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.
There is still something at a Wailers’ performance that was always there – the mix of cultures and ages, the joyful atmosphere and a resolutely good mood. Amongst the crowd, a shaven headed football fan in, appropriately enough, the black and white stripes of Newcastle – fresh from victory earlier in the day – sang One Love to all who would listen. That nicely summed it all up.
While the current Wailers line-up traces its lineage back to the earlier band in the shape of ex-Upsetter Aston Barrett on bass, the question inevitably arises of the point at which the band ceases to be the Wailers and starts to be a Wailers tribute band. Of course it’s been common in reggae music to retain a band name for a fluid membership over the years, and in rock too there are some striking examples of the ‘idea’ of the band having a greater longevity than its members. Arthur Lee’s stewardship of West Coast band Love ensured a forever- changing line-up from the 60s through to Glastonbury 2004 while, even further back, the Byrds managed to go through a 100% personnel change and complete change of musical style while still remaining in some sense the ‘same’ band. In the case of the Wailers the original members are no longer with us, so to hear a performance like this is an act of respect as well as a great set. Judging from the music played by the band this evening, and its reception, it’s still the real thing. It certainly sounds like it anyway.
The Wailers, Cluny, Newcastle upon Tyne, 22nd August 2010