Observations: Duke Vin is the toast of Notting Hill

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The Independent Culture

Early on Monday evening, when Notting Hill Carnival was approaching its frenzied climax, a cool-looking elderly West Indian man sporting a black beret could be seen picking his way unsteadily through the crowd, his presence causing the music to come to an abrupt stop.

"Duke Vin everybody," shouted the selector of the Paddington Terrortone sound system, pointing to the elderly gent and imploring the revellers to delay their gyrations in order to pay homage to a musical pioneer. Without Duke Vin, who arrived in Britain in 1954 as a stowaway on a boat from Kingston, this country's music would not be quite what it is today.

It was Vin who, setting up Britain's first sound system in 1955, brought to these shores the distinctive jerky rhythms of ska, the uniquely Caribbean interpretation of American R&B, which has ever since woven a thread through British popular music, being the primary influence for Madness and The Specials, and more latterly a source of inspiration for Hard-Fi, Mark Ronson and Amy Winehouse.

Duke Vin – his real name, like his age, he keeps a secret – paved the way by playing ska in church halls and private parties in Brixton, south London, before later moving to clubs in the West End and taking the sound of artists such as Laurel Aitken and Owen Grey around the country. The film director Gus Berger has told his story in Duke Vin and the Birth of Ska, which is to be screened on Sunday at the Portobello Film Festival in London.

Vin keeps his treasured collection of original seven-inch Jamaican vinyl records stored in cardboard pizza delivery boxes for easy location, and still plays them around the world. "I've just come back from Germany – I mashed it up man!" he says. "They said they'd never heard music like that in their lives."

www.portobellofilm festival.com

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