Support comes from London band The Sidewalk Doctors, who combine a Rocksteady sound with mellow vocals, they’re ok and are a good enough way to kick off the evening but most people are waiting for the main event.
Born in Cuba in 1934 but moving to Jamaica at an early age, Rico Rodriguez is a trombone playing legend who has worked with everyone from Prince Buster to The Specials to Jazz Jamaica. He went to the famous Alpha Boys school, where he learned his instrument alongside Don Drummond (member of The Skatalites and at one time considered to be the best trombone player in the world).
Rico moved to the UK in the Sixties, and in 1976 recorded his classic album “Man from Wareika”, which he’s playing in its entirety tonight to mark the opening night of the London International Ska Festival.
Rico is of course on trombone and has another trombonist with him, the rest of his band is made up of drums, percussion, guitar, bass, sax and trumpet, with Dick Cuthell (Rico’s bandmate in The Specials) on flugelhorn and cornet.
There’s a good cross section of all ages in the crowd, from those in their early twenties to the ubiquitous ageing skinheads who are always at these sorts of gigs.
The “Man from Wareika” album still sounds great, it’s full of mellow, grooving instrumentals and I listen to it all the time. It’s well worth picking up a copy if you’ve never heard it. Sublime Reggae with more than a tinge of Jazz, in fact I think it’s still to this day the only Reggae album that was released on the famous Blue Note Jazz label.
Sly and Robbie provided drum and bass duties on the original recording and the two musicians on stage tonight do a great job of recreating both the deep bass lines and the skittering percussion that holds the album together. Not surprisingly, there’s a tropical feel to most of the rhythms, serving as a great cross pollination of Latin, Soul, Rocksteady and Jazz.
My favourite tune on there, “Africa”, is played with a bouncing exuberance. I think Dick Cuthell was the engineer on the original recording, and he plays with a spring in his step as the appreciative audience groove along.
Rico plays with a twinkle in his eye, co-ordinating the solos and occasionally taking a breathy solo himself. Although at 78 years of age he’s more content to groove along with the entire band and who can blame him. He gets everyone singing along to “Jungle Music”, his 1982 Two Tone single with the “you must be cray-ay-ay-ay-zee!” chant and it goes down really well.
In 2007 he was awarded an MBE for services to music, a fitting accolade for a great musician, long may he continue to play. The evening ends with Jerry Dammers playing some classic Ska and Rocksteady tunes and it’s a great way to round off what was a brilliant start to the London International Ska Festival.