Counter Action: ‘Steel Leg Vs The Electric Dread’ – Extra-Curricular Post-Punk Dub Manoeuvres
Each week our resident ‘man of mystery’ (alright he works in a record shop) chooses to shine his vinyl shaped spotlight on a dimly lit corner of that wonderful world of ‘7”s, 12”s, LPs etc. that we call, err, records. The records chosen needn’t cost an arm and a leg, be especially rare, or even be so obscure that you out there in ‘normal land’ are like never-ever-ever going to find one – in fact, they don’t have to be good at all (although that does help). No, our record shop employee has a far more noble aim – namely to celebrate the seldom-celebrated, to tell the story of a record with a story to tell – no genre shall go unturned, after all, a tune, is a tune, is a tune…
This editions vinyl shaped missive is this under-the-radar 1978 12” EP from punk luminaries Don Letts, Keith Levene and Jah Wobble, not forgetting hired hand, and close friend of Wobble, Vince Bracken (that’s him in the hood btw, or is it?)
Received wisdom might suggest that Lydon & Co. at the fag-end of the ‘70s were not familiar with the notion of good ol’ fashioned ‘hard work’, a quick shimmy under the post-punk carpet however, reveals a hot bed of activity that suggests otherwise; think Wobble’s Dreadlock Don’t Deal In Wedlock’ 12”, the ‘Betrayal’ LP, mini-LP ‘V.I.E.P.’, not forgetting the proto-club delights of the ‘How Much Are They’ and ‘Snakecharmer’ EPs with Holgar Czukay, Francois Kervorkian and, err, the Edge. If that’s not proof positive then I’ll raise you that super-cool Vivian Goldman 7” (12” on 99 Records in the US) which counted Adrian Sherwood, Keith Levene amongst its line-up with production duties from a certain John Lydon no less.
The pun-tastically named ‘Steel Leg Vs the Electric Dread’, parodies the ‘King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown’ nom-de-plumes so beloved of their reggae heroes, with ‘Steel Leg’ being Wobble’s mate Vince Bracken on vocals whilst Don Letts became the ‘Electric Dread’ (but of course). Released in the wake of Public Image Limited’s ‘First Issue’ long player, ‘Steel Leg Vs The Electric Dread’ went further still and functions as the ‘missing link’ between their first album and the mighty ‘Metal Box’. The EP opener is a gloriously spiky, feckless, racket with Vince giving it his best Johnny Rotten (via Jimmy Pursey), somehow it works. NB* the vocal and hooded figure on the sleeve was long rumoured to be Mr Lydon himself, strenuously denied btw.
‘Stratetime & The Wildman’ goes the whole hog, 3,22 of other-wordly dub effects, bass rumbles, cymbal splashes and more delay action than you can shake a spliff at, recorded, like the rest of the EP, on downtime at the super-cheap Gooseberry Sound used by PIL on parts of ‘First Issue’ too.
Ensuring that this was a genuine ‘cultural exchange’ Don Letts lends his vocal to quite possibly one of the best reggae puns ever in ‘Haile Unlikely’, Letts’ ever-so-slightly-wayward vocals have a certain charm, whilst Wobbles bass runs lock arms with future Tackhead/On-U-Sound rhythm specialist Keith Le Blanc (at least I think that’s who it is?). The studio synth, later to put to good use on ‘Metal Box’, gets a solid workout with all manner of squeaks, shrieks and ghostly sonic apparitions leading us further down the dub-shaped-rabbit-hole….
…and talking of dub-shaped-rabbit-holes…you could do a lot worse than spend 4 minutes with ‘Unlikely Pub’, the last track on the EP….
Visit the release HERE.