I’m afraid a dangerously busy few weeks on our respective continents have rendered Tom and me neglectful of our SBB duties – but as this is largely down to our creating skanky sounds of our own, I hope we can be excused.
In accord with our recent spiky dread adventures Out West, I think that one more slice of Thatcher-baiting roots wizardry from Bristol is in order before we move on to new climes, this one brought to us by the palpably capable boys of Talisman.
Probably the most commercially successful of the Bristol reggae groups, Talisman seemed to wow virtually everyone they came into contact with, a talent which earned them some savvy management, numerous TV appearances, and gigs/tours with everyone from The Clash to The Rolling Stones.
Maddeningly for them however, their rise to prominence occurred just as major labels were starting to close their doors to new reggae acts, and the deal the band had once thought inevitable would, sadly, never materialize.
Apt then, perhaps, that the record on our punky reggae turntable for today is Talisman’s achingly poignant paean to hard times – 1981’s Dole Age. Beginning as the protagonist’s weary plea for free entry into a gig, and eventually giving way to outright condemnation of darling Maggie as a ‘criminal’, Dole Age all too perfectly encapsulates the hopelessness of youth at a time when youthful hopelessness was very much the order of the day.
With its languid one-drop beat flanked by melancholy horns and merry-go-round organ, the music of Dole Age alone suggests a weary smile and two fingers in the face of adversity, imbuing the track both with great strength and almost heartbreaking fragility.
Unsurprisingly the song’s themes resonated deeply with punks as well as reggae fans at the time and Talisman swiftly gained popularity in the punk community, frequently sharing bills with the likes of Killing Joke, Bauhaus, Bow Wow Wow and The Damned.
Despite a turbulent working relationship – the result of which was an almost constantly revolving door of band members – Talisman managed to outlive most of their reggae contemporaries, and kept the fires burning until 1991 before finally calling it a day.
As of 2011 the band is back together, with an album of new material scheduled for release very soon. For today however, we present their fabulous maiden single – in many ways just as relevant today to the political climate as it was then. Enjoy.
If you liked that, you’ll love the extended dubbed-out version:
And finally a belting live version of the b-side, Free Speech, circa 1984: