tootsOn a brief tour of the UK before heading for America (North and South), Toots Hibbert, born in 1945, is still going strong and the audience (young and old, black and white) of course loved this set at the Newcastle Academy on September 9th 2016: a performance still vital after all these years. The nine-strong ensemble (ten if you count the very visible roadie) sounded as though they were enjoying it rather than going through the motions which must be a tempting option for bands of this vintage. Kicking off with Pressure Drop, Toots and the band took us through a variety of tracks including the hits that everyone wanted to hear: Louie Louie, Never Go Down, Sweet and Dandy, Funky Kingston (accelerating very briskly to its conclusion), Light Your Light, ending with a fine Monkey Man. Surprisingly a high-spot was the bass-driven rendition of Country Roads, demonstrating that John Denver songs can rock after all. The encore brought a reprise of Monkey Man before going into 54-46 Was My Number, finishing on a high with some crashing rock chords. The only downside to the evening was the venue: shifted (for ‘regeneration’ reasons?) from the Boiler Shop to the Academy, involving an unnecessary queue for tickets (again) and sadly illustrating that the latter venue’s poor sound system and dire-quality video screens can take the edge off a great performance. But that’s not the fault of Toots and the Maytals who gave it all they had.

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Jimmy Cliff’s appearance at the Riverside on 6th August was another chapter in his undiminished record as a great purveyor of classic ska and reggae. His voice remains strong, his movements across the stage rapid and seemingly accomplished with ease. The venue helped: bigger than a backroom club, smaller than an arena-scale theatre, it was the perfect setting, yards from the river and with views of three of the Tyne bridges close by.

Beginning with drum-based African-mode Bongo Man and Rivers of Babylon, the set went on to include all the songs you might expect, from the very early Miss Jamaica and King of Kings, through the UK hits You Can Get it if You Really Want, Wild World, the Harder They Come and Vietnam, and taking in Hard Road to Travel, Let Your Yeah be Yeah, and of course Many Rivers to Cross, the location adding poignancy to this last song. Musically the band was excellent, moving from song to song seamlessly, often without a break, and holding down the rhythm perfectly. The pitch and volume of the bass gave your internal organs something to think about while the backing singers complemented Jimmy perfectly. As the set moved on for not much less than two hours, the strongest moments were in the upbeat ska numbers where it is difficult to imagine anything much better.

It was a show where Jimmy Cliff knew how to interact with the (diverse and madly enthusiastic) audience and where he knew what they wanted. But, crucially, this wasn’t Elvis in Las Vegas. It wasn’t just a reprise of well-known tunes; it was real, and authentic. Playing in London tonight, and then in mainland Europe, see this if you can, as it really doesn’t get any better than this.

Following the cancellation of the Green Phoenix Festival – where the Wailers were due to headline – the Jumpin Hot Club managed to secure the band to play here in the small club atmosphere of the Cluny. Pity about the festival, but even before cancellation the organisers had been concerned that their commendable reliance on natural sustainable energy just wouldn’t be enough to power the bass requirements of the Wailers, and, judging by tonight’s formidable output, they were probably right.

Much of what you would want to hear from the Wailers’ catalogue was here, including Natural Mystic, Rastaman Vibration, Trenchtown Rock, Kaya, Bend Down Low, Jamming and a lengthy encore that started with Redemption Song and found its way into Exodus/Punky Reggae Party. Two of the highlights were not necessarily the most obvious: one was an excellent driving take on Soul Rebel which, if anything, conjured up the sound of the Gladiators/U-Roy versions even more than the memory of the original; the other was a strong rendition of Kinky Reggae which, in its live incarnation on the ‘B’ side of No Woman No Cry, included a memorably relaxed bass interlude, reproduced here nicely by the remaining Marley-era Wailer, Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett. More »

No need to persuade the audience here, who were clearly revved up for a Toots and the Maytals greatest hits session, and that’s exactly what they got. Opening with Do the Reggay from all those years ago, familiar songs followed in rapid succession, with Time Tough ratcheting up the rhythm from reggae to ska in the final bars to get people moving, a trick nicely repeated throughout the set.

After all this time, Toots clearly knows exactly how to work an audience in a seemingly effortless way, and it was straight into Pressure Drop, Amen, Sweet and Dandy, Reggae Got Soul, Louie Louie, Funky Kingston, Monkey Man and more. More »

The New York reggae outfit with a strange habit or reinventing rock albums we thought we all knew to saturation point already must have wondered what to expect from this venue – we’re playing where? On a summer’s afternoon on a stage set on a headland stretching itself out in the North Sea against a backdrop of buildings from the 13th century – some new bits were added in the 15th century – with medieval flags fluttering in the warm breeze this is definitely a different sort of place to see the band, just as it must have been to play. It seemed to have an effect on crowd and band alike with an infectious kind of positive energy. The set started in a lively style with Bed of Rose from their EP ‘Until that Day’, then it was into selections from their three covers of classic rock albums. These were principally drawn from last year’s ‘Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band’, starting with Sergeant Pepper then into With a Little Help from my Friends, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and She’s Leaving Home. More »