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Wilkswood Reggae Festival 2017

Wilkswood Reggae Festival 2017

Wilkswood Reggae Festival 2017

By on - Photos by Nick Shepherd - Comment

"Peace, dub & harmony in the woods by the sea"


“Peace, dub & harmony in the woods by the sea” was the motto for the second annual Wilkswood Reggae Festival, which took place in the tranquil environment of Langton Matravers in Dorset over the 14-16 July weekend. The region has been awarded the distinction of being an area of outstanding natural beauty, situated just above the dramatic and ancient land known as the Jurassic Coast, and you simply could not ask for a more beautiful setting. Those who took the time to travel down from London and parts unknown will have faced a long drive or a lengthy train journey, but the area is entirely stunning, with dinosaur tracks, fossils galore, and exceptional walking trails that pass between hidden chapels. Since this is literally one of my very favourite places on earth, I would say that it was a stroke of genius to stage a reggae festival here and I encourage anyone that is not already familiar with the area to come down and explore it.

The Wilkswood Reggae Festival, aka Dubwood, is helmed by Bournemouth-based promoter Dave ‘Daddy U’ Mountjoy, of the band Dubheart. A committed reggae head from way back, he also has a local sound system appropriately called Countryman. His partner in the event is the forward-thinking Simon Coppack of the Scott Arms, a lovely old pub in the nearby town of Kingston, where Simon’s wife Nicky, a native of Kingston JA, runs the celebrated Jerk Shack in summer. And the people running this event aren’t simply committed to the reggae cause; they are also really nice people in general and their positive, can-do attitude helped to infuse the site with a high level of positive vibes. This positivity was highly contagious, too, noticeably affecting the artists featured.

My posse and I arrived at the site on the Friday evening, in time to catch the tail end of Subajah’s set on the main stage. A veteran of Natty’s Vibes and Pressure sessions, the French-African bobo dread likes to roll other influences into his music, from rap to jazz to African rhythms. Soon it was time for Prince Fatty’s live dub set on the adjacent ‘selector stage,’ with Horseman at the microphone, decked out in a crisp baby-blue suit. A re-vamped "Horse Move" sounded just as unique as it did in the mid-1980s, and after throwing in an augmented phrase from “3 Little Birds,” the duo were soon trodding through “100 Weight Of Collie Weed,” which led to a portion of “Legalize It.” Then, Don Carlos’ “Lazer Beam” was shifted to the more spiritual “Rasta Beam,” before a dancehall segment that included lines from Johnny Osbourne’s “Murderer” and “Buddy Bye.” Then it was on to more re-worked classics including “Dance In A Greenwich Farm” and “Ali Baba,” before we hit a fork in the road with the James Bond theme; Fatty’s cut of Winston Francis’ “Let’s Go To Zion” sounded particularly good, before the foundation dancehall delights of “Kiss Somebody,” “Police In Helicopter” and Earl 16’s “Love Is A Feeling.” Winding things back even farther whilst also moving forward, then came re-worked reggae and rock steady delights such as “Say What You’re Saying,” “Feel Like Jumping” and “The Whip,” which soon shifted to Dennis Brown’s “Whip Them Jah.” The Fatty re-cut of Winston Francis’ “10 Times Sweeter” again sounded particularly appealing, before things ground to an abrupt halt during a mutation of Burning Spear’s “Old Marcus Garvey,” since Tippa Irie was about to take the main stage.


Tippa and the Lockdown band delivered a high-energy set that really got the crowd rocking. Lockdown are a mixed bunch with a really dynamic flow, with the ever-dependable Black Steel on guitar and backing vocals, a Los Angeles-born bass played called Sean and a female horn section that included Megumi on saxophone and Charlene on trombone. Tippa hit us with rapid-fire lyrics about his predominance from the get-go, and sang praises to a gal cooking rice and peas and chicken for him before locking the crowd in completely with “It’s Good To Have The Feeling You’re The Best” on the “My Conversation” rhythm; then he went farther back in time with “The UK” on the “Shanty Town/007” rhythm, following up with the declamatory “I Love Ska” (which made it totally clear that the Wilkswood audience loves it too). “Stick To My Roots” had a nice incorporation of Third World’s “Roots With Quality” and then we were warned that the content was drifting into the over-18 zone, but of course Tippa was not about to hit this family-friendly audience with slackness. On the contrary, it was time for a song about herb, followed by an entreaty to place the values of peace over greed. His collaboration with the Black Eyed Peas, “Hey Mama,” was up next and then a number from his new album about London’s terrible postcode wars. Finally, towards the end of the set, came the crowd pleasers “Complain Neighbour” and “Hello Darlin,” and for the encore, “All The Time The Lyrics A Rhyme.” With the crowd roaring for more at the end of the set, Mr Irie really deserved to take a bow.

After a few numbers from I-Mitri’s UK Steppers-oriented set, exhaustion crept in, so it was time to exit for a well-deserved rest. Then, on the Saturday, after plenty of perusing of the vendor stalls, the Dubwood chill-out lawn on the hill, the jerk shack food area and the glorious beer tent, as well as the ‘DJ Derek memorial stage’ (fronted by MC Jack Daniels), Dubheart delivered a competent set on the main stage. They are a likeable English reggae band with strong musicianship and a good French front man that has knee-length dreads, assisted by a shirtless ancient conga player, and for a few numbers, a skanking youth, stage right. Daddy U on the keyboards adds key musical elements, pounding rhythms on a Korg and melodies on a Roland; the rhythm section is competent and the guitarist added punk shadings now and again. They’ve been releasing music since 2011 at least and had an album called Mental Slavery, released with a dub companion set some years ago. Seeing them live, it is easy to understand why they won the Rototom European Reggae Contest a while back. I’m not familiar enough with their music to be able to identify all of the songs they played, but there was a great opening number based on a phrase that sounded like “Cool Rasta Crucial,” followed by a number about the singer’s decision to trade the urban spaces of Babylon for the countryside, which had furious drumming and distorted guitar to remind of the disruptions of city life. Then, lover’s rock mode for a shout out to the ladies on “Let You Down.” There was a ‘flying cymbal’ interlude and even some Burro Banton-style toasting from the lead singer, and a hefty psychedelic dub section which placed the feel of “Interstellar Overdrive” into the realm of contemporary reggae. And, a closing number on the theme of “united we stand, divided we fall.” Overall, it left me with the feeling that Dubheart has plenty of potential—just like the festival itself.

One of the real highlights on Saturday was a captivating set on the selector’s stage from Unique Star sound system, based in the St Paul’s area of Bristol. Their one-away dub plates included some fine Luciano, an interesting Yellowman juxtaposition with “Zungguzungguguzunguzeng” chatted over the “Golden Hen” rhythm, Sugar Minott with a cut of “Herbman Hustling” which became concerned with “Soundman Juggling,” Michael Rose with a fearsome “Stalk Of Sinsemilla” recut, as well as a “Shine Eye Gal” sound-boy cut as “Shine Eyed Sound,” as well as Errol Dunkley exclusives on “Movie Star” and “Black Cinderella,” and last but not least, a funny ska version of “Shaking Up Orange Street.” Very nice set, guys!

Wilkswood03The Mighty Mad Professor then took the main stage, flanked by Sister Audrey, Sister Aisha, and enigmatic Ariwa stalwart, Sergeant Pepper. With Audrey kicking things off with a dub-heavy cut of her classic “English Girl,” the by now far heftier crowd was instantly grooving, and they erupted into a frenzy when he hit them with a jungle remix of Junior Gong’s “Welcome To Jamrock.” Aisha stepped up to the plate for a rousing rendition of “Wait A Minute,” followed by a U Roy toasting cut via Prof’s mixing desk, and then it was time for some showcasing of Aisha’s First Lady Of Dub album, with some devotional numbers that featured Pepper on backing vocals; Aisha and Audrey continued trading places in the centre stage as Prof dubbed things up with increasing intensity. Later, there was a great mix of Luciano tackling Dennis Brown’s “Deliverance Will Come,” Ariwa style, a nice U Roy track about travelling to Ethiopia, and more new Aisha material. Then, as Prof reminded us that everything starts from the drum, there was a killer drum-heavy dub cut of Nadine Sutherland’s “Inna Mi Blood,” followed by a more standard vocal mix, and Audrey telling us that “Africa Is Zion.” Eventually, we hit a pinnacle with some astounding new live dub mixes of the immortal material that Lee “Scratch” Perry produced with Bob Marley and the Wailers, including “Kaya” and its dub, “Mr Brown” and its version, and then an unknown cut of “Jamming” that flipped into the dubstep zone. But Prof wasn’t through with us just yet. He flipped Robin S’ “Show Me Love” into the dub zone and whacked Pharrell’s “Happy” into dubstep mode. A strange dub mix of Marley’s “Turn Your Lights Down Low” led to a dub deconstruction of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” And, just in case that wasn’t enough, Prof bowed out with Aisha’s “My Africa” and its hefty dub counterpart. The two-hour set simply flew by. Wow, Mad Professor… dubbing them crazy every time! Countryman sound system then took over for lashings of UK Steppers, until the midnight curfew.

Commitments elsewhere on the Sunday prevented me from experiencing the lover’s rock of Janet Kay, ex-Ruts member Paul Fox’s collaboration with Brother Culture, and headliner Brinsley Forde of Aswad, but the overarching positivity of the festival and the growing number of attendees each day surely meant that everyone went down a treat.


Of course, since this was only the second year of the event, and with numbers expanding threefold to 1500 capacity, there were bound to be a few teething problems. The most noticeable of these, although minor, came when Tippa Irie had to do his soundcheck while Fatty and Horseman were performing, which caused a bit of noise bleed-through; a lack of lighting in places presented a few health and safety issues, and the compostable loos left a lot to be desired, since patrons failed to cover their poop with the provided soil. Nevertheless, the beauty of the surrounding setting, the reasonable prices of entry, food and delicious beer, and the generally upful attitude of everyone involved in staging the festival makes the Wilkswood Reggae Festival a real winner. Mark out some space in your calendar for next year’s event—it is well worth the effort to get there!

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