Paul and I were, last week, again invited to join the TURNTABLE TALK chat on Dave Ruch’s blog, ‘A Sound Day.‘ This is an excellent site to visit and satisfy your musical curiosity on all genres of music, mainly focused on the 60s, 70s and 80s. Dave is a prolific writer and the articles are filled with fascinating facts and trivia.
Thanks again to Dave for inviting Once Upon a Time in The ‘70s to join in this month’s topic, ‘This Song’s Going Places – a song we like that’s ‘going somewhere.’
When I saw the prompt, one song came immediately to mind. I first heard it on the John Peel Radio show in the late-Seventies and suddenly, like an epiphany, I discovered a whole new world of sound to explore.
I’d been interested in reggae music since being invited to an impromptu basement party in London a year or so earlier. There was by now, though, a fresh new sound dancing across the airwaves – a vibrant, happy and buoyant music that called upon Reggae’s pre-cursor for inspiration.
Suddenly, bands like Madness, The Specials, The Selecter, Bodysnatchers etc were en vogue. They were the new ‘punk,’ and opened a whole new rabbit hole down which I’d travel – and have yet to re-emerge!
The rise to prominence of bands on the new ‘2 Tone’ label shone a spotlight on those who had gone before. Suddenly, radio stations decided it was ‘cool’ to play Jamaican bands from the late Fifties and early to mid-Sixties, citing them as the creative influence for those commanding the UK Charts at that time.
Ska music had been re-born! As a music form, it has never really left us since, but its popularity further surged again in the early 21st century when punk bands melded frantic back-beats into their style.
And the track that signalled the start of a new musical journey for me ….? (God, I hate that expression!)
‘Train to Skaville’ by The Ethiopians
It’s mainly instrumental – I counted only twenty-four different words being used in its two minutes and fifty-three seconds – and spent 6 weeks in the lower reaches of the UK charts in 1967, peaking at #40. (In the late ‘60s, Ska morphed into Rocksteady with a slower beat, and ultimately into Reggae. ‘Train to Skaville’ could therefore be termed by some as more Rocksteady. But they’d be wrong! It’s still Ska … to me anyway.)
A stonemason by trade, Leonard Dillon moved from Port Antionio, Jamaica, to Trench Town in search of work. There, he lodged with the aunt of an old school friend, King Sporty, who was by then a popular sound system deejay. Through Sporty (who co-wrote ‘Buffalo Soldier’ with Bob Marley) he was introduced to Peter Tosh who in turn introduced Leonard to Bob and the other Wailers.
With their help in backing vocals, Dillon recorded some mento songs (Jamaican folk / calypso sounding music that pre-dated ska and reggae) under the name, ‘Jack Sparrow.’ However, despite the quality assistance, none of the three releases made any impact and Dillon left the famous Studio 1 stable to form a harmony group with Stephen Taylor and Aston Morrison.
Still unnamed, they returned to Studio 1 to cut some tracks, and at that point, studio boss, Clement ‘Sir Coxone’ Dodd insisted they adopt the name, The Ethiopians, in light of Dillon’s recent conversion to the Rastafari religion.
Fourteen singles were released throughout 1966 and 1967, several of which proved ‘popular,’ but with finances proving unpredictable, Aston Morrison left, leaving the band as a duo. Fortunately, a private backer came forward to fund the recording of another three singles, the final of which was ‘Train To Skaville.’
It wasn’t exactly a massive ‘smash hit,’ but it did gain some attention for the band and a couple of UK tours came on the back of the song gaining airplay and breaking into the Top 75 during 1967.
Over the following years, The Ethiopians continued to record, sometimes with the addition of temporary members, until sadly, Taylor was knocked down and killed in a traffic accident.
After a long period coming to terms with the loss of his singing partner, Leonard Dillon got back to recording as a solo artist, The Ethiopian.
Leonard passed away, aged sixty-nine, in 2011.
Running a ‘70s themed blog with my old pal, Paul, it would be remiss of me not to make even a passing reference to song from back then that not only fits Dave’s remit for this post, but remains one of my Top Ten album tracks of all time.
I’m not sure – have I mentioned previously that my greatest (at least, ‘greatest equal’) musical ‘hero’ is Rory Gallagher?
(Oh – I have? What’s that? ‘Many’ a time. Ok, sorry – I’ll keep this brief.)
‘Blueprint’ was Rory’s third studio album as a solo artist; it was the first with the classic McAvoy (bass); Martin (keyboards) and De’Ath (drums) backing line-up. It was released in February 1973 just a month before I saw him play live for the first time at The Apollo, Glasgow.
That night, Rory incorporated four tracks from the new album into his set list. Of course, all the new material went down a storm, but one track stood out for me:
‘Race The Breeze.’
This is another ‘train’ song, but unlike The Ethiopians, Rory doesn’t seem to have any particular destination in mind. Also of contrast, are the lyrics – there are some, for a start! Proper lyrics that is.
Like many blues artists before him, Rory had a fascination of old trains (the old Iron Horse types that criss-crossed USA) and backed by a rhythm section that evokes images of a steam train hurtling down the track, Rory celebrates the joyous feelings of speed and freedom. Total freedom – no ties whatsoever.
The guitar work on this track is outstanding. Crisp, clean and uncluttered.
Of all the music I have in my collection, of all the albums, all the singles, this is the one track that best transports me somewhere else when I close my eyes and listen.
It is indeed a song that takes me to another place altogether. A song of going somewhere – I just don’t know where.
Neither do I care.
(Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson from Glasgow – April 2023)