fredag 27. november 2009

THE BIG ONE


Judge Dread was one of the big ones. In his own, curious way, he was the biggest – the rudest of the rude boys. For one thing, he was BIG, for another he had a string of "Big" hits, starting with Big Six in 1972. According to Wikipedia, he “He was the first white recording artist to have a reggae hit in Jamaica, and has the most banned songs of all time”.

The thing was that the judge was a naughty boy. He was the Benny Hill of ska, only lacking Mr. Hill’s subtle humour and sophisticated jokes. Where Hill remained in the land of the double entendre (though veering dangerously close to its far border from time to time), the judge was an all out, in your face spokesman for pure, joyful vulgarity. The joke – and it is a mighty funny one – was to be obviously vulgar, while pretending to be subtle. As in the hilarious Up With The Cock:



The Dodologist tend to use the judge’s music as a test of peoples sense of fun. It they look away in sheer embarrassment, they are found wanting. You may not find him funny, but if you are embarrassed by him, you probably take yourself a bit to seriously. The judge’s humour may be a stupid one, but we should all find the time to honour our inner blockhead.

And for all his “music hall gone bad” sense of bad taste, it is quite intelligent humour from time to time. As in his version of Je T’aime (Moi Non Plus). The punch line still has this extinct bird roaring with laughter, ten years after he heard it for the first time:



Dread was born Alexander Minto Hughes in 1945, and had a colourful past when he finally became a recording artist. He had worked as a bouncer, a bodyguard, professional wrestler (under the moniker "The Masked Executioner") and a debt collector. He took the stage name from a Prince Buster song, and the title Big Six is a reference to Prince Busters 1969 hit Big 5. Here is a, eh, live version:



For a time Judge Dread really was big. He had eleven chart hits in the UK during the 70s – more than any other reggae artist, including Bob Marley.

The Beeb didn’t like him, though. You just didn’t record songs like Up With The Cock and get away with it. So they banned him. Even when he recorded entirely innuendo-free songs, they still banned him. It was Dread, so it had to be dreadful. If they heard no innuendo, it was probably just because he was speaking in code.

As the 70s came to an end, so did the judge’s career. He died in 1998, on stage in Canterbury – but his was definitely no Canterbury sound. And while we today might see him simply as vulgar, this kind of vulgarity had an important element of counter culture in the still righteous and self-satisfied cultural climate of the 70s.

He died before I ever heard him. I still miss him though. The world is poorer without men like Judge Dread in it. Here he is in his soft mode, Bring Back The Skins (aka The Last Of The Skinheads – it's the best version of the song, the pictures are completely absurd, though):


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