For many, ‘reggae music ’starts and ends with Bob Marley – which is a great shame as the genre has so much more to offer. I don’t intend that as any sort of slight on the great man ….. but in the current age of manufactured and ‘auto-tuned’ commercial music, there is just so much excellent music (and reggae in particular) that simply doesn’t get heard by the ‘casual’ listener.
One label trying to alter this is the fabulous Bristol Archive Records. For a couple of years now they have been re-releasing music that originally emanated from their city during the late Seventies / early Eighties – music from bands that garnered much critical praise for their ‘live’ shows, but due to their music being released on small independent / DIY labels, failed to gain the commercial and more widespread success that they undoubtedly merited.
One such band was / is TALISMAN.
Having previously released their early output in the form of the ‘Dole Age – The 1981 Reggae Collection’, Bristol Archive Records now turn their attention to the band’s first studio album, ‘Takin’ The Strain,’ which was initially released on vinyl format back in 1984.
And this is a perfect illustration of my earlier assertion that there is so much more to reggae music than simply Bob Marley.
The nine studio tracks on this album (there are also five bonus ‘live’ recordings) show a great degree of variation and innovation within the genre. Opening with the title track, the listener is dropped straight into a conventional, slow and deep traditional reggae vibe, with backbeat guitar and little dub interspersions – all held together with the whine of the Hammond organ and some unobtrusive brass backing.
‘Crime Of Passion’ opens with a highly toned guitar, akin more to what you’d expect from a traditional African instrument. This is offset with some bouncy bass and female backing harmonies. The guitar picking throughout is clean, concise and infectious. ‘Lick And Run’ is in fact quite ‘Marley-esque’ but differs in the percussion department, with excellent cowbell use. (I love the cowbell!)
‘Ah Wah You Seh’ is unique (certainly as far as my limited knowledge goes) and ingenious in the way TALISMAN have incorporated the violin throughout. Always maintaining the steady reggae beat, it at times takes on ‘classical’ feel, and at others a bit more of a ‘jazz’ vibe. Clever.
‘Lord Of The Dance’ features simple piano hooks and a brass section that can probably best be compared to an early (and good) UB40 style. Again, the inventiveness of TALISMAN shines through with those little piano lines mixed into a reggae backing. ‘Stride On,’ is more along the conventional route, and while still most enjoyable, I have to say is the track that I actually forgot about when thinking about what to say in this review. Good, but not as memorable as the other tracks.
‘I’m Sorry,’ brings the listener back to the more innovative side of TALISMAN, with this track featuring keyboard effects that mimic a tuba (?) the deep notes giving the song a slightly ‘cheeky’ sound as it competes with the slow beat and other space-like sound effects. ‘Calamity’ is pure sing-a-long reggae magic, and if this doesn’t get you bouncing out your seat and skanking around the room then maybe reggae just isn’t for you after all!
Closing track ‘Burn The Bread,’ probably stretches the accepted description of the ‘reggae’ definition. Yes, a reggae beat is there in the background, but the overall vibe created by the vocal delivery is more out of the Grandmaster Flash school than that of Bob Marley.
Of the five live bonus tracks, four are repeated from the original studio recording. The other, ‘Slow Poison’ was an integral part of the bands live set for many years.
(TALISMAN have recently reformed and are now playing gigs throughout the UK!)
(Released through Bristol Archive Records on 5th March 2012)
(10 / 10)
It’s not very often these days that new Reggae albums / collections come to the attention of the general music-buying audience. Unless you know where to look and listen, this is one genre of music that still genuinely remains ‘underground’ in most parts of the UK, so I get seriously excited when the brilliant BRISTOL ARCHIVE RECORDS decide to turn detective and track down tracks like these; tracks that had their city and others beyond, bouncing to the infectious grooves and bass-laden sound-systems back in the day!
Black Roots, 3-D Production and Joshua Moses all appear again, although ‘Rise Up’ by the latter and which opens the album, is a previously unreleased song. As indeed is ‘Wicked Men’ by Alfred McIntosh – a seven-minute dub track that could go on for twenty-seven minutes as far as I’m concerned!
And this is a real bonus with ‘Volume 2’ – the good people at the label have listened to feedback on their first reggae compilation and included a few more dub tracks on this one. Like ‘Re-Arrange (Version)’ by 3-D Production and Alfred McIntosh’s second contribution, ‘Ah It Dis.’
A couple of ‘rarities’ have also been unearthed, dusted down and given an airing: Cool Runnings apparently ran only 200 copies of the superb ‘Robin Hoods Of The Ghetto’ and the Bunny Marrett track ‘Times Are Getting Harder’ was his only vinyl release and remains very scarce and sought after in that particular original format.
It’s interesting to trace the development of the UK reggae sound over the years and the compilation closes with Dan Ratchet and Teknikal’s ‘Raggamufin Girl,’ which has a distinctly more commercial appeal.
Personally speaking, I’m pretty ‘old school,’ but happy to embrace the new ….. albeit ‘the new’ in this case was from 1989!
Don’t be fooled by the compilations you’ll see in the bargain-bins at your local supermarket. THIS is the credible stuff. The REAL sound of UK reggae before it was hijacked and diluted by today’s ‘mainstream’ artists who seek not to popularise the genre, but to gain chart recognition on the back of the real innovators!
Yeah – you can probably tell, Reggae does it for me!
(Released through Bristol Archive Records on 17th October 2011)
(10 / 10)
Bristol Archive Records are cementing themselves more and more as one of my favourite labels with each successive release and this one is simply ‘the dogs …!’ It just makes you want to turn up the volume, turn up the bass and turn down the windows of your house / car while you let this blare! (Funny how ‘force-sharing’ you music with others makes it even more exciting, eh?!)
BLACK ROOTS were Bristol’s leading exponents of reggae, releasing a steady stream of LPs and singles – mostly on their own Nubian label. The majority of these singles are now brought together on one single CD and a Limited Edition double vinyl album. Both formats include a sixteen-page booklet with previously unpublished photos, made available through the full cooperation of the Nubian label.
The Anthology, as you would naturally expect chronicles the band’s releases from their creative peak of the 1980s and what appeals to me is that the tracks are in the main listed in chronological order which lets the listener hear how the band’s sound progressed over the years.
And there is indeed a difference between the opening track ‘Bristol Rock,’ which was released in 1981 and the closing number ‘Start Afresh,’ from seven years later, which carries the more commercial sound of reggae as it began to morph into the popular Dancehall and Ragga styles of that time. This track in particular has the most infectious groove going on. If your body ain’t bending and bouncing to this one, then you’re probably dead.
There is such a strong selection of songs (sixteen in all, spanning some eighty minutes or so) with absolutely no ‘duffers’ at all! And it’s really good to hear the band’s versatility within the overall reggae genre as they incorporate a healthy amount of ‘dub’ into their songs, while also showing a more ‘sensitive’ side as they turn their hand towards the more Lovers Rock side of things on ‘Seeing Your Face,’ and ‘Suzy Wong.’
Of course they don’t stray from the traditional roots of reggae with old-school vibes and references to ‘struggle,’ ‘freedom,’ ‘Babylon,’ ‘Jah’ et al. Attention to social comment is not ignored with the likes of ‘Juvenile Delinquent,’ and there is also the more commercially acceptable side of reggae on the likes of ‘The Father.’
You wanna dance? Slap on ‘Pin In The Ocean, ’ and just see if your feet don’t move!
But for me, it’s the Dub that does it. So here’s the full 12” version of ‘Chanting For Freedom’ for you.
Chill and enjoy!
(Released through Bristol Archive Records on 5th September 2011)
(10 / 10)
**BLACK ROOTS reformed last year and with loads of gigs planned, they are set to make Reggae popular once again.**
I wouldn’t normally use LOUD HORIZON to actually ‘plug’ forthcoming releases other than through a ‘review’ article, but I’m going to make an exception in this case because:
a) I love BLACK ROOTS;
b) British reggae always was, and still is, vastly underrated;
c) Although a CD / DVD version will be available, this release is also on a Limited Edition double-vinyl (with insert) basis, which is pretty cool;
d) It is on the BRISTOL ARCHIVE RECORDS imprint who do a wonderful job of promoting and revitalising the music heritage of their city, and
e) I can!
Here’s the background to the release as described by the label, interspersed with some classic video.
Thirty years after they released their first four track EP Black Roots’ singles output is finally showcased on “Black Roots – The Reggae Singles Anthology”. Released on September 5th, by Bristol Archive Records in collaboration with Nubian Records this 16 track album spans the band’s creative peak of the 1980s.
Black Roots were Bristol’s leading exponents of reggae, constantly touring throughout the UK and Europe. They also managed to release a steady stream of LPs and singles mostly on their own Nubian label. Now for the first time the majority of those singles are brought together on a single CD and limited double vinyl LP.
The music includes all of their key early singles, their first EP in its entirety, the three track follow up, the original single mix of “The Frontline” from the BBC series of the same name and later releases such as their collaborations with the Mad Professor.
This release wouldn’t have been possible without the full support of the Band’s own label, Nubian Records, who have allowed us free reign of their archives, the result being a 16 page booklet to accompany the CD that is packed full of previously unpublished photos of the band, the limited double vinyl issue comes with a similarly illustrated LP size insert.
As if a 16 track selection of some of the finest UK reggae wasn’t enough the initial run of CDs have an added bonus, the first DVD issue of the impossible to find “Celebration”. A great live show from 1986, recorded at the Bristol Studio and previously only available on the original self financed video cassette issue. Taken directly from the video master this performance catches the band in fine form, joined by a horn section that includes the legendary Vin Gordon on Trombone the ten tracks are evenly split between their then pending “All Day All Night” album and their earlier more roots orientated material. Seeing them on stage 25 years ago really brings home how versatile the band were. Fortunately the original line-up of Black Roots reformed last year and with plenty of gigs in the pipeline everyone will be able to experience their live shows again.
As is usual Bristol Archive Records have paid meticulous attention to detail and, not only do you get a selection of great music, sleeve notes, a booklet packed with great photos, and a bonus live DVD, but we truly believe the music has never sounded so good on CD.
BRISTOL ROCK 4.15 (Bunny Marrett/Arranged by Black Roots) 1981
TRIBAL WAR 4.22 (Black Roots)1981
THE FATHER 3.30 (Black Roots)1981
THE SYSTEM 3.58 (Bunny Marrett/Arranged by Black Roots)1981
CHANTING FOR FREEDOM 8.45 (Black Roots)1981
CONFUSION 3.28 (Black Roots)1981
WHAT THEM A DO 5.57 (Black Roots)1981
THE FRONTLINE 3.43 (Black Roots)1984
MOVE ON 6.07 (Black Roots)1983
JUVENILE DELINQUENT 4.23 (Black Roots)1984
STRUGGLING 5.14 (Black Roots)1984
SEEING YOUR FACE 4.17 (Black Roots)1986
CONMAN 3.22 (Black Roots)1986
PIN IN THE OCEAN 6.38 (Black Roots)1987
SUZY WONG 4.57 (P. Ecclestone)1987
START AFRESH 5.55 (Black Roots)1988
Although not released until September of this year, pre-orders are now being taken at bristolarchiverecords.com at the price of £15 + postage for the vinyl package and £12 + postage for the CD / DVD version.
Highlighting, showcasing and releasing the ‘lost’ music from the city of Bristol is what BRISTOL ARCHIVE RECORDS are all about.
Check out their excellent website through the Record Label page.______________________________________________
This is an inspired choice of release from the forward-looking (or perhaps that should be backward-looking) Bristol Archive Recordings. Having previously issued two albums of retrospective compilation material showcasing the punk and reggae scenes within Bristol around the latter half of the Seventies / start of the Eighties, they now concentrate their attention on the vastly underrated reggae stalwarts TALISMAN.
Although TALISMAN were deemed worthy of support slots with bands the calibre of The Clash, Burning Spear and even The Rolling Stones, a major record deal was never forthcoming. As far as I can ascertain, the sum recorded output from the band amounts to two singles and a couple of albums released in 1984 and 1990.
However, talent like this should not remain inaccessible, and Bristol Archive Recordings have now made available those two much sought-after singles (‘Dole Age’ and ‘Free Speech’) as well as seven carefully selected tracks from the band’s classic shows at Glastonbury and Bath University to comprise the seventy-two minutes of this wonderful album.
Admittedly, reggae does sound at its best when pumping out some massive sound system on a gloriously sunny day. But we don’t get many such days up here in Glasgow (and my crappy music system and even my I-pod are currently knackered!) but I can tell you, it still sounds magnificent on the van stereo and my laptop.
There is lovely warm feeling about this brand of reggae. The sax and keyboards see to this. But the whole album also incorporates substantial helpings of dub along the way, often integrating it as a mid-song breakdown. Tracks like ‘Run Come Girl’ feature the ‘harp’ (mouth organ) in the haunting manner made more commercially acceptable by the likes of Beats International (‘Dub Be Good To Me’) about a decade and a half later.
The live tracks have never been properly released before and although the crowd sounds are muted / sparse, it somehow makes the tracks even more special in that they feel that bit more intimate – that they are being performed just for you.
Of course there are also a few tracks that seem to transpose into big jams. ‘Words Of Wisdom’ for instance spans almost fourteen and a half minutes, with some great drumming / sax combinations given the dub treatment while vocalist Lazarus Taylor skanks his way through set, delivering his deliciously reverb-drenched lyrics with clarity, conviction and authority.
I genuinely can’t believe just how atmospheric this album is – it really transports the listener back to a time of dingy basement parties and oppressive, fuggy air. If your perception of ‘old skool’ reggae is based upon say UB40’s version of ‘Red Red Wine,’ then you really have to listen to this album and sample just what it was like back in the day. (Look! I sound like your Father!)
If you were indeed around or experienced the vibe at the onset of the Eighties, then you‘ll be equally enthralled by this release, which serves as a reminder that the UK reggae scene, while it remained steadfastly in the ‘underground,’ was in fact an equal of the burgeoning but more exposed Punk movement.
It also perfectly illustrates that UK reggae had more to offer than just Aswad, Steel Pulse and Misty In Roots.
(Released through Bristol Archive Records on 9th May 2011)
** The album will be released on CD and Download basis, but there will also be run of Limited Edition Vinyl Albums which will include five different tracks – including the 12” mixes. **
REVIEWS OF OTHER RELEASES FROM BRISTOL ARCHIVE RECORDS CAN BE FOUND BY CLICKING ON THE FOLLOWING ALBUM TITLES:
BRISTOL: THE REGGAE EXPLOSION