Abyssinians / Black Uhuru : Jazz Café, 7th November 2007


Most of my posse were seriously put off this gig by dint of it being (a) at the Jazz Café and (b) £30 to get in. Paul Meme’s immense powers of persuasion swayed me, though, and whilst I’m glad I went, the night got me thinking about the good and bad of reggae gigs in general.

The good is that the place was rammed out, which shows that there is still a load of interest in reggae in London, with a lot of people prepared to stump up their hard earned to see it. With all the scepticism about download culture it was great to get somewhere hot, sweaty and loud to see this stuff in the flesh. The crowd was pretty diverse in terms of race and gender but the gate pressure obviously meant it was yer neat and tidy end of things rather than natty dread sufferers who were in attendance.

Image courtesy of merylklemow on flickr

Image (not from the gig last night) nicked from  merylklemow.

The Abyssinians came on in a timely manner, looking splendid with Bernard Collins and Donald Manning in gold and red silk and David Morrison a bit more casual. That was one main worry out of the way. Reggae gigs are notorious for starting late and for certain artists being, how shall we say “a little worse for wear” when they deign to come on stage. A mate of mine at work had a grim time when she went to see Barrington Levy and Sanchez recently on a Sunday night and things didn’t get going til 2am.

The band sounded great, and worked hard all night, backing up both acts. My one complaint is the absence of live horns of any description. I can see keyboards are easier and cheaper and all that but they make things much flatter. For 30 quid I want a bleedin’ horn section, right? Bernard Collins had a dodgy mic which lead to him putting it down and heading off backstage after the first number. I don’t blame him really, how hard can it be to make sure the mics all work ok? It took a while to sort out but not ages.

The Abyssinians are still in fine form and it was truly amazing to see them in person, sounding so good after all these years. Most of the songs that I knew sounded very similar to the records but there were few instances of being completely transported by the experience – and those only during the anthems like Declaration of Rights, This Land is for Everyone and of course Satta. They stuck fairly steadfastly to material on their albums which I guess is what most people know, but I would have loved for them to do a version of Love Comes and Goes from the recent compilation of Talent Corporation releases on Pressure Sounds.

All “revival” gigs have a bit of a weird effect on me. It’s great to see the material performed (and a relief that there is no busting out of new material which can’t match the classics). But it also feels a bit like a museum piece. Museums are very safe places where everything is nicely under glass and contextualised for you. The complexities of scenes which are still evolving is absent. Part of me wondered if I was there to add another tick to my spotter list of people to have seen before they pass away…

That said, you would be hard pressed to find a support act as good as The Abyssinians anywhere. It felt great being able to put some money in their pockets after giving them so much love over the years. I am categorically not knocking them for surviving in the cut throat reggae business for this long and if I’m in as good a shape as them at their age I will be a happy man.

Image courtesy of Julius Laid Back on Flickr

Image nicked from Julius Laid Back

Michael Rose’s recent output with Alborosie and Twilight Circus made Black Uhuru’s retro set a bitter-sweet affair. There is scope for a set of his “greatest hits” from the last 30 years, but we were of course just going to get snippets from the glory days of Uhuru. And bloody good they were.

The backing band’s rootsier touches for the Abyssinians gave way to a harder/funkier Sly & Robbie style with some electro touches that had me and Paul both thinking of Tackhead. An extended version of “Shine Eye Gal” was spellbinding with Michael’s vocals sitting perfectly on top of the driving b-line.

Unfortunately I started flagging shortly after this and got really annoyed by the drunken students in front of me who thought it was hilarious to do really loud impressions of Japanese reggae fans. It was still rammed and all the people pushing past us was getting to me as well. From the bar in the Jazz Café you can still see the band but there is more background chit chat there and the sound isn’t as good. Yes, yes I am like a right grumpy old git, but for 30 quid I don’t want to be messed about like that! There’s something about rammed gigs I just don’t like. Everyone squeezed in there looking up at a stage, encores, that sort of thing.

Paul was trying to persuade me that reggae gigs are a part of “soundsystem culture” but they aren’t really. Seeing someone pick up a mic in a dance is very different to going to a gig and certainly it sounds like in the 1970s live sets by bands at soundsystem bashes were barely tolerated. In fact soundsystem in JA came about through economic necessity – as a cheaper easier way to take a variety of music to the people whilst the live acts toiled away in studios, or on the tourist circuit in expensive uptown hotels. But but but… that doesn’t really matter. It was a great night out and there should be more of it.


  1. I’m sort of glad I didn’t bother. Did they do Leggo Beast?

    All this talk of 2am starts and being barged by drunken students is making me think of an especially diabolical Big Youth gig I attended.

    And please, it’s Mykal Rose, not Michael Rose.

  2. I caught the Abbysinnians here (Portland, OR), and there was a fantastic horn section, which I’m pretty sure was local. It definitely wouldn’t have been the same without it – and I should add that all three were dressed quite natty. So anyway, the best thing to do make sure live shows are great is to start your own backing band to support traveling acts – or at least get together a horn section. You might want to use them at the sound system too!

  3. We saw the Abyssinians at the Brewery in Kendal and they were AWESOME, horn section and all.

    I know what you mean about museum pieces though, but what the hell – they are just brilliant together. It’s just a pity that all JA seems to produce these days is drum-machine driven electro drivel with lyrics about busta-this and bling-that and batty-bwoy the other. These are dread times!

  4. Heloo!

    My frend and I, we came all the way from Slovenija just to see the great Abyssinians and Black Uhuru… and it was amazing… To see this reggae legends live and so neer me… something that I have never dream to experience… but for sweet reggae music… it was worth doing it…

    greets to London from Slovenia!


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