Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Basement 5 - 1965-1980

Basement 5

Released 1980 on ISLAND
Reviewed by petew, 10/10/2009ce


Bob Marley was quick to point out that he was hip to punk rock in 1977, with his tribute to the nascient punk scene by penning the forgettable Punky Reggae Party, a new wave/roots reggae soiree where the Wailers, The Maytals, The Jam The Damned & uhh Dr Feelgood would be providing the sounds! The song was a largely forgettable entry in the Marley oeuvre, but prescient nonetheless and the first tribute to this newly annointed brotherhood of punks and rastas. Meanwhile beneath the Westway, The Clash were professing their love of roots music with a typically spikey version of Junior Murvin's Police & Thieves.

On the face of it punk and reggae were two unlikely bedfellows, the blissed out one love of roots reggae and the amphetamine fuelled fuck you nihilism of punk weren't necessarily ripe for a bit of musical miscegenation. But perhaps through a feeling of alienation and victimisation from mainstream society black rastas and punks were brought together. Increasingly Hip DJs at punk gigs would play latest dub sounds to the exclusion of white punk rock as a preamble to the main event, whilst more and more punk bands were introducing reggae and dub influences into their work.


Meanwhile, by the late 70s Britain was entering what could be described as a post industrial era, unemployment, no investment and with Thatcher's policies starting to bite, this all created a period of social turbulence and upheaval. The landscape of our cities was desolate and bleak, the 60s social housing experiment had gone wrong and had created a realm of brutalist concrete high rises and estates. UK Decay was most definitely here and the hideous possibilities of JG Ballard's visions were coming to life.

Out of the wreckage of the late 70s, were a number of like minded bands who took their inspiration from all this bleakness. One being Basement 5, welding punk rage and dubwise rydims together, they could get any pessimist's party started and along with Killing Joke with their blend of "fascistic" millerian nihilism and industrial strength riffage both bands created a suitable soundtrack to all this 80s alienation.

Legendary Roxy DJ Don Letts was briefly vocalist but by 1979 he'd been replaced by rock photographer Dennis Morris and with J.R. on bass, Leo on guitar and ex-101'er and PIL sticksman Richard Dudanski on drums, this was the line up that would record their only (proper ) album released by Island Records in 1980.

Entitled 1965 -1980 (1960 being the date Morris came over to England, from Jamacia, I think)and produced by sonic alchemist Martin Hannett, the much feted producer was unable to create an unique sonic soundscape for the Basement 5 as he did for Joy Division, (apparently island were unhappy with the final mix) but whatever, he did conjure up a sympathetic enough canvas to accomodate the seething resentment, dub noise and sheet metal riffage into a mighty sound.

The 5 may have been singing from the same hymn sheet as Killing Joke, but lyrically their bleak realism was a world away from the Joke' occult gothic doomsday schtick. The nine songs on the album constitute a brief journey through the ruins of inner city life as we entered the decade of greed and self interest.There is no respite, until the needle locks into the run off on side 2.

The first track "Riot" rewrites Sly Stone's "There's a riot goin on" for the 1980s, with an atonal guitar riff mimicking police sirens kicking things off literally. Next, things don't get any brighter on one of the best cuts on the album, the futurist dub No Ball Games, a legend familiar to anyone who grew up on a council estate and a savage swipe at the brutalist modernist housing that had condemned millions to live in misery. By track three "Hard Work" we are now staring into an existential abyss as Morris kindly points out the sheer nothingness of the workaday life, though this is the weakest track on the album, Morris' vocals just sound hoarse and tired and the track just plods along. Things improve to conclude side One with "Immigration", featuring a relatively bouncy skank, with Dennis Morris old testament Prince Far-i style hectoring darkening the mood.

"Last White Christmas" kicks off side two, which could almost be a dubwise Sham 69, a real thug stomp offering little Xmas cheer and featuring a line which wouldn't have found much favour with the sisterhood "England is under female rule that's why we're we're turning into ruddy fools", not sure the political analysis bears much scrutiny there though...

The music works best when they stretch into PIL like dub terriority, as on the final two tracks Too Soon and Omega Man and arguably companion mini - album Basement 5 In Dub is a superior listen where the music is given space and doesn't degenerate into punk rock ordinaire as they occasionally do on a couple of the lesser tracks on the album.

The band split up in the early 80s and Morris formed Urban Shakedown, a drum and bass duo, who in their time preceeded drum n bass by at least 10 years! Wow!!

Reviews Index