To those in the know, UK decksmith Count Skylarkin is a name synonymous with good time grooves and eclectic selections. Since the ’90s he’s been dropping infectious rare reggae, ska, dancehall and soul cuts across the lands, sharing stages with the forefathers of those genres including The Skatalites, The Wailers, The Specials, Prince Buster, Jerry Dammers, Trojan Soundsystem and Horace Andy.
Meanwhile Natty Bo is the main man behind Ska Cubano – a staggeringly groovy London band who have, as the name suggests, filtered the classic ska sounds through the flair of Cuban music.
So it was exciting stuff when the two talents teamed up to take over legendary DJ Derek's Saturday slot at London hipsters' haven the Notting Hill Arts Club. And now it's even more exciting, for us at least, with the news the pair are bringing the same Sweet Memory Sounds club night concept to Dubai. Courtesy of the UAE's very own eclectic tune mongers the Deep Crates Cartel, you can catch the Count of Oxford and Mr Bo at a special edition of Sunny Vibe-Up on the roof at Dusk Terrace, Radisson Blu Media City, on Friday March 21.
Ahead of the date we asked the pair to riffle through their record collections and pick ten tunes to get you in the mood. The resulting playlist, which they’ve dubbed ‘Count Skylarkin & Natty Bo's Sweet Memory Sounds Classics’ and comes complete with the Count’s own commentary, is simply golden groove dust.
The Swan Silvertones
Natty and I both love old black gospel records. There's so much conviction. Listen to this one by the Swan Silvertones, a group that formed in the 1930s, and it's so immediate, there's that feeling of everyone in the room getting swept away in the moment. The vocals are stunning. It starts off slow and gets faster. Not many modern dance records do that!
‘In The Morning’
More killer church music. The Dixie Hummingbirds formed in the '20s and are still performing to this day, making them a bit like a gospel version of the Sugababes. This is them at their peak, the late, great Ira Tucker in full voice. Tucker's flamboyant stagecraft - running through the aisles, jumping off stage, falling to his knees - was a big influence on Jackie Wilson and James Brown.
‘Gaita De Las Flores’
I've got some great cumbia records, but Natty's collection of 45s and 78s takes some beating. Some of his stuff sounds completely crazy! Luis Eduardo Bermudez was the number one bandleader in Columbia in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s - the golden age of the Cumbia. At the height of his success he also had a home in Cuba, where he recorded and performed, spreading the influence of Colombian music and no doubt taking a few pointers from the Son and Mambo musicians as well.
Which leads us along nicely to Ska Cubano - Natty's globe-trotting, culture-swapping, brassbound behemoth. Drawing on the sounds of Jamaica's latino neighbours and adding a heady dash of island flavour, it was via the hand-stamped 45 of Chango that I first got to know Natty & co, more than a decade ago.
‘Adam & Eve’
Lord Flea was one of Jamaica's biggest musical exports until his untimely death in 1959. His band featured the memorably-monikered Count Slick, Fish Ray, Count Spoon, and Prince Charles, and together they brought Mento (often wrongly marketed as Calypso) to the world. This 45 came out on the US label Capitol. Other theories on the origin of life are available.
‘Life Could Be A Dream’
From Studio One, Brentford Road, Jamaica, the number one ska sound that goes around and wakes the town! This is an early Maytals cover of the old Chords doo-wop classic ‘Sh-Boom’, produced by the great Coxsone Dodd. The group were still a proper vocal trio at this point - you'll hear that the great Toots had yet to fully establish himself as the main voice. This was common in 1960s Jamaica, where gospel and doo-wop acts and newer trios like The Impressions had a massive influence, and groups like The Maytals, The Heptones and The Wailers reflected this.
The Voice of the People! Prince Buster cut so many classic sides in the ’60s that we could have included any one of at least two dozen records. The song ‘Healing’ predates ska to the days of mento, but Buster's version is the one we both play out. It sounds like they were having a party in the studio!
‘Cool Cool Rocksteady’
Legend has it that the Jamaican summer of 1966 would have rivalled any August in Dubai for sweltering temperatures, and the dancers were feeling the heat, particularly after they'd been jumping about to ska for a couple of hours. A new sound was required - rocksteady - like throwing open a window on a hot day. ‘Music is real sweet when you can dig this cool rocksteady beat!’
‘Picture on the Wall’
This track is a nod to the great DJ Derek, who headlined the Sweet Memory Sounds night at Notting Hill Arts Club every month for more than a decade, until his retirement last year. Derek has probably forgotten more about reggae music than most people will ever know, and had a rare talent for unearthing gems like this 1983 single by British group The Naturalites, at just the right moment.
‘Ruff Like Me (Shy FX mix)’
Stop reading. Start dancing.
Count Skylarkin and Natty Bo are at Sunny Vibe-Up, hosted at Dusk Terrace, Radisson Blu Hotel Media City on Friday March 21, 2pm-midnight. Entry is Dhs75, or free before 5pm.
Find out more www.skylarkinsoundsystem.com
Photo by Dave Swindells.