Jamaican who married into a steel band

A family member, Valerie Cherrie, who was a lovely lady, sadly passed away a few weeks ago. She was from Jamaica and in true Caribbean spirit, this post will mourn her passing by celebrating life. As some of you may know, Solid Steel is a family steel band. It’s a direct descendant of The Cherry Pickers steel band that Grandpa Max – the patriarch and oldest living member of the Cherrie family- formed after he came to England back in 1952. He came from the island of Trinidad, the home of steel band music at a time when most of his fellow Caribbean immigrants were from Jamaica.

Well, over the years Solid Steel has evolved into what it is today, but family has always been at the crux of who we are. On some gigs, there are even inter-generational Cherries playing together but even the members of Solid Steel who don’t carry the name Cherrie are considered ‘family’. Some of our steel band’s members have been from Jamaica and this post is also a dedication to them as part of our family.

Val came to Britain in the ’60s from Jamaica where steel band music was barely played. She joined the Cherrie family in 2004 when she married Grandpa Max. She loved the man, but she also loved the steel band music she was only now hearing regularly. With her vibrancy, sage advice and joyous demeanour – not to forget her absolute bosslady skills in the kitchen, Val fit in perfectly with the family and with Max’s steel band activities. She became famed amongst us for her delicious Jamaican food and her Jamaican spirit. So, this blog comes as a dedication to her and all Jamaicans who left their imprint on British culture.

Here at Solid Steel we believe music to be at the forefront of culture and so we shall solely focus on Jamaicans’ impact on British music. As let’s face it, if we were to consider the effect of Jamaicans on all aspects of British culture, we’d be here all day.

A large range of British music is indebted to Jamaica- steel band sadly not one that it receives much credit for. In the 60s, when the UK’s Jamaican community began to emerge and our dear Val arrived in this strange island, there was Ska. This genre that combined elements of Calypso with jazz and traditional R&B encompassed Jamaica, and its popularity travelled to the UK along with its patriates. Interestingly, in spite of the worldwide presence of Jamaicans in various countries, Ska music only really cottoned on in the UK. In 1962, three music labels releasing Jamaican music existed in the UK – Melodisc, Blue Beat and Island Records. Tracks such as “My Boy Lollipop” took Britain by storm and breathed a breath of life into Britain’s music scene that has still kept blood pumping to this day.

Arguably the most identifiably Jamaican musical influence, Reggae became incredibly popular – especially in Birmingham in the 1970s and 80s. The city was the home of Britain’s leading reggae groups, including UB40, Steel Pulse. As a result of era defining punk and reggae, Two Tone was born. Clearly, Two Tone bands were inspired by slower Jamaican Ska records of the 60’s, thus Two Tone was seen as the second wave of Ska. Bands like The Specials, The Beat and Madness were bastions of this particular sound.

A decade after this, sound system culture emerged in Bristol. This culture was a vein from the same artery that gave life to the development of digital sampling technology in trip hop. It’s distinctive concoction of heavy baselines, complex arrangements and sampling was being championed by artists such as Smith and Mighty, Massive Attack and Portishead.

Following the initial wave of house music in the 90s, the rhythmic influence of reggae produced the much-loved genre of jungle, where you could hear sped up beats mixed with reggae sounding dub baselines and MCing. By the end of the decade, this genre became widely known as drum ‘n bass with its prototype now being referred to as “oldschool jungle.”

There are many other genres of British music who owe their life to Jamaicans living in the UK. Notable mentions include Grime, Funky House and Dubstep. The Jamaican influence on the music scene is so vast that the butterfly affect is still going strong to this day and we will continue to live in the shadow of it’s beautiful consequence for many years to come.

Rest in Peace Valerie Cherrie.