I sometimes think that the events in my life haven’t quite followed the right order. For example, my interest in reggae has grown in the last few years, but wouldn’t it have been better to be part of the late 70s heyday? Admittedly I would have only been 10 in 1978, but one bus ride from where I lived in Putney would have got me to Dub Vendor in Clapham Junction. Dropping in every Saturday with my pocket money to buy the latest reggae imports would have made me the coolest kid in London. Or even closer to home I could have visited David Rodigan’s own record stall in Putney Market, a
stones throw from my house. In fact I probably did walk past his stall and wonder what those strange sounds were coming out of those speakers!
As I am sure you all know, David Rodigan is a massively influential DJ whose career goes hand in hand with the major developments of Jamaican music. As the title of his autobiography suggests, this is a walkthrough of how the music we all love shaped his life. He describes himself as looking like ‘an accountant or a dentist’, but it is fair to say that this unlikely looking reggae fan has helped move the music in certain directions, particularly in the UK. If David was not on hand to push the music on radio, then perhaps many of the groups and artists that we know today would not have got significant exposure and publicity.
The book follows a chronological trip through David’s life and at the start of each section he gives a handy synopsis of what was happening in the reggae world, focusing on the style that was popular at the time. What comes out of the pages is his unerring devotion to the music, even when the popularity of reggae peaked and troughed. There is a nice anecdote about his time at polytechnic when despite reggae being extremely unfashionable, he gets caught by his hard rock loving mates dancing to U-Roy’s Version Galore.
Embarrassed as he was and despite trying to act cool by saying he bought the album for a mate, you can see from early on that a career in reggae was on the cards.
The most interesting parts of the book for me feature his experiences as a white man at the time when reggae was very much the preserve of the black community. Despite gaining acceptance in the clubs through his determination to be part of the family, being white almost ended his radio career before it started. He was turned down as host for BBC London’s reggae show as they were looking for a black man. But David understood the situation. It was 1978 and with black West Indians finding it difficult to find work in bleak economic conditions, giving the only Jamaican music show to a white man would have been a little crass.
It sounds like David’s career did take some navigation, but he did get his breaks with reggae shows on major stations like Capital Radio, KISS FM (he was one of the founding DJs) and latterly Radio 1. Many of you I am sure will look back fondly on his shows as an oasis of quality music in the seas of mediocrity.
One of My Life in Reggae’s crowning glories is that it catalogues the development of reggae music from a UK perspective. For me it was an education in how the music grew from humble beginnings as a minority music, into the influential animal it is now. Learning about some of the characters involved and filling in some missing jigsaw pieces of my knowledge, made reading the book invaluable. Whether you want to learn about the history, reminisce about the old radio programmes or learn more about David’s life then this book is for you. It is a good easy read and is available now from all good retailers.
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