High Note Records 1968
In the mid to late eighties, a friend and I had a record stall on London’s Portabello Road. On alternate weekends, while one of us manned the stall, the other would go out hunting. Each Saturday and Sunday morning we slipped into the derelict world of boot fairs, markets, and junk shops. Up at six and on the bike to Hackney Wick, then over to Whitechapel, then a quick trawl through Brick Lane and back up Cambridge Heath Road. Hit the junk shops on Roman Road and Mare Street, then check out whatever one off boot fairs there might be.
We were looking, mostly, for reggae singles. And if we were lucky rock steady singles. The golden years, for us, were 1965 to 1969. Records recorded by Alton Ellis, Carlton And His Shoes, Delroy Wilson, John Holt, Bob Andy, and a hundred other forgotten, jazz and soul loving Jamaican geniuses.
How many mornings did I spend on some rain wrecked waste ground shifting through records I had no interest in, hoping to find something I could fall in love with? Chasing some scrap of paper, emptying one last box of trash, sorting through ruined odds and ends that no one wanted. The moments of sodden despair far outnumbered the moments of discovery. But when it happened, when amongst the Val Doonican and Shirley Bassey singles I’d come across a record on Studio One or Doctor Bird or Blue Beat or Treasure Isle, the joy was supreme.
I remember standing in the parking lot of the Hackney dog track and finding a box of Duke Reid singles. I remember, on Dog Kennel Hill, at a church fete, finding seven Johnny Osborne singles. There was a run of Caltone singles in a charity shop in Hoxton. A white haired woman took me back to her Peckham flat and sold me a bag of assorted singles: Green Door, Bullet, Punch, Rio, Unity. I found an pristine Ethiopians LP on Westbourne Grove.
I found Pure Soul by Roland Alphonso in a railway arch near The Elephant And Castle. I remember seeing it from across the room. The distinctive High Note label peeking out of a cardboard box. It turned out to be a good find; three rock steady LPs and a hand full of singles.
The best amongst them was Pure Soul.
Roland Alphonso was a hero, equally at home in jazz, ska, rock steady and reggae, he produced a treasure trove of great instrumentals. Here, joined by the great Lennie Hibbert on vibes, he gives us a late night meditation of African drums, cool jazz and rare Jamaican beauty.
Jeb is appearing as a guest of ours at the Dinefwr and Port Eliot festivals.
‘The Jeb Loy Nichols Special’, his fantastic new album, is out now on Decca. CDs are on sale from the Caught by the River shop, priced £10