Creation Rebel

Hostile Environment is the first album in over forty years from the legendary Creation Rebel, who were the original On-U Sound house band and responsible for classics such as Dub from Creation and Starship Africa. The trio of Crucial Tony, Eskimo Fox and Magoo are back with producer Adrian Sherwood to create a modern spin on their heavyweight dubwise rhythms. Hostile Environment is being released on 12” LP yellow vinyl, CD, digital download and via streaming services October 6.

Hostile Environment is the seventh album credited to the group, who originally coalesced as a live backing group for the late, great Prince Far I, in the process sharing stages with the likes of The Clash, The Slits and Don Cherry. Vocals from their former band leader, preserved on archive tapes, feature on the new record, as well as guest contributions from the likes of Cyrus Richards (musical director for Horace Andy and the Dub Asante Band), Italian synth maestro Gaudi, and fast chat king Daddy Freddy. The album title refers to former British Prime Minister Theresa May’s controversial policy towards asylum seekers, and the recent Windrush scandal, all too relevant to a group of musicians of Jamaican origin who have spent their whole lives operating in the darkening shadow of a former colonial power with a staggeringly short memory for historic wrongs. 

The sound of the album is surprisingly diverse, ranging from the low-slung funk of opening track “Swiftly (The Right One)” which would slot easily in a DJ set alongside the likes of Nightmares On Wax or early releases on the Mo’Wax label, through to the Augustus Pablo-esque “Stonebridge Warrior” (previewed on the most recent volume of the long-running Pay It All Back series of compilations); spaced out, psychedelic dub on tracks such as “That’s More Like It” and “Off The Spectrum”, and even an inspirational, soulful and warm R&B earworm with “Whatever It Takes”. A clue to this eclectic approach comes in the form of penultimate track “The People’s Sound”, which pays tribute to West London sound system operator Daddy Vego. All of these tracks could fit into the kind of blues parties and shubeen dances the band members grew up on, and whose influence forms an intrinsic part of their musical DNA. Producer Adrian Sherwood is on a hot streak currently, having masterminded late career renaissance records from the likes of Lee “Scratch” Perry and Horace Andy. On Hostile Environment he repeats the trick, teaming up with these incredible players and longtime friends to craft a worthy showcase for their collective talents.  

The Creation Rebel Story by Adrian Sherwood 

The band was originally a studio project, playing on my very first production released in 1978, Dub From Creation, engineered by Dennis Bovell. This was the first release on the Hitrun Label (started by Peter ‘Dr.Pablo’ Stroud and myself). To help start the label Prince Far I gave us some of his productions to release, and also voiced “Frontline Speech” on the rhythm of the title track “Dub from Creation”. We were so happy when he released this in Jamaica on his own Cry Tuff label. Hitrun in turn helped organise live shows for Far I in the UK and Holland, and we decided to use the name on posters – Prince Far I and Creation Rebel. It was costly bringing musicians from Jamaica but it was also very hard to secure the services of a top UK based drummer. Far I told us of a fantastic new talent who we should bring to the UK for the first set of dates. Not long out of the Jamaican army, we brought Lincoln “Style” Scott to London. On our first rehearsal at Gangsterville it was clear how good he was.

During Style’s first visit we recorded what would become the second album, Rebel Vibrations. Rhythms from this session also made up a lot of the third record, Close Encounters Of The Third World, which found the band moving away somewhat from the original ‘strictly come dubbing’ idea with more vocals from Crucial Tony and Lizard Logan added. Prince Jammy was on a visit to London and got employed to mix the record. By now Rebel was developing into something like a ‘proper’ band with Tony, Lizard, Fatfingers, Mr.Magoo and Dr.Pablo in the UK, and with Style flying in for shows and recording.

In 1979 Rebel started to get a great reputation, still backing artists but opening with their own set, and yours truly learning to mix the live sound. That year Hitrun organised the Roots Encounter tour with Prince Far I, Bim Sherman and Prince Hammer. Shortly after that we got invited to join The Slits tour to promote their debut album Cut, with Don Cherry also on the bill. The tour for Style sadly ended in a Glasgow hospital the day before our London show at The Rainbow in Finsbury Park, Scotty had a burst appendix. When we got to London, we couldn’t find a drummer that was free to deputise, despite our best efforts.That night, Tony played drums and that was pretty much Style’s last show with Creation Rebel. 

On Style’s return to Jamaica, he teamed up with Far I’s old bassist Errol ‘Flabba’ Holt and some of Jamaica’s finest talent to form Roots Radics. His career as a session musician exploded – they almost immediately became the backing band for Bunny Wailer and Gregory Isaacs and one of the most in demand rhythm sections on the island. 

What became the fourth album had actually been started before making the second – Starship Africa began with a session at Gooseberry Studios with Charlie ‘Eskimo’ Fox (Freedom Fighters) on drums, Tony Henry (prior to joining Misty In Roots) on bass, and as always, Crucial Tony on guitar, along with his cousin Clifton ‘Bigga’ Morrison (Jazz Jamaica) who had also played on Dub From Creation, on keyboards. During a session in 1979 Style Scott had overdubbed some of these tracks and we recorded a couple more. In 1980 while working with ‘Zen Gangster’, Chris Garland, Starship Africa was mixed, edited and finished at Berry Street Studio with the engineer, Dave ‘Nobby Turner’ Hunt.

I first saw Charlie Fox in 1974 while he was drumming on Gregory Isaacs’ first UK tour. I was 16 and as I’d worked in my school holidays for the Pama label, managed to get into the Apollo Club in Willesden. Fox was a very in-demand drummer. His band Freedom Fighters in the 1970s were backing lots of top visiting acts like Dillinger, Trinity and many more. Fox continued working with Freedom Fighters (as did Desmond ‘Fatfingers’ Coke) but then also joined Creation Rebel.

In early 1980 Rebel did a few dates with The Clash and then went off to Europe for freezing squat shows in places like Berlin. By now the band was a balance of vocals and dub, continuing to back Prince Far I in the UK and Europe, and trying to secure shows in their own right. Also by now in the band was percussionist Bonjo I (later to become better known for African Head Charge). 

Thanks to Lawrie Dunn at Virgin music (and later Statik Records) we managed to get access to The Manor Studios in Oxford, my favourite studio ever. It was residential and owned by Virgin, Richard Branson lived nearby and would regularly visit. It was here that we made the fifth album, Psychotic Jonkanoo, released in 1981. A year later we made album number six – we thought Lows And Highs (bass and treble) would propel Rebel forward, as to our ears it sounds somewhat commercial – haha. It was the most costly record we’d made up that time and in many ways it had a lot going for it – the single “A Love I Can Feel” was getting a lot of radio play and loads of shows were planned, but then things then took a very sad turn. Firstly our lead vocalist and bassist, Lizard, got in a misunderstanding with HM Customs and ended up being sent away for the next year, which stopped Rebel in their tracks. Then in 1983 Prince Far I was murdered at his home in Jamaica. This was devastating and both events led to the end of activities for the band.

Creation Rebel, all who were and are still involved, have created a great legacy. Their records inspired a legion of dubheads and they were foundational in the formation of the On-U Sound and Ruff Cut labels, not to mention bands such as Roots Radics, African Head Charge, Dub Syndicate, Singers and Players and many more. And on this new album it all comes full circle with Hostile Environment, featuring three of the original Rebels and with some wonderful guests. The album title is the term that UK Prime Minister Theresa May used to describe creating a hostile environment for people seeking refuge and asylum, one of the backdrops to the shocking Windrush scandal that has affected so many Caribbean families who have lived and worked in the UK for their whole lives.

Adrian Sherwood, Ramsgate, March 2023