Count Shelly, Pioneer of British Sound System culture has died aged 88.

Ephraim Barrett, AKA “Count Shelly”, passed away on August 16th. His death was confirmed by close friend Anthony “Chips” Richards, who described him as “a gentle giant.”

A bricklayer and mason by trade, Count Shelly was a pioneer of British Sound System culture. Sound Systems first developed in Jamaica in the 1940s, where DJs would set up stacks of speakers in the streets of Kingston, rivalling one other in competitive “sound clashes”. 

In the late 1950s and 60s, British Caribbean migrants brought the sound system culture to the UK. “These systems initially came out of a need for a community focus,” Mandeep Samra, curator of the Sound System Culture: London exhibition, tells Vice. “First and second generation Caribbean immigrants were often excluded from pubs and clubs. These dances were often held in community centres and suchlike.”

Count Shelly’s sound system started out playing at house parties before moving into clubs. In the 1970s, he became the resident DJ at the legendary Four Aces in Dalston, reportedly one of the first venues to play black music in Britain.

In a wide-ranging and influential career, Count Shelly also distributed music for top Jamaican producers in the UK, including Bunny Lee, Ossie Hibbett and Harry Mudie. He went on to form the Count Shelly record label in 1973 and in 1975 started Third World Records. After working at Super Power Records in Brooklyn and as a producer, he moved back to Jamaica. 

He is survived by four children and four grandchildren.

19th August, 2020

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