Prince Far I at On-U Sound 1981-1984
A special compilation put together to celebrate 40 years of the On-U Sound label, this limited cassette and digital release pulls various guest appearances the legendary and much-missed Jamaican MC Prince Far I made with early 1980s On-U house band Singers And Players, as well as some alternate versions and deep cuts for the true dub reggae heads.
Prince Far I had finished off well over half an ounce of weed on the journey from Birmingham to High Wycombe. My legs could barely support me as I stumbled out of the little van and into my friends Kelson and Janet’s house. They had kindly prepared food for us. It wasn’t long before all their herb was also finished. It was now getting late, so Far I and his drummer, Fish Clarke, settled down on the couch and floor for a night’s sleep and I headed up the hill to my mother’s little terraced house and quietly crept in. The following day, before heading off to London, I took everyone to meet my mother, Jill, and stepfather, John. Far I was very polite and Fish was in a very bubbly, fun mood. Far I kept calling Jill “Mommy” in his low, low voice and at first everyone looked a bit awkward.
It was a memorable meeting, with all of us sitting in the living room as my Jamaican guests drank cups of tea with five and six teaspoonfuls of sugar. “Would you like some tea with your sugar, Prince?” “Thank you, Mommy.”
Jill told Far I that he sounded like the Honey Monster, the Sugar Puff character who said “Where’s the honey, Mummy?” Although it was a while before he actually saw the advert, he did the impression for her and had her in stitches. They actually got on really well, which was very fortunate, as in the couple of years that lay ahead she would be getting many reverse charge calls from Jamaica in the middle of the night. From that moment on, if Jill asked after Far I, it was always “How’s the Honey Monster?” And he always called Jill “Mommy”.
Prince Far I had originally been named King Cry Cry. I thought that was because his voice bellowed out, cried out. But I’m pretty sure he got his first name because he was, well, prone to crying. His image was of this larger than life, tough, carved-out-of-granite type, but on our first day in London something was wrong. He started by holding his belly, curled up with spliff in a foetal position, and started crying. He was in agony. He had some hot, sweet tea, kept smoking and after an hour or so the pain seemed to pass. This was the first time we witnessed something that would happen again and again. Thinking Far I had been simply taken by a violent stomach bug or such, we made our farewells and arranged to meet a few days later at the office of Carib Gems – the label I co-owned with Chips Richards.
This was 1976. I was a junior partner in Carib Gems, but I was helping select what we released and was really pleased that Far I was coming to the office to meet Chips. I was really keen to get another record of his to put out. Far I and Chips turned out to have a close mutual friend, Claudie Massop. I had no idea what a significant figure he was in Jamaican “politricks”.
Massop had once been the foreman at a bauxite works in Jamaica giving work to Far I. They were good friends and Massop who, even then had a formidable reputation, provided protection for Far I if ever it were needed. In the coming months, I was to hear story after story about Claudie, Bucky Marshall, Tek Life (Take Life) and a bunch of others who I guess could be best described as political gunmen and enforcers. Being young and pretty innocent to the world, I naively took them to be either producers or musician friends of Chips’ when they visited the offices. When I was told otherwise, it still seemed like it had to be exaggerated – they couldn’t have possibly done the things I heard. Could they?
Far I liked our setup, as well as Chips’ association with Claudie and my enthusiasm. He agreed to do an album for us. GREAT. We made a plan to make the album using the best Prince Far I vocal tracks from his own Cry Tuff Productions and one or two unreleased ones and call it Message from the King, after the track featuring him and the wonderful vocal group Culture. However, we were still a couple of tracks short of an album, so Chips hired a studio for a session. We used Far I’s musicians, whom he’d brought from Jamaica – Fish Clarke on drums and Errol “Flabba” Holt on bass. I was sent off to the studio for the planned recording. Chips, bless him, told me I’d be a producer one day and to get down to the studio and get involved.
The session started with Far I physically attacking Fish. I don’t know why, but it was a bit of a shock. Fish would keep avoiding Far I’s attempts at swatting him while saying “Stop chat me business”, and that he was taking liberties, but while somehow staying respectful and not retaliating. I stepped in and broke up what was more a scuffle than a fight and the session soon proceeded as if nothing had happened. In fact, I don’t think “Flabba” even raised an eyebrow while he tuned his bass (and almost tuned a guitar). We had no guitarist, so Flabba played both, and Fish played drums and percussion. Far I voiced the two tracks and after four hours the whole session was finished. The incident was never mentioned again, and we left with two stunning tracks, Foggy Road and The Dream.
It was days like this that made me more than motivated. Lucky me. Despite or because of the random madness and magical moments, I think I became addicted, after what was my first proper recording session, to the prospect of being involved in many, many more recordings.
I got home from the session and played back the vocal and dub mixes. The whole experience had been like a fantasy land for me: Prince Far I and the Arabs at my friend’s house, at my mum’s and in the studio, with lots of great free weed. It felt pretty surreal. Then suddenly things started getting rather more strange …
– Adrian Sherwood
This excerpt from Adrian’s forthcoming memoirs appeared in The Guardian 11 July 2016
A-Side of the very first On-U Sound Disco Plate release, ONUDP1, in 1982. An acerbic commentary on a less than satisfactory experience dealing with a record label, not for the last time either, head straight to the last track on this compilation if you’re a fan of this sort of vitriol (part of a rich tradition in lyric writing, “EMI”, the closing track on Never Mind The Bollocks by the Sex Pistols, springs to mind). In this case, Far I lays into the Virgin Records label owner and future space tourism pioneer in no uncertain terms: “Branson is a pickle with no place on my plate!”.
Calling Over The Distant Sea
Released in 2015 on the War Of Version Disco Plate EP, ONUDP58, a collection of unreleased Singer And Players versions and alternate mixes. An unreleased track from the studio sessions that produced the first two albums by the collective, this track showcases a previously unheard vocal by Prince Far I cut on the classic Kunta Kinte rhythm.
Also released in 2015 on the Sherwood At The Controls Volume 1: 1979 – 1984 compilation, ONU128. A track long speculated to exist by hardcore On-U collectors: parts of “Nuclear Weapon” can be heard in the mix of Singers & Players track “Water The Garden” included on the 1988 On-U compilation Pay It All Back Volume 2. The full mix was unearthed thanks to the diligent efforts of On-U Sound archivist Patrick Dokter. who went through the painstaking process of cleaning, transferring and cataloguing a huge chunk of the label’s history.
Water The Garden
From ONULP11 Revenge Of The Underdog, featuring Prince Far I (with bible on his lap) as the cover star, as well as taking mic duties on several tracks alongside the likes of Bim Sherman and Jah Woosh. This album version is distinct from the aforementioned Pay It All Back mix. On this second Singers And Players longplayer released in 1982, backing was provided by members of the Roots Radics, The Slits and Glaxo Babies. Heavy dread vibes, scratchy guitars, earthquake dub and deejay chatter combine, recorded in the flash, heat and studio experimentation of post-punk London.
All Music have commented of the record “There really is not a single weak track here. Sherwood spins his glistening web of intrusive, hyperactive magic, a production approach that would never work for anyone else but almost always does for him. No reggae collection should be without this one.”
Bedward The Flying Preacher
A bonafide On-U classic, originally heard on the third Singers And Players album from 1983, Staggering Heights (ONULP23). The title track of the debut Dub Syndicate album (The Pounding System) is also based on this rhythm. The outlandish tale Far I relays on the track is actually based on a real life figure, Alexander Bedward, one of the most successful preachers of Jamaican revivalism in the early part of the 20th century, and a forerunner of Marcus Garvey. In later life, Bedward proclaimed that he was a reincarnation of Jesus Christ and that, like Elijah, he would ascend into heaven in a flaming chariot. He then expected to rain down fire on those that did not follow him, thereby destroying the whole world. He and 800 followers marched in to Kingston “to do battle with his enemies.” On New Year’s Eve 1920, now an old man, Bedward told his followers that he had been called by the Lord to fly up to heaven. His ascent, he promised his followers, would hasten the Rapture; before the sun had set, he would be gone and they would be free. It is reported that thousands of his followers and critics turned up to see if his ascension would take place. He took to his chariot, which was a chair balanced in a tree, and declared that his ascension would take place at ten o’clock that morning.
He later revised the time of his ascension to three in the afternoon, and then ten in the evening. But no ascension took place. Eventually, he climbed down from the tree, and went home.
From War Of Words (ONULP5), the debut Singers And Players album. Originally released in 1981 on legendary imprint 99 Records, the definitive downtown NYC no wave label run by record store proprietor Ed Bahlamn, licensing the tapes from Adrian Sherwood and putting out Singers And Players alongside the mutant disco of ESG, Bush Tetras and Liquid Liquid. Whilst very much based on a dub reggae blueprint, the album also features Keith Levene from Public Image Limited on guitar and Ari Up from The Slits on backing vocals, with the collision of JA and UK musical sensibilities becoming somewhat of an On-U Sound hallmark.
This version is from the 1989 compilation Golden Greats Volume 1, but also appears in different form on the fourth Singers And Players album, Leaps And Bounds, licensed to Cherry Red for a 1984 release. The same rhythm was also re-voiced by Bonjo I from African Head Charge as “Wicked Kingdom” on the debut album by his side project Noah House Of Dread (ONULP20).
Another track from Revenge Of The Underdog, Far I rides the microphone with his trademark gruff flow whilst Sherwood weaves all sorts of dub effects in and out of the mix. This rhythm was also versioned by Creation Rebel on ONUDP3. Creation Rebel incidentally started life as The Arabs, Prince Far I’s backing group.
An epic echo chamber excursion to close out the War Of Words album, Far I’s opening vocal is buried in a fog of reverb before the rhythm track takes over completely and heads over into an extended sonic flight.
One of a trio of life story as verbal history tracks that Sherwood has coaxed out of Jamaican greats, he pulled off a similar feat with Mikey Dread during the Singers And Players period, but more recently with Lee Scratch Perry on 2019’s Rainford album. On this tune from Staggering Heights, Far I talks about his early days as King Cry Cry “playing dice, riding bikes and chanting on the mic”.
As this compilation opened with a salvo aimed at babylonian label runnings, it only seems fitting to end it on the same note. Originally appearing on Revenge Of The Underdog, this time another UK label that started in the progressive rock days is in the Voice Of Thunder’s sights. Having cut albums such as Showcase In A Suitcase” for Charisma’s Pre imprint (a similar idea to Virgin’s reggaecentric Frontline label), his experience was clearly less than satisfactory, “you see the drum and the bass, but I see no idea in your place”.
Order now on Cassette, or as part of an exclusive bundle with 24″ x 12″ poster zine, and limited edition tote bag, exclusively from Bleep.com → https://on-u-sound.ffm.to/princefari