|Birth name||Donovan Letts|
|Born||10 January 1956|
|Website||Don's BBC6 show|
Donovan "Don" Letts (born 10 January 1956) is a British film director, disc jockey (DJ) and musician. Letts first came to prominence as the videographer for the Clash, directing several of their music videos. In 1984, Letts co-founded the band Big Audio Dynamite with former Clash lead guitarist and co-lead vocalist Mick Jones, acting as the band's sampler and videographer before departing the band in 1990.
Letts has also directed music videos for Musical Youth, the Psychedelic Furs, Fun Boy Three, the Pretenders and Elvis Costello as well as the feature documentaries The Punk Rock Movie (1978) and The Clash: Westway to the World (2000).
Letts was born in London, and educated at Tenison's School in Kennington. In 1975, he ran the London clothing store Acme Attractions, selling "electric blue zoot suits and jukeboxes, and pumping dub reggae all day long." He was deeply inspired by the music coming from his parents' homeland, Jamaica, in particular Bob Marley. After seeing one of Marley's gigs at the Hammersmith Odeon, in June 1976, Letts was able to sneak into the hotel and spent the night talking to and befriending Marley. By the mid-1970s Acme had quite a scene, attracting the likes of the Clash, Sex Pistols, Chrissie Hynde, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry and Bob Marley.
In a 2022 interview, Don Letts discussed growing up in London and the discrimination he faced in relation to Steve McQueen's series Small Axe. Discussing mistreatment at the hands of police he remarked that:
'A lot of us took that for normal. It was just what we had to deal with. Back in those Mangrove days… There weren’t no culturally enlightened policemen. It was the Wild West and trust me: we weren’t the cowboys.'
Seeing the crowd at Acme, the then-promoter Andy Czezowski started up The Roxy, a London nightclub during the original outbreak of punk in England, so that people could go from the store and have some place to party. As most bands of that era had yet to be recorded, there were limited punk rock records to be played. Instead, Letts included many dub and reggae records in his sets, and is credited[by whom?] with introducing those sounds to the London punk scene, which was to influence the Clash and other bands. He introduced members of The Sex Pistols and The Clash to Sound System culture, specifically, Jah Shaka and Lloyd Coxsone, artists who transformed the British music scene, and as a tribute, he is pictured on the cover of the EP Black Market Clash (1980) and the compilation album Super Black Market Clash (1993). He was able to use the fame and money from DJing and the Acme story to make his first film, The Punk Rock Movie (1978).
Letts quit the retail business to manage the band the Slits. He was able to get the Slits to open for the Clash during the White Riot tour. While on the White Riot tour he decided that management was not for him, but continued to shoot material for The Punk Rock Movie (1978).
Letts went to Jamaica for the first time when, after the Sex Pistols broke up, Johnny Rotten decided to escape the media frenzy by going with entrepreneur Richard Branson to Jamaica. It was on this trip that Branson was inspired to start up Virgin's Frontline reggae record label.
I guess he thought that since I was black and Jamaican – well, sort of – he'd be in good hands. Little did he know that the closest I'd been to Jamaica was watching The Harder They Come at the Classic Cinema in Brixton.— Don Letts
— Don Letts
Letts is married to Grace and the couple have two children. He also has a son and a daughter from his previous partner.
In September 2020 Letts and his wife Grace were featured on BBC's Gardeners' World, showing how they had combined their different tastes for plants and culture in their town garden in north west London.
In 1978, Letts recorded an EP, Steel Leg v the Electric Dread, with Keith Levene, Jah Wobble, both of Public Image Ltd and Steel Leg. The vocalist Steel Leg was Vince Bracken, a close friend of Sid Vicious and The Flowers of Romance (British band), which was a very early British Punk Rock collective. After Mick Jones was fired from the Clash, he and Letts founded Big Audio Dynamite in 1984. In 1990 Letts formed Screaming Target, a band named after the iconic Big Youth album of the same name which had been popular and profoundly influential with Rude Boys, Skinheads and Proto Punks in the early 1970s and Punk Rockers in the late 1970s. As of 1 April 2009, Letts is presenting a weekly show on BBC Radio 6 Music.
Since his first movie, The Punk Rock Movie (1978), Letts has expanded to doing documentaries and music videos for multiple bands. In 1997, he travelled to Jamaica to direct Dancehall Queen. His film Westway to the World (2000) won a Grammy Award in 2003.
Filmography (as director)
|1978||The Punk Rock Movie|
|1997||Dancing in the Streets: Planet Rock||TV movie|
|2000||The Clash: Westway to the World||Documentary|
|2003||The Essential Clash||Video|
|2004||Making of 'London Calling': The Last Testament||Video|
|2005||Punk: Attitude||TV movie|
|The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Gil Scott-Heron|
|Brother From Another Planet: Sun Ra|
|2006||The Making of All Mod Cons: The Jam|
|Tales of Dr. Funkenstein: George Clinton|
|Rock It to Rio: Franz Ferdinand|
|2008||The Clash Live: Revolution Rock||TV movie|
|2011||Rock 'N' Roll Exposed: The Photography of Bob Gruen|
|2016||The Story of Skinhead|
- Don Letts (24 October 2001). "Dem crazy baldheads are my mates". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 December 2007.
- Don Letts (24 May 2007). "Don Letts: In his own words - Special to BobMarley.com". Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 16 December 2007.
- "Then and Now: Black Britain through the eyes of Jeshi and Don Letts". The Face. Retrieved 16 November 2022.
- Charlotte Robinson (12 July 2002). "DON LETTS". popmatters. Retrieved 16 December 2007.
- "Return of the Rude Boy" at Somerset House, 13 June– 25 August 2014.
- "Return Of The Rudeboy". Returnoftherudeboy.com. Retrieved 18 May 2020.
- "2013 BASCA Gold Badge Award Recipients Announced" Archived 18 November 2017 at the Wayback Machine, PPL, 16 September 2013.
- "My family values: Don Letts". 20 August 2010.
- "Gardeners' World: Episode 25, 2020". bbc.co.uk. 4 September 2020. Retrieved 26 February 2021.
- "News - Famous faces join University of Nottingham's winter graduation ceremonies - University of Nottingham". www.nottingham.ac.uk. Retrieved 17 December 2022.
- "Don Letts Biography". Retrieved 3 March 2012.
- Letts, Don; David Nobakht (2008) [22 January 2007]. Culture Clash: Dread Meets Punk Rockers (3rd ed.). London: SAF Publishing. ISBN 978-0-946719-99-0. OCLC 181422771.
- Letts, Don; The Clash, Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, Topper Headon (15 April 2008). The Clash Live: Revolution Rock (Documentary/TV movie). New York: Legacy Recordings. OCLC 227211002.
- The Story of Skinhead with Don Letts, BBC Four.
- "Worldsenders". Worlds-enders.blogspot.com. Retrieved 18 May 2020.