Tradition Hi-Fi on Their All-Valve Soundsystem Journey

19 February 18 interview: Bridie Squires
photos: Curtis Powell

Andrew Neale and David Foreman make up Tradition Hi-Fi, a local soundsystem duo who this month are reviving the old times and taking over The Irish Centre with an all valve, all vinyl vintage session; one deck and a mic in tow. Here, Andrew tells us about his journey from Nottingham to Kingston, and back again...

In the eighties, the West Indian pubs like The Radford Arms, The Gregory and The Penny Farthing would have soundsystems playing most nights of the week. At weekends, there were big, all-night sessions, and reggae acts from Jamaica at places like The Palais, Sherwood Rooms and The Ad Lib Club.

Listening to sounds like V-Rocket, Quantro, Mighty Two, and Foundation Hi-Fi got me hooked on the soundsystem scene. I hosted the reggae show on the URN radio for a while, and bought my new tunes from Danny's Record Boutique on Bentinck Road. By the mid eighties, I’d started a little record stall on Victoria Centre outdoor market, selling Studio 1 music.

An early customer was David Foreman, better known as the selector “Blue Cat.” We struck up a friendship through our love of the music, and have built up Tradition Hi-Fi together over the years. We would travel the country buying up old tunes, keeping what we wanted and selling back doubles on a mail order list.

We acquired our first soundsystem that way; it came as part of a package with the music, and had a 200w valve amp and a valve pre-amp. The love affair with valve began. We were putting on small nights playing ska and rocksteady tunes from the sixties in pubs around Nottingham; Tradition Hi-Fi was the first soundsystem to play at The Maze when it opened.

In 1990, I headed out to Kingston to stay with an old sound man from Notts called “Sir Skylark” at the family home in Cockburn Gardens, West Kingston. Soundsystems would spring up on every corner of town, competing with one another to pull in the crowds. The big sounds in Jamaica had speaker stacks built like mountains, as most dances were outside. Reggae music was an absolute way of life over there then, before the American influence took hold on the island.

Through the nineties, my wife Debrah and I were travelling to Kingston every month or so, buying up old tunes and shipping them back to England. The old dubplates I’ve accumulated from Jamaica are my most prized possessions. I got the chance to buy nine double eighteen-inch speaker boxes from a soundsystem from Stand Pipe, Barbican, called Hot Sizzla, which I shipped to Nottingham.

These provided the bass section for the newly formed Tradition Hi-Fi. To run a sound of this size, a crew of like-minded friends from Southend, Oxford and London was put together, comprising a pre-amp operator, mic man, and selector. Based in Nottingham, the aim of Tradition Hi-Fi was to play the best selection of original reggae 45s and old dubplates possible, on original, hand-built seventies equipment.

Soundsystem is now a global phenomenon, but these days many play from a laptop or CD, with the emphasis on power, which I think is a shame. There are only a handful of soundsystems playing the old-school way with one record deck, all vinyl and valve amplification where quality and clarity of sound, and a deep, round bass from old-fashioned reflex speaker boxes is key.

That bit of crackle, and the anticipation when the needle drops onto a record is what makes the difference. Collecting and playing records shows that you care about the quality of your sound, because no digital source can match the frequency range from deep bass to high tops and the warmth of old-school analog recordings.

The fact that so many people travelled from all over the country to attend the Tradition Hi-Fi session in November gave Dave and I a great buzz. Some legendary UK soundsystem operators like King Earthquake and Quaker City from Birmingham came down and were full of respect for what we’re doing. That means more to us than anything.

People think that young people have no interest in old ways, but about half of the Nottingham crowd were in their twenties. I’ve had young people asking how to put a together a valve amp soundsystem since the session; I’m sure the movement back towards record decks, vinyl and valve amplification will continue.

Tradition Hi-Fi presents an All Valve, All Vinyl, Vintage Session at The Irish Centre on Friday 23 February at 9pm, tickets are £5 on the door.

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