Dennis Bovell knocked out some of the ’80s finest dub, disco and post-punk gems – both as a solo artist and as a producer for I Roy, Steel Pulse, The Slits and many more
Dennis Bovell is a British Reggae legend. He is the originator of Lover’s Rock and the producer of big hits such as ‘Silly Games’ (Janet Kay) and ‘After Tonight’ with his band Matumbi.
He is also a singer, multi instrumentalist and sound engineer known for his dubs in a unique style and creativity where he experiments with various styles and musical influences.
As a producer, musician, songwriter and engineer, Bovell welded together dub, disco, funk and post-punk — sometimes all at once — and revolutionised the sound of British music. He was behind perhaps the greatest lovers rock track to hit the UK pop charts, Janet Kay’s ‘Silly Games’, and has an incredible discography of dub records to his name, the most recent of which Dub 4 Daze dropped at the end of 2015 on Glitterbeat Records.
Dennis Bovell was born in St Peter, Barbados in 1953 but moved to London at the age of 12. Growing up in urban UK he was exposed to many different cultures, ethnicities and styles of music. These formative experiences left a deep impression. While Bovell later gravitated to the reggae scene and formed his own soundsystem, Jah Sufferer, he was also a musician in rock and soul bands, and was in a psychedelic Hendrix tribute group, Stonehenge.
He became part of the reggae band Matumbi in the ’70s, a prescient indication of his wonderful gift for songwriting and melancholic roots melodies — check 1978 debut album Seven Seals for proof. Matumbi became the backing band for many touring Jamaican reggae stars when they played in England, including I-Roy, Ken Boothe and Johnny Clarke.
While Bovell is a talented musician it’s his material as a producer and engineer that deserves the most props. After cutting dub albums as Blackbeard, 4th Street Orchestra and under his own name, and famously helping provide musical accompaniment to the dub poetry of London-via-Jamaica wordsmith Linton Kwesi Johnson, he became an in-demand producer. Bovell’s Barbados roots and British upbringing gave him a unique perspective and different influences that peppered his sound. There’s a distinct heaviness to his music — the bass a rib-cage rattling undertow, the drums a polyrhythmic shuffle — that he cultivated as a DJ. His tunes had to measure up to the best in the business, but often ended up outweighing them.
It’s his ’80s material that’s the most outlandish and extraordinary, when he helped transform the music of many key post-punk acts into funky new shapes with a dub aesthetic. Maximum Joy, Thompson Twins, The Pop Group, The Slits, Orange Juice and many others benefited from his expert touch. These productions sound fresher than ever today. That’s probably why he’s still a go-to name — Steve Mason of the Beta Band did a whole dub album with him, and Glasgow band Golden Teacher recently enlisted his peerless studio techniques for their ‘Golden Teacher Meets Dennis Bovell at the Green Door’, rated as one of the 20 best 12″s of 2015.
Janet Kay - Silly Games
Matumbi - Point of view
Champion - Spahni's Dub Dancers feat. Dennis Bovell