By Patricia Meschino
Queens, New York-based reggae independent VP Records has relaunched UK reggae label Blood and Fire, known primarily for its quality reissues of Jamaican recordings from the 1970s and ’80s, many of which were overlooked upon their initial release.
Founded in Manchester, England in 1993 by Elliot Rashman, Andy Dodd, Bob Harding (management of the multi-platinum 1980s soul-pop group Simply Red), Mick Hucknall (Simply Red’s lead singer) and authoritative reggae collector Steve Barrow, the label’s A&R and co-author of “The Rough Guide to Reggae” (which has reportedly sold nearly 50,000 copies), Blood and Fire sought to highlight the reggae narrative beyond the genre’s crossover stars through promotion of beautifully packaged reissues that include extensive booklets detailing the featured artists’ career trajectories, annotated song listings, rare photographs and vivid graphics.
Blood and Fire commenced its release schedule in 1994 with “If Deejay Was Your Trade – The Dreads at King Tubby’s 1974-1977”, which compiled tracks produced by Bunny “Striker” Lee, featuring popular toasters of the mid-’70s including Dr. Alimantado, Dillinger and Tappa Zukie. The label reaped accolades for their re-release of ethereal vocal duo the Congos’ “Heart of the Congos,” produced by Lee “Scratch” Perry, introduced a new generation of fans to the pioneering Rastafarian deejay Big Youth with the three CD set “Natty Universal Dread 1973-1979” and restored the availability of iconic singer Horace Andy’s “In The Light/In The Light Dub” more than 10 years after those titles were out of print.
Blood and Fire also released two one-riddim albums: “Tree of Satta” (2003) utilizing the majestic “Satta Massagana” rhythm as featured on the hit song by vocal trio the Abyssians and “Fisherman Style: (2006) adapted from The Congos’ timeless “Fisherman” rhythm, both releases offering new material from a cross generational representation of singers and deejays.
The steep decline in CD sales, the bankruptcies of the label’s distributors in the US and France, and “a catastrophic decision by my co-director in Manchester to stop trading,” as Barrow declared in a 2013 interview on the Midnight Raver blog, forced Blood and Fire out of business in 2007. Thus, their relaunching through VP, with Barrow overseeing the mastering, packaging and compiling of a dozen Blood and Fire titles in various formats, with additional content and updated packaging, is welcome news to music fans.
The initial VP/Blood and Fire collaboration will be a (vinyl only) limited edition 12″ of Gregory Isaacs’ 1978 single “Mr. Know It All,” scheduled for release on Record Store Day (Apr. 19). In a company press release sent out on Feb. 18, VP Records CEO Chris Chin stated: “Blood and Fire presented reggae with premium quality and care as well as revived the careers of many unsung producers and performers. We respect and admire the Blood and Fire brand and are delighted to be working together.”