G.T. Moore, The Harry J Sessions
Partial Records LP
The phrases ‘lost master tapes’, ‘archive recordings’ and ‘treasures from the vaults’ are vastly overused in the music business. They are often just bait for the music connoisseur, another marketing ruse to part us from our well-earned cash. There may well be some gems that are unearthed from old session tapes, but most of it is not nearly as good as the final product. That’s why I imagine they were discarded in the first place! OK, some of us like to understand the recording process and see how a song developed over the takes, but as I said, it is very rare to find a version that competes with the final track.
Once in a while though we do get a dusty find that is worthy of our attention. The tracks that make up this album, G.T. Moore’s – Harry J Sessions, were considered lost. But after many months of hard work, this labour of love from Mr Moore, his son Michiel and Partial Records boss Liam McGurk we have eight gloriously rich roots and dub tracks from 1980, that capture a specific time and place in reggae’s history. As a taster check out the SoundCloud link below.
To set the scene, back in 1980 G.T. Moore was over in Jamaica doing some session work with Lee Scratch Perry on the then latest Upsetters album (update – this was the ‘Return of Pipcock Jackxon’ album). As a side project G.T. recorded four tracks at Harry J’s and it was only recently that the master tapes were unearthed, bizarrely in the house of Ray Dorset former member of Mungo Jerry. Only one track ‘Utopia’ had been given a final mix back in the day. It was released on 7″ via the Black Star Liner label later in 1980 and then a reissue on Partial Records in 2014. The other tracks were never mixed until early 2017, this task was undertaken by dub maestro Dougie Wardrop. So there we are up to date and a genuine story of ‘lost master tapes’!
It’s an interesting story and I wasn’t quite satisfied knowing the outline, I wanted to understand a little more about what it was like being in Jamaica and recording during such a fertile period for reggae. I sent a few background questions to G.T. Moore and thanks to him here is more of the story of the Harry J Sessions.
Hi Gerald thanks for taking the time to answer some questions, first off I would be interested to know what it was that first got you into reggae and how your early sound developed. Having established yourself in that folk rock bluesy world, on first view it seems a bit of a jump?
“One of the first songs I wrote and recorded was called Madman, based on a ‘ska’ horn riff when I was at school playing with Gerald T. Moore and the Memphis Gent, a soul band, in the ‘soul’ era. I didn’t write it for any particular reason but in those days ska was linked with soul because of the horns. And the Mods liked soul but also ska. At school I was a ‘Mod’.”
“Sometime later my producer and manager Peter Eden said one day “why don’t you do a reggae album”. I said OK, thinking why not. Peter was and is a Jehovah’s Witness and he liked the biblical reference in some reggae songs, and in fact there is some biblical reference in ‘Madman’. We made an album at De Lane Lea studios that emulated reggae but without the reggae beat (this music is available in Japan on wasabi records and is called “Crazy World”).”
“Jamaican music was always around and I played soul with West Indian musicians. Soon after I decided to make more authentic West Indian style of music but with a soul or folk flavour. I learned how to play the reggae beats but mixed it with soul and made it more up-tempo. I knew the cultural and religious side of reggae, but I avoided it being self-consciously ‘white’. I wasn’t really into anything but being the best live band in town.”
You mention an audition ahead of you playing on Scratch’s new Upsetter album, what did that entail?
“In 1979 I had a close friend in the Black Star Liner record company (Henk Targowski) and he arranged for me to do an ‘audition’ with Scratch in Amsterdam. The room was full of journalists in the morning and it was in an expensive flat with a garden that looked on to the Vondel Park (the office of Black Star Liner was also in the same house).”
“Scratch came from the toilet where he’d taken a cloth and covered it with his own shit and then he began as the journalists watched, to write with his shit on the walls of his office and the things he was writing on the wall included lines like ‘white man is sucking the blood of the black man’ and other insults aimed at western society. Afterwards when they all went they said to Scratch ‘this is the guy we want to go to Jamaica with you and play guitar’ and Scratch said ‘come on then man, play’ and I played my electric red Gibson. A combination of rhythm and lead. (which is quite difficult) He said ‘yeah he’s good, he can come’.”
You describe the sessions on your website biography as being chaotic, was that just the eccentricities of Mr Perry or was that usual in Jamaican studios?
“Scratch had a unique way of controlling the band (and the music) without having to say anything. At that time in Europe and America there was a lot of overdubbing (recording instruments and vocals separately, often one at a time, starting with the bass drum and ending with the lead vocal).”
“When we recorded at Channel One with Sly and Robbie everything was live. A second engineer was already doing a ‘live’ mix as we recorded the song. So when we stopped playing we had finished recording. Very different from Europe and America, and a lot cheaper and quicker. When we went to Tuff Gong to see The Wailers, they’d been laying very basic rhythm tracks for about three weeks. Just bass and drums, rhythm guitars and a bit keyboard. They were adding lead keyboard, lines and riffs on ‘Could You Be Loved’ along with backing vocals. So far this had taken about a week.”
“Scratch’s way of working (at the time) was different in many ways. His equipment was minimal: 1. A Teac 4-track tape recorder, 2. A small Desk, 3. A reverb out of a Fender amplifier, 4. An analogue effects pedal (Mu-Tron) (giving phase, flanger and tremolo). All the instruments were on three tracks, in different ways, and the fourth track was always kept for the vocal. We recorded from about 11am to about 7pm everyday but Sunday for about six weeks. Sometimes he would say ‘give me a riddim’ but we knew what we had to do anyway. So we would tune up and start playing. Scratch’s studio was a small building in his backyard. As we began the rhythm we would hear him in the garden declaring ‘Rastafari’ or other declarations, but the understanding was that he wouldn’t come in until the rhythm was good enough. Sometimes this took 15-20 minutes, sometimes 40 minutes or more. Often when he arrived, he would be spinning very fast on his two feet. Spin right up to the mic and start singing and dancing.”
“I know of no other white person who went to Jamaica to play reggae, maybe there’s a few. But to actually ‘play’ in the rhythm section. So I’m immensely proud of these recordings. Especially in 1980. I left the tapes with my friend Ray Dorset from Mungo Jerry for some twenty years. Luckily he preserved them well in aluminium foil, when we digitised them in Utrecht, Holland (eavr sound) we found they were perfectly preserved.”
It sounds like you crossed paths with some of the reggae greats during that time, is there anybody that sticks in your head as being creatively influential?
“I went to Jamaica in 1980 and worked nearly every day in the studio for about 6 weeks. During this time I played with and hung out with many of the great musicians there including a session in Channel One with Sly and Robbie but also the Congos and Third World at Aquarius Studios. We knew some of the Wailers and went to Tuff Gong Studios while they were doing ‘Could you be loved’. There was talk of us playing on that album but it never happened. People came and hung out at Scratch’s yard often at meal times, this included Dillinger, Max Romeo, Rico, Joe Higgs and many more. Much of what went on in the studio you can read in the book ‘People Funny Boy’ by David Katz.”
I am personally a big fan of the criminally underrated Joe Higgs, did you get a chance to get to know him?
“Joe was the person I was most impressed with, he has a real integrity. Reggae was still in fashion at that time but Joe Higgs could play ‘reggae’ but there was something of the folk singer about him, he was a ‘man of the people’ not to be influenced by whatever was in fashion. He said “I could play like Wes” (Montgomery) which I took as a great compliment. He took me to his favourite ‘juice bars’ and Caribbean food places. I was so honoured that he treated me as a friend I will never forget it.”
Thanks for your time G.T and something light to finish off, a question that I ask everyone I interview and probably difficult to narrow down. But what three records could you not live without.
I don’t play records much anymore but, Ijahman Levi – The Church, Midnight – The Eyes Are the Light & Rico – Africa.
I hope you found the story interesting. I am not a music techy person myself, but I do like now and again to understand a little more about the alchemy that is music recording. Even better if it concerns a legend like Scratch. It is one of my ambitions to sit in on a studio session, although I am sure the reality is not as exciting as the pictures I paint in my head!
This collection has captivated me since I first played it. To have such a rich and textured dub set saved from obscurity and given a proper vinyl release is fantastic, thanks to all who made it happen. It typifies the love and commitment that reggae folks have for the music. Imagine if a major label had these tapes, they probably would be viewed as not financially viable to release!
It is difficult to pick out a highlight track as you have to take the LP as a self-contained ‘roots dub set’. I have a personal theory that there are two ways to classify an album. Music for example like dub and ambient are more akin to a classical symphony, in that all the parts make up the whole. Whilst your roots album is more like a pop, soul or rock album, a collection of songs. The Harry J Sessions is very much the former, drop the needle and tune into a symphony of dub magic.
If you decide to buy this I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. The LP will be out on the 26th January limited to 500 copies. Partial Records are doing an early bird pre-order that gives you free digital copies of the songs with the LP, more details are at their Bandcamp site.
Thanks for reading and I would be grateful if you could give this post a share on social media, every button click really does help spread the word and get this music out to more ears.
Bless, Paper Lion