The Equators formed in 1977 in Birmingham, the vision of brothers Donald, Leo and Rocky Bailey. Joined by two guitarists, Cleveland Clarke and Dennis Fletcher, they made an impressive 2 Tone reggae stand and were quickly signed by The Beat’s management company, 20/21 Management. It was while supporting The Beat that Dave Robinson spotted them, and quickly signed them up to Stiff.
“It was a wonderful time in our life,” Rocky later recalled. “Stiff Records was always full of surprises… One day we’re recording with Desmond Dekker & The Pioneers (Long Shot Kick the Bucket). The next time we’re recording our first single, Baby Come Back (BUY 95) with pop-reggae producer and musician Eddy Grant, which scored a top 10 hit in Europe in 1980.”
They may have had the 2 Tone sound, but the band resisted signing to their local label in favour of Stiff. “We thought, hey, we were playing this music before the 2 Tone thing came out,” Donald said. “Why give it up to 2 Tone? Our music, our sound, has always been about originality. That’s what Stiff Records saw in us, and the deal was right so we went with Stiff which also happened to be where Madness ended up.”
The band never made any UK chart impact but they heavily influenced The Untouchables, Joe 'King' Carrasco and – most significantly – The Beat. “The Equators were brilliant,” says The Beat’s Dave Wakeling. “In our earliest formulations of The Beat sound we discovered that if one played an all punk set, the audience would get burnt out; and if one played an all reggae set, the audience would fall asleep. Therefore our music would encompass the energy and intensity of punk & the hypnotic, laid-back groove of reggae, a punky-reggae hybrid. But just when we thought we discovered something new, we discovered The Equators, right in our home town of Birmingham, who had already come up with a similar formulation…”
“It was from The Equators that The Beat learned to stylise this blend in a soulful, delicate manner. It was from The Equators that we learned lightness and depth of touch in playing this music.”