Priestly Meadows: Prime

No, not another attempt to get you to sign up to Amazon’s delivery service, but the title of the debut EP from Priestly Meadows. This is confident reggae music from the Czech band who offered the first listens to their EP in Prague’s Palmovka area, not too far from the hipster bars and cafes of the Zizkov district. Lead vocalist Luisa Blahova is ably supported by guitars and brass from the rest of the band, and this four-track EP gives you a good insight into their sound as a whole. The featured track ‘Journey’ (featuring Manlio Calafrocampana) is an upfront and up-tempo workout, providing a good introduction to the sound of Priestly Meadows

RIP Robbie Shakespeare

Once again reggae loses one of its finest with the passing of Robbie Shakespeare, following surgery in the United States. As a bass player he was best known as collaborator with drummer Sly Dunbar to form one of the finest rhythm sections in reggae music. He was also an accomplished producer. He played with leading names including Dennis Brown and Black Uhuru and contributed bass to countless other albums including the vastly underrated Sinead O’Connor collection ‘Throw Down Your Arms’ (2005) which he also co-produced with Sly Dunbar. His style was based not so much on technical virtuosity but instead was grounded in power, volume and, above all, an intuitive feel for the music. It certainly worked. He is the only bass player I have ever seen take centre stage to applause at a live reggae concert – and again it worked. Rest in peace.

Captain Accident: ‘Bad Press’ Album/Tour

Captain Accident? No, not a debut release from Boris Johnson, but the pseudonym of Cardiff reggaeman Adam Parsons. With his band, the Disasters, the Captain has built up a reputation for what he has described as ‘clumsy’ reggae from his home studio, and now prepares to embark on a tour of small venues around the UK in early 2022. These are scheduled to kick off in Bristol in January, ending in Falmouth in March. The tour is due to feature music from his fourth album ‘Bad Press’ (released in Summer 2021) which is a quirky and in many ways surprisingly melodic release. Not to be taken too seriously, and all the better for that.

The Specials: Protest Songs 1924-2012

On this outstanding new release, the core Specials membership of Terry Hall, Horace Panter and Lynval Golding is supplemented by a range of invited guests to cover twelve songs from across the decades. The sound is not confined to the ska/reggae tradition we associate with the Specials but reflects instead the band’s take on the songs they have chosen, and this varies widely. Following the album ‘Encore’ released in 2019 (see 11th February 2019), ‘Protest Songs’ further cements the band’s enduring reputation: if the Specials didn’t exist, we’d have to invent them as they are our musical and political conscience. The choice of songs is not what we might expect, being pleasingly idiosyncratic. It ranges from the Staple Singers’ ‘Freedom Highway’ held together by a strong crisp drumbeat, Talking Heads’ ‘Listening Wind’, and, on more familiar reggae ground, an innovative arrangement of the Wailers’ ‘Get Up, Stand Up’. The treatment of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Everybody Knows’ makes it worthwhile to buy the album even without taking the other tracks into consideration. More!    


Adrian ‘Donsome’ Hanson: Freedom Sound Riddim

The single rhythm album has long been a feature of the reggae music scene and has been assessed on these pages before (see ‘Let There Be Versions’ September 2009). Here is a new collection from New York producer Adrian Hanson wherein an impressive gathering of reggae performers present their individual vocals upon the foundation provided by the driving freedom sound rhythm. Amongst the tracks are names including Mykal Rose (‘Give Me Love’) and Lutan Fyah (‘Fade Away’). Also included is the San Diego band Big Mountain (‘Hear That Sound’}, who charted in the UK with their cover of ‘Baby I Love Yor Way’ back in 1994 (and also released a great version of Al Green’s ‘Let’s Stay Together’ a couple of years later). The closing track, credited to Adrian Hanson, gives the basic rhythm room to breathe and lets us appreciate the underlying strength of the music here.

Adrian Hanson: Freedom Sound Riddim, release 17th September 2021   

Jimmy Cliff: Human Touch

The word ‘legend’ is mightily over-used in the world of reggae but it is rightly applied to a select group of Jamaican performers who have generated the music and spread the word about reggae music – those such as the late Toots Hibbert, the unique Lee Perry and, in this instance, the enduring legacy of Jimmy Cliff. Now aged 77, Jimmy Cliff has popularised reggae music through the film ‘The Harder they Come’ (1972) and with songs such as ‘Many Rivers to Cross’, ‘Let Your Yeah be Yeah’ and ‘You Can Get it if you Really Want’, going right back ‘King of Kings’ and ‘Miss Jamaica’ in the early 1960s. These latter songs were firmly in the ska tradition, reggae having yet to develop into the music we know today. And they still sound good, an astonishing 60 years later.

Jimmy Cliff is now back with a new single entitled ‘Human Touch’ (from his forthcoming album ‘Bridges’, his first album for nine years). It’s not the Bruce Springsteen song of the same name, but a gentle song by Jimmy Cliff with words written some time ago but newly relevant today as pandemic and lockdown remind us of the pain created by the lack of closeness to others.

Jimmy Cliff: Human Touch, released August 2021

Gecko Club: Summer 2020

No, I haven’t got the year wrong: this is a new release from indie/surf-rock/reggae band Gecko Club. Its theme is last summer’s disappointment and despair during lockdown. As it’s now hot weather again this summer, even up here in the North of England, what better time to revisit our fears and hopes?

Musically, it’s a gentle, upbeat lilting reggae song with understated guitar throughout, reaching a rock crescendo before returning to the reggae beat. In different hands, it could almost be recast as a lovers’ rock tune from the 80s which is no bad thing.

Highlighting their thoughts on the track, Gecko Club say “We started writing this song in lockdown last year when we were all feeling pretty down about our plans for the year being cancelled. 2020 was supposed to be the year we set off on our first tour outside of the UK with our mates The Koalaz from Holland, as well as a strong list of festivals we were booked to play at. We kinda had a chat at the start of last year and with everything we had booked, we’re confident it was going to be a big one for Gecko’.

‘Boomtown is a big part of our summer together and the fact we couldn’t go this year was killer. We decided to focus the lyrics around the festival but really it represents something much greater than just the festival itself. We don’t really like writing depressing songs and we design our live sets to be a party, which is why the song sounds the way it does, you know, upbeat and easy to have a skank too. At face value it comes across as a happy feels song but listening deeper to the lyrics you realise, er well, we missed the summer and we’re cut up about it.”

Have a listen and enjoy!

Gecko Club: ‘Summer 2020,’ released June 2021

UB40: Bigga Baggariddim

It’s sometimes hard to grasp just how long UB40 have been around. Formed in 1978, their initial album ‘Signing Off’ (1980) was a strong introduction to their sound and the single ‘King/Food for Thought’ remains an excellent debut release, deservedly sending them into the mainstream charts and into popular acclaim. (By the way, the refrain of ‘Food for Thought’ is ‘Ivory Madonna’ not ‘I’m a Prima Donna’ although the frequent mishearing of that line might be a more accurate summary of the band’s subsequent evolution). Some very strong releases followed, including ‘The Earth Dies Screaming’ (also 1980): well worth hearing even today in its 12” incarnation and, like the best of the band’s output, sharp and political.

Thereafter, UB40 moved closer to the pop/reggae mainstream which displeased some and is welcomed by others and were subject to some unreasonable criticism simply for being popular or, in a racially-tinged comment, for producing a ‘pastel’ brand of reggae. Latterly, the band split into two separate UB40s, with lead singer Ali Campbell (along with Mickey Virtue and Astro) going his own way after the kind of brotherly divergence we’ve seen with, for instance, Oasis. Some releases met with a decidedly mixed reaction including their foray into country reggae on ‘Getting Over the Storm’ (2013) (see 12th September 2013).

This new release from the original UB40 (minus Ali etc) builds on the first ‘Baggariddim’ (1985) and this time features some strong collaborations with the likes of Tippa Irie and Inner Circle amongst others. The band are touring the UK in late 2021, and presumably this gives us the chance to hear some of this live. It’s fine confident reggae music: maybe ‘listen without prejudice’ is the best approach here for those interested in the music rather than interpersonal squabbles.

UB40: Bigga Baggariddim, release 25th June 2021

Manaky: Reborn

Previously featured on this site on 1st November last year, here’s Hungarian band Manaky with another fine reggae tune ‘Reborn’ from their album of the same name. It’s unadorned by the electronic and studio effects of 80s and 90s reggae and represents instead a return to the strengths of the traditional guitar/bass/drums reggae sound. As you may see from the video, it also features flutes and parrots which can’t be said for many releases these days.

Manaky: Reborn, release May 2021