The Lively Up tour arrived in London town last night and the Queen Elizabeth Hall was rammed to capacity. There was genuine sense of anticipation in the air and as one scanned the stage which was set up to accommodate not just a full force – 30 strong – Jazz Jamaica but also the strings of the Urban Soul Orchestra one wondered how this project was going to drop.
To celebrate 50 years of Jamaican independence Gary Crosby and his partner Janine ‘ Hot Stepper’ Irons chose to interpret the album which introduced roots reggae into the rock mainstream. ‘ Catch A fire’ by the Wailers was released in 1973 after being given a few crucial musical tweaks in Island’s Basing Street studios and it paved the way for Bob Marley to become reggae’s premier global ambassador.The magical opening bars of ‘Concrete Jungle’, which reputedly were lifted from the guitarist tuning up in the studio, were always going to be tricky to get over but the ensemble took it on and as the bass and drum dropped you had to smile. Taking on Bob Marley’s role was Aswad’s Brinsley Forde and his distinctive vocals were supported by the sweet harmonies of their own most excellent ‘Dem Threes’- Valerie Etienne, Zara Macfarlane and Rasiayah Jubari.
The combination of the two ensembles created a sea of sound that rose and fell with the ridim and the music cleverly broke down into dubwise passages that paved the way for an array of instrumental solos. It was down to newcomer Terasina Mora on booting baritone sax to take on the first solo and she did it in fine style. Alto saxophonist Jason Yarde, who was responsible for the musical arrangement, was hard on her heels and while the sound of the baritone still hung in the air Yarde boldly carved his own increasingly intense verses.
Peter Tosh’s anthemic ‘ Stop That Train swung graciously while ‘Kinky Reggae’ took on a whole other dimension. There were solos from a young alto player Camilla George and a distinctive young voice on trumpet but the overall ridim was driven by a surging five person trombone section who worked their own individual magic. Fittingly, the first set closed with the grooving “Baby, Baby… we’ve got a date…” and it was here that Brinsley and “Dem Threes” really came together and blew the house away.
The songs on ‘Catch A Fire’ have a distinct character of their own but what was originally born of three part vocal harmonies and a small tight band emerged on this night as a launch pad for a very ambitious musical adventure. The bass and drums and rhythm guitar lines retained the essence of the originals but this performance was something new… something these musicians could be deeply proud of.
During the intermission, in the shadows at the back of the stage, a large ensemble of people began to assemble. There had been rumours of a choir in various venues but this crew, directed by Mark De Lister, was way bigger than anything I’d seen on Gareth Malone’s TV series. The triumvirate of Crosby, Yarde and Kevin Robinson (the conductor) had obviously been saving this up for those heavier more militant cuts from the album.That said, the second set opened with a juicy rendition of ‘Stir It Up’. It was a showcase for the Urban Soul Orchestra. A spirited duel between violinists Stephen Hussey and Miles Brett ensued sparking waves of spontaneous applause. It was then left to the rest of the excellent string section to take us out on a long sensual pizzicato groove. The mutual appreciation between all the musicians onstage shone through and paved the way for the mighty bass line – respect is indeed due to Family Man Barrett – of ‘No More Trouble’. The sound off the Voicelab Choir was unleashed to full effect and on this song and the equally powerful ‘400 Years’. The combination onstage was nothing short of majestic.
So, after that, came the party. Brinsley’s acapella version of Bob’s ‘Redemption Song’ turned into a gently uptempo ska driven singalong that ensured the whole the hall was on their feet and they stayed there for the rest of the show which spanned ‘One Love’ and the climactic ‘Lively Up Yourself’.
It was an audacious performance that for me culminated with ‘400 Years’ and I hope that up there in the spirit world, Sister Mary Ignatius Davies of the Alpha Boys School in Kingston Jamaica was looking down on this event and thinking, “Is we dat help start dis?”