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)
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