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Ernest Ranglin & Friends Live in London

Ernest Ranglin & Friends Live in London

Ernest Ranglin & Friends Live in London

By on - Photos by Veronique Skelsey - 1 comment

The guitar maestro says goodbye at the Barbican.

One week after turning 84 and two days on from performing in a muddy field at Glastonbury, Ernest Ranglin played his farewell London show at the Barbican Centre.

The Jamaican guitar cornerstone was not backed by reggae musicians (past visits have utilised drum/bass duos Sly & Robbie and Mafia & Fluxy). For his retirement tour he had gathered an outernational mix of players from various disciplines – most notably Fela Kuti's drummer Tony Allen. The respective co-architects of ska and afrobeat surrounded by the jazz that nourished them: celebrating the former’s seven decade career.

In terms of how hard he hits, Allen sits at the opposite end of the scale from calloused kit smasher Lloyd Knibb from the Skatalites - who Ernest arranged at Studio 1. Tony’s ultra-relaxed yet sure timing was augmented by the cracking rim-shots of Senegalese singer and multi-instrumentalist Cheikh Lo. Lo also took up the guitar and Allen’s place at the traps, to sing three of his own songs.

Ernest Ranglin and Friends

Ira Coleman, on upright bass, rarely soloed, preferring to anchor. Saxophonist Soweto Kinch, a worthy replacement for originally announced hornsman Courtney Pine, blew his heart out, taking more leads than anyone but Ernie. Alex Wilson, in the difficult role of understudy for the great Monty Alexander, supplied authentic organ shuffle and dissonant piano excursions - while being the group’s official spokesman. He thanked everyone for coming on behalf of Ranglin – who, in contrast to Glastonbury, said nothing the entire night.

The venerable musician, arranger and A&R man was content to saunter around the stage, stopping near whichever colleague he wanted to vibe with. He'd use a pick for lead and store it in his mouth while playing rhythm – his palm-muting right hand as much the focus as his left – all in that warm, slightly dirty tone.

At times he'd play single notes; at others, solos composed of starved chords. Often he'd drape his left hand over the fret-board in the style of Botswana’s open tuned buskers; or give his percussive variant on two-handed-tapping, sliding fingers mid-strike to change the pitch like a tabla or cuica drum. Occasionally he'd slap the headstock as King Tubby would hit his spring reverb. Inexplicably, he'd stop mid-run and begin drumming away - or gesture to Soweto to take over. There were fewer hallmark playful segues into nursery rhyme melodies. But each improvisation drew huge cheers from the capacity theatre, begetting smiles from the man himself.

This was a longer, differently ordered, set than the truncated hour at Glastonbury. Mostly it comprised revisits to Jamaican material off 1997 album with Monty and Coleman, Below The Bassline. The title track appeared twice (when Ernest decided to reprise it at a faster tempo, catching the band off guard). The Skatalites were hailed in a Ball Of Fire. Eddying jazzier pieces included Swaziland (which Allen and Ranglin recorded together on 2000’s Modern Answers To Old Problems). Signature tune Surfin’ got a “Barbican forward” (i.e. rapturous applause).

Everyone minus Kinch returned for an encore of Nana’s Chalk Pipe - which had livelier members of the sedentary audience dancing in the aisles. The collective assembled and bowed like actors to a standing ovation.

Without doubt this was a historic moment, as a giant of music passed into legend. It felt by turns precarious, haphazard and inspired, as is often the way during cultural conversations. At a time when human identity is becoming increasingly fragmented, these dialogues become ever more important.


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

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Read comments (1)

Posted by yasir taha on 07.02.2016
i like jazz music we dont have in sudan school i well be happy if you send to me how can play jazz

Comments actually desactivated due to too much spams

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