Latin Quarter - Reggae Versus Bonzo's Master

"What's keeping the White House white? Is it chalk? Is it fog? Is it fear? Are they staying up most of the night and sending somebody out for a beer? Is it bedtime for Bonzo?" (From "America For Beginners")

Bonzo is a chimpanzee. A film extra, who in 1951 fooled around in front of the cameras at the side of probably the most famous film villain, and nowadays political crook, of the USA. His then master is now the master of that White House in Washington: Ronald Reagan. Ronnie would doubtlessly prefer to forget that film these days. Mike Jones from Liverpool however likes to remember this monkey business with great irony. Therefore he couldn't pass up this chance to include this impression in his engaging political lyric, with music by Steve Skaith. Neither of them like Ronald Reagan.

Mike and Steve are members of the British pop band Latin Quarter. They started making music together around three years ago. Mike Jones, an ex-college professor, wrote the lyrics. No love songs, but engaging thoughts and statements with a political aim. Steve Skaith, in those days still an in-house writer for Chappel Music Publishing in London, composed fitting music for the lyrics. He was happy to finally be able to do something musically satisfying for himself, and not, like in previous years, have to prostitute himself as a note-hack for Manilow & Co. "We somehow simply started to write", the tall Englishman remembered in an interview in the Hamburg musicians hotel "After Midnight". "We didn't know where it was leading, but it was clear, that these songs weren't for Barry Manilow." Busily the duo collected their self-penned songs onto a demo tape and made the rounds of the record companies. But only after they had started a band and begun the usual drudgery through the clubs did the talent scouts for the record companies take an interest. Suddenly a record deal was no longer a problem.

When one experiences the seven member band live on stage, like at the beginning of September in their three gigs at "Onkel Pö", one can understand the enthusiasm of the record companies. The five white and two black musicians convey an energy and enthusiasm, that isn't to be found every day. Their original mix of reggae, rock, funk and pop is a pure musical alchemy. The different musical experiences of the members - Linton Kwesi Jones Band, Annabel Lamb Band - flows together into an impulsive synthesis. Mike Jones doesn't appear with the others on stage. He is the eight member of Latin Quarter, only active as a lyricist.

His contribution isn't of less value, rather the opposite. With enormous sensitivity and rationality, he picks explosive contemporary themes out of the jungle of human existence and turns them into powerful testimonies. Football riots, Apartheid, Nicaragua, French Metalworkers strike, Falkland disaster, Nelson Mandela, John Lennon and Ronald Reagan - his eyes and ears are constantly open, his pen is as sharp as a Samurai sword. But this experienced lyrical activist in no way hangs himself onto any trends or tries to cash in on current events. A song like "Radio Africa", about "the monster Apartheid", was written in 1983, two years before the, at the moment escalating, atrocities in South Africa. "No Ordinary Return", a bitter melody about a stranded, desperate football fan, was also written twenty months ago. So before the bloody Liverpool - Turin battle in Brussels.

"We don't make such committed songs in order to preach to people," the former printer Steve Skaith vehemently defends himself against any accusations of propaganda. "We wanted to write brilliant songs, with music full of emotion. Joy, fear, sadness, anger, frustration, ecstasy - we put it all in. And the lyrics, that are politically oriented, have to be very good. One has to respect the words. Mike doesn't only write a clear statement, but also with a very precise style. He plays with the words, to provide the messages with sharp contours. Naturally we didn't want to be some new political band. We don't write for any particular groups or parties. We want to interest everyone in the problems, that concern all of humanity. I don't see myself as a preacher or propagandist."

However on a song like "Sandinista", sadly not to be found on the brilliant debut album "Modern Times", but only a part of the live set, Latin Quarter do attack in a propaganda like way. "True", affirms Steve Skaith, "in this case I will gladly appear as a propagandist. The problems in Nicaragua and in all of Central and South America touch me so deeply, that I just have to express my rage. My anger has to hit the enemies. One of them sits in the White House." Bonzo's master. "I have to shout at him: Stop this!", Steve suddenly comes emotionally into gear.

"Everywhere there's stripes and stars. Men in dark suits in unmarked cars. Sipping Jack Daniels in Third World bars. They're close to the edge. They're as close as you can get" (from "America For Beginners").

To Steve Skaith, the pulsating groove of reggae seem the best means of getting across critical words. In concert this choice of rhythm confirms itself even more. The response of the assembled people of Hamburg was extremely euphoric. And drummer Richard Stevens, "one of the best reggae percussionists in London" (Steve Skaith), gave a powerful performance and repeatedly drummed his band-mates to new efforts. This is where one heard his experience with the Linton Kwesi Johnson Band. Linton Kwesi also agitated with political word power. Reggae against Reagan.

WILLI ANDRESEN; Fachblatt FOCUS 1985