• Mon. May 20th, 2024

Count Skylarkin celebrates 22 years of reggae in Oxford at The Bullingdon


Sep 29, 2022

COUNT Skylarkin lives and breathes reggae. A musical missionary for Jamaica’s finest sounds, cut him and he’d probably bleed one-drop beats and banging bass. And he is an Oxford institution.

Creating off-beat magic on the turntables in jazzy shirt or dapper tailored suit and trademark pork pie hat, he is an instantly recognisable figure. You’ll find him bringing good times to clubs, bars and festivals – often playing from within his Disco Shed: a garden hut kitted out with decks and speakers. But his spiritual home is Cowley Road, cutting a dash in its sweaty venues and much-missed carnival.

Always one for a celebration, the Galway-born party animal regrets missing out on a chance to mark his own two decades in his adopted city – plans for a bash scuppered by the virus. So this weekend he is inviting us all to join the belated bass-heavy revels.

“I never got to celebrate my 20th anniversary cos, y’know, I wasn’t working in Downing Street,” he says.

“So instead, two years on, I’ve been putting on a series of events – imaginatively titled ‘Skylarkin 22’. In June David ‘Ram Jam’ Rodigan, the godfather of the UK reggae scene, graced us with a set. Now, this Saturday The Bullingdon welcomes back the mighty Mungo’s Hi Fi.

“Four guys from Glasgow with first-class roots and dancehall selections, and the biggest, baddest bass bins in the business, they’ll be bringing their magnificent, hand-built soundsystem and setting it up for four hours of the finest roots rock reggae – and rib-rattling bass.”

For an Oxford icon, it comes as a surprise to learn that Aidan turned up in the city by accident.

“I was born in Ireland but mostly grew up in South London, eventually finding myself on the streets of East Oxford in late 1999 after deciding to swap Brixton for Brighton but getting on the wrong bus,” he explains.

“The first Skylarkin night took place a few months later when I was asked,with about 20 minutes notice, if I could fill in for one of the Wednesday residents at Princes Street Community Centre after he’d been delayed coming back from a plastering job, perhaps ironically, in Brighton.

“I threw as many records as I could into every bag I could find around my flat, neglecting to even leave enough room for a pair of headphones, and played every single one of them, pressing my ear to the needle to cue them up.

“Somehow, I got away with it, and I’ve been getting away with it ever since – moving onto a weekly berth in the basement of The Brickworks – now The Library – before walking back up the steps to the dizzying heights of the Zodiac – now the 02. The rest, as they say, is history. And, to me at least, it really is.”

But it’s not only the Count’s sets which have brought down the house – it is the stars of reggae he has brought to the city – giants of ska, dub, dancehall, roots and rocksteady.

He recalls: “With the help of the Zodiac’s co-owner Nick Moorbath, I was able to bring some of my all-time heroes to the city I’d come to call home. Real, bona fide reggae royalty like The Skatalites, who turned up with walking sticks but had to be virtually dragged off stage after more than three hours of joyous brass-bound brilliance.

“Then there was Max Romeo, who sang his controversial hit ‘Wet Dream’ onstage in Oxford in 2008 for the first time anywhere in more than 30 years. The late, great Alton Ellis also stole the hearts of everyone in OX4 with a mesmerising show shortly before his sad passing; his wife and children looking on dewy-eyed from the side of the stage and occasionally joining him on it.

“I’ve been involved in bringing The Wailers, Toots & The Maytals, Lee Scratch Perry, Horace Andy, Dawn Penn and Susan Cadogan to Oxford… the list goes on and on. I’ve had the absolute time of my life.”

With much to celebrate, and lost time to make up for, the softly spoken, modest and endearingly enthusiastic Aidan admits tonight at ‘The Bully’ will be one for the history books.

Count Skylarkin at Common People. Picture by Guy Henstock

“I’m throwing a party,” he says. “There’s a lot going on this weekend but I’d love it if you could find the time to join us.

“I’ll be playing a special set laden with highlights from my 22 years in the trade, while Mungo’s Hi Fi will be playing all their classic productions on their incredible, incendiary soundsystem.

“And perhaps best of all, we’ve got one of the UK’s finest toasters, or MCs, Myki Tuff in the house. If you love reggae music like I do, there really is only one place to be.”

Tickets for Skylarkin 22 at The Bullingdon, Cowley Road, on Saturday (October 1) are available on the door and via wegottickets.com