Do you still “Shine” or “Give A Little Love”? Well, “Don’t Turn Around”, it’s Aswad!
British reggae band Aswad formed in 1975, but it wasn’t until 1988 that they finally gained chart success with a Tina Turner song written by Albert Hammond and Diane Warren, writers of Starship‘s massive 1987 global smash “Nothings Gonna Stop Us Now”. Although there have been some line up changes over the decades, Aswad (Arabic for Black) are best remembered as the trio of Brinsley Forde (b.1953), Angus Gaye aka Drummie Zeb (b.1959) and singer Tony Robinson (b.1957). All three members attended the same school in London from where Forde initially forged a successful acting career in his teens, most notably in the children’s TV series Here Come The Double Deckers (1970-71). He also appeared in episodes of the TV comedy Please Sir and it’s hardly surprising that his talents were picked up by film directors. Following Here Come The Double Deckers, Forde, then aged 17, appeared, briefly, in the 1971 James Bond film, ‘Diamonds Are Forever’.
Shortly after this, the three friends began writing and performing and in 1976, Aswad released their self-titled, debut album. It took another five releases over the next six years before the band achieved their first chart entry with the album “Not Satisfied” (1982, UK No.50) while they would have to wait another two years before “Chasing For The Breeze” made a small dent on the UK singles chart. The band’s 1984 album “Rebel Souls” reached No.48 while their 1986 album “To The Top” sadly did anything but. And so to 1988. The group had spent most of 1987 recording their ninth studio album, “Distant Thunder”, which featured the aforementioned “Don’t Turn Around“, recorded two years earlier by Tina Turner as the B-side for her single “Typical Male”. Aswad released the song as the lead single from the album in February 1988 and it would become a huge hit. So huge it finally sealed the band’s name commercially. It made its way to the very top of the UK singles chart as well as being a big hit the world over. The song would eventually peak at No.45 in America.
“Distant Thunder” followed soon after and would become a top ten success in ten countries worldwide. The follow up single, “Give A Little Love”, came in the late Spring of 1988 and made its way to No.11 in the UK. While a third single, “Set Them Free”, missed the higher end of the chart. Although they had only just arrived on the scene, by 1989 Aswad could boast of thirteen years of releasing music and so took time to look back with a best of, “Crucial Tracks”. The album featured a new song, “Beauty’s Only Skin Deep” (UK No.31) and their cover of Stephen Bishops’ 1977 smoothie, “On And On”, which Aswad took to No.25 in the UK. A year later they were back in the chart with “Next To You” (UK No.24), the lead single from a new album, “Too Wicked”, which also featured the singles “Smile” and “Best Of My Love”.
The band teamed up with another former chart topper from 1988, Yazz, in 1993 for a collective reworking of Ace’s 1975 hit “How Long?”, which reached No.31 in the UK. In 1994, Aswad were back with a bang yet again with the Summer anthem “Shine”, which made No.5 in the UK and put them back in the chart around the rest of the world for the first time since “Don’t Turn Around”. It was taken from their eleventh studio album “Rise And Shine”, which also included the top 40 hits “Warriors” and “You’re No Good”, previously recorded by Dee Dee Warwick in 1963. Another “Greatest Hits” came in 1995 (UK No.20), followed by two more studio albums to the end of the decade, “Big Up” in 1997 and “Roots Revival” in 1999.
Although this brought an end to their chart career, Aswad have continued to perform live and release albums well into the 21st century, albeit without Brinsley Forde, who left the hit making trio in 1996 for “spiritual reasons”. With the exception of a reunion in 2009, Aswad have continued as the duo of Robinson and Drummie Zeb. Forde worked with Dizzie Rascal in 2009 on his album “Tongue’n’Cheek” and has appeared on Later…with Jules Holland on numerous occasions. In 2015, he was awarded the MBE for services to entertainment. This year (2020) will see the two remaining members of Aswad play at Blenheim Palace alongside UB40 and Jimmy Cliff for a number of special Summer concerts.
Sadly, on 2nd September 2022, it was announced that singer ‘Drummie Zeb’ had died at the age of 62. You will always ‘shine’ into the future, like the star that you are. RIP
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