Friday, 29 July 2016

Dave Hendley: King Tubby - an incomplete history (June 2003)

Fourteen years on from his tragic death King Tubby remains one of reggae’s most enigmatic personalities. Despite the worldwide fame his life and times remain shrouded in half-truths and mystery - a result of his own retiring personality and the reality that the tough world in which he operated was often hard for outsiders to penetrate. Tubby seemed phenomenally successful in staying out of the spotlight. He certainly did not seek publicity for himself and there were only ever two published interviews that I am aware of - one was my own article that appeared in Blues & Soul during the summer of 1977 and the other was Carl Gayle’s far more essential earlier piece for Black Music in February 1976. This new attempt to tell some of Tubby’s story will inevitably be a compromise of the real truth as it has to rely on peoples memory of events that occurred a quarter of a century ago and beyond. A couple of years before his death Augustus Pablo made this sharp observation that explained how the musical experimentation of the ‘70s had been a spontaneous thing that was never meant to be analyzed three decades later, “It’s the way you look ‘pon it now! You see it like a pattern and a time. You can’t look ‘pon it so.” I first visited Tubby’s studio in April 1977 having traveled to Jamaica with my friends John ‘Dub Vendor’ MacGillivrey, Chris Lane and his girlfriend Theresa. Even in those times many taxi drivers were reluctant to venture into Kingston 11 - but fortunately I had help from UK sound system operator Ken ‘Fatman’ Gordon who had good connections in the Waterhouse (also referred to by locals as Firehouse, because the area was so hot!) district. Fatman arranged for his brother ‘Bigga’, a Kingston cab driver to take us to over by Tubbys. We drove to Waterhouse one humid, overcast weekday afternoon and I recall some apprehension as Bigga’s beat up Austin Cambridge turned off Waltham Park Road into Bay Farm road and headed west across Olympic Way before cutting south through what seemed like a warren of increasingly pot-holed back streets into Tower Hill and on to Dromilly Avenue. The area was a mixture of run down concrete bungalows and zinc fence yards - it was unsettling quiet compared to other parts of town and this just added to what was either a real or imagined atmosphere of tension. The studio came as something of a surpise. Number18 Dromilly Avenue was just another anonymous bungalow on this quiet crescent shaped road. Unlike the neighboring dwellings there were a couple of cars parked outside, including an immaculate white Triumph 2000 that I later found out to belong to resident engineer Lloyd ‘Prince Jammy’ James - it was somehow surreal to see such a beautifully preserved vehicle in this distinctly third world landscape. Aside from the sound of muffled bass lines pounding from within, the CCTV camera and an electronically operated security gate were the only other pieces of evidence that No.18 was anything out of the ordinary...
Tubbys nephew, Keith Ruddock talking about King Tubby

David Rodigan on King Tubby

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