If you wanted to hear your reggae music in the ’70s, then it was John Peel or nothing. The guy seemed to pick up on the best of it, as we heard these wonderful tunes, anthems from the government yards in Trenchtown.
This was the prime time for the vocal groups, who had based their harmonies on soul acts like The Impressions, but who took it to another spiritual place. Many of the lyrics were informed by The Bible, particularly the Book of Exodus and the exile in Babylon. To the poor guys in the shanty towns of Jamaica, this was some kind of deliverance and it was woven into their Rastafarian creed.
And so the pained music of the sufferah made its way east. Early Bob Marley was full of it. Culture released the impeccable ‘Two Sevens Clash’, The Congos may have bested it with ‘The Heart And Soul Of The Congos’. And Burning Spear mused intensely like a flinty old prophet.
The era seemed to have passed by 1985, but somehow it took seed in Nottingham. And act called The Naturalites came up with an amazing song called ‘Picture On The Wall’, which Peel and his listeners adored. The production wasn’t as exotic as their West Indian peers, but the mood was reverential, the horns were wonderful and artless while the harmonies ruled. Ossie Samms, Percy 'JP' McLeod and Neil Foster were emphatically in the zone.
Essentially, it’s a song about having an image of of Haile Selassie , the late Ethiopian leader, above the mantlepiece. But in Rasta terms, Haile lives, the inspiration endures and the pure hope of The Naturalites is that you might ultimately get back to where you once belonged.
Stu Bailie presents The Late show on Radio Ulster, every Friday from 10pm until midnight. See his playlist here.