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Books: Sounds Like London: 100 Years Of Black Music In The Capital

Authentic account of black music's capital origins

Sounds Like London: 100 Years Of Black Music In The Capital

by Lloyd Bradley

(Serpents Tail, £12.99)

Lloyd Bradley's history of a century of black music has been widely praised and recently featured as a BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week.

Meticulously researched and illustrated with interview-based material it adopts a broader perspective than Bass Culture, Bradley's close-up analysis of the roots and branches of reggae, illustrating a wider musical landscape as he does so.

Sounds Like London is also valuable because, while the history of black British culture has previously been documented from outside the culture itself - notably by former Daily Worker journalist Peter Fryer, who dated its roots in Britain back to the days of the Roman emperor Vespasian - Bradley's analysis comes from within the community that has used music to express its identity socially, ethnically, and politically.

Yet the book does tend to see black music in isolation from the British cultural mainstream within which it functioned, a tight focus that is heightened by Bradley's concentration upon the metropolis.

This means that there is no reference to the Northern Soul scene that brought coachloads of predominantly white kids up to venues like the Wigan Casino and the Blackpool Mecca to dance the night and day away to imported black singles from small Detroit record labels like Ric-Tic and Golden Records.

It would be interesting to know if the niche popularity of these fed back into the black British music scene and, if not, why not.

In addition to the incipient institutional racism of the music business, Bradley adds the factor of the determination of the musicians to make their own way.

"Our guys have very often succeeded in spite of the UK music business rather than because of it," he writes.

"In almost every case, enduring stylistic advances have been the result of intuitive and inspired individuals nurturing their ideas away from the lure of the mainstream.

"In fact, as the story unfolds, it's when black music has opted to put itself in the hands of the regular music business that progress has fallen apart."

But I can hear native jazzers, folkies and performers in other genres shouting out "Yeah, me too!" in response to this analysis.

Those were exciting times Bradley documents, and he brought back to me the revelation of seeing the Ballets Negres in South Wimbledon in 1946 and listening to the Township music of Dudu Pukwana in a pub cellar in London's Cavendish Square 20 years later.

Karl Dallas


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