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The Congos in London

The Congos in London

The Congos in London

By on - Photos by Serena Saieva - Comment

More sound problems at the start, but a very special tribute at the end.

Sonic tribulations seem to be a given when reggae legends come to London town. One month after the Abyssinians soldiered through initial feedback and low mic levels at Clapham Grand the Congos were required to do the same at Camden’s Jazz Cafe. Unlike the stoical, close harmony trio, Cedric Myton, Watty Burnett, Roydel Johnson and Kenroy Ffyffe were more vocal about their vocals getting lost.

The Congos

At first the visibly flustered group’s harmonies felt disunited. Cedric’s highs and Burnett’s lows seemed to fight for attention. Watty’s solo rendition of Tony Joe White’s Rainy Night in Georgia, meant as light relief from the heavy roots staples, was rewound twice, its jauntiness outstaying its welcome. Watty even told the engineer “This is embarrassing brethren. You got to get it right.”

Fortunately, as with Abyssinians, talent, professionalism and a strong catalogue won the day. Crowd pleasers from their 1977 Lee Perry produced debut 'Heart Of The Congos' were sure to connect. But since their 2006 reformation the quartet have remained admirably proud of their latterday more traditional roots material, giving it equal weight in their sets.

The CongosBy Youth Man from 1979’s 'Congo Ashanti' LP the sound was under control and the four voices merged without friction. Keyboard horn lines were only a mild distraction because the Congos material tends to use horns minimally, if at all. Other highlights included the ever mystical Ark of the Covenant (“I know you all love this one” said Roy as his mid-range took the lead) and the prompt piano march of Revolution (from 2006 comeback cd 'Swinging Bridge'). The mood had clearly changed when Watty started saying “I love you” to the audience and joking that his white beard looked like Santa Claus. Over an hour of music closed with the room shaking bass of an immense Row Fisherman Row.

Some post show investigation suggested the soundcheck happened later than expected and had to be rushed. The Congos had actually brought their own engineer who struggled to get to grips with the in house system. The venue engineer came in at short notice and was unable to balance the quartet and their basic guitar, keys, bass drums and percussion band. Ultimately no one factor was to blame.

It was a winning performance in difficult circumstances of a broadly similar set to past tours. But for their encore the Congos offered a surprise. “This is a from the cradle song” Roy explained as Cedric silenced the band for a beautifully blended a capella rendering of Prince Lincoln and Royal Rasses’ Humanity. Myton had, of course, founded the late Lincoln’s first group the Tartans, and joined the original line-up of the Rasses for the track and their debut album of the same title. Though Lincoln’s name was never called, this was poignant unspoken tribute to a colleague who lived in London during his final days. Fittingly selector DJ Shepdog then dropped the needle on the Abyssinians’ Satta Amassagana: reminding attendees of both shows that in the face of all obstacles, good music endures.


Reproduction without permission of United Reggae and Serena Saieva is prohibited.

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