This top dressed deejay talks to RedRobin about the early days, his memories of UK dancehalls in the 70s and 80s, linking up with Reality Shock, and where he gets his inspiration from.
Mr Bond, without further ado, could you please introduce yourself?
Well, I am the original secret agent 001, Speng Bond, AKA, James Bond, AKA Papa Rhynie,from Birmingham U.K. My attraction to sound system and reggae business began at a very early age in the 60s. At six-years old I played at my own birthday party. My parents had some friends round for a drink-up, next thing I was playing the music and everyone was dancing and shouting ‘tuuunnnee’!
So from then, with my parents we would go to parties and wedding receptions and I would look keenly at the sound systems. Sounds like Count Slim would fascinate me with lots of pretty lights around the amplifier case and fancy artwork on the speaker boxes. And the vibes were always good.
Around 1974 when I was still at school, I linked up with some friends from just outside my area in Spon Lane, they had a little sound system. Colin was a close friend of the family and he knew I loved sound system. He said I could join up with them and I did.
I would select the tunes and talk on the mic. We clashed at our youth club with some friends from school who lived in my area. We won the clash, and from then we joined forces and had a bigger sound called Black Ambassador. So from 1974 I really started.
The vibes sound like they were great! They must have been some lovely times back then?
In the UK the 70s were the best times for me. Rastafari had a strong influence in the community and the dancehalls, so there was a lot more love, respect and culture all over the UK.
But when the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher the ‘Milk Snatcher’ came into power and was prime minister, everything started to change. People couldn’t get no jobs and money was hard to find, especially in Birmingham. But the dancehalls were still exciting.
I would listen to sounds like Mafiatone, Quaker City, Lord Sufferer, Sanatone, Sir Coxson, Bizmark, Lord Shiley, and many more great sound systems around the UK. Nowadays in the UK the vibes are not as good, half the DJs nowadays don’t even have a sound system. Back in the 70s you wouldn’t even think of playing on someone elses sound, you had to build your own.
For me things kept moving, and I would say my grandest moment was when I was playing with a sound called Starlight Express AKA Jungle Man from Handsworth, Birmingham. We were supporting Steel Pulse on their European tour. One night by surprise, David Hines the lead singer called me up on the stage to chat some lyrics. That was a great moment for me.
How did you come to the name Speng Bond?
The name Speng Bond came when I moved to London in 1989. In the beginning of the 80s in Birmingham, I originally started out as Papa Rhynie, then I wanted to find a better name. So one day I was in the library and noticed a book on birth signs. When I looked up my birth sign, Scorpio, I saw a picture of James Bond. He was supposed to have the characteristics of a Scorpion, so I chose that name.
But when I went to London there were four more James Bonds, and people were saying they had heard me at dances where I hadn’t been! So I switched to Speng, because Speng as I know it from Jamaica, is when a man looks sharp, looks good, neat and tidy. When I used to wear my three-piece mohair suit and beaver hat to match, some of my friends would shout ‘whooi Speng’! So I just use the name and say Speng Bond. Funny thing now all the James Bonds have disappeared, I wonder why?
What were some of your earlier releases?
The first songs I recorded were ‘Duppyman Skank’ and ‘Remedy’, produced by my friend Echo Dee back in 1983 in Birmingham.
Then around 1984 I was the MC for Ravers Hi Fi on the frontline in Handsworth. All the members of that sound were from the legendary Mafiatone Hi Fi, with the great Stafford Douglas as the owner. He also produced some great tunes, like ‘Misunderstanding’ by The Symbols and ‘Fussing and Fighting’ by Triston Palmer, on his own label Art & Craft.
Anyway I was chatting the mic one Monday night and Pato Banton came over to me and said ‘UB40 are looking for you’. He gave me Earls number, the bass player for UB40, and said to give him a ring. So I called him the next day and he said he liked my style and wanted me to be on their next album called ‘Baggariddim’, with some other MCs. So I did a combination with another MC called General CP, the track is entitled, ‘Fight Fi Come In’.
Where does Speng Bond dig up such inspirational and entertaining lyrics?
Well, back in the 80s I used to deejay about things I could see around me, injustice, sex, roots and culture, discrimination, sport, and world news. Most topics that were headline news I would chat about. This is the same as I do now, like my tunes ‘Cut Backs’, ‘White Horse’, ‘Big Bredda’, and ‘Ganjaman’, topics which everyone in the dance can relate to.
When I am going to voice a song, I put pen to paper and think about the topic, and try to put as many details about the subject into the song. Some words are hard hitting, because I like to get positive and important message across, but I like to add humour as well so the people can have a laugh at the same time and enjoy the tune.
Most of what I say is about real life experiences that we all are facing. Sometimes people feel a bit offended, but I like to keep it real.
Nowadays you roll with Reality Shock. How did that come about?
I linked up with Kris Kemist two years ago. I had to find a studio in Reading to voice some riddims for the drummer from the reggae band Matumbi. So I called Cashima Steele, another good producer who was living in Reading, as I knew he used a studio there when Errol Dunkley visited.
He gave me Kris Kemist’s number at Reality Shock Studio and I went there and voiced the tune. Kris said if I did a dubplate for him I wouldn’t have to pay for studio time, so obviously I did it. Kris then said we could do some business together, and I recorded the EP ‘001 Speng Bond’.
He then he linked me up with Jahtari, Cubiculo Records, Naram, and a few more producers who I have worked with.
So can we expect some red-hot 001 releases soon?
Well, I’ve voiced quite a few tunes for various producers. The ones to look out for which are coming soon are ‘Animal Dance’ by Mungo’s Hi Fi, ‘Pepper Dem’ by Subactive Crew, ‘Big Bredda’ by Naram, and ‘Ketch a Fyah’ by Reality Shock.
I am also now working on an album which will hopefully be released late 2014. There is lots more coming from me for sure, so until such time, to all my fans I say peace, love, guidance, art and culture to all! Jah Rastafari!
Jah Bless, Speng
Michael Robins AKA RedRobin