I first ran into Skayaman after a dip in the waterfall at Kelburn Garden Party, can’t remember if it was 2014 or 15, but they immediately caught my attention as I passed a stage where they were pumping out some really fucking good ska-reggae. Still wet from the waterfall they drew me in and held me in their melodic grip, skanking, until the end of their set. I was completely enraptured by their music and therefore was very keen to hijack the band after the gig for a chat.
The Gonzo Division did an interview with (then-dreadlocked) frontman Tom Spirals, and afterwards we looked forward to hearing a debut album from them. Flash forward two years and we have it here in the form of ‘Come A Long Way’, and indeed they have come a long way, as they can now be considered festival-seasoned after doing the circuit all summer and the one before that too. The album has been kindly sent to my dropbox for review, and being a big fan of ska and reggae it is with gleeful anticipation that I download the file and open it in my iTunes. I’ve seen Skayaman live three or four times but now it was time to enjoy them in my living room…
It immediately appeals to the psychonaut in me with its sitar-laced intro, kinda’ like the late Beatles, but real fucking high and playing reggae instead of pop. George would definitely dig this. Frontman Tom Spirals delivers perfect ragga vocals, especially for a white man, fitting the bassy, henotic reggae without omission. ‘Keep Your Cool’ and it’s impossible not to when indulging in these heady sounds.
Inspired, I grab the Highlanders and roll a big fat joint of homegrown, sparking it up just in time for the trumpets announcing the next track, and I sit back in a haze of grey smoke forming a halo while I nebulously and beatifically nod my head to the smooth sculptured rhythms of the title track, which is heavily grounded in traditional roots reggae, with a sonorous horn section providing an uplifting overture. There’s a nice, grimy urban feel to the record as well.
The third track ‘For What We Have’ is immediately uplifting me from my weed-induced kef, an aggressive anti-establishment stab at authority and a call to awaken the collective consciousness, expressed poetically in the form of rhythm and reggae – rolling drums, ska-guitar, galvanising keyboard, throbbing bass, awesome bridges, and wailing vocals, everything you could want from a reggae-ska song.
The next song has a Skatalites-influenced feel to it at first, but it soon develops into an opus of omnifarious musical styles. The type of music to carry you home, some clever trumpet solos and a psychedelic undertone channeling you along the ska melody in fine time, even progressing into a samba-like breakdown towards the end complete with mellifluously delivered Spanish vocals.
The album is over halfway through and Skayaman are shining bright, not afraid to mix it up as the fifth track even has a sort of electronica influence underpinning it, but always with that good wholesome horn section delivering ska in expert dashes, and some guest female vocs to give the vocal range of the album a good well-rounded feel and her introduction elicits a rocksteady duet between the two singers, that puts me in mind of Sublime’s excellent collaborations with Gwen Stefani.
Sinister trumpets enunciate the penultimate track, my joint is coming to an end, and regrettably, so is ‘Come A Long Way’, so my only criticism is the shortness of the record at seven songs it’s barely longer than an EP, but considering it costs whatever you think it’s worth, i.e ‘name your price’ (which you can do here https://morefreevibe.bandcamp.com/album/come-a-long-way) that more than makes up for it, and luckily you can just put it right back to the beginning and listen to it all over again – it’s one of those kind of albums.
Over the last two tracks Skayaman play me out with some King Django-style drum and bass-like reggae/ska, in the form of ‘Burn Illusions’ and oblectate me with stylishly spun ska in the form of ‘Honour Our Creation’. And honour their creation we will, because SYM are providing contemporary, smooth, humble reggae and ska music for the new generations. An album well worth a daily listen for the foreseeable future, Skayaman are spearheading ska music in the Scottish sector of the scene.
‘Come A Long Way’ has come a long way to get here, but is finally an asset to my prodigious ska/reggae music collection, sandwiched there in its rightful place, surrounded alphabetically by such influences and contemporaries as Skankin’ Pickle, Ska Cubano, Skandalous Allstars, The Skatalites and The Slackers, and Skayaman hold a rightful position in this intelligentsia of brilliant reggae artists. I’ll look forward to their next album and to seeing them play some more live shows. Until then, seeya’ in the pit…
Originally published on NHC music October 24th 2016, view that here: