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On-U Sound In The Area

Act Playgroup

'Epic Sound Battles Chapter 1' LP
Volume 1...
'Epic Sound Battles Chapter 2' LP
...and Volume 2 of "Epic Sound Battles"

Virtual bands were in abundance at On-U Sound in the early 1980s as Adrian Sherwood continually formed and reformed his ever-changing array of musicians into new musical projects. The Editor looks at one of these - the short-lived Playgroup:

Adrian Sherwood's entry into the music business in the mid 1970s was primarily through the UK reggae scene. As time went on though, his desire to experiment with new sounds saw him increasingly expand his horizons and array of musicians to include many of those on the cutting edge at the time. The New Age Steppers first typified his ideal of seamlessly fusing genres to create something that was greater than the sum of its component parts. However, as the early 80s wore on, a number of other collectives emerged that took experimentation and new production techniques to yet another level. Among them was the Playgroup.

While they were little more than a studio collective of musicians who happened to be "around" at the time, their recorded legacy, mainly their two "Epic Sound Battles" chapters (1: ON-U LP 10 and 2: ON-U LP 26), still sound as fresh today as when they were first recorded. In true On-U tradition the personnel were many, varied and frequently "borrowed" from other on-label projects. For example, names such as Bruce "Minty" Smith, Sean "Hogg" Oliver, Charlie "Eskimo Fox", Nick Plytas, Style Scott, Steve Beresford, "Deadly Headley" Bennett, John Waddington, Bonjo Iyabinghi Noah and George Oban will all be familiar to owners of New Age Steppers, Creation Rebel and African Head Charge albums of the era.

Most curious of all, it is rumoured that had Don Cherry, the intended featured performer, turned up as planned to the recording sessions for Chapter 1, the album would have been very different indeed, with the name The Martial Clappers having been coined for the collaboration that ultimately never was. In the end, Adrian Sherwood is believed to have mixed the backing tracks himself and released them as a dub album instead.

The difficulty of classifying Playgroup's musical output remained long after its dispersion. Steve Barker's sleeve notes to the 1991 compilation of tracks from the original 'Sound Battles' releases are therefore probably the best way to finish this review of a band that wasn't and a genre that isn't:

"If you happen to be reading this sleeve in a record shop then don't worry too much about putting it back exactly where you found it. You can put it in any rack - for there is no one appropriate section for On-U Sound products. Retailers do not suffer this confusion alone. Joining them in a consensus of bewilderment are the majority of music critics, radio programmers, record company executives, promoters and agents - the business!

"On-U Sound does not codify an accepted series of words, beats and notes to elicit a desired, timely and optimum response. There is no soiled or oblique message. What On-U Sound does do, by means of an informal and informed ever-growing band of singers and players, is accumulate signs and symbols of an intuitive order communicating direct experience. Texture is compatible with pattern, space with form. Play a game - play this album to a stranger, give no terms of reference.

"Absorbed members of the Playgroup include veteran British breathman Lol Coxhill, Gerry Malekani guitarist for Manu Dibango. Jancsi Hosszu Hungarian virtuoso violinist, Bubbles Panman from Trinidad but exiled in Ladbroke Grove and collusionist Steve Beresford. As to the identity of the Prisoner he or she must remain masked. [*** Ed: Hint - a certain producer :-) ***]

"Someone on their last billion brain cells once said to me, 'there is but one sound in the entire universe from which the many are derived', If this is true then I believe On-U Sound will be moving their offices quite soon, from Wapping to Mars.

"Don't let your ears become your first defunct organs - play this music long and loud."

2 Badcard
Adrian Sherwood
African Head Charge
Andy Fairley
Annie Anxiety / Little Annie
Audio Active
Barmy Army
Bim Sherman
Charlie "Eskimo Fox"
Creation Rebel
Deadly Headley
Doug Wimbish
Dub Syndicate
Gary Clail
Ghetto Priest
Harry Beckett
Jeb Loy Nichols
Jesse Rae
Judy Nylon
Junior Delgado / Jux
Keith LeBlanc
Lee "Scratch" Perry
Little Axe / Skip McDonald
Little Roy
London Underground
Mark Stewart / Maffia
Missing Brazilians
New Age Steppers
Noah House Of Dread
    . Biography
Revolutionary Dub Warriors
Samia Farah
Singers And Players
Strange Parcels
Tackhead / Fats Comet
The Circuit
Tribal Drift
Voice Of Authority

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