Roots, Rhythms & Records – Leading Ladies of Lovers Rock

Joy Mack, 2018 © Hackney Museum

Through stories of musical innovation, distribution and enjoyment, the ‘Roots, Rhythms and Records’ series celebrates the impact of the London Borough of Hackney on music in the borough and beyond. In this post, we focus on the role of female artists in the development of the musical genre of Lovers Rock.

What is Lovers Rock?

Hackney artists – especially women – were at the forefront of the Lovers Rock sound, from its UK origins in the mid-1970s.

Lovers Rock songs fused a reggae feel with soul melodies and arrangements and were often slower in tempo. They emerged when the owners of sound systems began overlaying romantic ballads with young female vocalists. The genre was particularly influential to a new generation of ‘black British’ young people, as well as providing a counterpoint to the male dominated ‘roots’ music scene, influenced by Rastafarianism.

Lovers Rock, I must say is one of the most enjoyable, it’s very sexual; it’s everything in one. It was like having soul and reggae mixed together so it was a new sound. It’s definitely a British sound for those up and coming singers at the time.

There was so many different girl singers and groups and what have you. Janet Kay and all these other girls were singing Lovers Rock music.

Christine Joy White, Singer. Hackney Museum 2020.27

Photograph of the record 'Lovers Rock Uk Style'
Lovers Rock UK Style Vol (1), manufactured and marketed by Tim’s Records, Dalston.
Hackney Museum 2008.210.
‘The First Lady of Lovers Rock’

Ginger Williams is a musician and prominent singer within early Lovers Rock music. Born in Jamaica she came to England in 1962 and grew up around Stamford Hill and later lived in Hackney. Her song I Can’t Resist Your Tenderness (1974) was a huge success and is considered as kick-starting the Lovers Rock genre in the UK. Her compilation of greatest hits released in 1996 named her ‘The First Lady of Lovers Rock’.

How I made Tenderness is that I went to a studio with a friend of mine who was doing a record and she had a bit of difficulty phrasing the records the way she wanted it. So I just went into the booth, and I’ve never been inside a studio before so I didn’t realize that everybody could hear what I was saying. So I would say to her, “No. Just sing it like this.” And they heard me and from then I was asked to just sing this certain part with her, you know, help her to get the record done.

And after that Ronnie Buck Williams, he asked me to do Tenderness. So that’s how I got into actual singing.

Ginger Williams, Hackney Museum 2019.5

Image of Record: Love Me Tonight LP

‘Love Me Tonight’ (1990) by Ginger Williams.
Hackney Museum 2022.59.

Louisa Mark

Louisa Mark’s Caught You in a Lie (1975) is considered one of the first Lovers Rock singles. Aged only 15 years old, she won a “Star Search” talent contest held at the Four Aces club in Dalston, holding the top spot for ten consecutive weeks. Sound system operator Lloyd Coxsone later provided Louisa with her first recording session, leading to the record.

We had competitions, and we had talent parades. At one talent parade we discovered someone by the name of Louisa Marks. And this was a phenomenal hit – her record. After she was discovered at the Four Aces in a talent parade, she went into the charts, and it was a phenomenal number. And up to today it’s regarded as one the top female reggae icon songs. So we did things like that.

Newton Dunbar, co-founder of The Four Aces. Hackney Museum 2011.21
Image of 7 inch record, for Louisa Mark's 'Caught In A Lie'
‘Caught You in a Lie’ (1975) by Louisa Mark.
Hackney Museum 2023.29.
Joy Mack

Joy Mack’s (c.1949 – 2019) first ever performance was at the Four Aces club in Dalston. She went on to record the Reggae hit You Had Your Chance (1978). Many people in Hackney connected with her musical style which included elements of Soul, Jazz and even Classical music.

My first show – the Four Aces was the first time I went on stage. I was so nervous, it was nerve-wrecking because you know to stand and sing in front of all these people, and they might criticise you or throw a bottle at you and things like that, or boo you. Yeah, you know they have, people ‘boo’ you, and they say ‘Get out’. I’ve seen it happen.

I was getting tunes. They’d say, ‘a little woman like you have a big voice’ and things. So I always got called to sing and get shows on, and I never got booed, I always got clapped and they’d say, ‘See you again, come back and sing again’, it was like that. I’d never get no money, I’d get food and drinks and so on.

Joy Mack, Hackney Museum 2018.70.
Photograph of Joy Mack taken in 2018
Joy Mack, 2018.
© Hackney Museum
‘A Queen of Lovers Rock’

Jean Adebambo (1962 – 2009) , a singer-songwriter and musician, was considered to be one of the queens of Lovers Rock. She won critical acclaim in the 1980s, most notably for her hit song Paradise (1981) released by the Stoke Newington based label Santic Records.

A benefit concert took place at the Hackney Empire in honour of Adebambo after her passing, with the event’s proceeds going to help fund the education and upbringing of her two daughters.

Coming soon! In the next installment of our series exploring African and Caribbean music in the borough, we’ll be sharing stories about the vital role of local records shops in the community and launching music careers.

Content for this blog featured in the exhibition ‘Roots, Rhythms & Records: The sounds and stories of African & Caribbean music in Hackney’ at Hackney Museum 2 October 2018 – 16 March 2019.