Monday, 16 March 2009

1982 Musical Youth: Pass The Dutchie

If reggae was a rare visitor to the UK charts in the eighties, even rarer was a reggae band composed entirely of schoolboys. Which is what Birmingham's Musical Youth were.

'Pass The Dutchie' is basically a re-working of The Mighty Diamond's 'Pass The Kouchie', though as 'Kouchie' is slang for cannabis, the title was altered to 'Dutchie' to be more in keeping with the age of the band - having a fifteen year old extolling the virtues of drug taking were well beyond the pale in 1982, probably more so than they would be now.

The subtle shift in the lyrics continues through the verses too. Whereas the original had the singer on a mission to score:

"It was a cool and lovely breezy afternoon
(How does it feel when you've got no herb ?)
You could feel it 'cause it was the month of June
(If you got no herb you will walk an' talk)"

Musical Youth extended the 'cooking pot' idea to turn the song into a less threatening but more socially aware description of poverty and hunger:

"It was a cool and lonely breezy afternoon

(How does it feel when you've got no food ?)
You could feel it 'cause it was the month of June
(How does it feel when you've got no food ?)"

And the changes aren't just lyrical. While The Mighty Diamonds track is laid back to the point of the inertia with the band sounding baked to the gills on weed, Musical Youth update the standard reggae template and add a far more sprightly, almost rap, almost Nu Yorican feel to the tune, pulling in contemporary ethnic influences that reach out further than Jamaica.

Subtle touches and overdubs like the strategically placed steel drum fills and a powerful, almost metallic drum overbeat make this shimmer and sparkle like sunshine on water. Cover version it may be, but it's a cover version that's been overhauled and re-fitted to the point where it becomes something original in it's own right and Dennis Seaton's opening shouted call to arms:

"This generation

Rules the nation
With version"

Could have easily prefaced a Public Enemy track.

Musical and youthful, the song lives up to it's name quite wonderfully and it's only the subsequent knowledge that the promise here was never fully fulfilled and also of what would become of some of the band that casts a shadow of what is sunshine captured on vinyl.

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