Those in the know will have already identified that this copy of mine is a re-issue, as they will know that the original release was credited to Poet & The Roots. Whoever it’s credited to, were we to sit down to discuss the question “Which is the greatest British Reggae album ?” this record would hog quite a sizeable chunk of that discussion, and would have every chance of coming out on top of any list constructed from that discussion.
LKJ was born in Jamaica. His middle name, Kwesi, is a Ghanaian name given to boys born on a Sunday. In 1963 he and his father moved to London to rejoin his Mother who had moved to Britain the year before. While still at school he joined the Black Panther Movement and began a poetry workshop with a group of Rastafarian drummers. In a 2018 interview he revealed “I began to write verse, not only because I liked it, but because it was a way of expressing the anger, the passion of the youth of my generation in terms of our struggle against racial oppression”.
While working as a journalist for various publications (NME, Melody Maker, Black Music and others) LKJ was asked to write advertising copy for Virgin Records Front Line Reggae label (the labels first release was compiled, uncredited, by John Lydon and we shall cover that pivotal album in a future blog post). While at a recording session he talked to Richard Branson about recording a poetry session and Branson agreed (he did once make good decisions !). After recording some demo’s Branson agreed to a budget of £2000 (!) to make an album. The original issue on the Front Line imprint was credited to Poet (LKJ) & The Roots (who included Dennis Bovell and Lloyd "Jah Bunny" Donaldson from British Roots pioneers Matumbi). The finished album is credited with launching a whole new genre in Reggae music, Dub Poetry.
The music is dense and heavy, bass driven with a sound that at loud enough volume will make the walls shake. LKJ intones his poetry, and make no mistake these are poems and not songs, in his deep almost monotone patois.
“Brothers and sisters rocking, A dread beat, pulsing fire, burning
Chocolate hour and darkness creeping night
Black veiled night is weeping, Electric lights consoling, night
A small hall soaked in smoke, A house of ganja mist”
Stunning words, it’s not for no reason that LKJ is only the second living poet, and the only black poet, to be published by Penguin Modern Classics. That first song doesn’t end well as a knife is pulled and “Leaps out for a dig of a flesh, of a piece of skin, And blood, bitterness, exploding fire, wailing blood, and bleeding”, vivid pictures painted with words.
Alongside LKJ’s words the music is some of the best British produced Reggae it’s possible to hear. But at its core this album is all about the words. There are songs about George Lindo, framed by the police and jailed for a robbery in Bradford, Darcus Howe, editor of the magazine “Race Today” who was falsely jailed for assault in London “Him stand up in di court like a mighty lion, Him stand up in di court like a man af Iron” and fiercley rebellious words about the racial oppression suffered by black communities across Britain, problems that sadly still exist today.
“All wi doin is defendin, Soh get yu ready fi war…war…
Freedom is a very firm thing, All oppression can do is bring
Passion to di ‘eights of eruption, An’ songs of fire wi will sing”
If you have any interest in Reggae music and particularly British Reggae music then “Dread, Beat An’ Blood” is an essential record.
Dread, Beat An’ Blood - https://youtu.be/Ta9ve3MN6_8?si=7Q4XVmm_-9mxPHKu