IT was 25 years ago, legend has it, that the venue at 190 Cowley Road, Oxford, reopened under the ownership of local musicians Nick Moorbath and Adrian Hicks as The Zodiac, writes AIDAN LARKIN - aka COUNT SKYLARKIN

The role of general manager was given to a bloke called Shanks – a great gentle giant of a fellow, who Nick had appointed after seeing him break up a fight at a rave.

The place was run-down – held together with cable-ties and gaffertape – but financial investment from Radiohead and Supergrass and the goodwill of the local community, made The Zodiac a very special place indeed.

Christmas Eve that year fell on a Sunday. A last minute decision was made to open the doors and local roots and dub outfits Makating and Dubwiser booked to play. Reggae Christmas was born.

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A quarter of a century later, the world feels like a very different place to how it did in December 1995.

Actually, the world feels like a very different place to how it did in December 2019.

The venue at 190 Cowley Road is boarded up, its staff made redundant when the first furlough scheme ended in September. A few steps away, The Bullingdon is preserved in mothballs. Pubs are clinging to life. For people in my line of business, like in so many lines of business, 2020 has been a challenging time.

2020 also marks 20 years since I first put a record down on a plate and started putting reggae shows on in OX4.

With the help of so many of the dear friends I’ve made since I first pitched up in Oxford, I’ve been lucky enough to bring some of my all-time favourite artists to town.

We’ve had some stunning nights. The Skatalites, The Wailers, Toots, Max Romeo, Alton Ellis, Mungo’s Hi-Fi, Susan Cadogan – the list goes on. I’d hoped to mark such an anniversary with more of the same. As this year draws to a close, I’m turning my thoughts to a 21st anniversary show instead.

But 2020 isn’t quite done yet, and neither am I.

Oxfordshire may be entering Tier 4 after Christmas, but we still have Christmas Eve – tonight!

And while other cities sleep – Covid or not – the people of Oxford have got form for ringing in Old Saint Nick with a bang.

Oxford Mail:

Reggae Christmas 2020 might not have quite the wild festive abandon of years gone by, but we’re going to bloody try.

As Christmas Eve this year falls on a Thursday, a last-minute decision was made to open the doors at Tap Social Movement – a brewery, venue, social enterprise and community space on an industrial estate in Botley.

I called Makating’s drummer, Daniel Norland, to check he was still up for playing, as he has every Christmas Eve for the last 25 years.

Then I called Wrongtom and the Ragga Twins.

The Tap called a pizza van. Substantial meal, done.

We’re rearranging the venue with a new stage so that 100 or so friends and family can enjoy terrific music and company in comfort and Covid-safety.

A gig that traditionally begins at 9pm and carries on till the wee hours will instead start at 6pm and be done by half past ten, but it really doesn’t matter.

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We might have to wiggle our bums on sofas instead of dancing, or catch up with old pals outside by the fire pit at a two metre distance, but that’s fine.

We’re going to get together, we’re going to do it safely, and we’re going to raise a glass to better times to come.

2020 might not have brought me everything I’d wished for, but I’ve got what I want for Christmas.

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