© 2011 Denise V. Dunn



In celebration of Black History Month, my friend Lorna and I went to see ‘The Story of Lovers Rock’ at the Midlands Arts Centre in Birmingham.  This feature length documentary by director and producer Menelik Shabazz, tells the story of the “rebel generation” of the UK’s young Afro-Caribbean’s in the late 1970’s and 80’s. I was taken on a journey down musical memory lane and given an informative social and political history lesson my generation was too young to remember or fully comprehend.

Lover’s Rock or ‘romantic reggae’ as it was often dubbed, was a genre of black British reggae music that influenced artists such as Sade, Culture Club, UB40, and The Police. It was here the original ‘girl power’ made famous by the Spice Girls in the 1990’s  was born, when female artists such as the late Louisa Marks (‘Caught You In a Lie‘), Janet Kay (‘Silly Games’), Carol Thompson (I’m So Sorry’), burst onto the scene with songs women could easily identify and relate to.

The documentary also featured archive footage, dance, interviews,  live performances from the late Jean Adebambo (‘Paradise’), Janet Kay, Peter Hunnigale, Sandra Cross, Trevor Walters, Sylvia Tella, Aswad, and Maxi Priest. Comedy sketches were provided by the likes of Angie Le Mar, John Simmit, Eddie Nestor and Robbie Gee, reminiscing about growing up during this era.

When Lover’s Rock emerged in the late 70’s, I was only seven years old; way too young to follow any sound system, however my parents were not. My mother remembers following sound systems, recalling how people followed good sound systems because they knew they would hear good music. She fondly recalls various day trips, including a trip to Liverpool and dancing to lover’s rock on a ferry sailing around the Liverpool dock. My dad remembers King Size Sound, Lloydie Coxsone’s sound system. The best parties, mom says during this era, were when the London and Birmingham sound systems would compete against each other as to who had the newest and best music. “Two sound systems competing against each other was always a good night.” However the downside to two sound systems competing against each other were the fights that would occasionally break out. She recalls attending a party in Digbeth where a fight broke out at the front where the sound systems were playing. Someone turned off the lights and everyone ran to get out, whilst everybody was trying to get out, someone started to steal coats from the cloakroom. On that particular night she lost her beige mac and a man had his brand new leather jacket stolen.

Although I was too young to follow the various sound systems, I did however love the music (and still do). Those participating in the documentary talked about the specialised record shops in London selling Lover’s Rock, in Birmingham Don Christie’s on the Ladypool Road was the place to go to for all the latest Lover’s Rock releases. Summit and Bailey’s would later join Don Christie as being the other specialist record shops to sell Lover’s Rock and reggae music. I recall the many times as a child accompanying my dad to Don Christie’s on Saturday‘s. I can still remember being inside the shop seeing the big wooden speaker boxes and feeling the heavy bass vibrating through the floor and through my entire body.

As well as talking about the music, the documentary highlighted the dancing during this genre. Watching the dancers, dance to Lover’s Rock and hearing those featured in the documentary talk about their experiences of ‘scrubbing’ as the dance was called, as a child I never realised how intimate and sexy ‘scrubbing’ actually was. I remember seeing couples dancing in this way at family parties. Little did I realise the couples I saw ‘scrubbing’ weren’t always actually husband and wife, or even boyfriend and girlfriend, just two people dancing in the dark to romantic reggae music.  Victor Romeo Evans, who I remember fondly as Bellamy in ‘No Problem’, and Angie Le Mar both said in their interviews sometimes the person you were ‘scrubbing’ with were sometimes ugly.  Angie Le Mar recalls dancing with a man in the dark and when the lights came on he was really ugly and kept following her around the party. She provided the funniest comment in the documentary “He found love, and you found the light.”

Listening to Lover’s Rock as a child, I was oblivious to the fact this genre of music provided a coping mechanism against a backdrop of racial tension including the ‘Sus Law’ – a law allowing police officers to stop, search and arrest anyone as a crime prevention tactic. Many police officers abused this law to harass young black men. Linton Kwesi Johnson and others in the documentary discussed the racial tension that was taking place during 80‘s and the racism they encountered. However, I do recall seeing news coverage of the Brixton riots on television.

As the 90’s approached Lover’s Rock began to wane in the UK, during the documentary the audience laughed when they heard Lover’s Rock has gained a new lease of life in Japan.  This was no surprise to me as I visited the country in 2010.  Rankin Taxi, is Japan’s biggest reggae star. Taxi went to Jamaica in the early 80’s, whilst there, his Jamaican friends introduced him to reggae, he loved it so much he took it back to Japan. Janet Kay is big in Japan. One thing that surprised me watching the documentary was that she never signed a record deal until she signed with Sony Music Japan in the 90’s. Janet has recorded seven albums that were released in Japan only. Japanese artists such as Sandeii, Iria and Machaco whose love of Jamaica is conveyed in her music, confirming her status as one of Japan’s most successful female vocalist in the history of Japanese reggae. As well as Japan, Lover’s Rock is also popular in Venezuela, Australia and New Zealand. In the UK, artists such as Ava Leigh are bringing Lover’s Rock back.


 Check out the trailer of ‘THE STORY OF LOVER’S ROCK’ here…


*All rights reserved.  No part of this article may be reproduced in any form or by any means without prior written permission of the writer Denise V. Dunn.*

One Response to “FEATURED ARTICLE”

  1. Beresford Says:

    Nostolgic!! I left Small Heath (Birmingham) just before the ‘Lovers Rock’ era but I can definitely identify. I was specially amused by your mention of day trips and the whole Liverpool ferry. Seem that went on for a longtime prior to Lovers Rock as a kid I did this accompanied my parent on the trip twice, they did the party thing on the ferry too. The music was different then ‘Blue beat and Ska’, guess the music morphed into ‘Lovers Rock’ with my generation.

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