On his debut LP effort, the iconic UK singer Peter Hunnigale conveys his brilliant vision of Lover's Rock, with this epic record striking across the widest spectrum of the genre to provide us with moments to dance to, to cry to, and perhaps to fall in love to.
There are a certain few genres that really uplift the soul, the music able to convey a feeling of serenity and adoration to all the senses, and Lovers Rock is certainly one of those movements that has been providing the soundtrack to moments we cherish for some time now. The genre began life within the realms of Rocksteady, and rather than focusing on more socio-political lyrical content like in its sibling genre Reggae, it borrows a lot from the longings and adoration of American Soul music, with poignant melodic sequences underpinning soaring vocal performances. The genre provided a space for women vocalists, who often felt alienated from the very much male orientated Reggae scene, with Lovers Rock appearing as early as the late 60s but really starting to take shape within the 1970s, particularly within Jamaica and in the London scene. The genre borrowed many of the rhythmic qualities of Reggae, with solid rhythmic guitar paired with spacious drums and plenty of emotionally charged keys and horns, but the most noted departure was the lyricism and vocal delivery, which pointed to looking into the eyes of your partner and exposing your soul to them. This has given the genre a certain charm that has lasted long into the annuals of history, its beautiful soul containing so many moments of brilliance along the way, as a plethora of artists within its ranks have explored the utmost potential of the genre, and how it could be paired with elements of Dub to create new sides to the story. Whilst on the surface it might have seemed less political than Reggae, the genre didn't shy away from imprinting commentary within its lyricism, with plenty of songs conveying the Black British experience during the 1970s and 80s, with audiences connecting both with the music and with the relaying of their roots and culture. Its a bountiful genre that has continually given over to music listeners, be it with the excellence instrumentation, the gorgeous harmonies, or the soulfulness of it all, with the music always presented with meaning throughout. The genre, like many in the contemporary age, has found new life amongst DJs and music lovers alike, and that just goes to show the staying power of Lover's Rock, with its meaning residing very much in the name given to it - no real elements of rock, but plenty of love and adoration. It's music to hold your loved ones close to, its music to perhaps be alone with, its music that really makes you get up and dance, and its music that connects you with something wider, something greater and impactful, and there really are few genres of music that remain capable of doing these things. Lover's Rock presented itself as music with soul, and having soul within your music means that no matter what era or time frame it finds itself within, there will always be people who connect with the music on a deeper level, their hearts and minds allowing the vibrations to move around the neurones and explore the widest facets of the emotional condition.
There were plenty of Lover's Rock artists who came and went, but singer Peter Hunnigale certainly stayed around for the long term, with his incredibly dense discography a testament to his longevity not just within the realms of Lover's Rock but in Dancehall, Reggae and Roots. Born in South London in 1960, Hunnigale would begin releasing music in the early 1980s, an incredibly interesting time within the British Music scene, with electronic instrumentation giving rise to genres like New Wave and further fuelling movements like Brit-Funk and the initial foundations of UK Street Soul. Lover's Rock was no different, with its more traditional instrumental approach being replaced with synths and drum machines. Hunnigale remained right at the heart of this shift in approach, with his early releases remaining some of the finest examples of the genre going, with his incredible vocal delivery acting as the cornerstone of each track he blessed us with. Nicknamed 'Mr Honey Vibes', and for good reason, Hunnigale would blend his vocal work around the sublime vibrations provided by the Night Flight Band during the 80s, with band members including Delroy Clarke, Fitzroy Blake and Tucker Rainbow who primarily worked alongside artists associated with the Street Vibes label (which Hunnigale and Blake set up together). This relationship largely defined Hunnigale's first decade of releasing records, and it remains one of the strongest veins of form within any Lover's Rock orientated discography, with each single and LP he released during this time helping to form an incredibly strong audial identity. The enchanting rhythms, the wondrous key work, and of course the bountiful lyricism and vocal delivery all work together so intuitively, as if all the key members involved were intent on making the smoothest and most enjoyable listening experience going, along with throwing in the dynamic of making the people dance the night away. Towards the end of the 1980s, Hunnigale would lend his powerful voice to other genres, with releases around this time moving into Ragga Hip Hop, Reggae and Dancehall, all of which pointed to his enthusiasm to record with differing styles and of course hinting at his ability to deliver on multiple fronts. Despite his dabbling in other genres, Lover's Rock was always close to his heart, and this is evident in his constant returns to the genre throughout the 1990s, where the goodness just kept on flowing from a number of releases. Looking back over his works, there's plenty of excellence to highlight, starting off with his LPs, with the first to highlight being his 1992 album 'Mr Vibes', which stands as one of his finest Lover's Rock moments; the awesome Roots orientated 'Mr Government', which was recorded in 94 alongside Mad Professor; the swing influenced frequencies found within the 'Silly Habits' record, which came out in 1997; the excellent covers album 'Back To The Old School Vol 1', which came out in 1998 and remains one of Hunnigale's most revered pieces of work; the gorgeous tonal outlays found on the 'Can't Stop' record, which landed in 2002; finally, the exqusite feels that abound from the 'Rhythm & Song' album, which arrived in 2006. From his single work, highlights include the utterly brilliant 'Untamed Love', a record that saw him move into the realms of boogie and disco, which was released in 1986; the soft and sultry 'Heart of Steel' single, which arrived in 88'; the Dancehall excellence that flows from the 'A Love Like This' record, which was released in 1992; the UK Street Soul leaning 'Mind Blowing Decisions', which was jointly recorded alongside Fiona Harriot and released in 92' also; the excellent 'Crazy Love', which arrived in 95'; the big melodic masterclass that is the 'Going Out Of My Head/African Tears', which came out in 99'; the gorgeous roots reggae orientated release 'Keep On Moving', which came out in 2003; the slow and sultry 'Rub-A-Dub' single, which came out in 2007; and finally, the Reggae brilliance found within the 'Jah Warrior' release, which arrived in 2018. In all, Hunnigale has had quite the career, one which has seen him try his hand at a plethora of styles, but one thing that always comes through on anything he does is his beautiful vocal delivery, and a knack for writing some memorable melodic lines. From his roots in Lovers Rock he was able to translate the emotive vibes into all of his other releases, all of which are bound together by style and substance in equal measure. This has provided Hunnigale with a longevity that has lasted up until the present day, with his voice still packing a punch alongside some inspired instrumentalism which showcases just how good he was at bringing a tune together. If you enjoy Reggae, Dub, Lovers Rock or Roots, be sure to check out all of his back catalogue, its simply a joy to be around.
And now we turn our attention to the subject of today's review, 1987's 'In This Time', which was released on the Street Vibes label alongside the Night Flight Band. The record was a culimination of a number of singles he had released in the years prior, and in many ways would encapsulate the depth of his take on Lovers Rock, and what we get is one of the most complete and impressive collections of tracks within the late 80s interpretation of the genre. The melodies and tones that abound from this release are just stunning, with plenty of wondrous layering occurring between the layers which provides an enormous amount of depth and scope, with everything coming together so succinctly within each cut. Some tracks favour a more upbeat take on proceedings, whilst others prove to be more reflective and emotive, and its this balance which provides the record a really profound sense of relatability. The moods reflect our own, the times when we feel happy, the times when we feel a bit down, and as a soundtrack to life's rich tapestry, what better than a bit of soaring keys, wonderful vocal performances and enriching rhythms to remind us that it ain't so bad after all. So, without further delay, lets dive right into this incredible piece of music.....
Up first comes the title track, which begins with the chiming cowbells to get us going. After a couple of rounds we get the first glimpse of Hunnigale's voice, which chimes along with the bass going underneath, and after that we flow right into the main event, with the guitar moving along within the structure alongside the delicate keys. Hunnigale begins on his vocal journey around this point, providing a guiding light to the mesmerising mix of rhythm and tone, with the transitions between the verses and choruses particularly meaningful. The switches between densities leave a lot to admire, with elements moving out of time as quickly as they came into the picture. The lyrics are particularly uplifting, talking about helping people out and being there for one another, and in many ways its message will forever resonate with the goodness that resides within people's hearts. Wonderful. Up next comes 'Be My Lady', and this one flourishes into life. The drums, guitar and keys do much to create an incredible fullness to proceedings, with Hunnigale's voice powerfully striding across the top ends, floating above the melodies with a real sense of purpose, as little sequences come in and out of time on the sides of the pan. The chorus is a triumph, with the horns that come into the spotlight providing a very special feel to the mix, before sliding out of view as we transition back into the next verse. The chorus comes back into view once more to feed the soul more of those wonderful feels, and the passage that arrives after showcasing some fantastic instrumentalism which wows immensely, as we glide along in a blissed out state, waiting for that special person in our life to join us in the evening sun. Up next comes 'Its Like Happiness', which once again starts off with a full ensemble to get us going. The intro salvo sets the tone in terms of melodic outlines, before swinging into the raggae inspired beat, with Hunnigale's voice again taking centre stage amongst the sea of sublimity. The slides along is particularly enjoyable in this track, as differing layers and sequences are given plenty of time to shine within the mix, from all the key lines through to the saxophone and additional guitar lines, as a composition its certainly one you can dive right within and take a look around at it all. The instrumental passages are once again a delight to get involved within, as the lead guitar flickers in and out of time amongst the passages with a gleeful abandonment, and before long we return into the fold with Hunnigale bounding the track together with his voice, and we are really in a state of quiet euphoria by this point.
'Wanna Rock With You' comes next, and this one begins with the keys and drums to get us going. The feel is leaning slightly towards Dancehall, and this change in tone and feel is right at home within the confines of this record, as it gives Hunnigale time to showcase his abilities to their utmost. His vocal delivery is faster paced to match the more paired back instrumentals that persist underneath, with only a few elements making up this really groovy track. The track is deeply joyous, talking about dancing with the girl you adore, waiting to rip up the dancefloor together, forgetting about the ills and just going for it with smiles on faces. Music for the feet, for sure. 'Fool For You' comes next, and this one takes the feeling down a few notches. The immediate melodic wave is very emotive, with Hunnigale conveying a mood of infatuation and adoration, which is very much reflected in the swaying waves of love that reside within the backing track. The ways in which layers and densities are managed in this track is once again very well managed, with the sequences doubled up as we lead into the chorus before transitioning into the passage after, and we cannot help but be carried along for the ride. The instrumental section perfectly conveys the mood, the longing, the affection and the adoration, with the climax of this arriving as Hunnigale comes back into the mix, carrying us away within a sea of beloved meaning. 'Let's Get It Together' comes next, which begins with a very interesting mix of instrumentation and vocals. The vocals chime along in a very soulful manner, with lots of ohhs and ahhs punctuating through a bedrock of incredible feels, right down from the delicate instrumentation through to the dazzling array of keys and guitar. The bountiful feels don't stop there, as we slide along to Hunnigale's impeccable delivery, which sways in the breezy trees with all the meaning in the world, transitioning between the verses and choruses with real soft intensity. The track reverts back to its intro sequence around the half away mark before moving back into its powerful verse structure, with all the power of the previous few minutes certainly not lost on the momentum as we move through some inspired sections of musicality and feeling.
Up next comes 'Girl On The Side', and this one begins with yet another array of melodic laden goodness to get us going. The guitar and sweeping synths align themselves within the groove, with these sways providing a perfect base for the vocals to arrive on the scene, and it all comes together so very well. The little layers that mingle within the top frequencies, like the intricate key lines, acoustic guitar and backing vocals all add so much to the picture being painted, that of badly directed love, of feeling loved but not getting what you wanted back, and the whole package really conveys this mood to us. The instrumental sections showcase the depth being utilised to showcase this feeling, and there's still time for Hunnigale to demostrate his tremendous chops one final time. 'Who have the Money' comes next, and this one shifts gears once again. The vocals immediately jump out at you, flickering in the air for a long time as the guitar and keys reside in the backdrop, propped up by a sultry beat that moves along with all the slowed down pace in the world, never needing to move into third gear but simply persisting with its current groove. The vocals take lead on this one, helping the other elements to channel their efforts into differing structures and sequences at the drop of a hat, and everything just moves along with real meaning. The saxophone solo that comes in chimes along the rhythms of the heart, before giving way to the vocals to come back into view, and it's just honey in the ears, as per Hunnigale's nickname. 'Giving Myself Away' comes next, and this one starts off with a Boogie laden intro to get us going. The chords then mingle themselves within the groove, as the sax returns amongst a sea of rising chords, as Hunnigale's voice harps amongst the top, serenading us with all the effort in the world, as all the layers present themselves to us in the most exciting of ways. The choruses here might just be our favourite, with an incredible layer of dynamism coming into play to push the track onwards and upwards to some special places indeed, with some excellent passages placed behind to get us moving in both the heart and mind. The melodies on this one are just so special, it makes you want to well up. Simply beautiful. To wrap things up, we have 'Father's Love', and this one strips back the densities once again to focus on the power of singular sequences working alongside one another. Hunnigale begins on his vocal journey as the guitar and keys harp along to the beat, with the back end of the verses introducing a floating synth line that worms its way into the soul, as Hunnigale's voice rises higher and higher to great applause. Its a final sentiment, a last goodbye of sorts, from a record that brings you to the ultimate emotional space, one filled with joy, affection and meaning, with plenty of grace found in both the emphatic moments and the quiet ones, as we are greeted with the widest array of emotions possible.
Lover's Rock is a genre concerned with experiences, society and context, but also emotion, feeling and groove, and due to its hybridised style its legacy has endured just as brightly as those that have inspired it. Peter Hunnigale was certainly at the forefront of its mid to late 80s development, with his Street Vibes imprint playing an important role at electrifying the genre and bringing it to new audiences and listeners. His outputs were integral to this new wave, and this, his debut record, personifies him at his most impressive, providing to us a sequential experience that takes in every emotion imaginable, whether its conveyed through the words he speaks or the instruments he places alongside one another. We get lost in the duality of the experience, with Hunnigale's enriching voice soaring above a sea of intricate and deftly balanced instrumentation, with the Reggae style guitar and keys present throughout but its the layers he adds on top that give each track a distinctive personality and makes the listening experience so memorable. Intelligently made, full of heart, soul and rhythm, there's so much here to unpack and enjoy, and who knows - maybe you will experience something with it too. An absolute treasure.
You can check out the record here: