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The Robotiks

Robotiks to be featured at SNMWF 06

Precision to rival a finely tuned, well-oiled machine, yet with the wild beating heart of a lion: those words aptly describe Robotiks, house band for “Mad Professor” Neil Fraser’s Ariwa Studios stable.

Centered around Musical Director, guitarist and vocalist Errol Nicholson (aka Black Steel), Robotiks have been providing riddims for UK artists including Macka B, Pato Banton, Aisha and Ranking Ann as well as forays with foundation reggae artists such as U-Roy, Horace Andy, Alton Ellis, Lee Perry to name but a few.

Founding member and original Robotiks keyboard player Victor Cross was introduced to Mad Professor in 1981 by his brother, Sgt Pepper, when he came along to overdub some of Pepper’s tracks. From that introduction, Cross was frequently at the studio and became associated with Black Steel after Steel became a session guitarist there in late 1983. After sessions with Jah Shaka associate Tony Ranking, Mad Professor asked Steel to stay on at the studio, overdubbing tracks and assisting in engineering and, essentially, Robotiks was born. One of their first collaborations was what Mad Professor refers to as a “cover version excursion” out of which came one of the first successful Ariwa Studio releases, Just Dale’s “Till You Come Back To Me”, a top 3 reggae hit in 1986. After that success, the pair went from strength to strength, supplying and backing numerous hit songs both as Robotiks and as part of the Ariwa hit squad.

In 1988, Robotiks stretched out as a live performing unit, hiring on Sinclair Seales for drums and Fitzroy Brown holding down the bassie end of the riddim section. They were augmented by Noel “Fish” Salmon on second keyboards and occasionally Drumtan Ward, another alumni at Ariwa Studio (and given the descriptive nom de reggae by Mad Professor). This band backed numerous Ariwa and non-Ariwa artists including Alton Ellis, Eek A Mouse, Yabby U, Augustus Pablo, Macka B, Vivian Jones, Roots Daughters and many others.

The tragic death of Victor Cross resulting from an auto accident in 2000 ended that long-lived collaboration but the band struggled with the loss and continued on both in the studio and stage show appearances.

While the lineup within the band has fluctuated over the years, this year’s performance at the SNWMF will feature a number of key original members: Black Steel (guitars, vocals, melodica), Sinclair Seals (drums) and Fish (keyboards). Bass duties will be handled by Kirk Service and the live horn section will feature none other than the legendary trombone player Rico Rodriguez, along with the Soothsayers horn section featuring Idriss Rahman on sax and Robin Hopcraft sounding the trumpet.

Robotiks will be playing a set of dub-drenched pieces as well as backing various artists at the festival including Earl 16 , Michael Prophet and others as they are signed. All will be mixed and engineered by Mad Professor, so we are in for a dubwise treat this year!

Back to the horn section, the aforementioned Rico Rodriguez, trombonist featured on all manner of ska, rocksteady and reggae releases down through the ages and member of the two-tone ska revival outfit The Specials, will not only be serving as an essential part of the horn ensemble for Robotiks as they provide back up for artists gracing the SNWMF stage, he will be featured in his own jazz influenced set also backed by Robotiks! This is truly a first and anyone familiar with Rico’s crucial LP releases including “Man From Wareika”, “Jama Rico”, “That Man Is Forward”, “Blow Your Horn”, “Brixton Cat”, or singles like “Oh Carolina” (with Folkes Brothers), “Wash All Your Troubles Away” (aka “Wash Wash”, with Prince Buster), “Jungle Music” (with Special AKA), or the haunting “Ghost Town” (with the Specials) will know what a once-in-a-lifetime treat his set promises to be. For further information on the many recordings Rico has been featured on over the years, one peek at the discography on website www.mensch3000.ch/ricodiscs.htm should convince anyone just what one can expect from this roots hornsman!

From this writer’s own experience, one of the most crucial live reggae performances ever witnessed was Robotiks band backing Alton Ellis some years ago. With Mad Professor on the mixing board, Robotiks began the night with a set of dub and vocal outings that were astounding in their complexity and quality, with Black Steel taking the vocals on songs including Peter Tosh’s Legalize It. After an hour or so of dubwise mix bliss, Alton Ellis took the stage and the vibe changed completely; no longer on the modern dub tip, Robotiks did a complete 180 degree turn and accompanied Mr Ellis on Studio One and Treasure Isle standards like they were the originators. Words don’t being to describe the pure vibes in the house as they laid down well worn riddims like I’m Still In Love With You, Cry Tough, Girl I’ve Got A Date, Dance Crasher and more than an hour’s worth of classics. Obviously the sublime voice of Mr Ellis had something to do with it, but for this writer it was the feel and flow of Robotiks, in sharp and complete contrast to their own opening set of more modern sounding tunes, that really made this a special night. It was as if one were in the presence of Mr Dodd’s Studio One band for that evening; it was truly a night to be remembered.

Given that experience alone, it is with great pride that we are able to present to SNWMF 06 the versatile skills and musicianship of Robotiks featuring dub mixes by Mad Professor and supporting high quality roots vocalists. This promises to be a high point of all attendees’ reggae summer!

- JB Welda

Some releases featuring Robotiks:

As Robotiks:
Man & Machine (1985)
My Computer Is Acting Strange (1986)
Black Steel: Lion In the Jungle (1996) 

Backing various artists:
Horace Andy: Life Is For Living (1995)
Macka B: Buppy Culture (1989)
Pato Banton: Mad Professor Captures Pato Banton (1985)
Lee Perry: Mystic Warrior  (1989)
Ranking Joe: Fast Forward to Africa (1996)
Earl 16: Babylon Walls (1992)
U Roy: True Born African (1991)
U Roy: Babylon Kingdom Must Fall (1996)
Yabby U: Meets Mad Professor & Black Steel At Ariwa Studios (1993)

Mad Professor Dub Albums:
A Caribbean Taste of Technology (1985)
Black Liberation Dub (1994)
Dub Me Crazy (various volumes) (1982 - on)
Under the Spell of Dub (1997)

With Joe Ariwa:
Mad Professor, Joe Ariwa, Horace Andy: Rewired For Dub

The Robotiks Links:



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