Caught by the River

Jeb's Jukebox

Jeb Loy Nichols | 29th December 2014

12. sh-boom

Sh-Boom (Life Could Be A Dream)
Alton Ellis


“Without music there could be no summer.” – Faure

Sometimes the season demands certain music. Here in the high hills of Wales it’s been a bleak, wet, endlessly grey November. As certain events demand comfort food, so do certain times demand comfort music. And it doesn’t come better than this.

I first heard this track 17 years ago when I sold records on a stall in Portobello Road. I found it in a pile of singles in the basement of a local church. The singles were a mix of country, pop and reggae. I took the ones I wanted and left the rest to their fate. Among the ones I took was this soul/doo-wop/rocksteady classic by Alton Ellis. It instantly became my favourite thing in the world. I played it, that summer, incessantly. When I play it now I’m transported back to that derelict, run down Hackney estate.

Six years later, in Brixton market, I met Alton Ellis. We talked about American soul and country music and began naming our favourite artists. “Me grew up”, he said, “with Johnnie Taylor, Jackie Wilson, Nat King Cole, Hank Wilson and Webb Pierce. All dem old time thing.” It sounded very much like what I heard, growing up in the American mid-west. When I asked him what song, among the hundreds he’d recorded, put a smile on his lips, he said, “I been blessed. I cut nuff tunes. Ska tunes, rocksteady, reggae. I love dem all.” I told him how much I loved doo-wop and early soul. “True yeah”, he said, “me love dem tunes. I cut one I love the most, for my mother. She love dem tunes, the old tunes, and I cut one for her called Sh-Boom. Big tune dat.”

So now, with the rain falling, the mud at my door, the skies above gone grey, I’m thinking of Alton Ellis and his mother, of the old songs, of my own mother, of summers and heat and long, hot, days. I play it again. And once more. Comfort music.

Jeb Loy Nichols
Jeb’s Jukebox archive