Alan Johnson pay homage to reggae innovator Count Ossie with Stillness
Shaped around words taken from Count Ossie’s legendary track ‘Poem,’ Tom Neilan and Gareth Kirby send up a haunting homage to the reggae innovator in minimal percussion and high pressure bass weight.
“In the stillness of the night and the clamour of the day, Count Ossie’s wise poetic words ring true in every single way. Long live his legacy.” This homage opens the latest project from Alan Johnson, the dub-drenched alias of producers Tom Neilan and Gareth Kirby. Arriving in the same year as the 50th anniversary of Grounation, the ground-breaking album from Count Ossie’s foundational group, The Mystic Revelation Of Rastafari, ‘Stillness’ serves as both timeless monument to and urgent invocation of the spirit of the legendary drummer, band leader and essential figure to many Rastafari. Shaping deadly bass weight and minimal percussion around words taken from Ossie’s track ‘Poem’, Neilan and Kirby trace the origins of their reverberant sound while offering a singular statement of their own, drawing from the deep well of earth energy tapped into by Ossie’s words. “This is a track that initially came together fairly quickly in the studio in Bristol, some time back in 2020, mainly due to the fact that it had clear direction and strong narrative for us,” explain the duo. “We think visual representation can be as strong in its effect on the senses as any audio output, in creating an entirely different dynamic in delivery of an idea. Working with Liam Higgins on the visual side of this project really provided us with the ability to journey creatively along paths rarely travelled within this type of music, from an audio visual perspective. Providing the opportunity to explore creativity instinctively and collaboratively on a visual level within a unique project for both of us, we really wanted to deliver something unique and personal.”
“We had similar interpretations on theme and it felt right to take it to a moody, frantic at times and eventually paranoid, place,” they continue. “We think the hybrid direction of both live and still images works well in the context of the musical message.” Snatches of shadowboxing set against fast approaching dusk, lonely rooms framed in black and red montage, monolithic residential buildings piercing dim skies, each eerie image captures the swirling tension and creeping paranoia of ‘Stillness,’ steeped in the uneasy balance between dread stasis and sudden explosions of sound and movement. “Ever since I was a youth / I’ve always been searching for the truth / But having been told so many lies / Life, like good music, never dies,” intones Count Ossie, at once prophetic and cautionary, a diagnosis of contemporary struggle as well as a gesture towards a means of overcoming it. “A man is a sufferer of no mean order / I must die one day you’ll all hear people say / Storing up wealth, ignoring their health / But a tree is known by its fruits.” Directing us back to the earth, the ground and the power that resides in it, both Count Ossie and Alan Johnson are aligned in their grasp of the physical, Ossie in his magical realist proclamations, Neilan and Kirby in the heft of their deep bass excavations, the surge of smoke-filled air rushing from hulking sound system. Designed to be amplified loud in the dark, ‘Stillness’ zeroes in on the introspective potency of dubstep, illuminating internal caverns with their sound, allowing Count Ossie’s words the space their weight demands.
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