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Concert reviews

New Leaf Concert - Twinkle Brothers, Afrikan Simba etc @ The Stratford Rex, Friday 17th March 2006

It’s one of the coldest days ever, and a select few have braved the icy winds and headed out East to catch the ‘New Leaf’ Concert tour, a ‘Spring Roots 2006 Roots Jamboree’ billed to include Leroy Brown, Louie Culture, Chuck Fender, and headliners the Twinkle Brothers. Unfortunately, spring is nowhere in sight. If ever there was a test of a group of musicians ability to turn up the heat, this is it.

A little disorganisation goes with the territory on nights like this. Bands come on late; ticket holders are often left waiting at the door while non ticket holders are let in. But tonight everything goes wrong. The doors open a full 2 hours later than advertised, lost keys and general confusion on the part of the venue leave DJs, musicians and fans standing out in the freezing streets. Worse still, all Jamaican artists bar the Twinkles have failed to make it into the UK.

The night is also woefully under-attended. At the peak of proceedings, there are about 200 people in a drafty 2500 capacity venue with too few heaters. Poor advertising may be partly to blame, but it’s also likely that many ‘waverers’ decided it was too cold to leave the house.

After a few false starts, we get a decent selection from Saxon Sound, dropping a bit of Marlon Asher, Richie Spice and the Rod Taylor’s spanking new version of His Imperial Majesty. Unfortunately the selector seems unaware that half the acts haven’t turned up and the mood remains uneasy.

Afrikan Simba
Afrikan Simba. © Angus Taylor

The difficult first spot goes to new UK act Jah Miracles, who does his best to thaw out the crowd with his songs Heart Attack (on the Jah Give Us Life rhythm) and Creep. Next up is another home-grown act, Lady P, who starts with a pleasing steppers version of Dreamland followed by Friends, her own take on Angel of the Morning.

But the man who really starts to turn it around is African Simba, who plays a heavy dubby set that gets heads nodding in appreciation. The vibes get even better with the entrance of Nerious Joseph, a consummate showman, who refuses to let his enthusiasm drop for a second. His soulful mid-range voice is equally at home on both roots ("Jah Never Fail I") and lovers ("Say you love me") and he does a great job of lifting the mood.

Norman Grant at the Stratford Rex
Norman Grant. © Angus Taylor

We only get one Twinkle Brother tonight, Norman Grant, but it really doesn’t matter. Backed by The Twinkle Riddim Section consisting of Black Steel, Dub Judah, Jerry Lions, Prince Barry & Aron Shamash, he is infused with a youthful energy and his voice is on much finer form than in any live performance captured on record. They power through a short tight set, with few rewinds, and the highlights are Give Rasta Praise, a flawless I Love You So, and of course, Rasta Pon Top and They Never Get Burn. There is no horn section, but with the exception of Jahoviah, none of the Twinkles big tunes feature much brass that much so it makes no odds.

“Good things come in small packages – this is a special gathering” is Grant’s take on the tiny but devoted crowd and he is right. The show was overly ambitious, badly organised and let down by the weather, but I felt privileged to be there at the end.

Review by Angus Taylor

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