The nineties, the Skanxters set the bar high for ska bands in Swindon. In a similar fashion their keyboardist Erin Bardwell, and those who’ve worked with him, have carved a unique watermark for the multiple branches of the reggae genre and given the town a certain original sound. Nestled somewhere between his ska band epoch, his rocksteady revival crew the Erin Bardwell Collective and Subject A, his dub project with Dean Sartain, comes a new solo release, Interval.
If Erin states this is a “side-step” and a “pause from the usual,” this lockdown-driven release least retains that trademark style in all manner and sense. But it is unusual, in a good way. If this lacks the vocals of Sandra Bell, and other layers which make the current sound of the Collective, it makes up for it in alternative ways; I’m going to attempt to sum them up and do it some justice.
Firstly, Erin’s voice defines the aforementioned watermark of Swindon’s reggae scene, and, secondly, the subject matter of Interval is dripping with reminisces of its previous incarnations. Now, when I say reggae it’s an all-encompassing term taking in ska, rocksteady, boss, roots and dub reggae in one swoop, makes it easier that way. And one thing which unites all these offshoots is the orchestral configuration, the importance of binding all the instruments, where the keyboard is vital. In this, Interval is concentrated on piano, as it’s Erin baby, and there’s some impressively crafted segments of ivories, more Chopin than Jackie Mittoo.
From the starting block, it is apparent reggae is not the only influence intertwined in this great album. The opening track, “Four Walls Surround” bursts out with an upbeat Two-Tone riff but is rinsed with something Paul Weller about it too. The subject seems to relate to the lockdown, but could also connote the isolation of teenage anguish felt by the youth of the Two-Tone era. From here I think it’s fair to assume Erin is contemplating his younger years whilst staring at those walls, and trying to convince himself it’s no bad thing.
The cover appears as if it’s a classic soul album of yore, and we’re already setting the concept. There is a running nostalgic theme here, but the album is diverse in its approach; the second is a ballad. “When you Smile,” fashions akin to the melodic plod of the pedigrees of dub. But if that nods to King Tubby, “Bridge of Tunes” does equally for boss reggae’s chugging beat and wouldn’t look out of place on a Trojan’s sixties Tighten Up compilation.
Time for the summit of Interval, “(Like the Reflection on) The Liffey” is a wistful masterpiece of haunting sentiment, a resonant dub with delicate with horns, thoughtful prose and dreamy composition; Pink Floyd does dub. To follow, we’re chugging back with something retrospectively reflective reggae, as Erin comments on the Windrush scandal, as it is, after all, the motive the UK embraces reggae. As evocative as The Liffey though, it finishes with a chilling spoken quotation.
“Name on a Page,” uses the melodic dubplate of previous track “When you Smile,” and the album plays out on a similar key, “That London Winter” enforces the notion Erin is writing memoirs, and “Injured Arm,” casts back further with an expert of a what sounds like a children’s show.
In conclusion this is a skeleton in the closet project, shady and thought-provoking. Coupled with that unique trademark sound makes it stimulating, different and totally original. While most contemporary reggae is either instrumental dub, songs of conscious Rasta judgements, or plain dancehall rap with over-inflated egos, Interval exerts Erin’s refreshing exclusivity to the maximum and will appease not only die-hard skins and punks, but those seeking something alternative.
Find Interval on Bandcamp here.
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