Uploaded for you the debut release by the Jamaican vocal harmony duo The Congos, released on a Lee Perry Upsetter Disco Cork 12″ and one of the best from the Black Ark Studio in Washington Gardens, Kingston.
This 12″ single is also worth a whole wad of cash which makes me want to hug the record even more. The same goes for the two vinyl ‘Heart Of The Congos’ albums that I have in my collection. The Jah Live records version, and the Go Feet records version. Ironically the Go Feet records version is my original that I bought in the early 1980’s due to the record label being run by The Beat! sadly I do not own the original Black Art records version of the album…
This post is dedicated to W.Og from the Puppy Collective, who has just landed onto this site with a bump.
Go Feet records UK Issue 1981 Jah Live records French issue 1979
Text below by David Katz, who’s books on Lee Perry and Reggae music are well worth getting hold of…
When they parted company with Perry, the Congos quickly issued their own pressing of the album on their newly formed Congo Ashanty label. To ensure that the ball of confusion surrounding the disc would roll with greater momentum, some copies of the Congo Ashanty pressing surfaced in Black Art record sleeves, seeming to be identical to the second Black Art press. Although it uses the same mix as the second Black Art issue, the Congo Ashanty pressing is by far the shortest version of the album even pressed, with a total running time of about 34 minutes. “Fisherman” is the only song left close to its full length; all the others fade out early. Side two gets particularly short shrift, with songs such as “Sodom and Gomorrow” being bumped down to half their previous lengths. Sound quality is also particularly rough on this pressing, so those who have this pressing only may feel they have missed a lot.
A version of the album was also pressed in France in 1979 on the Jah Live label, with most songs longer than the Congo Ashanty and imprint, but still not quite as long as on the second Black Art pressing. The back cover of the French issue featured the lyrics to all the songs, plus the information that “Congoman” is “dedicated to the Black Nation,” while “The Wrong Thing” is “dedicated to the Pope of Rome.” Although the sleeve’s claim that “This album contains the original and never released mixings of Heart of the Congos” was not strictly accurate, it is worth noting that “Solid Foundation” was longer than on previous issues, clocking in at close to the five-minute mark. The pressing also seems to emphasize the treble end of the spectrum, particularly on side two. The disc’s total running time is just under 44 minutes. In 1981, a pressing appeared in England on the Go Feet label with a total time of about 41 minutes. Still shorter than the first Jamaican and French editions, but longer than the Congo Ashanty, this pressing has a more even quality of sound.
At some point, the album appeared again in Jamaica on the Sunfire label, basically identical to the second Black Art pressing. When I asked Cedric about this edition, he said “I don’t know nothing about that. There was a lot of piracy involved, mainly by Pauline (Morrison, Scratch’s Jamaican wife). We’ll catch them all one day.”
It has been said that Cedric and Roy had some differences themselves in the early ’80s with supposed allegations of obeah dealings being flung at each other. Whatever the case, Roy left the group to pursue a solo career as Congo Ashanty Roy, and the Congos eventually ceased to be active. When I asked Cedric about Roy’s departure, all he would say was “That was the time that Roy have to go. These things do happen in life sometimes, like when the wine get ripe.” Throughout the ’80s, not much was heard of the Congos in general, although many of us hoped that the group might consider a reformation. As the ’90s rolled around, VP records in the US issued Heart Of The Congos on CD. Although it uses the same standard second mix, it was mastered at a faster tempo than than previous editions. It clocks in at around 43 and a half minutes. Heart Of The Congos has also surfaced on a CD on the Spalax label in France, identical to the Jah Live vinyl pressing, something Cedric said he was not aware of.
Whether or not you’ve already managed to obtain a copy of this album, there is now some good news for us all. After making arrangements with Cedric and Roy earlier this year, Blood and Fire have gone back to the master tapes to present a repackaged Heart of the Congos that is longer, cleaner and brighter than it has ever sounded before. The songs have been restored to the full potential lengths as heard on the second Black Art pressing, and “Solid Foundation” here appears longer than on any previous album pressing, just under six minutes. They have also spent considerable time and effort cleaning up the sound. To hear the Blood and Fire pressing is to hear the album with new ears. As Cedric puts it, “This one that Blood and Fire have is the real deal.”
Along with this full-length enhanced version of the disc (over 55 minutes long), Blood and Fire have added the rare 12″ Upsetter Disco Cork mix of “Nicodemus,” (a chilling composition from “Jah Sedrick” also taken from an original master tape), plus the often-sought but long-scarce Biblical epic “At The Feast” (an extra 11 minutes of music). All this is available on CD and double-gatefold LP, but vinyl junkies, take note: The CD release includes a bonus CD of rare Perry-produced material, namely the Island 12″ versions of “Congo Man” and its dub, “Congo Man Chant” (again taken from master tapes), plus 7″ dub cuts of “Fisherman” and “Ark of the Covenant,” and the Disco Cork extended version of “Solid Foundation” thrown in for good measure (a total bonus of 26 minutes).
The best thing about the bonus CD is that it highlights Scratch’s exceptional skills of remixing. Scratch can always show other sides of songs we may think we know inside out. Scratch’s ability to transform vocal lines into mantric stabs of wordless sound is stunning on these versions, particularly on “Congoman Chant” and on the dub portion of “Solid Foundation.”
As usual, the packaging is lavish, thanks to the conceptual artistry of Mat Cook at Intro, which particularly pleased Cedric. “There’s a lot of work that has gone into that, spiritual work. Things that I wasn’t even thinking of, Blood and Fire come right up, at the surface. Some artwork that Blood and Fire dig up really untouchable.” The biographical and technical research put into the project was also extensive, further illuminated by quotes from Cedric to put the making of the music in its proper context. In short, this is what we have come to expect from Blood and Fire: rare, quality material, sanctioned by the artists who receive their share of the profits, lovingly presented in creative packaging.