Gardna has been high on our radar since his 2016 summer anthem Sunday, in collaboration with local producer Kreed. The Bristol MC has been on a fast upwards trajectory ever since, linking up with Eva Lazarus and Inja the following year for his next certifiable banger, My Show. 2018 brought his Gentleman’s Dub Club and The Nextmen collaboration and national breakthrough, Rudeboy.
The skankable anthem received radio plays from the likes of David Rodigan, Mistajam, Don Letts and Steve Lamacq. Last month, Gardna performed it alongside Gentlemen’s Dub Club at Boomtown’s opening ceremony to a crowd of 50,000, with a sea of bouncing people singing the words back to him.
Finally, it feels like the time is right to release his own full-length project. Gardna’s debut album Good Time Not a Long Time drops this month and showcases a rounder picture of the MC than we’ve seen before, who made his name rapping over reggae and dub tunes.
a rounder picture of the MC than we’ve seen before
Though a dub and reggae influence remains at the core of the project, other soundsystem styles are given considerable space, from the garage-heavy A Game featuring A Fox, to the dubstep-leaning In & Out with Dread MC.
Though plenty remains across the 12-track album for the purists; in particular, smooth dub track Lioness, which is blessed with honeyed vocals of Hollie Cook, and Shine featuring the shadowy, dancehall-tipped vocals of Bristol MC Rider Shafique.
‘The stem of it all is what it’s going to sound like on a big soundsystem at a festival’ Gardna explains. ‘It’s predominately got that dub and reggae influence, but I listen to all styles of music across the board, be that reggae, grime or dubstep, even to house and techno.
‘All my releases sound a little bit different, though all on the same tip – all stemming back to soundsystem-style music. I wanted the album to be a true representation of where I’m at now. It’s called Good Time Not a Long Time and I feel like I don’t want to hang around in the same place for too long.
It’s called Good Time Not a Long Time and I feel like I don’t want to hang around in the same place for too long
‘A lot of it is reflecting on who I am as a person and where I’m at now, having done this music thing for a few years. It’s about the good times, some of it is a little bit deeper than I’ve usually written, especially In My Zone with Charli Brix. A lot of it is about good times though, we always try and portray a positive mindset in the tunes, because I’m not that much of a down person – I’m always up and on it and pretty excited about doing this still. And I want to make people dance as well.’
One of the scene’s hardest working and most likeable MCs, as Gardna has snowballed towards the well-deserved limelight, he’s picked up a whole lot of friends in the industry. Over the last few years he’s been dropping rare dubplates from the likes of Gorillaz and Breakage in his sets, and his album features a formidable list of guest vocals on all but one track. The full list of vocal features namechecks Hollie Cook, Eva Lazarus, Kiko Bun, Dread MC, Rider Shafique, Catching Cairo, Charli Brix, Omar, Fox and Tawain MC.
as Gardna has snowballed towards the well-deserved limelight, he’s picked up a whole lot of friends
The album was produced for the most part by The Nextmen’s Brad Baloo, with input from Mungo’s Hi Fi, as well as longtime collaborator Kreed, of course.
‘I’ve got to thank Brad from Nextmen for playing a key role in making it sound like an album as opposed to loads of random tracks. He’s produced me a sound for this album and really helped define what Gardna is as a soundsystem-style MC.’
nearly the full lineup is joining Gardna on stage for the Bristol launch
To further demonstrate the level of support he has in the industry, nearly the full lineup is joining Gardna on stage for the Bristol launch, bolstered by a full horn section. ‘I wanted to have a big celebration in the hometown. It’s a massive feeling to be able to perform the tracks totally live on stage’ he says.
‘The dream has always been to put out an album. I’ve done my fair share of EPs and my fair share of features, but I feel like it’s time to ramp it up and this is my time to release a full project.
The people I’ve chosen to collaborate with me on the album are musical heroes of mine
‘The people I’ve chosen to collaborate with me on the album are musical heroes of mine and I’m very lucky to have the features I have, especially with people like Omar – a very foundational UK artist. Even my parents have his vinyls and tapes from back in the day. He was a huge singer in the 90s, so to have him on a track is kind of like new school meets the old school.’
Though he’s in ready-to-strike position now, it’s been a long journey. Through years of hard work and a relentlessly positive attitude, Gardna has earned fans from the ground up; the kind who are willing to buy physical records and set an alarm for his festival sets – no matter the time or weather – who come ready to dance and sing back his lyrics.
He’s been at this since the age of 13, spitting bars outside his local Sainsburys over grime instrumentals with other local kids on their Sony Eriscsson phones, he tells us.
‘At the same time, I’d be like throwing myself into doing random gigs, open mics and any old festival stage I could get my hands on – I’d be there playing after rock bands. In the local bar, I’d be going there at 16, lying about my age, trying to put on nights. I can even remember telling a high profile DJ, who called me up to come on the road, that I was 18.
As an artist you have to earn your stripes. It doesn’t happen overnight
‘As an artist you have to earn your stripes. It doesn’t happen overnight and it hasn’t for me – it still hasn’t happened yet. The day that I get comfortable is the day that it will get boring. Every day I’m working on it some way or another. I feel like the work is never done – everything is a work in progress.
‘Things have happened organically. There’s no major label backing, there’s no one pumping money into this, this is all me. I’m about to quit my job and go full time with music – so the pressure is on. But it’s time to crack it and just go full pelt into this.’
There’s no major label backing, there’s no one pumping money into this, this is all me
While he may be breaking the national circuit, Gardna is a Bristol artist at his core. The melting pot of influences that bless this city from reggae, to drum and bass, to 140, combine to form his unique style.
Gardna took the opportunity with the album to shed some light on the gentrification of Bristol and its impact on the music scene in his track with Dread MC, In & Out. While Bristol continues to make Top 10 Places to Live lists, the reality of its increasing popularity has lead to music venue closures left, right and centre; as the demand for accommodation has hiked rents, pushing creative communities further out of the city centre, and casting important music venues aside in favour of yet more unaffordable housing.
‘It’s a sad thing’ he says. ‘I actually wrote that tune when Blue Mountain announced they were closing down. Blocks of flats are popping up everywhere. People are moving here because it’s trendy to live here and then complaining about the reason why they moved. It blows my mind.
Support the artists, support the venues – buy a few drinks
‘It’s a shame to see these venues under pressure and I felt like it would be good to highlight what’s actually going on here, because people always look to Bristol and they see its thriving music scene. It’s world renowned for being the best place to come and party. But we need to support these venues and support the scene and work together on it effectively. Support the artists, support the venues – buy a few drinks. It’s important to keep it alive, because it’s a great thing we have here.’
As well as supporting a local artist and an independent venue, Gardna’s album launch at Thekla is set to be one of the most memorable shows of the year, packing the stage with some of the UK’s best talent. Joining him on stage will be Brad Baloo, Hollie Cook, Kiko Bun, Dread Mc, Rider Shafique, Kreed, Catching Cairo , Charli Brix and his Boom Sound family.
The show is part of his album tour, which kicks off at London’s Fabric and heads out to Australia and New Zealand, then Europe over the next few months – it’s the only show featuring the eight-guest lineup – ‘I wanted to give Bristol the full shebang’ he says.
I wanted to give Bristol the full shebang
Photos by Dominika Scheibinger