A PET project to keep the spirit of the country’s ‘frontlines’ alive has led a Londoner to explore the colourful past of Swindon’s Manchester Road.
Ashish Joshi and a group of friends have been researching old streets which used to be the hub of life for newly-settled West Indian communities.
The reggae fan believes the dispersal of council housing and gradual integration of the first waves of migrants from the Caribbean and their descendants broke up the meeting points which would focus on shops by day and swinging blues parties by night.
“Frontlines were places people would go for haircuts, to buy food and catch up with friends,” he said. “In the absence of a pirate or legal radio station they were also vital places for news.
“The blues parties spawned an interest in hip hop and baselines and a lot of modern music has its roots in that scene. It’s important for the sense of community to keep that same vibe, that same excitement, going. “It was Manchester Road which added the spice to Swindon.”
Manchester Road, today a meeting point for migrants from places including Albania, Afghanistan, India and Turkey, used to focus on the Pint and Cheese pub.
Swindon reggae personality MC Ranks, who met Ashish on his visit to the town last month, has since started a monthly residency at the spot, renamed the Tap and Barrel.
Fellow Swindon DJ Luchi Fab was also inspired by the meeting and will be playing at the Reggae Garden event this weekend alongside veteran performer Tippa Irie.
Ashish, 42, said: “Historically, Manchester Road had meeting places including the shops, bookies and the Pint and Cheese. “Now a lot of people are stuck in outlying areas through council accommodation and find it difficult to meet other people from the same ethnic background.
“Though there are fewer people in the Census who would describe themselves as coming from a Caribbean background than before, there are still more than in other areas, and it is important to keep that focal point. “In many ways that is already happening through the Broad Green community centre, the many shops on the road and the Tap and Barrel. “But it is something I want to explore further. It would be nice to see a parade or carnival in the area.”
Ashish works as a call centre supervisor in Hounslow, but says he has met many like-minded people with an interest in continuing the best aspects of the frontlines. Anyone interested in sharing research, memories or ideas can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org