A style suited to the London reggae scene, lovers rock represented an apolitical counterpoint to the conscious sound dominant in Jamaica at the time, a continuation of the soulful and commonly love-themed Jamaican lovers , based on singers like Johnny Nash, Alton Ellis, Carlene Davis, Delroy Wilson and many others.
Rooted in the sound systems of South London, the style had particular appeal amongst women and produced many female stars including Jean Adeabambo,Paulette Tajah, Marie Piere and many more. Louisa Mark was aged 14 when she had a major lovers rock hit with her version of Robert Parker’s “Caught You in a Lie” in 1975.
This spawned the distinctive young girl female sound associated with early lovers rock. Simplicity formed in 1975 and released their first hit “To Be in Love” produced by Coxson; the B-side was the Emotions classic, “A Feeling Is a Feeling”. They were headhunted by Neville King who produced their hits “Loving Kind”, “Waiting” and “Black Is Our Colour”. This was followed by the husband and wife production team of Dennis and Eve Harris who then had a big hit with T.T. Ross’s “Last Date”. Dennis Harris then set up a new record label, Lover’s Rock, at the south east London premises on Upper Brockley Road along with John Kpiaye and Dennis Bovell, which gave the new genre a name.
South London trio Brown Sugar (including a young Caron Wheeler, later of Soul II Soul) pioneered a subgenre, ‘conscious lovers’, with songs such as “I’m in Love with a Dreadlocks” and “Black Pride”. Others who released records in this subgenre included the Battersea songstress Winsome and Kofi.
Although noted for the preponderance and youth of its female exponents, the new style produced male stars as well, notably Trevor Walters, Winston Reedy, Junior English, Victor Romeo Evans and a long list of male singers. The trend also saw the emergence of many male groups, including Tradition, The Investigators and the Birmingham group Beshara, who in 1981, had the emotive reggae chart hit “Men Cry Too”.
Subsequently, numerous well-established Jamaican acts came to try their hand at the new sound. Most successful among these were Gregory Isaacs, Dennis Brown, Sugar Minott, and later Freddie McGregor. Brown’s “Money in My Pocket” ( in 1979) and Minott’s “Good Thing Going” ( in 1981) were both big hits in the UK Singles Chart.
The popularity of lovers rock has continued, and in the 1980s with many different record labels on the scene like, Santic records, NK, Inner City. In the 1990s, the likes of Mike Anthony, Peter Hunnigale and Donna Marie enjoyed success with the genre, and several British stars have performed at Reggae Sunsplash. The 21st century has seen lovers rock being exposed to more audiences all over the world with the introduction of Loversrockradio the online internet radio formed in 2010. Lovers Rock is International, with many emerging artists from countries such as Germany, Japan, Philippine’s and even Poland.
British singers Sade and Estelle both titled their albums Lovers Rock and the songs on those albums were inspired by the genre.
The Founders of Lovers Rock
Harris is credited with introducing the term lovers rock to reggae. His initial releases surfaced on the Dip, Lucky and Eve labels, but it was the introduction of the Lovers Rock label that coined the phrase that lives on to this day. Harris recorded Brown Sugar for their hits ‘I’m In Love With A Dreadlocks’, ‘Hello Stranger’ and ‘Black Pride’. Other Lovers Rock productions were Vivian Clark’s ‘Come And Take Me’ and Carolyn And Roland’s ‘You’re Having My Baby. The musicians who had successfully recreated the Jamaican sound were reported to be members of Matumbi, who had recorded the tunes in Harris’ south London studio.
John Ogetti Kpiaye was born in 1948 in the East End of London to an English mother and Nigerian father. John became totally involved in writing, producing and playing on numerous reggae hits. It was during this time that he earned his reputation as the leading reggae guitarist on the British reggae scene, developing his own distinctive style of playing. John had his greatest success as a writer/producer, churning out countless hits for Dennis Harris’ Lovers Rock record label. His production had a distinctively British feel and consisted mainly of female harmony groups like Brown Sugar, Fifteen Sixteen and Seventeen and many solo female singers doing the kind of romantic reggae that became known as ‘Lovers’ Rock’.
Between 1977-82 John Kpiaye did a lot of session work, adding special touches to the productions of artists like I Jahman Levi, Georgie fame, Aswad, Eddie Grant, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Dennis Brown, Janet Kay, Dennis Bovell and others. Since 1982 he has been the resident guitarist in the Dennis Bovell Dub Band, touring the world with Linton Kwesi Johnson. Working with Bovell and Johnson gave John Kpiaye the freedom he needed to perfect his soloing style, the evidence of which can be heard on LKJ’s recordings and on his own album, Red, Gold and Blues.
Born in Saint Peter, Barbados, in 1953,Dennis Bovell moved to South London and became immersed in Jamaican culture particularly dub music, setting up his own Jah Sufferer sound system. Bovell also worked as an engineer at Dip Records, the precursor to the Lovers Rock label, and he was a key figure in the early days of the lovers rock genre. He is also known for attempting to fuse disco rhythms with reggae, most notably with the hit song “Silly Games” by Janet Kay. According to Bovell, he wrote “Silly Games” with the sole intent of it being a hit song.
He has produced albums by a wide variety of artists including I-Roy, The Thompson Twins, Sharon Shannon, Alpha Blondy, Bananarama, The Pop Group, Fela Kuti, The Slits] Orange Juice and Madness. He has collaborated with poet, Linton Kwesi Johnson for much of his working life. Bovell also co-wrote and co-produced the majority of material by British reggae singer Bobby Kray.