Junior Murvin was best known for his 1976 song Police and Thieves.
Jamaican reggae musician Junior Murvin, whose hit single became the soundtrack to the Brixton riots, has died in hospital following a battle with diabetes and a blood pressure related illness.
Murvin’s biggest hit came in 1976 when he released the Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry produced Police and Thieves, which, after seeing some success in Jamaica, became a club hit in Britain.
The song, which deals with gang war and police brutality, found resonance among the disenfranchised black community in London at the time and became the unofficial anthem of that years’ Notting Hill Carnival, which ended with over 100 police hospitalised and 66 arrests.
Such was the popularity of the song that The Clash frontman, Joe Strummer, covered the track and included it on the band’s 1976 debut album. This marked a cultural shift in British music at the time as it was uncommon for a white artist to cover a reggae hit.
According to the book Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer, Strummer said: “I remember being frightened as hell listening to Junior Murvin’s feathery voice, floating high above the track, and then thinking, ‘God, I’ve got to go sing this with my useless voice.'”
When social unrest struck Brixton in 1981 following a recession that saw high unemployment and crime rates, particularly in the Afro-Caribbean community, Police and Thieves was revived, again becoming the soundtrack to the area’s troubles.
Murvin continued to record through the 1970s and 80s, and though he would never reach the highs of his initial break-through, he had hits with Cool Out Son in 1982 and Bad Man Posse in 1984.
Murvin is survived by five children and eight grandchildren.
Photo courtesy of ivanpope, with thanks.
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