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.