Creation Rebel was one of Adrian Sherwood’s first endeavours as a producer. Originally the backing group for the late reggae great Prince Far-I, Creation Rebel worked with Sherwood from 1977-1980, recording some of the best reggae dub music this side of Lee Perry during the early English punk era. Languorous, funky, spacey, and totally intoxicating, it’s exciting to hear the awesome production/mixing talents of Sherwood in their early days. Similarly, the band (drummers Style Scott and Fish Clarke, bassist Clinton Jack, keyboardist Bigga Morrison, guitarist Crucial Tony, and percussionist Slicker) play with a grace, effortlessness, and power that most studio bands would kill to achieve. With the band’s talents so wonderfully used by Sherwood, this is without a doubt some of the best and most important non-rock music to be made in England in the late ’70s.
Steve Barker, from BBC’s On The Wire, tells the story…
Creation Rebel’s first album Dub from Creation was released in March of 1978. The original band, featuring the drummer Eric “Fish” Clarke, had been a studio outfit known as the Arabs, now primarily remembered for their work on the classic dub set Cry Tuff Dub Encounter Chapter 1. The rhythm tracks for this album had been laid in Jamaica but the overdubs were worked up at the Gooseberry Studios in London. “Fish” left for Jamaica when these sessions were complete, leaving the group of remaining musicians preparing for duty as Prince Far I’s backing group for the DJ’s tour of Europe scheduled to start later in the year.
At this time the group comprised of “Lizard” Logan (replacing the original bassist Clinton Jack), “Crucial Tony” on guitar, Clifton “Bigga” Morrison on keyboards and Dr. Pablo on melodica – which left an urgent vacancy on drums! Introduced to the band via Far I & Prince Records in Jamaica was a young man who had just completed his stint in the Jamaican army – Lincoln Scott a.k.a. “Style” – who, over the ensuing few years was to become the most in-demand session drummer in reggae and key member of the Roots Radics, whose rhythms would dominate the scene between the end of the golden period of roots through to the digital age of the mid-eighties and onwards. Scotty of course also went on to form the nucleus of Dub Syndicate who have since recorded extensively for Adrian Sherwood and On-U Sound.
In late 1978 Sherwood and Creation Rebel recorded Starship Africa. Not released for the first time until 1980 the album still stands alone musically in reggae where it has no cerebral equivalent. Starship Africa can be interpreted critically as forming the third point of a sonic triangle equilaterally occupied by the disparate output of Grateful Dead and Tangerine Dream. A magnet for Headz which retains its stoned power today, the album mixed the customary drum and bass with ambient washes and industrial noise – all within a minimal framework.
The album’s story goes something like this. Just after the completion of the Dub from Creation LP, the young Sherwood found himself with the basic Creation Rebel cutting a bunch of rhythms in the studio for a character with the wonderful name of DJ Superstar – a contemporary of the Mexicano, and also rapping on top of funked up reggae rhythms. Most of these tunes had bass lines from Tony Henry of Misty In Roots. Sherwood had hummed the bass lines and Tony re-created them – hence the melodic quality of the bass lines on the finished tracks.
What happened to these original tracks, who knows. But two years later Sherwood and Chris Garland, a friend from Cheltenham, were starting up a record company / agency in London’s Soho with the strange name of 4D Rhythms. The agency side of the business was to run acts like Dexy’s and Medium Medium, but they were also desperate to get some vinyl out on the street. In fact so desperate that Sherwood turned to the bunch of rhythms he had created a couple of years earlier, which up to that time he had considered quite “lame”. They were up for transformation!
Style Scott, in from Jamaica, did not so much overdub but played live over the original drum tracks from Charlie “Eskimo” Fox. Freed from the stylistic requirements of the Roots Radics, Scotty was encouraged to loosen-up and lay rolls and splashes all over the tracks in his now inimitable style. Six percussionists, that is the rest of the musicians and engineers and whoever was around the studio appeared phasing in and out of one channel, creating a trippy treble effect – which hid the fact that they were all out of time. Amongst these players was Sucker, a friend of Del from Osibisa, who occasionally gives the percussion mix a rich calypso feel.
When the album was being mixed Chris was urging Adrian to get madder “more reverb, more delay…”, but nothing could be so mad as the idea to mix the tracks blind. That is – turn over the quarter inch tape on the deck and feed in the effects and run the mix backwards, turn it back over for the finished product and somehow it made a crazy kind of sense. So much so that the mix was finished in one day! On the original vinyl there was just one track listed for each side. The title track was credited as a “soundtrack from a forthcoming motion picture”. One theory is that this little fantasy in the mind of Sherwood could very well have worked its way into the brain of one William Gibson, author of Neuromancer, the classic debut cyberspace novel published in 1984. Reading that book now one can only hear Creation Rebel’s “Starship Africa” pounding out of the in-flight sound system on board the dread-crewed space-tug Marcus Garvey.
The band’s album Close Encounters Of The Third World on Hitrun had Prince Jammy credited with the mixdown, with Mr Sherwood referred to in the credits as “technician”. The release of the Rebel Vibrations album in 1979 preceded Starship Africa by over a year. Both sets were instrumental dub affairs and can now be appreciated as largely experimental in their approach, described in an unusually articulate phase by Mr Sherwood as exploring:
“…the unique possibilities of space in sound within the disciplined structures of rhythm, using bass line melodies and relying as much on the understated side of the overall result as on the overstated…”
The remainder of 1979 found Creation Rebel as anchor band for Prince Far I, Jah Woosh, Prince Hammer and Bim Sherman; all were featured in a non-stop three hour show which took to the road as the “Roots Encounter” tour. However, with the arrival of the eighties the band’s members were to tour less and less and eventually become disentangled as a creative outfit. Part of the explanation is, of course, that a working musician may have to go through many mutations in order to earn a living in the business.
Part of this inevitable phenomenon for members of Creation Rebel was that individually they also contributed to the musical existence of a whole bunch of other bands, most of whom were associated with Adrian Sherwood and On-U Sound – the Maffia, New Age Steppers, Singers & Players, African Head Charge, Playgroup, Noah House of Dread, Undivided Roots etc as well as the customary stints as backing musicians for visiting stars from Jamaica.
The Psychotic Jonkanoo album preceded the band’s final set by less than a year (Lows And Highs on Cherry Red Records in July 1982). The material consists of a fairly standard array of conscious style chants, delivered mostly by “Crucial” Tony in a militant style with harmonies from the band often reminiscent of Black Uhuru – especially on the opening track “The Dope”, where we also have the added bonus of Deadly Headley’s stylish sax intertwining with the vocal lines. The whole feel of the album is raised to a higher creative level by the arrangement and production which is clean, crisp and inventive – especially on the instrumental versions, “African Space” features a wah-wah guitar in almost restrained fashion!
“Threat To Creation” is not only the dub to the preceding “Chatti Mouth” but also provided the title to the band’s shared album with the New Age Steppers which appeared in November of the same year. In fact, the bass line for “Threat to Creation” slows down to provide the pulse for the most psyched out On-U dub of all time “Chemical Specialist”, whereas the title track suddenly assumes a different identity altogether. “Mother Don’t Cry” features John Lydon on vocal harmony, a duty for which Johnny Rotten was not renowned, although he had previously assisted the great Dr Alimantado with similar input.
Edited from the original sleeve notes written by Steve “On The Wire” Barker:
Being a big fan of the many manifestations of the late Sun Ra inevitably meant that I’ve also been particularly fond of the only solo album from “Deadly” Headley Bennett. With the artist portrayed on the album cover like a refugee from an Arkestral incarnation. 35 Years From Alpha could have meant a relatively short trip to a far distant galactic destination. Instead the literal meaning was a reference to the time since Headley Bennett left the place of his musical schooling – the Alpha Cottage School in East Kingston, Jamaica.
The Alpha School is justifiably legendary in the annals of Jamaican musical history, initially being an institution for the education of untamed youth, music has been central to its curriculum for over a century. A list of its graduates whose names grace the record sleeves of classic Jamaican music would need its own period of dedicated study to produce. Nevertheless, mention of Tommy McCook, Don Drummond, Johnny “Dizzy” Moore, Rico Rodriguez and Lester Stirling would convince any fan of the music that followed on from ska that this particular institution did its job well.
When Headley Bennett left Alpha he joined another educational academy whose headmaster was Clement Dodd – Studio One. Along with Roland Alphonso and Cedric “Im” Brooks, Headley constituted the fluid saxophony input to the session bands such as Sound Dimension which, under the tutelage of Jackie Mittoo, created the greatest and most enduring rhythms in reggae.
Unlike many of his contemporaries Headley Bennett remained strictly a session or live ensemble player – part of the band. It was as part of Prince Far I’s backing band (the Arabs) that he came to the UK to tour in the late 70s and on that tour where he met and became involved in Creation Rebel via its lead guitarist “Crucial” Tony. He contributed to many of the Creation Rebel tracks of the period staying on in the UK after the Far I gigs were complete.
As Headley was about fifty years of age in the early late 70s / early 80s Adrian Sherwood quite rightly felt that the time was well past when his name should feature as an album’s headline artist. In the style of the time 35 Years From Alpha was thrown together, gathering a batch of rhythms recorded over the previous two years in studios between London and Kingston, and although Headley takes the album credit, three of the tracks are in fact Bim Sherman vocals.
The title track was in fact knocked together from an old Barry White tune and also emerged later as the title track of Dr. Pablo’s album North Of The River Thames. “The Danger” was making a concurrent appearance, but without the indefinite article, with a version on the flipside of On-U’s 10″ disco plate debut credited to the Singers And Players with Bim on vocal.
“Head Charge”, perversely only in retrospect, did not feature Bonjo Iyabinghi Noah (of African head Charge) but did have Sherwood as the “Prisoner” on particularly freeform Jew’s harp. The second of the Bim Sherman tunes “Without A Love Like Yours” was a version of “Devious Woman”, whilst as the title implies “Two From Alpha” found Headley’s old school friend Rico Rodriguez joining him on the track with a vintage trombone contribution. “Another Satta” is exactly that – a fine version of a classic reggae tune and rhythm.
One specifically unusual attribute of the original vinyl release of 35 Years From Alpha was the uncredited sleeve notes from the young Sherwood, in fact so unusual it’s worth reprinting his words here:
“Alpha is the name of a Roman Catholic school in Kingston, Jamaica. Over the years Alpha has produced so many legendary musicians and singers. Headley Bennett attended the Alpha School up to the age of fifteen, and despite a seven year semi-professional existence in Canada he has been playing music professionally ever since.
Headley has played on far too many recording sessions to possibly begin to mention. Sessions for virtually every Jamaican artist and producer you may know of. He was at one time a full-time employee of a certain producer and studio owner, for which, requiring of him to simply “blow” on demand, he received a none too awe-inspiring wage.
Headley can in no way be called a capitalist or a politician. All he does is play a saxophone. He has provided at least two generations of music with a lot of music pleasure, but remained an unsung hero. In such a long period of discipline and dedication in his understated role in music, so many others have received acclaim and fame. Headley has always been the unrecognised session man, receiving nearly always a sufferer’s fee in what is traditionally a sufferer’s music.
To this date “Deadly Headley” Bennett has not had an album or much less a 12″ or 7″ record credited to him in his own right. This record is a “minor” tribute to Deadly Headley. As we were unable to make a true solo L.P., included are recently finished tracks featuring Style Scott and Bim Sherman.
Here is a good record anyway seen.”