Congos, Gladiators and Dr. Alimantado @ The Forum 4th Nov 2006
Fireworks, championship boxing on Sky, and TWO premier division ensemble roots gigs on the Saturday and Sunday - the 4th and 5th of November was an unusually busy weekend. Both concerts took place at Kentish Town’s Forum, giving the proceedings a festival vibe, and calling to mind the much missed Brighton Essential Roots days of the mid 90s when scores of great roots artists (some sadly no longer with us) performed on the same bill.
Saturday night, an unusual prime-time spot for reggae in this country, was a chance to catch 3 acts who have enjoyed considerable cross-over success over here without straying too far from the original plan: The Gladiators, The Congos, and Dr Alimantado. That all had done some of their finest work with Lee Perry made for a well chosen line-up.
The Congos © Angus Taylor
Entry was swift, thanks to the novel idea of ticket holders being let in to the venue first - organisers of other events take note. Inside there was a large array of clothing, DVDs and other memorabilia for sale from different quarters, adding further to the feeling of being at a festival, while the pre-show selector played lots of quality seventies roots, hampered slightly by problems with the PA, yet perfect for a fairly cosmopolitan crowd without a great deal of interest in the contemporary scene.
Dr Alimantado is clearly a family man. First we heard his wife singing some love standards, while his band, the Dr Alimantado Experience, featured his children on backing vocals. The good Doctor was clearly overcome with emotion at being given ‘my first 45-minute set in this country’ to perform, and he nearly talked it all away. Luckily, this being Saturday night, there was plenty of time to spare, and he played an excellent ‘showcase style’ set where Man Next Door was followed by Poison Flour and each tune exceeded the last, ending with a hypnotic jagged guitar solo – leaving no doubt that quality of musicianship would not be a problem tonight.
The Congos band was better still. There were no horns but the group do not feature brass too strongly in the studio making its absence irrelevant. They powered through a crisp, muscular set, first concentrating on their harder, more orthodox later work, before whipping up a storm with the more uplifting Perry productions and a rendition of Hey Youthman that was the high point of the night. Cedric Myton’s voice (stronger than in recent performances abroad) is one of a select few that makes ‘bleating’ an attractive term of description, and the only disappointment was Watty Burnett’s singing being too low in the mix to be heard, with the exception of his solo Fisherman verse.
Cedric Myton © Angus Taylor
True to the incremental nature of the show, the Gladiators backing players were the strongest of all, finally showcasing real horns with a rousing Rock Forth Rock. They sang all their best tunes, including a brilliant Bongo Red featuring that amazing signature guitar-work. Just the other week I was lamenting the inconsistency of old school roots live performances, and the sad necessity of cutting costs and corners with backing bands. With such generous set times and excellent playing throughout, this concert proved me wrong - it is still possible to enjoy the music as it should be, with each act as good (if not better than) the one before. As the saying goes, I’d rather be happy than right.
Review by Angus Taylor