Devizes First Scooter Rally; A Historic Weekend

Chatting to Gouldy of the Daybreakers, due to play Minety Festival the following day, we mutually complimented the setup at The Devizes Scooter Rally. Pleased for his input, as there was always a risk, being this is my first scooter rally, that any review would be comparable to a festival. Prior to the event, I admit I was mindful to this, telling myself not to hype it, as it’s a scooter rally, not a festival. Yet Gouldy described the archetypical rally as lesser in design and setup than your average festival. Given this notion I encouraged The Scooter Club to embrace wider appeal; they were in agreeance, it wowed and will undoubtedly go down in Rowde’s history.

This paid off, for two years in the planning, and some bumps between us along the way, the Devizes Scooter Rally was uniquely designed and executed with individualism and panache, binding a positive festival vibe with the style of a scooter rally, surely producing an event to shame other similarly labelled events; and all for the first time too.

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Booking The Tribe, Swindon’s hip hop-reggae whizzers, popular on said festival scene, was attributed to this notion; partly my suggestion, but to open wasn’t. Perhaps this wildcard could’ve fitted later, yet, their wider appeal indeed took the younger’s interest, even if not digested by traditional scooterists. They played an arresting and dynamic set as always, rapper AJ Mayhew joining the slight crowd for a dance momentously inspiring for the younger.

More so, it was the plentiful choice of food stalls, bars and side attractions which blessed this event with that genuine festival feel, as opposed to the average rally’s hashed barbeque, hosted by the least drunken skinhead, and the bar being the pub across the road! All slight, but there were fair stalls, rides and a bouncy castle to keep young ones amused. Food stalls of pizza, noodles, burgers, hog roast varied catering, retro clothes stalls and the Vespa Owners Club had travelled afar to join many local ventures such as Vinyl Realm holding their first stand.

Aside the brilliant homemade bar, with pumps and Pimms, which was reasonably priced even for a pub, let alone event, choices were also available, from separate coffee or Prosecco bars, and the strikingly Caribbean yet local rum distributor Muck & Dunder’s mobile bar, which I could make my second home!

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So fruitfully the Scooter Rally developed, combining the favourable elements of festivals and scooter rallies equally to create what they wished, done their own, localised way. Villagers and Devizes residents mingled with widespread scooter aficionados in a joyful ambience. Meeting enthusiasts who’d journeyed from the North, or Exeter, was amalgamated with strictly Rowde branded humour, such as parish councillor, dubbed “Rowde Mayor,” John Dalley, who had his head shaved by Tracie Lawson of Devizes Beauty Boutique for children’s cancer charity CLIC Sargent.

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Late Friday evening, drinks may’ve flowed, but chatting to DSC Colonel, Adam Ford, there was little doubt, though the monumental organisation thrusted into an event of this calibre, that he’d do it all again, next year. For when it came together, a fabulous time was had by all and full marks must be awarded to all members of the club.

To nit-pick there will be lessons learned, the PA needed a little hoof, least villagers only went to their Facebook group to inquire where the wonderful music was ascending from, rather than complain. This came to a head at the concluding act, Bad Manners tribute, The Special Brew, who worked professionally through technical faults to bring a madcap finale we’ll be talking about for years to come. Lighting and washing facilities for those camping, may also have been on the hitlist, though elements ramp the ticket stub, and it was ever kept a reasonable price.

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Friday then, and local folklore heroes, The DayBreakers followed the Tribe, with their wonderful brand of folky-retro-pop. South-coast’s ska legends Orange Street headlined with a tight and proficient set of ska and two-tone classics, they simply astounded, leaving us with little doubt the weekend was a winner.

Trilbies must also be raised to the solo effort from renowned DJ Terry Hendrick in the marquee, who both filled in whenever necessary and bought each evening to a climax. Neither angered by my pestering, browsing his astounding collection of seven-inch rarities, he even allowed me a little taster on his wheels of steel!

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Local retro covers band, Cover Up did a grand job opening Saturday’s live music, upon the return of the scooterists on a ride-out across Devizes and villages, parking by the stage for browsing devotees. For me, the highlight was always to be Swindon’s Erin Bardwell Collective, whose rock steady and boss reggae classics appropriately fit the sunny afternoon breeze. As well as Double Barrell, Let Your Yeah be Yeah, and Jackpot, there was a sublime cover of Horace Andy’s Skylarking, a blend of Harry J’s Liquidator with Staple Sister’s I’ll Take you There, and just one of their own songs, a new one called Just Loving You.

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The Start bought the event to boiling point, Essex’s finest gave us a loud and proud varied performance, shelling us with iconic Two-Tone and sixties to eighties mod-rock anthems which defined the eras. The Start were confident and highly enjoyable, rousing the crowd for Special Brew. If it was an unfortunate technical fault, worry didn’t project dismay, they battled through and such was the unabridged event, it mattered not.

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What a marvellous weekend, possibly the most bizarrely enlightening the village has ever seen, unless you different? Detroit USA, Kingston Jamaica, London, New York and Coventry; all established places on the soul & reggae map. Thanks to Devizes Scooter Club, we can now add Rowde to that map!

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The Great Western Reggae Soundclash

Trains have an emblematic relationship with reggae and its predecessor ska.

 

The chugging offbeat imitating a steam engine has been a running theme throughout its history. From choo-choo vocals of the Ethiopian’s classic “Train to Skaville,” to Keith & Tex’s rock steady anthem, “Stop that Train,” and The Wailer’s song of the same title, reggae is awash with train themes; it’s only apt there’s such thing as “Great Western Reggae,” and a substantial scene in the historic railway town of Swindon.

 

Pop-a-Top Records is Swindon’s label dedicated to its reggae homebrew. It’s headed by the ex-Skanxter, Erin Bardwell and his Collective who’ve just released “Great Western Reggae Soundclash,”a double-album which serves as a prodigious sampler for Pop-a-Top’s Great Western Reggae style.

 

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In those ravey daze, the Skanxters were a local archaic blessing, harking to an era when life was less Altern 8 and more, well, Specials. I fondly recall heady nights following the Skanxters, at the Queen’s Tap, The Vic, and the Lamb in Marlborough, and remember the disheartening revelation a gig at Level III in 98 would be their last. I reminisce how, during their comical, “I’ll never know (who nicked my bike),” lead singer Andy Paton would ask the dodgiest looking audience member, “Oi, was it you?” and how once I was selected for the honour!

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Imagine my delight at catching up with Erin, who played keyboards in the band and hasn’t stopped since. “Not all the artists (on Pop-a-Top) are from Swindon,” Erin explained, “but most are, or have links to it.” With countless projects under his belt, such as dub production duo Subject A’s “Sleepwalkers” release with ex-Skanxter bass player Dean Sartain, and nostalgic two-tone reunion gigs for the Skanxters, Erin is exceptionally prolific.

 

Though meticulous effort has been refined into “Great Western Reggae Soundclash,” and while not astoundingly lyrical, despite the opening track “Rock Steady Rub,” with vocals parallel to Johnny Cash popping into Studio One, GWR concentrates more-so on keyboards akin to Jackie Mitto.

 

The Collective glide steadily through a plethora of traditional rock steady, which while wouldn’t sound out of place on a Trojan “Tighten Up” compilation, also has a sprinkle of reflections on Swindon. Again, in the aforementioned running train theme, the tongue-in-cheek “Night Bus to Highworth,” and a nod to Edith New, the Swindonian suffragette first to campaign in an aggressive manner.

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Fans of Jamaican music in Britain tend to separate into two trends, echoing dub and skinhead ska; the transitional stage is often overlooked. When really, developed through hard times in 1960s Kingston, where curfews set by the government to curb “rude boy” culture, it consequently mellowed the mood for the following era, and was Jamaica’s most creative period musically.

 

To hark back to this rock steady/boss reggae period is tried and tested in this album, a rarity left to groups like New York’s Frightnrs, who in turn add a little New Yorker panache to their sound. The Eric Bardwell Collective do similar, plus, while fundamentally inspired by rock steady they’re not afraid to explore techniques usually saved for ska or reggae, from chugging choo-choo vocals to nyabinghi drums and one drops, the tune “Why Why,” being a grand example of this, and along with both male and female vocals, the latter supplied by Dominican-born Sandra Bell, it makes the sound wholly unique and excitingly refreshing.

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With rich history including backing reggae star Dennis Bovell, and a trip to Jamaica in 2003, to record at Byron Lee’s legendary Dynamic Sounds with Studio One engineer Sylvan Morris, Erin Bardwell has the contacts to add a plethora of talent to feature within the Collective. On this release you’ll find Selecter Guitarist Neol Davies, drummer Matty Bane of the Neville Staple Band, Pat Powell of the Melbourne Ska Orchestra alongside Swindon’s finest line-up, such as, among others, horns from the SN Dubstation.

 

There’s much here to impress and delight the reggae enthusiasts, my personal favourite being “Change,” where the Byron Lee influences shine, reminding of the frequently sampled piano riff of “My Conversation,” by the Uniques. Although there’s equally as much inspiration external to reggae, at times the soundscape took me to contemplate early Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett days, and a sprinkling of Sgt Pepper towards the album’s close. So, I figure there’s as much here to enjoy for the occasional reggae listener.

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There’s an album launch at the Thomas Hughes Memorial Hall in Uffington on December 1st, the Erin Bardwell Collective are also live at The Castle in Swindon on Friday 8th and Zed Alley in Bristol 15th December. If that’s too close to the big C, I’d highly recommend you keep warm and treat yourself to an early yule pressie; grab yourself a CD or download of this outstanding local riddim redeemer here at Bandcamp.

 

For more info on Erin Bardwell Collective and the Top-a-Pop label, click here.

 

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