Bus Ride To Armageddon

We’ve all been there, sitting on the bus minding our own business when we’re struck with a vision of the imminent apocalypse.  Usually I just put it down to indigestion, not so Joseph Hill.  Based on a prophecy by Marcus Garvey, which foretold chaos on 7 July 1977 – when the ‘sevens met’, he penned a mighty, mighty song, the title track of an LP I’ve been hearing since I was around 5 years old; Culture Two Sevens Clash.

Culture Two Sevens Clash 02

‘Two Sevens Clash’ pulls off the neat trick of being both jaunty and portentous, as well as a bit incomprehensible to non-Jamaican patois speakers:

Wat a liiv an bambaie
When the two sevens clash
Wat a liiv an bambaie
When the two sevens clash

I always thought ‘wat a liiv an bambaie’ was just a bit of nonsense rhyming to fill up the spaces in the song but I find out today that I was wrong, it means ‘What will be left’.  Educational, that’s me.  But anyway, it is a cracking tune which is what counts, the single was a big hit and I love the idea that on the day in question the whole of Jamaica just stopped, holding its’ breath, waiting; before shrugging its’ collective shoulders and carrying on.

Culture Two Sevens Clash 03

Two Sevens Clash is not a one song wonder by any means.  Overall I find Culture’s sound a little sweet and keyboard-y for my tastes, I prefer my reggae a bit earthier and rawer, but what they do brilliantly are the melodies and there are some to die for on here.  ‘Calling Rasta Far I’ has an almost African sound about the harmony vocals from Hill, Albert Walker and Kenneth Dayes and ‘Pirate Days’ is just a great song period.  For a reggae LP there are a lot of echoes in here to the brilliant vocal harmonies of The Abyssinians and The Heptones, rocksteady and even calypso.

That's my writing on the label - it really was a no frills release.
That’s my writing on the label – it really was a no frills release.

Essentially Culture were the three vocalists with whoever the local studio hired hands were.  However, when your producers were Joe Gibbs and Errol Thompson, known as The Mighty Two, the local musicians just happened to include Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare – my joint fave rhythm section ever*.  There are some odd corners to Two Sevens Clash, the last track ‘Natty Dread Taking Over’ sounds woozy to the point of pissed and reeling, not to mention the strange synthesized tiger roars on ‘Get Ready To Ride The Lion To Zion’.

Culture Two Sevens Clash 05

As always with the best reggae if you listen beyond the sweet harmonies there’s always a call to a final, brimstone-soaked revolution.  Whatever you think of the whole Rastafarian bouillabaisse of ideas, there is an anger tucked away behind the easiness on the ear.  Just look at the back cover and the, very righteous, rant about slavery, dummy.  I love this, I’m a big sucker for LPs bearing mission statements.

Culture Two Sevens Clash 04

Culture Two Sevens Clash 01

I don’t play Two Sevens Clash very often, I don’t actually need to, it just sounds like large swathes of my childhood to me.  I was speaking to my dad today about the LP and he told me about going to Cardiff to see Culture play at a place called The Ocean Club in about 1980, he tells me he was quite literally one of about 5 white faces in the whole audience and the atmosphere was wonderful.  Culture came on and played their sound check at 12.30, I’m reliably informed that the vocal harmonies in the sound check were so perfect he’d have gone home happily right then**.  The band didn’t hit the stage properly until 2am and he remembers driving home at around the time early risers were just starting to go to work.  That’s the culture (with a big and a small ‘C’) that I inherited.

Culture Two Sevens Clash 07 (2)

Basically, the message is keep your freak flag flying, natty.

I’m not ashamed, I’m not ashamed,
I’m not ashamed to shake up my knots,
I’m an African descendant!

683 Down.

PS: there is a very good documentary about Joseph Hill and Culture, but they have forbidden embedding it on YouTube.  So in a fit of pique, here’s a much beter documentary about Earl Chinna Smith and the Soul Syndcate band – veterans of over 500 LPs.  Proper reggae heads strap yourselves down for a treat, the opening track alone is just pure balm for your soul:

*along with Bernard Edwards / Tony Thompson and Butler/Ward.

**beats a cuddly roadie slowly hitting a snare and going ‘one … two … one … two’ for 25 minutes, I guess.

25 thoughts on “Bus Ride To Armageddon

  1. Interesting. I love the story behind the song track, and especially your dad’s story of seeing them back in 1980. 12:30 am soundcheck, damn. I’ve never properly gotten into reggae. I enjoy Marley and the Wailers when the mood strikes, but only as an outsider occasionally siphoning bits of the culture for my gawky white guy needs. I’d like to hear some of the rawer, grittier stuff you speak of.


    1. Thanks, my dads cool but it was damn hard finding stuff to rebel against/with.

      I’d recommend Burning Spear or Misty In Roots for the meaner end of the stick.

  2. Oh. This sounds good. Never heard of it, but there’s a whole lot of “I need to get this one” going on in my head just now. Thanks for that. Again.

    1. Oh and that one band back then who said they were going to rock out and kick our asses – you know, that band from the 70’s or 80’s, they might have been American, or something.

      1. I like Mayhem’s ‘No Mosh, No Core, No Fun’. Type O Negative had a good line in self-deprecating slogans too. ‘Don’t mistake lack of talent for genius’!

        But that 70s/80s/UK/US/Rock Out/Kick Ass one was definitely the cream of the crop.

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