Smiley & The Underclass


Saturday 1st September 2018

Name, where are you from?
I'm Smiley from Smiley & The Underclass, and we are a load of punky reggae noise from London (via Japan, Montserrat and Essex).

Describe your style in three words?
Wear until destroyed.

What’s the best gig you’ve ever been to?
It's a toss-up between Leonard Cohen at Big Chill Festival in 2008 and Jah Shaka last year at the Irish Centre in Birmingham. The Shaka tune would have to be 'Jahovah' by Danny Red because it's just irresistible when you hear it through that sound system and it elevates you to somewhere special. For Cohen, I would say 'Anthem'. It was the first time I'd ever seen him, and I didn't know any of his songs except 'Hallelujah' and 'Suzanne.' “There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in” is the line that got me. He'd been forced out of retirement by his manager nicking all his money, and yet here he was pouring light into our heads. So the lyric was happening in real-time!

If you could be on the line up with any two bands in history?
Dead Kennedys circa 1981... The MC5... Impossible question coz there's too many! James Brown, Jefferson Airplane and Bad Brains would all be at the front of the queue...

Which subcultures have influenced you?
Well, we've all grown up in a post-subculture culture it feels like, at least in the UK, where everything is fused together. I love reggae but I'm partial to a bit of raving. And also there's love for the Clash and punk rock. I guess there's also been an influence from Rastafari and hippie culture, manifesting in things like vegetarianism, veganism, social and environmental concerns. So, in short, all of them!

If you could spend an hour with anyone from history?
Odetta. Her voice was like a lighthouse in the dark helping to show you the way to the shore. And a leading force in the arts for the Civil Rights movement, so I'd love to talk to her about music and what musicians can do to affect change in these similarly dark times. But I doubt she'd have time for my bullshit.

Of all the venues you’ve played, which is your favourite?
Difficult question... We started the band playing at Mau Mau Bar in Ladbroke Grove, which is a tiny place with an even tinier stage. But the vibe is so real and you're up close to the audience, sweat and spit and a real honest connection between the band and the people. But then in terms of actual big venues where we don't have such a personal connection? I would say Socore Factory in Osaka, Japan. Coz the audience was amazing and we were so happy that it was packed!

Your greatest unsung hero or heroine in music?
Maybe Glen Brown. A true pioneer of Jamaican music who was involved in all of the music's evolutionary phases from ska through to roots and dub and up until the modern era. Reggae is sadly littered with unsung heroes and way too many of them live in dire poverty due to rip-off deals they made back in the '70s. The reggae industry has, and still is, run by gangsters and cowboys. I read that he's in a nursing home somewhere, broke as hell. But he made some of the most breathtaking music ever.

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