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I saw a band…here’s what I think…

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London African Gospel Choir, Concorde 2, Brighton. Thurs 29th Jun, 2017

trioThe London African Gospel Choir is a huge musical ensemble that reflects the diversity of the African and Caribbean diaspora. Tonight the choir is made up of six female and two male singers one of whom comes from Jamaica, the rest coming from different parts of Africa. They’re ably backed by a lively band comprising drums, percussion, bass, guitar and two keyboards players either side of the stage.

Tonight they begin the set by singing some of their own songs before playing the wholemale singer of Paul Simon’s 1986 “Graceland” album. It’s easy to forget the controversy this record provoked at the time, with Jerry Dammers, Paul Weller and Billy Bragg condemning the recording of the album when there was still a cultural boycott of South Africa, although Simon did work with Ladysmith Black Mambazo and was encouraged by Hugh Masekela.

SingerThere’s no denying it was a great album though, filled with the witty and emotional song writing that Paul Simon is known for. The members of the choir take it in turn to sing lead on different songs and really make them their own. There are impressive versions of all the songs with great harmonies and lead vocals from all involed. The whole set is extremely well received, “The Boy In The Bubble“, “Under African Skies“, “I Know, I Know” and “Crazy Love, Part II” all getting great reactions.

Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes” and the instantly recognisable intro to “You Can Call Me Al” also do down really well, the all age audience singing along and staying enthusiastically involved throughout the whole set.

They encore with an extended instrumental with the men in the choir showcasing their “gumboot” dance moves and a final African song that involves stomping away your troubles. The London African Gospel Choir have taken an album mired in controversy and transformed it into an uplifting and celebratory event.

Peace.

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The Impressions, Union Chapel, London. Tues 13th June, 2017

Having originally formed in 1958, The Impressions are now on their farewell tour. Fittingly for their brand of Gospel-orientated soul, they’re playing in the Union Chapel.

They’re backed by the eight piece Curtom band, comprising drums, percussion, rhythm guitar, bass, trombone, trumpet, sax, keyboards and it’s a measure of their enduring appeal of their songs that they open with “It’s Alright” and “Gypsy Woman” from their first LP “The Impressions” released in 1963.

They’ve had various line up changes along the way but original members Sam Gooden and Fred Cash still make up the backbone of the trio. Of course, it’s the insprirational songs of Curtis Mayfield that have endured and we get to hear the classics “People Get Ready“, “Keep On Pushing“, “I’m So Proud” and “We’re a Winner“. Fred Cash mentions Curtis Mayfields’ death in 1999 and the lasting legacy of his songs, also telling us that “Choice Of Colors” from 1969 wasn’t played on the radio at the time as it was deemed too controversial.

The group have been inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame as well as the Vocal Group Hall Of Fame and it’s easy to see why with their assured and polished soulful vocals, getting the sold out crowd to sing and clap along.

It’s a great but far too short 75 minute set which ends with a largely instrumental version of “Move On Up” and leave the stage waving and saying good bye to their London fans for the last time.

Peace.

London International Ska Festival Boat Cruise. Fri 14th April, 2017

The London International Ska Festival usually kicks off over the Easter period, and we’re here for the annual cruise on the River Thames aboard the Dixie Queen. First on are The Magic Touch, a Berlin five piece who play Ska, Rocksteady and Reggae. Their danceable set includes a lively version of The Clash’s “Safe European Home“, and soon gets the packed boatload of Ska fans jumping around. They’re also going to serve as the backing band for the two singers on the bill, so it’s a long gig for them this afternoon.

Christopher EllisFirst singer up is London born Christopher Ellis, the son of the legendary “Godfather of Rocksteady” Alton Ellis, who had been based in the UK since the Seventies up until his death in 2008. Sporting a smart naval jacket and cap, Chris proceeds to entertain with a lively set. His Dad wrote the classic “I’m Still In Love With You” in 1967, and it’s great to hear the son doing such a great job of his father’s song.

It’s a lively and entertaining set, with Christopher engaging the audience, shaking hands with skinhead fans down the front and generally being a fantastic front man. He’s well received by the up-for-it crowd, these events usually have a good fan following, before he makes way for Bitty McLean to take the stage.

Birmingham born Bitty McLean also delivers a danceable set, his voice sounding clear andBitty McLean strong as he sings a crowd pleasing set that includes “Walk Away From Love” and “In And Out Of Love“. Unfortunately, one woman decided to get on stage to have her picture taken with him mid-song, and this led to the rest of his set being spoilt by a steady stream of women getting on stage to have their pictures taken too. At one point he stopped to good naturedly say that he’s in the middle of a show, but this didn’t stop the female admirers from getting their self-satisfied selfies.

The shows put on as part of the cruise are always good, but this was definitely one of the best ones I’ve seen so far. Good work by Sean Flowerdew for putting this and the whole of the London International Ska Festival on and good work by The Magic Touch band for playing a great set and backing the performers.

Peace.

The Magic Touch Band

London Ska Festival

Wilko Johnson, Assembly Hall, Worthing. Thurs 13th April, 2017

Support comes from Mollie Marriott (the daughter of the Small Faces front man Steve Marriott). She’s got a debut album out “Truth Is A Wolf” which I’m guessing makes up the bulk of tonight’s set. It’s a self assured performance and she possesses a decent voice, there was just nothing that particularly stood out about the set.

wilko 2There’s been much written about Wilko Johnson’s battles with cancer and his subsequent operations and recovery, and after attending his farewell gig in London it’s fantastic to see him back on the road playing music. He’s backed by drummer Dylan Howe and infamous Blockhead’s bassist Norman Watt-Roy with Wilko playing his famous red and black Fender Telecaster.

The power trio kick off with “All Right” from his 1980 album “Ice On The Motorwaywilko 1and it’s a shame the venue is seated as his uptempo brand of R ‘n B, Blues and Rock is more suited to great to dance to. Throughout the set we get the trademark Wilko thousand yard stare as well as the gliding from side to side in time to his choppy guitar licks. It’s a hyperactive set peppered with Dr. Feelgood songs as to be expected, including “Going Back Home“, “Roxette“, “Sneakin’ Suspicion“, “Paradise“, “Back In The Night” and “She Does It Right“. The Feelgood songs particularly still stand up and draw a great reaction from the older crowd, not bad for forty year old tunes. He also plays a cover version of the Bob Dylan song “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?” as well as “Everybody’s Carrying A Gun” from the “Going Back Home” number one album that he did with Roger Daltrey in 2014.

During this song he introduces the band and we get a pounding drum solo from Dylan Howe and a funky bass solo from Norman, who by now is absolutely dripping with sweat, as anyone who has ever seen him play with The Blockheads will have seen before.

They encore with “Bye Bye Johnny” by way of tribute to Chuck Berry and that’s the end of the set. Great that Wilko is still playing his brand of dynamic, killer music. He’s 70 this year and looks to be healthy. Here’s hoping he’s around for a good while yet.

Peace.

Mollie Marriott

Wilko

Seun Kuti, Concorde 2, Brighton. 22nd Mar, 2017

Support comes from Lakuta, a Brighton based collective with a new album “Brothers and Sisters” on the local Tru Thoughts label. They play an infectious blend of Afrobeat, with Kenyan-Tanzanian vocalist Siggi Mwasote ensuring the crowd are nicley warmed up with her exuberant performance.

seun kutiAfter a short break, Egypt 80 are introduced one at a time and take to the stage. The large band, many of whom played with Fela Kuti, are comprised of drums, bass, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, trumpet, trombone, tenor sax, batitone sax, congas, two other percussionists and two female backing singers.

They immediately strike up a lively Afro-Funk horn-led groove and the trumpet player begins to sing “African Soldier”, the first song on the 2011 album “From Africa With Fury: Rise”. He then introduces Seun Kuti, a jovial figure who bounds onto the stage in a brightly patterned outfit. He starts with “Mr Follow Follow”, one of his Dad’s songs, a harsh critique of those who follow religion without question.

Throughout the gig he delivers good natured speeches that contain barbed references to Christians, Muslims, intolerance, racism and the treatment of poor people throughout the World. He introduces a new song from their latest E.P. “Struggle Sounds”, repeating the title several times before telling us that the song “Gimme My Vote Back (C.P.C.D)” stands for “Corporate Public Control Department”. In true Kuti tradition it’s a song about the inefficiency of government and politicians that manages to be upbeat and groove heavy without being too preachy.

The whole band are lively and enthusiastic performers, with the two singers also displaying seun saxnifty dance moves. Seun Kuti occasionally plays alto sax or moves stage right to play keyboards, but most of the time he’s the main focus centre stage delivering an energetic performance that leaves him sweating and removing his shirt to play the rest of the set bare-chested.

He casually mentions that they usually play for four hours in Nigeria, so with the eleven p.m. curfew here in Brighton he’s playing for a quarter of his usual time for twice the price. They end their jubilant set with “Theory Of Goat And Yam” and I’m sure the packed and enthusiastic crowd would have been happy to dance along with Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 for longer.

Peace

Lakuta

Tru Thoughts

Seun Kuti & Egypt 80

Don Letts, St Pauls, Worthing. Sat 5th Nov, 2016

Not a gig tonight, but a DJ set. Don Letts is a London born musician and film director who has alo been a DJ since the days of the Punk venue The Roxy in the Seventies.

He’s here tonight in Worthing to play a set that encompasses Ska, Dub and Roots Reggae. Reggae has long been a genre of music that is fond of a cover version and there are plenty in Don Letts’ set. So we get to hear Reggaefied versions of Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” by Prince Fatty featuring Little Roy, The Chosen Few’s “People Make The World Go Round” and “Son Of A Preacher Man” by The Gaylettes (featuring Judy Mowatt who later joined the I-Threes to sing with Bob Marley). The cover versions are played alongside long standing favourites like Bob Marley and Toots And The Maytals.

Still preferable to slack Dancehall tunes, it was a set that wan’t bad just not particularly adventurous.

Peace

Don Letts on 6 music

 

 

Sleaford Mods, Brighton Dome, Brighton. Mon 30th Oct, 2016

Punk stalwarts The Cravats have been around since 1978 and kick the evening off with their short, sharp punky diatribes peppered with honking, squeaking sax. The band is made up of drums, bass, lead guitar, saxophone, vocalist The Shend and a guy sitting with his back to the audience reading a newspaper. Their sound echoes around the cavernous surroundings of the Dome as it slowly fills up, but they gamely plough through a spiky set of uptempo tunes.

UK rapper Cappo is up next, a UK Hip Hop veteran and stalwart of the Notts scene which has always been a vibrant and vital part of the history of UK Hip Hop. The scene up in Rock City, Nottingham has been documented in the film “NG83 – When We Were B Boys” which is currently doing the rounds, and Cappo is a part of that story. My only gripe is that his set and the music sounds pretty much the same on each track, bass heavy, slow head nodding beats that give Cappo plenty of room to show his lyrical dexterity. He brings out two other MCs and as “Triple V” the three of them perform over more of the same types of beats. It’s good, just not wholly engaging or particularly dynamic.

After a short break, a burst of fanfare announces the arrival of Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearn, aka Sleaford Mods, onto the stage. They’ve got a new five track E.P. out called “TCR” and proceed to perform a blistering set comprising this new material alongside their older tunes. News songs like “Britain Thirst” and “You’re a Nottshead” continue their winning formula of Andrew’s abrasive bass heavy production and Jason’s rapid-fire witty observations of life in a country that tells us “we’re all in this together” while institutions like banks are rewarded for failing as others barely get by with the aid of food banks.

Early problems with Williamson’s vocals through the house P.A. are soon forgotten and the uptempo beats quickly lead to some moshing at the front of the stage. My only criticism is than the set feels a little short, but the frenetic pace that Williamson employs to deliver his reams of lyrics means that each song is over in double quick time.

They encore with “Jobseeker”, “Tied Up In Notts” and “Tweet, Tweet, Tweet”, a great triple whammy that would serve as the perfect introduction to the band for the uninitiated. This is the third time I’ve seen them in Brighton and each time it’s been in a slightly larger venue. The Brighton Dome felt a little too big for what they do, their uptempo and intense performance being better suited to getting closer to the stage in smaller venues, but they’re still more entertaining and much more relevant than many of the bands around at the moment.

Peace.

The Cravats

Cappo

Seaford Mods


Raging Fyah Band, Jazz Cafe, London. Tues 25th Oct, 2016

Support comes from Stick Figure, the California based band led by producer and song writer Scott Woodruff. They’ve released several albums and consistently do well on the Billboard Reggae charts but their stoner Reggae and Dub stylings are a little too pedestrian for me. They’ve got a lot of support in the audience though, with people singing along to the majority of the songs and happily dancing around for their entire set. It’s an ok set, just not hugely gripping. I was more interested in Cocoa their tour dog who quietly lies down on the stage whilst the band play.

kumar-raging-fyahRaging Fyah are a Roots Reggae band who are here to promote their third album “Everlasting”, recorded at the legendary Tuff Gong studios in Jamaica. They’re a tight five piece comprising drums, bass, keyboards and lead guitar, with vocalist Kumar Bent on rhythm guitar. Musically, they evoke the spirit of bands like Aswad and Third World, with songs touching on spirituality and redemption.

Their self assured performance shows they’ve been playing a lot of gigs in the last couple of raging-fyah-bassyears and they get the sold out crowd dancing from the very first song. The songs, with titles like “Dash Wata”, “Nah Look Back” and “Milk And Honey” deal with themes ranging from embracing and loving life through to dealing with adversity and put Raging Fyah up there with Chronixx and Protoge in the conscious Roots Reggae stakes. A great gig by a band who will hopefully be around for a good while to come.

Peace

Raging Fyah

Two Tone Boat Cruise, London. Sat 22nd Oct, 2016

Not a gig as such, just a club night that’s spun off from the annual London International Ska Festival that takes place every Easter. This time it’s a 2 Tone Thames cruise sailing along the Thames on board the MV Jewel of London which sails from the Festival Pier on The South Bank in London.

Ska Festival organiser Sean Flowerdew is on DJ duties tonight, playing a selection of classic 2 Tone tunes from The Specials, The Selecter, Madness, The Beat and Bad Manners. Of course it’s not all tunes made during the second wave of Ska, we also get to hear tunes by Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Elvis Costello and The Blockheads as well as classics from Jamaican originals like Prince Buster, Derrick Harriott, Desmond Dekker and The Skatalites.

It’s a great way to view the city, with the Ska boat cruising past such London landmarks as Somerset House, The Shard, the Oxo Tower, Tower Bridge and The O2 in Greenwich while  a sold out crowd stomps and jumps around to these great songs for the duration of the four hour cruise.

They also do a Trojan Records cruise celebrating the music of that iconic label so if Ska, Rocksteady and Reggae is your thing keep an eye on their web site and Facebook page for upcoming events.

Peace

London International Ska Festival

London Ska Festival on Facebook

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