Australian Reggae Pioneers
The 1970s was a decade that saw a great rise in the popularity of Reggae music around the world. Largely due to acts like Bob Marley and the Wailers, Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh and films like The Harder They Come.
These factors along with a steady number of people from the West Indies moving to Australia and the concurrent rise in popularity of Ska music out of the UK came together in the birth of a home grown reggae scene in the late 1970s and early ’80s.
JJ came to Australia from Jamaica for a six-month holiday in 1972 and decided to stay. It wasn’t long before he was challenging local sound engineers with a request for a 200-watt amplifier (they insisted 40 watts would be enough). His Soulmaker sound system was the first of it’s kind in the Australia and he used it to convert many to the beauty of reggae and Caribbean music.
Bart Willoughby was happy playing rock and country music until he saw a Bob Marley concert shown as a warm up to a screening of The Harder They Come in Adelaide in the mid 1970s. It changed his life forever. His band No Fixed Address quickly built a strong reputation for their live shows and this attracted the interest of Sydney filmmaker Ned Lander who built his seminal film Wrong Side Of The Road around them and fellow musicians Us Mob. Making its debut at the end of the film was the song We Have Survived that has since become a classic.
The Allniters were one of the most popular of the ska bands that rose to prominence in the early ’80s. The Igniters were an offshoot formed by Marty Fabok, Stuart Crysell and David Bebb who played with more of a dub and reggae influence. They recorded two EPs, the first of which was recorded at TripleJ and topped the independent charts in Sydney. Kirk Pengilly of INXS made a guest appearance on sax.
Ron Jemmot had already sung alongside many big names in Caribbean music both in the UK and his home of Barbados before moving to Australia in the late 1970s. Untabu were formed after Ron began jamming with a group of musicians he met while DJing at Casanovas in the Strand Arcade in Sydney. They were a popular live act with a regular Sunday afternoon gig at St Peters Hall. Their brand of reggae was influential with other bands at the time including Men At Work. Sadly they only recorded one EP before splitting up. Ron’s voice was featured some years later on a very popular TV commercial for Tia Maria.