Some classic On-U Sound portraits, places and scenes from past decades, rambling thoughts before and after.
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Mark Stewart Walks Out of the Cabinet 1983 – Out of numerous and curious collaborations among On-U Sound artistes, Mark Stewart and Maffia were the oddest and uneasiest. It had every potential to fail. It could have been the biggest joke at the forefront of the early 1980s independent music. Maybe it was. We just didn’t know it. The Pop Group were by then already legendary and Mark was a mini cult figure in Bristol. He was loud and huge in stature and had great stage presence. Whether on stage or in studio he didn’t sing but wailed his semi-political statements and beatnik observations of society. His sources and references were sound though; Blake, Burroughs, Brown….
Mountbatten and Stewart 1983 - I believe it was Mark’s idea that we went to Madame Tussaud’s to take some photos. Bonjo Iyabinghi Noah, the Maffia and African Head Charge percussionist, came, too. The rest of the ‘band members’ probably didn’t turn up living on Jamaican Mean Time. Earlier, Maffia were a reggae rhythm section minus guitarist (Mark was adamant about not having one) with a non-reggae keyboard player e.g. Nick Plytas or Steve Beresford . Then Fats Comet or Tackhead took over. None of the musicians understood what Mark was trying to do or liked what they were hearing. Besides, Mark was such a wind-up and tested everyone’s patience and nerve to the limit. I do not recall, however, one bad gig by Mark Stewart whoever were backing him. The man in military uniform is supposed to be Prince Philip.
Congo Ashanti Roy the Karate Man 1983 - I photographed Ashanti in a park in Harlesden for a new Singers & Players album cover. I think he was visiting his friends or relatives in London. He was one of the most photogenic people I’ve met. A good singer first of all and guitarist, but he played a kind of folk-style guitar, not the crisp, rhythmical reggae guitar. These two photos were taken in the broad daylight with flash and infra-red filter, with which I was experimenting at the time. All Jamaicans were into martial arts and we may have fooled him into believing I was a karate black belt. He was too polite a gentleman to challenge me.
Ashanti the Troubadour 1983 – I spent endless hours in my attic darkroom in north London and then in the On-U Sound Wapping office-cum-studio. The most time-consuming process was posterization, which I used for Singers & Players ‘Pounding System’ cover. Of course nowadays with Photoshop, it only takes a click. A solarized version of this photo was used for ‘Staggering Heights’, again a time-consuming, entirely hit-or-miss technique in the darkroom. I used to use various cardboard shapes stuck on a chopstick to control exposure to light by frantically shaking them sideways. Everything was manual and analogue. Those were the days when top editors did ‘window edits’ on quarter-inch master tapes.