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history_topimageDuring the early part of the 1980s, Wolverhampton-based reggae band Weapon Of Peace constantly threatened to break through into the mainstream with their sophisticated fusion of UK roots, funk, jazz and blues, which was adorned by incisive social commentaries and mature reflections on matters of the heart that belied their youth. A string of critically acclaimed releases, including two albums, and a reputation for dynamic live performances prompted much interest from the heavyweight music press, such as the NME, Sounds, Melody Maker, Record Mirror and Echoes. Indeed, they were hailed as “the next hope for multi-cultural Britain” in those turbulent early years of Margaret Thatcher’s tenure as Prime Minister.

Formed by school friends in 1976 as Letters, the band’s initial line-up included Mick De Souza (rhythm guitar / backing vocals) and Vince Nelson (bass). The change of name to Weapon Of Peace, to distinguish them from their fellow Wolverhampton reggae outfit Capital Letters, occurred soon after, while a series of changes in personnel saw the arrival of Abraham ‘Lincoln’ Williams (lead vocals), Clive Brown (drums), Clyde McKenzie (keyboards), Mick Taylor (saxophone) and John ‘Jock’ Evans (lead guitar). The first couple of years were spent on the black club circuit, appearing at such venues as the Rising Star in Bilston, the Rialto and Monte Carlo in Handsworth, the International Club in Small Heath, Judari in Smethwick, and the Blue Lagoon in Bristol.

The diverse array of musical influences that individual members brought to the band resulted in a sound that was more akin to the international style of reggae created by Jamaican group Third World than that of their UK counterparts, such as Steel Pulse, Aswad and Misty In Roots. The determination to push musical boundaries was reinforced by regular visits to Rebecca’s night club in Birmingham, a three storey venue that simultaneously played roots reggae in the basement, funk on the middle floor and mainstream disco on the top floor. Whilst standing on the stairs between floors, band members began consciously studying the interaction between the different genres. Around the same time, their musical horizons were further broadened when they struck up a friendship with Steve Heart, of Wolverhampton punk outfit Neon Hearts, whom they met at the town’s legendary Lord Raglan pub. With their creativity channelled in a new direction there was an immediate upturn in the band’s fortunes.

With the assistance of local rock guitarist Robin George (Quartz / Magnum) they secured a base and rehearsal room at Wolverhampton Polytechnic, a venue they played regularly, sometimes filling in when a band failed to show up. Their burgeoning reputation led to them signing with Roy Williams’ Astra Agency, and a publishing deal with Graduate Records, who were soon to enjoy huge success with UB40’s debut album Signing Off. During this period, Weapon Of Peace shared the stage with the likes of UB40 and Dexy’s Midnight Runners, a number of punk bands, such as The Exploited, Angelic Upstarts, Au Pairs, The Denizens and Fashion, and even headlined future pop megastars Duran Duran.

In July 1980, Weapon Of Peace embarked on a nationwide tour supporting Irish punk band Stiff Little Fingers, which included a show at London’s Rainbow Theatre.

Rainbow Theatre, London:
“Offering support was a vital, tuneful Weapon Of Peace… Each song bubbled along with vitality and pace, helped by musicians able to translate the essence of reggae into something contemporary.”
Paulo Hewitt (Melody Maker)

Following the tour, Weapon Of Peace signed to Phonogram, and in early October their debut single, the double A-sided Children Of Today / Woman, was released. It was produced by Bob Lamb, whose output included the early recordings of UB40 and Duran Duran. In support of the single, the band embarked upon a lengthy nationwide tour, which rolled on towards the end of the year.

Queen Mary’s College, London:
“From the wilds of Wolverhampton come Weapon Of Peace, young, enthusiastic and above all professional, playing charming and proficient reggae rock… Their music is brisk, tuneful and rhythmic. Unlike UB40, their stable-mates, they kept the pace up throughout the set, and the audience was kept involved from start to finish… There’s no doubt that Weapon Of Peace’s first London gig was a success. From now on their name will not go unnoticed.”
Adele Marie Cherreson (Sounds)

An appearance on the Toyah Willcox-hosted BBC television programme Look! Hear!, on which they performed Suspicion and If, was preceded by a headlining show at Dingwalls in Camden, which brought the band to the attention of a number of major record companies.

Dingwalls, London:
“During the set the pace never flagged, and the precision was razor sharp.”
Glen Noble (Echoes)

In May 1981, shortly after a return to the Rainbow in London, this time playing alongside Afro-rock band Osibisa, their second and final single with Phonogram was released - If backed by the sublime instrumental Misty Rhodes. Around this time, young blues-rock guitarist Ian Hatton was recruited, replacing Jock Evans.

If (Phonogram)
“Weapon Of Peace are an up and coming outfit from the Midlands, and they give us a most refreshing Lovers outing. The harmonies are really terrific and the song is beautiful.”
David Rodigan (Echoes)

In June, Weapon Of Peace travelled to the continent for the first time for a series of shows in Holland, including one at the Edenhal in Amsterdam which was broadcast on KRO Radio, returning home at the end of the month for some high profile concerts supporting Robert Palmer. Three months later, having been courted by a number of major labels, including CBS and WEA, the band signed to Safari. Though the label lacked the pedigree of the others, it had been enjoying considerable chart success with Toyah, and the band felt that they would be given the time to develop and personal attention that might not be so forthcoming elsewhere. Meanwhile, Safari demonstrated their commitment to the band by offering a five-album deal and assurances of mainstream promotion for subsequent releases.

The first single issued by Safari was Jah Love backed by West Park, an affectionate celebration of the park in Wolverhampton frequented by band members throughout their childhood. This was followed by their self-titled debut album, a very well received ten-track offering that was again produced by Bob Lamb at his renowned Home Of The Hits studio in Birmingham.

Weapon Of Peace (Safari LP)
“What this band has to offer are haunting melodies that linger in the subconscious long after the record has stopped playing… West Park, Suspicion and the truly uplifting Jah Love are proud and beautiful songs, skilfully performed in such a relaxed way as to be reggae’s answer to transcendental meditation. Love illustrates the group’s ambitions to bend the confines of reggae. The track could have been left off any Earth Wind & Fire album, reaching for harmonious crescendos and dipping into bluesy choruses. Every track slips easily into the next until the aura wraps you up in a sheet of reggae’s best silk.”
Jon Futrell (Echoes)

In support of the album, a third major UK tour was undertaken during the autumn.

Imperial Cinema, Birmingham:
“The band attack. And attack and attack. With a rhythm as tight as Sir Geoffrey Howe’s Benefit Allowance, how can they really fail? Jah Love was a single destined for the highest echelons, but you lot out there forgot to buy it in sufficient numbers… As displayed tonight, the band has a set full of chart-topping material. Next year you will see a mighty step forward for Weapon Of Peace. You will not ignore them for much longer.”
Kevin Wilson (Record Mirror)

Further proof of the inroads being made into the mainstream was the invitation to contribute a pair of tracks to a flexi single which accompanied the October issue of Flexipop! magazine. The band rounded off an excellent year by headlining the Jobs For Youth Campaign rally at London’s Jubilee Gardens, in front of a crowd in excess of 50,000, one of a number of benefit events they supported. Others included Rock Against Racism and the Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament.

Much of 1982 was spent on the road, as the band sought to build on their growing reputation. In March, coinciding with the release of Foul Play backed by the aptly entitled Travelling Fever, they supported chart-toppers Haircut 100 on a string of dates, while later in the year they shared the stage with punk outfits 999 and Tenpole Tudor. There were also shows in Belgium and Holland, including an appearance at the prestigious Rotterdam Festival before a crowd in excess of 100,000. Both Foul Play and the follow-up single Hit And Run gained considerable airplay on national radio, with Radio 1’s Peter Powell and Dave Lee Travis being among the band’s prime advocates.

In March 1983, Weapon Of Peace were the subject of BBC’s Sight & Sound programme, with their performance at Hitchin College being broadcast simultaneously on BBC2 and Radio 1. Then it was back on the road to promote Rainbow Rhythm, the band’s second and ultimately final album, their line-up augmented by the recently recruited percussionist Colin Palmer.

Rainbow Rhythm (Safari LP)
“Because they often sing message songs, there will be those ready to rank them with UB40. But Weapon Of Peace adopt a more eclectic style which results in a busier sound.”
Paul Sexton (Record Mirror)

Greyhound, Fulham, London:
“Weapon Of Peace are probably tired of hearing how their musicianship puts a lot of chart bands to shame, but it’s nonetheless true. This kind of rock-spattered reggae maintains a distinctly good time texture... Their name says it well - sure they want to attack the charts, but only by their own peaceful means.”
Paul Sexton (Soundmaker)
The Gallery, Manchester:
“I’m thrilled to report that Weapon Of Peace took me by the feet and danced away my preconceptions. Playing with the same exuberance and irresistible charm of The Beat, Weapon of Peace managed to add edge where The Beat tend to melt into sloppy MOR. They’re younger, harder and hungry. Their material seems to be progressing towards a distinctive dance fusion, with more than a nod in the direction of contemporary US funk… Three numbers into the set and the audience is won over by the unique blend of funk, reggae, pop and soul. Go out there and catch Weapon Of Peace.”
Liz Neer (NME)

The band’s final single was a double A-sided 12” which paired Nature’s Course and the punchy, conscious gem Standing On The Edge. The pressure of relentless touring had taken its toll, and cracks began to emerge within the band. Stronger management would have encouraged them to take a break, to recharge their batteries and allow the creative juices to flow once more. But it wasn’t to be, and the band fell apart during the summer of 1983, leaving behind a small but rich musical legacy.

However, Weapon Of Peace have now reformed, featuring the main lyricists Mick De Souza and Clyde McKenzie, fellow original member Colin Palmer, and new recruit Derrick Ritchie on bass. As a founder-member of the renowned pop-bhangra fusion band Intermix, Derrick toured extensively in Britain and Europe. The band also released three albums, two of which topped the Asian music charts. He is relishing the opportunity of playing with Weapon Of Peace as it was they who first inspired him to pursue his passion for music. Supplementing the line-up are Sony recording artist Alvin Davis (saxophone and backing vocals), Earl Leslie (drums), Charlie Maiden (saxophone / flute) and Bonna Brock (lead guitar).

Explaining their decision to reform, Clyde McKenzie reflects, “Back then we were young, and I don’t think any of us fully comprehended what we had achieved. We just loved playing music. It has since become apparent to us that there was so much more that we had to offer. So it’s like unfinished business”. Mick De Souza adds, “Those songs are as relevant now as they were back in the day, and we want to build on the foundations that we laid. We are really looking forward to playing live again, and will also be working on new material. This will retain the essence of our sound, blending together the various musical styles that have always influenced us.”

After a twenty-eight year gap, Weapon Of Peace made a triumphant return to the stage with their relaunch concert at the Robin 2, Bilston, in June 2011. The band has since headlined the Global Fusion Night at the prestigious Birmingham Artsfest, the UK’s largest free arts festival.

Robin 2, Bilston:

"Weapon Of Peace were a band I got to see a couple or three times back in the day. They were young, had a message, and were a damn fine band. Today, we're living in a time of constant musical reunions, revisitiations and rejuvinations. Now it's the turn of Weapon Of Peace. They came on around 10.30pm, kicking off with 'Jah Love', from their eponymous debut album, and an hour and fifteen mintues later finishing with 'Children Of Today'. Folk danced and folk listened, because there was something worth listening and dancing to. Weapon Of Peace displayed a lot of poise for being newly formed - it was their musicality and the musicality of the songs that struck me. They seem to have grown into their old sound. A mightier Weapon Of Peace. They blew some fresh, clean air into the back catalogue tonight,  and made the music live once more.'

Heart Of A Punk, Soul Of A Rasta (

Weapon Of Peace are currently working on a new album which will include updates of old favourites Jah Love and Standing On The Edge alongside new compositions such as Hard Times, Drift Away and Pain. Bass-man Derrick Ritchie reports that the new material will be “an advancement of the band’s legacy, drawing on influences old and new to create contemporary fusion music that has substance and relevance.” Incidentally, Standing On The Edge and Hard Times are both included in the feature length film Park It Right, which was runner-up in the Best Film category at the Music Video And Screen Awards at the Black International Film Festival, held in Birmingham in October 2011. Meanwhile, downloads of their two albums are now available from all major providers, including iTunes and Amazon.

A number of observers believe, with the benefit of hindsight, that their rich musical fusion was ahead of its time. The time is now right for Weapon Of Peace to emerge into the spotlight once more.