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London International Ska Festival 2012

London International Ska Festival 2012

London International Ska Festival 2012

By on - Photos by Emma-Louise - Comment

Dandy Livingstone misses his comeback but the show goes on.

Ska has triumphed over many adversities to stay in the popular music consciousness since it slipped from fashion in 1960s Jamaica. Likewise the progress of Sean Flowerdew's revived London International Ska Festival reflects a similar determination to give this often ignored subculture a platform in such a musically competitive country as the UK.

London Ska Festival 2012

The second annual edition this May bank holiday weekend had its fare share of both triumph and adversity. The former included wonderful performances by the legendary Pioneers and connoisseurs' veteran Freddie Notes. The latter: Dandy Livingstone, who, returning to perform in London for the first time in 40 years, disappeared just hours before he was due to take the stage as the headline act on the Friday. On top of the cancellation by Sunday night's headliners - flamboyant eclectic ska funk punk outfit, Fishbone, a month earlier (thanks to a knee injury by frontman Angelo Moore) - the disappointment for day ticket buyers was bitter. Yet for a large contingent of diehard ska fans, many from abroad, the weekend remained a chance to make friends and see a variety of bands who march in off-beat lockstep under the ska banner. Moreover, triumph and adversity came together in the way Rico, Dave Barker and the Skints made the best of poor fortune - but more of that later.

Thursday night's show took place in The 02 Academy Islington - boxy and functional in contrast with 2011's atmospheric Clapham Grand but more intimate and accessible for its far-flung audience. A strong start was made by ska-soulsters the Delegators lead by the indomitable vocals and slinky moves of singer Janet Kumah. The warm fat Gibson driven signature sound of South Belgium returned via the Moon Invaders: essentially the ska brethren of last year's band for Dave Barker and Ansell Collins - the Caroloregians. The Invaders in turn powered another face from 2011, the gold bedecked Owen Grey, who played a very brief set yet was in impeccable voice (even if he did feel the need to lecture that he was " Bob Marley's teacher"). He was followed by the billtoppers, George Dekker and Jackie Robinson of the Pioneers, looking sharp in red and white jackets. The Invaders' Thomas Hardison sang Sidney Crooks' parts as they harmonized Long Shot Kick The Bucket, Papa Was A Rolling Stone and Skinhead favourite Reggae Fever - leaving hands and spirits raised.

Friday, again in the Academy, was a Stax style showcase for Flowerdew's new supergroup the Phoenix City All Stars - comprising guitarist Lenny Bignell (of the Sidewalk Doctors), drummer Terry Davey (of Intensified), bassist Spy Austin, and Mike Lesirge, Ryan Jacob and Alan Hardiman on brass. They backed short guest turns by Janet Kumah, Neol Davies (of the Selecter), remaining member of the vintage group Chosen Few AJ Franklin, Dave Barker and grand maestro of the trombone (and player on the earliest examples of the ska genre) Rico Rodriguez. Franklyn has maintained his Curtis and Smokey tones, however, Barker, in his trademark cap, didn't play many of his own hits, opting for covers like Sam and Dave's I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down. Rodriquez looked full of vigour as he sang Jungle Beat and blew through old schoolmate Don Drummond's Addis Baba (Davey’s drumming however seemed a lot more relaxed than Lloyd Knibbs’ thumping work on the original).

The venue erupted at a quick trommy burst of Dandy's Message To You, but backstage the word had already got out that Mr Livingstone was nowhere to be seen. According to Sean Flowerdew, Dandy, who had only made it into the UK via the late intervention of the Jamaican High Commissioner, had complained of illness at soundcheck saying he would be back at eight pm. He then vacated his hotel and returned to Jamaica without explanation. The stopgap announcement that he had food poisoning appeared to placate the main event starved punters who were remarkably well behaved compared to a reggae crowd in the face of such a letdown. There were no boos nor stampedes for the door, and when Rico and Dave hastily regrouped for Shocks Of Mighty and A Message To You they got big cheers. Even so, rumours were rife at the all night after party at nearby Metalworks (where vintage ska platters were served by the likes of Tighten Up Crew, Jerry Dammers and DJ Amma) that Dandy had never been in the country in the first place. In response Flowerdew released this video footage of Dandy with Rhoda Dakar at sound check to counter the claims.

London Ska Festival 2012Day three, originally planned for Shepherd's Bush Empire was transposed (not, as rumoured, on the insistence of X Factor's Cher Lloyd) to the bouncing wooden floor of Islington Assembly Hall. Standouts included the barrel-house music-hall ska of Buster Shuffle, and Essex's Goldmaster All Stars, one of the UK's few bands who can back and headline to equal standard - currently nominated in the British Reggae Industry Awards (social networking sites might have something to do with that too!). They took the time to salute Lloyd Brevett of the Skatalites (whose passing on the Thursday had by now trickled through to rehearsal rooms) before backing the dapper Rastaman Freddie Notes. His subtle beautiful phrasing of his famous Montego Bay was a festival high point along with Owen and the Pioneers - although his decision to do the splits looked painful! The afro-latin fusion of Ska Cubano was good value as always thanks to Lee Perryesque dancer hype man Natty Bo's showmanship, the exquisite vocals of singer Mambo Beny Billy and the stunning sax of Miss Megoo. Headliners the Dualers didn't quite match their fiery intensity but knocked out capable covers from their new Prince Buster tribute album for Flowerdew's label Phoenix City.

The Academy's Two Tone flavoured Sunday finale, saw the most uplifting story of the weekend in the form of a performance by East London's Skints, who on the fateful Friday had their tour manager's van, costumes instruments and merchandise stolen. Showing the positive power of social media they reached out to their fans for replacement gear - and you would have thought nothing was wrong from the way they played. It takes a brave band to cover Sam Cooke's You Send Me yet their harmonising, lead by singing drummer Jamie Kyriakides did the legend no injustice. The Selecter's Neol Davies had a good crack at Monty Morris' Sammy Dead while The Specials Neville Staple, who looked like he was having a fun time, lead the crowd in rough and ready chants of Ghost Town and Monkey Man - the most spun tune of the fest. Finally, Flowerdew, Dammers, Rico, and Notes took to the stage for a well received farewell speech.

The loss of Dandy loomed large over the fateful Friday, but otherwise the nice vibe of the previous year was in effect throughout the event. In a statement to United Reggae Flowerdew said "Once again I was absolutely blown away by the audience and how far they travelled to celebrate Ska. We had people come in from Chile, Australia, Japan, Mexico, Russia, USA, Brazil, Dubai and all over UK and the rest of Europe. We had people who had come to the first ever London Intl Ska Festival back in '88 and people returning for the second year running.  Our festival is turning very quickly into a real international family affair and I can't wait to see everyone again in 2013."

For space reasons not all the acts on the bill have been mentioned. Please check the photo gallery to see more of the performances.

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