Song of the Day 2: The Big Ship Alliance and Johnny2Bad, featuring Robbie Levi and Stones

Newly-formed just a year ago, this Birmingham-based seven piece reggae band, Big Ship Alliance started out as possibly the only tribute act to reggae legend Freddie McGregor, but on track to record their own material they’ve teamed up with the outstanding UB40 tribute act, Johnny2Bad for this gorgeous topical debut single.

Featuring Robbie Levi and Stones, aside from my love of all things reggae, the song’s positive message of togetherness and unification during this era of the pandemic makes it more than apt for my second “song of the day” post. Though I did say I wasn’t intending to write anything like a review on this feature, just let you enjoy the tunes, and this is kinda heading a little bit “reviewy.” Probably cos it’s such a nice tune.

I also promised not to waffle; but I’m here now. Something about having your cake and eating it goes in rather appropriately at this point!

More so than being my song of the day, I believe this should be, as the Big Ship Alliance say themselves, “the anthem for 2021!”

Determined to make this feature a goer, as of yesterday’s pledge to add a song each day, ingeniously titled “song of the day.” I know, right, it scares me at times, I’ll be honest!

So, enjoy this fantastic tune, let the good vibes roll and have a great rest of the day. Same time tomorrow then?

Very good. Carry on….

Devizine’s Review of 2020; You Can’t Polish a Turd!

On Social and Political Matters……

For me the year can be summed up by one Tweet from the Eurosceptic MEP and creator of the Brexit Party, Nigel Farage. A knob-jockey inspired into politics when Enoch Powell visited his private school, of which ignored pleas from an English teacher who wrote to the headmaster encouraging him to reconsider Farage’s appointed prefect position, as he displayed clear signs of fascism. The lovable patriot, conspiring, compulsive liar photographed marching with National Front leader Martin Webster in 1979, who strongly denies his fascist ethos despite guest-speaking at a right-wing populist conference in Germany, hosted by its leader, the granddaughter of Adolf Hitler’s fiancé; yeah, him.

He tweeted “Christmas is cancelled. Thank you, China.” It magically contains every element of the utter diabolical, infuriating and catastrophic year we’ve most likely ever seen; blind traditionalist propaganda, undeniable xenophobia, unrefuted misinformation, and oh yes, the subject is covid19 related.

And now the end is near, an isolated New Year’s Eve of a year democracy prevailed against common sense. The bigoted, conceited blue-blooded clown we picked to lead us up our crazy-paved path of economic self-annihilation has presented us with an EU deal so similar to the one some crazy old hag, once prime minster delivered to us two years back it’s uncanny, and highly amusing that Bojo the clown himself mocked and ridiculed it at the time. I’d wager it’s just the beginning.

You can’t write humour this horrifically real, the love child of Stephen King and Spike Milligan couldn’t.

Still, I will attempt to polish the turd and review the year, as it’s somewhat tradition here on Devizine. The mainstay of the piece, to highlight what we’ve done, covered and accomplished with our friendly website of local entertainment and news and events, yet to holistically interrelate current affairs is unavoidable.

We have even separated the monster paragraphs with an easier, monthly photo montage, for the hard of thinking.

January

You get the impression it has been no walk in the park, but minor are my complaints against what others have suffered. Convenient surely is the pandemic in an era brewing with potential mass hysteria, the need to control a population paramount. An orthornavirae strain of a respiratory contamination first reported as infecting chickens in the twenties in North Dakota, a snip at 10,400km away from China.

Decidedly bizarre then, an entire race could be blamed and no egg fried rice bought, as featured in Farage’s audacious Tweet, being it’s relatively simple to generate in a lab, inconclusively originated at Wuhan’s Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, rather spread from there, and debatably arrived via live bat or pangolin, mostly used in traditional Chinese medicine, a pseudoscience only the narrowminded minority in China trusts.

Ah, inconsistent pseudoscience, embellished, unfalsifiable claims, void of orderly practices when developing hypotheses and notably causing hoodwinked cohorts. Yet if we consider blaming an ethos, rather than a race, perhaps we could look closer to home for evidence of this trend of blind irrationality. Truth in Science, for example, an English bunch of Darwin-reputing deluded evangelicals who this year thought it’d be a grand and worthy idea to disguise their creationist agenda and pitch their preposterous pseudoscientific theory that homosexuality is a disease of the mind which can be cured with electro-shock treatment to alter the mind inline with the body’s gender, rather than change the body to suit the mind’s gender orientation, to schoolchildren!

Yep, these bible-bashing fruit-bats, one lower than flat earth theorists actually wrote to headmasters encouraging their homophobia to be spread to innocent minds, only to be picked up by a local headmaster of the LGBTQ community. Here’s an article on Devizine which never saw the light of day. Said that Truth in Science’s Facebook page is chockful with feedback of praise and appreciation, my comments seemed to instantly disappear, my messages to them unanswered. All I wanted was a fair-sided evaluation for an article, impossible if you zip up.

Justly, no one trusts me to paint an unbiased picture. This isn’t the Beeb, as I said in our 2017 annual review: The chances of impartiality here, equals the chances of Tories sticking to their manifesto. Rattling cages is fun, there’s no apologies I’m afraid, if I rattled yours, it just means you’re either mean or misguided.

Herein lies the issue, news travels so fast, we scroll through social media unable to digest and compose them to a greater picture, let alone muster any trust in what we read. I’m too comfortable to reside against the grain, everyone’s at it. I reserve my right to shamelessly side with the people rather than tax-avoiding multinationals and malevolent political barons; so now you know.

February

If you choose to support these twats that’s your own lookout, least someone should raise the alarm; you’d have thought ignoring World Health Organisation advise and not locking down your country until your mates made a packet on horseracing bets is systematic genocide and the government should be put on trial for this, combined with fraud and failure of duty. If not, ask why we’re the worst hit country in the world with this pandemic. Rather the current trend where the old blame the young, the young blame the old, the whites blame the blacks, the thin blame the fat, when none of us paid much attention to restrictions because they were delivered in a confused, nonsensical manner by those who don’t either, and mores to the pity, believe they’re above the calling of oppressive regulations.

If you choose to support these twats, you’re either a twat too, or trust what you read by those standing to profit from our desperation; ergo, twats. Theres no getting away from the fact you reep what you sow; and the harvest of 2020 was a colossal pile of twat.


Onto Devizine…. kind of.

For me what started as a local-based entertainment zine-like blog, changed into the only media I trust, cos I wrote the bollocks! But worser is the general obliteration of controversy, criticism and debate in other media. An argument lost by a conformer is shadowed behind a meme, or followed up with a witch hunt, a torrent of personal abuse and mockery, usually by inept grammar by a knuckle-dragging keyboard warrior with caps-lock stuck on; buy a fucking copy of the Oxford Guide to English Grammar or we’re all going to hell in a beautiful pale green boat.

We’re dangerously close to treating an Orwellian nightmare as a self-help guide, and despite fascists took a knockdown in the USA and common sense prevailed, the monster responded with a childish tantrum; what does this tell you? The simple fact, far right extremism is misled and selfish delinquency which history proves did no good to anyone, ever. Still the charade marches on, one guy finished a Facebook debate sharing a photo of his Boris “get Brexit done” tea-towel. I pondered when the idiot decided a photo of his tea towel would suffice to satisfy his opinion and convince others, before or after the wave of irony washed over his head in calling them Muppets.

I hate the term, it’s offensive. Offensive to Jim Henson’s creations; try snowflake or gammon, both judgemental sweeping generalisations but personally inoffensive to any individual, aside Peppa Pig. I wager you wander through Kent’s lorry park mocking the drivers and calling them snowflakes rather than tweeting; see how far you get.

So, the initial lockdown in March saw us bonded and dedicated, to the cause. We ice-skated through it, developed best methods to counteract the restrictions and still abide by them; it was kind of nice, peaceful and environmentally less impacting. But cracks in the ice developed under our feet, the idea covid19 was a flash in pan, akin to when Blitz sufferers asserted it’d all be over by Christmas, waned as we came to terms, we were in it for the duration.

Yet comparisons to WWII end there, lounging on the sofa for three months with Netflix and desperate peasants delivering essential foodstuff, like oysters, truffles and foie gras is hardly equivalent to the trench warfare of Normandy. Hypocritical is me, not only avoiding isolation as, like a nurse, my labour was temporarily clapped as key worker in March, I figured my site would only get hits if I wrote something about Covid19, and my ignorance to what the future resulted in clearly displayed in spoofy, ill-informed articles, Corona Virus and Devizine; Anyone got a Loo Roll? on the impending panic-buying inclination, and later, I Will Not Bleat About Coronavirus, Write it Out a Hundred Times…

The only thing I maintained in opinion to the subject, was that it should be light-hearted and amusing; fearing if we lose our sense of humour, all is lost. Am I wrong? Probably, it’s been a very serious year.

It was my first pandemic-related mention, hereafter nearly every article paid reference to it, no matter how disparate; it’s the tragedy which occupied the planet. But let’s go back, to oblivious January, when one could shake hands and knew where the pub was. Melksham got a splashpad, Devizes top councillors bleated it wasn’t fair, and they wanted a splashpad too. They planned ripping out the dilapidated brick shithouses on the Green and replacing it with a glorious splashpad, as if they cared about the youth of the town. I reported the feelings of grandeur, Splashpad, I’m all over it, Pal! A project long swept under the carpet, replaced with the delusion we’ll get an affordable railway station. As I said, convenient surely is the pandemic.

So many projects, so many previews of events, binned. Not realising at the time my usual listing, Half Term Worries Over; things to do with little ones during February half-term… would come to an abrupt halt. Many events previewed, the first being the Mayoral Fundraising Events, dates set for the Imberbus, and Chef Peter Vaughan & Indecision’s Alzheimer’s Support Chinese New Year celebration, to name but a few, I’m unaware if they survived or not.

March


On Music……

But it was the cold, early days of winter, when local concerns focused more on the tragic fire at Waiblingen Way. In conjunction with the incredible Liz Denbury, who worked tirelessly organising fundraising and ensuring donations of essentials went to the affected folk, we held a bash in commemoration and aid down that there Cellar Bar; remember?

It was in fact an idea by Daydream Runaways, who blew the low roof off the Cellar Bar at the finale. But variety was the order of the evening, with young pianist prodigy Will Foulstone kicking us off, opera with the amazing Chole Jordan, Irish folk with Mirko and Bran of the Celtic Roots Collective and the acoustic goodness of Ben Borrill. Thanks also has to go to the big man Mike Barham who set up the technical bits before heading off to a paid gig. At the time I vowed this will be the future of our events, smaller but more than the first birthday bash; never saw it coming, insert sad-face emoji.

We managed to host another gig, though, after lockdown when shopping was encouraged by In:Devizes, group Devizes Retailers and Independents, a assemblage of businesses set up to promote reopening of town. We rocked up in Brogans and used their garden to have a summer celebration. Mike set up again, and played this time, alongside the awesome Cath and Gouldy, aka, Sound Affects on their way to the Southgate, and Jamie R Hawkins accompanied Tamsin Quin with a breath-taking set. It was lovely to see friends on the local music scene, but it wasn’t the reopening for live music we anticipated.

Before all this live music was the backbone of Devizine, between Andy and myself we previewed Bradford Roots Music Festival, MantonFest, White Horse Opera’s Spring Concert, Neeld Hall’s Tribute to Eddie Cochran, and the return of Asa Murphy. We reviewed the Long Street Blues Club Weekender, Festival of Winter Ales, Chris O’Leary at Three Crowns, Jon Walsh, Phil Jinder Dewhurst, Mule and George Wilding at The White Bear, Skandal’s at Marlborough’s Lamb, and without forgetting the incredible weekly line-up at the Southgate; Jack Grace Band, Arnie Cottrell Tendency, Skedaddle, Navajo Dogs, Lewis Clark & The Essentials, King Street Turnaround, Celtic Roots Collective, Jamie, Tamsin, Phil, and Vince Bell.

The collection of Jamie R Hawkins, Tamsin Quin and Phil Cooper at the Gate was memorable, partly because they’re great, partly because, it was the last time we needed to refer to them as a collection (save for the time when Phil gave us the album, Revelation Games.) Such was the fate of live music for all, it was felt by their newly organised trio, The Lost Trades, whose debut gig came a week prior to lockdown, at the Pump, which our new writer Helen Robertson covered so nicely.

For me, the weekend before the doom and gloom consisted of a check-in at the Cavy, where the Day Breakers played, only to nip across to Devizes Sports Club, where the incredible Ruzz Guitar hosted a monster evening of blues, with his revue, Peter Gage, Innes Sibun and Jon Amor. It was a blowout, despite elbow greetings, I never figured it’d be the last.

It was a knee-jerk reaction which made me set up a virtual festival on the site. It was radical, but depleted due to my inability to keep up with an explosion of streamed events, where performers took to Facebook, YouTube sporadically, and other sites on a national scale, and far superior tech knowhow took over; alas there was Zoom. I was happy with this, and prompted streaming events such as Swindon’s “Static” Shuffle, and when PSG Choirs Showed Their True Lockdown Colours. Folk would message me, ask me how the virtual festival was going to work, and to be honest, I had no idea how to execute the idea, but it was worth a stab.

One thing which did change, musically, was we lowered our borders, being as the internet is outernational and local bands were now being watched by people from four corners of the world, Devizine began reviewing music sourced worldwide. Fair enough, innit?

The bleeding hearts of isolated artists and musicians, no gigs gave them time on their hands to produce some quality music, therefore our focus shifted to reviewing them, although we always did review records. Early local reviews of 2020 came from NerveEndings with the single Muddy Puddles, who later moved onto an album, For The People. Daydream Runaways’ live version of Light the Spark and Talk in Code’s Like That, who fantastically progressed through lockdown to a defining eighties electronica sound with later singles Taste the Sun and Secret.

We notified you of Sam Bishop’s crowdfunding for a quarantine song, One of a Kind, which was released and followed by Fallen Sky. Albums came too, we covered, Billy Green 3’s Still in January, and The Grated Hits of the Real Cheesemakers followed, With the former, later came a nugget of Billy Green’s past, revealing some lost demos of his nineties outfit, Still, evidently what the album was named after.

Whereas the sublime soul of Mayyadda from Minnesota was the first international artist featured this year, and from Shrewsbury, our review of Cosmic Rays’ album Hard to Destroy extended our presence elsewhere in the UK, I sworn to prioritise local music, with single reviews of Phil Cooper’s Without a Sound, TheTruzzy Boys’ debut Summertime, Courage (Leave it Behind), a new single from Talk in Code, and for Daydream Runaways’ single Gravity we gave them an extensive interview. This was followed by Crazy Stupid Love and compiled for an EP, Dreamlands, proving they’re a band continuously improving.

April

Probably the most diverse single around spring though was an epic drum n bass track produced right here in Devizes, featuring the vocals of Pewsey’s Cutsmith. Though while Falling by ReTone took us to new foundations, I ran a piece on the new blues sounds locally, as advised by Sheer Music’s Kieran Moore. Sheer, like all music promoters were, understandably, scrambling around in the dark for the beginnings of lockdown, streaming stuff. It wasn’t long before they became YouTube presenters! The Sheer podcast really is something special, in an era leaving local musicians as dry as Ghandi’s flip-flop, they present a show to make ‘em moist!

Spawned from this new blues article, one name which knocked me for six, prior to their YouTube adventures, was Devizes-own Joe Edwards. I figured now I was reviewing internationally; would it be fair to local musicians to suggest a favourite album of the year? However, Joe’s Keep on Running was always a hot contender from the start, and despite crashing the borders on what we will review, I believe it still is my favourite album of the year.

Other top local albums, many inspired from lockdown came flowing, perhaps the most sublime was Interval by Swindon’s reggae keyboardist virtuoso, Erin Bardwell. The prolific Bardwell later teamed with ex-Hotknive Dave Clifton for a project called Man on the Bridge.

Perhaps the most spacey, Devizes’ Cracked Machine’s third outing, Gates of Keras. Top local singles? Well, George Wilding never let us down with Postcard, from a Motorway, and after lockdown reappeared with his band Wilding, for Falling Dreams and later with a solo single, You Do You. Jon Amor was cooking with Peppercorn, which later led to a great if unexpected album, Remote Control.

There was a momentary lapse of reason, that live streaming was the musical staple diet of the now, when Mr Amor climbed out onto his roof to perform, like an ageless fifth Beatle. Blooming marvellous.

Growing up fast, Swindon’s pop singer Lottie J blasted out a modern pop classic with Cold Water, and no one could ignore Kirsty Clinch’s atmospheric country-pop goodness with Fit the Shoe.

Maybe though it wasn’t the ones recorded before, but our musicians on the live circuit coming out with singles to give them some pocket money, which was the best news. I suggest you take note of Ben Borrill’s Takes A Little Time, for example.

I made new friends through music, reviewing so many singles and EPs; Bath’s Long Coats, and JAY’s Sunset Remedy. Swindon’s composer Richard Wileman, guitarist Ryan Webb, and unforgettable Paul Lappin, who, after a couple of singles would later release the amazing acoustic Britpop album The Boy Who Wanted to Fly. Dirty and Smooth and Atari Pilot too, the latter gave us to cool singles, Right Crew, Wrong Captain, and later, Blank Pages. To Calne for End of Story and Chris Tweedie, and over the downs to Marlborough with Jon Veale’s Flick the Switch. I even discovered Hew Miller, a hidden gem in our own town.

May

But we geographically go so much further these days, even if not physically much more than taking the bins out. Outside our sphere we covered Essex’s Mr B & The Wolf, Limerick’s Emma Langford, London’s Gecko, and from the US, Shuffle & Bang, and Jim White. Johnny Lloyd, Skates & Wagons, My Darling Clementine, Micko and the Mellotronics, Typhoidmary, Frank Turner and Jon Snodgrass, Mango Thomas, Beans on Toast, Tankus the Henge; long may the list continue.

Bombino though, the tuareggae artist really impressed me, but I don’t like to pick a favourite, rather to push us onto another angle. I began reviewing stuff sent via my Boot Boy radio show, and covered a ska scene blossoming in South America. But as well as Neville Staple Band’s single Lockdown, The Bighead, the Bionic Rats, and Hugo Lobo teaming up with Lynval Golding and Val Douglas, we found reggae in Switzerland through Fruits Records, the awesome Cosmic Shuffling and progressive 808 Delavega.

So much music, is it going on a bit? Okay I’ll change the record, if you pardon the pun, but not until I’ve mentioned The Instrumental Sounds Of Ruzz Guitar’s Blues Revue, naturally, Sound Affects’ album Ley Lines, Tunnel Rat refurbing their studio, and Bristol’s freshest new hip hop act The Scribes. Ah, pause for breath.

Oh, and outside too, we did get a breather from lockdown and tiers, all Jamies for me, Mr R Hawkins was my first outing at the Gate and followed by Jamie Williams and the Roots Collective. Sad to have missed Two Man Ting and when The Big Yellow Bus Rocked the Gazebo, but hey, I thought we were out of the deep water.

June

Splashed straight back in again; “tiers” this time, sounds nicer than lockdown. Who knows what 2021 will bring, a vaccine, two vaccines, a mesh of both despite being ill-advised by experts? Just jab me, bitch, taxi me to the nearest gig, if venues still exist, by spring and I’ll shut up about it.


On Arts…..

Bugger, I’m going to need Google maps to find my local boozer. But yeah, they, whoever they are, think we’re all about music, but we cover anything arts and entertainment, you know? We previewed Andy Hamilton coming to Swindon’s Wyvern, Josie Long coming to Bath, The Return of the Wharf Theatre, and the county library tours of Truth Sluth: Epistemological Investigations for the Modern Age. Surely the best bit was being sent a private viewing of a new movie, Onus, by the Swindon filmmakers who gave us Follow the Crows.

I shared poems by Gail Foster, and reviewed her book Blossom. Desperate for subject matter I rewrote a short story Dizzy Heights. I featured artists Bryony Cox and Alan Watters, both selling their wares for the NHS, Ros Hewitt’s Glass Art open studio, Small Wonders Art Auction in aid of Arts Together and Asa Murphy published a children’s book, The Monkey with no Bum! I dunno, don’t ask.

July


On Food…

Despite my Oliver Twist pleads, we never get enough on the subject of grub. January saw us preview Peter Vaughan’s Chinese New Year dinner party in aid of Alzheimer’s Support and with music from Indecision, we covered DOCA’s Festival of Winter Ales, and looked forward to the Muck & Dunder’s Born 2 Rum festival, which was cancelled.

From here the dining experience reverted to takeaways, and I gave Sujay’s Jerk Pan Kitchen at big shout, and thought it best to wait until things reopened before singing Massimos’ praise, but I guess for now I should mention their awesome takeaway service next.

The Gourmet Brownie Kitchen supplied my welcomed Father’s Day gift, even nipped over to Swindon, in search of their best breakfast at the Butcher’s cafe, and recently I featured vegan blogger, Jill. Still though I need more food articles, as restaurants should take note, they’re extremely popular posts. Sadly, our while self-explanatory article, “We Cannot Let our Young People go Hungry; those locally rallying the call to #endchildfoodpoverty,” did quite well, at third most popular, the earlier “Eat Out to Help Out, Locally, Independently,” was our highest hitting of all; giving a sombre redefining of the term, dying to go out.

Back to my point though, food articles do so well, I’m not just after a free lunch, or maybe I am. But here, look, the fourth most popular article this year was our review of New Society, which was actually from 2019. Does lead us on nicely to the touchy subject of stats this year.

August


On Stats, Spoofs and the Future….

As well as an opportunity to review what we’ve done over the past year and to slag off the government, I also see this rather lengthy article which no one reads till the end of, a kind of AGM. It should be no surprise or disappointment, being this is a what’s-on guide, and being nothing was actually on, our stats failed to achieve what we hit in 2019. Though, it is with good news I report we did much better than 2018, and in the last couple of months hits have given me over the stats I predicted. Devizine is still out there, still a thing; just don’t hug it, for fuck’s sake.

I did, sometime ago, have a meeting with the publishers of Life In, RedPin. You may’ve seen Life in Devizes or various other local town names. The idea to put Devizine into print is something I’ve toyed with, but as it stands it seems unlikely. My pitch was terrible, my funds worse. If I did this it would cease to be a hobby and become a fulltime business, I’d need contributors, a sales department, I’d need an expert or ten, skills and a budget for five issues ahead of myself, and I tick none of those boxes. A risk too risky, I guess that’s why they call a risk a risk, watching the brilliant Ocelot reduced to online, publications suffer, the local newspaper house scrambling for news and desperately coming up with national clickbait gobbledygook, I know now is not the time to lick slices of tree with my wares.

So, for the near future I predict trickling along as ever. Other than irrational bursts of enthusiasm that this pandemic is coming to an end, I’ve given in updating our event calendar until such really happens. And it will, every clown has a silver lifeboat, or something like that.

September

Most popular articles then, as I said, desperation to return to normal is not just me, “Eat Out to Help Out, Locally, Independently,” was our highest hitting of all, whereas “We Cannot Let our Young People go Hungry; those locally rallying the call to #endchildfoodpoverty,” came in third. Nestled between two foodie articles our April Fools spoof came second. As much as it nags me, I have to hold up my hands and thank Danny Kruger for being a good sport. He shared our joke, Boris to Replace Danny Kruger as Devizes MP.

We do love a spoof though, and given a lack of events, I had time to rattle some off, A Pictorial Guide to Those Exempt from Wearing a Facemask, Guide to Local Facebook Groups pt1 (never followed up) The Tiers of a Clown, Sign the Seagull Survey, Bob! and Danny featuring again in The Ladies Shout as I go by, oh Danny, Where’s Your Facemask?! all being as popular as my two-part return of the once celebrated No Surprises columns, No Surprises Locked Down in Devizes.

Perhaps not so popular spoofs were The World’s Most Famous Fences! and Worst Pop Crimes of the Mid-Eighties! But what the hell, I enjoyed writing them. 


On Other News and Miscellaneous Articles……

I was right though, articles about lockdown or how we’re coping were gratefully received, and during this time, a needed assurance we weren’t becoming manically depressed or found a new definition of bored. Devizes together in Lockdown, After the Lock Down, Wiltshire is not Due a second Lockdown, the obvious but rather than bleating on the subject, how we celebrated VE Day in Devizes & Rowde, the Devizes Scooter Club auctioning their rally banner for the NHS, Town Council raising £750 to support the Devizes Mayor’s Charities, DOCA Announce Next Year’s Carnival & Street Festival Dates, DOCA’s Window Wanderland, and a Drive-In Harvest Festival! to boot. Town Council making Marlborough High Street a safer place, all came alongside great hope things would change, and pestering why not: The State of the Thing: Post Lockdown Devizine and How We Can Help, Open Music Venues, or Do They Hate Art? Opinion: House Party Organiser in Devizes Issued with £10,000 Fine.

 If Who Remembers our First Birthday Bash? Saw me reminiscing, I went back further when raves begun to hit the news. Covered it with Opinion: The End and Reawakening of Rave, and asked old skool ravers Would you Rave Through Covid? But we also highlighted others not adhering to restrictions With Rule of Six and Effects on Local Hunting and Blood Sports, it was nice to chat with Wiltshire Hunt Sabs.

October

Controversy always attracts a crowd, but couldn’t help myself highlighting misdoings. From internet scams, like The Artist Melinda Copyright Scam, tolocal trouble, Rowde Villagers Rally in Support of Residential Centre Facility, for instance, Sheer Music’s MVT Open Letter to Government, Help Pewsey Mum on her Campaign to free her Children from Abduction, important stuff like that. We try to help where we can, honest.

Most controversial though, me thinks, was our poor attempt at coverage of the international BLM issue. I’ve been waffling enough already to get into how I feel personally; been writing this “summary” for what feels like eons, time to shut up and advise you read these articles yourself, because no matter how you fair on the argument, xenophobia affects us all, even in the sticks. We therefore had a chat with BLM in the Stix and did a three-part look at the issue, the third part a conclusion and the middle bit, well, that came in light of Urchfont Parish Council turning down a youth art display; what a pompous notion highlighting the issue on a local level.

But campaigns and fundraising came in thick and fast, despite nought cash in anyone’s pockets to follow them up. I understand, but we featured Go Operation Teddy Bear, Devizes Wide Community Yard Sale, Hero Wayne Cherry Back in Action! Lucie’s Haircut Fundraiser for the Little Princess Trust, Crusader Vouchers, Julia’s House Gameathon, Devizes for Europe launching “Say #YES2ARealDeal” campaign, and of course, our superheroine Carmella’s ongoing campaigns.

November


In conclusion….

It has, in conclusion, been a hectic year, without the need for live music reviews, though some might’ve been nice! Here’s to a better day. We reserve our right to support local arts, music, and business, whatever the weather, and pandemic. We offered you, on top of the aforementioned; Father’s Day; Keeping Ideas Local, Floating Record Shop Moored on Kennet & Avon, Devizes Town Band Comes to You for Remembrance and Zoom Like an Egyptian: Wiltshire Museum Half-Term Activities! to name but a few in the wake of our move to online events, although they’ll never stream as effectively as being pissed in a pub alcove unable to find the loo.

We also did our easy-reading list type features which are the trend; Top Twenty Local Music CDs For Christmas and Fairy-Tale of New Park Street; And Better Local Christmas Songs! I went on my Devizine Christmas Shopping Challenge, and tried to tweak the website to include podcasts to fund our musicians.

Yeah, that one is put on hold, I couldn’t do it as I saw able to, but it needs work and I’ve another plan up my sleeve, just takes a bit of planning is all, which I guess is why they call it a plan in the first fucking place! You did blag a Free Afro-Beat, Cumbia and Funk Mix out of the deal. Maybe I could do more, but upwards and onwards, Devizine is now operating as both international music zine and local affairs. I maybe could separate them, but this means building a new audience and starting over. I like it as it is, and besides, I’m open to feedback, love to hear what you reckon, and will promise to act on suggestions, which is more than I can say for this fucking, cockwomble-led government; just leave it there shall we?!

The only gripe is that I ask that you have to believe in what I’m trying to do and supply me with the news, what you’re doing, creating or getting narked about, else I don’t know about it; hacked off with Face-sodding-Book, see?

Sure, you could put your trust in a real journalist through all their generalizations and unbiased writings, and grammar errors, or you could try here, where we deliver more than just a pint of semi. Look now at the going back to school debate, you know, I know, we all fucking know, senior school kids can stay at home because they can look after themselves while parents go to work, whereas primary kids can’t, so have to go back to school. It has nought to do with the spread of the virus, and everything to do with what’s best financially, and that, my friends, is not only the way this government have applied regulations throughout, but also not the kind of truths you’ll be reading in the newspapers.

All hail Devizine then, please do; I’m trying my fucking best amidst the wankology of Britain’s governing regime. I’m planning to rock on for another year, trapped in Blighty with flag-waving, panic-buying tossers until we’re queuing for bread or waging war on France like the good old days, namely the dark ages, let’s see where it gets us; with or without loo roll.

No, I’m not bitter; just slightly narked at the difficulties made in making people laugh by these idiots, so I find it apt to aim my satirical guns at them.

December

808 Delavega; Contemporary Dancehall, Swiss Style.

Not to be confused with Howard Rosen and Jerry Gordon’s American jazz and blues record label of the same name, Evidence Music is a prolific contemporary reggae label with their recording studio in Geneva, Switzerland, but franchising and presenting many upcoming Jamaican artists. Ergo, while I’ve mentioned before the Swiss valuing archaic origins of reggae, with ska, rock steady and roots subgenres through labels like the fantastic Fruits Records, Helvetia also has a penchant for modern styles of Jamaica’s musical outpourings.

A decade prior to Bob Marley & The Wailers playing Zurich as part of their final Uprising tour, the presence of reggae was oven ready, in the seventies popular Swiss band Rumpelstilz produced Kiosk, with a definite reggae influence. Nowadays, the international market blends their own brand and traditions into reggae, and the Swiss are of no exception. Local artists Dodo and Jo Elle perform in the native tongue, and Zurich’s Rote Fabrik club plays a key role in promoting reggae.

Still though, back across the ocean reggae is never stagnant and rarely dabbles in retrospection. It’s progressive. I look now to Wellington Smart, aka selector Freddy Kruger’s Boot Boy Radio show after my own, to hear the latest trends via his label, Drop Di Bass and what I do hear is similar to Evidence Music’s DJ and producer 808 Delavega, on his self-titled debut album.

In tune with said progression, we’ve come along way from the nineties divide between dancehall and lovers, through the millennial cross-over inclination to include dancehall toasting in US RnB and hip-hop tracks, and we find ourselves today with a sound almost void of offbeat and one-drop riddims antiquatedly associated with the reggae of Marley’s heyday. An era where Damien Marley’s anthological dancehall is more important than his father’s. 808 Delavega embraces this, he’s passionate about hip-hop as well as dancehall, and founded Derrick Sound in the 2000s.

With Nicolas Maître and Nicolas Meury of Little Lion Sound, Derrick Sound was the mainstay for the formation of the Evidence Music label and it fast become Switzerland’s leading urban label. There the team involve themselves in a multitude of projects, 808 Delavega produces popular Jamaican artists such as Sizzla, Capleton, Morgan Heritage and Danitsa. Reflecting back on his excursions to Jamaica, he focussed on the innovative subgenres of afrobeat and trap to produce this fresh debut, and it’s certainly that.

I’m not going to suggest this is for everyone, our retrospective preconceptions of reggae persist, I’m suggesting forward-thinking youth, maybe already partly allied via current pop trends in dancehall which seen Sean Paul featured on a Little Mix track, et all. But in essence this is diverse, experimental, and underground, pulling the boundaries of RnB grind and dancehall even tighter. There can even be intros here which ring of eighties electro and electronica, and relics of garage house; imagine David Morales producing dancehall and you’re somewhere in the light of this interesting blend. How I think this works so well is the splinters of afro-beat, a beguiling genre I’m personally hot under the collar about.

Always held a penchant for dancehall too, though accepting the sparseness of the beats and uncompromising patois can sound alien to European and American audiences. 808 Delavega plays this down. The jargon is not misconstrued, and once the beat kicks in you’ll hear nothing of the of scarcity of millennial dancehall, but riddims which ride along smoothly, like RnB. Dancehall artists established and upcoming feature, yet even when legendary Beenie Man toasts on the subject of election violence, it adopts this ambiently slick tenet. It may be rather glossy but this breaths wide-appeal, beyond reggae aficionados.

Charly Black offers possibly the sparsest track, Eesah perhaps the most sensual. Throughout though it never frenzies and takes it mellowly and euphorically. So yeah, I like it (despite it makes mi waistline feel old!) for its innovativeness, and freshness.

808 Delavega album backlinks

Rocking Steady For Some Cosmic Shuffling?

Righty, a pop quiz question prior to today’s review, if you’re game? Look at the three people pictured below, which one of them influenced reggae music the most, A, B or C?

Answer: A. Did you guess right? Probably, because you know me well enough to know it was a trick question! C is Jamaican National team footballer, Allan “Skill” Cole, though as a close friend of Bob Marley he became the Wailers tour manager and was credited in co-writing some songs. And B is just Brad Pitt with a Bob Marley makeover for a biopic which has yet to see the light of day!

On the other hand, A is Sister of Mercy, Sister Mary Ignatius Davies, a teacher of Kingston’s vocational residential school, Alpha Cottage School, a school for “wayward boys.” A devotee of blues and jazz, she operated a sound system at the school and tutored many of Jamaica’s most influential musicians. As a musical mentor for graduates she dubbed “the old boys,” would later make up the backbone of The Skatalites, producer Coxsone Dodd’s inhouse band which shaped the very foundation of ska at Studio One.

The Skatalites in 1964

Here is the unrivalled benchmark of Jamaican music, as well as a plethora of instrumental ska classics, just like Booker T & the MGs were the inhouse band of Stax, The Skatalites backed more memorable singles from too many singers to sensibly name here, yes, including Bob Marley.

To suggest a ska band isn’t as good as Studio One’s Skatalites is not an insult, rather a compliment to even be mentioned in the same sentence. It’d be the rock equivalent of saying that guitarist isn’t as good as Jimi Hendrix. For all intents and purposes, Cosmic Shuffling are not a new Skatalites, but to find anyone to come close nowadays, you need not look further than Switzerland; yeah, you read that right.

Ska in Switzerland usually abbreviates Square Kilometre Array, the forefront organisation of fundamental science, with a mahoosive universe-scoping telescope. Yet I’ve discovered some stars of my own, creating some sublime ska music. While Skaladdin are strictly ska-punk, and the amazing Sir Jay & The Skatanauts are majorly jazz-inspired, there is a scene blossoming. Geneva based combo Cosmic Shuffling are ones to watch. With a penchant and dedication to the authentic golden age of Jamaican sounds, Cosmic Shuffling deserve a comparison to Skatalites more than anyone else I could roll off, even to note, they’re Fruits Record’s inhouse band.

After a few scorching singles on Fruits Records, Cosmic Shuffling release an album, Magic Rocket Ship, tomorrow, 13th November. Nine tracks strong, this is mega-ska bliss. Without the usual ethos of speed being the essence, this lends perhaps closer to rock steady, but prevalent horns give it that initial changeover between styles, when ska was slowing, due to curfew in Jamaica and a particularly sweltering summer. Rock Steady may’ve been short-lived but was reggae’s blueprint, ska’s successor and arguably the most creative period of Jamaican recorded music history.

If you’ve even a slight fondness for traditional ska and reggae, I cannot recommend this enough. At one point I felt the English lyrics slightly quirky, with wonky connotations perhaps lost in translation, albeit with a tune stimulated from a Dr Seuss character, namely The Cat in the Hat, I guess seriousness is not on the agenda. Neither are vocals wholly on show here, but the “tightness” of the band, making the composition of every tune simply divine. I can’t fault it, only jump and twist to it like it was going out of fashion! Which, by the way, in my world, it never will.

Magic Rocket Ship is both a tribute to Jamaican music and a breakthrough into the innovative world of the sextet. Recorded in the aesthetics of sixties sound; ribbon microphones, magnetic tapes and analogue saturation, by extraordinary Spanish producer Roberto Sánchez, it’s a delight to listen to. From it’s opening vocal title track, which doubles up as an explanation to the band name, to the fantastic instrumental up-tempo finale Eastern Ska, every tune is a banger.

Perhaps with Anne Bonny as the most subject worthy, Short Break the most romantically inducing, and Night In Palermo being the most sublimely jazzy, it’s clear with Magic Rocket Ship vocalist Leo Mohr, with Loïc Moret on drums, backing vocals and percussion, Mathias Liengme on piano, organ, backing vocals, percussion, Basile Rickli on alto saxophone, backing vocals, Anthony Dietrich Buclin on trombone, backing vocals and bassist Primo Viviani. With guest guitarists Roberto Sánchez, Josu Santamaria and Tom Brunt, Gregor Vidic on tenor saxophone, William Jacquemet on trombone and trumpeters Thomas Florin, and Ludovic Lagana, Cosmic Shuffling have set a new benchmark, mimicking those legendary Skatalites, without the help of a nun. At least, I don’t believe there was a nun involved!


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Shake a Leg this Christmas in Swindon with The Tribe, Showhawk Duo, and Brother From Another

With the beguling blend of hip hop and reggae, Swindon’s pride The Tribe are a force to be reckoned with. Always a lively show, they team up with a most original act you’ll see this millennium, the Showhawk Duo. Recreating rave classics acoustically, yes you read that right, they’re super amazingly awesome.

And not stopping there, local purveyors of funky reggae, the ever-entertaing Brother From Another are also invited to the Christmas Shake a Leg party at Swindon’s Meca.

It ’s been a crazy year to say the least and we all need a good ol’ knees up so we’d like to invite you to the Shake A Leg Christmas Party on 12th December.

This could be just what you need to liven up this terrible year.

Full production for the show; Amber Audio & Patch are providing sound, IC Lighting will be bringing the stage to life with a lighting show and OT Films will be streaming the event live.

Adhering to restrictions, there’s a limited capacity and table service for the show. Tables of up to five are £33. Over 18’s only.

Tuareggae; Bombino is the African Hendrix

In conventional record shops of yore, albeit some survived, you’d find the mainstream alphabetically presented, and it’d be a dare on to yourself to venture to separate genres. They were usually labelled thus; Reggae, Classical, Easy Listening, and World, perhaps Blues too. While some conveniently slip into a standardised genre, others must have had grey areas. But, surely the most diverse was “World,” as if every remaining country in the world except the one you live in, and probs America, sounds the same, and furthermore, you’d be some kind of beatnik pseudoscientist weirdo to even contemplate browsing there.

It’s all so vague, and without the music industry pushing, a minefield of guestimation. I was fairly young when I figured there’s a world of music we’re not exposed to, pop was the tip of an iceberg. I dipped my head under, but it was freezing with typecasts, impossible to know where to search to find something affable.

Today, and thank goodness, the internet is a universal reference library, there are no excuses for not thinking outside your geographical sphere. But with anything foreign to your ears, you need to unlearn your ingrained judgements, and listen with an open mind. Rarely something comes along so exclusive and diverse, but with a familiar element to comfort you.

On November 27th Partisan Records will release, Niger-born Tuareg guitar virtuoso Bombino’s first live album as a solo artist, Live in Amsterdam. I’ve had this unique marvel on play for a while now, and if you’re put off by the presumption any African music never relates to our rock music, this could be the introduction to a world outside said sphere.

The ingenious part of this album, other than the atmospheric quality of a live performance, and Bombino’s sublime proficiently with a guitar, is the rich musical palette. It rings with genres you’re accustomed to, shards of funky soul and reggae, which often come into play in African music, but the man, I swear to you now, is the African Jimi Hendrix, so bluesy rock is prominent.

Tuareggae is his self-penned, totally unique genre to define it. The “Tuar” part derives from his own people, the Tuareg people, a Berber ethnic confederation of nomadic pastoralists, which populate the Sahara in a vast area stretching from far southwestern Libya to southern Algeria, Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso. So, what we have here is principally a fusion of these accepted European and American genres with this brand of North African folk.

Just as a bhangra-pop hybrid now appeases western ears, Bombino has something which will placate any preconditioned aversion of African musical styles. In fact, the untrained ear might liken it something Eastern, or middle eastern at least, as it is spoken in Bombino’s native tongue. Note though, his on-the-record fans includes Keith Richards, Stevie Wonder, and Robert Plant, and if it’s good enough for them……

This album will not only challenge your presumptions, it’ll do so while drifting you on gorgeous a journey of musical greatness akin to any known bluesman. Bombino knows precisely what buttons to press to evoke a mood, it can drift down a river at times, it can explode into up-tempo funk, but its ambience is awe-inspiring throughout.

Recorded in November of 2019, while Bombino and his band were touring behind his acclaimed latest studio album Deran. Live In Amsterdam is dedicated to the loving memory of long time Bombino rhythm guitarist and vocalist Illias Mohamed Alhassane, who sadly and suddenly passed away in September. The recording, then, features Illias in his final performance with his ‘brothers’ in Bombino’s band. Yet, you need no background, not really, if you’re looking for something different, but with shards of something familiar, if you like either blues, reggae, rock or funk, or if you want to be taken on a musical journey beyond your usual perimeters, Bombino is your newfound gem. You don’t have to thank me, but you will; I’m here all week.


Bionic Rats, Alive in Dublin

A superb new live album from Dublin’s finest ska-reggae outfit, The Bionic Rats….

There’s some wonky logic in the character Jimmy Rabbitte’s bemusing outburst in The Commitments film, “The Irish are the blacks of Europe. And Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland. And the Northside Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin. So, say it once and say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud!” Persecuted before the slave trade, there are some intelligible contrasts between the oppressed races.

Still, the thought of Dublin conjures rock legends to outsiders of every decade, be it from Thin Lizzy to Skid Row and U2 to The Script. Diverse as any city though, if you thought the idea of music of black origin was the stuff of films, think again.

Far from a retrospective regression going through the motions of a bygone Two-Tone era, The Bionic Rats are an exciting, energetic reggae and ska six-piece from Dublin with a building collection of original and stimulating material. Even their band name, I suspect, is taken from a Black Ark tune, Lee Scratch Perry’s renowned studio. Yesterday they released a dynamic album doing their thing where they do it best, on stage, in their home city.

In a conclusively roots reggae inspired track, Red Gold and Green, frontman, Del Bionic lays down a chorus not so far fled from the Commitments quote, “reggae is talking about the things I bear witness to, on and off the Liffey quays. I’m not Jamaican, Dublin born and bred, I don’t wanna be a natty dread,” Though a bulk of the material here is upbeat ska, if it relates to a modern ska era, it borrows extensively from Two-Tone, particularly for it’s no bullshit attitude and social commentary. A component definingly reggae, or correlated to any plight of poverty and societal righteousness in general. It rings out the enduring message, reggae is universal.

Reggae often takes on board regional folk roots, be it influenced by, or using traditional instruments of that area, the recent surge in Balkan ska for example. Yet, the only local element the Bionic Rats take is said Irish bitter repartee and attitude within their subject matter.

Their sound is beguiling and directed towards the very origins of Jamaican pop music, and skanks to any highest region! The very reason why they’re a force to be reckoned with, internationally, having shared the stage with their mentors, Madness, Bad Manners, Horace Andy, Israel Vibration, Johnny Clarke and their aforementioned namesake, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, also opening for Damien Dempsey and Imelda May. A hit with the crowds at the One Love Festival in Sussex, London International Ska Festival, they’ve made the frontpage of eminent Do The Dog Skazine, Doc Marten’s used their song Dear John for an online campaign and they continue to skank the crowd at Dublin’s longest running reggae night ‘The Sunday Skank’ in the Temple Bar.

Ironically the 2009 debut album was titled Return of The Bionic Rats, and since three more albums have followed. The good news is, wonderful as their studio albums are, we can all now pretend we’re in the crowd of a Sunday Skank with this beauty of a recorded live show, and boy, do they give it some.

The premise is simple, as it is with ska. Lyrics often minor compared to offbeats and horns. Subject matter slight; between girls, lust, dancing, record buying and being rude, the Rats offer sentiments on prejudges, tyranny and oppression, but seldom will romance be on the cards. You may not be enchanted by The Bionic Rats, who describe this release as “perfectly capturing The Bionic Rats in all their sloppy greatness,” but your waistline will get a darn good workout.

While we’re tempted by the simplicity of the upbeat ska sound in danceable tracks like Annie Oakes, the sweary Bad Garda and the particularly well grafted tale of obsessive record buying, Hooked on 45s, there’s roots, like aforementioned Red, Gold & Green, and rock steady numbers such as prejudice themed Dear John. There’s no end of expected banter and comical themes, such as the English Beat sounding Girl with Big Hands. Then there’s that contemporary third-gen fashioned ska-reggae but wrapped in a no-bars-held cussing, of which titles speak for themselves; Twisted Little Bitter Little Fuckers, for example.

Such is the expected acrimonious nature of an Irish ska band; lap it up, it’s refined rudeness. Done too, with experience, The Bionic Rats rose from the ashes of Dublin-based reggae band, King Sativa, who were active on the scene from 1998 until their breakup in 2005. Their guitarist Graham Birney, and drummer Anthony Kenny moved over to the Bionic Rats. Like them, or not, I’m convinced they probably don’t give a toss, but going on this superb live album, you certainly can’t ignore them.

Alive in Dublin, out now, here.

Singer, Del Bionic also does a live streaming set every Sunday from Facebook at 9pm (GMT) well worth tuning in to: https://www.facebook.com/thebionicratspage/live/


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Island Bop with Shuffle & Bang

San Diego, California, 2018, King Pops Horn and son, Korey Kingston began on a musical partnership, merging Korey’s deep vested love for dub and reggae with his father’s tenure as a decorated traditional jazz singer.

Gathering a gang of musicians with resumes including savvy veterans from The Aggrolites, Rhythm Doctors, Suedehead, Brian Setzer Orchestra, The Original Wailers, Stevie Wonder and a pianist who plays organ for the San Diego Padres baseball team, they formed Shuffle & Bang.

Over multiple recording sessions taking two years, this unique musical journey culminated in an accomplished album, Island Bop. Pirates Press Records, partnered with the band’s own Jetsetter Records are ready to deliver this gem to the world on 6th November; everything about it suggests it’s right up my street and banging loudly on my door.

And it is, and it is loud. Dressed as a classic Blue Note jazz album, with indistinct band-in-action photo and simple capitalised font running down the left side, it comes exceptionally close to capturing the elegance of an era of definitive jazz and soul. Yet it drifts wildly between genres, a surprise to know what’s coming next in many ways, but often, perhaps, constituting a Jack-of-all-trades.

I mean this in the nicest way possible, to hit the benchmarks of such legendary epochs, to come close to all the variety of influences represented here in one shebang, from Blue Note to Stax and Studio One, is quite near impossible. You got to hand it to them for trying. For all it is worth, it is accomplished, highly polished and grand. It’s exceedingly entertaining and highly danceable, to boot! Just don’t let the cover art allow to run off with the idea you’ve stumbled upon a new Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going on.

At all times, no matter what subgenre it’s mimicking, it’s brash but not slapdash, flamboyant and proud. There’s minimal subtly of soul, delicately tight riffs of ska, and to cast it overall is to say it is akin to big band, as it’s in your face and won’t let you escape, even if you wanted to, which, you probably wouldn’t. Big Band does jump blues, ska, soul, and even by the end, dub reggae.

Yep, you heard it right; it ticks all the boxes. The opening song is a deep acapella with a booming Teddy Pendergrass fashioned soul voice, whereas the second sets the running theme as this big band panache. Taking the jazz end of a classic ska sound, the third tune dragged me onto the dancefloor, or my kitchen lino to be more precise; yep, I’m reviewing while washing the dishes again!

Switching back to Cab Calloway big band groove for a fifth song, it is perhaps the next which is most interesting to date, Naima maintains a big band style but serves it with a rock steady riff. Quickly as it does it, it shifts again, onto a shuffle rhythm with some killer horns, more Louis Jordan than T-Bone Walker.

Within the thirteen strong songs, the whole album is showy and that makes it rather magnificently inimitable, and because of this running big band ethos incorporating all the various styles, at no time does it jerk into an alternative genre, shudder the goalposts, rather surprisingly, they flow all rather splendidly.

It gets unpremeditated and rides the Ratpack train, with beguiling vocal gorgeousness, When I Take My Sugar to Tea, particularly, or a take of traditional ska like the Skatalites, but the next tune might again return to up-tempo swing. Given our Louis Jordan reference, the only recognisable cover is his Tympany Five’s Let the Good Times Roll, at least you think it is, until the end song.

If you figured this cover might act as a grand finale, prepare, because after a drum and cymbal interlude, the groove suddenly and without warning dubs. Yep, true dat; with a deep rolling bass and reverbs akin to King Tubby, and perhaps melodica to impersonate Augustus Pablo, we are treated to a divine dub of the Gorillaz’s Clint Eastwood. Although they’re calling it Drum Song.

The culmination forces you to hardly recognise the style at the beginning of the album, and to return to it might make you think, no, I want to go listen to some Sly & Robbie now instead. However, Island Bop will rest accustomed in a jazz, blues, soul or reggae record collection, and you will return to its gorgeous portrayals. For all its swapping and merging, yes, Island Bop is hard to pin down, but for eclectic jazz and soul fans, its refreshingly experimental and a damn good groove!


Man on the Bridge: Erin Bardwell teams up with ex-Hotknives Dave Clifton

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.

Dave Clifton

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.

Erin Bardwell

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!


The Bighead!

“The Truth is Hard to Find celebrates their unique but retrospective style with a passion for pop-reggae, an uplifting beat, chugging ska riff and beguiling two-tone vocal harmonies….”

Far from what the name suggests, and common generalisation of the genre, I found Northampton’s six-piece reggae/ska band, The Bighead, not in the slightest egotistical and very approachable! Thus, I’ll be spinning their tunes on Ska-ing West Country on Friday, and for the foreseeable future.

That said in this era where a plethora of bands like the Dualers and Death of Guitar Pop have breathed renewed energy and a fresh approach to the UK two-tone scene, which otherwise risked falling into a diehard cult of seniors on Lambrettas who spent their pension on a pair of cherry Doc Martins!

Though nothing with Bighead is as the frenzied ska blended with delinquent-filled punk of yore. They tend to flow maturely, with rocksteady and roots reggae, while attire the fashion akin to the two-tone era. I’ve no issue there, through the furious ska thrashings of The Specials, the downtempo Ghost Town is likely cited foremostly, and on the island of origination, the short rocksteady age between ska and reggae was undoubtedly the most creative musical period in Jamaican history.

Seems while previous decades hugged youth cultures which devoted to a sole variety of Jamaican music, newly formed bands, like Bighead in 2008 by Da Costa, follow a similar ethos as what we discussed when Trevor Evans’ Barbdwire came to Devizes Arts Festival. They select the benefits and choosiest elements of ska, rocksteady and all subgenres of reggae, and fuse them with sublime results.

There’s a plentiful gap to fill, and it’s all trilbies and shades for Bighead. Their May single, The Truth is Hard to Find celebrates their unique but retrospective style with a passion for pop-reggae, an uplifting beat, chugging ska riff and beguiling two-tone vocal harmonies, signifying an optimistic new era for the old genre. In contrast, the other two brilliant tunes Da Costa kindly emailed me, Step Up and Try Me Again, rely on roots reggae and doo-wop rocksteady respectively.

The Bighead are no strangers to the festival and club circuit, have headlined and supported original 2-Tone acts such as the Beat, The Selector, Bad Manners and a 2013 show with Madness. They’ve played over Europe and are regulars on the Berlin Reggae scene.

So, polish your boots, snap on your braces and follow Bighead; not that I should really be flattering a band who are already self-confessed big heads!


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The Scribes: Totem Trilogy

Getting snowed under here at Devizine Towers, but speedily need to push this to top priority, ahead of tonight’s (Saturday 12th) gig at Salisbury’s Winchester Gate from Bristol hip hop outfit, The Scribes. I whopped up a quick preview of the event, but as I pressed publish an email popped up with their latest EP The Totem Trilogy Part 1, made in collaboration with Chicago raised producer Astro Snare. Should fans of UK hip hop hear it, they’d be planning to head to the Gate for this free gig, by hook or by crook.

The Scribes are a multi-award-winning hip hop three piece based in Bristol consisting of lyricist/multi-instrumentalist Ill Literate, rapper Jonny Steele and beatboxer Maestro Lacey. In 2013 they signed with US label Kamikazi Airlines, co-owned by Dizzy Dustin of legendary hip hop act Ugly Duckling and released two albums, The Sky Is Falling and The Scribes Present Ill Literature worldwide to critical acclaim, garnering the group a sponsorship deal with ethical clothing company THTC, alongside artists such as Ed Sheeran and Foreign Beggars.

By 2016 they had signed with Reel Me Records, releasing a sonically challenging 16-track album which thrived on a perfected blend of poignant lyricism, A Story All About How, and the apocalyptic concept album, Mr Teatime & The End Of The World, winner of the UndergroundHH.com “Concept Album of The Year” award. Last year The Scribes received global recognition, upon releasing Quill Equipped Villainy, featuring Akil the MC from Jurassic 5, TrueMendous and Leon Rhymes from Too Many T’s.

My personal affection for the genre though, goes back to the old skool. Prepped by Kraftwerk’s influence on eighties electronica, rolled with Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte’s production on Donna Summer’s I Feel Love, and still nothing equipped me for the eureka moment I first heard Afrika Bambaataa’s Planet Rock, on a journey to Asda in my Dad’s Cortina! Only lingering in the underground less than a year, the US hip hop and breakdancing movement swept the UK, and it was inevitable we’d develop our own brand.

As hip hop spread through the States it distorted to hackneyed fashion far from the original blithe ethos of revelry. Pretentious bling, hoes and pimping one’s ride, and of course gangland rivalry were never on the original agenda. While some during the later eighties, like De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, strived away from this tenet, recapturing hippy, carefree roots, the east-coast/west coast rivalry and vehement bravura dominated and hallmarked the modern preconception of hip hop.

Meanwhile, by a method akin to rock n roll some twenty years prior, the place to hunt for creative and innovative progression of the genre was neither east nor west coast, but here in the UK.

Because hip hop was never supposed to be uniform, shaped by urban multiculturism it’s naturally a melting-pot of genres and an experimentation in fusion, always has been. Given Caribbean roots and common affection for reggae, it’s inevitable those influences would have a profound effect on UK hip hop.

Full-circle in actual fact, considering pioneer of the genre, Kool Herc was a young Jamaican NY immigrant with a sound system, who altered from dub to disco and funk as residents didn’t favour reggae. And, in a nutshell, and to wrap up my waffling, that’s precisely why I love this EP; it’s like The Scribes dipped a colander into said melting pot, and extracted only the very best ingredients.

It’s a non-commercial, bundle of heavy beats not relying on a single subgenre. Opening with I’m Back, for example, fresh, dripping with early east coast scratching and rapping. Yet Mighty Mighty follows, leaning on dub akin to Roots Manuva with brass, subs and a contemporary dogmatic theme comparable to Silent Eclipse, albeit this was divergent towards John Major’s government (apologies for my archaic comparisons, it’s an age thing!)

By the third tune we’re back to nonchalant fun with Rock This; I’m in awe, this is lyrically composed with a witty genius parallel to the Fu-Schnickens. Heart Breaks though swaps back to east coast; sublime rap harmony with a R&B slant, pensive piano chops and soaring strings with a definitive Bristol angle, as if a Tribe Called Quest came out of St Pauls!

Keep Bouncing ends the ride, and I’m left pondering Dizzee Rascal’s influence, yet tougher, as Rodney P, this is fresh, possibly the most marketable sound given today’s impact on the scene. The Totem Trilogy Part 1 is the first of a 3 EP series featuring the stunning artwork of renowned illustrator Chris Malbon. The absolutely gorgeous cover designs of the 3 EPs will link together to form one image of the titular totem. With guest vocals from both AstroSnare himself and founding father of the UK hip hop scene MC Duke, here, clearly, is something imminent, a rise of The Scribes, a method grasping an evolution for UK hip hop, yet firmly aware of its roots and unafraid to exploit them.

http://www.quillequipped.com

http://www.facebook.com/scribesmusic

http://www.instagram.com/thescribes

A Modern Reggae Classic: Wonderland of Green

On first hearing Wonderland of Green, I was like, yeah, that’s as sweet as a sugarcane field. But it’s moreish; every listen it approves all elements, everything I love about reggae, and why I love it.

Fruits Records may be based in Switzerland, but their dedication to authentic Jamaican roots reggae is paramount. This latest release featuring the Silvertones is a prime example, a sublimely balanced one-drop riddim with all the hallmarks of reggae’s golden era; the roots sound of the seventies, Black Ark, the legendary studio of Lee “Scratch” Perry, and the Roots Radics rub-a-dub riddims of the early eighties. These traditional styles echo through this 7” EP; the heavy bass, the offbeat guitar riff, and the traditional female backing vocals as passed into mainstream by the Wailers’ I-Threes.

Yet it also pounds contemporary at you too, fresh sounding, with a version, Living In A Wonderland, toasted by Burro Banton, an incredibly gritty-voiced DJ popular in the late eighties and nineties dancehalls of Jamaica. Even the subject matter of Wonderland of Green is timeless, as it suggests, it’s earthy and ecological, a tenet inherent in Rastafarians long before it became trendy.

The band behind the riddim is the 18th Parallel. Produced, composed and arranged by Antonin Chatelain, Léo Marin and Mathias Liengme, and recorded at Geneva’s Bridge Studio by Liengme. There’s an instrumental on the flipside, and an extra killer dub mix by French wizard Westfinga, who retains the retrospective ethos using the traditional dub values set by King Tubby.

Burro Banton

But what makes it so thoroughly beguiling is the vocals by The Silvertones. A legendary vocal harmony trio from the early ska era, originally, Keith Coley, and Gilmore Grant, with Delroy Denton joining early in their career. Delroy’s individual baritone and guitar skills saw him quickly become the frontman. Though he migrated to the States and was replaced by Joel “Kush” Brown.

Though the only remaining member is Keith, who takes lead, that’s just technicalities, as the modern line up rests with Norris Knight and Nathan Skyers on harmonies, both of whom have solo careers in their own right.

Westfinga & The 18th Parallel’s Wonderland of Dub

Recording at Coxsone Dodd’s Studio One, they interestingly triumphed in Jamaica with their debut single, a ska re-creation of Brook Benton’s “True Confession,” a track producer Duke Reid would also have the early Wailers record, but the Silvertones is indisputably more poignant. They also recorded under guises The Gold Tones, The Admirals, but most popularly as The Valentines, prevalent with the skinhead’s ska revival era was a tune called “Blam Blam Fever,” denouncing the rude boy’s gun culture.

The Silvertones

Through the late sixties they enjoyed success recording for Reid’s Treasure Isle label and Clancy Eccles, as vocal harmonies became more significant during the rock steady era. Yet their dominant period was the early seventies when they stepped into the converted carport which was Black Ark.

The eccentric amplifier genius, Lee “Scratch” Perry is renowned for getting the best out of any artist, he shaped the way we view Bob Marley & The Wailers. With penchant for outlandish, heavyweight psychedelic sound testing, he was the experimentalist who would pave the way for dub pioneers like King Tubby.

Historically then, Wonderland of Green slips right in as if it’s been there all along, but prominent now with its environmental subject matter, it’s gorgeous. I look forward to blasting it on my Boot Boy Radio show this Friday, maybe blending versions together, even if they’re live from the Skinhead Reunion, and who’s punters would favour boss reggae!

Wonderland of Green is newly released this week, as download, or on regular black wax 7” vinyl and on a beautiful limited and numbered picture sleeve edition with opaque dark green vinyl; how apt!

Streaming: http://hyperurl.co/wonderlandofgreen

Vinyl records: https://fruitsrecords.bandcamp.com/album/wonderland-of-green


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Two Man Ting Bring Sunshine to the Southgate Today

Winding up their “mini tour,” after last night’s gig at Salisbury’s Winchester Gate, world/reggae duo, Two Man Ting appear at Devizes Southgate for an afternoon session from 4 to 6pm.

Midlands Jon Lewis and Sierra Leonian Jah-Man Aggrey, are a branch of world dance collective Le Cod Afrique, who play a cheerful combination of multicultural roots-pop. A welcome addition to the Southgate’s continuing mission to provide a diverse range of live music to Devizes; and a grand job they’re making of it!

With Aggrey’s bright, chatty vocals and bongos, and Lewis’s acoustic guitar picking, this promises to be something great and wholly different around these waters. They’ve done the festival scene from Womad and Glasto to the Montreux Jazz Festival & Glastonbury, and their acclaimed album “Legacy” has been much featured on BBC Radio 3 & BBC 6 Music.

Should be a good ‘un!

From The Specials; Neville Staple Band in Lockdown

Photos by John Coles
Artwork by Sugary Staple

If last year’s fortieth anniversary of Two-Tone Records saw an upsurge of interest in this homegrown second-generation ska, it shows no sign of flawing anytime soon. Perhaps you could attribute parallels to the social and political climate of our era, or debate intransigent devotees are reliving their youth, but I’d argue it’s simply an irresistible sound.

One thing our eighties counterparts didn’t have to contend with was the Covid19 pandemic, and musicians of every genre are reflecting on it. Ska is of no exception, we’ve seen many contemporary performers releasing new material on the subject, but here we have a legend doing his thing, topically.

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The Neville Staple Band releases this timely single, Lockdown. A dynamic modern-sounding reggae track, yet encompassing all the goodness of the Two-Tone era of yore. Understandable, original rude boy Neville Staple is conversant with this, a founder member and co-frontman of The Specials, Fun Boy Three and Special Beat. Those influences shine through here. There’s something very Fun Boy Three about this tune, with a slice of poetically-driven Linton Kwesi Johnson to its feel.

As true as the song suggests, in lockdown Dr Neville Staple has teamed up with wife Sugary Staple, to pump out this relevant single, commonly reflecting on the feeling of many concerning the virus and staying safe. “Sugary came up with the idea to write a song about the lockdown,” Neville explains, “which, at first, was a very fast-stomping ska track. We then realised that it was too fun and happy a tune for the theme. Most of us have been quite down about the whole virus thing, so we decided to take it on a more sweet but moody 2Tone reggae route, in a similar vein to ‘Ghost Town’, with some music we had worked on previously with Sledge [Steve Armstrong.]”

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While I detect echoes of Ghost Town, this tune also breathes originality and present-day freshness, confirming progression of the genre rather than a frequently supposed nostalgia. Being a local site, some may recall his visit to Melksham’s ParkFest last year, where an unfortunately damp evening didn’t stop the revelling, and Neville stole the show with an assortment of Two-Tone classics. I was backstage with the wonderful support band Train to Skaville. A chance meeting with Neville, when he popped out of his tent for pizza, humourlessly failed to engage long enough to explain who I was, and ended with him pointing at his pizza-box and saying “yeah, I’m going off to eat this.” I should’ve known better than to harass a legend when their pizza is chilling in drizzle! I nodded my approval, knowing I’d have done the same thing.

Neville was awarded an honorary doctorate from Arden University last year. With a tour, and so many international shows and festivals postponed, the couple decided to do a lot of extra charity work as well as new song writing. DJ recordings for people sick in hospitals or in isolation, personally dedicated to them, was just the start. Sugary and Neville wanted to highlight the work of Zoe’s Place, a charity run for terminally ill babies and toddlers. As ambassadors for this charity, Sugary expressed, “charities like these really do suffer at a time like this, as the focus is on other things. But the work they do at Zoe’s Place is like one of a kind and so very special. They step in when families really do need the support, providing 24-hour high quality, one-to-one palliative, respite and end-of-life care for children aged 0-5 years. A heart-breaking time for anyone involved. We must not lose a charity like this – it is too important and so we will be supporting this, along with other charities we are patrons or ambassadors to, with this single.” And the duo dedicates this song to all those who have been affected by Covid-19.