Black History Month – The 1980 & the 1990s

By Perry Timms

The 1980 & the 1990s


This one is on me.


As a teenager in the 1980s and into my 20s in the 1990s, I was OBSESSED by the music of Black origin.


Literally, every track listened to and bought was of some Black Music sub-genre or another.


My initial spark into teenage “clarity” – it might be more a confused state for many with all the physical and emotional changes – was Ska music.


Ska, from Jamaica, had a rebirth in the UK in the late 1970s and into the 1980s. Led by Coventry bands The Specials and The Selecter and others like Madness, The Beat and The Body Snatchers.


I had no idea why but I was HOOKED but this post-punk, socio-conscious stuff with amazing basslines, rhythms, horns and drums got me. I took the whole thing to heart with the “uniform” (loafers, white socks, high turned up sta-prest trousers and Harrington jackets). It was an offshoot of the UK Mod scene from the 1060s which first took Ska to its heart.


Black and White was the “colour” scheme. And Black and White was its uniting cry. At this time, in the UK we had the National Front and some divisive racist behaviours on display. The multi-racial groups and the socially uniting commentary in the performers chimed perfectly with my awakening into realising identities, cultures and respecting differences was all about.


I dug deeper. Ska – that Jamaican original form – gave birth to Reggae – and suddenly Bob Marley and The Wailers, Sugar Minnott and Marcia Griffiths all made sense to me. This was music from the West Indies that was imbued within the first generation Brits with a Caribbean heritage that I went to school with.


So I diversified into Dennis Brown, Black Uhuru and Burning Spear. At the same time, I discovered more of the Motown and 60s Soul genre and suddenly I had a varied musical palette and felt very comfortable with this discovery and fusion. No white artists. No rock music. Just music of black origin.


And then as I dived deeper into the soul genre – and believe me I went deep – something else was happening in the UK.


Not all music from people of colour who resided in the UK went down the Reggae or Ska route – we had our own soul music.


The Real Thing from Liverpool, Heatwave, and the multi-racial Average White Band and Hot Chocolate (before the Ska boom in the 80s) paved the way for Brit-Funk and Brit-Soul. 


Linx, Beggar & Co, Junior Giscombe, Second Image, Light of the World, Osibisa and Jackie Graham. Who burst force and gave rise to Loose Ends, the Young Disciples, Mica Paris, Omar and one of my favourite artists of all time – Soul II Soul.


Fusing the Reggae Sound System approach, with Hip-Hop and Soulful melodies we had something uniquely British. No longer a homage to Jamaica and the USA, OUR scene, our music and our artists.


Many readers may know of Keep On Movin’ and Back To Life – huge hits and popular across all ages of the record-buying (we’re still in the vinyl era – just) public.


Beresford Romeo – you might know him as Jazzie B – created the essence of the Soul II Soul ensemble. Songwriting, guest vocalists and mixing led to Jazzie B and his producing partner from Bristol’s dub scene Nellee Hooper, receiving accolades and remixing some of pop music’s bigger performers like Bjork, Sade and Janet Jackson.


So again, how does this fit with the world of business..?


Well, this was no normal musical entity (aka business).

This was a movement, a brand with an identity (the Funki Dreds) and a collective group of people who came into the fold, built around a core set of founding members and principles. New talent, new songwriting experiments, new frontiers of musical forms and types.


A platform business. To showcase others and bring new musical ideas into being. As part of a wider movement to unite people and share positivity, resilience and creativity.


Jazzie B wasn’t JUST an artist, he and the Soul II Soul crew stood in an artistic space, of entrepreneurial spirit, discovery and experimentation. With an unorthodox way of making music, non-permanent vocalists, writers and musicians; all to keep things fresh, inventive and yet still true to the mission.


“A happy face, a thumpin’ bass, for a loving race.”


That’s how Brit-Soul – and even the Ska & Reggae movement before it – feels to me.