Trevor Bow (Sons Of Jah) interview
Around the mid to late seventies, the area of Ladbroke Grove became the centre of UK reggae music. Aswad signed to Island Records and drew the most attention, but the other bands, King Sounds and The Israelites, Brimstone, and The Sons Of Jah were just as good. The Sons Of Jah were a little different in that most of their music has been recorded in Jamaica under the guidance of the group’s founder Trevor Bow.
So far the Sons Of Jah have released four albums, all of them on their own Natty Congo label. The first was ‘Bankrupt Morality’ in 1978, then ‘Burning Black’ in 1979, followed by a showcase album. Last year came ‘Universal Message’. One of the best albums of 1982.
Was your first album (‘Bankrupt Mentality’) recorded in the UK?
No all of them were recorded in Jamaica.
How about ‘Psalm 72’?
That was our first disco 45, our first single was ‘Tell Them Jahson’.
Was that recorded in Jamaica?
No over here. ‘Psalms 72’ was recorded over here with Jamaican musicians. Sly playing drums on that, and Chinna playing bass.”
Who played the acoustic guitar?
That tune was well advanced, it sounded a little like I Jah Man Levi’s style. Was it successful?
Yeah at the time, yeah it did very well.
It got played by John Peel quite a lot on Radio One.
He always remarked on the acoustic guitar. So why do you mainly record in Jamaica, you can’t get the sound in this country?
No well, it’s really two different sounds. If you put a record on the turntable, and it’s made in England you hear it immediately. The sound they make in England, that’s not the sound I want.
Yours is message music?
Yeah man, because of the struggle.
Do you think the situation is going to get worse?
It’s coming up to the crisis point, right now, the so-called Third World, they’re kept in the dark. But now TV, Radio and Video, these things, no matter the poorest little country, no matter how poor they are, they have got TV and Video. You know they have colour TV in Jamaica now? Right now in Jamaica, man laying upon ‘im cardboard bed, a sufferer, lay upon his cardboard bed and watch his colour TV. It might not be his own colour TV, but he watch some TV or Video. And on that Video he see how certain guys in North America live big off he’s sweat, and lord it up. Him not take no more. He will come and do something about it. They have devised them own destruction. I’m not criticising Video or TV, them good but at the same time… From I come to England this is the worst year in England. I always look around and some things are really good like health service in this country is always good. But in Jamaica we have queues at our hospitals. But we kinda used to that. When you first come to England you say “boy them don’t have queues in them hospitals”, but things have deteriorated. I have never seen it so bad. They can’t find money to pay nurses or doctors, or they have to close hospitals. At the same time they fight in the Falklands. I don’t know the wrongs or rights of the Falklands. I don’t really understand.
Most people don’t. How about the problems in Africa with South Africa, what do you think of that?
I don’t have to tell you anything about that.
Do you see them trying to expand into other parts of Africa?
Yeah man, they will try and grow and develop, but it’s up to the people to hold them back. Really, I’m a lover of peace. I don’t like to look behind me. Me love company, me love not to be alone. I don’t like this hate, man.
Tell me about The Sons Of Jah?
Well me and Derrick Donaldson and Howard Haughton, I&I brethrens have a group, but as we go now, start find it hard to keep the group together. Man want to do different things, but I really retain the name Sons Of Jah.
The Natty Congo Label, what plans have you got for it?
Well I have a lot of music, I have an album with Wire, but the business is slow.
Is ‘Universal Message’ going well?
It’s going well in relation to other albums, but the music business is slow. It’s cassette… You have a record now, it sell 5000 and 20,000 people have it on cassette.”
Do you really think it’s happening to that extent?
Yeah man, the figures I just tell, if anything I underestimate them. Listen when you hear a record, every car you go by have it.
So home taping is killing music?
It’s killing it, if something not done about it. I can’t see how anybody can survive.
What about disco 45’s… do you like them, or would you like to go back to the 7″?
Me love to go back to it, but you see if I went back to the 7″ on my own I would suffer the financial consequences. But all these 10″, 12″ are a gimmick. Four minutes of music on a 10″, it’s the same as a 7″. They just put it on a bigger record and charge more for it. The people who are at fault are the record buyers themselves, they are like sheep.
A comment I totally agree with. The best way to get back to the 7″ is to stop buying discos and 10″.
(This interview was originally published in Small Axe #16. There were 28 issues of Ray Hurford’s Reggae fanzine released from September 29, 1978 on to September/October 1989.)