Bristol Archive Records Blog

Brilliant Talisman Album Review

Review: ‘TALISMAN’

-  Genre: ‘Reggae’ –  Release Date: ’9th May 2011′-  Catalogue No: ‘ARC199′

Our Rating:  9/10


Like Americana, British reggae’s not had an easy critical ride over the years, even though the Post-Punk years did yield home-grown success stories like Steel Pulse, Aswad, Black Slate and Misty In Roots.

A few months back, however, the inspired ‘Bristol Reggae Explosion 1978-83’ compilation demonstrated just how strong the UK reggae scene was in the aftermath of Punk. At least in the ceaselessly creative Avon region.

Originally known as Revelation Rockers when they formed in 1977, TALISMAN were among the cream of the Bristol crop, vying with Black Roots for the title of the city’s finest Reggae outfit as the 1980s kicked in. Live, their reputation was second to none and their CV boasted opening slots for the esteemed likes of The Clash, Burning Spear and The Rolling Stones: all of whom needed to be on form to take the audience with them afterwards.

Though the pundits repeatedly suggested great things were in the wings for Talisman, history records that major opportunity never quite knocked for them and it would take until 1984 for the band to even get an album out in the shape of ‘Takin’ The Strain’. The musical landscape was by then very different and another six years of slog followed before the second Talisman album ‘Jam Rock’ appeared.   By which time much of the initial excitement had long dissipated.

Thanks to the ever-vigilant Bristol Archive label, however, we can now cop a glimpse of Talisman at their majestic peak on ‘Dole Age – the 1981 Reggae Collection.’ Featuring 11 tracks in all (with a further five on the vinyl version) it boasts the group’s two harder –to-find –than-hen’s-teeth singles from 1981 and a further clutch tracks recorded live at Bath University and the 1981 Glastonbury Festival.

Frighteningly, Talisman’s classic unemployment anthem ‘Dole Age’ (“it’s been like this since school, sir/ we just can’t see no other way”) now seems an even starker reality thirty years down the line in a Europe mired in bailouts, recessions and meltdowns. Musically, though, it’s flawless with sublime grooves, sultry horns and ratchet-y guitars sparring with vocal toasts and dub-by excursions.

B-side ‘Free Speech’ and both sides of the follow-up single ‘Run Come Girl’ and ‘Wicked Dem’ handsomely prove Talisman had many more of these sweet, yet militant tunes in reserve. Led by Desmond ‘Lazarus’ Taylor’s soulful voice, the band were a superb, tight-but-loose outfit, totally at home whether taking on cool skankin’, space-y dub and even pure Pop.

The live tracks are equally fantastic. Precisely recorded and of top drawer sonic quality, they include the fatalistic ‘Nothing Change’, the urgent ‘Stride On’, the positively epic 14-minute ‘Words of Wisdom’ and a lovely change of pace for the languid, Rocksteady-style groove of ‘Calamity.’ All the tunes are rapturously received and the celebratory atmosphere makes it clear that Talisman were utterly in their element in front of a large crowd.

Marrying lyrics speaking eloquently of oppression with tunes Channel One or Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s legendary Black Ark would be proud to put their names to, ‘Dole Age’ is a must for all fans of authentic Roots reggae. Congratulations are due (once again) to Mike Darby’s Bristol Archive for bringing us yet another revelatory collection.

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