Some classic On-U Sound portraits, places and scenes from past decades, rambling thoughts before and after. (Click on the images to enlarge.)

Kandahar 1977 – Kandahar in 1977 was a small town where turbaned men, young and old, bombed around on motorbikes. They stopped frequently and fraternised in tea shacks and shops, just hanging, posing, chatting, and sneering at hapless Western overlanders. They did not show curiosity much.  We were told the Afghans were a proud race and they lived up to the reputation.  Women in town were all in burkas but there was plenty of music around, spontaneous and lively.  Musicians gathered in squares and courtyards, sat down and just played. Afghanistan in 1977 was undoubtedly the most beautiful and fascinating place I had ever been.  It was totally different from Iran before it and from Pakistan after it.

I happened to be in those countries at a critical time in history as I realised afterwards.  I was passing through Tehran in October 1977. The first thing you noticed as you arrived in that intense, restless, rather unfriendly city was the gigantic photos of the Shah and his family. They were everywhere – on the walls in stations, bus stops, restaurants and hotel lounges.  Their ubiquity was sinister as the revolution was brewing behind them.  Four months later Reza Shah fled to Paris and Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Tehran triumphantly.  Two years later the Soviet tanks marched into Afghanistan and the gradual and total destruction of that magical place began.

Bim Sherman 1981 – ‘Love Forever‘, Bim Sherman’s first album released in 1978 is one of my all-time favourites.  Like many other LPs made in Jamaica in those days it came in a sleeve printed on the reverse side of a Kellog’s cornflakes packet. Bim never played an instrument but on the jacket he holds a guitar with a youthful smile.  The record is a great collection of soul-searching songs with melodies that are lively, silky and melancholic. It has a spontaneous, one-take feel all the way through.  Having heard how they used to record in Kingston and how hard studio times and good session musicians were to get hold of, I wouldn’t be surprised if they really were single takes.  Bim’s singing and harmonies were not so accurate in places but the horn sections were expertly arranged.

Bim spoke very quietly with that distinctive voice. He was opposite of flamboyant and it was hard to imagine him on stage performing.  He had a unique dance style with one leg up and slowly hopping about on the other in disregard of the rhythm. Over 20 odd years we saw a lot of him as he never returned to Kingston and ended up living in north London. He had a brain tumour and passed away in November 2000 three days after I saw him in hospital.

Prince Far I 1981 – If I remember correctly I met Far I in 1981 when he came to London with this wife, Carolla. He was a tall and very skinny man.  His appearance did not match his gigantic raspy voice.  Mrs Far I was a big lady, must have weighed twice as much as her husband.  He was totally besotted with her.  Apparently, to Far I Carolla was his Jamaican Raquel Welch. This photo was taken around the same time as he recorded brilliant and hilarious ‘Virgin’ (a mockery at the label; ‘Brans(t)on is a pickle with no place on my plate’….’Heile Jumbo!’) and ‘Bedward the Flying Preacher‘ at Berry Street Studios in Clerkenwell, which was the ‘Hole in the Ground’.  Alexander Bedward, the preacher of Jamaican Revivalism, did not in reality jump from the top of a building and broke his neck as Far I stated. He went up a tree, sat in a hoisted-up chair he called his ‘chariot’ with his congregation watching.  The designated time was at first ten in the morning, which came and nothing happened. It was delayed to three in the afternoon, which came and went and Bedward was still sitting in his chair and did not ascend to the sky.  The time was reset again to ten in the evening but God did not call him up and Bedward clambered down and went home leaving a stunned crowd behind.  The authorities took this opportunity and branded him a lunatic claiming his preaching was from his insane mind that was pitiable and dangerous.  They locked him up in an asylum where he eventually died from natural causes in 1930.

Ari Up 1981 – I did not intend to make this page my photo obituary but like Bim and Far I, who was shot in his house in Kingston in an alleged robbery incident and later died in hospital in 1983, Ari also sadly passed away from cancer at the age of 48 in October 2010. This photo was taken when she was pregnant with her twin boys, Pablo and Pedro. She was a truly unique singing talent and she defied every conventional norm, refused to conform or compromise.  She was extremely determined and head-strong. Ari looked absolutely amazing all her adult life but here in this photograph, at the age of 18, although she had already built up a reputation as a rebel with the Slits, she seems reticent, unsure of what awaits her but sweetly contented.


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