'It Gave Us A Sense of Identity': Lovers Rock Stars On The Soft Reggae Soundtrack Of Small Axe

Nadine White
·2-min read

Lovers Rock, a part of the Small Axe anthology, which comprises of five original films by Academy Award, BAFTA and Golden Globe-winning filmmaker Steve McQueen, aired via BBC One on Sunday.

An ode to the romantic reggae genre Lovers Rock and to the youth who found freedom and love in its sound, it tells a fictional story of young love and music at a house party in 1980.

The episode was co-written by novelist and playwright, Courttia Newland (The Gospel According to Cane, Family Room) alongside McQueen.

Amarah-Jae St Aubyn makes her screen debut opposite the BAFTA 2020 Rising Star award recipient Micheal Ward.

Lovers Rock emerged in the mid-1970s, when the producers and owners of London’s sound systems began recording romantic ballads with teenagers warbling away renditions of soulful hits – in a soft, reggae style.

These anthems and many more provided a soundtrack for the house parties or “blues dances”.

Singer Paul Robinson, who goes by the stage name of Barry Boom, performed as part of a group called One Blood with his four older brothers. Like many of the vocalists of that time – he started out as a teenager, first appearing on record aged 13.

Born to Jamaican parents in Peckham, Boom explains that racist white UK nightclub venues did not welcome Black migrants at the time – so that generation would have parties at each other’s houses and it soon became a tradition that Boom’s generation would maintain for years after.

Barry Boom
Barry Boom

Indeed, as the McQueen production captures, the ritual of young love unfolded many a time at these events.

Young Black people would adorn their best clothes, pay a small admission fee, dance to romantic reggae songs, buy drinks, eat goat curry and rice and enjoy the sweet liberation of celebrating life and each other.

Against a backdrop of a hostile wider society and brewing political tensions, these parties were a cocoon of serenity, a melodic act of resistance which would go on to define British history.

Boom remembers the parties...

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