Local reggae a rarity around these backwaters, but when it does rise you can trust Pop-A-Top Records is a watermark of quality. Since prolific Swindon Skanxter keyboardist, Erin Bardwell’s amazing solo album, Interval, he’s rubbed his unique style into a collaboration with Hotknives co-founder, Dave Clifton on this sublime project called The Man on the Bridge.
A double-A EP was out in April, followed this week by a six-track album A Million Miles. There are chilled echoes of rocksteady and traditional boss reggae blended with slight roots and dressed with a garnish of Bardwell’s inimitable take on the genre. Naturally, there’s a splinter of Two-Tone reggae too, which works on so many levels.
The Hotknives are best known for their live albums, but did release one studio album The Way Things Are. Formed in Horsham, back in 1982, they principally play ska. Guitarist Dave Clifton was among the original line-up. He left in 1993, but with a slimmer roster the band still perform today.
Opening tune to A Million Miles, Don’t Blame Me, is immediately likeable rocksteady, and wouldn’t look out of place on a classic Trojan Tighten Up compilation. Looking over the Land plods securely, resonances Erin’s band the Erin Bardwell Collective and is just simply beguiling.
Just Dreaming though dubs, is as at sounds, dreamy, using flute, by another ex-Hotknives, Paul Mumford of Too Many Crooks, it connotes that eastern dub vibe of Augustus Pablo. Yet with Believe we return to chugging boss, with sublime horns, also by Mumford, and Dave’s picking guitar riff. The guest vocal is a refreshing change, provided by Pat Powell of the Melbourne Ska Orchestra. Proof, as I’ve said, ska is an international thing, and the Melbourne Ska Orchestra are pushing boundaries on the other side of the world.
Title track, A Million Miles again deviates, fusing a slight English folk influence, it reflects memories and cites Dave and Ansell Collins and the O’Jays in a theme of a lost romance. Never Say Never raps up the journey you don’t want to end, with a plonking fairground twist; as if Madness worked with UB40. With Erin’s dream team, Drummer Pete O’Driscoll, Pete Fitzsimmons on bass, except Looking Over The Land where long term friend from The Skanxters, Vinny Hill features, we’re in capable hands, and this is a memorable collaboration producing a superb and varied mellow reggae vibe. You need this right now!