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"Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?"

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Dub Vendor, the 2011 riots, and the death of Smiley Culture

One of last, and certainly one of the best specialist Jamaican record stores, Dub Vendor, has gone - but it lives
Not sure if it was the 2011 riots that were to blame, the recession, or the shifting tastes in music and shifting populations - or, most likely, a mix of all these factors.  All I know for sure is that the great reggae record store in Battersea, Dub Vendor, has gone from this area for good.

In fact, it went ages ago. As I began to write this I looked the store up on Google and found that the two final  Dub Vendor shops - in Ladbroke Grove and at Clapham Junction - closed a few weeks after the riots of August 2011, when its founder and owner John McGillivray decided to concentrate on the online mail order business.

For that sad fact I am indebted to an article by Ian Burrell in the Independent. When I heard about the riots, and particularly the destruction by fire  of the old Party shop on Lavender Hill, I wondered why no-one had mentioned Dub Vendor bang next door.

Read the article, it tells you all you need to know -  the way reggae went put of fashion, how Dub Vendor was always not just a shop but also a record distributor, and partners with the label Fashion Records, run by McGillivray's old schoolfriend Chris Lane, which had a studio in the basement of the Clapham Junction store.

As sales of Jamaican import dub-plates and such gradually slipped away as younger audiences moved off towards hip-hop, etc, so Dub Vendor and Fashion moved with the times, cultivating a new generation of local talent,  the toasters and MCs of south London dancehall clubs. Names like Maxi Priest were cutting records there - and in 1984 their biggest ever success arrived in the form of Smiley Culture. He cut Cockney Translation there, and then at the end of 1984 the real chart success, Police Officer. Both tracks are sheer joy, the sharp and hilarious wordplay between Smiley and the cop (played by Smiley) is timeless.

Even before major the UK chart success, Smiley attracted the attention of the ITV show Ear Say which did this special on him and Dub Vendor in 1984.

The scene  days after the 2011 riots at Clapham Junction - Dub Vendor survives, for a while.
Dub Vendor  and the burned-out
Party Superstore a few days after the riots
of August 2011
Do watch this video, it is priceless, and  extremely poignant. See the young Smiley - real name David Emmanuel, born in Stockwell 1948, pupil at Tulse Hill Comp -  just as success was hitting him, then think of how he ended, during a police raid on his home out on the rural fringes of south London back in 2011.

Stabbed himself, they said. There was an IPPC report in to all this but its findings were never made fully public, leading of course to intensified suspicion of a cover-up, which in itself - in a hideous bit of irony - was later cited as a possible contributor to the tensions that led to the 2011 riots.

Seems the truly bad riot at Clapham Junction on August  9 2011 was a final straw for owner McGillivray, who sold his shop to the the burnt-out Party store next door to allow them to re-open as a much bigger superstore.

Still, Dub Vendor keeps going, with a great online reggae store, and also a  living presence in the BM record shop in Soho. So, cutting cloth to fit, it is doing.

One step forwards, no steps backwards, please.

No more tears, just buy, buy, buy!

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