When the idea of a weekly live reggae night was first proposed by Ian Croal in 1981 there were those in Manchester who said it was a recipe for trouble, and that, in any case, it would not be supported by the black community who, it was said, preferred to stick to ‘their own territory’, in Moss Side and Hulme. Both stereotypical predictions were proved wrong and the Friday reggae sessions continued, untroubled and with widely mixed audiences, throughout the 80s and well into the late 90s, with but a few variations to the programme. A list of 90+ bands who played the reggae nights in the 80s is provided in APPENDIX – REGGAE BANDS. Many of the reggae bands were from Manchester, including the Badstone Band, Divine Inspiration, Javelo, Sword of Jah Mouth, Islanders, T-Dynamix and Harlem Spirit, who had success with the single, ‘Dem a Sus (in de Moss),’ that railed against the police stop-and-search policy.
Band on the Wall became known nationally as one of the few venues that regularly presented live reggae and, as a result, bands from various reggae hotspots throughout England began to call the venue. Bands from Ipswich, Bristol, Bradford and Brixton performed regularly at The Band; a rich source of new talent emerged from Wolverhampton and Birmingham, particularly bands and individual performers who were part of the ‘Handsworth Explosion.’ They included Sceptre, Black Symbol, Truth and Rights, Gerald Love and Benjamin Zephaniah. The Handsworth Explosion Vol 1 album, now a prized collector’s item, was launched at Band on the Wall on 14 October 1983. Number One DJ on the reggae nights was the effervescent and popular Prince Tony who. in his late 70s, continued (2017) to DJ, live and on radio.
Steve Morris, former leasehold owner and then General Manager of Band on the Wall – and ex pro musician — would often fetch his saxophone from the cellar and sit in with the reggae bands. The scene is described by former Band on the Wall employee, Alex Webb, who booked the reggae bands in the mid-80s:
…what a buzz it could be – quite literally, as you could get stoned just by breathing in, in those pre-smoking ban days. Steve Morris, then in his late 60s, had a soft spot for real Roots reggae and always sat in with his favourite bands. The sight of this small, bespectacled white man – who started playing as a kid for silent movies – wailing over the pounding rhythms of reggae while tall rastas bounced around the stage is something I’ll never forget. And a reminder that there was an important social cause advanced by the Band on the Wall – bringing people together.
Another ex employee, Steve Forster, also describes the scene:
Steve Morris… loved the relaxed enthusiasm of the reggae bands and often got up to play with them. I doubt the sight of white haired Steve with his smart sports jacket, neatly pressed trousers, collar and tie added much credibility to the young black reggae bands he performed with but they loved it and they loved him.
Steve enjoyed it so much that when he ran out of reggae bands to play with I’d spin the dub version sides of reggae disco 45’s and Steve would blow over them while I added as much delay and reverb to his sax as I could get away with. Audiences, black and white loved it. Nowadays sampling and musicians playing over loops and prepared beats is commonplace but the vision of this very ‘straight’ 60ish man playing along to dub records as though in Lee Perry’s Black Arc studio had to be seen to be believed.
The above are extracts from Alex Webb’s recollections of his time at Band on the Wall and Steve Forster’s ‘Memories of The Band’.