BBC - The Story of Reggae - Lover's Rock

  • One of the few aspects of reggae that was purely a British invention.
  • Although incredibly popular, the lovers rock scene was largely underground.
  • The day after Janet Kay was on Top Of The Pops with Silly Games at Number Two, she was late for work. Luckily her boss was sympathetic.
Janet Kay Gregory Isaacs
Janet Kay

Gregory Isaacs

Lovers Rock
When roots music carried the swing in the 1970s in Britainís young black communities, the women had a saying Ė Rastafari was Rasta For Him and not Rasta For Us. In other words there were large number of black kids in the UK who didnít feel part of roots and culture. They were upwardly mobile, didnít want to go back to Africa, listened to a lot of soul music, liked dressing up on a Saturday night, were open about being influenced by their environment, but were as proud to be black as any dreadlocked Rastaman.

They were a generation that saw themselves as Black British, and they created lovers rock, the first indigenous black British pop style. Although the bassline always let you know it was reggae, its light, airey productions it acknowledged such influences as soul and pop music and its subject matter was almost exclusively devoted to matters of the heart. Hence the name. It found an enormous market that the mainstream music business never knew existed, and labels such as Lovers Rock, Arawak, Santic and Hawkeye put out a phenomenal amount of product in the late-1970s/early-1980s.

There were sound systems that played nothing but lovers rock and on more than one occasion it bubbled into the national charts. While the productions were deceptively sophisticated in many case the vocalists werenít, but they were an accurate representation of the styleís audience Ė young girls and likely lads. The trio Brown Sugar were still at school, another were called 15,16,17 because of their ages, while the grand old ladies of loverís rock, Janet Kay and Carroll Thompson, hadnít yet turned twenty. As far as the guys were concerned it was largely matter of celebration of self Ė Victor Romero Evans sang about putting on his "Slacks And Sovereigns" and Trevor Hartley of simply "Hanging Around".

Lovers rock was also one of the rare instances UK reggae has influenced Jamaica, as artists like Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs and Johnny Osbourne spent so long in London they got into it and took it back home with them.

Next chapter: Dancehall