This whole event is the brainchild of Sean Flowerdew, keyboardist and songwriter in Pama International and former keyboardist with The Loafers. He’s been part of the UK Ska scene since his teenage years, running a record label, bringing artists over and generally supporting the scene in this country. This is the second time that this event is taking place, the first time being back in 1988 at the Brixton Fridge. The idea is to showcase a variety of young and not so young Ska bands from around the world. So over the course of 4 days there are 22 bands and 10 DJs scheduled to play. The whole thing kicked off yesterday and I’m attending Friday and Sunday’s events.
I arrive at 20.00 on Friday and already the venue is packed. There are some great DJ sets from Jim Cox and Gaz Mayall who between them play a great selection of vintage Ska and Rocksteady tunes. Brighton band The Hotknives play a storming set and have a decent following singing along to their songs. I spotted a few Brighton faces in the crowd and one guy told me that they had organised a coach up, so good effort from the B-Town ska heads. The Loafers also play a raucous set that goes down really well and this is followed by The Dub Pistols and their updated take on the Ska sound. They also invite Lynval Golding from The Specials onto the stage and he leads us through a rowdy version of “Gangsters”. After the set, I say a quick hello to him then he spots Jerry Dammers and heads off for an animated conversation with his ex-bandmate.
Dave Barker and Ansell Collins are veterans of the scene who first got together in the early Seventies but have been around as session men since the Sixties. Ansell is the keyboard player and Dave is the vocalist, so Ansell comes on first to lead the band through a few uptempo Ska instrumentals that showcase his Hammond organ skills. He’s backed by a tight band who themselves are veterans of the UK ska/reggae scene including Buttons Tenyue on trombone, Bigga Morrison on keyboards and Black Steel on guitar. It’s a rocking band and together and together they get the crowd moving. After a few instrumentals he introduces Dave Barker who bounds onto the stage to huge applause. His singing voice still sounds great but his speaking voice has exactly the same intonation as his legendary introduction on “Double barrel”. This has the bizarre effect of making everything he says to the crowd sound like an announcement as well as the intro to that song :-).
He includes a couple of cover versions, “Just my imagination” and “Blowing in the wind” before launching into “Double Barrel”. It is, of course, the highlight of the set and still sounds brilliant after all these years. I guess that’s the hallmark of a classic tune, and for a song that came out in 1971 (and apparently is the first record a teenage Sly Dunbar drummed on) it sounds absolutely timeless. Dave Barker is a great frontman too. Chatting to the crowd and putting everything he’s got into each song. But again, his generation of Ska and Rocksteady performers understood good showmanship. A great set and a great way to finish the second day of this festival.