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Niney, Mafia and Fluxy and Matic Horns at London's XOYO

Niney, Mafia and Fluxy and Matic Horns at London's XOYO

Niney, Mafia and Fluxy and Matic Horns at London's XOYO

By on - Photos by Veronique Skelsey - Comment

Niney should do this sort of thing more often.

Niney The Observer

Winston "Niney the Observer" Holness is known mainly for his work as a producer. In the early to mid 70s he guided Dennis Brown and Soul Syndicate band to the most fruitful recordings of the crown prince's reign. Recent Kingston Sounds compilation 'Sing It Wicked Style' goes some way to reminding that Niney was also a notable 70s recording artist. But given that he pretty much retreated around the desk thereafter - and his appearance at hip Hoxton spot XOYO on November 17th was billed as his first ever live solo show in Europe* - even the Observer's biggest fans could be forgiven for fearing he might be a little rusty.

Yet they'd be wrong. For with a well-rehearsed cream UK band behind him, Niney left a respectable number of trendy youngsters and industry insiders in no doubt that he is perfectly capable of delivering on stage.

Reggae shows have a not entirely undeserved reputation for running behind the clock. This time though it was the venue who were a tad too relaxed about getting started. Doors failed to open until an hour after the allotted 7.30 leaving a small if encouraging gathering of earlybirds standing in the cold.

XOYOOn entry, United Reggae ascertained from promoters Bolygo Music Productions (in partnership with Kingston Sounds and BBC 3's London Jazz Festival) that the restless, well travelled Mr Holness was safely ensconced in his dressing room. As Soul Jazz Sound played their rootsy opening selection, the likes of author David Katz, Frank from Jamaican Recordings, John McGillivray of Dub Vendor and the night's announcer Nicky Ezer from Culture Promotions were moving around through the dark and dry ice.

At five past ten, trombonist Henry "Matic" Tenyue led bassist "Mafia" and drummer "Fluxy" Heywood in an unreleased instrumental, working title Africa, from Tenyue's forthcoming album produced by the brothers, 'Spanish Town Rock'. Over Fluxy's firecracker drum breakdown, Tenyue segued into one of his signature pieces, the Godfather theme AKA Speak Softly Love. The sound quality in the venue was excellent - but then, the engineer for the night was none other than the great Gussie P.

At a quarter past it was time for Niney, always impeccably dressed in a white hat and linen suit, and joined by three statuesque backing singers. Niney's own voice has a sweltering swagger and raw percussive rasp that draw on Jamaica's pre ska folk tradition: a voice which seemed remarkably unchanged as he opened with major key solo sides such as Jah Fire, Hiding By The Riverside, Bring the Couchie Come and Aily and Ailaloo that brought the blazing heat of Kingston to a chilly winter's night. It was his minor key meditations, however, that really drew out the best in the musicians. Mafia and Fluxy locked in a militant shoot out during Mutiny and an eerie limping hobble for false-dread callout I Soon Know. He also shared some of his finest productions for Dennis Brown, No More Will I Roam, Westbound Train and Cassandra - the latter causing an educational yet lengthy diatribe about the birth of reggae (to be revealed on United Reggae in the near future) and how it was he and not Bunny Lee who invented the "flying cymbals" sound.

Niney The Observer

"I love London. Bob said 'people in Jamaica no love reggae. But the highness start in London'" said Niney - recalling his final  chat with the man he once fought over the provenance of the rhythm to triumphant closing number Blood and Fire. There was no encore but the players, anchored by Mafia and Fluxy - who this year celebrated 25 years in the business and that very week released a 21 Tune Salute to another maestro Jackie Mittoo - jammed until just beyond the eleven o' clock mark.

The sharply attired, sharp tongued legend had given one of the surprise best concerts of 2012. And Hoxton got to see an original "hipster" in the flesh. Niney should do this sort of thing more often.

* Not strictly true as he did a less publicised gig at West London's Mau Mau Bar in April.

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