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London gig review

Benjamin Zephaniah & The Revolutionary Minds, Jazz Cafe, London. Sat 14th Oct, 2017

Support comes from Unit 31, a band who record in their own right alongside Amy True Amy Truewho is part of Benjamin Zephaniah’s Revolutionary Minds band. They’re a funk and soul band comprising drums, bass, keyboards and lead guitar and their short instrumental set is a great opener for the main event.

Benjamin Zephaniah has been writing and performing poetry for several years. He has also written books, practices martial arts and can be seen acting in the BBC series “Peaky Blinders”. Tonight he’s performing tunes from his new album of dub poetry called “Revolutionary Minds“, produced by The Sea (Toots & The Maytals, Rodney P, Massive Attack, The Wailers, Buju Banton).

ZephaniahHis band is made up of drums, bass and keyboards with Amy True on backing vocals. They’re a tight knit group who back the charismatic Zephaniah on poems dealing with racism, patriarchy, global warming and political and ecomonic corruption. The songs have titles like Earth Liberation Sound, “More Animal Writes”, “Revolutionary Minds” and “What Stephen Lawrence Hass Taught Us” and even though the subject matter is heavy, the songs are presented with humour through a bass heavy filter of danceable music. Zephaniah understands that you have to make the show entertaining especially if you’re going to present such gritty lyricism.

It’s a set full of great danceable songs which are ultimately empowering. Revolution through dub poetry, well worth seeking out.

Peace.

Amy True

Benjamin Zephaniah

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Damien Marley, Somerset House, London. Fri 7th July, 2017

Support comes from David “Ram Jam” Rodigan, long time veteran Reggae DJ who warms up the crowd with a variety of classic tunes. His good natured and enthusiastic interjections gets the crowd moving as the open courtyard of Somerset House slowly fills up.

Next up is the singer Black Am I, part of the Ghetto Youth International set up that Damien Marley is involved in. He sings “Black Am I” and “Living Dread”, two conscious and rootsy songs that server as a good opener for the main event.

Damien Marley’s band take to the stage and play a short instrumental. They’re made up of drums, bass, lead guitar, two keyboard players and two female backing singers as well as a kind of ‘Rasta Bez’ figure whose sole purpose is to wave a huge red, gold and green flag above his head for the entire performance, good stamina!

The band then begin the booming intro to “Make It Bun Dem” and Marley comes bounding onto the stage to a sea of the now obligatory phone cameras held aloft. He then launches into “Confrontation” and from there we get a great run down of songs from his previous albums. His fourth album “Stony Hill” is out now and from this the band plays “Medication”, “Nail Pon Cross” and “Caution”.

There’s a touching moment halfway through the set when Damien and the band launch into some of his father’s songs, with “Is This Love” prompting an enthusiastic audience sing along. The two backing dancers also execute some nifty dance moves during the performance of “Exodus”.

Throughout the set he keeps the crowd engaged, a really good front man delivering an entertaining set. They encore with his monster hit “Welcome To Jamrock” which still sounds epic considering it was released in 2005 and that’s the end of the show as we reach the curfew at 23.00.

Gigs at Somerset House during their annual “Summer Series” programme of events are always worth attending. The former Tudor palace is a great location for gig going
and with artists of Damien Marley’s calibre you’ll be guaranteed an entertaining spectacle.

Peace.

Damian Marley

Somerset House

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

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 “Wha’ Me 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

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