Mr. Symarip

Skinheads dem a Come

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Fronting bands across the '60s and early '70s, Roy Ellis (aka Mr. Symarip) was the voice of British reggae, equalled only by Dandy Livingstone for his impact on the island's musical scene. The Bees came first in the ska era and evolved into Pyramid, who then took on the alias Symarip; however, the band sported many other monikers over the years. Regardless of name, though, they electrified the nation with their music, whilst backing virtually every Jamaican artist who came to the U.K. on tour. Symarip's "Skinhead Moonstomp" was their apotheosis, and their U.K. curtain closer; the band decamped to Germany in 1972 and shifted to Afro-rock, before finally folding a decade later. Ellis then moved to Switzerland, where he deserted reggae for gospel until members of the Swiss ska band, Kalles Kaviar, knocked on his door. Their enthusiasm drew the legend back to his roots, resulting in the The Skinheads Dem a Come album. Even so, Ellis' gospel past is still in evidence here, you can hear it on "Say When, Say When," "I'm Gonna Knock, I'm Gonna Knock," and "Take It as It Come." Both the former feature the call and response arrangements integral to gospel and popularized by the Maytals. On the latter song, however, Ellis also slides into his best soul style, "Come on and Dance with Me," in contrast, showcases his sweetest vocals, as does a gorgeous version of Delroy Wilson's "Dancing Mood." That was a ska classic, and contrary to the references to Symarip and skinheads, this is a ska album, sporting versions of a slew of ska hits. Kalles Kaviar are versatile, however, equally at home remaking an old mento song ("Hog in Mi Minty") or jazzy Skatalites numbers, and raising a wry smile from Prince Buster with the disingenuously titled "I Was Busted." Their music is fabulous, and Ellis is superb. He handles all the vocals, firing up some numbers with exuberant, early DJ-styled toasts, even yipping over his own vocals, version style, as on "I'm Talking About Love." The only clinker is "My Caravan Queen," a version of the much-covered Brian Hyland 1971 pop hit "Gypsy Woman." That aside, Ellis is back with a vengeance, with an album that may sound nothing like Symarip, but is just as exciting nonetheless.

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