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London gig review

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.

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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

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

Macka B & The Roots Ragga Band, Jazz Cafe, London. Sat 30th July, 2016

Wolverhampton born veteran UK reggae deejay Macka B has released over twenty albums and has been active on the music scene for over thirty years. He’s recorded the Mad Professor on the famous Ariwa imprint and played his brand of conscious Reggae all over, being the first Reggae artist to play in Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia.

guitarHe’s here in London tonight to promote his latest album “Never Played A 45” and is backed by The Roots Ragga band, a four piece comprising drums, bass, guitar and keyboards. They begin the set by playing a couple of instrumentals that gets the Jazz Cafe crowd moving to their tight, danceable vibes. They’re a tight backing band who provide the perfect backdrop for the bass baritone deejay stylings of Macka B.

It’s a great performance, showcasing Macka B’s versatile styles as he sings and chats double time over music that is firmly in the Roots and Dub end of the Reggae spectrum. There’s lots of stand out tracks, “More Than A Sex Machine” is his ode to respecting the ladies while “Ganja” and “Medical Marijuana Card” details his views on the benefits of herb, told in a story telling style that stays humorous and never preachy.

macka bAs a long standing vegan he lays down his views with “Macca B Don’t Want A Big Mac” and “What I Eat”, in which he runs down a long list of foods he eats to maintain his six foot three frame whilst avoiding fish and meat. Again, it’s performed in a matter of fact way without being too preachy, the double time speed at which he lists all the foods going down particularly well with the crowd who don’t stop dancing for the entire set.

Another song that goes down well is his tribute tune “Everybody Loves Bob Marley”, detailing the universal appeal of the Reggae legend in a mellow,  rootsy  style. After telling us that he doesn’t like to hear too much gun talk in songs, Macka B asks if we want to see his 45. Turning his back to the crowd he then produces a vinyl 45 single and promptly launches into the title track off the latest album “Never Played A 45”, his uptempo song detailing the joy of playing music on vinyl.

A fantastic 90 minute set from a deejay veteran who knows how to draw on his thirty plus years of performing to deliver a great show.

Peace.

Macka B

The Skints, The Laundry, London. Sun 17th July, 2016

UK punky Reggae band The Skints are putting on their own party here in Hackney, North-East London tonight. They’ve got an array of acts lined up as well as the Reggae Roast Sound System featuring Brother Culture, Tippa Irie and Earl Gateshead from Trojan Records.

Support comes from New Kingston, a Brooklyn quartet comprising three brothers playing drums, guitar and keyboards with their Dad on bass. They’ve released three albums to date, with the  latest “New Kingston” out at the moment. Their blend of jazzy Reggae is uptempo and rootsy, something that would go down well at festivals as well as on the radio. They can all play well, taking it turns to solo and showcase their skills. They also all share vocal duties, presenting a lively set that gets the crowd moving.

The Reggae Roast Sound System keeps the place jumping in between acts, with long standing deejays Tippa Irie and Brother Culture trading rapid fire toasts and boasts.

Next up are the party hosts themselves. Joshua (on guitar and vocals) says that they’ve recently returned from playing some American dates and are happy to be back in the UK where they can get a decent cup of tea. Their sound is basically a mix of Grime, Dub, Ska, Reggae and Punk, and they’ve managed to blend all these influences into a sound that is uniquely their own yet completely representative of multi-racial Britain.

They don’t really have a front person, vocals come from Jamie the drummer, Joshua or Marcia, with Jonathan Doyle anchoring the songs with some heavyweight bass. As well as vocals Marcia also plays flute, alto saxophone, melodica, percussive samples and keyboards depending on the song. Their third album is entitled “FM” and like previous album “Part And Parcel” it’s produced by Brighton Reggae heavyweight producer Price Fatty.

As Tippa Irie is in the house, they play “Tazer Beam” and “This Town”, both of which feature the UK deejay. A veteran of the Saxon Sound System alongside Smiley Culture, Tippa Irie is an energetic and confident performer who gets the crowd going with his enthusiastic patter.

The crowd are here for The Skints though, and as they blast through their old and new songs it’s clear that they’ve got a big London following, with a very vocal crowd singing along for the entire set. A lively homecoming gig from a good live band.

London born Marla Brown, daughter of Reggae icon Dennis Brown, comes on stage to perform one song and gets a big welcome before Jesse Royal closes the show.

His brand of Roots Reggae is firmly in the vein of Protoje, Chronixx and Jah 9 and is a perfect way to end the evening. His band consists of drumns, bass, rhythm guitar, lead guitar and  keyboards and they provide a solid and danceable backing as Jesse “The Small Axe” delivers an energetic set. He went to school with Daniel Marley, son of Ziggy, and was mentored to some extent by members of the Marley family.

“Modern Day Judas” is still his most outstanding song for me, but all the songs performed tonight were uplifting without being preachy.

A great night out with some excellent acts all on the same bill. If The Skints put on another party definitely go check it out if you can get there.

Peace.

Reggae Roast

New Kingston

Tippa Irie

The Skints

Jesse Royal

Stand Up And Spit, Punk Poetry and Discussion. The Roundhouse, London. Sat 9th July, 2016

There’s a series of events at the Roundhouse in Camden to celebrate forty years of Punk in the UK. Ranting poetry was always a part of the UK Punk scene and this is being celebrated in a discussion entitled “What did Punk ever do for us?”

The panel was made up of Richard Boon (former manager of Buzzcocks, now working as a librarian at Stoke Newington Library), Rhoda Dakar (former vocalist in Two Tone bands The Bodysnatchers and The Specials), Danny Fields (music business veteran and former manager of The Ramones, who played at the Roundhouse in July 1976) and Tim Wells (veteran ranting poet and the man who runs the Stand Up And Spit blog). Dennis Bovell, the veteran Reggae musician and producer was due to be on the panel but was stuck on a train somewhere and unfortunately didn’t make it to the event. The panel was chaired by Matthew Worley (professor of modern history at the University of Reading). The first question got the panel talking about what Britain was like in 1976 and we got tales of people working a three day week, electricity cuts, the long hot Summer of that year and how various strikes led to rubbish being piled high in the streets.

Rhoda Dakar had particularly poignant tales of how here mixed raced heritage led to her being rejected by both black and white communities and how she found solidarity amongst a handful of her mixed race school friends. Danny Fields was slightly contentious in that he insisted that music and politics didn’t mix, but this was roundly criticised by everyone else on the panel.

There was also a Q and A with the audience, with Rhoda Dakar being the most vocal and entertaining of the panel members. All in all it was an interesting and entertaining talk with a group of people who were involved and affected by Punk in the 70’s.

After a 30 minute break, it was time for the poetry side of the event. There were quite a few poets on the bill so they each did around three poems each and swiftly made way for the next person. First up, and MC for the event, was Salena Godden who delivered a series of poems in the guise of amusing public service announcements.

Next up, Phill Jupitus in his Porky The Poet guise gave us a poem about the first band he ever saw and another one entitled “They’ve All Grown Up In The Beano”, recounting what all the comic characters are up to now.

Tim Wells, who runs the Stand Up And Spit blog and is one of the original Punk ranters gave us a poem about Goths being sick on the night bus and the gentrification of places like Hoxton in East London.

Liam McCormick from Glasgow delivered a poem about sectarian bigotry while Kate Fox from Bradford spoke about class and gender with humour and punch.

Old school punk poet Garry Johnson told more tales of class warfare, reciting fiery poems with titles like “Young Conservatives”. Joseph Beamont-Howell is one of the poets in residence at The Roundhouse and delivered a series of poems in a vivid, story-telling style.

Sophie Cameron from Yorkshire delivered a series of funny, foul-mouthed poems reflecting on “posh cunts” as well as the Tindr generation and got perhaps the best reception of all the poets.

Finally, veteran Jamaican dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson closed the show. With a career spanning forty years and several albums as well as having his work in print, he’s one of the most influential of the poets on the bill. Starting with “Five Nights Of Bleeding”, his poems written in the 70’s, it’s amazing to hear how his words have as much relevance now as they did then, particularly in the wake of Black Lives Matter and the Mark Duggan incident.

His next poem “It Dread Ina Inglan”, is another of his older poems, this time about the framing of George Lindo for armed robbery in Bradford, West Yorkshire. Again it still resonates with a relevancy that shows how little some things have changed.

To make the point, his final poem is “Licence Fi Kill”, about police killings of Black people, then as now an ongoing problem that needs urgent resolution. LKJ doesn’t need to write anything new when the subjects he addressed all those years ago are still issues that many so called democratic countries continue to struggle with.

To round off the event, Laura Anderson the guitarist with Thee Jezebels thrashed out three messy Punk oldies “I Fought The Law” by The Clash, “Something Better Change” by The Stranglers and “Hurry Up Harry” by Sham 69, joined on the chorus by Tim Wells and Phill Jupitus.

A great afternoon of Punk inspired ranting by a fantastic bunch of wordsmiths.

Peace.

Stand Up And Spit

Ernie Ranglin & Friends, Barbican, London. Mon 27th June, 2016

Support comes from Nérija, a seven piece Jazz ensemble who play a mellow mix of African and Caribbean sounds rooted in an urban London experience. They emerged from Tomorrow’s Warriors, the youth programme created by the Jazz Warriors. It’s an entertaining way to open the show and they’re a great group of musicians.

Ernie Ranglin has just turned 84 and his seven decades on the music scene has seen him do pretty much everything within the world of Jamaican Mento, Ska, Rocksteady and Reggae. He produced and played on Millie Smalls’ seminal hit “My Boy Lollipop” in 1964, gave Bob Marley guitar playing tips, played on Junior Murvin’s classic 1976 album “Police And Thieves” and played on countless sessions for seminal producer Duke Reid, the owner of the Trojan and Treasure Isle labels.

He’s finally decided to call it a day as far as live touring goes, and is currently on a farewell world tour. His final date in London is here at the Barbican, where he’s joined by an all-star band comprising Tony Allen, the Afrobeat drummer who played with Fela Kuti, bassist Ira Coleman, Senegalese multi-instrumentalist Cheikh Lo, British saxophonist Soweto Kinch and pianist Alex Wilson.

Alex Wilson was the only one to address the crowd, thanking us for coming and introducing some of the songs. Ernie Ranglin never spoke but cheerfully acknowledged the applause that greeted his solos as he moved around the stage throughout the set. Whenever he wanted someone to solo he would stand next to them, frequently going over to Soweto Kinch who played with enthusiasm, perfectly complementing Ranglin’s mellow guitar sounds. It was a shame when Soweto Kinch left the stage about three quarters of the way through the set, as he never returned and no explanation was given as to why.

Percussionist Cheikh Lo was in great form all night. He took up his own guitar on a couple of songs while the rest of the band accompanied him and he even relieved Tony Allen on drum duties for a few songs as he expertly drummed and sang. Ira Coleman’s bass playing anchored the whole set, his deeply resonant notes and assured style keeping the whole thing together while allowing the other musicians plenty of space to play.

Ernie Ranglin cut a sprightly figure as he flitted about on the stage, clearly enjoying himself as he ran through a range of songs and styles. When playing lead guitar he would use a pick, but when he was playing rhythm guitar as another musician played a solo, he would hold the pick in his mouth. He frequently played in a percussive style, sliding his fingers on the strings to change the pitch of the notes or draping his left hand or arm over the fret board to mute the sound.

The band played from his 1997 album “Below The Bassline” and also gave a nod to The Skatalites by playing “Ball Of Fire”. Ernie Ranglin’s signature tune “Surfin'” also got a big round of applause. The encore of “Nana’s Chalk Pipe” also got a good reception and with that the entire band sauntered off stage with Ernie Ranglin waving to the crowd as he left.

Great to see this important figure in Jamaican music one last time.

Peace.

Nerija

Ernest Ranglin

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