Lover’s Rock

I think the Lover’s Rock phenomenon deserves its own page because it really was a defining moment when black Caribbean culture in Britain gave birth to a musical genre of its own.

Lover’s Rock initially grew out of reggae music and by the 1970s it had developed a distinctive British and London twist that set it apart from anything else around at that time.

Set against a background of racial tension and turmoil the genre was designed to give the people who were listening, especially black inner city youth, a chance to breathe and escape.

It was a romantic, soft, soulful, calming brand of music that particularly appealed to women and demonstrated the unique creativity of the black British community while opening the eyes of the world to a new crop of singers, songwriters, and producers, who all had Caribbean ancestry.

Lover’s Rock defined a generation with songs that sold thousands and many also did well in the mainstream or reggae charts including a song in 1975 by teenager Louisa Mark with her version of ‘Caught You in a Lie’ and Janet Kay with ‘Silly Games’, which reached number two in the UK Singles Chart in 1979.

The Lover’s Rock label itself was created in south east London by Dennis Harris, John Kpiaye and Dennis Bovell and these pioneer producers along with others began to put black British music on the map.

The genre catapulted and moulded the careers of several leading UK bands and solo artists who are still producing music today such as Aswad, UB40 and Maxi Priest. It also influenced white British acts at the time including The Clash who produced a song called ‘Lover’s Rock’ on their seminal album London Calling and the Police who had several reggae based tunes.

By the 1990s Lover’s Rock had lost some of its strength but it is still popular today among some young artists especially in Japan (for some unknown reason) and it is impossible to talk about the Caribbean influence on British music without mentioning it.

In 2011, when I was living in Barbados, I went to see a documentary called ‘The Story of Lovers Rock’ by director Menalik Shabazz who was born on the island. The film documented and encapsulated just how significant, important and necessary this British music genre became and why it is known as the black soundtrack for its era.

My infographic on the evolution of Lover’s Rock is below –

The evolution of Lover's Rock (1)

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London is the place for me

I suppose you could argue that Black Caribbean people really began to influence music in the UK when they started arriving in large numbers on the famous Windrush voyage in 1948. Before this historic event I can’t find much information on British artists incorporating music which originated in the Caribbean into their work.

When the Windrush arrived a Trinidadian calypsonian was on board called Lord Kitchener and he was reportedly filmed singing ‘London is the place for me’ when he got off the ship (it was finally released as a single in 2003 – three years after he died!). Lord Kitchener’s singing was probably the first time many people in England had even heard calypso music.

After the arrival of thousands of Caribbean people during the 1950s the sound of the islands permeated into the English charts and featured as samples on records.

In 1959 Claudia Jones and others conceptualised and organised the first Notting Hill Carnival in St Pancras Town Hall, it was televised by the BBC and featured artists who were flown over directly from the Caribbean including calypsonian the ‘Mighty Terror’ and steel pan bands.

By the 1960s reggae artists began to make an impression on the British music scene. Eddy Grant who was born in Guyana in 1948 and grew up in Brixton reached number one in 1968 with the song ‘Baby Come Back’ with the multi-racial group ‘The Equals”.

Shortly afterwards the first Jamaican performers Desmond Dekkar and the Aces also reached number one with the ‘Israelites’.

Caribbean music, produced by artists who had emigrated to the UK, was breaking down barriers as it appealed to both a black and white audience and this was set to culminate with Lover’s Rock in the 1970s.

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