Wolverhampton’s Capital Letters were among a wave of UK reggae bands to emerge during the late seventies, alongside Aswad, Steel Pulse and Misty In Roots. Their best-known hit is Smoking My Ganja – a rebel cry from the streets that was embraced by punks and reggae fans alike on its release in 1978. It remains one of the all-time great dance tracks from that era, and stayed on the Black Echoes’ charts for months.
“We sang about what we were seeing happening around us, and that’s the reason our songs are still relevant today,” says percussionist Wenty “Country Man” Stewart, who is the band’s longest-serving member. The nucleus of Capital Letters formed in 1976 after they’d jettisoned the name Alphabets and won a local talent competition. A little-heard debut single sank without trace but then Smoking My Ganja changed everything, and earned them a deal with Greensleeves Records.
BBC radio DJ John Peel was an enthusiastic supporter. He made Smoking My Ganja his Record Of The Week and invited them to play a live session. Exposure on Peel’s radio show led to wider exposure – not least on the university circuit – and also a UK tour promoting their debut album Headline News, which Greensleeves issued on bright red vinyl in late 1979. Titles like Fire, Daddy Was No Murderer and Unemployed were social commentary at its best, and proved how Capital Letters were unafraid to stand up for what they believed in.
The follow-up to Smoking My Ganja was UK Skanking, which challenged the perception that British reggae bands were in any way inferior to their Jamaican counterparts. In Country’s own words, “it touched another nerve.” Next, they savaged Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on their Bread And Water EP with songs like Cheap School Meals and Do We Really Need A Government?
In 1980 the band embarked on a lengthy European tour before taking a well-earned rest. They regrouped in 1982 for their second album Vineyard but then experienced a lull until a few years ago, when Greensleeves issued a deluxe edition of Headline News, and various tracks appeared on specialist labels. The latter served notice that Capital Letters had continued to write and record new material – some of it again commentating on social issues – during their absence but it was their decision to tour once more, and with nearly a full complement of original members, that has created headline news.
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