The bathroom in the Crotchety house is being upgraded. Among other things the pedestal washbasin is being replaced with a basin set into a vanity unit. Initially we thought the new vanity cabinet would completely cover the footprint of the old pedestal, hiding any ugliness on the floor. As it turns out, though, the new units are not quite deep enough for that and the cutout in the vinyl floor tiles for the pedestal would be a dark scar on the bright shiny skin of the rejuvenated bathroom.
With a sigh we suspended the work of the plumber/joiner team and called in a tiler to fit new flooring. As I added his appointment to the calendar that old UB40 track, Tyler, came to mind and the song was soon added to the list of candidates for Track of the Week. Then, the following day, another UB40 track, Food for Thought, featured on The Chain on the Radcliffe and Maconie show. “Was this the first time UB40 had been played on the RadMac show?”, I wondered, as fond memories of their vinyl LP, Signing Off, came to mind. That’s one album I never did acquire in digital form and I miss it now sometimes.
The song came to an end and one of the DJs (it’s hard to tell whether it’s Mark or Stuart speaking on the radio) mentioned that his favourite UB40 song was Tyler. In fact, he got quite carried away for a moment. Could this be a sublime coincidence? No, of course not, this was undeniable evidence of the Rock Gods’ guiding hands. It’s time for UB40’s first outing on the Crotchety Man blog.
Tyler is a song about Gary Tyler, a black 16 year old high school student who was accused of murdering a white 13 year old boy in Louisiana in 1974. Gary was tried, convicted and sentenced to death in 1975 but the case has been widely regarded as a travesty of justice ever since the witnesses who testified against him retracted their statements shortly after the trial. Certainly, UB40 were in no doubt that there had been a terrible miscarriage of justice when they wrote Tyler in 1980.
Police gun was planted
No matching bullets
No prints on the handle, no proof to show
Tyler is a reggae track with a sombre, bluesy feel. It has that lolloping effect that comes from a strong emphasis on the weaker beats in the bar but the prominent bass strides along confidently, a stable platform for the melody carried in the vocals and saxophone. There are nice touches from an organ and electric guitar, too, lifting the song out of the reggae rut and into pop chart territory. Although only ever released on albums Tyler would have made an excellent single.
There’s a helpless anger in the lyrics. When injustice is perpetrated by the very authorities charged with administering the law what can we do?
Tyler is guilty the white judge has said so
What right do we have to say it`s not so
There’s another reason for adding Tyler to this blog, too. Gary Tyler’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 1977. In spite of efforts by lawyers and human rights organisations to have his conviction overturned Tyler remained in prison until a change in the law in 2012 enabled a compromise. In return for pleading guilty to murder Tyler’s sentence was reduced to 21 years and, having already served 41 years, he was released on 30th April 2016.
Let me repeat that. Gary Tyler served 41 years in prison for a murder he probably did not commit. (An Amnesty International report from 1994 is available here.) So, do listen to UB40 playing Tyler and enjoy it but ponder on justice as you do so.
- On 2nd June 2016 Food for Thought became the 5940th item on The Chain. It wasn’t the first UB40 song to feature in that series; item 3119, played on 7th August, 2012 was Tyler.
- There’s a Guardian article about Tyler’s release here.