Vincent George Forbes (25 October 1928 – 3 November 2012), better known as Duke Vin, was a Jamaican-born sound system operator and selector who operated the first sound system in the United Kingdom. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Vin was raised on Wildman Street and attended the Calabar All-Age School.
In 1955 Duke Vin launched the first Jamaican-style sound system on the British public; it was the prototype of the enormous sets of speakers on display each year at the Notting Hill carnival. "When I came here the people was backward – them didn't know what a sound system was," said Vin, who enjoyed a semi-mythological status in Britain's West Indian community.
TOM THE GREAT SEBASTIAN
In the late 1940s in Jamaica, where few could afford radios, sound systems ruled the entertainment circuits; they would set up at outdoor dances, playing such American r'n'b as Louis Jordan, Wynonie Harris and Roy Brown. None was more popular than the "sound" run by Tom "The Great Sebastian" Wong with his innovation, replicating the jive-talking voice-overs of US radio disc jockeys, with Count Machouki rapping over the records.
Meeting Wong on a Kingston street, helping him change his punctured tyre, Duke Vin found himself asked if he could stand in for the sound system owner the next Saturday as "selecter"; Vin's magically intuitive alignment of 78rpm discs was a resounding success, which turned into regular work, but he earned almost nothing from this. At the time, Vin was known as "Shine-Shoes Vinny" due to his smart appearance.
After travelling to England as a ship stoaway he found work as an engine cleaner for British Rail, for just under £5 a week, becoming an electrician two years later. He found lodging in the slum area of Notting Hill. Duke Vin built his first sound system in 1955 using a second-hand turntable bought from a shop in Edgware Road, a speaker bought for £15 and an amplifier built for £4, soon establishing "Duke Vin the Tickler's", in Ladbroke Grove, London, the first Jamaican-style sound system in the UK.
Two guys asked Vin to use his equipment for a party, he rented his nascent sound system to them for £5. This became Duke Vin's regular Saturday night fee as he played at Jamaican private house parties all over London: "Sometimes until 12 o'clock the next day – until police came to stop it. But I was just thinking to liven up the place."
One of the tracks that exclusively featured on his sound system was "The Tickler", a track produced by Derrick Harriott that was unavailable elsewhere until it was released in 2006.
Other sound system operators set up, like Count Clarence, and Count Suckle, who opened the Cue Club in Paddington. Soon Duke Vin was taking part in sound system "clashes", competitions in which each set tried to woo the audience with the rarity and originality of their tunes. His first clash was in 1956 against Boot, he won that encounter. "The Big Five Night” was a promotion at Lambeth Town Hall (Brixton) in November 1957, advertised as featuring "the Five Greatest Sounding Systems battling for the 1957 Club Championship of Sound and Record”. Duke Vin triumphed: his sound system had an unrivalled reputation, as a selector he knew how to wow a crowd.
THE FLAMINGO & THE MARQUEE
In the 1960s Duke Vin’s sound played at top London clubs, including The Flamingo and The Marquee. For a short while early in 1963 the Rolling Stones had a Monday night residency at Soho’s Flamingo club. Ian Samwell, who'd been hosting lunchtime disc-only sessions at the Lyceum since 1961, was one of the main resident DJs. Having built up his reputation via his sound system, Duke Vin also had some regular gigs at the Flamingo, playing r&b and ska spinning discs between sets by the likes of Georgie Fame and Zoot Money.
Georgie Fame began to build ska tunes into his band's repertoire, calling on the services of trombone player Rico Rodriguez, who'd moved to England from Jamaica in 1961. The mods enthused about ska and early bluebeat music and Caribbean culture in general; the smartness of the Jamaican performers in their sharkskin suits and pork-pie hats was appreciated by them, and Prince Buster became a hero, as did singer Jackie Edwards, who wrote Keep On Running', a hit for the Spencer Davis Group.
NOTTING HILL CARNIVAL
Notting Hill Carnival 1975
Stationary, or as we say these days ‘static’, sound systems were a part of Notting Hill Carnival (NHC) from its early days. Both Duke Vin and Count Suckle put their sets out on the street unofficially as they were both based in Ladbroke Grove. Sound systems were officially invited to join NHC as the 5th discipline in 1973 by Leslie Palmer MBE, who was then on the NHC committee. The main reason for this was in those days funding was linked to attendance and the organisational need was to increase NHC's attendance numbers which the introduction of static sound systems certainly did and continues to do. Duke Vin is credited as being a co-founder of Notting Hill Carnival.
DUKE VIN INTERVIEW - PART 1
DUKE VIN INTERVIEW - PART 2
Duke Vin became a legend in Ladbroke Grove and had a huge influence on the popularisation of reggae and ska in Britain. He was the subject of the 2009 documentary film Duke Vin and the Birth of Ska, directed by Gus Berger.
R.I.E.P DUKE VIN
Vincent George Forbes (25 October 1928 – 3 November 2012), better known as Duke Vin, was a Jamaican-born sound system operator and selector who operated the first sound system in the United Kingdom.
Duke Vin's Funeral. Internment at Kensal Green Cemetery
REFERENCES & LINKS
Chris Salewicz - Duke Vin: 'Soundman' who brought sound systems to Britain - Independent 21 Nov. 2012 - READ MORE
Ricky Belgrave - Sound Systems - Notting Hill Carnival - READ MORE
Dave Haslam - Life After Dark: A History of British Nightclubs and Music Venues 13 August 2015 - BUY HERE
Jahul - Duke Vin Merchandise - BUY HERE
Richard Braine / PYMCA - Notting Hill Carnival: A photo essay - Redbull Music Academy 28 August 2015 - READ MORE