Alton Ellis @ The Jazz Cafe 5th January 2006
It’s always nice to start the year with a live performance from one of Jamaican music’s true legends, and it was this thought that took me up to the Jazz Café on 5th of this month to catch Alton Ellis playing a one off London date.
The cosmopolitan crowd spanned all ages, and this might account for the slightly uneven pre show selection, veering from heavily judgmental Twinkle steppers to classic Bob to Alton himself and back again. They were also unusually enthusiastic for a British audience, as they proved when Mr Soul took to the stage.
Rocksteady was, of course, the order of the day, and Alton got straight down to business with some of his genre defining hits. It was a pleasant vibe, and the fans lapped it up, but five songs in, I was hoping it would shift up a gear.
Then everything changed with the first four notes of Girl I’ve Got A Date, a song of beautiful simplicity matched only by the coldness of its message. From there on in, the tunes never stopped, from ‘Breaking Up’, to ‘I’m Still In Love’ to a splendid ‘Ain’t That Loving You’ which was up there with Dennis’ version at Montrose.
The band (with gratifying brass section) proved themselves to be not only very good, but sharp witted. When an enthusiastic member of the crowd shouted ‘I want rocksteady’ the keyboardist shot back with ‘be careful, that mean different things to different people’. On hearing a shouted request of ‘I still in love with you’ Alton simply replied ‘I’m glad’.
Sadly, as the night went on, the great man’s voice faltered at the highest notes and several looks of discomfort flashed across his face. In between songs he spoke of how he had not been feeling well of late and for a time it seemed like the evening might draw to a disappointingly early close. But this was not to be, his vocals though strained, held up, and when he invited Winston Francis and a seemingly ageless Dennis Alcapone on stage for the finale (a rendition of the ubiquitous ‘World A Reggae Music’) satisfaction was guaranteed.
All in all, a good performance if not a great one from a true professional and for this reviewer, worth the ticket price just to see him in the flesh.
Review by Angus Taylor