Johnny Clarke ‘Creation Rebel’ 2LP/2CD (VP) 5/5

Singer Johnny Clarke occupies a special place in the hearts of roots reggae fans and his countless 45s, 12″ extended mixes and albums are non-negotiable items in any self-respecting reggae collectors treasure trove of sounds. This anthology follows on from the 1998 Blood and Fire 2 LP/CD set that assembled some of the greatest of Clarke’s collaborative work with the producer Bunny Lee, including many of those tracks, and is crammed full of wonderful songs, thirty in total, that remain as evergreen anthems to the roots era. What is sometimes overlooked is how young Johnny Clarke actually was when he cut some of these immortal sides. By 1975, he was only twenty years old, yet the voice had already matured and the hits singles flowed as a consequence.

A second aspect that now stands out is Clarke’s interest in and commitment to the African diaspora and related themes related. While opposing the Apartheid regime in South Africa and all it stood for, Johnny Clarke has regularly toured there over the decades and, in the process, become one of the most popular of reggae stars in Africa, rivalling home-grown acts on that continent such as Alpha Blondy, Lucky Dube, and not forgetting the undisputed King of francophone African reggae, Tikhen Jah Fakoly from Ivory Coast. Clarke was equally attuned to what was happening in US soul music in the 1970s, as evidenced by the use of a Philly International All Stars classic rhythm, ‘Let’s clean up the ghetto’, redeployed as the backing ‘riddim’ to ‘Peace And Love In The Ghetto’, and that bass line is a mighty potent musical weapon at his disposal. Another killer rhythm comes in the shape of ‘Blood Dunza’, while the steppers tune, ‘Jah Love Is With I’, features some lovely percussive work, a dub section, complete with breakdown here in a lengthier 12″ version. Arguably, one of the finest of all the songs he composed is, ‘King In The Arena’, and it is indeed one of the most reworked of all reggae ‘riddims’, while that African connection is celebrated on ‘Roots Natty Congo’, and on ‘African People’, with a daunting tale of forced repatriation. A nyabinghi drum intro to, ‘Time Will Tell’, adds a natural Afro-Jamaican flavour to the mix, while the spoken intro to, ‘Fire Brimstone A Go Burn The Wicked’, leaves the listener in no doubt that lyrics count. For a stunning example of vocal roots that is enhanced by an instrumental dub section, look no further than the aforementioned and here extended version of ‘Peace and love in the ghetto’, while for repetitive chorus line, rocking drums and catchy keyboards of ‘Dread A Dread’ is another compelling number.

Lengthy sleeve notes courtesy of Harry Hawk are accompanied by some illustrated graphics of the 45 labels, both Jamaican (Attack, Jackpot, Justice) and the premier league of British labels including Third World. Quotes by the producer, Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee, and other reggae music aficionados including Steve Barrow make this an essential part of any roots reggae collection, even more so if you were not lucky enough to pick up the earlier Blood and Fire edition.

Tim Stenhouse