The PAMA Records story...
...began in a small office at 16 Peterborough Road in Harrow, London, where the Palmer Brothers (Harry, Jeff and Carl) had been issuing soul music on their Pama label (which may have been lifted from the 1958 version (left)), as well as running their own property business. One of my favourite tracks is one of these soul records released much later, a real stomper from 1970 - "Say You Need Me" by Barbara Perry (Pama PM 795). The brothers Palmer though, had already decided the Jamaican music scene was far more profitable and so begun part of music history.
Their first signings included Joyce Bond, The Marvels, The Crowns, Betty Lovett, Norman T Washington and The Other Brothers. During the latter part of 1967 they began releasing rock steady, partly in competition to Island/Trojan Records.
Harry was the main driving force and was responsible for licensing the tunes, initially from Clancy Eccles and Alton Ellis, later establishing links with Bunny Lee and Lee Perry. Carl looked after the accountancy side of the biz, and Jeffrey founded the London Apollo Club to showcase up and coming black talent.
A young Junior English actually won a Pama talent contest run at their Club 31 in Willesden NW London, and then made his first record with them. It was at Pama where Junior learnt his trade through meeting the aforementioned musical luminaries.
Another aspiring young musician was Delroy Washington, who later went on to be one of the UK's most respected stars of the 1970's. Delroy
worked in Pama's record shop in Harlesden, and while employed by Pama, he also sang in a group called The Classics who made a few songs for Pama. Delroy met his biggest influence - Bob Marley (who was on tour at the time with Johnny Nash) while working in the shop.
It became more obvious the more we delved into the history of Pama records that we began to realise that the Pama sound was actually a very indigenous sound. Whereas UK soul was merely imitating an American sound from far away, UK reggae was for the most part played and appreciated by people much closer to the source of the music - Jamaicans living in England.
Though the fanbase was initially limited to these ex-pats and a secret but growing legion of white admirers (who picked up on the music and treated it as the key to a mystery they were pledged never to reveal), the musicians were nearly always Jamaican. This was not true at Pama however, because they did use a range of home-grown talent in their British recordings
These local fans/musicians brought very different backgrounds and offered different contributions. Of course, the Jamaican musicians were the stars, but due to the fact that a lot of Pama releases were recorded in England, there was a lot of local interest. In fact, Pama signed at least two UK based bands - The Mohawks, led by Jamaican born keyboardist Graham Hawk, and The Inner Mind, led by Huddersfield based organist Ian Smith.
The Inner Mind, as well as recording much of their own material, also backed such names as Laurel Aitken, Owen Grey, Alton Ellis, and Winston Groovy (who came to Britain in the mid 1960's and formed a band The Ebonites for touring in the UK and Europe, and became one of Pama's top artists from 1968 - 73). The Inner Mind also played at the Santa Rosa in Birmingham, the Club 67 in Wolverhampton, & London's Mr Bees, Colombo's and the Pama-run Apollo Club, who described them at the time as 'The greatest white reggae band on earth'.
In the meantime, Derrick Morgan had introduced his brother-in-law Bunny Lee, to the music business. Lee hadcome to England and forged a deal with Pama to operate the Jamaican end of things. Derrick Morgan soon becameone of Pama's biggest stars and producers and also hit the British charts with "Moon Hop".
This skinhead anthem became a hit all over Europe, and would have climbed higher than the number 48 position it achieved in the UK, if Trojan hadn't released "Skinhead Moonstomp" by Symarip and gazumped Pama. This trick was supposedly in revenge for Lee licensing Derrick's "Seven Letters" to both Trojan and Pama. Forever to be known as Mr Skinhead Reggae, Derrick left the music business due to his failing eyesight, but made a limited comeback during one of Britain's many ska revivals, and is still seen gigging occasionally.
The Unity, Gas, Crab and Nu-Beat labels were formed in 1968 with 1969 seeing the introduction of Punch and the changing of Nu-Beat to New Beat to emphasize the change in musical styles. The biggest hit to come from the Pama stable has to be "Wet Dream" by Max Romeo, another huge worldwide hit. "Wet Dream" got to number 10 in the British charts, and managed to sell 250,000 copies without one single airplay. Later artists who hit with Pama include Derrick Morgan, Pat Kelly and Laurel Aitken.
Further vinyl battles were carried out via Pama's"Straighten Up" series of albums, a direct copy of, and in direct competition to Trojan's "Tighten Up" series. Pama tricks didn't stop there however, and the "This Is Reggae" series of album covers were complete copies of Atlantic's "This Is Soul" series.
The Pama distribution network is largely in the realms of legend, but the delivery man was seen once, in 1973, outside Pauls For Music record shop in Finsbury Park, London. He did exist and was probably The Mohawks Graham Hawk (who in the early 80's was Jetstar's London van sales representative), driving round the country selling boxes of records to specialist outlets, true to the spirit of the man-in-the-van.
The demise of the Pama Records is not at all well documented, but it seems to coincide with a general slump in reggae sales around the late 70's/early 80's. There is also the story that Harry found god on a trip to the USA and quit the music biz to devote his life to Christianity.
The truth is probably less sensational, and Pama just lost their way, with too many below-par releases. Pama finally succumed in 1974, only to be briefly resurrected in 1975 for a few singles and a single album. That is not quite the end though, as Pama resurfaced a short time later as Jet Star, which continues to be one of the biggest distribution networks for Jamaican music.
To be continued...
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