Album of the Year: I Haven’t Been Nicking in Ages – Benji Webbe

A celebration of roots rock reggae

YOU probably don’t really like music if you’re unable to pick an album of the year – and if choosing your album of the year is easy then it’s likely you don’t listen to that much music.

BenjiCD

But Benji Webbe’s ‘I Haven’t Been Nicking in Ages’ is easily the stand out album of 2015. It’s not often the frontman of a rock metal band releases a smooth as silk album of lovers rock and reggae.

That’s what Webbe did this summer, in-between hosting the Kerrang rock awards and getting back to the day job of sold out shows and festivals across the UK and Europe with his regular band Skindred.

Musicians love to claim they can’t be pigeonholed, or insist they don’t see themselves as being of one particular genre. Pleasingly for fans discographies usually don’t bare this out. It is uncommon to find an artist producing an entire album, even a solo side project, in a different style of music for which they are known.

Though reggae isn’t unfamiliar territory for Webbe – Skindred and his previous 90s rock group Dub War are usually described as reggae influenced – the album of 15 original tracks is musically, squarely in the conventional reggae category.

No More Figthing – Benji Webbe

As the 48-year-old from Newport says in the sleeve notes it is an album he has wanted to record “for over 30 years”. Those notes and thank yous are a testament to reggae in south Wales. From Webbe’s early days following his brother’s band, the Beatroots to 80s Cardiff group, Bismillah and their contemporaries Conqueror Sound System ‘I Haven’t…’ is shaped by the most Jamaican of music’s local roots.

Production is handled by Steve ‘Stickz’ Heyliger, best known for his 2000 UK garage hit ‘Sorry’ recorded under the moniker Monsta Boy. Webbe says the pair met over 20 years ago and have always wanted to collaborate on such a project. Stickz adds warm, rich instrumentation and as is typical of reggae also incorporates some popular, existing riddims.

As a songwriter Webbe, one of the best known characters of the south Wales music scene, hasn’t shed all of his rough, punk edges. His sweetly sung lyrics can take you by surprise, and aren’t what you would typically hear on a reggae record as Webbe doesn’t care for some of the culture’s often conservative attitudes.

On ‘Tonight’ Webbe asks his reunited lover: “I got to know that when you last fucked him?/ I got to ask you, did you do a 69?/ No bodder tell no lie/ Me hear say you inna dat some time/ But you never wanna do that with me/ And that’s what’s fucking with my mind.”

But neither are such lyrics typical of an album that has an overwhelmingly positive and uplifting message from a singer who wants to “walk from the darkness and in to the light.”

Disappointingly ‘I Haven’t…’ has gone under the radar of the music press and wasn’t shortlisted for the Welsh Music Prize. Perhaps the punk ethic of self financing and only selling a limited number through a dedicated website has held back Webbe’s solo project?

This year’s awards and accolades have come and gone but for me ‘I Haven’t Been Nicking in Ages’ is the album of the year. After all what’s more 2015 than a genre swapping personality, changing and challenging existing perceptions?

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