"I don't think that there's any doubt that Martin Hannett was a dub fan, he must have been as some familiar “shattering” and spacey noises reappear on Unknown Pleasures. "
King Tubby - 100% of Dub (Select Cuts/GEMA)
King Tubby will doubtless be a familiar name to many, and writing about him may prove to be an exercise in just regurgitating the facts of his life and work Richard Foster style. So what to do? Well, I can start this review by imploring you to get hold of this CD, even if you have most of the tracks, as it can either be the best compilation of his work you could ever own OR the best present you could give to someone who is unfamiliar with the King Tubby sound.
What does bear repeating is the fact that King Tubby effectively created both his equipment and his method of working with sound by himself; and because of this there is a fiercely independent signature to his dub creations. This is a man who taught himself how to build echo & reverb units, and created a proto-graphic equaliser in the studios in his mother's house. He built most of Lee Scratch Perry's Black Ark studio ferfuckssake...
But legend fawning aside, what really hits you when listening to 100% of Dub is the sheer unadulterated fun it must have been creating these records. The echo on the drum on Drumilie Rock sounds like water dripping in a cave, whereas the trumpet lick sounds completely wasted on Dub Fever. Couple this wasted trumpet with the daft sonar sounds that crop up on the latter track and you have a template for an absurd, tongue in cheek stance which isn't too far away in any of these recordings. Roots Dub with its Toytown trumpets and chinking piano coda is a dead ringer for a Specials track I can't quite bring to mind. That's another thing to ponder - just what would have ska sounded like without Tubby?
Pop sounds abound on this compilation. I'm sure you will all recognise the tune of Stalawatt Version, which (to my mind) is just 100 times better than the commercial version of this track. Dub is great in that it is the ultimate pop music, albeit pop music in the abstract; sadly it's been categorised as a niche music or "heavy" music for far too long. Take Roots Dub in this context, it could be a very early Orange Juice track, maybe Moscow Olympics... What is breathtaking is the amount of variation that can be squeezed from playing about with a simple riff or hook. This is noticeable throughout, but to give one example Better Version is almost fragmented into tiny pieces by the amount of options on sounds it contains; crashing echoes and reedy brass sections bent backwards are hold tenuously together by the simplest of walking bass lines. I don't think that there's any doubt that Martin Hannett was a dub fan, he must have been as some "shattering" and spacey noises reappear on Unknown Pleasures.
Nope, there's no doubt there were a lot of rum things going on in Osbourne Ruddock's head. Just take the incredible switch between the dubbed and "standard" guitar sound at the beginning of Crime Wave and notice how it propels the track, giving impetus when needed. Brilliant. Dubbing My Way is a similar stroll through every conceivable sound effect, whereas my favourite on here, the fleeting Tubby's at the Control is akin to a low grade Bollywood soundtrack subjected to the most brilliant affectations of texture and key. Declaration Dub is, by contrast, is a set of musical observations deliberately manipulated an over-full bass sound, a balancing of trippy percussion and rhythm guitar on its over-ripe pulsations. An unexpected end-coda fizzles out remarkably quickly. Invasion starts like Deliah Derbyshire has turned up at the studio to play some Radio-phonic incidental music, then, with a sweep of a trumpet refrain, it is moved aside to reveal a slow moving train ponderously grinding through some old backwater (well, it sounds like an old train). Suddenly the muggy atmosphere lifts to reveal those strident trumpets again only for the train to reappear. It's absolute genius.
I could rabbit on about every single track on here; indeed, I am in danger of doing so. However I will curb my wanton enthusiasm and bring my writing back into the orbit of this planet. It is a review after all and I must try to be reasonable. What I suggest you do then is, in all reasonableness, buy this LP. You won't get better.
Words: Richard Foster.