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Interview: Jeremy Collingwood

Interview: Jeremy Collingwood

Interview: Jeremy Collingwood

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"I decided to start from scratch with Scratch"


Jeremy Collingwood has an impressive list of credentials in the reggae reissue scene, being responsible for many quality compilations for Trojan, Island and EMI, including the excellent 'I Am The Upsetter' box set. One of his latest projects was to compile the new Pressure Sounds compilation, 'Sound System Scratch', a collection of rare Black Ark dub plates. With the reggae message board crowd buzzing about this release, I spoke with Jeremy about this Upsetting compilation.

How did 'Sound System Scratch' come about? Rumours are that someone with an impressive dub plate collection offered them to Pressure Sounds. Where did the material come from?

Indeed, a collection of dub plates and tapes came Pressure Sounds' way and I did the honours. These dub plates were in and around the scene for years, as far as I know.

What is the sound quality like? Dub plates aren't well known for high-fidelity sound! Are they being presented "as is", or were some of the crummy sounding ones cleaned up? How many are taken from master tapes?

All tracks are either from dub plates or from tapes from which dub plates were cut. About one third of the songs are from tape. There were some technical issues, but these were resolved with no significant change to their sound. Of course, it's not an ECM Jazz release standard! This set is about great music that could only be heard in Jamaican and UK based sound systems. What I'm so pleased about is that after so many collections that have little to do with Lee Perry, this is 100% bona fide Black Ark music. It's not half finished rhythm tracks like some CDs which have appeared over the past few years and been tinkered with years later. There's unknown tunes and new mixes of well known rhythms. And it's all presented with typical Pressure Sounds care and style – there's a reason Pressure Sounds has been going so long!

What sound systems used these dub plates? I always figured that Scratch was too eccentric to deal with the "mainstream" reggae scene in Jamaica, like sound systems.

The particular sound systems are lost in the mists of time – there are no sounds named on the plates. I think Scratch lost the Jamaican vibe after about '75 or '76. But he was popular in the UK from early 1970s right up until the end of the decade. Scratch was always up for a little extra money by selling plates to sound men and he seems to have made many dub plate mixes. I think by 1978, he was tricky to deal with but still needed money, so he kept on mixing!

One interesting conjecture about Sound System Scratch is that some of these tunes have been overdubbed, and that the tunes credited to Augustus Pablo aren't really Pablo on the melodica.

Well, what can I say? Let dem 'ear de tunes, less they look foolish! Lol Bell Brown and I put out an Augustus Pablo discography, during which time I learned the difference between Pablo, Tosh, Glen Brown, Bobby Kalphat, and Family Man on the melodica...never mind Dr. Pablo! (laughs) When one of the mento collections I put out was released, I got an e-mail accusing me of overdubbing certain elements on several tracks. All tracks were dubbed straight off 78s! I tend to get between one and three abusive e-mails per release…you would think people had something better to do. It's the same with my sound system. I get people telling me this isn't right, that's drives you mad.

I also spoke to Jeremy about an exciting new project he's just completed called 'Kiss Me Neck: A Lee Perry Companion'.

'Kiss Me Neck' will be released later on this summer [August 31, 2010] by Cherry Red Books. It's a Lee Perry "musicography", as I call it. An old fashioned discography, but with lots of bonus features: photos, commentary and the like. Kiss Me Neck is similar to my earlier Scratch discography, Give Me Power, but I started from ground zero. I found so many mistakes and additions that needed to be done on Give Me Power, I decided to start from scratch with Scratch (laughs). Ten years of research! This new book has loads more information and new sections, including matrix numbers, a guide to blank label records and more. I just looked at the last printer's proofs – it should be out by August.

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