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Garance Reggae Festival 2014

Garance Reggae Festival 2014

Garance Reggae Festival 2014

By on - Photos by Veronique Skelsey - Comment

Artistically and atmospherically a huge success.


These days there's a tendency in internet media to rank everything numerically. Music journalism has become music business journalism. Stats and lists rule. If you want to see the results of this approach check the recent controversy in the UK over Ed Sheeran topping BBC black music station 1xtra’s power list because of his number of twitter followers.

Taking a stat-based view, the line-up at the 10th annual Garance Reggae Festival - it's 5th since moving to Bagnols-sur-Cèze in southern France - was a climb down after 2012 and 2013's record attendances. Last year there was talk of relocating from the leafy Parc Arthur Rimbaud to a bigger site. Then the Garance organisation went bust in the fallout after the burning of the Paris venue Elysée Montmartre where much of its non-festive income derived. A new company was quickly formed to deliver the event for 2014.

The bill might not have been the envy of the world as it was in 2012. There were fewer high ranking contemporary Jamaican artists and many veterans were based in Britain or Europe to save costs. But that is why looking at the numbers and the business side doesn't give the real picture. Because attending for the first time this was still an exemplary curation of music - particularly if you liked roots and dub. In fact the only genuine problem was that the sound system and main stage areas were often showcasing two equally good options at once.

Garance Reggae Festival 2014


Weather: Hot. A brief shower of rain.

Main stage highlights:

The birthday of Haile Selassie drew an unusually emotive and unconventional performance from intellectual versifier Jah9, backed with scientific precision by Dubtonic Kru. Halfway through a set that contained favourites New Name, Jungle and Steamers A Bubble, she halted proceedings to strike the hand drums and begin a Nyabhingi chant (“The concert is over, reverence begins”). Likewise, Capleton played an extra roots reggae variant of his usual show in honour of the occasion. As the younger end of the French dub scene moves away from lyrics and context, these Jamaican visitors reminded why they are more important than ever.


Sound System highlights:

Paris’ Blackboard Jungle vs Amsterdam’s King Shiloh. Shiloh had Henry Matic Tenyue on trombone adding that vital live dimension. The Dub Station area’s semi-circular sloped grassy incline allowed those unwilling to stand in the line of fire to sit and view the monstrous encounter like ancient spectators in an amphitheatre or coliseum. Others could be seen filming the clash from the overpass to the campsite.

Johnny Osbourne

Disappointment: Johnny Osbourne sang just two tunes with hip hop headliners Chinese Man.


Weather: Hot.

Pre festival highlight:

Trinity and Le Mans Irie Ites sound entertaining a small if vocal gathering in La Place Auguste Mallet. His voice still like the records, the veteran deejay toasted atop an assortment of Irie Ites’ do-overs and finished with some of his Yabby You classics. One excitable viewer in an Argentina shirt ran up to kiss him on both cheeks. Trinity seemed slightly taken aback (but perhaps assumed this is normal in France).


Main stage highlights:

Hands down the winner of the day (and possibly of all four) was a white-suited Errol Dunkley accompanied by the Home Grown band - featuring Bim from Bost and Bim, Guillaume Stepper Briard and Matic Horns. Beforehand the diminutive twilight crooner admitted he had a cold and his throat was hoarse. You would never have known it from how he sang Movie Star, Little Way Different and OK Fred. Only when checking the photos of his face could you see how he was straining.

Tanya Stephens and Beenie Man were all smiles and represented reggae’s kinship with dancehall at its most warm and positive.

Alborosie, who rarely leaves the impression he enjoys touring, was surprisingly vigorous. Where in the past his group were doing the lion’s share of work, here Pupa Albo had subtly but noticeably embraced the art of showmanship. While some might question the appropriateness of using his dreadlocks as a skipping rope or a gun, the reciprocal exchange of energy with the heaving crowd could not be denied. Bringing on special guest Iba Mahr (who appeared with Dubtonic Kru earlier) was the cap to a superb display that the Sicilian don appeared to relish as much as we.

Errol Dunkley

Sound System highlights:

After the previous day’s slabs of dub England’s Prince Fatty and Horseman provided the most pleasantly bouncy reggae heard at the bass coliseum thus far. The engineer was Fatty’s rival for Europe’s greatest retro producer, Spain’s Roberto Sanchez – who would be appearing with Alpheus on the Saturday. Later Mikey General lent his buttery pinched tone to Blackboard Jungle and was overjoyed by the vibe (“The French are international people” he said “They may not speak English but they understand”). Young kids were drawn to the speakers like moths to lamps – springing into them, goading them to be louder. For the live-music-focused, just a ten minute “shower” was required.



Weather: Cooler than Thursday with the site’s first ever extended rain, muddying some of the walkways.


Pre festival highlight:

The irrepressible drummer Leroy Horsemouth Wallace giving a talk in the town library. He shared memories of the film Rockers such as how the highly memorable role of his grandmother was actually Leroy Smart’s grandmother, and of his days at the famous Alpha school.

Jah Shaka

Main stage highlight:

Michael Prophet is always value for money. Especially when he, Mafia & Fluxy and trumpeter Patrick Anthony Tenyue play a far deeper set than in England - where the big hits are the order of the day. Jah Shaka live as part of a bespoke Garance UK package of Mafia & Fluxy on drum and bass, plus On U Sound founder Adrian Sherwood mixing, was a sparse, bleak and extraordinary sonic journey.

Lutan Fyah had a tough job following Francophone Ivorian Tiken Jah Fakoly when the youth were surging to Shaka’s turn at the Dub Station. Yet he held a decent portion thanks to a bullish hard-hitting performance powered by Marseille’s Dub Akom band.


Sound System highlights:

The mighty Jah Observer also dug deeper than he would in England to an appreciative audience – none of whom was head-butting the speaker this time. Roberto Sanchez was seen snapping or filming selector Spiderman as he spun one of the Spaniard’s own creations by Milton Henry.

Jah Shaka selecting requires full attention – tricky when tempted by Lutan Fyah. But seeing how Shaka operates a rig alone - and makes even the gaps between tunes feel portentous and deliberate - never gets old. (Special mention for the selection at the tiny nearby Kebulan store – as high quality as what either Shaka or Spiderman drew).

Ras Michael


If anything the early line-up was too good. Frequently acts with the same fan base appeared on the stage and the Dub Station simultaneously. Jah Observer vs Jah Shaka live was an impossible choice. Ditto Lutan Fyah vs Jah Shaka Sound. It would have been better to schedule the UK soundmen alongside something slightly different like Yellowman.

Ras Michael seemed upset that not enough people knew his less heavy material such as Birds In the Treetops. While the French taste in roots and dub is impeccable – sometimes the Parc’s hunger for basslines over message meant it was lacking a vibe.


Weather: Some gusts of wind but no rain.


Main stage highlights:

It was worth turning up promptly for Alpheus backed by France’s Rockers Disciples and, in his fourth and final appearance in various capacities, Roberto Sanchez. Dressed in a purple jacket, plucking ladies from the front to serenade, Alpheus had the skills and patter of a game-show host. But his studied ska, rocksteady and skinhead reggae music was all serious - especially Rudie No More from new album Good Prevails.

Bristol’s Black Roots who sounded out of tune and a little disappointing at Lambeth Country show the previous Sunday were back on form and in their element. Sanchez – the Jamaican singer not Roberto - was in fantastic voice and demonstrated how big an influence he must be for Romain Virgo. Anthony B and Austria’s House of Riddim were a powerful end to the main stage – especially when the barking voiced master showman brought Iba Mahr out again.


Sound system highlight:

Mungo’s Hifi and Solo Banton. Their exuberant love of vintage dancehall generated the most fun Dub Station experience bar none.


Jah Shaka’s talk in the library being cancelled. Mungo’s Hifi playing at the same time as Black Roots, the Congos’ falsetto Cedric Myton, Horsemouth, RZ Jackson and Swiss band the Liberty Vendors were on the main stage. Putting Mungo’s on during Sanchez or Danakil might have made more sense.

Anthony B


The town of Bagnols-sur-Cèze showed a willingness to engage with the festival that you won’t find in the vast majority of host locations. Where a bit of reggae playing in the supermarket is the optimum in many places, roots music was piped into the square and shopping parade, the local papers carried stories on the musicians and Bob Marley throws or festival posters appeared in shop, bar and restaurant windows. Occasionally the Rasta paraphernalia strayed towards offensive Asterix style caricature, mocking dreadlock hats or even downright weird stuffed dummies in doorways drooping Papier-mâché spliffs from their mouths in aid of worthy causes. Mostly it fused commercial nous with a genuine affection for this event.

Garance Reggae Festival 2014

As mentioned previously, when Jamaican vocalists come to England they tend to stick to what hit the UK and JA charts. In France their repertoire is aimed at the harder core. Ken Boothe – who might sing Speak Softly Love on request or a capella in London – would make a point of dropping it here. Conversely there was less of an interaction between performer and crowd concerning lyrical content. Let’s not get into tedious ranking of the English and French experiences though – each should be enjoyed on its own terms.

On the downside drinks in the arena were very expensive (€6 for a pint of beer is football stadium robbery). And, at the risk of repetition, the scheduling meant too often artists and sounds holding similar appeal forced us to choose. But then again, that’s what Garance represents to the lover of roots reggae – an overflow of choice. Artistically and atmospherically the 2014 edition was a huge success. With high attendances on the Friday and Saturday we hope it will run for at least another ten years.


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

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