Small Axe Series Review ‘Lovers Rock’

Eagerly anticipated the Small Axe mini series set the tone for what seemed a promising depiction of important aspects of West Indian community life in the UK. Mangrove was a good start, informative and with many facts highlighting the tribulations and victimisation faced by the growing Afro-Caribbean population in the UK by the early 70s.  Ladbroke Grove, as an area,  really was a centrepoint, earning the name “frontline” for valid reasons.  No Black man was safe on the streets, good or bad, wise or indifferent and Mcqueen  touched on this adeptly, but the stories coming out of the area in those days were horrific and disturbing at least.

Lovers Rock on the other hand was a musical genre that followed ska, bluebeat, rocksteady and reggae and cemented the Blues parties of the early days.  In the ’70s and early ’80s  a young generation of West Indians picked up the baton of their parents, some of whom had been  holding paid gatherings from as early as the ’60s. Men and some women in those days would gather together on a Friday or Saturday evening to socialise, buy drinks and dance if they wished.

Some even had permanent bars set up in their living rooms with seating around the walls for those who just wished to talk and socialise, leaving the centre of the floor vacant for those who wished to dance. Initially, the music was played on a radiogram.

By the mid ’60s it was popular to hire a sound system and the more rooms one could make available in their houses the more people they could fit in. It was often a crammed affair with hoards of people waiting outside to pay their entry fee and get in.

Many an enterprising West Indian made good money from these weekly events by the time they had sold the food and marked up the drinks prices having bought them from a ‘cash and carry’  at reduced prices. After all,  in these hot spaces an endless supply of drinks was needed.  This was happening right across the country in densely West Indian populated areas.  People would even travel from one major city to another to attend a “good Blues party.” By the 70s, it was the elders who would be in the kitchen cooking the food, serving and guarding the drinks – not to mention counting the money.

The music, Lovers Rock, hailed a romantic tuneful era and in this time “the rub” dance, an intimate form of dancing became popular with couples – and for strangers  if one was so inclined as it afforded the opportunity for the shy and reticent to get close to someone whom they admired.

Unfortunately,  although the film captured one or two significant moments it would have been a great opportunity to portray the significance of the sound system crew. Jamaica is the birthplace of rap. It was the sound system crew that could make or break a party with the DJs rhythmically interjecting at appropriate times to set and maintain the tone and mood. It was never the audience raising  their voices for several minutes a cappella – a few seconds was always popular.

The inference of any gay activity, though it may have existed,  would have been hard to prove at a time when it was barely legal.  The countries and culture of where these people originated would have been akin to taking one’s life into one’s hands and I dare say a grandma would have been  somewhere in the background ready with the  strap to bring closure to any type “monkey” business whether gay or heterosexual and in no uncertain terms.  The most you would ever witness would have  been close dancing.  Upper rooms were used for coats,  putting babies to sleep and for the older generation to be close by but out of site – often drinking and chatting amongst themselves and taking it in turns to relieve those working in the kitchen downstairs.

The fact that the paying guests would have prepared all week for these nights, including choosing what to wear and who to go with (and leave with) was entirely missed.

The notion of someone writhing around on the dance floor in their Saturday night best,  which probably cost a whole week’s wages,  is totally unheard of. I think the point also explains the improbability of the vain man in the white suite with a comb in his pocket, ensuring not a hair was out of place,  seen lying down on the ground at the back of the unkempt garden on top of the hostess.

The steamy corridors as one walked in, usually filled with men discretely standing guard and scrutinising all the entrants, necessitated a certain side movement to get through without upsetting anyone’s shoes or hairstyle – a wrong move could cost you dearly. That was entirely missed.

It was good to hear some of the golden oldies though – they were so popular that all through the ’90s and noughties there were endless revival events.

On the other hand it is wonderful to have our stories told from differing perspectives igniting debates whilst portraying lifestyles and histories that would have otherwise remained hidden.

An Editions Lifestyle Review