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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

Jazzy Jeff, Concorde 2, Brighton. Weds 9th Nov, 2016

Jeff Townes, aka DJ Jazzy Jeff is a DJ and producer best known for his work with Will Smith. In 1989, they got the first ever Grammy in Hip Hop (for “Parents Just Don’t Understand”) and as a producer Jazzy Jeff has also worked with artists as diverse as Jill Scott and Emimem.

jazzy-jeffComing from an era when playing a Hip Hop set meant playing anything in your record collection that will keep a crowd moving he enthusiastically plays an assortment of songs ranging from Funk, Soul, Reggae and Hip Hop (though I could have done without hearing “Africa” by Toto and “In The Air Tonight” by Phil Collins).

He’s aided by an MC who keeps a largely enthusiastic crowd hyped up without chatting mcover the songs too much (something anyone MC-ing should be aware of). All though the set, vocals and beats are expertly mixed and his cutting and scrathing is rhythmic and on time (something anyone DJ-ing should be aware of).

It’s good to hear someone with an obvious love of music playing a snapshot of their record collection. He comes from a long like of Philly DJ’s who knows how to move a crowd. One of my favourite DJ’s working today.

Peace

DJ Jazzy Jeff

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

Michael Franti & Spearhead, Heaven, London. Fri 21st Oct, 2016

Musician and activist Michael Franti burst onto the scene with hardcore punk band The Beatnigs in the late Eighties before morphing into a rootsy performer delivering universal affirmations of life, love and peace.

franti-2He’s in London tonight to perform songs from his latest album “Soulrocker” with just his guitarist J Bowman in tow and a few special guests. Drawing influences from Hip Hop, Reggae, Soul, Funk, acoustic Folk and the more danceable rave sounds of bands like The Crystal Fighters, you get the feeling his fan base also reflects this broad base of influences.

Bowman and Franti begin the set seated on stools playing guitars and kick off the set with bowman“Hello Bonjour” from his 2006 “Yell Fire” album inspired by his trip to Baghdad, Israel and Palestine (during which he also made his documentary “I Know I’m Not Alone”).

The familiar theme of love that is the focus of a lot of his songs prompts some singing from the audience when he performs “I Got Love For You” from his 2008 “All Rebel Rockers” album. Franti says that he sent out a Facebook invitation prior to the show to invite any conscious musicians to get in touch if they wanted to perform that night. He then introduces us to an Italian dude named Roman who duets with Franti in Italian on “The Sound Of Sunshine”.

Life affirming songs like “Good To Be Alive Today” and “Get Myself To Saturday” sees Franti leaving the stage and leaping into the crowd where he’s promptly surrounded by dancing and singing masses of ecstatic fans.

Another of his guests is a female fiddle player who’s enthusiastic playing is a perfect accompaniment to all the songs. A bass player also comes on to play on some of the songs, with the rest of the backing tracks provided by Traktor software that J Bowman triggers from his position stage left.

frantiFranti is an amiable performer who believes in audience participation and he’s also good at keeping the crowd engaged with stories in between songs. He tells us about his sons kidney problems, how he’s from a family with Native American, African and Scandinavian heritage and how his adopted family includes a policeman step-brother and a lesbian step-sister.

This leads to him declaring his love for his wife who is dancing by the side of the stage as he sings “Life Is Better With You” from the 2013 album “All People”.
“I’m Alive (Life Sound Like)” from the same album also goes down well as the EDM beats and catchy whistled parts get the crowd jumping around with little prompting.

Ethan Tucker returns on stage to accompany Franti on “Let It Go” and the final song is “My Lord” which Franti declares as a foundation to why he writes music. In place of the usual encore, Franti uses the Traktor software to play “Imagine” by John Lennon then segues this into “Three Little Birds”, the classic by Bob Marley and The Wailers, both songs prompting a sing-a-long from band and audience.

He’s due back next Summer with a full band and judging by tonight’s life affirming and positive vibe, that will be a gig worth going to.

Peace

Ethan Tucker

Michael Franti & Spearhead

Beres Hammond, Concorde 2, Brighton. Thurs 11th Aug, 2016

The evening is hosted by Daddy Fridge, longstanding Dancehall DJ from London who introduces a variety of male and female artists singing a couple of tunes each. The brief nature of each PA means that no one particularly stands out for me but they’re all decent enough and it serves as an entertaining warm up as the venue fills up.

beresBeres Hammond has been recording since the early Seventies and has released a string of albums showcasing his brand of laid back, soulful Reggae. Tonight he’s playing in Brighton for the first time ever and has brought along his Harmony House band comprising drums, bass, two keyboard players, guitar, tenor saxophone and two female backing singers.

singersThey’re a great band who show their versatility by backing Beres with uptempo Ska, easy listening Lovers Rock and harder edged Dancehall, the adept guitarist relishing his solos and gurning like he’s auditioning for Spinal Tap. Beres is on great form, a sprightly 60 years of age, he jumps around, runs from one end of the stage to the other and is soon sweating as he performs a perfect selection of his back catalogue. The Concorde crowd respond enthusiastically, singing along with pretty much all the songs and dancing for the whole gig.

Stand out songs, and ones that serve as a perfect introduction to the man if you’re beres 2unfamiliar with his work, are “Can You Play Some More”, his huge Dancehall hit from 1990 “Tempted To Touch” and the classic “Rock Away” at the end of which he even manages a decent impression of Buju Banton’s gruff rock stone voice.

My only gripe is that his set started at ten and with the eleven o’clock curfew at the venue it means we get a strict sixty minute set. Still, it’s good to see a Reggae don like Beres Hammond coming to Brighton and performing with a real love for his music and his fans.

Peace

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