Cuban meets African, in Devizes: All About Grupo Lokito

You know, I have my ska-reggae show on Boot Boy radio, that’s while I’m so looking forward to Barb’dwire playing the Devizes Arts Festival in June, but feel I differ from its, generally, skinhead cohorts with instantaneous love for all Caribbean styles of music.

There’s something so colourful and lively in these many styles from the islands in the sun, but in my excitement for the ska night, I’ve overlooked the other intriguing main musical booking, London-based Afro-Cuban group Grupo Lokito, and wow, they sound tremendous!

Rhumba down to Corn Exchange on Saturday 15th June, where Grupo Lokito fuse contemporary Congolese and Cuban; I leave a few videos here, certain to wow you as they have me. In addition, we’re lucky enough to have Lokito’s manager and keyboardist, Sara McGuinness to enlighten.

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Keen to scoop some background, I asked Sara about managing a number of Cuban groups in London, Grupo Lokito being just one, and if they were Cuban by birth.

“I have played Cuban music and salsa for most of my life, as a piano player on the UK Latin scene,” Sara tells me. “In the mid-2000s I decided I wanted to investigate Congolese music, found a, at that time, vibrant underground Congolese music scene and started playing keyboards in a Congolese band. Congolese music is one of the few styles that is popular pan- Africa. The fact it has a modern but distinctly African sound is often cited as one of the reasons. It’s vibrant, fantastic music. What became clear to me the minute I started working with Congolese musicians within their community was that the music the African audience, the ‘home’ audience if you will, liked was quite distinct from the music favoured by the world music audience. The Congolese liked the old and the modern stuff, whereas the tastes of the world music audience stopped in the 60s. I loved the modern music that I was playing with the Congolese bands. Furthermore, I could see many similarities in performance practice and musical structure between that music and Cuban music. So, together with a Congolese singer, I wrote some tunes and we brought together musicians from the two traditions.”

“We were lucky as, working within both scenes, we had insider knowledge about who to work with. What was striking was that the two groups of musicians had never met each other or mixed at all before we brought them together in this band. Together in the band we worked hard to absorb each other’s musical styles. I was determined not to have a ‘fusion’ group which played a pastiche of the two styles. Grupo Lokito have a large original repertoire which combines different elements of Congolese and Cuban music. All of the band are dedicated to playing the music well and with an amazing groove.”

I asked Sara to breakdown the band’s origins.

“I’m the bandleader, born in the UK. The two lead singers, the lead guitarist and, on this occasion, the drummer are from the Democratic republic of Congo. The bass player and the percussionist are from Colombia and the trumpet player who is guesting with us on this occasion, is Cuban. What is more important than our origins are we are all Londoners, we have all chosen to make London our home and contribute to the rich cultural fabric of this great city.”

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This Cuban/Congolese fusion, I had to ask; are African fusions common in Cuba’s contemporary music scene, or something unique to Lokito?

“Absolutely not. My experience of Cuba is that most Cubans know very little about contemporary African music. Yes, there are many African derived musical traditions in Cuba but these hark back to an imagined Africa and African of 200 years ago. My experience is that initially the Congolese musicians I involved in the project had more idea about Cuban music, albeit a little old fashioned, than the Latinos did about Congolese music. The band is unique.”

The idea of an “imagined” Africa of yore is interesting, I think akin to all Caribbean music, particularly reggae. On Cuban styles though, I can’t believe it’s been over 20 years since the Buena Vista Social club album when, Ry Cooder popularised the genre. I wondered what Sara thought about this, does she think it’s been good for Cuban bands in the UK, as it’s probably the only album the masses would recognise from a bucket of “world music” albums.

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“The Buena Vista Social Club project certainly was part of the opening up of Cuba and popularity of Cuban music in the world,” she explains, “It is often said to be a Ry Cooper project, but was actually a consortium of Juan De Marcos Gonzales, Nick Gold (World Circuit) and Ry Cooder. They decided to bill it as Ry Cooder in order for the project to gain wider popularity and not just end up in the world music bin; it worked!”

“In terms of it being good for Cuban music in the UK there are positive and negative consequences. On the positive side; many people became interested in Cuban Son and there was more call for Cuban bands to play old style, Cuban Son. On a negative side, it did create a nostalgic, polarized image of what Cuban music is and created a standard repertoire that bands were required to play. In fact, the island of Cuba has a huge number of musical styles which have come out of the island, a product of the mix of cultures on the island: Mainly European and African but also Chinese, and other.”

My research suggested Cubano Son is the style associated with an African and Latin fusion in Cuba, which has been around since the 1920s. So, is Grupo Lokito similar? But does Sara think this wouldn’t be popular in Cuba today.

“I don’t agree Son is the style associate with African and Latin in Cuba,” Sara corrected me, I’m here to learn! “There are definite African and European roots to son,” Sara continues, “Son has been constantly developing since the 20s and, as you point out most people are not listening to son in the style of the 20s. Cuba has definitely opened up to the world and there is a lot of music coming out of Cuba now, from Jazz to Hip hop, timba, son.”

But Grupo Lokito brings together contemporary musicians from two musical traditions, okay, similar more so to Soukous, a popular dance music from the Congo Basin derived from Congolese rumba, or better still, stop pigeonholing Worrow! Grupo Lokito write their own original tunes: stories of life ranging from love tales, reflections on the trials facing musicians trying to make a home away from home, the wisdom of the elders, to the simple joy of dancing, and sounds awesome!

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To return this fascinating and enlightening chat to the beginning, what of reggae and ska, surely the most popular forms of Caribbean music in the UK, due to the Windrush generation. I asked Sara, what she thinks African, or Cuban styles would have to do to become as ingrained in our culture as them, is that even possible does she think, and is it something to aim for?

“I think it depends who ‘we’ are,” Sara replied. “There are many second, third and more generation British people of African descent and for them, the music of home is embedded in their culture. Latin-American music, in cities such as London, where there are large Latin American communities, particularly Colombian and again, second and third generations have Colombian musical styles ingrained in their culture. I definitely think that multi-cultural society is something we should be proud of. I do realise the London is a cultural bubble and the rest of the UK, particularly outside the large cities, is far less multi-cultural. If you look at some of the new music being created in the UK cities it will all be in there.”

Ah, but this be Devizes me lover! I’m extremely grateful for Sara’s time in chatting with us, must say, it’s a great example of the diversity on offer at this year’s Devizes Arts Festival, and something exotic and exciting for us bumpkins!

 

Tickets to Grupo Lokito are on sale now at £18.

 

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De Novo; New Beginnings for Claire and Mark

 

What’s all this about then, another invitation to “like” a Facebook page? I was glad to catch up with Claire Gilchrist yesterday, as she announced a new venture with other former People Like Us originator, Mark Povey…….

The fresh electro-acoustic duo dubbed, De Novo, promises to “create something frickin’ stratospheric!”

Bassist Mark left People Like Us after a sell-out New Year’s Eve gig at the Three Crowns, Devizes back in 2017, while Claire left towards the end of last year. Let’s not dwell on details, I wanted to press Claire for what we can expect from this silver lining, for does she see it as thus? “Quite,” Claire agreed, and informed me, “De Novo is Latin for New Beginning.”

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But is De Novo something dreamed up on a whim, this Sunday afternoon in a beer garden? “No. Mark and I have been toying with the idea of a duo for a while now,” Claire explained, “but I was far from ready to sing again after last year.” The split from People Like Us left Claire disheartened, so we are pleased to hear she’s found her feet again, and that wonderfully punctual and expressive voice too, obviously.

But, what kind of music can we expect?

“We will be producing our own take on chart and album songs, old and new,” she explained.

How far do you plan to go back? I inquired, requesting them to give us some eighties!

“Foo’s,” Claire namedropped, “Beach Boys, Adele, Guns & Roses, The Police…” Then Erasure, The Human League, and Simple Minds were also cited.

A broad pop mix, “choosing your favourites?!” I asked.

“The One and Only!” came a knee-jerk reaction, I hope in jest! “Yes, but also songs that people won’t necessarily recognise.” The blurb on De Novo expresses: Anyone who knows either of us already will not be surprised to read that our duo will not be that of the ‘every day’ kind.

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Original People Like Us line-up, Andy, Nicky, Claire and Mark

Claire agreed with my belief, that it’s fascinating to cover songs, when putting your own stamp on them. But what about originals, has the duo their own compositions up their sleeves?

“Yes, Mark and I are songwriters.”

“Together?”

“Yes.” Claire was keen to open up to a little of her history, “I had a record deal with an independent label when I was in my early twenties. My song-writing partner and I had songs that were put forward to artists in Nashville, at the time.” Yet she sings and plays by ear, “I always need an ‘actual’ musician to realise stuff properly.”

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Mark and Claire are at “the very beginning of our musical journey together,” and we wish all the best for this promising duo, but are they ready?

“Not quite yet, we’re honing our act. We don’t want to go out and perform without being 100% happy and ready,” she explained, “but we’re hoping to pop up over the summer to give people a free taster and be gig-ready by September. Like flash-mob, out of the blue, street kinda stuff.”

“Buskers,” I jest, though Claire professed the importance of busking, informing me her idol KT Tunstall started as a busker. So, track their progress by giving the De Novo Facebook page your “like,” and we look forward to hearing from them soon.

 

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Devizine Presents #1; Presented

All Photos used with the permission of Gail Foster, except the one of Gail herself!

 

Gimme a samba band, throw me an avant-garde minimalist techno breakbeat and then chastise me with a euro-pop grunge fusion played by an antelope on a washboard, I couldn’t give a donkey’s kidneys, all music is better than no music; shit, imagine a world without music.

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Perhaps my taste too eclectic. I respect my supervisor’s dedication to one particular band, it’s borderline obsession; but me, see, I couldn’t reduce my tastes to a particular genre or era, let alone group. Bite the bullet, I can hold a conversation once tuned to wavelength, yet cause angered debate if I venture off your playlist. Bollocks, I say, any modern popular musical genre has been wired from the same machine, track the branch you sit on beyond the earth, and you’ll find the same roots.

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For me, last night was a learning curve, as I staged our first “Devizine Presents” evening at the Cellar Bar. In communication with all these event organisers it helps me to comprehend the issues they face, and it’s not so simple as propping up the bar all smug, though I attempted to! All said, we had a great night I feel, but refrain from giving my own gig a review, treat this as a diary-fashioned blog post, but compulsory to give you the heads up on the guys who did all the real work.

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Diverse the line-up may have been and contradictory to each other in style, I knew that, these acts slung together by an inexperienced promoter, me, under a banner of kindness to freely give their time and effort, for which I and Devizes Opendoors are both extremely grateful for. What the acts did bring was their own inimitable panache, and from Saturday Night at the Palladium to Britain’s Got Talent, variety is the spice.

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Local, the Roughcut Rebels have been on the circuit a while, playing mod-rock and indie classics from sixties to today, however with major changes to the line-up, including Jamie, the new frontman it was a chance for them to showcase their modifications. Regrettably, I’ve never caught the original group, but confirm now the alteration is a transformation; they rocked with confidence, panache and flair through Animals, Small Faces and Kinks sixties blues-rock classics to benchmark eighties mod, resting particularly on The Jam, and progressing to Britpop anthems including a sublime take on Wonderwall.

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Ha, I ain’t making no money writing this crap, so just cos the gig has our tag doesn’t mean I’m here to flatter, you know I’ll tell it as it is. The Roughcut Rebels are highly bookable, would make a great band for a lively pub, scooter club, indie night or even are diverse enough to satisfy the multiplicity a wedding reception would crave.

With the moderate crowd building, (I need YOU at these nights, you know you bring the party, you little party-head, you!) and roused, having a poetry interlude could’ve been a mistake, as you could hear a penny drop; who was unaware that Gail Foster would charm and entertain with poignant verse and witty interims? Because I had no doubt, having do exactly this at our birthday bash back in November, and she did this time with equal appeal.

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Now the cobblestone stage was set for the dreadlocked guy parading around attired bizarre, for Jordan Whatley is his own, is the wildcard and as noted in our interview (here) will bring something curious, peculiar to the show, but shine with original brilliance. Armed with just electric guitar, the ambience he set was spellbinding as he went through a set from his new works, previous tunes from his EP …… such as The Forest, to making Pink Floyd’s Another Brick his own.

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The Hound is truly back on the Mountain, appearing alternative but positive, he’s the character you cannot deny his talent and showmanship, as his expressive spectacle sends him to the floor in an intense display of vivid gothic splendour.

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Then it’s all change akin to the circle line at Edgware Road, as after a poignant Brexit verse from our Gail, The Truzzy Boys are raring to stamp their brand of acceptable pop covers on us. Speaking to Finley about his partner in crime under the Larkin banner, Sam Bishop, who unfortunately couldn’t make it, the DIY ethos of being unsigned means they’re not tied to their namesake. A contract would detail it’s Larkin or nothing, split or together, but Larkin continues albeit while Sam is away studying it’s on the backburner, they still hailed a welcomed night at the Southgate recently.

What Finely’s grouping with cousin Harvey Trusler brings to the show is contemporary pop-indie covers and floor-filling anthems with wide appeal, which did exactly that in the most practical means possible. Confident and harmonious they performed a set more than adequate for any age-ranging function, like a wedding. To boot, the musical family’s prodigy would also supply a disco set-up to complete any such function. This is industry, yes, but within the commercialism of it the boys maintain a positive love of performing, and this shines across the audience, sparking them with equally good vibes.

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You can catch the Truzzy Boys this Saturday (18th May) at the Devizes Conservative Club, where for a mere three quid you’ll witness just what I mean; it’s catchy pop fun, with enjoyment throughout and the expertise not to meander into cliché pop mush.

Though I could tell you nothing else is going this coming Saturday, being we’re back at the Cellar Bar, Devizine exists to inform all of local events. It will not and does not favour any category or genre, will treat a church jumble sale and a four-day mud-fest gypsy rave with equal affection. Suitable then is my aforementioned eclectic tastes, or it would be bias, and that wouldn’t do. I aim to cast variety for these charity gigs, using the various venues at hand, if it’s to become a thing now.

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Starting same time, same place this coming Saturday, is my “for instance;” Knati P, renowned on the international reggae scene with right-hand man, Razah I-Fi will be stacking up a sound system down that Cellar Bar, bringing us a dynamic dub party, something of a rarity here in the Vizes. They say, they might even let me operate the controls as a warm-up, where you can expect a set of original Jamaican ska, as my favoured palate, which will wind into lively ska inspired dub; that’s the plan at any rate. You will dance, you can be sure of that young fellow-me-jig.

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But again, I’m asking for donations, preferably a fiver, as I’m not out to hang myself on the music promoter vocation, not with the wonderful experienced ones we already have locally, from Mr Moore of Sheer, The Blues Club, Scooter Club, and Dean of Dead Kool now at the Cavy, to namedrop a few. I do however, ask for a contribution so we can hand it to our chosen charity, this time the homeless aids, Devizes Opendoors, who work towards making life that tad nicer for our rough sleepers and those in sheltered accommodation. I’m not here to get political on your ass, but with the way the country is going, this is more in need than ever.

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So, delighted to say, Saturday night’s musical jaunt has raised £140 which will be banked along with takings to next weeks and handed to the charity. That in itself is a grand job, and I thank the Cellar Bar for having us, and to Harvey, Finely, Gail, Jordan, and The Roughcut Rebels; Doug, Jamie, Mark and John for giving a diverse and amazing night; cheers guys!

 

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Up the Mountain to Chat with the Hound;

Jordan Whatley on his new EP, illness and influences.

 

If chat between songs on Tamsin Quin’s live CD commending the local music scene prompted me to an awakening, Saddleback’s Battle of the Bands in February last year opened my eyes and ears to exactly what she was extolling. A decade of parenting undermined my mindfulness of any such scene, yet I was to be inaugurated.

Bowled over by this acoustic assortment and now befriended Jamie, George, Mike, Sally and Jack, Jordan Whatley was one I never did get to greet. A distanced performer, masquerading under the pseudonom The Hound on the Mountain, he lay out on his knees before the panel of judges in a Hendrix screeching guitar moment. If there was an award for showmanship, he’d have owned it.

Keen to catch him again months later, in the group setting of The Compact Pussycat, I felt the shebang somewhat disjointed, the band proficient, Jordan spirited and acute too, but the combination fragmented. Later in the week Jordan and the Compact Pussycat went separate ways. This Melksham prodigy, feeling alienated, opened up about a mental illness to his Facebook followers, but returns to supplement his 2016 solo EP, Cernunnos with new material, and a live album from his recent gig at Bristol’s highly regarded Fleece.

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We hope to witness it when he arrives Saturday at the Cellar Bar for our charity-based Devizine Presents debut gig. Time to catch up with this hound methinks, for he is more hound than pussycat, and rap about this progression, dealing with his affliction, and investigate his influences.

Cernunnos is a roller-coaster of gothic ballads, fiery blues-rock psychedelia and indie-come-Britpop elevations. If the opening tune, The Forest astounds in goth traipse, building to an enraged frenzy, Ghosts of Your Past is the hauntingly psychedelic blues of Steppenwolf awash with Lewis Carroll references.

While Porcelain Trees perhaps the most emotionally drafted and executed, a gothic gradient of Bauhaus, Tin Can alleviates with a Britpop danceable anthemic riff. Yet the finale staunch punk into archetypical goth. Through diverse stimuli though it’s unified and uniquely Jordan. The passion to be himself and not deviate an attraction to his art, I was keen to engage him into what we should expect next. “So,” I asked, “you’ve a new EP coming, the years between occupied by working with the Compact Pussycat I take it?”

“Yeah sure thing, dude!” was the reply, “The EP was created in 2016 with Nine-Volt leap, put the project on hold due to the Compact Pussycat and getting back on it now. And yep, the live recording is finished, just editing it. Also, I’m starting new EP production next month.”

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But how does Jordan think it differs from Cernunnos?

“This next EP is gonna have a lot more creative process behind it,” he informed. “Beforehand, Cernunnos was made just after me leaving my acoustic scene behind, so was fairly vanilla, using basic structure and minimal instruments. This new album is gonna feature a lot of progressive structures, more electronics and I’m developing a story to run through it. I want this to be my saucer full of secrets; it’s gonna be complex and hopefully be something to show how much I’ve changed, musically and mentally, over the last few years.”

“A tune like Ghosts of your Past has complex narrative relating to Alice in Wonderland, it’d be good to hear a flowing theme right through the EP,” I observed. “Any similar cultural references, could I delve for a hint at a synopsis, or is it secret?!”

“I guess a lot of the psyche behind this is the concept of, almost, wicker man-esque cult themes; the kind of closed-end community’s dealing with their own myths and stuff. Alice in Wonderland will feature again, that’s more about the mental illness-based ideas of it, as someone who has dealt with mental illness it’s kind of weird, since describing it more as a being, prowling over you more than an invisible disease is something I’d like to put into words. To be honest, it’s gonna have a few themes that I’m hoping I can finetune together. Gonna have some other musicians working with me on it too.”

“Yes,” absorbed with his openness about psychological impetuses clearly portrayed in his writings, “you publicly spoke about depression/mental illness on Facebook a few months ago. Do you think it can be part-and-parcel with the creative mind; the bleeding hearts of artists and all that?”

“I wouldn’t say it’s the whole damaged soul thing,” Jordan replied, “I feel it’s more that it just makes you a bit more open to ideas, and sort of a little more comfortable with expressing certain topics.”

I pressed on this, “I often think it’s what separates the true artist from the media whore, just in it for the money. Not mental illness necessarily, but a wilder, crazy side is no bad thing provided it’s channelled into art.”

I thanked Jordan for his time, touching on the, perhaps, incoherent ambience surrounding the final Pussycat gig, despite all being accomplished and talented musicians. “Yeah,” he explained, “I enjoy working on music that I would like to watch live more than something I think will be popular; I’m doing it for me after all!”

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In a nutshell that’s what I like about Jordan, I was a window-shopper of goth, something I never popped into purchase, but winked at the cute and curiosity shop-worker garbed in black gown and eyeliner; knowing Robert Smith’s lyrics in school was the difference from getting a snog, or not. Yet, The Hound on the Mountain turns my eclectic taste simply because he is who he is; “never try to be anything other,” I offered.

Previously I’ve mentioned the Doors comparison, as Morrison could hold that audience spellbound; probably easier for him as his audience were all tripping, but still, Jordan has a similar presence. So, who does he cite as influences? Does he describe his music with the “goth” label?

“Yeah,” he tended to agree, “this is showing off more influences, from the kind of Joy Division, Nick Cave, Bauhaus and Portishead side! The kind of Jim Morrison frontman still comes out, but you know I can’t be too ordinary, ha-ha; and yeah kinda, alt-gothic shoe gaze rock!”

Devizine welcomes this Madhatter Hound on the Mountain on Saturday 11th May, at the Cellar Bar Saturday 11th May, at the Cellar Bar with the Roughcut Rebels and Truzzy Boys also gratefully agreeing to contribute their time to raise some pocket money for worthy homeless charity, Devizes Opendoors; please do come along!

 

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Daydream Runaways Light a Spark

“Somethings end just for others to start. Some begin are just the lighting of a spark.” Recurring loops of life the theme of Daydream Runaway’s debut single, “Light the Spark.” Self-reflecting, perhaps, as this emotive, Killers-styled, smooth danceable indie harmony rings with poignant guitar breaks akin to Simple Minds, and the expressive vocals of U2.

 
There’s optimistic Talking Heads echo in the song too; declares newly-formed Daydream Runaways will indeed light a spark on our local music scene. Devizes based vocalist, Ben Heathcote has that definitive holler of sentiment and passion, complimented with an imperturbable accompaniment of Cam Bianchi on Guitar, Nath Heathcote on Bass and drummer, Brad Kinsey.

This is a breezy and confident introduction to a band only formed in January, and if its an overview, Daydream Runaways is definitely one to watch. The song is released on Wednesday, the 8th May, so spare a “like” on their Facebook page, as this is a very likeable and promising start. Nice one guys!

 

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Twit Twoo: Owl Fest Announce Line Up

Breaking and brilliant news as Adam Dempsey pings over the line up for this year’s Owl Fest on Saturday May 25th in Bromham’s social club, The Owl. Chained to that kitchen sink again, I dried my hands on a tea towel quick as I could to reply what a fantastic line up, I reckon it is. He thinks it’s their best yet.

 
So, no more suspense, and in no particular order, it’s that five-piece classic rock covers band, Homer. Citing influences as wide as The Undertones and Buzzcocks to Thin Lizzy, Steppenwolf and Red-Hot Chili Peppers to AC/DC, Homer’s been on the local scene since 2012. Frontman Pete Pig, Danny Silvers on drums and backing vocals, guitarists Paul “Winger” Weinling and Les Vegas, with Graham the crazy bassist, are sure to rock Bromham.

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Devizine favourite Jamie R Hawkins will be there, with acute and sentimental storytelling brilliance, Jamie never fails to impress.

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Everyone’s favourite, Mr George Wilding will also do his stuff. With natural ability and ease, astounding originals solo and with Wilding, George is surely Wiltshire’s imminent legend.

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And you must love tiny country-pop princess, Kirsty Clinch with her bountiful talent and energy.

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Malmesbury’s Corky also returns with his hilariously original brand of acoustic “scrumpy and western” agricultural hip hop, had me in fits of laughter before the cider even took its natural course at last year’s.

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My wild card, The Gentle Crows appear; not heard of these guys, I confess, but acclaimed rock covers they promise with great reviews online to date.

 
Topped off with Trusler senior’s Funked Up duo with Mark Colin Jones, with their brand of eighties funky-pop-rock, not forgetting the great selection of ciders on offer, food, I’m sure you’ll agree, The Owl is worthwhile heading towards on May 25th. See our review of last year’s here, and see you there, I hope!

 
The day is FREE, but if you want to use the Cider bar, you’ll need a wristband and plastic glass which sets you back a whole £8, and includes two tokens; why wouldn’t you?!

 

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Barb’d Wire and Corn Exchanging; Reggae Finds a Home at Devizes Arts Festival

Never content with what contemporary music thrust down our throats, even as a youngster, the easiest and sneakiest place to hunt for origins was Dad’s record collection. It would be years before he discovered the shortfall of vinyl and confronted me. Sixties Merseybeat and blues-pop standard, I recall the intriguing moment I unearthed a shabby cover of a girl’s naked torso, “Tighten Up Vol 2” was inscribed on her abdomen in lipstick. So, when he did, I inquired why he bought this, Trojan Record. More concerned where his Pink Floyd gatefold had vanished to, he half-heartedly explained, “it was something different,” as if he didn’t wish to divulge too much, “and cheap.”

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The estate of Bob Marley is still argued over, he never understood how to handle the royalties of rock star. Other than a BMW he had no extravagance, the house on Hope Road a gift from Blackwell, in which he lobbed a single mattress in the corner of a bedroom. What you see of the Jamaican music industry in the movie, “The Harder they Come,” is staunchly realistic; peanuts a too expensive commodity to compare to payments made to singers and musicians.

Poor wages triggered a prolific industry, hundreds of hopefuls jammed Orange Street awaiting to be ripped off. Trojan Records was founded the year after Bluebeat dissolved, 1968. The reasoning both English labels sourced Jamaican music was originally to supply the Windrush generation with the sounds of home, it is doubtful either realised the legacy they would leave. The underpaid nobodies singing on these records meant Bluebeat and Trojan could lower the price tag when compared to what upstarts like Bowie or Clapton would require, and price was everything for white British kids attempting to amass vinyl for house parties; as my father summed up.

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Though the attraction may’ve been the price, the enticement of these records came when the needle hit the groove; these rhythms were insatiably beguiling and exotic. I felt that ambiance too, and fell head over heels. But my palette had been preconditioned without comprehending it. Slightly too young to have immersed in the youth cultures of the late seventies, the sound bequest our pop charts.

Whether it was Blondie or the Police, or Madness, The Beat, or Piranhas, the charts of pre electronica eighties was inspired by the two youth cultures of punk and skinhead, and until the day I discovered a Bluebeat 7” of Prince Buster’s Madness, exposing Suggs and his Nutty Boy’s embodiment, I had no idea. Jerry Dammers’ Two Tone Records only had six years, an insecure contract with a get-out clause after one single, saw the acts achieve acclaim and jump ship.

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But if we celebrated Trojan’s fiftieth last year, we must do the same for Two-Tone’s fortieth, as it engraved its hometown, Coventry, as firmly on the ska map as Kingston. Within its short run Two Tone defined an era and reintroduced the roots of the dub reggae scene that punk spurred to white British youth; ska. The nonchalant rudimentary street-styled design of Two-Tone’s corporate identity is today considered standard ska practise; Dave Storey’s chequered monochrome background with Walt Jabsco, a character based upon a Peter Tosh image.

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It 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 of them and fuse them without pretence or offense; one reason why a group like Barb’d Wire is fresh and electrifying.

Though hailing from Two Tone’s home, Coventry, drummer and vocalist, Trevor Evans, a.k.a. ET Rockers, having begun his sparkling career as roadie turned DJ for The Specials, and with a brass section arrangement by Jon Pudge, ska is only an element of Barb’d Wire’s sound. Guitarist Ryan Every, Fingers Aitken on bass, and Mark Bigz Smith commanding the keys, blend influences as far and wide as punk to orchestral and blues into a melting pot of reggae. Fronted by the spiralling, gospel-inspired vocals of Cherelle Harding, their unique sound drives a heavy dub bassline, while not divulging on its preconditioned instrumental ethos. What we’re left with is a genuinely contemporary reggae lattice landing the group as firm favourites on the dynamic Coventry scene and festival circuit such as Skamouth.

 

While tracks like Duppy Town and Et Rockers Up Town, on their 2017 debut album, Time Has Come, rely on dub, a stepper’s riddim thrives throughout, but incorporates aforementioned influences. The only recognisable cover, for example, is the classic Latino-inspired Rockfort Rock of which the Skatalites perfected a ska-rhumba amalgamation. Produced by Roger Lomas, who also handles Bad Manners and The Selecter, again, Barb’d Wire pride themselves with Two-Tone influences, yet unlike the standard ska cover band you’re likely to get on our local scene, who all have their place in maintaining a clandestine but welcomed scene here, Barb’d Wire will be a fresh and welcomed gig, when they arrive at Devizes Corn Exchange on Saturday 1st June as a feature of Devizes Arts Festival.

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For me, and any reggae/ska/soul aficionado, this is simply unmissable, but for the Arts Festival it may be a risky move, breaking their typical booking in search for newer audiences. While organ recitals, poetry slams and theatre noir have their place, we owe it to ourselves to support this event in hope it will spur future events at the festival of an alternative and contemporary genre. That is why you’ll see our Devizine logo proudly on the posters for this particular appearance, as though we plan to bring you more in-depth previews and reviews of this year’s stunning line-up, I’m most excited about this one!

 

Saturday 1st June: Tickets available now, £18

 

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