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Beres Hammond, Tarrus Riley and Romain Virgo live in London

Beres Hammond, Tarrus Riley and Romain Virgo live in London

Beres Hammond, Tarrus Riley and Romain Virgo live in London

By on - Photos by Felix Foueillis - 4 comments

Singers' singers all out of the same stable: each blessed with a wonderful and very different voice.

Any concert titled "the greatest reggae show on earth" is going to have to work hard to live up to its own hype. Thankfully, the line-up of Beres Hammond and Tarrus Riley - returning to London after well received visits the previous October, this time with Romain Virgo - represented greatness and hard work in equal measure.

Tarrus Riley in London

Despite being one of the most heavily flyered shows of the summer, the event was not a sell-out. Perhaps this could be explained by the video announcement a week before that Jamaica's expat Sicilian Alborosie wasn't appearing (the usual "You never booked me" he said, they said). Yet while the sides of the giant shoebox that is Wembley Arena - more aircraft hanger than arena - were part empty the floor area was nice and full.

The upscaling of the venue from last year's Indigo2 brought its challenges. The decision to add seating on the floor was questionable - excluding people at the back from the vibe from the stage. Moreover, it was difficult for those in the cheap seats (albeit a very reasonable £20) to see the screen through the (admittedly impressive) lighting display. Clarity of sound was also an issue early on.

But that's enough carping - because the technical difficulties were overwhelmed by sheer singing talent. Romain Virgo, who was belting out radio jingles in his hotel room literally minutes before hitting the stage, cut through the engineering issues in a golden voice. It delivered strong renditions of Live Mi Life, I Know Better, the anti domestic violence Taking You Home (which he dedicated to "Independent ladies everywhere") and Love Doctor backed by Dean Fraser and the BLAKSOIL band. The audience screamed when the young man offered to take it "old school" fully inhabiting hallowed material Marvin Gaye's Let's Get It On and his medley of Alton Ellis' Breaking Up, Ain't That Loving You and Willow Tree. "This my first anywhere on England soil" he said of the tour and it was well worth the wait.

By the time the sharply dressed Tarrus pranced on at five past eight the sound was sorted. When he jumped into the photography pit to greet the fans during Superman his slick singing was as unblemished as the record. Even Romain sounded raw compared to his eerie levels of vocal control. He too highlighted violence against women (with his Start Anew on the Nylon rhythm) and paid tribute to elders: Sugar Minott (Good Thing Going) and Gregory (Front Door), then recalling his days as a deejay with his now-standard "who sounds more like Buju?" contest with tour-mate Swaggafari. Refreshingly, Dean Fraser - good as he is - did not blow his solo turn on The Heathen which meant his sax call and responses for Redemption Song and Stay With You didn't feel like overkill.

Beres Hammond - LondonAfter a short band-change, the grand eminence of reggae, Beres, arrived in his simple get up of white shirt, jeans and cap. His fitness was demonstrated with knee jumps and his grainy flavoursome tone was strong. He went further than Tarrus by climbing all the way into the front row during Tempted To Touch - and, given the wild screams that were picked up on mic, it was a miracle he came back alive! He gave a roaring impersonation of Buju parts on A Little More Time and Who Say. Introducing Rockaway, his own list of saluted veterans (and, in fact, contemporaries) included his friend Peter Tosh - due to be honoured with the Order of Merit the next day. Then he bowed to the younger generation by inviting first Tarrus and then Romain onstage to duet on Groovy Little Thing and Cyaan Sleep/I Feel Good. Dean Fraser played duelling saxophones with the Harmony House band, while Beres surveyed the scene, grinning, arms outstretched as if accepting a hug from everyone in the place. 

Yes, Alborosie's no show was disappointing for fans and observers wanting to see him out of his comfort zone in front of a proper reggae crowd. But in hindsight, his rebel music wouldn't have fit with the overall tenor of the night. These were singers' singers, all at varied stages of their careers yet all out of the same stable: giving love to the foundation and the future; to romance and reality; and of course, each blessed with a wonderful and very different voice.

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Read comments (4)


Posted by Honey B on 10.22.2012
Wonderful write-up on three Greats!

Posted by reggaedirect on 10.26.2012
Jah bless..

Posted by Innocent Cephas on 10.27.2012
Your great Jah bless

Posted by djaysteve on 10.27.2012
I was there and though disappointed at the Alborosie no show for whatever reason. The Big Three!!! made it a night to remember. I knew about Romains Alton Ellis tribute but to hear him blaze it out fi real will live with me to the day i die. It was one of those seminal moments when you know inside yaself you have witnessed something very very special ...almost spiritual!!!

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