Or, rather, relentless coercion and subtle indoctrination. With this in mind, I am currently introducing my two to the heavy happy delights of vintage roots reggae. So far, the five year old is coping admirably. She doesn’t like the angry political toasting stuff, but will happily sing along to the softer sounds of Delroy Wilson or The Upsetters. Her younger brother, however, is proving a harder nut to crack.
My little lad likes car journeys cos he gets to have his favourite music on.
“Reggae Reggae Daddy”, he shouts from his back seat chair. “Reggae Reggae!”
My heart swells with pride. “Yeah!” I say, and flick on a vintage Culture track. “Here comes the Boss!” I yell, “with the musical sauce! With one thousand tons of version!”
The opening squelchy lilt of “Two Sevens Clash” fill the vehicle. But not for long.
NO DADDY, NO!!! PROPER REGGAE REGGAE!
I hum along frantically, trying to drown out his angry protest. But I can only play dumb for so long. I know exactly what he wants. So it’s with a heavy heart and a deep sigh that I eject my Dread Version Inna Kingston Town! compilation CD and slide in the silver disc marked “Kids Songs”, and select track 8. The opening exchange has been the soundtrack to our last forty seven thousand journeys together and will probably be echoing in my ears as I am lowered into my grave.
“What’s he like Mavis?”
“He’s a real tasty geezer!”
And thus starts our reggae selection of the moment; not the beautiful heart-sobbing harmonies of The Mighty Diamonds, not Lee Scratch Perry and his sound-bending rub-a-dub excursions into inner space, or even the easy skanking good time party tunes of Toots and The Maytals. No – I am forced to drive through my own backyard to the cheesy cod-reggae clank of “Johnny Reggae”, the 1970’s novelty hit by the decidedly non-rootsy Piglets. I wind the windows up tightly. I am known in these parts. My musical taste is held up, in some quarters, as a barometer of discerning good taste. My son is shredding my reputation to tatters with each gleefully lead-footed beat.
“HERE COMES JOHNNY REGGAE! JOHNNY JOHNNY REGGAE!” he bellows happily from the back, as I duck down behind the steering wheel, praying we wont have to stop at any traffic lights. This is the musical equivalent of water torture.
For those of you who are too young to remember (or, indeed, in possession of a selective memory borne of good taste and manners) “Johnny Reggae” was a novelty pop record put out by, er, Jonathan King under one of his many nom de plumes. The girl who sang on it, I have since been sufficiently intrigued to discover, was Kay Barry. I say “sang” – her performance is not so much singing, more a sort of Carry On Cockney, or Miss Brahms from “Are You Being Served”. Who she was previously or what she went on to become I can only dare to dream. But for me, for the moment, she is my musical nadir, my bete noir, my Ghost of Ever-Re-occuring Novelty Reggae Present. And if you’re reading this now, Kate Barry, I’d just like to say thank you. In my quest to influence my kids musical upbringing, your work has been nothing short of an educational inspiration.
Well, it’s certainly taught me a lesson.