sat 13/08/2022

Music Reissues Weekly: U-Roy - Version Galore | reviews, news & interviews

Music Reissues Weekly: U-Roy - Version Galore

Music Reissues Weekly: U-Roy - Version Galore

New edition of the Jamaican DJ’s 1971 album is a tribute to his memory

U-Roy in the studio, c. 1971

The death of U-Roy was announced on 17 February 2021. A year on, the reappearance of his oft-reissued 1971 debut album Version Galore brings the opportunity to celebrate the music which brought him his earliest success; the music which propelled him into Jamaica’s top ranks.

U-Roy – born Euwart Beckford – had been testing his skills as a DJ since the early Sixties. His initial inspiration was Count Macuki who, from the late Fifties, had performed with Tom Wong’s and Clement Dodds’s sound systems. U-Roy passed through Wong’s, Sir George The Atomic’s and Dodds’s set-ups before he came to King Tubby’s Home Town Hi-Fi.

U-Roy - Version Galore reissueAt this point, the DJing was live and done over rhythms played from records. Around 11 singles emerged on various labels over 1969 and 1970 (some credited to Hugh Roy), but the link-up with King Tubby led to Duke Reid and his Treasure Isle label and studio. U-Roy’s first three Treasure Isle singles became the ones, the hits which set him up for life (there were still Hugh Roy credits). “Wake the Town”, “This Station Rule the Nation” and “Wear You to the Ball” established U-Roy. Version Galore was swiftly completed, and in the shops in 1971.

Each hit reprised an existing backing track – or even a completed recording. U-Roy added his DJing over the top, over what had already been recorded. This was the "version". “Wake The Town” repurposed the rhythm of Alton Ellis’s 1967 single “Girl I’ve Got a Date”. “This Station Rule the Nation” revisited The Techniques’ “Love is Not a Gamble” and “Wear You to the Ball” used The Paragons’s single of the same name.

Although it was about his adeptness with words, personality and vocal power, U-Roy’s success was also based around revisiting the familiar. In doing what he did with Duke Reid, U-Roy was creating a unique hybrid music which now sounds even more striking than it must have done at the time. The foundations of his hits were in the rock steady era, but U-Roy and his persona were a snug fit with reggae and, of course, he was soon integral to Jamaica's roots consciousness. His earliest DJ discs looked back and forwards simultaneously. He wasn’t the first successful DJ but as his career continued he was followed by others. Indeed, a misprinted edition of Version Galore credited him as I-Roy so, naturally, a DJ called I-Roy emerged.

U-Roy - Version Galore original albumVersion Galore has reappeared as a bonus-stuffed double CD collecting everything from the 1970 to 1971 association with Duke Reid and Treasure Isle. While U-Roy hopped from label to label after 1971, Reid kept on issuing tracks. In 1974, the U. Roy album appeared on the UK label Attack. It comprised Treasure Isle recordings. (pictured left, the original Version Galore album; pictured below right, the misprint "I-Roy" version of the album)

Unsurprisingly, the discography is tangled. In the UK, U-Roy’s Reid-era records appeared on Attack, Duke, Harry, Trojan, a version of Treasure Isle and an imprint named Duke Reid. In Jamaica, the Treasure Isle catalogue was supplemented by singles on Barons and Duke Reid.

Getting to grips with all this is close-to impossible and the interested have to be grateful to the collectors and music historians who have put shape on the muddle. The 42 tracks assembled here must be as complete a picture of the U-Roy and Duke Reid hook-up as it will ever get.

U-Roy - Version Galore original album misprintWhat’s here is fantastic. Take the original Version Galore album’s opening cut “Your Ace From Space”. The backing is, as the booklet's liner notes make clear, “the rhythm of a then-unreleased solo tune by Delroy Denton of The Silvertones, ‘Broken Hearted Melody’”, and the title borrows the catchphrase of American radio DJ Jocko. What’s created though is about U-Roy’s exhortation rather than what’s reused. Next up, “On the Beach” co-opts most of The Paragons’s track of the same name. U-Roy inserted his voice between, sometimes over, the pre-existing vocal lines. It ought not to work, but it does. On “Version Galore” he declaims over The Melodians who, thanks to the studio work, have gained an unexpected new member. It’s impossible to know contemporary reactions to these acts of musical détournement – though the sales levels confirm music fans loved it – but it still sounds extraordinary. What on earth did The Silvertones make of U-Roy’s insertion into their 1966 single “True Confession”?

Other questions emerge as this double CD unfolds. “Nehru” by Winston Wright with Tommy McCook & The Supersonics” is a U-Roy-free instrumental, as are “The Ball” by Earl ‘Wire’ Lindo with Tommy McCook & The Supersonics and “Super Boss” by The Tommy McCook All Stars. Even if the tracks were used for U-Roy recordings, he doesn’t appear so should these cuts be here? No explanation is given. Also, the 1974 UK-only album U. Roy was originally a collection of single-only tracks to which new percussion tracks had been overdubbed to make them seem contemporary, more reggae-ish. What’s here under the U. Roy album header – for all but two of its cuts – are the pre-overdubbed single versions. As is this not as per the 1974 album, would it have made more sense to supplement the 1971 Version Galore album solely with single-only sides rather than also including a (mostly) reconfigured, post-fact version of U. Roy? The last double-CD version of Version Galore was issued in 2002 and oddly, despite its different tracklist, this new release confusingly uses the cover image from the 2002 package rather than that of the original album.

Nothing is ever easily disentangled with Jamaican music from the first half of the Seventies. So it remains. What also remains are these astonishing, matchless recordings. Get this – it’s great, and it’s fitting celebration of the memory of U-Roy.

@MrKieronTyler

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