Mungo's Hi Fi x Marina P  A Scottish Reggae Record

Mungo’s Hi Fi is Glasgow’s biggest reggae sound system and named after the city’s patron saint. You may not be expecting such a thing in the rainswept streets of Scotland’s biggest city, but since 2001 Mungo’s Hi Fi has been producing reggae music, putting out over 90 releases on its own Scotch Bonnet record label, building a sound system and running numerous club nights. They have collaborated with some of reggae’s biggest vocalists, including Sugar Minott and Cornell Campbell, as well as current voices such as Soom T, Eva Lazarus, and Charlie P. This latest release from September 2020 brings to the mic Italian vocalist and songwriter Marina P.

I have many enduring memories of Mungo’s Hi Fi and the group’s sound system. For several years they ran a regular Thursday evening at Glasgow’s 78 Bar called Dub ’n’ Grub, featuring a bargain-priced vegan meal with a thumping side-order of reggae and dub tunes. The final evening of this legendary event is one of the most joyful musical experiences I have ever had. The venue was crammed solid, the decks were crowded by ecstatic dancers, crowdsurfing was the only sensible method of transport to reach the bar, and the love for Mungo’s poured endlessly out of the crowd. If the building did not sustain structural damage from the absurd levels of bass and the grateful jubilation of the crowd, I would be surprised.

I was fortunate to chat with Mungo’s member Doug Paine some years ago at the Knockengorroch Festival in a beautiful glen in southern Scotland. Mungo’s were setting up their extraordinary sound system in a medium-sized festival marquee. It spanned the entire width of the tent. It towered way over my head. You could have hidden a bus behind it. Doug explained that they had designed and built the entire thing themselves. I clearly remember being stupidly speechless, eventually asking moronic questions such as “but how?” and “you really actually built this whole thing?”. Later, when I heard Zion Train and Mungo’s themselves putting the sound system through its paces, I was once again speechless. I have certainly been lucky to experience plenty of bass in Glasgow’s nightclubs such as The Arches, or from the SubClub’s bodysonic dancefloor, but Mungo’s system was in a whole new category of experience. When 15Hz is slamming into your body with such unexpected potency, music becomes a physical, sonic and spiritual force.

On another occasion, I went to see a band at a venue right next to Central Station in Glasgow, where I was informed on entry that the band was upstairs and my ticket included entry to the club downstairs afterwards. “Who’s playing in the club?” I asked, but the cashier didn’t know. The band was fine, but during its set I kept wishing there was more depth to the sound. That depth soon materialized, but it was not in time or in tune with their songs. Eventually, I figured out that whatever that throbbing bass was, it was coming from downstairs and almost drowning out the band right in front of me.

Obviously, that low end rumble was emanating from Mungo’s Hi Fi, which had set up part of their system in the club and seemed to be performing a test on the building’s physical integrity. I stood for a while in front of one of their bass bins. It literally made the fabric of my jeans flap. Mungo’s sound system drowned out both a live band in a different part of the building, and the sound of passing cross-country trains from Scotland’s largest railway station. Look at photos of their workshop; each bass bin is bigger than a washing machine and there are in the rig eight of these hand-made cabinets. If there is one thing these folk don’t need, it’s gym membership.

Any competitive readers will probably be thinking, “yeah, well, my bass is pretty big too y’know…” and I am sure that this is true in relative terms. Mungo’s Hi Fi, however, is in a different category of hi-fi compared to yours, and that category might be ‘bassophile’ rather than ‘audiophile’. Naturally, no-one would really compare a live sound rig with a home listening set-up, certainly not a high-end system aimed at fidelity and clarity. However, just to press the point home, I would not compare most other live sound rigs to the Mungo’s Hi Fi sound system either. It’s not merely loud - I have not experienced anything else that can provide such a visceral, stunning bass force.

This is the context for Soul Radio, Mungo’s Hi Fi’s latest LP with Italian singer Marina P. If my preamble has caused you to remove porcelain heirlooms to a place of safety, fear not. Soul Radio has not been designed with architectural damage in mind and demonstrates the breadth and continued evolution of Jamaican reggae and dub into a worldwide phenomenon. This is a soulful, energizing and thoughtful album, showcasing the elegant and versatile voice of Marina Peloso. Marina P can produce a delightful ‘catch’ in her vocal delivery, a tiny, sassy growl that brings to mind Eartha Kitt. She can rhythmically syncopate, and she can exquisitely extend and hang bluesy notes. Her vocal expression is precise, melodious, and very classy. Best of all, the soulful quality she brings to these tracks is warming and rewarding. The songs themselves are a mix of reggae versions and Marina P’s own compositions. She is a thoughtful and humane writer, penning songs that range in theme from love and seduction to spiritual discipline and the experiences of refugees.

I know you are probably still reeling from the idea that Glasgow has a reggae sound system, but I have another surprise for you—a reggae album that opens with a Smashing Pumpkins cover version. Sorry if that made you knock over your wine glass, or snort coffee from your nostrils. Messrs Corgan and Iha are probably not relying on royalties from an independent reggae label in Scotland to fulfil their retirement plans. However, when versioned by Mungo’s Hi Fi and sung by Marina P, “Soma” is a fine exercise in the reggae discipline of re-making material to fit a different template.

Another cover you will find on side one is “The Beat Goes On”, versioned as “The Beat Goes SKA!” and featuring rapid-fire toasting from English MC Tippa Irie and trademark yelps from Jamaican legend Dennis Alcapone. I would suggest it owes more to the swing and insouciance of the Buddy & Cathy Rich version than the Sonny & Cher original, following the chopping guitar chords and brass explosions of the former and shifting the rhythm into uptempo ska. The lyric is changed into a potted history of Jamaican musical genres, and the guests add to the already celebratory feel pace and humor. My highlight on side one is “Divorce a l’Italienne”, a shuffling big band stomper with skanking piano chords, sinuous brass and a slinky vocal from Peloso. Fans of Mungo’s Hi Fi will find the track familiar from earlier 7” versions and the excellent album Prince Fatty vs Mungo’s Hi Fi (Mr Bongo, MRBLP110, 2014) but this cut with Peloso’s purring Italian interlude is delightful.

This is very much an LP of two sides, and here I would like to contend that there is something classic about this record. Side one focuses mostly on up-tempo, sunny ska, while side two displays more thoughtful and lyrical songcraft. The download and streaming era has brought with it expectations of only listening to the tracks you like; but the era of the well-sequenced LP is not dead, and this record proves it with structural coherence and the motif of a re-tuned radio between each track.

The sequencing has depth and motion with meaningful changes of pace and tone. Another welcome aspect evoking a classic feel is the excellent photography and cover design. Cécile André’s delicately lit portrait of Marina Peloso is a proper cover photo, tonally appealing, carefully focused, and sensitively composed. As a portrait, it perfectly conveys the character of the singer—warm and humane, classy and relaxed, like a mid-sixties jazz chanteuse. Doug Paine’s design elicits a tender sixties feel with a vintage serif typeface and muted earth tones.

On side two, “Searching” and “Nice To Meet You” breathe at a slower pace, the latter in particular showcasing the seductive qualities, which Marina P can summon without effort. “The Great Wave” moves the album in a more thoughtful and experimental compositional direction. The vocal has the feel of an urban lullaby, accompanied by watery drips and resonant, bell-like metallic percussion. As the chant unfolds, delicate horns unravel their curling harmonies alongside. Closing track “Wouldn’t It Be Something” is a skillful piece of impassioned vocal storytelling about the experience of a refugee in transit— “if only we could travel as easily as words, if only we could be so easily released” —underpinned by a solid, stark, downtempo rhythm that recalls the dark dread of Tricky.

The 180g MPO pressing is wonderful. Naturally, the presence of generous low end in the cut is non-negotiable, and the warm and rotund basslines bump along freely without sending your needle into the air. Peloso’s voice is finely rendered, her high tone given plenty of space in the mix with subtle touches of tape echo. The plentiful bursts of punchy brass translate well in space, with no harshness. In fact, I believe this is an excellent example of mastering and pressing. When Peloso expresses the phrase “crashing on the shore” during “The Great Wave”, I fully expected sibilance, but there’s not a bit of it. That is not only down to careful recording and vocal processing, but skilled mastering and a well-made disc. On Discogs, mastering is credited to Ten Eight Seven Mastering, with the lacquer cut by “Beau”, so it is fair to assume the mastering engineer is London-based Beau Thomas. I love the sound of this record. It fills my room with bubbling bass, sleek vocals and a warm, benevolent presence. I’ll mention it again - it sounds classic to me, and I don’t mean ‘vintage’. I mean it is executed with skill, style, taste and timeless simplicity.

The album is available on the band's Bandcamp page.

Tom L's picture

I was at the big Gulfstream Bagpipe Festival in Jamaica. Ah, the kilt-blowing bass!

Bluejimbop's picture

Marina P is your free pass granted by your girlfriend.

capri345's picture

Ordered and thanks for the review.

Telekom's picture

Thanks capri345, I hope you enjoy the record when it comes.
Tom L, I hope you had a good time in JA, but bass is more my thing than bagpipes...
Bluejimbop... uuuhhh?

Telekom's picture

For those of you looking for a little more Mungo's Hifi, their brand new LP Antidote is out now on their Scotch Bonnet label. My copy just arrived and it is a delightful slab of wax filled with old-school dubs, numerous guest vocalists and a very nice pressing on red/orange splatter vinyl. Available here: