Bristol Archive Records Blog

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Album reviews from the ALL MUSIC GUIDE from the USA

Friday, December 23rd, 2011


Dole Age

Bristol Archives




Originally formed in 1977 as Revelation Rockers, Talisman was one of the iconic players in Bristol, England’s little-known but very rich reggae scene. Although they achieved significant success in the UK and snagged opening-act slots for such important acts as the Clash, the Rolling Stones, and Burning Spear, Talisman never managed to get a contract with a major record label and their recorded output between 1977 and 1984 amounted to only two singles. Dole Age compiles the A and B sides from both of those singles (the deluxe LP version boasts extended 12″ mixes of those tracks) and adds seven live tracks from the period. While the quality of this material is consistently high and the release should be snapped up by fans of UK reggae, it’s fairly easy to see why Talisman had trouble keeping the interest of major labels: their sound is accomplished but at times a bit featureless, occupying a fuzzy area somewhere between the dry severity of early Steel Pulse and the smooth roots-pop of middle-period Aswad. That said, there are some great songs here: the swinging “Wicked Dem” recalls the sound of UB40 at around the same time, while “Free Speech” bustles along nicely in a Two Tone mode and the live “Calamity” boasts both sharp hooks and an elephantine rockers groove.

Talisman were clearly at their best in a live setting, and were particularly good at incorporating dubwise effects onstage, as is nicely demonstrated by the excellent “Nothing Change.” This is very good stuff, but probably mainly of interest to specialist listeners.

Various Artists

Bristol Reggae Explosion 1978-1983

Bristol Archive




By the late 1970s, multiple waves of Jamaican immigrants had come to England and congregated in such industrial centers as London and Birmingham, bringing their music with them and helping to create vibrant reggae scenes in those cities that are amply documented. Less so is the smaller but equally vital scene that grew up in the small town of Bristol, and which is now being given its due by the Bristol Reggae Archives label.

Apart from reissuing albums and compilation by such locally iconic bands as Talisman and Black Roots, the label has also put out a two-part compilation of recordings by lesser-known acts like Joshua Moses, the Radicals, Buggs Durrant, and Restriction. This first volume thoroughly establishes the importance and startling quality of Bristol’s reggae scene during this period: not only are the featured tracks of consistently high quality, but they also vary substantially in style. Although the darker, more serious “roots” school predominates (and is exemplified beautifully by excellent tracks like Joshua Moses’s “Africa Is Our Land” and Black Roots’ “Tribal War”), there are also smoother and more modern entries by the Radicals (“Nights of Passion”) and Buggs Durrant (“Baby Come Back Home”). And with “Mr. Guy,” the sweet-voiced Sharon Bengamin anticipates the lovers rock style that would take London reggae by storm in the 1980s‹her take on the sound is a bit scrappier and more rough-edged (and the sound quality on this vinyl transfer is marginal), but all the elements are in place. Iffy sound quality is a sporadic problem, but it’s not serious enough to diminish the significant pleasures of this excellent collection.

Various Artists

Bristol Reggae Explosion Vol. 2: The 80s Bristol Archive ARC228CD



Following the positive critical and commercial reception of Bristol Reggae Explosion 1978-1983, the Bristol Archive label followed up with a second volume, this one focusing on the early- to mid-1980s and including more extended mixes and dub versions. This volume is the result of pretty serious crate-digging and musical detective work on the part of label

staff: Cool Runnings’ “Robin Hoods of the Ghetto” was apparently originally released in a pressing of only 200 copies, for example, and Bunny Marrett’s “Times Are Getting Harder” was hardly less scarce; Alfred McIntosh’s spare and spacey “Wicked Dub” was never issued commercially at all. While there is nothing on this album that could fairly be categorized as filler, compared to the first volume there is more that will appeal primarily to specialist listeners than to the casual reggae fan. “Times Are Getting Harder,” for example, is quite frankly not that great a song‹those with a serious interest in the history of UK reggae will definitely want to hear it, but few will be likely to put it on a playlist of favorite tracks from the period; and McIntosh’s other dub contribution, “Ah It (Dub)” is also rather lackluster. On the other hand, there are brilliant tracks by Black Roots (“The Father”), Joshua Moses (the minor-key “Rise Up”), and Zion Band (the very Steel Pulse-y “Twelve Tribes”). Anyone with a serious interest in learning more about UK reggae will want to own both this collection and its predecessor.

Black Roots

Reggae Singles Anthology

Bristol Archive/Nubian



**** (pick)

Granted, there was a lot of competition in England during the early 1980s, and granted also that Bristol, the band’s turf, was pretty far removed from the central reggae scenes in London and Birmingham. But still, on the strength of this outstanding compilation, it’s hard to understand why Black Roots didn’t become a major international reggae act. They hit the peak of their powers at the same time that Steel Pulse and Aswad were making a big splash, but despite some high-profile opening slots with major touring bands, Black Roots’ impact was primarily regional. The Bristol Archive label continues its project of bringing classic recordings of the period back to light with this excellent collection of the band’s singles, EP tracks and remixes, including some later songs recorded in collaboration with England’s preeminent modern-roots producer, the Mad Professor. Highlights are hard to identify here, because the quality of playing, singing, and writing are all consistently quite high, but a few tracks do stand out: “The Father” brilliantly combines an earworm melody with a gorgeous descending bassline, to lovely effect; “Chanting for Freedom” is filled with rich harmonies that will make your hair stand on end (and is offered in an excellent showcase version, with the dub version appended); and they do a very nice version of the old Jacob Miller hit “Susie Wong.” The only disappointments are minor: an underwhelming two-chord vamp titled “Juvenile Delinquent,” and a rather tired update of a vintage roots-era rhythm titled “The Frontline.” Otherwise, this is a brilliant compilation from a criminally underappreciated band.

Reggae Explosion 2 The 80′s Album Review

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

Album Reviews- The Bristol Reggae Explosion


Various Artists -’The Bristol Reggae Explosion 1978-1983′ (Bristol Archive Records)


Various Artists -’The Bristol Reggae Explosion 2 ‘The 80’s’ ‘ (Bristol Archive Records)

Even before you listen to a note from this excellent pair of a compilations, they throw up some interesting points. Firstly, just how London-centric the UK music industry remains and has been for decades. This has meant that with the radio, TV and most national print media being based there, it has been necessary to break London to make a National Impact and to give the impression of having ‘made it.’

Also that British Reggae has siffered from being viewed as not quite as good as that which originated from Jamaica, in as much as (Pre-Grime) UK Hip-Hop was seen as beinginferior to the US Variety. But just as names from the late 80s such as Derek B, The Wee Papa Girl Rappers made an imopact but have still to truly get their historical due, so British Reggae has also suffered. Leaving UB40 out of it, the late 70s saw the likes of Aswad, Janet Kay, Linton Kwesi Johnson and Steel Pulse, to name but four. The two-tone movement in Coventry of the era may also be seen to have been a first or secondary cousin. And as well as all this, there was the Bristol Scene.

In purely simplistic terms, it could be said that these compilations do what is said on the tin. But that would be to underplay just how much wonderful music is on these two albums. Reggae , like pretty much every other genre, has its’ own sub-genres, and much of what is on offer here is Roots or Dub. But you will also find the gorgeous lovers rock of Sharon Bengamin’s ‘Mr. Guy’ and Volume 2 closes with Ran Ratchet and Teknika’s ‘Ragamuffin Girl’ which has more of a dancehall vibe, sounding lighter and far removed from the Roots on offer.

It may be that many of the names on here are unknown to many (this writer included). The reason for this is not just the inclusion of some previously unreleased tracks but the scareceness of some of the tracks in the first place. As the press release explains, most of these records were pressed in very small quantities and sold directly to fans at gigs. These two compilations are therefore very much a labour of love for the appropriately titled Bristol Archive Records who have licensed and gathered together these tracks.

There’s hardely a duff track on here, though if I had to single out some tracks that have really stood out for me, they would include Zapp Stereo’s ‘Way OUt West’ the appropriately named ‘Bristol Rock’ by Black Roots and the scarce as anything ‘Robin Hoods Of The Ghetto’ by Cool Runnings.

Reggae would continue to make its presence felt furing the nineties in two forms that owed a debt to the sounds on here. First of all, when hardcore dance hit 168 bpm it was twice the speed of the 84bpm reggae records which played off each other (or indeed together) lead to the style that became known as Drum’n’bass. And in Bristol, The Trip Hopmobement clearly had their roots in the reggae scene as much as rave culture, if not more so. Some of the most improtant records of the nineties in any genre from the likes of Tricky (Maxinquaye), Portishead (Dummy, Portishead), Massive Attack (Blue Lines, Protection)
and Ronnie Size and Reprazent (Newforms) came not only out of the region but a mere degree or two removed from these records.

These compilations are more than just historically interesting; they help provide the DNA of much of the best British music of the last twenty years and shed light on an unfairly overlooked scene.


The Bristol Reggae Explosion 1978-1983 and The Bristol Reggae Explosion 2 ‘The 80’s’ are out now on Bristol Archive Records

Taken from:

The Reviews start coming

Monday, September 19th, 2011

The Bristol Reggae Explosion 2: The 1980s

Finally the follow up to the first class album The Bristol Reggae Explosion 1978-1983 (read my raving review about it)!
As the title suggests, the album focuses on a later period of British, or rather Bristolian Reggae. And already the first tune, “Rise Up” by Joshua Moses is a bad, bad tune. Killer Roots Reggae as it is hardly ever played today. Astonishingly, the tune is previously unreleased. But if it had been cut on vinyl back in the days, you had to spend serious money on this “Rare killer Shaka soundman’s choice” on eBay today fe true. “Rise Up” was engineered and produced by Scientist. No, not the Jamaican Scientist, but Bristol Reggae legend Richard Grassby-Lewis. You can hear other productions of him on BRE 1978-83 or on the Black Roots album on Bristol Archive Records.
Other favourites are “Peacemaker” by Dennis McCalla, “Re-Arrange Version” by 3-D Production, “Way Out West” by Zapp Stereo, and “Twelve Tribes” by The Zion Band. But there is a lot more moody, heavy and bassy early 80s Roots and Dub Reggae to discover. All in all, this album is even better than the first, and I say this as a lover of mainly 60s and 70s Reggae. Whether you’re a Rude Boy or a Skinhead, if you have any interest in Roots or Dub or consider developing some, give this a try. Soon, this album will be legen -wait for it- dary. Legendary.

Whereas The Bristol Reggae Explosion 2 will be released soon, the Black Roots’ singles anthology has been released on September 5th. You can listen here why you need it, too. Alternatively, wait for the forthcoming explanation why you need it on this blog.

Reggae Explosion 2 The 80′s Review

Friday, September 2nd, 2011