One of the great things about writing reviews is that I often get the opportunity to push myself out of my comfort zone, to explore and experience music that is quite new to me, and although I have seen Erin Bardwell Collective a number of times, their musical world is not a place I am overly familiar with. My formative years, the ones where I was finding my own feet regarding music, coincided with the burst of 2-tone energy that came out of the Midlands in the late seventies and early eighties. But as a scene, in my neck of the woods at least, it seemed peopled with skinhead bullyboys, rudies, and mod revivalists and my own tastes took me in other directions. That is why having the chance to put pen to paper on behalf of EBC’s latest release, Bringing The Hope, was not only a bit of a learning curve but a wonderful lesson that put the records (pun intended) straight for me.
Rather than being the natural successor to those bands that were big back in that day, The Specials, The Beat, The Selector etc, they push in a different direction and celebrate the more chilled and short-lived Rocksteady style that acted as a precursor to reggae and which probably formed a fair chunk of the record collections of those who would form the later 2-tone scene. This is the roots music of the Jamaican family tree.
Because of the massively influential nature of Rocksteady even after the first play of these songs, they seem like old friends. Theirs is a gloriously infectious, accessible, set of organ fuelled feel good tunes that captures that transition from ska to reggae in the late sixties, much like a cleaner limbed, less punk informed, British version of The Aggrolites, one of the few comparable bands keeping the era alive.
Although the music, by it very nature, is upbeat and optimistic, there are some poignant moments found amongst the more celebratory themes. Hungry Children has a lyrical character and social political message, a theme that became the heart of reggae and The Doctor Said covers the age-old battle against the passing of time. But for the most part there is a joyous flavour at work, Freedom Train takes that politicism, in this case The Arab Spring, and reduces it to the day to day struggle of the ordinary people to provide for their family, the title track itself is a history of the genre and what it means to be immersed in it.
One of the great things about EBC is their strong image. Not just the authenticity of the music they play but the look of the band, the album packaging, the record label that runs alongside it, all evokes a time and a place and though some might see it as one big nostalgia trip, I see it more as the preservation of something that shouldn’t be forgotten, an era and style that had a massive impact on the development of music on a global scale and as a door into that world, Bringing The Hope is a perfect first step for the beginner, like me, or a wonderful affirmation for those already in the know.