Skatalites/The Majestic @Nells Jazz & Blues

5 stars (out of 5)

0

Doreen Schaffer 26/10/18

Oh, ‘tis my delight on a Friday night…..to find a smallish, intimate venue where there’s something interesting going on. Especially after the wide open cavities of the O2 on the previous night.

And there is something interesting going on here, period. Approximately 300 people big when rammed I’d guess, they’ve got anything from the aforementioned jazz and blues to The Sweet, and Steve Harley coming up. Eclectic, you might reasonably conclude.

And tonight, it’s Ska night – and how. Tonight’s headliners – The Skatalites, who had a bona fide top 40 hit back in the day, a day which was a very long time ago when the world was new, with their Skatalitic version of “Guns Of Navarone” and were band mates, stable mates and studio mates with the likes of Prince Buster, Jackie Mittoo, Toots and the Maytals, etc. Bluebeat is pretty much what it was, but they have broadened out and have reggae’d the whole deal up a fair bit as time has gone by, styles have changed and the world woke up to those off-beat rhythms.

Faada Ras 26/10/18

Tony Alli 26/10/18

And, none of your messing about here – The Majestic is playing in support and they soon prove to be an extremely effective unit. Once the sound desk had woken up to the fact that the singer would be best heard with some access to a live mic, they play tracks from their album “Unequivocal Love” and a handful of other songs with discipline, affection and conviction. They are led by Faada Ras who bounces, cajoles and drives the band through the set making certain the audience is completely engaged with what’s going on. Bass player Tony Alli is as solid as a rock but really, this isn’t about any individual; they are a very well rehearsed, very tight unit which actually plays like a band who do a hundred gigs a year or so. They have some good, slick-sounding material as well, especially “Too Cool” and “Free Up Your Mind”. Keep an eye out and an ear open.

They also formed an appropriate and affectionate platform to ‘launch’ The Skatalites. The wonder of these guys is they pack a full three-part horn section of tenor sax, trumpet and trombone – the archetypal full band brass section, but absolutely spot-on for Bluebeat and Ska.

And what they did was really, really interesting and complex. The ‘legacy’ of this band is the stuff from the Bluebeat and Ska era; their original period of peak creativity was around 1963 to 1965 or so; but then they ‘sort of’ split then reformed years later, by which time music had pretty much moved on, the way it tends to. And so, to survive, they adapted and took influence and inspiration from other, later reggae styles – and why not? As individual band members they played alongside the likes of Jimmy Cliff, Ken Boothe, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Peter Tosh. Not only have they earned the right the hard way, how could musicians of such talent be expected to stand still, just because their ‘moment’ happened a long time ago? So in 2018, and still with some, how shall we say, more venerable band members such as drummer Trevor ‘Sparrow’ Thompson and oh-so-solid bass player Val Douglas, who find themselves sharing the same band vehicle as other younger members with other influences, such as stratospherically-talented sax player Azemobo ‘Zem’ Audo and guitarist Natty Frenchy who has been in there with the likes of U-Roy, they present an absolutely fascinating hybrid which seems to zap backwards and forwards from just post-Laurel Aitken and Prince Buster through to much less jagged and almost ‘rocky’ reggae tunes, the kind of thing that Peter Tosh might have been knocking out back in the day.

But it really isn’t the sort of audio train crash it could conceivably have become. These people know exactly what they are doing and move seamlessly between genres without clumsy ‘gear changes’. The trombone really ‘bosses’ the ‘older’ ska tunes, especially the likes of “James Bond” and the pop hit , “Guns of Navarone”; but the guitar easily drives the band along with the more fluid and sinuous songs in the set. Special mention for Ken Stewart on the keyboards as well, who shifted with the deftest of touches from the hard, rhythmic ‘piano’ sound needed on occasion to the more soulful, Hammond-like offering which was also on occasion called upon.

Azemobo ‘Zem’ Audo 26/10/18

The high spot for me, apart from the fabulous instrumental groove of the indeed mighty ”Guns Of Navarone”, was the point where the generally-acknowledged ‘Queen of Ska’, Doreen Schaffer, took to the stage to take us through a clutch of hits from those times. The crowd positively revelled in the warmth and togetherness she generated; Feel The Love, indeed. The fact that she left the stage to even greater acclaim than she arrived to was suggestive not only of the respect and admiration in which she is held – but the fact that she can still Nail It. Which she did.

Doreen Schaffer 26/10/18

Whole place was rocking by the time the band drove hard to the finish line which I think was either a quick blast of the “Nutcracker Suite” or a reprise on “Guns” but to be honest by that time I wasn’t counting. What a joy that was. Great venue, excellent performances. Joyful. I really felt that I’d lively upped myself, and that doesn’t happen every day – and an object lesson in how a band can, with dignity and no loss of credibility, keep true to their roots, but take themselves forward into the future, and still be a relevant and entertaining force of nature. And that’s not an easy trick for anybody to turn.