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Big Audio Dynamite

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A vehicle for ousted CLASH guitarist Mick Jones, London-centric BIG AUDIO DYNAMITE instigated their colourful concoction of sample-friendly, funk-tastic post-punk pop from 1984 to 1991. Together with Rasta club DJ/lyricist/effects-man Don Letts (also a music documentary filmmaker), bassist Leo Williams and keyboard-player Dan Donovan, the explosive ensemble debuted in September ’85 with `The Bottom Line’ – an anthemic platter that surely deserved to be a hit having become a live favourite.
However, with the official addition of drummer Greg Roberts, the follow-up `E=MC2’ gave the group a close brush with the Top 10 in April the following year, resurrecting sales of the critically acclaimed but almost undone debut album, THIS IS BIG AUDIO DYNAMITE (1985) {*7}. Mick’s characteristic punk-y vocals and his band’s audio-terrorist sound was not unlike a danceable CLASH in their “Sandinista”-“Combat Rock” era. Indeed, the band were attempting to fashion a gleaming new hip-hop/electro/baggy-rock hybrid, using the latter-day CLASH sound as a springboard. The debut album was at least partially successful in this endeavour; standout cuts being the previous 45s and their belated follow-up Top 30 hit, `Medicine Show’. Samples were all over the grooves via sound-bites from Clint Eastwood, Michael Caine and Spaghetti-cowboy western composer, ENNIO MORRICONE.
Billed as B.A.D., an almost rush-released second set NO.10, UPPING ST. (1986) {*6} was just as formulaic and ambitious, featuring song contributions/production work from Jones’ former CLASH mucker, JOE STRUMMER; proving that anyone could bury the hatchet to a degree. With more than a nod to EDDIE COCHRAN’s nugget `C’mon Everybody’, `C’Mon Every Beatbox’ pulled out all the stops of commerciality, although it failed to generate as big a sales market as the parent album. Ditto `V Thirteen’, which only just scraped a UK Top 50 placing.
The proceeding couple of years saw the band struggle as Jones himself survived a near fatal bout of pneumonia; B.A.D. albums (or just “bad” Top 40 albums) TIGHTEN UP, VOL.88 (1988) {*4} and MEGATOP PHOENIX (1989) {*5} were sad but brave attempts at further pushing back the boundaries between different genres, cut-n-pasting reggae, hip-hop and even country; minor hit `Just Play Music!’ (from the former) was their best jingle.
By the end of the decade, the B.A.D. blueprint was being more successfully and inventively interpreted by a new wave of white kids armed with samples, drum machines and an attitude: enter EMF, JESUS JONES, etc. The original line-up split at the turn of the decade (Letts, Roberts, Williams and Donovan later founded DREADZONE) although Mick recruited new players for BIG AUDIO DYNAMITE II, namely Nick Hawkins, Gary Stonadge and drummer Chris Kavanagh. The re-vamped BAD II collective recorded the critically and commercially underwhelming dance-rock album, KOOL-AID (1990) {*4}; 1991’s Stateside success story THE GLOBE {*6} took most by surprise – DJ Zonka adding his turntable skills to the latter – when it spawned a Top 40 party gate-crasher in `Rush’; Jones was also credited on AZTEC CAMERA’s Top 20 UK hit `Good Morning Britain’.
Though Mick continued working under the BIG AUDIO moniker into the mid-90s (HIGHER POWER (1994) {*3} was his/their lowest point), output was largely confined to a cult following, including BAD’s swansong casualty, F-PUNK (1995) {*4} and spawned single `I Turned Out A Punk’. In 1998, Radioactive Records (who issued Mick and Co’s previous effort) shelved BAD’s comeback set, `Entering A New Ride’.
Jones would duly take up production duties on a raft of sets by the likes of The LIBERTINES/BABYSHAMBLES, HARD-FI, etc. In the early-mid 00s, Mick Jones and Leo Williams were part of supergroup CARBON/SILICON (alongside former GENERATION X and SIGUE SIGUE SPUTNIK punk Tony James plus REEF/Kubb man Dominic Greensmith), GORILLAZ live entourage with The CLASH’s Paul Simonon, while there were rumours that BIG AUDIO DYNAMITE were to re-form in 2011.
© MC Strong 1994-2002/GRD // rev-up MCS May2012

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