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Carnival Special - Jah Observer Sound System

Jah Observer Original Valve Sound System is one of the UK’s finest purveyors of quality roots reggae and without a doubt one of the must-see high-lights of the Carnival weekend. Their sets are a treasure trove for reggae historians and record collectors, many of the finest tunes in my record collection were sought out after hearing them at a Jah Observer dance or mix CD. I caught up with selector and founder member Austin ‘Spiderman’ Palmer in an exclusive interview with Reggae News:

Jah Observer

How did Jah Observer first get started?
I used to collect records, people would ask me to play for them but their equipment was not up to scratch, so I started building my own!!
I used 2 little amps and 4 boxes -The sound was called ‘Tippertone’

What was inspiration behind the name? Was it the Observer record label or something else?
There were too many other sounds with the name ‘Tippertone’ about. I used to go and check out other sounds, see what they were like and how they play like King Tubbys, Danny King, Coxsone, etc, etc, so because I was always watching other sounds that is how the name ‘Observer ‘ came to light , but there was also a record label called ‘Observer’ so hence the name The ‘Mighty’ Jah Observer was born.

No visit to the Carnival is complete without checking your sound – how did you first get involved?
I was working for the record shop ‘Rough Trade’. Then I just asked Jeff Travis the owner of Rough Trade if I can play outside the record shop - that was at 202 Kensington Park Rd.

Which was your favourite Carnival year?
1984, late 1980’s, 2001 any Carnival where the equipment is working well and the people are enjoying themselves.

At last years carnival you teamed up with Jamaican recordings? Have you any plans to work with them again?
We have some plans in the pipeline to work together again soon.

As well as the big tunes, you play a lot of lesser known classics. Do you see your role as to educate about roots music as well as entertain?

You put on a great night with Chalice sound system last year in Dalston and you play them again on May 27th. How did your connections with the French scene begin?
First and foremost they are fans of the sound, and have been coming to listen to the sound for many years - they started the same way I did.

Jah Observer

Do people appreciate roots reggae more in France these days that they do in the UK?
Yes. I think they do.

What are your all time favourite tunes?

Every tune is good in its own right, my favourite artists are: Johnny Clarke, Barry Brown, Freddy Mc Kay, Sugar Minnott, Ronny Davies Dennis Brown etc, etc

What are your plans for Jah Observer in the future?
To have a tour of England from top to bottom and equally the same in Europe! Then retire!! We only have 5 years left in England!!

Jah Observer play at the Notting Hill Carnival on Sunday 27th and Monday 28th August at the junction of Ledbury Road with Talbot Road. Nearest Tube Westbourne Park. For details of other dates check their website

Interview by Angus Taylor

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