ONCE it was the exclusive product of the sunshine island of Jamaica but now a special brand of made-in-Swindon reggae is proving a hit with discerning fans around the world.
Father-of-two Erin Bardwell – Swindon council worker by day, reggae musician by night –finds himself posting his band’s home grown music to all corners of the globe.
Former gravedigger Erin, 39, who lives in Central Swindon, said: “We get orders for our CDs and vinyl records from the USA, Switzerland, Belgium, France, New Zealand – all over.”
He has just posted a parcel of assorted goodies by the Erin Bardwell Collective – Swindon’s very own reggae/ska quintet – to Venezuela.
“I got a request to send some promo stuff to a radio station in South America, El Inspector, who specialise in reggae and ska,” he said.
“We also did an interview last year with a fanzine from Mexico. Our stuff’s being heard in quite a few places.”
The son of Swindon street-mime artistes Robert Stredder and Jackie Bardwell, Erin first heard reggae/ska via The Specials when he was around six.
His interest was further piqued a few years later when his dad bought him a cassette by reggae legends Toots & The Maytals.
The coming years saw Erin rooting around local stores searching out reggae in all of its forms by the likes of Prince Buster, Jimmy Cliff, The Wailers and Augustus Pablo.
He said: “When I was about 13 my mum bought me a Casio keyboard. I had lessons from various people, including John Holmes Music in Swindon. I learned a few things from musicians I knew and also just played along to records.”
Erin’s obsession also took him to the home of reggae Jamaica where he further honed his skills.
He decided to join a band after being inspired by The Hoover Juniors, a Swindon reggae group of the Eighties. “I thought that if they could get up and do it then surely so could I. During the Nineties I was in various bands. When I launched my own reggae project in 2003 I called up some old Swindon musician pals and they helped me out.
“Initially we put an album together and then started gigging. It has been an ongoing concern ever since.”
The band is now celebrating its 10th anniversary as a recording unit. Tracks from the latest CD/LP Bringing The Hope have been aired on BBC 6 by Steve Lamacq.
The band – Pete Fitzsimmons (bass), Erin Bardwell (keyboards/vocals), Sandra Bell (vocals/percussion), Pete O'Driscoll (drums) and Eddie Frankis (guitar/vocals) – are also playing The Vic, Victoria Road, Swindon on Saturday, April 20.
Tickets are £5 in advance from Swindon Central Library and The Vic; or online or pay on the door.
IN response to my commentary headlined Reggae at 50 and published in this newspaper on Sunday, August 26, 2012, Sam Clayton Jr stated: "Based on my personal involvement in the music business in Europe and North America, I have no doubt that Jamaica is still the headquarters of reggae music, because in spite of the fact that we don't have the biggest festivals, I don't know of any reggae festival that does not have Jamaican bands performing. I also don't know of any major reggae release in Europe that does not have a significant Jamaican connection; Jamaican studio, producer, musician(s) or feature artistes. Every major new innovation and advancement in reggae and its sub-genres comes out of Jamaica. Add to this the undisputed fact, the best reggae musicians and producers are Jamaicans."