Caution: Carnival

As Bob Marley’s success grew outside of Jamaica, there was a move amongst his entourage to push his music more towards a white rock audience. Chris Blackwell has often spoken about how the Wailers’ true breakthrough came when they started putting guitar solos on their records, a pretty unusual move in reggae music. As good as the Wailers’ classic later albums undoubtedly were, some of the magic of the earlier recordings were lost: particularly the sublime vocal harmonies of Tosh and Livingston, buried underneath delightfully muddy low-end rhythms, on tunes like Caution, Soul Rebel and Keep on Moving.

This wonderful  tune got a spin at Channel One Sound System in the glorious sunshine of Sunday afternoon at the Notting Hill Carnival. Carnival seems to be getting more like a festival and less like a carnival these days. Maybe it’s cos we hang out at the sound systems rather than the floats but there seemed to be an abundance of well-spoken, well-groomed youngsters getting smashed out their boxes on spirits and nitrous oxide this year.  I even heard one kid remonstrating with a policeman over a road closure and telling him to “chill, Winston” in a Jafakian accent, which was a bit embarrassing for all concerned. There didn’t seem to be as many families and ageing ravers and rastas which kind of makes carnival what it is. There’s still nothing quite like it though and it’s a London working class tradition that should be cherished, when so many others are getting trampled underfoot by the onward march of corporate-sponsored gentrification (so brilliantly recounted in the recent BBC series ‘the Secret history of our Streets’). Can you imagine if today a group of recently-arrived immigrants approached the local council and asked if they could put on a massive street party with free admittance, no corporate branding, free sale of alcohol and almighty sound-systems blasting bass all afternoon. Can you imagine what the response would be?

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