Late Night Tales: Don Letts - Version Excursion (2xLP Vinyl Compilation)

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Cultural polymath - pop star, filmmaker, radio broadcaster, commentator, Grammy winner. Oh and DJ, too. Take your pick from the many coats worn by our selector, Don Letts aka The Rebel Dread.

Born in Brixton, a child of the Windrush Generation, Letts’ slippery and unorthodox career is somewhat hard to define, without taking a few detours around London, New York and Jamaica. He began his working life managing the dauntingly hip Acme Attractions on Chelsea’s Kings Road, where he made a mark with his attitude, dress and, especially, the pounding dub reggae that vibrated the shop’s walls. His first gig as a DJ at the short-lived Roxy in Neal Street, became mythical for turning a generation of punks on to reggae. They in turn hipped him to their DIY ethos resulting in his reinvention as a filmmaker. This led to a shed-load of music videos (Linton Kwesi Johnson, The Clash, Bob Marley) not to mention documentaries on the likes of Gil Scott-Heron, George Clinton and Sun Ra.

In the ’80s, he was part of Mick Jones’ new venture, Big Audio Dynamite and his innovative use of samples were a core part of their sound. Listeners of his weekly 6 Music radio show are taken on a musical safari that moves seamlessly between time, space and genre. It’s not called Culture Clash Radio for nothing. So this latest bulletin from Letts HQ is merely one angle of a multifaceted personality, his take on the JA tradition of the cover version.

The history of Caribbean music owes a debt to R&B as many of the early island releases were cover versions of US 45s. Ska’s breakthrough commercially, Millie Small’s ‘My Boy Lollipop’, was originally recorded by Barbie Gaye in ’50s New York. Cover versions became quite a thing in Jamaica and Don, following in that tradition, has dug deep with a selection of interesting dubbed out covers including thirteen exclusives.

“A disciple of sound system, raised on reggae n’ bass culture my go to sound was dub. Besides being spacious and sonically adventurous at the same time, its most appealing aspect was the space it left to put yourself ‘in the mix’ underpinned by Jamaica’s gift to the world - bass. But that’s only half the story as the duality of my existence meant I was also checking what the Caucasian crew were up to not to mention the explosion of black music coming in from the States. That’s why this version excursion crosses time space and genre, from The Beach Boys to The Beatles, Nina Simone to Marvin Gaye, The Bee Gees to Kool & The Gang, The Clash to Joy Division and beyond. You’d think it impossible to draw a line between ‘em but not in my world. Fortunately, the ‘cover version’ has played an integral part in the evolution of Jamaican music and dub covers were just a natural extension.”

There’s a diverse mix of classic and new, with legendary figures like John Holt, The Tamlins and Cornell Campbell, mixed in with British veterans Mad Professor and the irrepressible Dennis Bovell, while (relatively) young striplings Kiko Bun, Emily Capell and Prince Fatty deliver the goods, with laidback Texan groovers Khruangbin also offering an exclusive bass heavy-delight.

The song choices are diverse, from French dubsters’ OBF’s renditions of ‘Sixteen Tons’, the miners’ paean popularised by Tennessee Ernie Ford in the 1950s, to Ash Walker’s refix of Omar’s ‘There’s Nothing Like This’ and ‘All I Do Is Think About You’, immortalised by the ill-fated Tammi Terrell and preserved here by Quantic (the latter two both exclusives). Being a Rebel Dread compilation, there’s a cover (by Wrongtom Meets The Rockers) of The Clash’s ‘Lost In The Supermarket’ while Don’s exclusive, naturally, is a rendition of Big Audio Dynamite’s debut hit, ‘E = MC2’.

“Truth be told I’ve wanted to work with the Late Night Tales crew from the get go. We’re talking nearly two decades such was the allure of their musical aesthetic typified by curators like Nightmares on Wax, The Flaming Lips, MGMT, Trentemoller, Khruangbin and countless others. Now being as old as rock n’ roll (born in ‘56) and having nearly 20 years of Culture Clash Radio under my belt I figured I was tooled up to musically juggle with the best of ‘em. But I wanted to carve out a space that was distinctly my own - something that reflected my musical journey and the culture clash that’s made me the man I am today.”


Was anticipating the arrival of this for a while and it has been well worth the wait. Caught the Don at a recent book signing in Belfast and he dropped some of these killer tunes in a short deejay set ,whetting the appetite for more. That night he previewed dubwise versions of tunes by the Clash, Joy Division and his band with the former’s Mick Jones,the mighty Big Audio Dynamite. These are all happily present and correct ,alongside an astounding collection of heavyweight cover versions with an understandable deep reggae flavour. Don Letts will need no introduction to legions of music lovers who have enjoyed his educational Culture Clash radio shows and his appearances deejaying across the nation. He is a musical institution and a respected selector of the very highest calibre There are therefore, understandably, many exclusives and rarities here , a real musical feast for anyone with even a passing interest in reggae music as well as for the more seasoned connoisseur. As previously noted by another reviewer, this really is all killer no filler and nicely sequenced to boot. Righteous stuff as always from the Rebel Dread! One Love!

By: Mr. Raul Sputnik

A1 Ghetto Priest– Hercules (North Street West 'Late Night Tales' Dub)
A2 Prince Fatty & Shniece McMenamin– Black Rabbit
A3 Wrongtom Meets The Rockers– Dub In The Supermarket
A4 Gaudi Meets The Rebel Dread Ft. Emily Capell– E = MC²
A5 Rude Boy (27)– Superstylin'
B1 Capitol 1212 Ft. Earl 16*– Love Will Tear Us Apart (Full Vocal Dub)
B2 Quantic Presenta Flowering Inferno– All I Do Is Think About You (Far East Dub)
B3 Zoe Devlin Ft. Tim Hutton– Caroline No
B4 John Holt– You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine (Mad Professor 2021 Dub)
B5 Cornell Campbell– Ital City Dub
B6 Matumbi– (I Can't Get Enough Of) That Reggae Stuff (Dennis Bovell Remix)
C1 Gentleman's Dub Club Ft. Kiko Bun– Use Me (Ben McKone Dub)
C2 Black Box Recorder– Uptown Top Ranking
C3 OBF– Sixteen Tons Of Dub
C4 Yasushi Ide– Ain't No Sunshine (Space Dub Mix)
C5 The Tamlins– Baltimore
D1 15 16 17– Emotion (Dennis Bovell Remix)
D2 Ash Walker– There's Nothing Like This
D3 The Senior Allstars– Slipping Into Darkness
D4 Easy Star All-Stars– Within You Without You
D5 Khruangbin– Dern Kala (Khruangbin Dub Mix)

Virgin heavyweight 180 gram vinyl.
Includes bonus download code to Don Lett's mix plus unmixed tracks in FLAC, WAV & MP3 formats.