1. Judge Dread's real name was Alex Hughes, but he also recorded as Jason Sinclair, Jamie Kent, The Dreadnoughts, The Bumpers and Rockers Express.
2. In the Sixties, the Judge was a professional wrestler, a bad guy called The Masked Executioner. He later became heavily involved in martial arts.
3. The Judge's first involvement in the music business was as a bouncer on the doors of London clubs like the Ram Jam and The Flamingo Club. It was at the Ram Jam that he walked into a dressing room to find Tina Turner standing there stark naked.
4. He also worked as a dustman and as a minder and debt collector for record labels before becoming a recording artist in his own right.
5. During the late Sixties, Judge Dread became the first white person to run his own sound system. To keep bang up to date with the latest Jamaican releases, he regularly travelled to Sheppey in Kent to buy records off the banana boats that docked there.
6. His first record Big Six (Big Shot) was originally called Little Boy Blue and cost £8 to record. Despite an airplay ban that would last his lifetime, it entered the charts in August, 1972, stayed there for 27 weeks and reached number 11.
7. Big Six was also released in Jamaica on the Moonhop label and charted. Nobody believed it was a white man singing. When it was played at blues parties in London, nobody believed it was Alex either.
8. The NME recently said the Judge had a number of "minor hits". Presumably they were referring to Big Six, Big Seven, Big Eight, Je T'Aime (Moi Non Plus), Big Ten, Christmas In Dreadland and Y Viva Suspenders - all of which reached the Top 30 when a chart place actually meant you were selling vinyl and not securing a place with hype and backhanders.
9. In 1973, Judge Dread recorded the official song for Oxfam's Ethiopian Famine Appeal. The song was a cover of Clancy Eccles' Molly, and despite being totally clean, BBC radio refused to play it. It was obviously more important to keep the Judge off the airwaves than it was to feed the starving millions. Wankers.
10. By rights, Judge Dread should have a place in the Guinness Book Of Records for having the most banned hit records, but the Guinness Book Of Records have banned him too.
11. When Trojan Records went bankrupt in 1975, the Judge was reputedly owed over a million pounds. Instead of getting it, he had to pay the liquidator for the rights to the songs he had recorded including Je T'Aime (Moi Non Plus) (Horse) which was heading for the number one spot at the time. He quickly re-released it on Cactus, but it was too late and the lost sales meant it stalled at number nine.
12. The Judges 1976 album, Last Of The Skinheads (Cactus), included the classic Bring Back The Skins, a song he was justly proud of and called the skinhead national anthem. Within a few years, his dream had come true.
13. In 1979, The Judges then music publisher, Rob Dickens, played him a demo of a new ska band. The Judge thought it was shit. The band were Madness. He later wrote a song for them, One Eyed Lodger, but released it himself as a B side in 1981.
14. One April Fools Day, Snodland in Kent woke up to find it had been renamed Dreadland. All the road signs for miles around had been changed, as had every shop sign in the village.
15. If Screaming Lord Sutchs Monster Raving Loony Party had ever been elected to govern the country, Judge Dread would have been Minster For Sex.
16. The Judge was a big football fan, spending most Saturday afternoons watching non-league football in and around Kent. Chatham Town was a regular haunt as was Margate. When asked to pick man of the match along with Arthur Kay, he picked a bloke for no other reason than he was bald. In fact the player had gone home on his motorbike before the presentation could be made, so sure was he that nobody would pick him.
17. Judge Dread was all set to play a pub singer in BBCs Eastenders before his untimely death. He was also meant to have played Sid Vicious next door neighbour in The Great Rock N Roll Swindle, but Sid died before that part was filmed. He did however appear as a borstal boy in the 1962 film, The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner, which starred Tom Courtenay.
18. Judge Dread lapsed into a diabetic coma back in 1994 and suffered a series of heart attacks. Despite being clinically dead on more than one occasion, he lived to tell the tale. Back from the Dread he called it.
19. 1988 was shaping up to be a big year for the Judge. He had just returned from a series of well attended Scandinavian gigs and was planning to tour the USA for the first time.
20. The Judge always joked about wanting to die on stage. Nobody expected it to happen on Friday 13th of March, 1998, while he was performing at Canterburys Penny Theatre. He was 53.
Working Class Hero
If I'd never discovered the
delights of skinhead reggae, I would still have been a huge fan
of rude reggae superstar, Judge Dread. It would have been
hard not to be after growing up in Snodland, the village in Kent
that Judge Dread called home for most of his adult life.
His career in the music business speaks for itself - in the Seventies, only Bob Marley & The Wailers had more reggae hits in the national charts than the Judge - but despite his massive success, he never lost touch with his working class roots, something that made him a legendary figure not only in street music circles, but amongst everyone who had the good fortune to cross his path.
Even as a kid of seven or eight, the Judge would always say hello if you passed him in the street. "Alright, boy," he'd say as he sauntered past, the big bloke with the long hair who looked every inch the bouncer and professional wrestler he'd been during the Sixties. The big bloke with the long hair also just happened to be a million selling recording artist at the time, but the success never went to his head. At the time I knew he was a singer, but it's only looking back now that I realise just how big a name he was.
Born Alex Hughes in 1945, he had grown up in London alongside the first wave of immigrants from Jamaica. After leaving school, he lodged with a Jamaican family, and it was only a short step from there to a lifelong love affair with Jamaican music. His work as a bouncer led to work as a bodyguard (to the likes of The Rolling Stones) and as a debt collector for Commercial Entertainments (who used to arrange UK tours for Desmond Dekker, The Pioneers and the like) and Trojan Records. Little did he know that within a few short years, not only would he be sharing a stage with the likes of Bob Marley & The Wailers, but would become an even bigger star than the Jamaican artists he idolised. The rest of course is history, and for over 25 years the Judge has been entertaining the likes of you and me with songs like Up With The Cock, Jamaica Jerk Off and the legendary Bring Back The Skins.
My memories of Alex are many, but all have one thing in common. Laughter. Every time I met him he had a story to tell that would have the tears running down your face. If he hadnt made it as a singer, he would have made a top of the bill comedian thats for sure. He really was a natural. And while the mainstream saw him as a moral danger to society, the truth was the bloke had a heart of gold. How often was Mary Whitehouse pushed through her village in a bath on wheels to raise money for charity?
The last time I saw him in Snodland was when I went back there during the filming of the World Of Skinhead documentary. It was a freezing cold day and we met outside the Savoy snooker club, which had been a cinema when I was a kid and also the venue that the Judge used for promoting reggae acts. When Desmond Dekker went to number one in the charts with Israelites back in 1969, Judge Dread had him playing at the Savoy and the place was packed solid. He gave me a framed photo of Desmond and himself standing on the steps of the club nearly 30 years before, something that I will treasure always.
Shortly afterwards he came to Glasgow to perform at an old ballroom close to the Gorbals. From the off it looked like a dodgy gig - the promoters, one with what looked incredibly like a shotgun in an unzipped sports bag, obviously had to lose a lot of money fast - so a few of us made sure things were okay. Not that there was any aggro. In fact we spent most of the evening in the dressing room amazed that so much food and drink had been laid on for one bloke (not that any of it went to waste with Quinny and Drummy around). Alex was performing without a band that night and I had the privilege to do the backing tapes. A basic task I know, but I was as proud as punch to be sorting the music for the one and only Judge Dread.
Ive never been one for heroes because they always let you down, but Alex you were an exception to the rule. You lived and died for Friday night as the song goes, and for that and everything else you gave us we will be forever grateful.
Judge Dread. 1945-1998.
Working class hero.
You were a fucking star, Alex.