A new reggae compilation from Bristol Archive Records documents the western part of the UK’s reggae scene in the late 70s up until the end of the 80s.
Bristol Roots Explosion draws heavily on two previously released compilation – The Bristol Reggae Explosion 1978-1983 and it’s slightly newer follow-up The Bristol Reggae Explosion 2 – The 1980s. And all but two cuts are from those albums.
The new additions include The Rhythmites’ uptempo Nation Integration – available on their recently reissued album Integration – and the super rare single Ethiopia Revelation by Big Roy, one of the first Bristol reggae artists to be recorded. As his name suggest he is heavily inspired by both I Roy and Big Youth and judging by the sound its producer obviously liked Augustus Clarke.
The most well-known act on Bristol Roots Explosion is probably Talisman, and they are featured with the single mix of Dole Age, but they also make a second appearance with Culture, but this track was recorded when they called themselves Revelation Rockers.
The best cut on this compilation is however Restriction’s pulsating and funky Calling For Mercy complete with superb verses by an uncredited deejay that rides the riddim like the stylistically superior Lone Ranger.
The Bristol Roots Explosion is leaner and meaner compared to both volumes of The Bristol Reggae Explosion. It focuses on raw and unpolished roots.
UK veteran reggae band Talisman reunited last year for the powerful and solid I-Surrection, a slice of roots reggae that sounded like it had been originally recorded more than 30 years ago.
This set has now been properly dubbed by David “Oldwah” Sandford. He has taken the original tracks and reshaped and rebuilt them to something new, but still very much vintage sounding.
This is not your slick and clean dub album. This is warm and easy. Most of the vocals is removed and the parts remaining have been thrown in the echo chamber.
The emphasis is of course on the drums and on the bass. The latter comes in a heavier dose compared to the original album. The guitar, organ and keyboard float on top with the singing dropping in, out and the in again.
Definitely a fine slice of authentic and vintage sounding dub that is currently only available as digital download.
Several roots reggae outfits in the UK have reunited in recent years. Black Roots in 2012 and Talisman 2013. Both bands also managed to put out strong albums.
Another UK reggae band that was originally formed in the 70s and recently reunited is Black Slate. This London-based band started out by backing visiting Jamaican giants like Ken Boothe, Dennis Brown and Delroy Wilson. Between 1979 and 1985 they dropped seven albums as well as a signature hit – Amigo, a track that managed to reach top ten on the UK singles chart.
Midnight is their ninth album and the first album in almost 20 years. It was released earlier this year with only a few taking notice I believe.
The album features eleven tracks, of which two are dub excursions. The audio quality is unfortunately below par and a number of tracks sound plastic and dull, especially a romancing cut like Your Love.
There are however a few gems here. No Justices for the Poor borrows from Bob Marley’s No Woman No Cry in the chorus, which makes it rather cathcy and memorable, and Incidents almost sounds like Dennis Brown in his prime.
A decent album, but not nearly as great as the sets from other recently reunited UK reggae bands.
Talisman have – just as their Bristolian roots reggae contemporaries Black Roots – re-united and recorded solid new album.
I-Surrection is the band’s third long player and comes almost 30 years after their debut album Takin’ the Strain. They reformed in 2011 and have been honing their craft on the road ever since.
The material is written by two of the original core members and the album comes with six vocal cuts along with corresponding dub versions. The set is produced by David Hill from Rootikal Productions, and he is also responsible for the dub mixes, even though most of them are more like instrumentals. The mixing wizardry is toned down and the live instrumentation speaks for itself.
The arrangements are sparse and the bass is put at front row and throughout the six socially conscious roots anthems Talisman fight against oppression and ignorant politicians. Much has happened in the world since the band’s debut album, but the struggle and some of the problems remain the same.
Talisman’s music has also remained the same. I-Surrection could very well have been recorded in the late 70s or early 80s. The only difference is the audio quality.
Bristol Archive Records has during the last year or so issued a bunch of heavyweight early UK roots gems, albums and tunes long forgotten, but well worth reissuing.
Their latest finding is Talisman’s debut studio album Takin’ the Strain, originally put out in 1984, and now released with five extra live cuts – one of which is previously unreleased. The CD version also comes with a booklet full of archive images and extensive liner notes based on the recollections of lead vocalist and guitarist Dehvan Othieno Sengor.
Talisman begun their musical journey in 1976 and started out under the name of Revelation Rockers, an outfit who recorded five tunes in the 70’s, actually recently released by Bristol Archive Records under the title Jah Praises.
Revelation Rockers’ set was jam-packed with powerful roots reggae, while Talisman’s debut album leans more towards pop, soul and funk.
Takin’ the Strain hasn’t aged with dignity, mostly due to synthesizer arrangements that expired in the mid 80’s. The funky proto-rap Burn the Bread and the video game sounding I’m Sorry are two tunes best left in the drawer.
Among the 14 tracks there are however several highlights, such as the title track and Ah Wah You Seh, even though I can’t forgive the quirky synthesizers.
The sound quality on the five live workouts isn’t great, but the nine minute long unreleased Slow Poison shows a creative band capable of jamming.
This might not be the best reissue from the Bristol Archive camp, but I celebrate their strive to dig out long lost music, even though some single tunes on this particular album might have been better left forgotten.
Most reissues that I’ve come across are new issues of already released albums or collections of hard to find singles. It’s a rare occasion when a label presents an album recorded way back, but not released. But Bristol Archive Records has done just that.
Jah Praises contains five previously recordings dating from 1979 by a group called Revelation Rockers, who would soon form the more well-known outfit Talisman.
This album is something of a time capsule and deals with the realities of life in 70’s Britain, a time of racism, mass unemployment, industrial unrest and poverty. A reality not far from today with riots and financial constraints around the world.
The cultural lyrics are accompanied by sparse arrangements with ruthless bass lines, a lonesome saxophone, keys, guitar, drums and fine tuned harmonies. And the relentless grooves hit you hard. Straight in the chest.
Each tune also clocks in over five minutes and evolves into an instrumental or dub exercise.
It’s a rare event to come across an entire lost reggae album, and this album should of course have been released in the late 70’s. And Bristol Archive Records has done the right thing to put it out more than three decades after it was recorded. It was long overdue, but well worth the wait.
Jah Praises drops on March 5 on LP and digital download.
February saw the release of the heavyweight compilation The Bristol Reggae Explosion 1978-1983. That compilation included three Talisman tunes – Run Come Girl (live), Wicked Dem (live) and an eleven minute long 12” version of Dole Age that wetted the appetite.
Other versions of these together with eight additional tunes are collected on the new Talisman compilation Dole Age – The 1981 Reggae Collection put out by Bristol Archive Records.
These 11 tracks from this far too unknown six pieced Bristol-based group are a mix of live and studio recordings made in 1981. The majority of the tunes was recorded live at the Glastonbury Festival and at Bath University and has never been properly released before.
All of the live performances are over five minutes. The sound quality is amazing and it at times feel like you are part of a jam session, especially in Words of Wisdom that spans over 14 minutes.
There is no coincidence that some of the tunes were recorded at a university since Talisman’s lyrics often deal with politics and experiences in the Thatcherite 80’s.
Despite the group’s acquaintance with the cold 80’s UK there is incredible warmth in their performances, and the often present saxophone adds to that feeling.
Dole Age – The 1981 Reggae Collection hit the streets on May 9 and is available on CD, digital download and a limited edition vinyl that includes five different tracks. I highly suggest you acquire the CD or vinyl edition since they include very informative liner notes and an interview with saxophonist Brendan Whitmore.