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Ephraim Barrett was a bricklayer and mason by trade, though he was known to turn his hand to any kind of work and was likely to have a number of jobs at any one time – reputedly he was also a professional cyclist! Like a lot of his fellow skilled countrymen he made the move to England in the early sixties, arriving to settle in Swindon, around 80 miles west of London, in 1962 – just around the time that the new sounds of ska were breaking in Jamaica. He spotted the chance to diversify into music and by the early seventies had established himself in London, becoming known locally as Count Shelly. He built and developed his own sound system to rival the popularity of Balham’s Duke Reid ( A different operation from his Jamaican namesake), Lloydie Coxsone’s Sir Coxsone Outernational from Battersea and Peckham’s Neville the Enchanter in the process claiming the title of the Heavyweight Champion of the North (North London that is – Tottenham and Stoke Newington!) – together these sound systems became known as the “Big Four”. During this period, from the late sixties through the early seventies, Shelly had come to source the music for his sound system from Lord Koos, who had run his ‘The Universe’ sound system out of Harlesden in North London since 1964. Lord Koos, aka Eric Scott, was an astute purchaser of music and started by buying his records from the original Randy’s in Tennessee back in the early fifties – firing him up for later competition with the legendary sound system originator Tom the Great Sebastian. By the early 70's Shelly was the resident DJ at the Four Aces Club in Hackney, East London; the club had opened in 1966 on the site of an old Victorian theatre built to house Robert Fossett's Circus in 1886 on Dalston Lane and by 1970s the club had become one of the main centres for West Indians in cultural exile, attracting audiences from all over London and beyond. At the time Matumbi’s Dennis Bovell was operating his own Sufferers’ HiFi, one of the upcoming sounds along with the likes of Soferno B and King Tubbys (London); he remembers a legendary occasion when his sound, obviously respected by Shelly for their growing reputation, was invited to clash at the Four Aces. Sufferers set up their whopping eight eighteen inch speakers and began to play, but during Shelly’s set he experienced problems with his amplification so had to pull out asking Sufferers to continue. Perhaps with wishful thinking in retrospect Dennis surmises that Shelly’s valves could have been rattled into submission by the sheer wattage of Sufferers’ bass output …… but legend has it that the Count – known as one of the best fillers of a room - was conquered that night. Matumbi themselves were then used to acting as pick-up backing band to a series of visiting Jamaican artists, many of whom, such as Pat Kelly, Ken Boothe, I Roy and Johnnie Clarke appeared at the Four Aces due to Shelly’s relationship with club owner Newton Dunbar. His continued connection with artists from the business inspired the launch of his own Count Shelly record label in 1972 responsible for a fine series of roots and lovers singles over the following couple of years, mostly of Jamaican origin – including Sang Hugh’s “Rasta No Born Yah” and Prince Jazzbo’s “Step Forward Youth”, but a handful were also produced in London.
Initially the Third World label was actually Jamaican and owned by Sid Bucknor, however with all his activities Sid found it difficult to get records out to the market so the label was taken over by Shelly as a UK outlet in 1975. Involved in the transaction, following a growth in friendship with Shelly, was the great producer Bunny “Striker” Lee, who had also taken over the sourcing of music for Shelly’s sound system. The eventual catalogue eventually yielded over sixty albums and around 140 singles, the majority of which were either Striker productions or sourced by him from Jamaican connections; these included Johnny Clarke, Leroy Smart, Cornel Campbell, Tommy McCook, U Roy, I Roy, Dillinger, Dennis Alcapone, Clint Eastwood, Hortense Ellis, Prince Jazzbo and a couple of King Tubby’s finest dub outings, “Dub from the Roots” and “The Roots of Dub”, plus some of Jackie Mittoo’s finest work post-Studio One with “Hot Blood” and “In Cold Blood”. Also in the catalogue was the instrumental album “Rebel Rock” from house band Third World Allstars.
The basis of the Allstars were in fact usually visiting Jamaican musicians plus a pick of the session men available in London. The instrumental album “Rebel Rock” derives the majority of its rhythms from Errol Dunkley’s album “Sit And Cry Over You” released by Shelley produced and arranged, and probably engineered, by the great Sid Bucknor. For the instrumental version the overdubs and remixes were done at the Chalk Farm and E.F.M. (better known as Berry Street) studios with a credited line up of Rico Rodriguez on trombone, Eddie “Tan Tan” Thornton on trumpet, Michael 'Bammi’ Rose on sax, Lester Sterling trumpet and saxophone, Buggis Norman on alto sax, “Organ D” aka Tyrone Downie on keys and “Ronnie Bop” aka Ranford Williams on guitar. The original backing tracks for the Dunkley album were by Gladdy Anderson & his All Stars so its likely that featuring bassist Jackie Jackson, drummer Winston Grennan, guitarist Hux Brown and keyboardist Winston Wright may be in the mix. The title track “Rebel Rock” was originally derived from Gene Rondo’s single “Rebel Woman” issues by Shelly on his Queen Bee subsidiary in 1974 and the track that opens side two “Black Moon” is from the Ginger Williams single “There is Something in my Heart” issued on the Paradise label. Ginger actually hit big in 1974 with here single “I Can't Resist Your Tenderness” aka “Tenderly” one of those tunes that sold tens of thousands in London alone and was a genuine precursor to the imminent takeover of the reggae scene by Lovers Rock – the following year Louisa Mark's “Caught You in a Lie” produced Dennis Bovell for Lloydie Coxsone's sound system really opened the floodgates for Lovers. “Black Moon” was also used a couple of years ago by that most cultural of American rappers Mos Def on his album paying tribute to reggae riddims “Mos Dub”. As is usual when quality Jamaican sessioneers get together free quotes from jazz standards and ballads can be found interspersed with re-utilised rhythms, so “Repatriation Remedy” can not only be traced back to Errol Dunkley’s “Repatriation” but also to Bunny & Skitter on their Studio one single “Lumumbo” and even before that Willie Bobo’s “Spanish Grease”.
As the seventies moved on Count Shelly relocated his operations to New York and eventually his Super Power Records in Brooklyn became the reggae shop of choice through the dancehall and digital eras, a meeting place for the movers and shakers of the time. Located on Church Avenue between Utica Avenue and E 49th Street in Flatbush, the shop became notorious as the scene of the shooting incident between deejays Super Cat and Nitty Gritty. Shelly continued to record, with big hits such as Louie Rankin’s “Typewriter” and Sluggy Ranks dancehall recut of “My Time”. Becoming tired of NYC and business there, Shelly relocated back home to Jamaica and around 2008 Super Power closed down due to financial problems. According to Striker Lee, Shelly is still only semi-retired, running a restaurant and cook shop, although now 81 years of age he is still in good health and resides in the desirable Norbrook Heights area in the parish of St. Andrew, Jamaica. Notes: [a=Steve Barker]