Salute mad professor Upsetter, the original maverick genius of the dubplate, studio reverb and rewind. One of the earliest producers of the remix record, now music industry standard.
I liked what Scratch did with The Wailers, Mad Professor (Ariwa Records) and even some of the tracks for The Bestie Boys but nothing comes close to “Police and Thieves”
It’s a mad tune and I fell in love with it, instantly. It was the late 1970s, Kensal Rise, London. I had just arrived from Ghana. My transition from Tema Club Farlisa disco boy to Reggae Dancehall youth was in full swing.
The selector usually plays “Police and Thieves” around 4 am, on behalf of the landlord with the hope that dem Rub A Dub lovers would cool off and not completely rip down his wallpaper.
A bubbly, track
You coulda skank to it, do Soul Train with the wah-wah guitars or vibe to it like a Soul rebel. Scratch mixed it clean like a radio version – no outer space dubs and definitely no Ganga smoke blown over it. The icing on the cake was Junior Mervin – Sexy Mervin delivered the cool catchy lyrics like vintage Curtis Mayfield. Vintage bad bad tune.
Every selector dropped it around just about the same time – King Sounds or Jah Shaka, as the morning light was coming through the thick black curtains. You can be sure the Babylon boys in smart blue cars would hear the song and come knocking.
Here comes the stepper -murderer
Scratch created the revolutionary studio sounds to evoke the mood on the streets – Deceptively so because it didn’t sound like this chirpy song was about violent urban warfare on the mean streets of Kingston Jamaica. Because of Scratch’s ingenuity in sound production, particularly how to mix the sound without raising eyebrows, the song went global.
The unique thing about “Police and Thieves” was that it appealed to a broad and varied range of listeners. It was popular at parties, christenings, drink ups, Pubs and shabeen dancehall. Not all songs achieved that – At some parties, people would be dancing to it completely oblivious to its true meaning. The youth in the dancehall was educated by the toasters – the guys who gave everybody the heads up by rapping over the records, They were precursors to the American rappers.
Racism and militancy
The toaster would remind the youth about the stories their parents might have told them about Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech or how Kelso Cochran was murdered by white racists in 1959. He lived down the road in Notting Hill Gate and well known within Carnival circles. The late 1970s were also the days of the notorious SUS laws when the Police can stop and search you “on suspicion of committing a crime – the prelude to the London riots of 1981
The DJ would call out “Now dats Scratch pon dis ya tune der” his voice bubbling through thick dense smoke in complete darkness. The people would start slapping the walls like maniacs. DJ tells them to cool off and lifts Melvin’s crispy voice;
Police and thieves in the streets (oh yeah)
Fighting the nation with their guns and ammunition
Police and thieves in the street (oh yeah)
Scaring the nation with their guns and ammunition
From genesis to revelation, yeah
The next generation will hear me
All the crimes committed day by day
No one try to stop it in any way
All the peacemakers turn war officers
Hear what I say, hey.
Every young rebel seemed to have a copy, including Joe Strummer and his bandmates. It was of course the version by Clash on their debut album that turned the track into the predominantly white Punk anthem across the country.
You can say there is Scratch in every Reggae recording.