All Photos used with kind permission of Gail Foster
From a talk by CBE award-winning English foreign correspondent and BBC News world affairs editor, John Simpson, to the Sub-Organist at Durham Cathedral, Francesca Massey, the Devizes Arts Festival has kicked off this week, better than Tottenham. Their showcase, more varied than ever before, truly caters for all; you just need to either research, or hear me bashing on to find something suitable for you.
Personally, my time came Saturday, when the Corn Exchange was blessed with sweet, sweet reggae music! You know I love thee, local music scene, but my ongoing quest to encourage more reggae in these backwaters came to an apex last night.
Perhaps a hard sell in Devizes, yet a genre I’ll push until the wheels fall off. Yep, said wheels won’t last to shove Devizes into the streets of downtown Kingston Jamaica, but our great hall was lively and the modest audience appreciative of what Coventry based Barbdwire delivered.
Without doubt Barbdwire could produce a “beginners guide to reggae,” without watering down or succumbing to commercialisation. For all sub-genres were presented to us last night, with tremendous panache and sublime competence.
I often wonder how irritated Ziggy Marley gets when interviews adopt the cliché angle of his father, recollecting him once stating, “reggae is not a one-man-music, it’s a people music.” An apt quote for Barbdwire, the band a varied bunch. While originator and drummer, Trevor Evans, the former Specials roadie-once drummer, characteristically oozes a reggae archetypal, bassist Chelly’s persona rings out dub and the proficient trombonist has Two-Tone band written all over him, trumpeter John Pudge, clearly the youngest, doesn’t appear represent any reggae stereotype.
I snatched a quick tête-à-tête with John, attired in a T-shirt embossed with “Roots, Rock, Reggae,” I was keen on querying his t-shirt gainsays against his instrument choice, brass sections being generally considered ska-related. We discussed how Barbdwire play to the audience; their ability to pull any of reggae’s subgenres out of their hat makes the band flexible, supporting The Specials, as their next gig, or Holli Cook, as they did last week.
But centre of attention last night in Devizes, this band were an epiphany for some residents and a universal accreditation for those reggae lovers. In our preview I said, “(Two-Tone) may have challenged punk with chicness akin to mod, but today, these subcultures are inconsequential, we can bundle it all into one retrospective burlesque, select whatever element of any we care to, and fuse them without pretence or offense; one reason why a group like Barb’d Wire is fresh and electrifying.”
Well, while reproducing their album Time Has Come’s originals did just that, their choice of covers was equally extensive. From ska favourites like Baba Brook’s version of Herbie Hancock’s Watermelon Man and the Wailer’s debut hit Simmer Down, they also exposed the audience to roots, with Max Romeo’s Chase the Devil, Horace Andy’s Skylarking, renowned for his later work with Massive Attack, and even dub, akin to its master King Tubby.
There were versions of reggae classics, like Uptown Top Ranking, and all harmonised by the beautifully melodic and confident vocals of Cherelle Harding, a singer who could roll on a lovers tune with the finesse of Phillis Dillon to convert without haste to toast a stepper’s riddim, at one point verging on dancehall with a wonderfully luminous interpretation of Sister Nancy’s Bam-Bam.
Make no mistake, this diversity was not delivered reggae-lite, rather an expertise and rounded acknowledgement to the many faces of Jamaica’s music export, and delivered to us adhering to all the positivity and joyfulness the genre celebrates. As an apt example, they gathered outside to meet and greet, where they were applauded with respect vowed to add our town to their tour map; something I’ll hold against them, as this was an outstanding performance!
Long live the Devizes Arts Festival then, hopeful they’ll consider the evening a success and plan in, as they are already planning 2020, something else reggae-related. Following on, this week sees Strange Face at The Bear today (Sunday) where the Adventures with a Lost Nick Drake Recording takes place.
Monday and Christian Garrick & John Etheridge presents Strings on Fire at The Exchange. Tuesday is The Shakespeare Smackdown, and Wednesday String Sisters are at St Andrews Church.
An Audience with Bob Flowerdew at the Town Hall, also Wednesday, and Thursday, Atila Sings the Nat King Cole Story at the Town Hall. Oh, and next Saturday has a whole host of FREE fringe events across town. Check the website for booking details, but hurry, Friday’s Moscow Drug Club event is sold out. If cancelations occur find posts on the Arts Festival Facebook page, and I’ll promise to share them as soon as I spot them; have a great festival!