With the Dub Pistols
The Dub Pistols @ Virgin Atlantic Barbados Music Festival

Fact one: everybody loves music festivals. If you don’t, you’re an idiot. Fact two: nobody likes standing around in the pissing rain for three solid days while your body dabbles with hypothermia. If you do like this, you’re an idiot.

Unfortunately, in the UK these two phenomena have a habit of coexisting. One way of solving the problem is to build a giant retractable roof over every single UK festival site, a la Wimbledon’s new Centre Court. The other way is to slack off the misery of the UK for a few days and head to a party-centric festival on an idyllic beach in Barbados. Any takers for the first option? Thought not.

The Virgin Atlantic Barbados Music Festival has been offering music, rum and fun on a small but beautiful southern corner of the island for three years now, and though you don’t have to try too hard to entice people to this kind of setting, a stellar musical line-up helped seal the deal.

Friday night saw a few of the rockier outfits open proceedings at a local bar, including Anglo-French retro rock act The Incredible Flyin’ Strings and Are You Experienced – a Hendrix tribute. And don’t give me no lip about tribute bands either – these lads were excellent, with John Campbell’s guitar wailing like the ghost of Hendrix, including some authentic teeth-on-string action during ‘All Along the Watchtower’, and other Hendrix staples.

Day two, and after speeding down to the secluded beach setting of Surfer’s Bay, the fact that you’re on a paradisaical Caribbean island really hits home: stalls serving cheap and delicious rum concoctions (maybe it’s the climate or the rum or both but it just tastes BETTER out here) nestle under palm trees as the sea laps away behind you. And the glorious Caribbean sun ain’t too shabby either – made even sweeter by knowing that it was tipping it down back in the UK. Whilst my brain struggled to accept that I was actually experiencing this ridiculously delightful scene, Local Bajan act The Fully Loaded Band climbed onstage to relay their captivating brand of melodic rock-tinged reggae to the crowd. A fine way to kick things off.

Headliners Dub Pistols, who were in perkier form than I after several nights of carnage (they do it for a living, I do it for a holiday. They won), arrived on stage to a predictably rapturous reception and played an absolute blinder of a set. Performing tracks from all four albums – and aided by the considerable lyrical skills of UK hip hop legend Rodney P and local Barbadian reggae heavyweight Red Star Lion – the Pistols’ melting pot of ska, hip hop, dub, live beats and a punky edge was the perfect soundtrack to the good-time vibe of the festival, with some well-placed roots in the local music scene.

Songs from latest album ‘Rum and Coke’ such as ‘Revitalise’ and ‘Peace of Mind’ went down a treat, before the band finished off with The Specials’ classic ‘Gangsters’, which saw the crowd bouncing along with Pistols’ singer and co-founder Barry Ashworth. Superb stuff. Catching up with the band after the show, I asked the band’s other co-founder, bassist Jason O’Bryan, how it went: “Hot! The set went really well, but it was hot up there – I had to lose the suit jacket pretty quickly!” Indeed – the Caribbean climate and a three-piece are always going to be a tough combo to pull off.

By Sunday, my quest to drink the festival (read: island) dry of marvellous local tipple Banks beer remained sadly unfulfilled (though the Dub Pistols and I put in a valiant effort all the same), but no matter, as there was still more music and misadventure to be had, as we saw the plug get pulled, literally, by the police during the second Are You Experienced set of the weekend. Apparently a ninety-five-year-old resident was none too pleased at the sound of Hendrix being perfectly recreated down the road from her. The show, of course, went on, and John retaliated by breaking out the lighter fluid and burning the shit out of his Stratocaster before hurling it across the stage. Jimi would no doubt be proud.

Sunday’s headline act was the Martin Harley Band – an enchanting three-piece from the UK who provided a fantastic set of lush blues and energetic, rootsy numbers, displaying more flair than many musicians I’ve seen over the years. The fact that all three are incredibly talented musicians also kind of helped, with Martin playing some outstanding slide guitar throughout the set, before finishing with – of all things – a slide cover of Hendrix’s ‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’. Very nice indeed.

Desperately plotting a way to ‘miss’ my impending flight home – it’s hard to leave paradise once you’re there – I made my way over to the bar and the impossibly pretty barmaids for one last rum. It seemed rude not to.

Words and photos by Tristan Parker

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