The Pizza Diaries #1: Lukey Roots Qc
Though the year may be ending there's no time like the present to kick off a brand new series, especially when there's pizza involved! The latest addition to the ever-growing list of Ransom Note regulars is none other than the magnificent Radioactive Man himself, Keith Tenniswood. So it's time to settle down and read the first in a series of conversations between Keith and friends, set around pizza discovered on his travels;
One good thing about pizza, when it hits you, you feel no pain.
So hit me with pizza, hit me with pizza.
Lets find out where the real shit is…
Food and booze can lead to only one thing… Music..
Heres the first of many meetings over good (hopefully wood fired ) pizza..
The Pizza Diaries Chapter #1: Lukey Roots QC
Our first luncheon of the circular dough is with Lukey Roots QC, the man behind his own hand built sound system, Vibration – (bass amp and pre-amp by Jah Tubby) and now label boss of UNA Sound, currently here in Tarifa, Spain, doing parties with a fine selection of mostly 7 inch dubs…
La Tribu at Valdevaqueros Beach, Tarifa, Spain
Keith: So, Luke we know there are a lot of pizza places in Tarifa. We've been to a few during our stay why did you want to bring us to this one?
Luke: I've had good food experience here before, when passing on this road which runs from Tarifa, a few minutes south/east of here, in the direction of Cadiz. This is the Costa de la Luz, the Coast of Light, on the Atlantic Ocean in southern Spain. Valdevaqueros Beach is right behind us which is the main kite surfing beach here in Tarifa. So I’ve also been here for pizza after the beach.
So we’ve been working on a mix this week for the label while I’ve been visiting you, the label’s called Una Sound, can you tell us how you got the name Una Sound because it’s a nice story…
The name kind of works in Spanish and in English, it’s kind of a universal name I thought. It's named after a very special girl called Una who's steady and bold, while sweet and melodious, and very playful – always lots of fun to dance with.
So that sort of sums up what you feel what the label's gonna be about, then.
YES! Those are qualities I like in music and they inspire me in people as well.
What was the first reggae artist – I was gonna say you bought but that might be a bit obvious – but that really inspired you and took you on the path to reggae music?
I’ll tell you pointed me toward the path to reggae music, it was two bands really. One being the Clash and the other wasn't just a band, it was more… it was a sound system as well as a band… and that’s The Orb. Then I think in terms of really drawing me into reggae it wasn’t any particular recording artist as such, but I would credit the DJs and sound systems – particularly the Dub Club in London, Jah Shaka, the Manasseh crew, RDK – and community radio stations like RJR, record shops like Dub Vendor and Bob Brooks’ Reggae Revive.
And you spent some time in Scotland with Messenger sound system?
Steve Gad’s ‘Messenger Sound’ yeah – he'd just finished putting his proper Sound together, he'd been putting together a real heavy custom Jamaican reggae style sound system. He'd been doin' his thing for a long time, over ten years, but, as I believe, he had not long since finished putting it together, like proper. My friend Ed and I hired him for a dance to raise some money for a charity Africa and we had a great turnout and a great crowd and he said, ‘do you want to keep promoting me for a while’? You know, I wanted to join the music and the sound, so we did that for a few years. Ed and I became Messenger's promoters.
Did you DJ on that rig?
Yeah we did sometimes which was a huge buzz after we'd carried speakers around as well as putting all the posters up and flyers around town. No facebook back then. A lot of people would come stay with us, when they came up and I got to know Nick Manasseh and Ishu, Markie Lyrics from RDK, we got to know Mikey Dread from Channel One, Joey Jay from Kiss FM came up and stayed at my place, Jah Youth came up as well, eventually Shaka himself came up and played on our Sound which was a big deal. I don’t think he plays often on other Sounds.
Was it big in Edinburgh?
Yes, one of the most popular nights in town, and the first proper dub sound system in Scotland and it’s become a very long-running event now. We used to play at the same place where Pure was, we were the night before Pure, at the Venue. So the techno legends from Detroit like Derrick May were coming over, and Andrew Weatherall played there loads on Fridays. In that way I look back on it as a precursor to my future residency at Wang, dubbing around the likes of these massive names from the dance world. There was another hard Scottish techno night a few yards down the road, Sativa, which was Dave Tarrida’s club, and there was Messenger. They were the places to dance in Edinburgh.
Steve, I have to say, if you ever get a hold of any old Messenger session tapes, Steve's touch, his selection and his whole thing is just fabulous, he's a really terrific selector and very sincere in his approach as well. He's a consummate master of the Sound.
And when did you first meet Lou and Nathan, the Wang instigators (and now Mr and Mrs Wang with 2 kids!) ?
Well I think even before I moved to Scotland I knew Nathan, because my friend Chris Rotter was at 6th form college with Nathan doing sound engineering.
Chris is a very good friend of mine too, and probably introduced us..
Yep, he did. So I came down from Scotland in the late 90s and started building my first speakers and put my own Sound together. We used to DJ at the Foundry, me and Chris, and then that's when I started with Wang.
I spent half my life in there.
Do they sell pizza in the Foundry?
No. Strictly booze. They got a good Tequila slammer in there but you couldn't get a pizza margherita.
So reggae's been a big influence, obviously, and it's also taken you to Jamaica…
It drew me a number of times to Jamaica. Yeah I recorded some dubplates there in the 90s and that was always a bit of a negotiation…
And was that through people who you knew there or did you just think “I want to go to Jamaica because I love reggae music”?
I had a friend in the countryside who I could stay with but she wasn’t in the music business. I didn't have anyone to take me around the studios and stuff the first few times.
Quite a bold move.
Yeah, a pretty nervy experience as a young whitey with not much of a clue. But I made excursions into Kingston each time, you know, trying to penetrate a little bit deeper downtown. You hear lots of worrying tales there in Kingston and you certainly aren’t always safe. I used to go to Studio One which is half way downtown, you know you're getting closer into the hot spots and you get to Brentford Road…
King Stitt would be on the door who was a very interesting looking character to say the least and then the guys on the street outside Studio One, they're great, they recognize you, if you haven't been for twelve months, you know, they remember every detail from the last time. They're very sharp guys. And nice people. So they would say oh, come and we'll show you around this neighbourhood and that neighbourhood. And you get to go, you know, round a little further. But even those guys would only be comfortable within a limited radius. And then we'd have to wind up the windows and we don't turn this way and we don't turn that way.
So it seemed to require hooking up with different people to see different parts of the town. On one of the later trips I went to Kingston for Dennis Brown’s funeral which was a huge public event in the National Heroes Park, and I met a lot of characters on that special day… all the radio stations had been playing straight Dennis Brown selection all week and the atmosphere was very, erm… lively. Another time I linked with some dreads I knew from Geneva who were already producing original material with Jamaican artists for their label, Addis Records. So, Gil and Stef, they were in Kingston recording Vin Gordon that day, the trombone player from the Skatalites, and with them I went around bit and met Lone Ranger and Willie Williams and others.
It was always thrilling to get close to the reggae community and see these faces and names that were familiar to me from hundreds of record sleeves back home. I was a hardcore roots-head back then and spent about ten years listening to nothing else.
Well how does that work? Do you go into a session with an engineer or what do you do? Do you have your session and go ‘this is the rhythm I want to do’?
Yeah, basically, they've all got riddim banks of everything you might want.
On tape or is it on computer these days?
To be honest I didn’t know where they were coming from. I found it hard to see past all the youths in the doorway that wanted to voice, that's the main obstacle. It's very easy to find willing voices but it’s a hustle kind of situation when it comes to making dates and deals and arranging prices – lots of assertive MCs eager to earn a few dollars.
I'm still very interested as to what's involved – do you mix your own version of it?
Typically what you're doing out there is getting ‘specials’ done. You go in and you tell them the name of the rhythm you’re after or if you want they'll play you some rhythms until you find the style you want.
Ok so back to the new label. So the first release being my twelve, can you see some sevens coming out?
Yeah, I've got some songs I made with the Rotter a while ago that fall into three pairs, and they’re fun tracks, I was thinking of a series of sevens. YOU’VE got something in the vault that I see as a great seven inch release, actually. And I have another something in mind. Yes, I definitely want to press sevens. It’s such a fun format. Each one a nugget. Vocal one on side, dub version on the other. Quick flips, under echo. Bunches on the same riddim. I’ve brought mostly sevens down here for now because they’re portable. I had a reggae night in Islington in the 90s called ‘Sevens Heaven’.
Let's talk soundsystem, because you built your own sound system apart from the amps and the components which you got from Jah Tubby's. Did you buy all the speakers from there as well?
No, I got all my first speaker drivers from Henry’s Audio on Edgeware Road in west London. I love that place. It’s not a reggae culture place but it’s where my dreams became fulfillable, by me. They’re so ridiculously moody when you walk in but they warm up if you apply a little charm. Unlike certain record shops I can think of!
So, Jah Tubby is a famous UK sound man: he DJ's on his own sound system and produces records but he also makes his own amplifiers and mixers, like King Tubby used to make.
Yeah, as well as his recording studio he has a manufacturing workshop for sound system gear.
And you have to order them many months in advance?
Yeah you do have to wait weeks for them to come through, he's making stuff, he was shipping stuff internationally quite a lot. This was a while ago, but I would hope it’s still true.
Did you look into what wood was good to use…
Yeah it's a fairly standard thing I think most people go for the 3/4 inch marine ply, which is heavy. For my first boxes, I got the dimensions from Markie Lyrics who's helped a lot of people get going, some of them now a pretty big deal, in Switzerland and Italy and places.
It's quite impressive hand building your own sound system and buying your amp from Jah Tubby's which is probably the best in London you could get, right?
I would say so. I don't know now about modern digital amplifiers that you can carry under one arm but, for what Tubby made me, it doesn't even seem to be a straight comparison between something that comes out of Tubby's workshop and a commercially branded item off the shop shelf. For playing reggae and dub you've got to have the force!
…and probably some good ganja!
The Pizza verdict
Somewhat disappointed with this margherita, not as good as I remembered, having been here before. Perhaps my judgement is affected by the FABULOUS pizza we ate the other day at the establishment in town by the same name. (They used to be under the same ownership, but not since many years now.) Now, the sauce is tasty and the sprinkle of oregano dances fragrantly in the space left unoccupied where there might otherwise be toppings, on this perfectly decent margherita, but overall i'm afraid to say it ultimately fails to fly due to lack of presence in the BASE. The bread is thin but somehow it doesn't delight, seems dull, and if you don’t have a good base, well you don’t have good pizza.
DECENT pizza, but lacks PIZAZZ.
Keith: Ham, Salami and Peppers
Not as impressed as I thought I would be after Luke bigged it up.
Pretty good crispy base but lacked in the tomato sauce flavour …
But on the whole a goodie..
To be enjoyed in the sunshine here and a very cold beer..
Always a pleasure.