Young Lions of Roots @ The Hammersmith Palais, London on Monday 1st May 2006
Any enquiries as to the state of modern reggae music were answered by the size of the queue, long before doors opening time, outside the Hammersmith Palais on Bank Holiday Monday night. Most of the people in it were there to see Junior Kelly or Bushman, many were there for Turbulence, Gentleman or Chezidek, and a few, myself included, were eagerly anticipating the first appearance of one Anthony Martin, or Lutan Fyah, in the UK.
The Palais is a decent venue. The sound system is powerful and crisp, there are lots of dark corners to hide in if you like, and tonight – amazingly for a reggae show – they had the whole entry thing down, with ticket buyers picking up their tickets from the box office window at the side of the building, before joining the main ticket holders queue. As a result everyone got inside quickly and without fuss.
Lutan Fyah © Angus Taylor
Lutan Fyah has yet to score that big hit that will propel him into stardom, and most of the audience did not know who he was. A surprisingly tiny high energy performer, he ran all over the stage like the star footballer he used to be. The AOR tinged opening band did not seem as familiar with his songs as they could have been and his set was over almost before it began, but he made the best of the difficult opening spot, and a good go of warming up the crowd. If you don’t know this man’s work, seek it out as he is one of the most talented artists in Jamaican music today.
Chezidek © Angus Taylor
Next up was Chezidek who literally filled the room with his amazing voice. Listening to his records is enough to tell you this man has an incredible vocal range but hearing it live is something else. Again, however, his position on the bill meant he had to say goodbye after just five songs.
Turbulence proved himself to be the consummate showman and the crowd really started to make some noise during his set. His swaggering charm was vindicated when he invited a lady punter on stage and she refused to leave. In between bands we were treated to one of the best concert selections I’ve heard in a while.
Gentleman came on next, and he really connected with the crowd. He had his own band who were musically more proficient than their predecessors although I thought their sound could have been a little louder.
Junior Kelly © Angus Taylor
Then it was the turn of Junior Kelly, the man most of the audience had been waiting for and he did not disappoint, delivering an incredibly tight fast paced set that was the peak of the evening. Some of the credit must go to backing musicians the Groove Band who gave an ample demonstration of why they were top of the bill - If only they had played behind some of the earlier acts too! With the crowd under his spell, Junior was able to speak at some length between songs, giving his (sometimes controversial) views on AIDs, poverty and his faith without losing the flow.
He was so well received that he stayed on longer than his allotted time, and some of the audience were looking a little tired when Bushman came on. But ‘the man from the East’ was in no danger of being upstaged and his set was a relaxed affair ideally suited to the hour. He spoke of his idol Dennis Brown (the resemblance between their voices is uncanny) and while he was disappointed to be rushed off stage due to licensing concerns, he brought the show to a satisfactory close.
Bushman © Angus Taylor
This concert showed that Reggae music has survived the controversies of the last few years and the censorious reactions of the media and political class.
As the lights went up compere Daddy Ernie told everyone to behave themselves ‘because the authorities don’t want us here’ ‘Don’t give them an excuse’, while out in the street the mood was peaceful but defiant, and as we walked home, screams of ‘Jah Rasta Fari’ echoed into the night.
Review by Angus Taylor