For his second album LKJ moved to the record label synonymous with bringing Reggae to Britain, Island Records. Chris Blackwell, whose family had relocated from London to Jamaica shortly after his birth, started Island Records in 1959 with recording engineer Graeme Goodall, and producer Leslie Kong. Yes, Island over the years has been responsible for suffering both Jethro Tull and U2 upon the world (we can balance those horrors with Eno’s Roxy Music and the first 3 (proper) Ultravox! albums) but let’s not forget they also gave us Bob Marley & The Wailers, “The Harder They Come”, Burning Spear, Toots & The Maytals, Max Romeo & The Upsetters, Junior Murvin’s “Police And Thieves”, Steel Pulse and now Linton Kwesi Johnson.
The first LKJ song I remember hearing is this albums first track, “Want Fi Go Rave”, most probably on the John Peel show. I do know I rushed out and bought the single that weekend. The same core is back again with Dennis Bovell and Jah Bunny leading the musicians. Lyrically LKJ is telling the stories of 3 youths who have had to turn to crime due to the lack of opportunities open to them elsewhere
“Mi nah work fi no pittance, Mi nah draw dem assistance
Mi used to run a lickle racket, But wha, di po-lice dem did stop it”
The hardest hitting words on this album belong to “Sonny’s Lettah (Anti-Sus Poem)”. For those that don’t remember them the UK’s Sus laws (Sus being a contraction of suspect but they came to be known as Search Under Suspicion laws) gave the police the power to stop and search anyone they suspected might have committed a breach of the 1824 Vagrancy Act, a law that made it illegal to sleep rough or beg in England and Wales. Effectively this gave the police the power to stop and search anybody, anywhere, whenever they felt like it, all they had to do was say they suspected you might have done something. It was used extensively to stop black youths in the 70’s and 80’s just because the police could. And it wasn’t just used against Black youths, I can’t count the number of times I was stopped by bored coppers in the early hours in that hot bed of insurrection, Marston Green, for committing the heinous offence of walking home from my girlfriends !
“Sonny’s Lettah (Anti-Sus Poem)” is a letter from Sonny, who is in “Brixton Prison, Jebb Avenue London S.W. 2 Inglan”, to his Mother. It tells how her two sons, Sonny and his brother Jim, were simply standing and waiting for a bus when a police van pulled up. Out jump 3 coppers, all with batons, and grab Jim saying they are taking him in. Jim protests his innocence and starts to struggle and the police start to laugh. Then Sonny tells his Mother what the police did…
“Dem thump him him in him belly and it turn to jelly
Dem lick 'im ‘pon 'im back and 'im rib get pop
Dem thump him ‘pon him head but it tough like lead
Dem kick 'im in 'im seed and it start to bleed”
Sonny had told his Mother he would look after “lickle Jim” so, seeing his brother getting a kicking from the police, he jumps in to help him…
“So mi jook one in him eye and him started fi cry
Me thump him pon him mout’ and him started fi shout
Me kick him ‘pon him shin so him started fi spin
Me hit him ‘pon him chin an’ him drop ‘pon a bin
An crash…an dead”
Which is how Jim is charged under the Sus Laws and Sonny is charged for murder, it’s quite the shock when he hits that line “an dead”. Like The Jam’s “Down In the Tube Station At Midnight” and “A Bomb In Wardour Street”, which we talked about a couple of weeks ago, it’s another stark reminder of what a violent place Britain could be in the late ’70’s and early ’80’s.
“Forces Of Victory” is a less angry and less dark album that “Dread, Beat An’ Blood”. LKJ was still railing against the institutions that were working against the Black communities of Britain just this time with a little more measure and finesse to his words.
Sonny’s Lettah (Anti-Sus Poem) - https://youtu.be/uKt2piV6U6s?si=7NlcTKBtsTt64cxH