Certain genres of music are, quite stereotypically, associated with certain themes. Punk and reggae with political issues, rock with escapist high drama, folk with history and traditions and ska, and its UK offspring two-tone, often with social commentary, civil rights and unity. So gathering the great and good of ska, rocksteady and reggae to record a series of songs with a thread of local history and trains at its heart does seem like a unique step.
But Swindon, this is Swindon as they say, and the town’s industrial past and railway history pervades every back street and building, park bench and street name, its legacy hangs in the air, so it is only natural that it should find its way into an album driven by local stalwarts The Erin Bardwell Collective. I don’t want to give the impression that this is some sort of trainspotters paradise, it is cleverer than that, much more wide-ranging and covers myriad subjects but the local connection is strong. Songs such as Night Bus to Highworth and Edith New, about the town’s suffragette hero, make obvious connections, but woven deeper into the album are threads which work in local history, the age-old perceived battle between the pre-industrial Old Town and the more recent downtown, plus personal memories and other regional connections, all of which give the album a solid sense of place.
As always the music is a subtle and supple blend of light and accessible rocksteady grooves and jaunty ska vibes, reggae resonances and retro echoes, 60’s infused music made over for a modern audience. It also features an impressive cast of musicians from not only the grassroots reggae and ska scene but also some top names such as The Selecter’s Neol Davis and Pat Powell from the Melbourne Ska Orchestra, a whole host of Pop-A-Top label’s go to players, a handful of Skansters and a host of other top musicians.
There is plenty to love about this album, even if the local references pass you by, the songs more than stand on their own two feet without that being the main feature, of course they do, look at who is involved. You also have to admire the man at the heart of the album, Erin Bardwell, someone who for years now has just got on with quietly and brilliantly creating, playing and via the aforementioned label, releasing wholly original music infused with the past sounds he has always loved. But this is anything but a rose-tinted nostalgia fest, this is the sound of a torch being carried forward into a bright future. On the strength of this wonderful collection, not to mention the string of previous releases, the genre is in very safe hands indeed.