Surrounded by his crack team, super reggae producer and veteran industry engineer, Mike Pelanconi, stepped into the studio once more under his Prince Fatty moniker to make one of the finest modern albums of the genre. Fresh from mixing Lily Allen’s multi-million selling debut, he set about adding the same trademark dub science to his own group of top-flight musicians and singers.
Vocals came from legends like Little Roy, Winston Francis, Alcapone, and Horseman. Many he’d known for years, working reggae studios as a kid. And playing came courtesy of the slick fingers of Bubblers from the Ruff Cut Band, and Style Scott from the Roots Radics, glueing everything together.
The cherry on top was roots revivalist, Hollie Cook, daughter of Sex Pistol Paul Cook, and final front woman for post-punk outfit, The Slits. Each musician fit Fatty’s setup like a glove, as he worked the dials and expertly tempered the pressure levels.
Musically they recontextualised classics from Jamaican trio the Mighty Diamonds, flipped funk numbers by Curtis Mayfield, and added new life to golden era hip-hop bangers by Cypress Hill and the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard.
The album was indeed supersized, and his collection of soundsystem troubling tracks beefed and bolstered by a master of his craft. "I think the skill set of a good producer is choosing complementary personalities,” says Pelanconi. “And, in the end, I would quite happily say I was the weakest link in the chain. And that’s how it should be.”
Ever humble, Pelanconi, was nevertheless gifted in the subtle art of the ‘push and pull’ – that magic balance in reggae where everything sits perfectly in the mix.
“When people talk about the nice feel of my records, it’s because of that groove factor,” he says. “It’s about that feeling. And it comes from the technique of pushing and pulling and the syncopation with how things like the piano and guitar chops work together. You need all the elements within the bar and the groove to have that movement. And I find that this energy, especially with reggae, is most crucial.”
“With all the music in my heart, it’s not good to use a metronome. I get it when you have to use one – I understand the practical requirements. But, I think if you’ve got a good drummer, he’s your metronome. It makes a big difference.”
"I used Fish Factory Studios in Willesden to record, which had an old console set up by Antonio [Feola], I think it was a 51 series. It was a traditional old-school setup with a 16-track tape machine. So, two inch, just the desk, and good microphones - Neumanns, AKG, Sennheiser, and so on. But generally, standard '70s and '80s studio microphones.
"The room was nice. I liked to record everybody together. I don't really care about the bleed all that much, as long as it's not overpowering.
"I had spring reverbs, and the same reverb King Tubby used, which is called the Fisher Space Expander. That's a tube reverb. You have to modify it, though.
"Then it was mixed in Brighton on my analogue equipment. I used a modified ReVox for tape echo.
"Generally, I tended to just use plugins for EQ, because on my desk at the time the EQ was very limited, as I was using an old BBC board, and the high end and bottom end were fixed."
Track by track with Prince Fatty
Dry Your Tears
“There’s a few versions of this song. Bruce Ruffin did the original, and it’s a beautiful track. Then King Tubby did a version later with Tinga Stewart, which was kind of a sound system, ’80s cut. Both are wicked in their own way.
“I got Winston Francis on this version, and he knew Bruce Ruffin, so it was all cool. I like to ask people’s permission, just to make sure they don’t mind.
“Bruce’s version is very slow, and for real old-school Jamaican people. But, it was a bit too slow for me to DJ with. And I was like, ‘OK, I need it to add some old-school, like the Bruce Ruffin version, but I want it to have the same swing and energy as the Tubby version, even though that is kind of more programmed’. That was my mindset – sort of bridging the gap between the two versions.”
Still I Wanna Love You
“This was me trying to challenge myself. And me and Horsemen love Studio One. And those grooves are actually the hardest and toughest to play, because the swing that the musicians had back in that time was wonderful.
"I think it’s because they obviously had to learn how to play jazz and ragtime music, and all these super old traditional things, and so they really understood swing. So, I was like, I want to get something that’s got that kind of feeling.
“And I got Little Roy in, and he had the idea for the lyrics. And then Alcapone had come round to cut some dubplates and jumped on it, too. And then, blam! It just came out very spontaneous.”
Shimmy Shimmy Ya
“Me and Horseman did this because Ol’ Dirty had passed away, and we loved him. So, that’s why we did this track. Because I felt that when he passed it was like it’s the end of the old-school hip-hop era. Just like maybe when Elvis passed away. Everyone was, ‘OK, that’s the old-school quiff, rock ’n’ roll, over,’
“We used to hold a one minute silence for ODB in the club. For months we did that. Literally because Horseman loved him, too. So, we did that, and literally we’ve got a 2,000 capacity venue, dead silent for a minute. And we run this version of the tune and it just erupts.
“It was for ODB. And also to have tracks that no one else had. And then as I use them, I release them, and then I replaced them with new ones in the set.”
That Very Night In Dub
“This is one of my favourite tracks. The vocal from Holly Cook is actually quite special, I think, on that song. Like, it is quite technical as well, with the pitch in what she’s doing. And it sounds easy – like, it’s not. You know what I mean?
“There’s some good technique, so when I popped the dub of that I was like, ‘OK, that one’s coming to me, you know? Thank you!’ [laughs]
“Me and Holly were both on the Mr Bongo label, as well. I think that we helped revitalise Bongo, because basically all their other artists are dead. We were the only ones that were alive. And we were the only ones popping out wanting to go do shows or go to festivals, and so it was nice. And they’re big reggae fans anyway, which is cool, as you have to be.”
Need Some Lovin
“Around that time no one was really interested in the lovers rock, right? Without boasting or anything, I was the one put that back, because no one was interested in that. There was a little lull in that period, I think.
“There was a difference between what we were doing and what the Jamaicans were doing. Because then the Jamaicans soon after that went back to being old-school, which was nice, if you see what I mean with Protoje, Chronixx, you know, bringing bands back, and all this kind of thing.
“The vibe with Little Roy on this is that lovers rock. And, obviously, with Little Roy being on that rootsy vibe, that’s him being natural, too.”
Bedroom Eyes Dub
“Natty on this one. I’d mixed his first album when he was signed to Atlantic. I’d always liked him, respected him.
“This was actually a remix to one of his songs, Bedroom Eyes, that
we’d done. But, I think the record company were like, ‘Oh, it’s too Jamaican and reggae’, or whatever. I was like, ‘Cool. If you don’t mind, can I release the dub of it?’ And they were like, ‘Sure’.
“Generally, I think that the vocal versions do their thing for sure, obviously. But, the dub… as soon as you break down the vocal arrangement, suddenly, you’re opening up the instrumentation and the echoes.
“This one is more a Channel One kind of style with the stepper’s beat kind of thing. And, basically, doing the kind of mixes that the record company wouldn’t allow us to do.
“It was the same when I mixed Lily Allen, you know? They didn’t think it would sell. It did 2.5 million.”
Ain't Got It
“That’s an old Curtis Mayfield song. So, Curtis Mayfield is my favourite artist. Musically, spiritually, and his influence, and all these things. I think he’s amazing. Love it. And Norman Whitfield is one of my favourite producers.
"He worked with The Temptations, Undisputed Truth. Which is why I like echoes, because he really liked delays. So, when it came to this track I was like, ‘What would it be like as a Curtis Mayfield, Norman Whitfield, Jackie Mittoo kind of fusion thing?’ Then, with the organ, because I love the Hammond, anyway.
“Yeah, that’s really where we’re coming from, you know? It sounds more psychedelic and blues. And, honestly, Horseman is one of the baddest drummers on the planet on this, too. He’s really musical, rhythmical, bouncy… And there’s a million words to describe him. But, he is very, very special, you know?”
“This is another monster roots classic, from the Mighty Diamonds. I love them. But, I’ve never found a good sound system cut of this tune. So, I thought, I need to have classics that people know and recognise, but stuff that I can quickly cut the vocal from, and then just go back to the instrumental. So, while we’re going live, Horseman can just freestyle and MC over the top.
“I just needed more tracks like that. And it came out really nice, with a different feeling. It’s really personality driven. So, when we put people together, even though it’s another song and another version or whatever, it’s always going to sound different. And this is the power musicians have, you know?”
Come On Girl Disco Mix
“Winston Francis and Horseman, again. Great artists. People get obsessed over equipment. But, actually, it really is all about the player, if you see what I mean? And we all underestimate that.
"So, when we listen to a record and go, ‘Amazing. It was done with a Neve.’ But the Neve isn’t gonna give you the music. The Neve is just there to record it. It isn’t the one that’s swinging or playing a dirty funky groove that’s just killing you. We underestimate that people are very clever. And putting good people together – good producers do that.”
Roof Over My Dub
“Little Roy on this one. I had a good, good relationship with him because I’d met him in Brixton, back in the day. What people don’t realise about me is that I was working in the reggae studios as a kid in Brixton. A lot of these guys I’ve known for a long time.
“I used to go help out in Acre Lane in Brixton in a studio called Lion Music. And they had a little label and studio down there. And the engineers kept disconnecting things, and not reconnecting them. So, the studio manager was calling me like once a week, going off, ‘Channel 14 on the tape machine isn’t working’. So, I’d just jump on the bus and go down and sort it out.
“So, getting Little Roy on a track like this was great, because we go way back.”
Insane in the Brain
“This came about because we were playing a gig with Madness. And every time we’re going to play with them they’re like, ‘Oh! How are you going to mash us this time?’ As we always come with our own version of a track to play at the shows.
“I grew up with hip-hop and reggae. And I got into funk from reverse engineering the hip-hop. I’d always loved Cypress Hill, so wanted to cover this tune, too.
“It was crazy because when I went to LA to do some shows, DJ Muggs from the group came down and he told me he’d actually bought copies of this 45 to send everyone for Christmas the year it came out, which blew me away.”
Right now Prince Fatty is busy teaching audio production. He’s also building a studio above the Fox & Firkin in Lewisham, full of vintage gear, and an echo chamber in the stairwell.
Production-wise he’s working with Shniece McMenamin on her solo album, out later this year. And he’s getting ready to drop more exclusive dub samples and stems on his website.
And, if that’s not enough, his new afro tropical funk label, Manga Rosa, will be
firing this year, with material from the late Tony Allen. Visit his website to find out more. (opens in new tab)