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Morgan Heritage and Marcia Griffiths in London

Morgan Heritage and Marcia Griffiths in London

Morgan Heritage and Marcia Griffiths in London

By on - Photos by Veronique Skelsey - Comment

The pressure is on as Beres Hammond pulls out on the first night of the tour.

Last time Morgan Heritage came to London’s indigO2 it was historic in every aspect. There was the 50th anniversary of Independence; the pausing of the music to watch Jamaica take Olympic gold and silver; the power of the regrouped quintet’s performance; even the fierce backstage competition to announce them. When United Reggae asked Peetah and Gramps Morgan how the group would top 2012, their reply was that this was the first time they, elder statesman Beres Hammond and first lady Marcia Griffiths had toured Britain as a complete reggae package.

Morgan Heritage in London

But on the first day of the tour it was announced that headliner Mr Hammond had cancelled all dates for “reasons beyond control”. The alleged explanation – his drummer being denied entry to the country – has split opinion between those impressed at Hammond’s stand against Britain’s pedantic visa controls and the fans bitterly disappointed by the sudden denial of his presence. With Marcia already a living icon as the most constant female success in reggae - the pressure to make history swung back to the Morgans once again.

United Reggae opted for the initial date at Greenwich’s indigO2 over the follow-up at heartland Brixton Academy (atmosphere is no substitute for sound). On a sweltering hot evening the long line of Beres diehards queuing for refunds at only one box office kiosk made admission slow and chaotic. Yet despite the depletion, the venue was decently subscribed: with patrons dancing enthusiastically to Greetings by Half Pint (booked to perform in Brixton the following night).  

The Morgan family supplied both the closing and opening act: in the form of Gramps’ son Jemere – backed by the familial band. At 18 his career is just beginning so he kept his set to his allotted 15 minutes. His voice, crisp and clear seems deeper with each show. “Have you guys heard of John Holt? Jacob Miller?” he asked before ending his segment with biggest track Neighbourhood Girl - fusing the rhythm to Sweetie Come Brush Me to a lyric from Tenement Yard.

Marcia Griffiths in LondonThe audience needed no introduction to Marcia Griffiths. As she segued from her 60s smash Feel Like Jumping to Toots Hibbert’s 54-46 her timbre rang like the peel of a perfectly tuned bell. Her son Taff took Bob Andy’s part on Young Gifted and Black (in the same hallowed spot where she and Bob had reunited the previous summer on Independence Day). The Morgan band looked nervous when she took requests from the front row and struggled to launch a cover of Desmond Dekker’s Israelites – suggesting a few early tour kinks to be ironed out. But Marcia’s response to the restart was that of the consummate professional “So nice we have to play it twice”. Her continuing relevance through the ages was demonstrated with Damian Marley’s Welcome To Jamrock and, of course his father, and her friend’s, Could You Be Loved.

Morgan Heritage’s set was delivered at lower volume than last year’s Return appearance – in keeping with the controlled aggression of comeback album Here Come The Kings. London didn’t seem to know the new record - whose artwork was projected on the back wall above the bar. They listened respectfully but only really let it all hang out for old favourites like Don’t Haffi Dread and Down By The River.

Peetah who seemed understandably tense at the start, was in an instructive mood. He spoke on the subject of Jamaica’s so called new reggae revival saying “How can you have a revival of reggae when reggae never died?” Gramps, who is if anything even bigger since his American football training, was far more relaxed: talking in a cheeky “Laaandaaan” accent and igniting the crowd with his deejay fastchat on Perfect Love Song and solo track Coulda Deejay.

The topic of Beres was dealt with deftly when Peetah sang Falling in answer to a request with a quick “Sorry he can’t be here”. For the second time that night the injured Toots – who had to cancel his own GB excursion – was hailed with Peetah’s rendition of Bam Bam. By the concluding Tell Me How Come hands were waving and the gallery was on its feet.

“You've been a beautiful audience under the circumstances” said compère Daddy Ernie. And doing a good job under the circumstances summed up the whole show. Sometimes it doesn't have to be triumphant. It doesn't have to be history. It just has to make people feel ok.

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