When two sevens clashed
Stay with us now ‘cause we're going to backtrack to 1976 London and straight to the man who single-handedly merged punk rock and reggae, Mr. Don Letts. The meeting of the two rebel cultures in the UK was really just a matter of time, but Letts definitely sped up the process. Jamaican reggae artists sang about the rough life in the tenement yards while the punks in East London listened thousand of miles away sitting in council housing stewing in the frustration of the day. With the large West Indian population in London at the time, coupled with some of England's most dreary economic days, punks and Rastas quickly found themselves shoulder to shoulder in government-funded flats or in the dole queue.
Cultures soon began to meld further when these black and white young people faced with “no future” started loitering on the same Kings Road. Record stalls on Kings Road would blast out the latest from Lee Scratch Perry and Bob Marley while punk rockers would line up to buy punk rock duds at Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s Sex boutique. Down the street in the basement of a pinball repair shop cum clothing store called Acme, a young reggae-infatuated clerk named Don Letts was soaking in this clash of cultures.
Dread at the controls. Don Letts mans the DJ booth at The Roxy in 1976.
Opening its doors in 1976 in East London, The Roxy can easily boast being the first punk club in the UK. Manning the helm behind the club’s single turntable was none other than Mr. Letts. Having attracted all of his friends who were mainly reggae fans, as well as, his new pals from Kings Road like Johnny Rotten and the rest of the ne’er do wells, he played the latest reggae singles from Jamaica. His choice of material was more out of necessity as there weren’t any punk records around at the time. The seed was planted and all of the bands that showed up at The Roxy in those early days began to incorporate reggae grooves into their amphetamine-fuelled take on rock and roll. Even reggae's greatest ambassador, Bob Marley would make appearances at The Roxy and was so bowled over by the safety pin set that he wrote a song called Punky Reggae Party in which he gave shout-outs to the punk bands of the day like The Damned, The Jam and The Clash.
Hugely influential BBC D.J. John Peel was only too eager to grab the baton from Letts by adding reggae songs by Augustus Pablo and Lee Scratch Perry to his set list alongside the early Sex Pistols singles and The Damned. Mr. Letts would later manage minimalist dub/punk all-girl band The Slits until moving on to play in The Clash’s Mick Jones’ Big Audio Dynamite. If you want to dig a little deeper into Letts, search out some of his movies like Legend, his biography on Bob Marley, or Punk Rock Movie, or pick up his amazing compilation records that are culled from his actual set lists back at The Roxy.
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A 21-track playlist including Don Letts’ 1976 The Roxy club cuts plus a selection of reggae-influenced punk tunes.