of the week

‘I am the magnificent, I’m backed by the shack of a soul boss’ is one of the most distinctive acapella openings of any song. The second you hear it, you know it cannot be anything but Double Barrel as performed by Dave and Ansil Collins who sound like they are two brothers, but were, in fact, not even related. It’s a song that includes the word ‘work’ 15 times, ‘ugh’ five times , ‘mush’ four times, ‘smash it’ four times, ‘magnificent’ three times and ‘ouch’ twice yet it doesn’t mention ‘double barrel’ once. Sounds like quite a violent song, so what is it about? Let’s delve in.

First things first: Dave was Dave Barker whose real name was David John Crooks and Ansil Collins really was Ansil Collins and he began as a singer in 1961, aged 13, when he showcased his talent at the Vere Johns Talent hour. On the back of that he was invited to join the Caribbeats as the lead vocalist and recorded tracks at the legendary Studio One in Kingston, Jamaica and from there he was heavily used as a session musician. As for Dave, he was a session vocalist on various ska and reggae tracks and had local success with Shocks Of A Mighty in 1970 and he made an album, Dave Barker Meets The Upsetters.

Shocks Of A Mighty was predominantly and instrumental  which included a few grunts and interpolated with some ‘come on’s’, but Ansil played Hammond organ on the track and that is where the pair first met. The beat-keeper on the track was the Jamaican session drummer Sly Dunbar who, with Robbie Shakespeare, would have a couple hits in the 80s as Sly & Robbie. The song was to become Double Barrel for the writer and producer, Winston Riley. Dave was asked to do the vocal but found the music too lightweight. Winston’s brother, Buster, encouraged him: “Think big, think Hercules or James Bond – 007” and from that, the record emerged and hence the inclusion of the line, ‘I am double u, o, o, o’ and the whole thing was done in just one take.

Once the song was recorded, it was issued on one of Trojan’s subsidiary label Techniques. Trojan had a good promotion team and originally appeared on a compilation called Club Reggae. It received repeated airplay on numerous pirate radio stations, but more importantly, Radio Luxembourg supported it and gave it wide rotation and, in March 1971, it entered the UK number 21 then climbed 17-4-2-1 and stayed there for two weeks before Dawn knocked on the door, three times, to out it. The week it entered, the pair were flown from Jamaican to appear on Top of the Pops, something they couldn’t believe and two weeks later were unlikely pop stars.

Naturally a follow up was needed and the pair released Monkey Spanner, which peaked at number seven later the same year and this was followed by the album also called Double Barrel. By the time Monkey Spanner was released, Collins had moved back to Jamaica and continued as a session keyboard player over the next 10 years appearing on songs by U Roy, Toots & The Maytals and Yellowman. Barker, however, relocated to the UK tried to build a solo career. In 1976, he released the album In The Ghetto which was just Dave despite being credited to Dave and Ansil Collins and didn’t include any song called In the Ghetto. Dave then joined reggae singer Bruce Ruffin in a group called Chain Reaction which made their sound more soulful.

Dave and Ansil were the second reggae act to top the UK singles chart two years after the first who was Desmond Dekker & the Aces with Israelites whose first UK had another loose James Bond connection, remember 007 (Shanty Town) if you will. Sly Dunbar will add one more UK chart-topper to his tally when he produced Chaka Demus’ cover of Twist and Shout in 1994. The duo attempted a comeback in 1981 but few noticed and they tried again in 2012 and once more in 2018 for several shows. Dave Barker appeared on an album with The Selecter, Cruel Britannia, in 1999.

Being a former number one Double Barrel still receives reasonable radio airplay but it certainly made a mark on many rap and dance acts as it’s been sampled on numerous songs including Cutman by Meat Beat Manifesto, I’m the Magnificent by Special Ed, Ya Mama by The Pharcyde, The One by Kanye West, Big Sean and 2 Chainz and Gal Wine by the aforementioned Chaka Demus and Pliers which reached number 20 later in 1994.