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