Nov 06


FT + Popular61 comments • 9,541 views

#299, 1st May 1971


Like many of the immigrants who brought the music over from Jamaica, reggae found Britain a land of indignities as well as opportunities. The marketing savvy of Trojan Records pushed the sounds to the commercial peak that “Double Barrel” represents – at the same time, Trojan’s policy was to sweeten the sound for the UK market, with plenty of remixed string arrangements and cover versions of pop tunes, especially as more skinheads and suedeheads got into glam and the reggae boom faded. Now reggae cover versions are a Good Thing in my book, and I honestly haven’t heard enough “stringsed-up” reggae to know if it was as baleful as historians like Lloyd Bradley claim. But I do know that it’s seven years before a Jamaican single as lively as “Double Barrel” hits number one again.

“Double Barrel” is strings-free: the only real problem Dave and Ansel Collins faced was that Dave Barker’s identity got somewhat subsumed in a Collins brand. Dave was a toaster called in to spruce up a fairly successful instrumental (which according to Bradley’s Bass Culture he didn’t even like much) – its smash success surprised both men and yoked their careers together, at least in the lucrative UK market. Bradley describes how seeing it on Top Of The Pops was a definingly thrilling moment: unremixed Jamaican culture, barely supported by radio, at the top of the charts.

It may have seemed strange to a wider public then: it may seem even stranger now. The evolutionary descendents of early 70s toasting, flourishing in hip-hop and ragga, have devoured their ancestor: there’s no real reference point in recorded music for the disconnected, improvised MCing Dave does on this track. Toasting works as a kind of real-time commentary on a tune, slipping on and off the beat as whim and passion dictates. Dave is at once Ansel’s partner and the number one fan, his extravagant, spontaneously reaction to the groove encouraging the rest of us listeners to loosen up, feel it, shout it, work it. That particular bridge between beat and audience survives on radio and in the clubs, but it’s lost to the studio.

There’s no question that it works for “Double Barrel”, turning a jaunty – even balmy – ska instrumental into something with a lot more gusto and swagger. The serene organ-led breakdowns in the track stand out all the more, as hard-won moments of calm amid the hustle. With all credit to Ansel, there’s no question as to who the star here is – he is the magnificent double oh-oh-oh, bursting with life as his style briefly conquers Britain.




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  1. 1
    Rosie on 19 Nov 2006 #

    Ah, the memories of teenage lads with acne, braces, jeans rolled halfway up the calves to show off Doc Marten bovver boots , and an attitude problem!

  2. 2
    eclectic teuchter on 19 Nov 2006 #

    …and this is where I came in. early summer, the first where girls and music replaced airfix and football. I was aware of this but I didn’t get it until I heard it on a waltzer at the fair. feeling giddy and slightly sick, LOUDer than the radio, feeling the bass, coloured lights and westlers hot dog smell. I got off the waltzer into a new world. I didn’t really know what this music was, and vaguely thought it was specially written for fairgrounds. It still could be. I’d give it a 10, for waking me up, and everything that followed.

  3. 3
    Kat on 19 Nov 2006 #

    I think 8 is a little on the high side. I had no idea this got to number one – I know the tune from countless Trojan compilations punted my way by my ska-lovin’ boss, and while it’s by no means a bad tune, to me it doesn’t stand out as anything special compared to its contemporaries (let alone earlier pioneers like Dekker and co). I would say 6, or 7 at most.

  4. 4
    Doctor Casino on 19 Nov 2006 #

    In some weird way I see this as “Fire”‘s unexpected twin brother, light and transparent where “Fire” is murky and rockist, but both playing sort of like improvisational organ performances animated by a charismatic protagonist. I like them both, but “Double Barrel” is obviously better. I don’t know about an 8, but it’s infectious and memorable in an uncloying way, and doesn’t overstay its welcome, so certainly it ranks better than 75% of the Number Ones we’ve encountered since the decline of the Beatles. I guess I can dig it.

    “IIIII! Am the magnificent! And I bring you…FIRE!”

  5. 5
    Rosie on 19 Nov 2006 #

    In making a remark to Tom in Another Place, I’m minded to comment at this point – because this is the prime example – that one of the wonderful things about Popular is that I can listen again to the music but now detached from the context in which I first heard it. So my revulsion at Double Barrel as the anthem of The Enemy gives way to being able to recognise it as a stonking good piece of raw ska!

  6. 6
    Tommy Mack on 19 Nov 2006 #

    Yes, what a raw, basic tune it is. I’d always heard it as strange and alien and dubby (it is a little bit dubby – that deep bass for one thing), but whacking it on now and mentally divorcing the backing tune from Dave’s interjections, it’s a jaunty little jam almost nursery-rhyme in it’s simplicity and jollity. So a 10 to the vocal for tricking me into hearing more than was really there, but 8 is probably about right for the music.

    Stringsed-up reggae is OK when a bit of time and money’s been spent on it and it’s not just a heffing great wash whacked over a basic backing track, but even so it has to work a lot harder to be as pleasing as it’s stringless, cheap-as-chips, pioneering predecessor.

  7. 7
    Marcello Carlin on 20 Nov 2006 #

    Scared the shit out of me when I first saw them doing it on TOTP, which, then as now, I interpreted as a good sign. A nine from me since its status as my favourite reggae number one is challenged only by the one from seven years later.

  8. 8
    Erithian on 20 Nov 2006 #

    This is surely a contender for the most “underground” No. 1 of all time. Other No. 1s of this or any other era will have had their detractors, but even those who didn’t like them will have recognised where they were coming from musically. This must have been well-nigh incomprehensible to many who heard it on the radio (if it was played that much) or saw it on TOTP. I don’t remember it from the time but when I did hear it I certainly didn’t “get” it as much as I do now (massive credit to 2-Tone for that part of my musical education!)

    Which leads me on to a question I hope someone, maybe Rosie, can answer – why skinheads? How come a youth tribe not exactly known for its multicultural outlook (or is that notion based on a later strain of skin-ism?) picked up on Jamaican music? Or was/is it mainly Asian rather than black minorities that they had a problem with? I’d love to hear a take on this from someone who was into the music and observed the tribes at the time.

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    Marcello Carlin on 20 Nov 2006 #

    The Oi! strain was a later one.

    From the evidence of the letters pages of NME, MM, etc., at the time, it seemed to be the hippies and progheads who had a problem with ethnic minorities; lots of “THIS IS NOT MUSIC” and quite a few “monkey music” jibes abound.

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    Marcello Carlin on 20 Nov 2006 #

    As regards radio play, it was spun pretty regularly on Radio 1. IIRC Rosko was first off the bat with it.

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    the story as i understand it: very early skins (c.67-ish?) were an offshoot of mod, and yes, were rough lads on perfectly friendly terms w.jamaicans esp.* — but as the style moved out of london mod-central, and clashed for turf w.the ugandan asian influx in the early 70s, a new generation — without rejecting ska — became much more explicitly racist, in particular anti-asian; punk explicitly polarised da yoot in all directions, and militant n*f/b*n*p racism took on the skinhead look; hence the emergence — to contest this — of two-tone

    *youthful johnny rotten and pals were reggae-loving skinheads

  12. 12
    Stevie on 20 Nov 2006 #

    Tom’s line about skinheads and suedeheads getting into glam kind of feels wrong to me – though I have no evidence to back it up. I guess Slade made something like this move – though I dunno if their audience did. The idea of glam skinheads strikes me as a bit of Morrissey wet dream…

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    Rosie on 20 Nov 2006 #

    The skinheads of the late 1960s/early 1970s weren’t especially political, it was more of a culture in opposition to ‘arty-farty’ ‘greasers’ and ‘hippies’. To be fair, there were lads in my school in Hertfordshire who adopted the skinhead image but were perfectly amiable, although they were the exception

    They tended to gather in the boys’ clubs and mixed with Caribbean lads there. The real sport, or alleged sport, was ‘Paki-bashing’ and it’f from that period, I think, that ‘Paki’ became a term of abuse.

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    Tom on 20 Nov 2006 #

    Stevie that’s from the Lloyd Bradley book too, him explaining why the tide went out on the reggae boom in 72-73 when its mass white audience moved on – I suspect Bradley isn’t that interested in the nuances of what ‘glam’ might mean here: Slade was probably the extent of it.

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    Stevie on 20 Nov 2006 #

    (Actually I think one of the auspicious things about punk was that it was a rare moment when glam kids and skins agreed about something)

    (Haha – *I* was a Hertfordshire skinhead from 77-79 – though admittedly a wee one!)

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    yes yes yes to stevie’s point: youthful johnny rotten and pals were reggae-loving skinheads AND glamkids (tho possibly not at one and the same moment)

    slade *were* a skinhead band — possibly under their earlier name which i haf forgot — but (in my personal formulation) were GLITTER than than GLAM

    based at least on the order of their titles, the richard allen books suggest an evolution from skin to suede to glam (with other ports of call in-between): RA’s sociological reliability is v.questionable however

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    Marcello Carlin on 20 Nov 2006 #

    Slade started out as the ‘N Betweens, and they were only “skinheads” as Slade for their first album; by the time they had their first hit they’d let it grow again.

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    Marcello Carlin on 20 Nov 2006 #

    self-correction: they were the ‘N Betweens, then Ambrose Slade, then just Slade (but in their skinhead era they were definitely Slade).

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    intothefireuk on 20 Nov 2006 #

    I remember Symarip’s Skinhead Moonstomp as rubber stamping the ska skinhead connection. Wasn’t Ben Sherman also the shirt of choice for them ? To these young eyes at least I thought they were very scary looking individuals. Strange how they should seek out Asians and not West Indians as their enemy of choice – surely if you’re white supremesist you’d hate both. Were they too stupid to realise where ska came from ?

  20. 20
    wwolfe on 20 Nov 2006 #

    “IIIII! Am the magnificent!”

    Oh. my gosh.

    There’s a Dickie Goodman single from 1972 called “Convention ’72,” in which he took snippets from then-current hits and used them as answers to mock interview questions posed to candidates at that years’ Democratic National Convention. The result was a pretty big hit, and an even bigger hit among smart-ass 13-year old boys, one of whom was me. I knew all the songs used in the record, except for the one quoted above. It both mystified and pleased me deeply, and I’ve wondered for 34 years where it came from.

    Now I know. Thank you, Popular. Now I need to go to iTunes and download the whole song. I can’t begin to express how much it pleases me to finally know where this little bit of musical wonderment came from.

  21. 21
    Rosie on 20 Nov 2006 #

    intothefireuk, as has been mentioned before the skinheads of this period weren’t the political skinheads that came later in te 1970s and they weren’t white supremacist. They made common cause with black Rude Boys as fellow members of the working class. Asians had been around for a while but they were just becoming numerous because of the migrations from East Africa – Kenya first in the late 60s and Idi Amin’s Uganda in the mid-70s. The Asians established themselves as small shopkeepers and restaurateurs, and were perceived by the skinheads as bourgeouis.

    There’s been little love lost between working class Caribbean communities and Asian communities ever since – as witness the recent conflicts in Birmingham.

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    Tommy Mack on 21 Nov 2006 #

    Check out George Marshall’s ‘Spirit of ’69 – A Skinhead Bible’ for an insider’s take on the evolution of the skinhead youth cult from ska to oi and beyond. Some of his notions are dubious to say the least (Paki-bashing, apparently wasn’t racist, as aisans were picked purely as an easy target for random violence, which makes it OK, as long as it wasn’t politicized violence – when you get a steel-cap in your face, it’s nice to know that the disagreement isn’t ideological…) but it’s still a fascinating read.

    It was reading this book that inspired my band to take a faintly ludicrous (given that we were all middle-class science students and it was 2002) boots and braces look, in stark opposition to the faux-American denim and leather ‘garage’ look popular at the time. We didn’t get laid much and eventually grew our hair out…

  23. 23
    Dadaismus on 22 Nov 2006 #

    Dave was Dave Barker, and he was a singer first and foremost, not a toaster as such, but such was his fate to be henceforth known as Dave Collins, the toaster on “Double Barrel”! Some mention must be made of the slightly out of tune piano on this track, lying somewhere between Winifred Attwell and Lieutenant Pigeon

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    CarsmileSteve on 22 Nov 2006 #

    somewhere between Winifred Attwell and Lieutenant Pigeon

    hahaha, should totally be a 10 then shouldn’t it :)

  25. 25
    Tom on 22 Nov 2006 #

    Well Winifred got a 6.

    So mathematically speaking, you can work out the LP mark easily enough.

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    Marcello Carlin on 22 Nov 2006 #


  27. 27
    DR.C on 24 Nov 2006 #

    Terrific record! Anyone know the track it was based on, Ramsey Lewis’s ‘Party Time’? Well worth digging out if you get the chance.

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    Mark Grout on 27 Nov 2006 #

    reference point: James Brown?

    Also, see the subsequent McKay’s “Take me over” song.

    A lot of these instrumentals existed as
    1) Song (i.e. straightforward with words)
    2) Instrumental
    3) “Toast” version

    Was this one pre-existing? I dunno.

    Oh, and I do own “Hot Line” by Dave Collins, just to prove it was true.

  29. 29
    Heidi Hog on 1 Jan 2007 #

    Some of the commenters are mistaken and the author is totally wrong in giving this a 8! Double Barrel was as significant as James Brown ‘Say it loud, I’m black and proud’. Or, as important as the Sex Pistols ‘Anarchy in the UK’. And definately more important than NWA ‘Straight outta of Compton’.

    What this record did is launch onto a world a musical genre that went on to become a major influence on the culture which once despised it. Without Double Barrel you would not have had Two Tone, UB40, Culture Club, Acid House, Drum and Bass Garage or any of these sub-genre’s.

    Glad to see the record has at last been given the recognition it deserves.

  30. 30
    Tom on 2 Jan 2007 #

    I think this is overclaim for the specific significance of Double Barrell to be honest – it was the peak of a reggae boom, not the start of one.

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