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Deep Down with Dennis Brown by Penny Reel

Deep Down with Dennis Brown was published in 2000, but is still available on the internet. In Penny Reel’s writings in the NME (New Musical Express) during the 1970s, he would often sing the praises of reggae artists who were little-known outside the world of reggae. Penny Reel also wrote for other magazines of the time like Black Echoes and Let It Rock. Before this he wrote for the underground magazine International Times.

Deep Down with Dennis Brown is subtitled Cool Runnings and the Crown Prince of Reggae (a title given to Dennis Brown by Bob Marley). During his many visits to England throughout the 1970s, Dennis Brown would spend time in conversation with Penny Reel. A whole supporting cast appear in this book as a result of those talks. Penny Reel introduces us to a number of little known reggae artists. I found myself going to YouTube to check out their work.

The sudden death of Dennis Brown in 1999 sent shockwaves through the world of reggae. In this book Penny Reel traces Dennis Brown’s career from his days as a child star to his hit with ‘Money in My Pocket’ in 1979. He digs below the surface of this gifted performer.

Dennis Brown’s career started at the age of nine when he became known as the ‘Boy Wonder’. When not at school he would be recording and performing. At the age of 14 Dennis Brown fell ill and was hospitalised. There were rumours going round that he only had one lung, though he denied this.

An added bonus to this book is Penny Reel’s knowledge of London’s history. For example when talking about Colombo’s nightclub in Carnaby Street he traces the history of the club back to the post-war years. He also traces Carnaby Street’s history back to that time, describing what the area was like in the days before it was transformed by the 60s fashion revolution.

This book also takes us to many parts of 70s London, and to a sound system clash at the Four Aces club in Dalston. Penny Reel’s writing is extremely descriptive, helped by the photographs, concert posters and record labels that accompany the text.

As the story progresses we see Dennis Brown approaching adulthood. He attends a meeting of the Twelve Tribes of Israel and joins the Rastafarian faith. He makes many trips to England to set up his label DEB records. We see him producing and promoting fellow reggae artists, and having many of his own records released.

‘Money in My Pocket’ appears on a number of occasions in this story. The song was around in various forms over the years before it became a hit. Towards the end of the book Penny Reel gives a history of Jamaican music in Britain. He shows how the music has been compromised and marginalised over the years. Either by putting strings on the music, or by novelty records.

He explains how many hardworking artists have been unable to get played on daytime radio. He also readdresses the popular notion of Bob Marley being at the centre of reggae by explaining that while he had won over a rock audience, his records were rarely played on the sound systems. The story ends on a cold February day in 1979 when ‘Money in My Pocket’ was in the pop charts and Penny Reel interviewed Dennis Brown for the NME (including a front cover photo.) 

The book finishes with some words of wisdom from Dennis Brown. This is a wonderful story that leaves you wanting more. This is also essential reading if you want to learn more about reggae music, and many of the artists who helped to make the music the inspiring force that it was in the 1970s.

‘Penny Reel’ is the title of a reggae song from the ska days, recorded by Justin Hinds and the Dominoes and Eric “Monty” Morris. I imagine this might be where the journalist and author got his name.

You can buy Deep Down with Dennis Brown by Penny Reel by clicking on this link to xraymusic.co.uk
Alternatively the book is also available at www.regaeregaeregae.com and www.ukrockfestivals.com

 

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 31 October 2013

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 11 May 2016

Kevin Coyne's Case History album includes several songs about the mental health system

Kevin Coyne’s first solo album, Case History, was recorded in 1972, shortly after Nobody Dies In Dreamland. Last year, it was re-released by Turpentine Records.  

Shortly after its release its label, John Peel’s Dandelion, folded and Case History became very hard to find. I only heard the record in the early 1980s, when it was issued as a box set with the two Siren albums. The label that issued the records in the early 1980s was called Butt records whose logo was an ashtray overflowing with dog ends. When I listened to Case History the songs stirred up something in me. They are as direct as any punk recording of that time.

Kevin has been quoted as saying that the songs for Case History were recorded in just three or four hours, and that Case History is not just an album but a whole period of his life. This becomes very clear as the album unfolds. Dave Clauge and Nick Cudworth from Siren accompany Kevin on the first two tracks. The opening track ‘God Bless The Bride’ is an upbeat number where Kevin asks God to bless everything from the bride and groom and their families, to the hotel by the sea, and the little room with its pot dogs. Track two ‘White Horse’ is a gentle song. I have never understood what the song is about, but the imagery is quite fascinating. Track three (‘Uggy’s Song’ ) is where Case History really starts to  let rip. We find Kevin on his own with his frantic acoustic guitar playing. As I mentioned in my review of Nobody Dies In Dreamland, ‘Uggy’s Song’ is the story of a black tramp murdered by the police in 1971. The police called him ‘Uggy’ because they considered him to be ugly. The next song ‘Need Somebody’ is about growing old and lonely. However Kevin also expresses the difficulty of reaching out to a friend. Then comes ‘Evil Island Home’, a disturbing picture of England as Kevin saw it at the time. The chorus to Evil Island Home comes across with a sense of disorientation.

As Case History moves on we come to ‘My Message to the People’, a statement of intent from Kevin. He sings “don’t tie me to your steeple, don’t put me in the stocks in your market square“.  While Kevin’s guitar playing was very basic, it could also be very powerful. The next track ‘Mad Boy’ is a picture of someone who has been diagnosed as mentally ill. Someone who others feel needs to be controlled. Kevin sings “fetch the doctor, the doctor’s done his job. No more disagreeing with his mother”. The song’s chorus of “mad boy, mad boy” is quite otherworldly.  Kevin’s mates from Siren return for Case History’s last track. Titled “Sand All Yellow” Kevin sings in two voices. One is the voice of the patient, the other one is the voice of the doctor. When Kevin speaks as the doctor there is a sinister tone to his voice.  

After Case History the CD contains some bonus tracks, starting with ‘Cheat Me’, a single that Siren issued shortly before their split. Then we get ‘Flowering Cherry’. As Kevin anticipates the coming of summer, he also hopes that his love will grow. Then we get alternative versions of ‘Evil Island Home’, ‘My Message to the People’ and ‘Mad Boy’. We get a previously unreleased Siren song called ‘Doctor Love’, a rough and ready rocker. Then there is another version of ‘Cheat Me’ from a radio session. There is a version of ‘Flowering Cherry’ with a delightful trombone solo. The record finishes the way it started with another version of God Bless The Bride.

Thank you to Robert, Eugene and Helmi Coyne at Turpentine records for making this CD available. I look forward to whatever they bring us next. While this record was released a long time ago I feel the things Kevin is singing about still have relevance in these times.

Most of the old Victorian psychiatric hospitals have gone now, to be replaced by modern psychiatric units. But our life struggles can still lead us to nervous breakdowns. Case History is the beginning of a long and prolific career by of one of Britain’s most gifted songwriters.

To buy a copy of Case History visit Turpentine records at www.kevincoyne.co.uk

For the official Kevin Coyne website visit www.kevincoyne.de

For  more about Kevin Coyne’s long and prolific career visit PASCAL’s fans website at www.kevincoynepage.free.fr

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 18 October 2013

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 18 October 2013

On Kevin Coyne's fine album Nobody Dies in Dreamland

Available on Turpentine Records these recordings were made in 1972 after Siren, the band Kevin was in, had split up. Also shortly before his first solo record Case History was made. The story behind these recordings is as follows. Someone gave Kevin a one track reel to reel In his rented flat in Clapham, where he then lived, armed with his guitar and harmonica, he recorded these songs.

A number of the songs on Dreamland would appear on Case History. However the opening track “Black Cloud” would appear on his 1984 album “Legless In Manila”. The second  song A Distant Desert features Kevin on slide guitar. Kevin very rarely played slide guitar, so it is interesting to hear him play it here. One of the songs that appeared on Case History is Uggys Song, here titled Tramps Song.

The song is about a black tramp who got murdered by the police in 1971. The police called him Uggy because they considered him to be ugly. On songs like this Kevin showed great compassion for the outsider.

On other songs like Hypnotise for example, Kevin portrayed himself as the outsider. On the harmonica songs Kevin interspersed his words with blasts of harmonica. These songs echo the spirit of country blues harmonica players like Sonny Terry.

There is one cover on Dreamland. This is a version of Georgia On My Mind. A lovely song made popular by Ray Charles. It is also a song that Kevin performed at talent shows in local pubs. Here Kevin accompanies himself on guitar. It is different to how Ray Charles did it. But Kevin’s delivery is still very soulful.

There are places on this CD where you can hear the tape machine being switched off and on. The guitar is sometimes very basic. There are rough edges. Kevin sometimes liked having rough edges on his music. The rough edges are right for what Kevin is singing about. From the raw blues of Mean Molecatcher Man, through the desperation of Need Somebody, to the disorientation of Sleepwalking.

This record is in the same spirit as old delta blues recordings. But Kevin was also influenced by music hall comedy. This adds something else to Kevin’s music. Congratulations to Kevin’s sons Robert and Eugene for putting this great CD together. Uggys Song remains relevant with the terrible plight of homelessness in our cities.

Hopefully this record will reach a few new people. If you like the delta blues then this record is worth listening to. If you like Lo Fi music then I think you will like this. Like the Virgin anthology box set from 2010 this is a testimony to the talents of a much missed national treasure.

To buy this record go to Kevin’s website at www.kevincoyne.co.uk Hopefully this record will also be available from some record stores.

For more about Kevin Coyne and his long prolific career, visit Pascal’s Kevin Coyne website at www.kevincoynepage.tk/

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 1 October 2013

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 16 October 2013