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The London International Ska Festival 2013

The London International Ska Festival 2013

The London International Ska Festival 2013

By on - Photos by Emma-Louise and Veronique Skelsey - 1 comment

The 25th anniversary edition finds its dancing feet.

London Ska Festival 2013

In 2012 the London International Ska Festival suffered a disappointing no show from Dandy Livingstone - who allegedly left the Islington Academy for Jamaica just before his 40th  anniversary UK comeback concert. This year the gathering was celebrating another landmark - 25 years since Sean Flowerdew founded it at Brixton Fridge in 1988. Fortunately the festival’s third edition following its own revival was memorable for all the right reasons. Smaller, multiple venues, a high turnout to fill them, longer set times and an unrelenting commitment to great musicianship made it a smooth-running success.


The five venue event spread across Easter bank holiday weekend but, strictly speaking, began with the previous Friday’s launch at an unusual site. The Victoria and Albert Museum’s stern looking statues shook to the sound system bass of post-colonial independence music. Sets spun by Percival “Metro” Miller and Eddie Regal, Gladdy Wax, Steve Rice and the Tighten Up Crew drew a sizeable crowd, absorbing many from the popular David Bowie exhibition.


London Ska Festival 2013One short working week later a rammed Jazz Cafe in Camden witnessed 78 year old trombonist Rico Rodriguez (who heroically covered for Dandy during the troubled preceding outing) play his classic 'Man from Wareika' LP. He was supported by South London’s dependably sweet sixties swingers Sidewalk Doctors who showcased some unusually fiery material from their forthcoming third album as well as their crowd-pleasing, refreshingly un-self-conscious Beatles cover All My Loving.

Bolstered by a massively augmented horn section, Rico didn't create Wareika back to back, opting for a selection plus favourites like Jungle Beat. Bursting with an unprecedented 5 pieces of brass: SoothsayersRobin Hopcraft’s trumpet, the Specials Dick Cuthell’s flugelhorn, with Bammie and Harry from Jools Holland’s ensemble on tenor sax and trombone Rico would sketch an idea and his colleagues would take it and throw it around until fully formed. Selectors for the night were ex-Special Jerry Dammers and author David Katz - the former playing the Justin Yap production The Reburial by Don Drummond and the latter serving Prince Buster’s Dance Cleopatra as high points.


Good Friday began with the festival’s miss-at-your-peril prospect: a 4 hour cruise up the Thames aboard replica paddle steamer the Dixie Queen to commemorate Studio 1 records. The boat was hot and sweaty, the PA tinny and the swinging ska and rocksteady rhythms of selector Chris Peckings were accompanied by the occasional lurch on the choppy water. Yet seeing ‘Bonist specialist Vin Gordon backed by another superb band including Miss Megoo on sax, Patrick Tenyue on trumpet and Black Steel on guitar was one of those "Were you there?" moments. As “Don D Junior” blew his mentor’s Confucius, Alipan and his own co-creation with Jackie Mittoo, Real Rock, the Queen may have been passing the docklands but its occupants were somewhere else. They were sailing on an imaginary musical journey from ancient China to Africa then down the Panama Canal.

London Ska Festival 2013

A sharply dressed Owen Grey, on the bill for his third consecutive year, got to play a longer set than in the past. His drill sergeant style bossing of the crowd, solid vocals and slick moves were extraordinary for a dignitary who was recording discs before ska was even born.

BB Seaton freely admits he is more songwriter than singer and was strengthened by female trio Tru Identity. But as with Rico, the fans seemed overjoyed to be in the presence. The smiling legend opened his songbook of Gaylads hits such as Africa, You Should Never Do That and Lady with the Red Dress On staying behind his shades. As the boat passed under Tower Bridge recalling the iconic scene in the Long Good Friday it was clear that everyone was going to remember this one for the rest of their lives.

In the evening at Highbury’s revamped Garage the fusion oriented ska of younger groups held sway. From the jagged pop songs with quirky cynical lyrics of Norwegian girl group Razika to the comically fast Scottish folk punk ska of Bombskare (including an enjoyably random Dr Hook cover), to the banging barrelhouse of Buster Shuffle, capable performances were a must. Special mention however, goes to gravelly voiced Ed Rome who played without a drummer (who broke his hand), yet still kept the room while sandwiched between the speedsters. Ed’s a great songwriter who combines English socialist troubadouring with authentic rocksteady and is the most interesting and overlooked of the fusionists around. United Reggae, hankering for slower sounds on crackly vinyl by DJ Cello, went upstairs and missed Hungarian headliners Pannonia All Stars Ska Orchestra – although by many accounts they impressed.


London Ska Festival 2013Saturday brought a welcome siesta before Freddie Notes - a highlight of 2012’s part three - headlined the historic 100 club. The club has little to recommend it to anyone too young for punk nostalgia. It's a dingy basement with no ventilation or windows and dreadful sound. Thankfully, strong support by London’s Intensified and The Netherlands the Upsessions made it a pleasant if humid place to be. As their name suggests the Upsessions are early Lee Perry era reggae re-creators. Sporting matching tracksuits they were technically faultless showmen as you expect from Europe’s battling backing band scene (you could argue they lacked the individuality of Belgium’s Caroloregians who powered Dave and Ansell Collins in 2011 and mix up reggae and New Orleans soul).

On the night the ‘Sessions were the perfect platform for Freddie who praised them repeatedly during his show. Following an inspired rendition of Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters’ Honey Love he said they reminded him of his original group The Rudies. On the way in United Reggae had clocked the setlist at the box office was allotted as only half an hour. But when Mr Notes finished Montego Bay the crowd, with sweat literally dripping off the ceiling, kept singing it until he returned, staying past the 45 minute mark.

The all night after party at Islington’s Metalworks rebounded from the weekend’s sole cancellation by Mungos Hi Fi (although compared to Dandygate this was standard festival fare). The dancehall antidote to all this pre-digital retro was left to Wrongtom and Mungo’s slot was filled by a hugely popular impromptu 5 hour DJ marathon by Little Diana Burton from Harlesden’s famous biker mecca the Ace Café.


The final segment came back to Camden. At the Dublin Castle, Kevin Flowerdew’s long running fanzine Do the Dog staged the afternoon’s punky variations on the Jamaican theme to a nearly packed pub. That evening, on the north side of Regents Canal at Dingwalls, Ken Boothe backed by the band from the boat – formed for Ken’s 2011 performance - closed the show. Support was provided by 100 Men - founder Mik Whitnall returning after two decades from infamous Camden rockers Babyshambles – plus a DJ set from original 1988 alumni, the Potato 5.

Dingwalls was historically the first London club where celebrities and punters could drink and watch bands together. And on Easter Sunday the tradition continued with the likes of Freddie Notes, Little Roy and the Jamaican high commissioner Aloun Ndombet-Assanda in the throng. The bespectacled Mr Boothe, celebrating twice as many years in service as the ska fest, shared classics like Artibella, Everything I Own, and the title track to his new album Journey. He also gave his traditional speeches on how music brings all people together, of particular poignancy to an audience from all over the world, lots of whom were there for all 4 days. Their jubilant mood was in evidence when a woman jumped on stage to kiss Mr Rocksteady at the end of When I Fall In Love.


On the third attempt the Ska Festival has found its dancing feet. It has established itself as more than just the only place a neglected sub culture can congregate; it’s a friendly fiesta where anyone who loves music would feel welcome. The 2014 date has been announced (with a London International Soul Festival spin off in the works) and on the strength of this year’s edition, if you’re in London, you should consider passing through.


Reproduction without permission of United Reggae and Emma-Louise and Veronique Skelsey is prohibited.

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Posted by Joseph Mukassa KOUSSE (LE MUK) on 08.21.2013
I'm Joseph Mukassa KOUSSE. My artist name is LE MUK. I'm a reggae maker. My very first album "My People" was released a few months ago. I would like you to consider me in your future reggae festivals.

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