John Holt – Tribal War & Version

3rd October 2023 · 1970s, 1978, Music, Reggae

One of my favourite singers; one of my favourite songs. What more could you want – a killer dub by The Revolutionaries? It ticks that box too.

Written and first recorded – at a slower tempo – in 1973 at Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s Black Ark Studioi by Little Roy, with Dennis Brown playing bass, Leroy ‘Horsemouth’ Wallace on drums, Roy Hamilton on guitar and Pablo Black on keyboards.

It was a reaction to the growing political unrest in Jamaica. Five years later John Holt hit the zeitgeist when he released his own version, backed by The Wailers with Sly and Robbie on bass and drums.

It could not have been more topical, with Jamaica embroiled in political warfare between Michael Manley’s socialist People’s National Party and the their conservative rivals, the confusingly named Jamaica Labour Party led by Edward Seaga.

It was later recorded in an equally memorable version by the lesser-known George Nooks, plus a Joe Gibbs-produced dub by the splendidly named Prince Weedy, plus a brilliant take on it by the great toaster Dillinger called War Is Over, and, far less to my taste, in a dancehall style by Buju Banton and friends in 2004.

Although many reggae fans (including me) associate the song with the great John Holt, that never sat well with Little Roy, who has once complained (with some justification): “I wrote the lyrics and the melody. A lot of people come and sing it over and some of them try to act as if it is theirs.”