Into The Music – ‘Brixton Ballads: Sound Stories’

Fairly recently a friend put me on to a series run by ABC’s Radio National titled Into The Music. The features program is exploration down pretty much any avenue of music you can imagine; where opera singers go when the curtain closes, the lives of Australian jazz musicians, the roots and journey of Switzerland’s musical culture, ‘That Doctor Who Sound‘ and a 1920s composer who ‘conducted’ the city of Moscow are just a few of the topics given dedicated radio documentaries over the last few months. This is interesting stuff, done exceptionally well.

At least I think so, as the topics are so varied though that in most cases I wouldn’t know otherwise, it’s just a fascinating listen. When they do touch on a topic I’ve got some experience with I’ve found the producers’ pieces doing a brilliant job of representing a new take or an untold story that adds to what we already love about the theme.

Check ‘My Sister’s Hip-Hop Odyssey’ here for an individual take on someone’s journey through hip-hop:

With an archive going back to 2006, the whole site is going to take me a lifetime to work through and no doubt continue to send me down musical spirals to find new sounds. Here’s one in particular worth shouting out, that I was originally surprised to find coming out of an Australian based national radio station, though in the context of Into The Music it actually makes perfect sense.

Produced by Brent Clough and Russell Stapleton, ‘Brixton Ballads: Sound Stories‘ first aired at the end of November 2013. The fifty minute radio documentary delves in to Brixton, the South London area which received the first wave of Jamaican immigrants in the 50s and 60s. The increasingly gentrified district is where Jamaican culture thrived, and as a result the birth of the unique melding between Carribbean and UK cultures as future generations were raised up.

With a focus on the arts and the sound system lifestyle that’s so important to the borough, the podcast balances interviews with tracks and even an extensive archive including old radio news reporting the first arrival of Jamaican immigrants from the in to “the colonial office.” The interviews themselves are well structured, with the repeat parts edited out masterfully and a lot of names we weren’t too familiar delivering some unheard input.

There’s a lot of cats in the UK that may find this story one-sided, in the way that a white Australian radio producer might only be able to document this kind of movement. Not a lot of people outside of London know this story though, massive respect to the men behind it, it’s a brilliant listen and worth checking out.

Full synopsis below, with a link to the stream and download just above it.

Brixton Ballads: Sound Stories ––song-stories/5119468

via ABC / Into The Music
For many, the riots of 1981 put Brixton in South London on the global map and gave the area a reputation as a community resistant to Margaret Thatcher’s mean and unpleasant England.

While there are plenty of romantic tales of Brixton as a rebel stronghold and new stories of gentrification changing its distinctiveness, one-time resident Brent Clough recalls the suburb as a place of cultural distinction. Brixton was the sort of community where a migrant from the leftover parts of empire might, for the first time feel the potential of a new post-colonial culture.

A vital element to any portrait of post-war Brixton is an account of its rich, deep history of social music. The ‘sound system’ was the main medium to offer music to the African-Caribbean migrants who settled in large numbers in Brixton and other urban centres from the 1940s onwards.

In 1954 men like Duke Vin and Count Suckle arrived by boat inaugurating the sound system era in England. With their massive speakers, exclusive records and live mic entertainers, sounds came to figure as a central part of black British life.

The man known as the Bard of Brixton, novelist Alex Wheatle has written evocatively of his youth spent around sound systems. Before Alex was a famous writer with an MBE he ran his own little sound called Crucial Rocker. Alex, along with a range of musicians, sound operators and local residents, including the legendary dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson explains the significance and effects of being inside a ‘blues dance’, sound ‘shaking down your spinal column’ as LKJ memorably put it.

More than mere entertainment, sounds in Britain defined a community’s music, language, style and survival and have had a lasting impact on UK and world popular music.