. I and countless others around the UK the USA and the world studied this album cover for fashion inspiration:

So off we went scouring the thrift shops and second-hand stores and the high street chancers who had sniffed a movement in the air and started selling cheap knock offs. Second-hand waistcoats, straight legged, flat-front trousers in wool, dacron, sharkskin, or silk, no cuffs. English-made tassel loafers with DM soles or if you had the cash, leather soled Loakes versions or perfed Brogues preferably in black or Oxblood . Stinge brims, narrow ties, narrow collars - anything 80's or even 70;s was out for us, especially if it said hippie, or LA or flash - there were 3 preferred colours: Black, white, or grey. Casual Fridays for me in my NY publishing offices were a Fred Perry, Levis 501s or thrift shop troosies, braces, tassled loafers and my dad,s harrington jacket, and I could do this because they were clueless. Canal Street and Lower Broadway as well as now-too-bridge-and-tunnelly St Marks Place. Nigel and I had our secret places like 99X which was on E7th down a steel staircase in an alley to a basement nirvana of Docs, and Freds and Bens and Harringtons.

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