David Rodigan ADD

Review: Album Launch - Masterpiece by David Rodigan in London, UK 2/5/2014

02/12/2014 by Angus Taylor

Review: Album Launch - Masterpiece by David Rodigan in London, UK 2/5/2014

Internet era music journalists will be familiar with the concept of “the playback”. It’s when a label invites media to listen to a highly anticipated unreleased album in person (to avoid sending the music out before release). Playbacks are often sterile, tepid affairs, heavy with a sense of mutual distrust between “paranoid” label and “potentially leaky” scribe.

But when the album being played is David Rodigan's 3 disc semi-autobiographical Ministry of Sound compilation, Masterpiece - at an invite-only launch party at Shoreditch’s Basing House - the atmosphere is quite different. That’s because tonight Rodigan is selecting from a specially pressed box of singles in all their crisp vinyl glory to a crowd of entitled young things and reggae industry legends. Also, David is curator and not the creator of these songs and each track comes with his own enthusiastic reminiscences, exclamations and asides.

Like Gandalf the wizard, Rodigan doesn't approve of being late. And at two minutes prior to his set’s 8.30pm start time he is on the mic. “My wife is in the house!” he announces to a huge cheer “Give it up for Elaine Rodigan!” adding “I have to play well. You don't get a forward in your own house!
“This place is like Gossips” he says of the dark and heaving venue (referring to the West End nightspot where he had a 20 year residence with Dub Vendor’s Papa Face who is in attendance).

While the compilation digs a little deeper than his previous one for rival club Fabric it is ultimately a quality party piece aimed at the general music fan over the reggae nerd squad. However, one of Rodigan’s great strengths as a selector (ignoring his actor’s sense of spectacle and his big box of dubs) is that he knows it’s not what you play but the order in which you play it. Tonight he draws his tunes in a less chronological sequence than the CDs yet the flow is still spot on.

He starts with the sweet early 70s sounds of Brent Dowe’s Sonia Pottinger produced When The Sun Goes Down, which he observes has never been pressed on a single before. As a prelude to Bob Andy’s Harry J production Life, David explains that he’s just come back from Jamaica where he interviewed Andy under an almond tree about his initial days at Federal Records. Next up is another veteran Cornel Campbell (soon to be in London himself) via his golden Bunny Lee helmed cover of Bobby Womack’s Harry Hippy. We then rewind to when rocksteady was on the cusp of reggae: for a very young Johnny Osbourne with Cornel’s old group the Sensations, putting proverb to song with See and Blind. “I had to have one Alton Ellis” says Rodi dropping the superior Sidney Crooks cut of Black Man’s Pride because it’s “my favourite version, recorded here in London”.

These songs are all from the late 60s and early 70s when Rodigan was a jobbing actor getting deep into the music. He recalls how labels would push out the middle of a UK seven inch to pretend it was a JA pre-release and suggests eating yeast extract to keep the Jamaican mosquitos at bay. This leads to the tale of his first trip to the island at Treasure Isle studio watching Errol Brown voice Mikey Dread over the rhythm to Marcia Griffiths’ Stepping Out of Babylon - his first roots reggae choice. “I had to have one dub,” he cries as Winston Francis and his son Lee arrive, letting fly with King Tubby and Johnny Clarke’s Knockout Punch (shouting “I’m not touching the controls! No Hands!” as Tubby turns up the squelching high pass filter).

Rodigan, ever the raconteur, recounts when Mick Jagger and David Bowie came to Gossips and I Roy performed. This is a preamble to I Roy’s famous intro to Lee Perry’s Black Panta. He wheels it saying “Even my wife is impressed with my mixing!” “I first bought this in Brixton Arcade” he reminisces of Augustus Pablo’s haunting melodica on JavaI just met his son in Jamaica”.

The dub section over, he begins to widen the remit with Amy Winehouse’ ska piece You’re Wondering Now. “When I was young we had no internet and no cellular phones, only records, cars and dreams of girls” he says visiting the start of his musical journey with the Kinks' You Really Got Me. “Don’t tell me about indie rock” he jibes during Dave Davies messy guitar solo – showing his insights extend well beyond reggae. “I had to have two soul records” he sighs cueing up Etta James At Last (“This one reduced me to tears”) and Bessie Banks Go Now (only Rodigan can choose something so slow after the Kinks and have 20-somethings shout “Pull up”). Then it’s time for Margaret Thatcher’s favourite Telstar by the Tornados, “the first record I bought” which little Rodi played and played until his treasury officer father – who wanted him to be an accountant - demanded he turn it off.

How could I not have a Bob Marley?” he says of the Lee Perry cut of the Wailers Small Axe (“the original protest music”) following with Damian Marley’s hit One Loaf Of Bread (“the future of reggae”). Having been in Jamaica documenting the new wave of roots, there is no hard dancehall in Rodigan’s selection – even the Junior Gong has a throwback vibe.

Bitty McLean is in the building and he takes the microphone for his and Lee Thompson Ska Orchestra’s cover of Desmond Dekker’s Fu Manchu. One of the UK’s finest singers, he shows his sound system upbringing with a snatch of singjaying “Let me take you down low… Rodigan a star of the show”. “I had no idea he was here” exclaims Rodigan. Weed is stinking out the place – a welcome antidote to the venue’s frankly disgusting dry ice. “Final tune” says the master, celebrating the birthday of Dennis Brown with Luciano’s uncanny remake of Deliverance from Mad Professor’s forthcoming album of the same name. But show closers Reggae Roast are having some technical problems and there’s a huge blast of feedback so Rodigan finishes with Tarrus Riley and Winston FrancisHurt Me (produced by Winston’s son Lee). Of course, Winston, “An icon of the business”, gets up to sing - winning the crowd’s approval and a taste of the commercial justice he richly deserves.

Sure, the reggae geek cognoscenti might prefer if Rodigan had gone deeper still (say Prince Buster’s Science instead of Java) yet that would ignore the financial realities of licensing a compilation from this many sources. The ultimate playback is over at twenty to ten. Maybe Rodigan does believe in being a little late after all.

Masterpiece is out now on CD and as a limited edition singles box.