You can read 19 more articles this month
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.
You can’t buy a revolution, but you can help the only daily paper in Britain that’s fighting for one by joining the 501 club.
Just £5 a month gives you the opportunity to win one of 17 prizes, from £25 to the £501 jackpot.
By becoming a 501 Club member you are helping the Morning Star cover its printing, distribution and staff costs — help keep our paper thriving by joining!
You can’t buy a revolution, but you can help the only daily paper in Britain that’s fighting for one by become a member of the People’s Printing Press Society.
The Morning Star is a readers’ co-operative, which means you can become an owner of the paper too by buying shares in the society.
Shares are £1 each — though unlike capitalist firms, each shareholder has an equal say. Money from shares contributes directly to keep our paper thriving.
Some union branches have taken out shares of over £500 and individuals over £100.
You can’t buy a revolution, but you can help the only daily paper in Britain that’s fighting for one by donating to the Fighting Fund.
The Morning Star is unique, as a lone socialist voice in a sea of corporate media. We offer a platform for those who would otherwise never be listened to, coverage of stories that would otherwise be buried.
The rich don’t like us, and they don’t advertise with us, so we rely on you, our readers and friends. With a regular donation to our monthly Fighting Fund, we can continue to thumb our noses at the fat cats and tell truth to power.
Donate today and make a regular contribution.