Burned into our all memory for eternity, the great, the repulsive, the ridiculous, the one and only.......
Real name Alex Hughes, Kent-born Judge Dread was a bouncer in London clubs at the end of the '60s and became familiar with reggae through his work, where he had run into (not literally) the likes of Derrick Morgan and Prince Buster. In 1969 Buster had a huge underground hit with the obscene Big 5, a version of Brook Benton's Rainy Night In Georgia. It was clear there was a yawning gap waiting to be filled when Buster failed to effectively follow his hit, so Alex Hughes, aka Judge Dread (a name borrowed from a Prince Buster character) plunged in. His first single, Big Six went to number 11 in 1972, and spent more than half the year in the charts. No-one heard it on air: it was a filthy nursery rhyme. Big Seven did better than Big Six, and from this point on Dread scored hits with Big Eight, a ridiculous version of Je T'Aime, and a string of other novelty reggae records, often co-penned by his friend, Fred Lemon. Incidentally, Big Six was also a hit in Jamaica. Five years and eleven hits later (including such musical delicacies as Y Viva Suspenders and Up With The Cock), the good-natured Hughes, one of just two acts to successfully combine music hall with reggae (the other was Count Prince Miller, whose Mule Train rivalled Dread for sheer chutzpah) had finally ground to a halt in chart terms. He can still be found occasionally working the clubs, and has also sought employment as a local newspaper columnist in Snodland, Kent.
Playing with The Dread....
I was not there on that fateful night in Kent, but what a terrible loss the the Ska/Skin and Reggae scene. I played with Judge Dread for several tours of the UK and Europe. Being the drummer, I always got the front seat of the bus, Bad Manners bus was like Dantes Inferno, the further you went back the more hellish it became. If you found yourself on the back seat, you knew you were in trouble. I did end up there on several occasions and had to do cold turkey on the front seat for some weeks at a time. The Judge would sit next to me, he was a brilliant chap. Alex, always had us laughing, he would tell us stories all the time, with the truth woven in there to just for continuity.
I was about 25 years of age when he toured with us for a couple of years. He was kind of like our uncle, trying not to let us get into too much trouble, all the time relishing in our antics. You're a boy, he would say and he had the Father Christmas belly laugh. I can see him now in the dressing room in the corner with his little plastic cooler with diet coke in it. He would bring that cooler every where with his six cans of diet.
One of the best stories he told me was when he was touring with Bob Marley. Now I have to set the stage here. We had several members of Bad Manners that said, "said" being the operative word here that they were Rasta Farian. Well they all ate pork for a start, so they were part time rastas, kind of "Fakin Jamakin". The Judge with his wit and perception always knew when to wind someone up. Alex was the best person for this(Alex Arundell-Bad Manners Trumpet player). Dread then began to tell the story of when he was on tour with Bob Marley and they stopped at the Watford Gap for food. Dread mentioned that they were on the bus waiting for Bob to get back, and that he decided to go and find him. He looked all over for him and located him in the toilets. Dread then kicked open the door to a cubicle and found Bob Marley on the toilet eating Pork Ribs wearing a Trilby hat. Just the image of this still makes me laugh, to think of the Legend Marley at Watford Gap, locked in a toilet covered in Barbecue sauce and wearing a trilby is brilliant. I am sure it never happened quiet like that, but Alex Arundell did his nut, "Rasta Man no Pork eater" on and on this went for weeks.
Dread would also bring on contraband to the bus. He was a kind of Nurse Ratchet with lollipops. All the band members would get a lollipop, and could do sherbet dibdab with whatever was in the Judge's bag, all I know is it kept me up a while!
I have great memories of him, the best ones are nothing to do with playing on stage, he was truly a remarkable and lovely man. He is terribly missed by many, but the legend lives on.