Sunday, March 27, 2016

London International Ska Festival

The London International Ska Festival has been taking place this weekend. I wasn't able to go, but Ace Records' Tony Rounce was at a couple of events - Bob Andy at The Garage and a riverboat cruise - and has kindly given permission to use his FB review on The Vinyl Word. Thanks Tony for a great write-up.
What a great couple of days music I've had. I wanted to say a bit about how great last night's Bob Andy show at whatever the Town And Country 2 is calling itself this week was. It was a real privilege to witness this supreme master of music at work. A man of incomparable lyrical and musical genius and with the voice of an angel. A man whose compositions have done more to progress the cause of songwriting in Jamaica than any other writer, living or dead. A man who would rather deliver a thought-provoking lyric harnessed to a quality melody than pepper his songs with endless cliches about Jah this and Jah that.
As I said when posting last night, Jamaica's greatest ever songwriter. And one of its top five - no, let's make that top three - singers. You could hardly have wanted more from the man than he delivered last night. Sure, he didn't sing all of his classics but that was only because he has so many of them that the show would have run to about three hours if he had. Some of those that he omitted I've seen him sing before, so for me it was not the end of the world that he didn't do 'Desperate Lover', Let Them Say' and 'Fire Burning'. The songs he chose to perform instead - songs from his own vintage repertoire that he had never sung live before like 'Crime Don't Pay', and classics that he's written for others in his Studio 1 days such as 'Impossible Love' (Delroy Wilson) and 'I Don't Want To See You Cry' (Ken Boothe) were a revelation for even the most ardent long-term Andy fan such as I am.  
Throughout the show Bob continually returned the love and respect that the audience was sending up to the stage from the minute his excellent backing musicians kicked proceedings off. He did not employ his religious beliefs as part of his act - there was only one mention of Haile Selassie all night and then only where Bob had changed 'God' to 'Jah' in one song to reflect said beliefs. He did not waste precious minutes trying to engage the audience in endless singalongs and when he did point the mic at us occasionally, we were all singing along anyway. He did not squander precious time on letting his exceptional backing musicians overtake his songs with extended solos that were never part of the original records - when he did let them stretch out, the solos were brief and to the point. He gave the people what they wanted, and set a new standard for future visiting reggae veterans to aspire to.
I had plenty of time to think about how great this show was, on a 3 hour journey home across town that involved the last southbound Victoria line tube and three different night buses. The memory of it kept me warm on a long trek and a bitterly cold night, and I've replayed it all again in my head since getting up. He could hardly have been a more perfect ending to what had already been a pretty perfect day (of which more later...) Suffice to say that I will be reaching into the Bob Andy Song Book quite a bit over the course of the weekend.
I've but not said much about Friday's trip down the Thames. Not because it wasn't good - it was great - but just because I've been too busy to fully decompress. I know a lot of people were disappointed about the absence of Carlton Manning, and indeed most of the party that I was going with opted for the refund because he wasn't there. Their loss, as it was a splendid afternoon anyway. You've already met Miss Jackie Mendez in another post of mine this morning. A whole 'eap o' talent in an extremely attractive package, her short set was made up of mostly originals that sounded like oldies plus a couple of real ones - 'Endless Memory' and 'Stop That Train', done in the style of the Spanish Town Skabeats rather than a la Keith and Tex. I also filmed this to share with you, but the audio was rather marred by the two women who decided to strike up a conversation in the middle of the song (why do people do this, especially when they are standing at the front of the crowd?)
Carlton's mysterious absence was more than atoned for by the exceptional East L.A quintet that backed both Jackie and the afternoon's star turn. They may have looked like Thee Midnighters but the Delerians sounded like they had just stepped out of a Kingston recording studio c. 1969. Five extremely adept musicians - the keyboard player in particular - they also sang sweetly as well and the audience took to them immediately. I'm sure that I was the only person there who got their reference to Whittier Boulevard, and probably the only person not on the stage who has actually driven down it, but when they dropped into a few bars of 'Land Of A Thousand Dances' I almost felt like I was listening to Little Willie G and his formidable comrades. I'm sorry that both Jackie and the group were doing no other public-accessible UK shows during this tour. I hope I get the chance to see both again soon.
Augmented by a couple of horn players the Delerians also provided stellar backup for Daddy U-Roy. I'm sure beyond question that I was the only person on the trip who saw the DJ legend's first London show at the Telegraph in Brixton in 1972 (a pub that, ironically, I drove past the very next night on my way to see Oh!Gunquit and DOLLS at the Windmill). I'd never seen U-Roy live again in the intervening 44 years, and I was a little worried that one of my ultimate heroes of Jamaica music might not be quite as sharp as he once was. I needn't have worried - he was in fine form as he gave us 'Wake The Town', 'Rule The Nation', 'Wear You To The Ball' and a bunch of other gems exactly as he'd performed them on the records - word perfect (The guy standing next to me was laughing at me quietly DJ'ing along with Daddy Roy but, well, you have to, don't you?) . He didn't just 'do' Treasure Isle - the 'Natty Rebel' album that he did for Prince Tony brought forth 'Chalice In The Palace', 'Runaway Girl' and the title track. His takes on 'OK Fred' and 'Stop That Train' (this time a la Keith and Tex) were great fun too.
For me, though the highlight was 'Flashing My Whip'. It's always been my favourite U-Roy 45 and he didn't do it when I saw him in '72 so I've been waiting a l-o-n-g time to hear it performed live and direct. I can now die happy... Daddy U-Roy may be getting up there in years now, but he rolled the decades back to remind me of a time when I cared about little else other than reggae, and his records in particular. I was still smiling inwardly as I crossed over to North London for Bob Andy's brilliant show five hours later. 


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