Somnambule - Writing About Music

Smith & Mighty ~ Retrospective

Rob Smith and Ray Mighty were a cornerstone of the Bristol scene’s prehistory, back when Massive Attack had yet to cohere out of The Wild Bunch and the Junglist Full Cycle crew that included DJ Krust were still the Fresh 4. Typical of the cross-pollination that engendered the aforementioned acts, Smith & Mighty released two prototypical breakbeat anthems in 1987 which also happened to be covers of Burt Bacharach tunes, namely “Anyone (Who Had A Heart)” and “Walk On By”. These are delightful affairs bursting with big bass lines, rich arrangements and funky rhythms which also served to lead up to their UK top 10 production hit “Wishing On A Star”. This happy hybridity marks out the duo as much as their distance from the mainstream perception of Drum’n’Bass/Jungle as being a darkly mental affair. Although that darkness came to claim the scene from 1994 onwards, there was a time when the genre was richer, more colourful and more varied. Retrospective exemplifies this by doling out large portions of reggae, dancehall, hiphop and soul powered by busy mid-paced breakbeats. Time Out, the London-based listings magazine recently carried a brief preview of Smith and Mighty’s fellow Bristolian Roni Size and his return to live performance. As well as commenting innacurately on Size’s career, the author of the piece observed that drum’n’bass now sounded old-fashioned, almost quaint. In relation to the bounce and kick of UK Garage and its offshoots this might be the case for some (though not for this reviewer), however it’s difficult to see how the music on Retrospective could be so described. If the name Smith & Mighty is unfamiliar, don’t be tempted to assumed that their role was a peripheral one. Theirs is a fecund and vigorous genepool that should be required listening for all fans of dance music and students of breakbeat history.
Colin Buttimer
November 2004
Published by Grooves magazine