Young Blood Of Roots @ The Mean Fiddler 22nd April 2007
It may be far from London’s reggae heartlands to the North, South, East and West, but the Mean Fiddler (formerly Astoria 2) has long been one of the capital’s better venues. Small and intimate, it boasts superior sound, great atmosphere, and while not without its faults - it’s difficult to see the point of that annoying raised step thing in the middle of the stalls - has played host to some of the best concerts of the last ten years.
So the opportunity to see some of Jamaica’s brightest stars in such a close environment was an enticing prospect, particularly when the head-liners were Turbulence and Junior Kelly; both returning to these shores less than a year after their blinding Young Lions Of Roots show at Hammersmith Palais.
The first marquee act to take the stage was a group of JA music grads called C Sharp, playing a set heavy with timeworn covers such as Kinky Reggae and Johnny B Goode. What rescued us from a pure nostalgia trip was some extremely tight playing, and they soon succeeded in thawing out a crowd who’d been waiting just a little too long for something of substance to happen. As the night went on C Sharp proved also to be a highly versatile backing group, capable of knocking out anything from pre-ska styles to the latest dancehall, and it would be nice to see them again in the near future, perhaps higher up the bill and with more of their original material.
Next came Queen Ifrica, a lady who really knows how to work a crowd; for within one tune the whole place was eating out of her hand. Although a limited singer, she combined exemplary showmanship with an exciting rockstone delivery and, like her father (the legendary Derrick Morgan) there was a pleasingly hard edge to her music, even when she broke into a mento number at the end.
Wandering on stage with a white towel shrouding his head, Ras Shiloh (not Gyptian as advertised) looked all business, but while his song choice was superb he failed to ignite the crowd, and as the performance went on many peeled off to the bar. Ultimately his vibrato-heavy style was difficult to sing along with, and yet he kept exhorting the audience to assist him instead of just getting on with the show. There were some definite high points (whipping off his turban to flash some impressive locks, and later dedicating a tune to the incarcerated Jah Cure) but I was left with the impression that, while an excellent performer on record, his voice just wasn’t strong enough live.
An audible groan went up from the crowd when compere Daddy Ernie announced that Junior Kelly wouldn’t be joining us, and at such a late stage in proceedings the news halved my expectations for the rest of the night. Turbulence started slow, singing from off stage, and then gradually, song by song, he built up momentum. Every time a tune got going, however, he’d stop it and start the next. This is a common technique among the Bobo sing-jays, but when Capleton did it the previous weekend we were grateful (the raging intensity of his act was at times hard to bear) while this time we were left wishing for more.
Turbulence jumped to the head of the pack last year with the brilliant (if somewhat frontloaded) Notorious album; one of the most fearless displays of genre busting pop since Michael Jackson last worked with Quincy Jones. Yet tonight we got nothing but the title track which he abandoned after the opening line of the first verse and fled the stage. The band played brilliantly in his absence but why he did not continue with a song that was finally tearing the roof off the place is a mystery. Perhaps he was simply fed up with a hit that admittedly has been everywhere for the past twelve months? Or maybe now his relationship with Sasha is over he has no love for a record where she was clearly his muse. To close the show all the acts came back to the stage for a singalong at end.
Don’t get me wrong – this was far from a bad night, slightly tepid at its worst and pretty good most of the time. Yet with all the essential elements of an amazing show in place (a great band, great venue and undeniable array of talent) there was an overwhelming sense of what might have been. Perhaps everyone was in second gear looking forward to the end of the tour and the return to Jamaica. None-the-less, there was only one thought in my mind as I left: If only Kelly had been there, we would have been truly entertained.
Review by Angus Taylor