Bringing reggae from the heart of inner city Southampton

In 1979 the Ebony Rockers burst onto the South’s music scene – Nearly thirty years on, the band have reformed and reflect on a unique time in the city’s cultural history.

Ebony Rockers were formed in 1979 in inner city Southampton at a time when the condition of “Black Youth” was a matter of national concern culminating in the famous Scarman Report. In their teens and with a rudimentary knowledge of music they grew to become local heroes within a community and in a city bereft of black role models. Managed by Don John a local youth and community worker.

The late 70s and early 80s were politically and socially vibrant times for African-Caribbean youth across the country – with inner city riots, unemployment and stop and search issues making young black men especially aware of their community and culture. It was against this background that teenagers from around the Newtown and Nicholson areas of Southampton began playing music – inspired by the reggae artists of the day and reflecting their own lives, conditions and aspirations.

The original members were in their late teens when they got together and included Ivan Dellimore, Bing Lewis, Neville Virgin, George David, David Ellis (Eggy), Versell Gordon(Scratch), Duncan Carberry and Rose Jones; all living in the city’s close-knit African-Carribbean community.


Their status was further enhanced when they qualified for the finals of the Melody Maker Battle of the Bands national competition. Judges Annie Lennox and John Conteh, amongst others, were impressed by their talents; and their success resulted in a recording contract with EMI Records. The band toured extensively in mostly the South of England and established an enthusiastic following and collaborated with Black Slate, Linton Kwesi Johnson, and Steel Pulse amongst others.

The band’s first single was Down by The River/Prison Gates on an independent label. When signed by EMI the single Stepping Out/Human Jungle was released and did moderately well. There were discussions to release a second single, a cover of Bob Marley’s “War” to be produced by Rudy Grant of the Equals but that did not materialise.


please insert your photo caption here including date and names – 1980, Photo via Don John

Over the years Ebony Rockers reformed, on a number of occasions , with some of the original members and have continued to play with a variety of different musicians further enhancing the band’s wonderful mixture of music influenced by Reggae, Soul, Hip-Hop and other music forms that have played a part in their life experience as the children of the “Windrush Generation” and are still viewed by many as a significant part of the Black History of Southampton

However one legacy of the band emerged in early 2000 when bassist George David’s son Craig was very successful in the RnB world and went on to be a huge international star A young Craig saw the Ebony Rockers rehearsals and as Don claims: “We like to think that it rubbed off on him!”

The Return

Three decades on and in July 2008 the band reformed for a sell out gig at Talking Heads Southampton and other charity specials.

Versell Gordon explains: “Most of the band members went on and had families and did other things. But Don and myself and a few others have always kept in touch.”

Don admits it was strange seeing the band coming together on stage again: “It seemed the right thing to do at the time. We sat down and said let’s give it one more go.”

Ebony Rockers, over the years, operated as a cooperative with a variety of young people in the band. They included: Junior Simmonds, Jenny Simmonds, Beverley Royal, Jiggy, Willie White, Joe Salmon(Skippy), MC Tenja, Ebonie G, Lisa Johnson, Michael Horn, Rosalyn Benn, Rachel and Chris Ricketts.

The band have also been back in the recording studio working with producer Martin White on a new single called “Black History… No Murder” to co-incide with the month, and hope to record other tracks for an EP release in the new year.

As Don explained: “Black History Month is an opportunity to emphasise the achievements of black communities. Very often in education and the media there There are important facts that that people don’t know.”

“Music is one of those things which brings people together and older black people have played their part in making that an important aspect of life and living here.”

Human Jungle recording session

In 2016 they reunited at our East Park Terrace campus to re-record the backing rhythm to their 1980s hit Human Jungle. The group made use of Solent’s music studios and were supported by alumnus Joe Burgess.

Human Jungle was a major breakthrough for the group in 1979, with the lyrics reflecting society’s attitude towards the African-Caribbean communities within our inner cities. Forty years on the group have reunited to refresh the hit and rewrite the lyrics to reflect today’s society’s views and perceptions of cohesion in our communities.

Recognition in 2023


They were recently honoured with a mural in the city centre, further establishing their reputation and carving out a space in Southampton’s music history. The mural was the work of Southampton artist Slam, who paints photo-realist murals worldwide and it can be found on Ogle Road next to the Marlands Shopping Centre acknowledging the impact that Ebony Rockers has had on the city. The band were also awarded a best music film award for the Portobello Film Festival and nominated for the Afri Festival in Italy.

The film “The Ebony Rockers Mural”, directed by Richard David and produced by Montaj Media Village has achieved beyond its expectations. These acclamations have included The Portobello Film Festival London: Best Music film and finalist for best Documentary, Kuumba Film Festival New York: Best Documentary Afro Brix Film Festival Milan Best Multi Cultural Film, Race to Justice Film Challenge Los Angeles Nomination, SPE Media Festival Denver Best Cultural Film

Montaj Media Village, who made the film, are a Southampton Based film company and the production team has decades of experience in making films that have a social conscience and are rooted in the experiences of peoples in the Southampton region.

The trailer below gives a flavour of a film that marks a significant moment in time for Black youth in inner city Southampton and is an essential part of our Black History.