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Interview: Mike Darby from Bristol Archive Records

Interview: Mike Darby from Bristol Archive Records

Interview: Mike Darby from Bristol Archive Records

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"It's amazing seeing these people get a break some 25 or 30 years later, smiling, being proud and getting excited about roots music again"


Mike Darby / Bristol Archive Records

Bristol Archive Records’ stunning journey

Bristol Archive Records came from seemingly nowhere when the label in early 2011 dropped the acclaimed compilation Bristol Reggae Explosion. This release has been followed by several hard to find roots reggae gems by Bristol-based artists. United Reggae got a chat with label owner Mike Darby to find out more about him and his many projects.

Meet Mike Darby, an independent financial advisor, golfer and married with two children. He's also the owner, head of people relations, chief detective, finding new material, head of A&R and boss man at UK labels Bristol Archive Records and Sugar Shack Records. If that wasn't enough, Mike Darby is also a Director at Archive Publishing and has taken the initiative to launch Reggae Archive Records, following the success of Bristol Archive Records.

He started his music career as a singer in 1979 with the reggae/two tone/ska band The Rimshots. The band put out a couple of singles and played with The Beat, The Bodysnatchers, Black Roots, Talisman and acclaimed dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson.

Six years later he ventured into band management and launched Sugar Shack Records focusing on British rock artists. The label recently switched direction though, and from 2012 and onwards Sugar Shack will be putting out contemporary British reggae acts.

In music terms, Bristol is primarily known for the genre trip-hop and artists such as Tricky, Portishead and Massive Attack.

It’s about long lost gems

Mike DarbyThe reggae scene has however also been thriving ever since the 70’s in different shapes and forms, and the main aim for Bristol Archive Records is to put many more or less unheard of reggae artists on the map and put the record straight.

For me it’s the untapped and unreleased gems that have fallen through the cracks of time,” explains Mike Darby, and continues:

“The expectation is minimal from the artists so its amazing seeing these people get a break some 25 or 30 years later, smiling, being proud and getting excited about roots music again.”

And the response on the releases so far seems to please Mike. And one word sums it up well.

“Amazing,” he states, and explains:

“I can’t believe the response from all around the world. The records sell, the artists have a second chance and we are one big happy Bristol family – taking on the world and spreading our sounds.”

Sugar Shack’s new reggae direction 

Thanks to the success of Bristol Archive Records Mike has also changed direction of his other label – Sugar Shack Records. Its first reggae release is the 12” Sound History Volume 1 by AMJ Dub Collective, out on April 23.

“The success of the Bristol Archive Records means that Black Roots, Talisman and now Joshua Moses are back out in force spreading their message via live performances. Mike Darby - Bristol Archive RecordsIt just made sense to support them and their new material by having a record label that can work with them,” says Mike, and further explains the company’s direction:

“All things reggae from Bristol and the rest of the UK if we can discover the talent.”

The work of a detective

Now back to the reissue business, and Mike’s recipe for finding new material to put out.

Word of mouth, referrals, putting out great looking records and being nice people.”

It sounds easy, but it probably also means a great deal of work to compile compilations with hard to find golden nuggets or unreleased gems, and Mike pays special praise to his reggae colleague Martin Langford aka Dubmart, who compiles the track running orders and writes the sleeve notes.  

Jah Praises from Revelation Rockers is one of those gems. It was recorded in the late 70’s, but didn’t see the light of day until March 2012.

“Shocked, stunned, excited and motivated,” says Mike about his reaction when he heard about Jah Praises.

More to come

But this album is far from an exception in the increasing Bristol Archive catalogue, and the flagship compilations Bristol Reggae Explosion 1, 2 & 3 includes a great deal of unissued material. To me, it’s remarkable that a tune like Rise Up from Joshua Moses has been lying around in a drawer somewhere.

And happily enough Mike reveals that there are more to come.

“Joshua Moses’ Joshua to Jashwha 30 Years in the Wilderness is a must buy for any roots fan. It’s stunning.”

But that's not all from Mike. In addition to the upcoming Dan Ratchet, Black Roots and Cool Runnings releases, the new non Bristol-related label Reggae Archive Records will put out three lost UK albums and in demand 12"s in the second half of 2012.

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