“Flash Tracks”: This 1987 episode featured three videos from “England’s foremost female reggae band,” Amazulu

By on January 13, 2017

This episode of Night Flight’s video “Flash Tracks,” which originally aired on April 7, 1987, kicks off with three videos by Amazulu, the British mostly-female, mixed-racial reggae-ska-pop crossover band (although announcer Pat Prescott introduces them as “England’s foremost female reggae band”). Decide for yourself, as we’ve got the episode streaming over on our Night Flight Plus channel.


Amazulu — their name means “the people from heaven” in the Zulu language — were initially formed in 1982, in London, by percussionist Sharon Bailey and Rose Minor, who was the group’s original lead singer for approximately their first four years.

The other members were: Clare Kenny (bass), Lesley Beach (saxophone), Margo Sagov (guitar), and the group’s only male member, Nardo Bailey (drums).

According to Bailey, no one in the group had any musical experience when they first started out (“We were just four people on the dole getting into music.”).


In the very beginning, Bailey would act as their manager, but we’ve also read online that Chas Chandler — the former bassist for the Animals who in the late 60s managed Jimi Hendrix — was also their first manager.

In 1983, it’s true that Chandler had been helping bands in the North East of London record their own songs (also acting as a producer, as needed), and it’s entirely possible that Amazulu was one of those bands, but Amazulu’s first recordings were produced by Richard Hartley, who is best known for his work with Richard O’Brien of Rocky Horror Picture Show fame.


Several of their first songs, including both sides of their first single — “Cairo” b/w “Greenham Time,” released in 1983 on the Towerbell label — were politically-tinged, with the a-side “Cairo” (a traditional track the group would perform on the German TV show “Bananas” in front of a blazing Toyota roasting on a giant spit behind them).

The single’s b-side, “Greenham Time,” which written by the group in tribute to the women protesting the placement of U.S. cruise missiles at Greenham Common military base in the early 1980s. Another track, “Brixton,” was dedicated to Margaret Thatcher, and their song “War” was dedicated to Bob Marley, who had died just a few years earlier.

“Cairo” landed them on the bottom of the UK’s single charts (#86 at its peak after five weeks on the charts) and initiated a 28-date tour around Britain. They released another single on Towerbell, called “Smiley Stylee,” in 1983 as well, and made one of their first TV appearances on the “David Essex Showcase” that same year.

Soon enough, the band were making a key personnel change, with lead vocalist Anne-Marie Teresa Antoinette Ruddock (she went by “Annie”) coming aboard at some point after Rose Minor left the group.

From that point on, the beautiful Annie Ruddock, with her long dreadlocked hair and warm smile, became the central focus of the group’s image, despite the fact that there were five other members in Amazulu for most of their career.


They were also building a fanbase in and around London, including an early fan, legendary DJ John Peel, who would feature Amazulu twice during live Peel Sessions recorded for broadcast on the BBC.

They also caught the ear of Falcon Stuart, who had discovered and worked with Poly Styrene and her band X-ray Spex (acting as their manager, producer and occasional photographer) and, later, Adam Ant, launching both their careers in the early 80s. He also worked with Danielle Dax and other others in the London music scene.


Amazulu — who favored reggae, ska, 2-Tone and sunny pop, blending all of these for their own recordings before eventually morphing into a more newish wave-ish pop cover band — also caught the ear of Jerry Dammers and Dick Cuthell, of the Specials, who would produce the next single, “Moonlight Romance,” which was released by Island Records.


Dammers — according to Dick Hebdige in “Ska Tissue: The Rise and Fall of 2 Tone,” in Stephen Davis and Peter Simon’s excellent overview of the London reggae scene, Reggae International, first published in January 1983 — was the mastermind behind the 2-Tone movement, and he took the group under his wing, even directing their video, which is part of our Night Flight “Flash Tracks” episode.

Although “Moonlight Romance” failed to chart, the group were being offered the opportunity to appear more TV shows, including “The Young Ones,” in 1984 (they sing a more ska-sounding version of “Moonlight Romance” in the episode titled “Time,” which first aired on June 5th, 1984).

They also appeared on the UK’s “Top of the Pops,” in July 1985, releasing a second single on Island, “Excitable,” that year, accompanied by the video (directed by Sebastian Harris), which we also featured in this “Flash Tracks” episode, with Pat Prescott telling us at the start of this video that Amazulu “popularized a lighter form of vocal-oriented dance reggae.”


“Excitable” climbed into the UK Top 20 (peaking at #12 after thirteen weeks on the charts). They also covered Huey “Piano” Smith’s “Don’t You Just Know It,” which was also released in ’85, which charted at #15 (eleven weeks on the charts).


Their biggest hit would follow in 1986 with “Too Good To Be Forgotten,” which reached #5 in the U.K. (after thirteen weeks). The track was originally recorded by the Chi-Lites in 1974.

They followed this up with a new single, “Montego Bay,” which reached #16 in the UK, and finally earned them some notice in the United States, charting at #90 in Billboard‘s Hot 100 pop chart. Early in 1987, it also became a surprise hit in Canada, climbing to #6 on their singles chart. It had originally been recorded in 1970 by Bobby Bloom.


According to Bruno Tilley — who worked closely with Chris Blackwell at Island, setting up their in-house art/video department, dubbed Island Art — the video for the single was filmed in Jamaica, not just in Montego Bay, but all around the island.



“As one can see in the video it felt like we were filming in paradise. I chose all the great hot spots to show off Jamaica at it’s best. It was one of the most fun shoots I’ve done. British Airways used to show the video on it’s flights to Jamaica as part of its promotion.”


Amazulu’s self-titled debut album was released on Island Records in 1986, and despite the fact that they were still a six-piece act, once again, only Anne-Marie Ruddock appeared on the cover, although the group — only three members were listed — are featured on the back.


Their breakup in 1987 — the same year that our “Flash Tracks” episode aired on “Night Flight” — has been described as “acrimonious.”

Annie Ruddock would continue on with both Sharon Bailey and Lesley Beach, calling themselves Amazulu II, but they didn’t have much success, shifting the group’s focus away from reggae-pop to primarily being a new wave cover band.


Ruddock would eventually shift her focus to acting, appearing in a number of independent films, including the Alex Cox film Straight to Hell.

Clare Kenny went on to become a session singer, performing on recordings by Sinead O’Conner, Damien Dempsey and Shakespeare’s Sister. She also joined the first lineup of Coming Up Roses.

Watch Night Flight’s 1987 episode of”Flash Tracks,” streaming exclusively on Night Flight Plus.


About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.