Reviews Zone

Talisman: Don’t Play With Fyah (Sugar Shack Records) 17th March 2017




5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)



One of the best reggae bands to come from the UK, with a wondrous come-back album, 34 years since their debut album was released.  Would legendary reggae producer and artist Dennis Bovell get involved in anything less than Premier Division? A man who has worked with Matumbi, Steel Pulse, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Aswad, Madness, Orange Juice, The Slits and many more. He mixed the 14 tracks here and came up with the seven fabulous Dub versions of the songs. Like George Martin was the fifth Beatle, with this band, I do believe Mr Bovell is now an honorary member of Talisman! His skills are indispensable here.

But main credit must go to the Bristol boys in the band. I have seen this lot live, last May at a festival, on stage the day after reggae legends Black Uhuru flew in from Jamaica just to play this festival. I was thinking then; wow, must be tough for another reggae band to follow that.  But I need not have worried. Tailisman smashed it and for me, were miles better and more enjoyable than Black Uhuru, who sounded below par compared to the UK guys. No offence intended.    

So, Talisman are keyboard player Cyrus Richards, drummer ‘Drumtan’, the brilliant Longhorns are sax: Craig Crofton, trombone: Gareth Bailey, trumpet: Gary Aylesbrook. Rhythm guitar and lead vocals Dehvan Othieno, bass guitar and lead vocals Dennison Joseph. Pete Fletcher played lead guitar on one cut. For the backing vocals, they all get involved. The album was produced by Talisman and mixed by Dennis Bovell. Recorded in three studios in Bristol, and mixed at Tuffwize studios in London.

Talisman formed in 1977, based in Bristol. They toured with Bow Wow Wow, Burning Spear, Killing Joke, Bauhaus, The Damned, The Clash and eventually The Rolling Stones. Talisman reformed in 2011 with the original line up, after 30 years apart. Their classic 1981 single ‘Dole Age’ was given a new lease of life on ‘Dole Age – The 1981 Reggae Collection’, in 2012. Their 1984 debut album ‘Takin The Strain’ also won a re-release. In September 2013, thirty years after they recorded their debut long player, Talisman released their third studio album, ‘I-Surrection.’ Their second album, “Jam Rock,” dropped in 1992. They toured with Two Tone faves The Selecter across 20 dates in 2013.

On their new album, the horns are absolutely sparkling, and the arrangements world class. This drummer is right on the money and the backbone of the band’s sound for me. Dehvan and Dennison have two quite different voices and both give it their all.  “Relijan” opens the disc in fine style. Brassy, chugging reggae vibes and would not be out of place on a Bob Marley or Peter Tosh album. The first single. “Killing in the name of the Lord”, sings Dehvan Othieno, who also wrote this topical song (under his non-stage name Bekele Sengor) and played guitar. I was humming this tune 24 hours later.

“Talkin’ Revolution”, at five minutes and eight seconds is perhaps a tad too long, and can get a bit repetitive with the song’s title sung over and over again. Tasty sax solo from Craig Cofton on a Dehvan-penned and sung tune. I loved the third cut, “She Look Like Reggae”, yet another sung and written by Dehvan. A nice slinky mid-tempo groove, on a very commercial and stand out cut. The title track, another commercial song. My notes say “would make a strong single”. Written, performed and produced entirely by the band’s bass man and second lead singer, Dennison Joseph.

“Hear No Evil”, another Dennison song, and again the lead vocal taken by him –  the whole thing created by him. Very UB40 in sound, a superbly infectious track. Aswad vibes in “Racism Never Sleep”, the third cut from Dennison, before another song that also has UB40 vibes, Dehvan’s  excellent, “Wheel And Come Again”, with a cracking hook to it. Pete Fletcher on lead guitar on this one.

So, half way through the 14, and now we get to the Dub versions of all seven songs. Mr Bovell steps up for these little gems, and what he is bloody good at. Mr “Scratch” Perry would be proud. The bottom end of the bass hits you in the guts, as it should. The blistering brass and crisp hi-hats cut through the tracks, and the audio quality; as on the entire record, is top notch and crystal clear. The layers of instruments and digital stuff all perfectly placed in the mix, all where it all should be. If they’d have dropped a pin in the studio, we’d probably hear it here after Dennis got to grips with the mixes. Bet there were some serious divorce-inducing man hours invested into this lot! A ‘labour of love’, for sure…hang on a minute, now wouldn’t that phrase make a damn good reggae album title? (cue the ‘dear editor, I wish to point out…’ letters, for those who don’t do irony!!!)

The Dub cuts take me back to the Highfields area of Leicester, circa 1978/79, attending the illegal “blues” in private houses, where sound systems battled it out and the air was thick with the smell of special tobacco, and everyone totally chilled. Never any bother; the neighbours would bang on the door, to come in and enjoy!  

But the music was outrageously loud from those huge speaker bins, and brilliant. Sometimes a local reggae band called Groundation – who were awesome – would turn up, plug in and play. Tinned Red Stripe lager and bottles of rum was the only booze around, unless you brought your own. But you could get high on the music, without booze or breathing in! I loved every second of it. This record also puts me in mind of another superb reggae band I did some work with back in the day, Pressure Shocks. What happened to them?

I have heard a lot of Dub produced outside of Jamaica, done half-cocked and badly. Not this time. This is the dog’s dangly bits and will get played to death in my gaff, as will the entire CD. Bristol’s finest, Talisman are back, and sounding mighty. The fyah still burns bright…


By Simon Redley   



1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5) ‘Dull Zone’
2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’



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