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The JB Allstars
A small publishing house nestled in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town is behind the ﬁrst British editions of three highly rated books on Afro- American music. Ann Donald goes looking for clues while (far right), Jake Barnes checks out The New Beats.
Anr-A an l995
t is surely a twist of fate that the righteous-
ly hipper-than-thou Grandmaster of Funk
Mr James Brown shares the same initials as
the similarly righteous MrJamie Byng. For
tucked away just off Edinburgh‘s sedate.
cobbled High Street is the new. if incon- gruous. home of the ctttting edge in Afro- American and Jamaican literature — Payback Press. It is here in the ramshackle surroundings of the Mothership. Canongate Publishing that the words of James Brown. Gil Scott Heron. Charlie Mingus and Chuck D are hiding their time before being shipped out to a bookshop near you this month.
Payback Press is the brainchild of(‘anongate‘s joint managing director. 26-year-old Jamie Byng. Author of a university thesis titled The Black ()m/ T, rulitimz: The Hip Hop Lyric. and a former club runner of Edinburgh‘s Chocolate City. Byng has already established his impecca- ble musical credentials. He has coupled this seething enthusiasm with a dose of steady busi— ness acumen to produce Payback Press. the first British imprint of its kind.
Byng is targeting ‘anyone who has ever dug the cool line of a Miles Davis solo. the wrench of a Mama Yancey lament. or the blood enliven- ing sound of James Brown and the JBs in full flow". He aims to publish work that will help people understand and appreciate the pivotal role black musicians have played in moulding 20th century culture.
‘Black music just seeps into everything that you’ve ever heard: from The Stones through to Led Zep. All the jazz, disco and ultimately house music comes straight out of the black music tradition.’
‘When I think of how deeply influenced. not just white American culture. but British culture. has been by black American music. it‘s immense.‘ says the soft-spoken Byng. whose voice and ll’utliering Here/11s appearance belie the missionary zeal behind this project. ‘lt [black music] just seeps into everything that you've ever heard. from The Stones through to Led Zep. All the jazz. disco and ultimately house music comes straight out of the black music tradition.‘
'l‘o blast Payback Press into the public eye (‘anongate is publishing what looks like a win- ning trio of books. kicking off with Ben Sidran‘s seminal Black 721M. 'l‘hough never out of print in the ten years since its American publication this is the first British pressing and comes highly recommended by the likes of Quincy Jones and Archie Shepp. In the same vein. Amiri Baraka‘s (aka Leroi Jones) Blues People also attempts to place jazz and blues within the context of American ‘musical. cultural and even emotional history’. as Byng describes it. Thirdly cotncs The New Beats by respected journalist S. H. Fernando Jr. Praised to the sky by Afrika Bambaataa. this exhaustive study of hip hop is destined to be a best-seller among the Straight N0 Chaser crowd.
Though music is the galvanising force behind Payback. the list is soon to be expanded to incor- porate fiction. biography and poetry. Byng has conducted a major coup in lining tip two eariy 70s cult classics by Godfather of hip hop. Gil Scott Heron. The Vulture. billed as ‘a hip. street-