Resident archivist Jack Dangers celebrates the birth of industrial dub with Adrian Sherwood’s ‘The New Age Steppers’ album
What a genius Adrian Sherwood is. He made this record in 1980 by bringing together a load of post-punk musicians and reggae players, and in the process invented industrial dub. Then he released it himself, the first album on his On-U Sound label. To be doing your own thing at that age and still be doing it 40 years later is mind-blowing.
The album’s credits read like a ‘Who’s Who’ of important post-punk figures, with Ari Up and Viv Albertine of The Slits, Keith Levene of PIL, Mark Stewart, John Waddington and Bruce Smith from The Pop Group all credited, as well as avant-garde bassist Steve Beresford and well-known reggae players like Style Scott, George Oban, Crucial Tony and Sean Oliver.
’Private Armies’, the last track on side two, was written by Vivien Goldman, who was a journalist at the NME. She was friends with John Lydon of PIL, and they shared a love of reggae. So he sneaked her and Sherwood into The Manor, Virgin’s fancy residential studio in Oxfordshire, where PIL were making an album, and they recorded a couple of tracks in downtime, with Keith Levene playing bass.
I remember when ‘The New Age Steppers’ came out, because of the cover. I wondered if they would get into trouble for using that image of Elvis Presley Hula-Hooping with a rubber tyre. Apparently, the first version of the cover was done by Mark Stewart. He did a collage of the Queen with some breasts pasted on her. Unsurprisingly, that sleeve was rejected by the distribution company.
I followed what Sherwood was doing in the 80s, the Fats Comet stuff with Skip McDonald, Doug Wimbish and Keith LeBlanc, who then became Tackhead, and the distorted hip hop stuff he did with Mark Stewart And The Maffia, but I didn’t run into him much. I did meet him once, when I was doing a remix for David Bowie and he was in the next studio. He’s a very nice bloke.
The first New Age Steppers album was re-released earlier in 2021 as part of a boxset, ‘Stepping Into A New Age 1980 – 2012’. All five of their albums are included on clear vinyl discs. You can get it for about £80, or there’s a cheaper CD version. Highly recommended.