Louisa Mark: Singer and originator of the Lovers Rock genre

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The Independent Online

Lovers Rock was a peculiarly British reggae genre, inspired as much by the sweet sounds of Philly soul as by the music coming out of Jamaica. It originated with the first generation of West Indians born in London in the 1950s and was at first frowned upon by aficionados of the more militant rasta, roots and dub rhythms from the island. Yet Lovers Rock had mainstream appeal, as illustrated by the popularity of "Silly Games", the Janet Kay single which spent the summer of 1979 in the UK charts and peaked at No 2, and the success of Maxi Priest in the 1980s.

Louisa Mark recorded the first Lovers Rock single, "Caught You In A Lie" – a cover of a song written in 1966 by the rhythm and blues vocalist Robert Parker of "Barefootin'" fame – in 1975 when she was only 15. The session, produced by the sound system operator Lloyd "Coxsone" Blackford – not a relation of the Jamaican legend Clement "Sir Coxsone" Dodd – with the British reggae band Matumbi backing Mark, took place at Gooseberry Studio in London. Issued on Coxsone's Safari label, her version of "Caught You In A Lie" sold 50,000 copies, mostly in small shops run by the West Indian community, rather than chart return outlets.

The diminutive girl with the sweet, yearning, distinctive vocals, made enough money to buy a fur coat, high heels and a large hat which impressed fellow pupils at Hammersmith County School and became something of a trademark. Mark followed her first single with a cover of The Beatles' "All My Loving" in 1975 but stayed on to complete her education after falling out with Blackford.

In 1977, she hooked up with Clement Bushay, house producer at Trojan Records, for "Keep It Like It Is", and the next year released a lovely version of "Even Though You're Gone", a ballad written and produced by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff for The Jacksons' Goin' Places album. She followed that with "Six Sixth Street", another tale of love lost suited to her plaintive voice. The single, produced and co-written by Bushay with Joseph "Tunga" Charles, and made with the group The In Crowd, topped the reggae charts in 1978. Bushay oversaw Breakout, an album Mark felt was unfinished but which came out on Bushay's own label in 1981. The next year, she cut a version of the Jones Girls' "Mum And Dad" arranged by Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, but was little heard after the "Hello There" single in 1984. She made the occasional live appearance at Lovers Rock revival events in the UK in recent years.

She was born to Grenadian parents in the Ladbroke Grove area of west London, and came to Coxsone's notice after winning a talent contest for 10 consecutive weeks at the Four Aces Club in Dalston, east London, where performers were usually booed off by the notoriously tough audience of West Indian immigrants and their offspring. Coxsone provided dub plates for the contestants to sing over and wasted no time in taking Mark into the studio. "Caught You In A Lie" became a favourite at London's blues parties and sold steadily – 10,000 copies in the first two weeks – without crossing over into the mainstream charts. However, it was picked up by Gussie Clarke for the Jamaican market, a rare accolade for a British-made reggae record.

In 1978, Mark was voted best female reggae vocalist by readers of the magazine Black Echoes, beating Marcia Griffiths, of Bob and Marcia, and Bob Marley's I-Threes, into second place.

Mark died in The Gambia, where she had been living and doing charity work for the past six years.

Pierre Perrone



Louisa Lynthia Mark, singer: born London 11 January 1960; one daughter, one son; died The Gambia 17 October 2009.

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