Has it really been a year since I dug out a copy of Scritti Politti’s Skank Bloc Bologna and set about boring the pants off anyone I could coerce into reading about punky reggae and it’s many offshoots?
It seems like only yesterday I was discussing the ins and outs of a comp on the subject with Bill Brewster. Various labels were approached, and various dead ends were avoided until finally I figured I’d just put it together myself.
So here we are, one year down the line, I have a stack of tracks ready to go off to mastering, Ed Zed and Vivien Goldman are both busy with liner notes and we even have a pulitzer -prize winner supplying a photo for the cover art.
However, I couldn’t commemorate this moment without giving a nod to a track which helped spark this obsession in the first place, Nemo Dub by Return Of The Panthers.
You could say the spiky dread seeds were planted in 1982 when my sister brought home a tape of her boyfriend’s band featuring two tracks, a discophonic punk workout called Crown Of Thorns and the bubbling dub rock of Calling Captain Nemo. Being knee high to a grass hopper I don’t really remember much about it other than liking the tape cover but fast forward to 2004 and I’m in a loft in Wandsworth helping said boyfriend, Steve Miller (no not that Joker) with some painting and decorating.
We got chatting about bands and inevitably The Panthers came up, I was soon furnished with a copy of the original tape and another featuring more demos, plus some tracks by their previous incarnation The Orphans, and curiously a snippet of what sounds like Pig Bag.
Around this time I was playing a weekly Friday night session of no-wave and punk funk with Ed Zed in a fleapit basement in Chinatown, frequented sporadically by freaks, drag queens and on one very special occasion, Billie Piper. Alas I’d left the building by the time Billie hit the dancefloor but Ed assures me she slow danced to It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World by The Residents.
So, one week I showed up brandishing a burnt copy of Crown Of Thorns. Hitting play on the temperamental CD deck, it dropped to moderate success (hey, there were probably about 8 people in the club), and I realised there was larger appeal to these tracks than simply a trip down memory lane for the not quite brother in-law of the band’s guitarist.
So onto the band – Return Of The Panthers were a short lived combo forming from the remnants of The Orphans when guitarist Derek Tagg ran off, later joining his brother, and former Cardiac, Peter in The Trudy (pictured right). Steve and singer Alastair Collins recruited bassist Graham K Smith and another (soon to be) Cardiac, Dominic Luckman.
Further Cardiacs associations were garnered when they entered Surbiton’s infamous Crow Studios, run quite fittingly by the brother of Black Panther Bobby Seale’s lawyer, though ROTP actually appropriated their name from The Pop Group’s Forces Of Oppression.
A handful of songs and their accompanying dubs were recorded at Crow until they were kicked out for blowing up a mic whilst recording bubbles for the underwater FX on Nemo, an act which soon spelled the band’s demise before they’d even played a single gig. Fortunately, the recordings are safe on my shelf and the original reel is ready to be remastered and finally put on wax on the forthcoming Spiky Dread comp.
Until then feel free to feast your ears on the echo flooded dub mix, which I pieced together from two slightly warped takes on their tatty old demo tape.
And how about a bit of The Trudy performing The Cardiacs’ Day Is Gone at a benefit gig for Tim Smith?
This one’s entirely unrelated (aside the obvious) but well worth a watch regardless – an interview with The Black Panther’s minister of culture Emory Douglas…
p.s here’s a personalised copy of Emory Douglas’ amazing book – thanks entirely to my sister…