In the mid 1980’s a collective formed in the United Kingdom around the Bristol St. Paul’s area, based around DJs such as Nellee Hooper (later of Soul II Soul) and others who became known as “The Wild Bunch”. This collective, it has been argued, went on to form the basis of the “Bristol Sound” of the time, and was characterised by bass heavy reggae, dub, soul and hip hop. This street sound system culture soon developed into self produced titles such as Wild Bunch’s “Look of Love”, which was co-produced by a another DJ collective active in the area comprised of Rob Smith and Ray Mighty.
Smith and Mighty had already established their own sound system known as “Three Stripe”. In 1987 the duos record label, also dubbed “Three Stripe”, released two covers of well known tunes by songwriter Burt Bacharach, “Anyone (Who Had a Heart)” and “Walk On (By)”, which are the first two tracks on this recent collection of Three Strip tunes from that era. Interest in Smith and Mighty escalated in 1989 when they produced “Wishing on a Star” for Fresh Four, which instigated an offer of a deal from Richard Branson and Virgin records, which was then refused on political grounds. The pair produced the first single for the Bristol based Massive Attack “Any Love”. Their first album, in its own right, did not appear until 1995 with, the now legendary, “Bass Is Maternal”.
The music that makes up this historical article is characterised by mellow, soulful vocal, skilfully mixed with bass heavy lines and the essence of hip hop. The two Bacharach covers which open this set excrete all the elements which have made Smith and Mighty synonymous with the Bristol Sound, with snatches of samples from the original tracks, relentless bass lines and subtle scratching.
Further into the collection “Acid Off A Way (Parts 1 and 2)” takes the listener deep into the heart of a mid 80’s St. Pauls warehouse jam, with exhilarating samples and turntable trickery. “Time to Rhyme” featuring The General is pure killer dancehall which would not be out of place on a modern sound system 25 years later. “Killa” continues to thrill and put a smile on the face with its dirty bass bruising and snatches of what sounds like Slade’s Noddy Holder bellowing. The cartoon character Popeye appears to grace “Funky man (You Better Run)”, and tantalising snatches of well known gems titillate “Clash of the Beats”.
Listened to as a whole from start to finish, the listener develops an awareness of how the sound and production values of Smith and Mighty matured throughout the period in question. The music may not be as experimental as their successors Massive Attack and Portishead, but as an historical document indicative of where that sound originated, this release is indispensable.
In a contemporary setting, with prominence placed on listening to music in isolation on miniature headphones from crude digital file formats, the modern listener may not be fully equipped to appreciate the sounds being produced here. For that, one needs to place the sub woofers in the street, turn the bass up to 11, and open a tin of Red Stripe.