While Ireland’s first reggae band was without doubt Zebra (1979-80), a number of pop and rock bands recorded songs with ska and reggae influences in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Some were absolutely awful, others mediocre, while a handful were just about listenable. This is an attempt to compile an accurate list of those records.
1969 was the year of the skinhead reggae explosion in England. Desmond Dekker & The Aces’s single ‘Israelites‘ reached the UK No. 1 spot in April. Other significant singles released that year included ‘Monkey Man‘ by Toots & The Maytals and Symarip’s ‘Skinhead Moonstomp‘ which was aimed specifically at the British reggae-loving skinhead audience.
That same year an Irish showband called The Fairways from Edenderry, Co. Offaly, on the go since 1966, released a novelty ska-influenced single “sung in a cod West Indies accent”. Titled ‘Yoko Ono’, after the Japanese artist who married John Lennon that year, the lyrics concern a man’s attempt to to find transport to bring him to a plantation where Yoko is waiting for him. The song opens with:
Mister, can you help me?
Can I get to Skaville?
Anyone going? My way
Anyone leaving? Today
In Dublin in the early 1970s, as revealed by Garry O’Neill in his book Where Were You?, skinheads danced to reggae in clubs called Bartons and Mothers, both on Parnell Street, and Two Ages on Burgh Quay. The scene also opened its own short-lived club, the Boot Inn, in a basement on Middle Abbey Street.
London-based Jamaican reggae band The Cimarons became the first international reggae act to play Ireland, playing their first Irish gig in the Exam Hall in Trinity College in April 1978. This was followed by the Macroom Festival in Cork in June of that year and further dates around the country in 1979. Journalist Kieran Flynn wrote in Magill magazine that:
Reggae has never been a particularly popular form of music in Ireland, but the Macroom audience response suggests that the Cimarons will be back here soon.
The Bogey Boys, pub-rock band from Dublin/Meath, released their debut album ‘Friday Night’ in October 1979. One song ‘Gunslinger’ was vaguely reggae-influenced.
Con O’Leary ran the reggae Operator Sound System from 1979-83, playing venues like the TV Club and McGonagles. If you have anymore information, please get in touch.
A genuine Dublin-based Two-Tone band ‘The Mod-Ls‘ were on the go from 1979-80 but never recorded anything. Same with the Fast Skirts (1980-81), who played straight punk and straight reggae, whose personnel included two former Mod-L’s members.
The first incarnation (c.1980) of Dun Laoghaire group ‘Nine Out Of Ten Cats‘ was heavily reggae/funk influenced and they supported many visiting reggae acts to Dublin including Matumbi and Prince Far I. Their recorded material (1983 onwards) however was all post-punk.
In 1980, Dublin band The Resistors released a catchy new-wave Two-Tone influenced single called ‘Jeanie’ on their debut EP.
That same year The Boomtown Rats released ‘Banana Republic’ which had a tight ska-reggae hook and lyrically rallied against the ills of nationalist, conservative Ireland:
And I wonder do you wonder while you’re sleeping with your whore?
Sharing beds with history is like licking runnin’ sores
Forty shades of green yeah, sixty shades of red
Heroes going cheap these days, price a bullet in the head
Banana Republic, Septic Isle Sufferin’ in the screamin’ sea, sounds like dyin’
Everywhere I go, yeah everywhere I see
The black and blue uniforms, Police and Priests
The album version (below) is over a minute and a half longer than the single itself.
Bob Marley played Dalymount Park, Dublin in July 1980, bringing reggae to the Irish masses.
Irish showband The Magic Band (1974-81) from Galway released ‘I Am A Cannibal’ in 1981 which was described by Neil from rockroots.wordpress.com as a “pretty decent and annoyingly catchy reggae-pop tune with some nice musicianship”.
The same year Irish showband Sunshine released the single ‘Double Dealin, described by Eamonn at Irishrock.org as “pop with reggae/ska overtones”.
Galway pop group The Conquerors brought out a reggae-influenced b-side called ‘Getting Out’ in 1981.
Decisions Decisions from Dublin brought out their one and only pop-reggae single the same year. This is the b-side.
Cork’s Jimmy Crowley & The Electric Band recorded a reggae version of ‘Boys of Fair Hill’ which spent some time in the charts in 1981.
The Outfit, new-wave reggae from Limerick, released the first of their two singles in 1981. A-Side ‘El Salvador’ was a topical song about the Salvadoran Civil War.
The first single ‘Surprise Surprise’ by Belfast punk band Big Self was heavily reggae-influenced. This was also released in 1981.
1982 saw the formation of pop-reggae group Alien Comfort from Finglas who recorded a demo which hasn’t seen the light of day yet. They were active until 1984. Reggae-funksters Belsonic Sound from Cork started their careers in 1982 and ploughed on till 1993 releasing a string of singles from 1988 onwards.
Thurles pop-rock band Tweed (1972-84) released a reggae-influenced b-side ‘Horse’s Collar’ in 1983.
Street Talk from Dublin released their first single ‘1-2-3’ in 1983. It spent 10 weeks in the Irish charts. Eamon from Irishrock.org described the band as “new-wave pop-rock with reggae styling and a strong lead singer”.
1983 also saw the release of Limerick band’s The Outfit’s second single (Toytown/ A Sharp). If anyone has a MP3 of this, please drop me a mail.
Comedian Jon Kenny, former bassist and lead singer with Limerick group Gimik, released a surprisingly catchy reggae version of ‘Spancil Hill’ in 1984.
Though not an Irish group, Century Steel Band from Coventry recorded a reggae version of ‘The Fields of Athenry’ in 1985 which charted over here in the summer of 1986. They also toured Ireland extensively. The band recorded with Dublin group The Wilf Brothers in 1990.
The Blades, new wave soul from Dublin, dabbled with a reggae sound with ‘Talk About Listening’ from their 1985 album ‘The Last Man In Europe’.
Too Much For The Whiteman, from Tuam, started performing in 1985 and released three singles from 1989-90. None of which are online yet. The same year Keltic Posse formed and toured extensively until around 1994.
The late 1980s/early 1990s saw a major ska and skinhead revival with Irish bands Trenchtown (estd. 1988), The Jackmans aka Frères Jackman & the International Elevators (estd. 1989), The Gangsters (estd. 1992), The Service from Cork (estd. 1993) and others like The Umbrellas and The Officials.
There were also bands reggae bands ‘Kingsativa’ (1995 – 2005), ‘New Roots’, ‘Zero’, ‘Burning Illusion’ around this time as well but for most of them, there’s little or no information available online.
We look further into the above bands in part two of the piece.
If I’ve missed anyone, please get in touch.