“If reggae was the universe, I swear we’d be living in the CMB Cold Spot, a Great Void between filaments.”
For a town of its size, Devizes has a vibrant music scene; you know this, I’ve bashed on about it enough already, and with Devizine we’ve explored the venues and promoters attempting to bring that scene diversity.
Mentioning no names, a Facebook post spurred a debate I followed with interest. A few months ago, a west country reggae singer argued reggae has no home in Wiltshire, he just never got bookings here. A promoter promptly replied, not for the want of trying, but in their experience, reggae simply doesn’t sell in Wiltshire.
Really? I played devil’s advocate, agreeably there’s a point; Wiltshire, largely rural and white middle-class doesn’t offer many reggae events at first glance. But whoa there, whoa; Wiltshire is home to Womad, a festival of world music; starter for ten. We also have, few though it seems, but we do have a scene with acts worth mentioning. I think, if you love a genre and dig deep enough, you’ll be able to find what you seek. I know many people in Wiltshire adore reggae, from dancehall to reggae predecessors, ska and rock steady, myself included. So why does it feel excluded, especially in our market towns?
I have no convincing argument for my attraction in Caribbean music, by crude urban definition, I’m not a “whigger,” no ambition to be one, not Rasta, and never been to Jamaica, much as I’d like to. What appeals to me is simply the off-beat, Fats Domino’s missing fourth beat which gives reggae that beguiling jump. Reggae is a musical Borg, resistance to skank is futile!
Growing up during the Two-Tone period obviously had a big effect, and reggae’s influence felt in other pop genres of my youth, through groups like the Police and Blondie. The Windrush generation blessed our shores with their homegrown music, and even though attractive it was to ongoing youth cultures, mods, punks and skinheads, it was still viewed as a novelty to English kids. It was the signing of Bob Marley and the Wailers by Chris Blackwell of Island Records which exported reggae outwards of Jamaica and spread it across the world.
England may’ve had the head start, but this happening woke America. Today reggae has reached every corner of the globe. If UNESCO’s announcement “the reggae music of Jamaica,” has been added to its list of cultural products considered worthy of recognition, just last month doesn’t convince you, there’s a remote part of The Grand Canyon where a Native American tribe called Havasupai believe Bob Marley to be the fulfilment of a prophecy, a deity and reincarnation of the resistance fighter Crazy Horse. They practically live according to his words, yet here in Devizes, England, its virtually impossible to find a venue with a reggae band booked, stretching to hear UB40 on a flipping jukebox!
Fully aware of the slim demographic in Devizes, couldn’t expect to replicate a Dub Club as Swindon does at the Afro-Caribbean Centre or Bath’s at St James Vaults, neither would I attempt a conversation about sleng-teng riddim, or define one drops into rockers and steppers; nothing technical here, just wish there could be a bit more reggae. I’m on a mission! And by the term “reggae” I cover all of its branches from ska and rock steady, through to roots and dub, and contemporary dancehall. A common misconception is to presume reggae as exclusively the roots style of latter-day Bob Marely, when it branches to as many, if not more, subgenres as rock.
So, where to start? Gutted to have missed the “scaled down” SN Dubstation at the Southgate last week, I’ve made a small dent in my mission by introducing Deborah, who is keen to host reggae and ska within her blossoming array of regular live music nights, to the one Knati P. We’ve featured Knati on Devizine before, as the fine artist Clifton Powell, so I’m glad to announce he’ll be at the Southgate on Christmas Eve for a sound system reggae party. It’ll hark back to the days when Knati held various reggae nights in venues from Pewsey to Calne, and at The Bell on the Green in Devizes… bomboclat, I’m back on fond memory lane again; it’s an age thing.
I also fully support the new owners of the Cavalier for having Swindon’s ska-punk band Operation 77 on their reopening night. Here’s to more of that, Those Roughcut Rebels will be down there on 21st December, which although play prodigious retro mod rock such as The Kinks and Who, it’s a step in the right direction. We’ve a bundle of great bands who’ll cover this, such as Cover-Up, and The Day Breakers, which appeases me, still need a little reggae though!
The Devizes Scooter Club successfully combines the scooter cultures of mod and skinhead, bringing us the variety of genres under this banner; retro mod rock, soul, and, of course, boss reggae and ska. They’ve given us some great nights, now parted local ska band The Killertones and Bad Manners tribute, Special Brew, being the highlight within my “reggae” banner, while other successful nights have been soul-based.
There is ska-aplenty at next July’s Scooter Rally, particularly looking forward to Essex band The Start and South Coast’s Orange Street. It is with great pride Devizes Scooter Club took heed of my suggestions and have booked Swindon bands, The Tribe, with their own unique spin, but especially the traditional rock steady outfit, The Erin Bardwell Collective.
Here we go then, I could produce a list of great local bands within our blanket, well worthy of booking, so promoters of market towns, book them and let’s spread our larger town’s and city’s diversity to rural Wiltshire, especially old Devizes, pleeeaaassee; don’t make me beg, it’s not pretty.
Aforementioned Erin Bardwell Collective, with Sandra Glindon’s smooth rock steady vocals and former Skanxters keyboardist Erin goes as red, for they’re, along with the brilliant SN Dubstation, the backbone of our nearest large town Swindon’s Great Western Reggae. If the Skanxters pushed Swindon’s two-tone scene way into the nineties, and occasionally reunite, covers band, The Skandals are also well worthy of a mention, being they boast Skanxter’s frontman Carl Humphreys and saxophonist Nina Gale. Erin also takes on ambient dub under the duo Subject A, with another Ex-Skanxter, Dean Sartain.
Still, even in Swindon, their Reggae Garden Festival at Old Gardens was cancelled this year without good reason.
Continuing on the ska tip though, we will always have Trowbridge and Melksham’s finest Train to Skaville, who since 2011 have built a tasty reputation, cramming pubs throughout the West Country. Along with vocalist Jules Morton’s contribution to charity fundraising, all-girl supergroup The Female of the Species, these guys need a gig in Devizes, and I’ll eat my trilby if it ain’t so.
All hail the Urban Lions, whose Facebook profile reveal “We are outernational,” they still provide the social network with a page called Wiltshire Music Network, so no use trying to hide it, this great, traditionally roots, dub reggae outfit could well be from our county. perhaps it’s our lack of reggae-cred which leads them to this secrecy? They may well hunt me down for revealing this, but if they come yielding their sublime reggae vibes I’m not about to worry!
Those crazy kids, Brother From Another define themselves as funk and soul function band, based in Wiltshire, available for parties, weddings & private events. Yet they’re not adverse to practise some reggae, and when they craftily and harmlessly “ignored do not enter signs and climbed on top of Silbury Hill to play…” the Gazette and Herald gladly defined them as “reggae.” For fuddy-duddies who’ll view this as promotional stunt as unacceptable, it’s another nail in the coffin for reggae’s acceptability around these parts; well done to the Tory rag for this. Yet Brother From Another makes a great booking, akin to Devizes All Funked Up, expect funky soul over reggae; great, yeah, love a bit of that in my eclectic tastes, still not reggae though, dread.
Naturally, those prepared to travel over the borderline, Bristol will provide you with reggae in abundance, from the Strictly Rockers retro fashion of Ya Freshness and the Big Boss Band to The Bristol Reggae Orchestra, a collective of 25 local musicians, drawing musical influences from reggae, ska, jazz and classical music. Those liberal Fromans also have it good, The Cheese & Grain hosting many a varied night, bought us Toots & The Maytals about as close to Wiltshire as you’re going to get. The other direction sees Oxfordshire’s 2Tone All Ska’s doing the two-tone cover scene. Still, as good as these elements are, reggae’s ley-lines across Wiltshire are still, more than a tad, void.
There is, surprisingly, a Facebook group called Reggae Wiltshire, albeit it only has 192 members. Perhaps, if you love reggae you can join this group, and liven’ up itself. It offers some great links to reggae tunes and facts, but lacks, unsurprisingly, in event details. Admin, Maurice Menghini does DJ current RnB with the reggae twist, and has hosted nights at The Exchange, but through no fault of its own, it defines my argument that Wiltshire doesn’t have enough reggae, and no, I’m not moving to Kingston before you reply with your sarcastic comment; I love Devizes for its aforementioned vibrant music scene, just wish someone would take heed of this article and show some One Love sunshine music to our dreary downs!
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