Erin Bardwell Gets Organised

A new album released yesterday from Swindon’s premier reggae keyboardist and producer Erin Bardwell made me contemplate a section of Henri Charrière’s book Papillon. The autobiographical account of a fellow no prison or penal colony can seem to keep incarcerated. There’s a point where Papillon deliberately causes a disturbance in order to be put in solitary confinement. He claims he prefers it to the regular cells, because away from the other inmates, alone in pitch darkness he can reimagine, practically hallucinate and relive his better days.

For the concept of the album and accompanying film Get Organised is largely reminiscing and reflecting on his past. Possibly, I suspect, due to age becoming, the fact this marks a thirtieth anniversary of the formation of his heyday two-tone band, The Skanxters, but largely due to lockdown.

Myself, lockdown has been parttime. I’ve worked throughout, galivanting through the villages, meeting early morning risers, and it’s all been much the same as it ever was, just cannot nip t’ pub, or see family living out of the area. Which is frustrating at times, but I accept it’s not as bad as those shielding and self-isolating; that would’ve driven me insane my now. It’s common in isolation to consider one’s life and recollect, but Erin does it over a reggae beat; and I approve!

We’ve been here before; this is not Erin’s first reflection of lockdown. Pre-pandemic he directed a collective who were pushing new boundaries in rock steady. But April last year saw the solo release of Interval, a deeply personal reflection and mind-blowingly cavernous concept album, diving into the psyche and exploring past events; scarce formula for reggae.

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Yet Erin’s style is such; relished in unconformity, individualism and freethinking, factors which make it so utterly unique it’s hard to compare. It’s this standout signature which Erin stamps on all projects, be them solo, as the Collective, or side projects such as the experimental dub of Subject A with Dean Sartain, or The Man on the Bridge project with ex-Hotknives Dave Clifton, which defines the very sound of reggae in Swindon and puts it on the skanking map. If there was a skanking map, which I wish there was!

Whereas Interval’s morose mood merged styles through experimentation, some often out of the confines of reggae, be they jazz, ambient and space rock, Get Organised will wash better with the matured skinheads, scooterists and Two-Tone aficionados, for it sits with more golden era reggae, particularly of the sixties Trojan “boss” reggae epoch. They tend to know what they like, and favour tradition over risky and radical progressions.

In this notion too it’s sprightlier and more optimistic than Interval, a result of vaccinations and this “roadmap” out of lockdown, perhaps; The Erin Bardwell Trio booked for a gig at Swindon’s Victoria on 1st July. Though at times there’s still the thoughtful prose Erin is fashioned for, reflecting the effect of lockdown. The lyrics of Eight O’clock, for example, which notes despite the usually lively nightlife at this time, the town is quiet.

The Erin Bardwell Collective

They’re all sublimely crafted pieces, the title track’s mellow riff nods to Lee Scratch Perry’s middling Upsetters period with something akin to a tune like Dollar in the Teeth. And in that, we have to consider the great producers of rockers reggae for comparisons, rather than the artists. Aforementioned Perry, but of Niney the Observer, of Harry J too, and Get Organised subtly delves into dub, so I guess King Tubby also. Yet the opening tune reminded me of the earlier, legendary producer Duke Reid.

Erin has the proficiency to cherry-pick elements from reggae’s rich history, effectively merge them and retain this said signature style. The Savoy Ballroom has the expertise keys of Jackie Mittoo, with the vaudeville toytown sound of Madness. That said has opened another Pandora’s box, as Two-Tone also has a significant influence on Get Organised, naturally. The grand finale We Put on that Show is reflective of the era, along the lines of the steady plod of Do Nothing rather than the frenzied ska of Little Bitch, if we’re going to make a Specials contrast, which I think is apt.

Equally, you’re going to love this if, like me, you cite the debut album Signing Off, as UB40’s magnum opus rather than their following pop covers, or just if you’re looking for something different from the norm.

These recollections are visualised in a half-hour video, making it more poignant. It’s a scrapbook film, with homemade clips of The Skanxters setting up or driving to a gig, footage I’d expect to have been largely unseen until now. There’s also a montage of memoirs chronicling Erin’s career, as the camera pans across gig posters, bus tickets, vinyl and press cuttings. Though far from documentary, the sound plays out the album, the material an aid to the songs, and a fascinating art project to accompany it.

 “A second solo album wasn’t really part of the plan,” Erin explains, “but with the current climate as it is, I still found myself coming up with music and songs. These tunes started following a theme, that led to a film idea, and the sounds and visuals grew together influencing each other.”

The point in the early nineties, when the Skanxters were the pride of Swindon’s two-tone scene is captured well, and while those on the circuit, or even living locally then, will love recognising the many memoirs, anyone into the scene at the time will thoroughly enjoy this outing. Overall, though, Erin continues to break boundaries, and this album is a blessing and pleasure to listen to, alone from its narrative and meaning, as all good reggae should.


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Decatonics to take Devizes to Skaville!

Designing the posters for the Devizes Scooter Club came to the peak of absurdity with this one for the latest event on the 30th March, and I feel I may need tone down the experimentation a tad. Still, I think it stands out from the run-the-mill event poster; in the words of Mike the Cool Person, “I never stand on convention, it never stood on me.”

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But I cannot deny, with a bombardment of highly anticipated local gigs this coming month, I’m looking forward to this one perhaps, the most. We’ve seen a few Northern Soul and Motown nights of recent from the Scooter Club, and while my eclectic taste appreciates these along with the plethora of other gigs lined up on my calendar, you still can’t, in my opinion, beat a bit of ska.

This will reflect well against the forthcoming Scooter Rally, as while a weekend-long event will provide scope for the club to parade all relevant genres, there’s a truckload of ska to be heard. Orange Street headlining will be one to watch, while Swindon’s The Tribe mesh ska with hip hop beats, and other local outfit The Erin Bardwell Collective will simmer in some rock steady. Essex’s finest, The Start are not averse to playing ska, and I’m sure, given the nature of the event that the Day Breakers will blast a two-tone classic or three. Of course, Bad Manners tribute Special Brew take as red.

Confident in the statement international third-gen ska is regenerating the old Two-Tone scene here in England, is evident in the success of groups like the Dualers. Call it cliché, say yeah, diehard skins don’t know when to give it up, but there’s something in that joyous offbeat which makes you want to jump and skank.

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So put your braces together, your boots on your feet, and allow me to introduce this prodigious booking, Dorset’s eight-piece ska band, The Decatonics. It promises to be a blinding night at the Devizes Conservative Club. The band, formed in 2012 have indeed supported the aforementioned Dualers, along with The Skatelites, The Neville Staple Band and Bad Manners.

An established 8-piece female-fronted ska band, The Decatonics are constructed of bassist Rowan, two Steves, one on keys and the other on drums, an energetic backline and powerful horn section of Mike on tenor sax, Harry on trumpet and alto sax, and Ian on trombone. They’re fronted by two adept vocalists who compliment one another; Shaun, also on lead guitar and Sally, who I’ve been chatting with. I started by asking her how long they’d been together and if the members were the same original line-up.

“The bass and I, and the lead brass, are original, with our drummer being with us for five years,” she explained, “but as with any large band, changes are inevitable along the way.”

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“Is it all covers, or have you any original songs recorded?” I asked Sally.

“We do just cover songs,” she sustained, “but try and give our own little flair, and being female-fronted we get to play a more diverse set than your standard ska covers band.” No issue there, in retrospective glory, cover songs make the night at the Scooter Club. Not forgoing, Sally mentioned that since 2017, The Decatonics have been part of a Specialised Project, recording tracks for a CD. I saw my opening, boasted of my newfound show on Boot Boy Radio and blagged two tunes to play on the show next week!

The first song a Trojan hit in the UK, Bob & Marica’s up-tempo Pied Piper, proves their ability to sprinkle a joyous contemporary ska riff to a boss reggae classic, but the second hoists up that skill, with a concentrated ska adaption of the Jam’s Standards.

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The Decatonics draw influences from both original Jamaican ska, bluebeat, and its new-wave Two-Tone, but also from successors rock steady and reggae. They even accommodate soul in the melting pot, bringing a vibrant live show which has built up a great reputation with the entire mod/scooter scene rather than just ska aficionados. Do not expect third generation punk experimentation, but a suitable English ska sound popularised by Madness and The Beat.

With a strong following through regular pub and club gigs, and festivals such as the Big One Weekender Festival, Dorset Volksfest, The Dorset Steam Fair and Teddy Rocks under their belt, I’m certain they’ll transport their astounding party atmosphere to our already lively Devizes Scooter Club nights.

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Tickets are a tenner, by messaging the Devizes Scooter Club Facebook page, from Vinyl Realm, Jefferson’s Café, or from the Devizes Cons Club direct. As usual there will be a raffle, and I believe it’s me warming up the crowd on the wheels of steel, like a musical fluffer; but don’t let that put you off! The club ascertain everyone is welcome, not just members. Think of this as an opportunity to taste what you might bear witness to at the forthcoming Rally in July, oh and to have a good knees-up too!

 

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Devizes Scooter Club’s Grand BBQ

All images used with kind permission of Ruth Wordly

@ MoongypZy Creative Photography

 

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If last weekend in Devizes belonged to rockers, as the Sports Club shook by the awesome Saddleback Festival, it was small mercies for the Mods this Saturday as Devizes Scooter Club hosted a more moderately proportioned charity BBQ day, which wasn’t without equal summer fun and frolics.

The corner of Hillworth Road and Long Street became a haven for scooter enthusiasts, who’d travelled from far and wide, and local lovers of soul, reggae and ska who gathered outside the Conservative Club to raise some funds for the Devizes and District Opportunity Centre.

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How much was raised at this tender morning moment (at the time of writing this on Sunday) is unconfirmed, majority of organisers I’d wager are taking a fully-earned rest, if not nursing a sore head!

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I’ll let you know the grand total as soon as I get some feedback, but cake stall helper Paula told me she’d sold twice as many as last year’s family fun day, as husband Andy, whose task it was to man the barbeque looked vacantly into space through sheer tiredness. “I reckon he’ll be flipping burgers in his sleep,” I imagined.

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The bar and garden packed out by lunchtime, extending to the car park, which converted into a showroom of lamberttas and vespas, with an added parts stall. As enthusiasts admired each other’s “hairdryers,” their families enjoyed the plethora of side stalls, the hall of bouncy things (castle and a Gladiators-styled battle arena) and the quality music.

Contrary to their name, Swindon’s Daybreakers turned up early afternoon. Thank heavens I figured, lesson learned that day; a cider breakfast does no good when attempting to operate a mixer. Thanks to Tony who danced around me doing all the technical wizardry and gave our musical show a voice.

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By 2pm The Daybreakers were off, with no one willing to stop them they revved through a glut of benchmark early 80s pop, the likes of the Specials and Dexy, to sublime renditions of crusty rock, such as the Levellers. Wherever Cath, Gouldy and gang land there’s guaranteed to be a blinding show and today was no exception.

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An awesome team effort blessed the event with an uncompromising community spirit. From face-painted kids guessing names of teddies, shooting footballs and munching cake, to adults estimating the weight of a ham, shooting down beers and munching burgers, a village fete atmosphere ensued with a retrospective, hedonistic angle, as opposed to being all vicars and teacakes on the lawn.

By late afternoon Chippenham duo, Blondie & Ska had pitched inside and began their dazzling show; a precise Blondie tribute meshed with other two-tone classics in a style as if Debbie Harry would’ve covered them. They made a fantastic sound for just a duo and relished every minute despite fatigue setting in with the punters, who tended to loiter outside to begin with.

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With most exhausted from the day’s affairs already, it took a while for the show to push the audience into gear, hangers-on remained in the shadows of the garden to begin with, or those with families retired home with worn-out youngsters. I thought it a shame the club could’ve shown how we welcome acts as good as Blondie & Ska, but the thought abruptly ceased as the evening took hold and sweltering members graced that dance floor.

I offered a rock steady break for the band, but dancers yearned for some Northern Soul, so that’s what I did. Then Blondie & Ska continued and took us to into to the close. If you need more of these guys, or if you missed this thoroughly enjoyable show, I strongly advise you check out future gigs on their website. Closest to us, is The Wroughton Club on August 11th, The Royal Oak Corsham the day after, and the Gladstone Road Club in Chippenham on October 27th.

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As for the Daybreakers, well they’re never to be missed. Catch them again for an afternoon in Devizes, when they’ll be at Vinyl Realm on August 4th, and check their Facebook page for an extensive gig guide.

Back to the BBQ Day though, it was in observing the quantity of people gathered, and their enjoyment of the day which gave me both enormous optimism for a very successful Scooter Rally next summer, and a pride in our small town’s Scooter Club, where everyone contributed a gallant effort to ensure a grand day out was had by all, most laboured until they dropped, notwithstanding, some money was raised for our preschool for children with disabilities and learning difficulties. So full steam ahead for the Scooter Club now, as tickets for a brilliant sounding, soultastic Motown-eske band, All That Soul, are now on sale at the Cons Club, Jeffersons and Vinyl Realm.

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