Last weekend the 10th edition of the Montreal International Reggae Festival (MIRF) reached new heights of popularity. Held from Friday, August 16, to Sunday, August 18, it attracted a sold-out crowd on Saturday night. On Friday and Sunday selling 97 per cent of the total site capacity of 10,000 seats was taken.
Friday night's performers included Morgan Heritage, making a remarkable return to the MIRF stage for the third time. They performed all their greatest hits as well as extracts from their new album, Here Come the Kings. It was a dynamic set despite the absence of Una Morgan,who fell ill after arriving in Montreal, Canada.
Traditionally known as dancehall night, Saturday featured some of the most relevant artistes on the scene currently. They included Toronto's Dahlia and Jamaica's Mr Vegas, who performed his hits over the past 15 years.
Also featured at the event was Kes The Band, which brought out many of Montreal's Eastern Caribbean revellers. Shaggy was also in top form as well as an electrifying musical doctor, Beenie Man.
The legendary King Yellowman also gave a lively set, setting a high bar for young sensation Serani and singer Alaine. These performances were very good, but proved an icebreaker for the magical performance of iconic reggae artiste Cocoa Tea.
The festival was closed by Freddie McGregor and his Big Ship Crew, who performed a plethora of his timeless hits.
The only downside to this year's Montreal International Reggae Festival was the cancellation of Luciano's scheduled appearance, following a visa problem that was beyond the control of MIRF.
If there is one thing that Slightly Stoopid does not lack, it is stage presence.
While some of the musical talent did not seem to transfer from its eight studio albums to the live performance, Slightly Stoopid did present a very cohesive reggae sound, with a small mix of jam and punk rock.
Slightly Stoopid offered Athens a solid collection of fan favorites, playing hits such as “Closer to the Sun,” “Collie Man,” and “No Cocaine.” The band even threw in a cover of Charles Wright & the Watts 103 Street Rhythm Band's eponymous classic, "Express Yourself."
What set Friday’s show apart from other spring concerts was the band’s interaction with the crowd. The tickets were sold out, but the show still had a feeling of intimacy created by the band’s outgoing personality on stage.
Lead guitarist and vocalist, Miles Doughty had the fans raising their hands in the air, raising their lighters in the air, saying '"hello" to a sick friend of the band on the phone, and even chanting “shimmy shimmy ya” by the Ol' Dirty Bastard.
As has become a trend at the Georgia Theatre this spring, the crowd was audible from across the street and started a Braves chop right before the encore, proving Slightly Stoopid’s ability to please time and time again.
The opening act, Tribal Seeds, shared the stage with Slightly Stoopid for its encore. They will continue to tour together for the next few weeks, making stops in Nashville, Tenn., Winston-Salem, N.C., and numerous other musical hot spots in the Southeast.
Having now toured on its last album for nearly eight months, Slightly Stoopid will likely continue playing its warm weather music live throughout the summer. As the band continues to play a driving force in the reggae movement that was once driven by classics like Sublime, it would be no surprise to see Slightly Stoopid continue its success with a ninth studio album in the near future.
That reggae band that’s been playing at the Blue Dog Pub in Towamencin since October is called Fulljoy.
The name, says guitarist Mark Cosgrove, is a nod to Jamaican patois. “When the Jamaicans say ‘enjoy,’ it sounds like ‘end joy,’ and they don’t want to end joy,” he said.
Cosgrove should know: two of Fulljoy’s primary members — singer and keyboardist Horace “Bassy” Allen and drummer Neville Thomas — come from the musical island.
Something that throws new fans off, Cosgrove said, is that Thomas is blind. “It’s amazing what he can do without sight. It’s funny when people come up to him to shake his hand [and he can’t see them extending their hand],” he said.
Bassist Urijah James hails from the Caribbean island of Antigua and Fulljoy’s other drummer, Mike Shaffer, is a Blue Dog server.
In March the band alternated Saturday nights between the Blue Dog Pub in the Allen Forge Shopping Center at Valley Forge and Allentown roads, and the Blue Dog Family Tavern at County Line Road and Route 202, New Britain.
“It’s something different for Lansdale, but people enjoy it ... or full joy it,” laughed Cosgrove, a West Philadelphia resident.
“Those guys have a great sound,” said Blue Dog general manager Rob Hyde.
Fulljoy’s set blends classic reggae with original songs, and they play it dub reggae style.
“Dub really started out as a [recording] studio thing. The emphasis is on the drums and bass,” he said. The listener is led to pay attention to the different instruments as they drop out of the mix until there is only bass and drums. Then the dropped-out instruments return with effects or variations of some sort.
“The first rap DJs in New York were Jamaican. It was the original remix,” noted Cosgrove, who sometimes mistakenly gets phone calls for a Bucks County flatpicking guitarist who is also named Mark Cosgrove.
Along with 10 other bands, Fulljoy just played at Wall Street International, 1431-39 N. 52nd St., Philadelphia, April 20; now you’ll have to wait till at least May to catch the band around these parts again.
There’s also a “Fulljoy band” Facebook page to stay in touch.
Just because Fulljoy won’t be at the Blue Dog Pub (Towamencin) for a while doesn’t mean the live music there stops. At 9 p.m. Saturdays, there’s been a series of solo acoustic sounds — Mike Meade played April 13, C.J. Gravity played April 20 and Dan Ward will play April 27.
“It’s kind of like when you go down the shore and there’s a guy playing [solo acoustic in a bar],” Hyde said, elaborating that the singers will perform “a cross between modern rock, classic rock and something fun, like shore music.”
Hyde indicated that he’d like to experiment with rotating different reggae bands — all of which are likely to be friends of Shaffer’s — at the Blue Dog because, he explained, different bands mean different set lists and variations on the reggae sound.
An area band known for going down the reggae path, The Mighty Manatees, played the Blue Dog Family Tavern (New Britain) April 13 — with Shaffer sitting in on drums, no less.
Mighty Manatees cofounder, singer and guitarist Will Hodgson said that they refer to Shaffer as “Ras Michael,” after a Jamaican singer who goes by that name.
According to Hodgson, the band leans on the reggae part of its repertoire when it plays outdoors. But with Ras Michael playing with them this weekend, even though they’re indoors, “it’ll probably be a heavy reggae” show, he said, naming covers by Toots & The Maytals, Bob Marley, Ziggy Marley, Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff, Culture and Black Uhuru that they might play.
Online, at www.themightymanatees.com, the band lists shows it will be playing in the area, including, most recently, performances at Justin’s Carriage House April 12 and another at the Hotel Fiesole April 19, both in Skippack. The band also will be playing every other Thursday night at the Rising Sun Inn, 898 Allentown Road, Franconia Township.
Forty-nine years. Nearly five decades. Almost half a century. That's how much time has passed since The Skatalites first assembled boogie-woogie blues, jazz, Calypso, mento and African rhythms into one of Jamaica's signature musical styles. Nine of the original 10 Skatalites have passed on, but founding member Lester “Ska” Sterling continues to hold forth on alto sax as the newer version of the band tours in support of their latest album, “Walk With Me.” From the 1964 debut album, “Ska Authentic,” to the new one, the times and musicians may have changed, but the music -- and the love of it -- has remained the same.
Things started way back at what was considered a place to send “wayward boys,” Alpha Boys School. The school, run by the Sisters of Mercy, maintained not only high expectations of behavior, but of musicianship as well. Original Skatalite Tommy McCook was enrolled in Alpha Boys School in 1938. Other Skatalites, including Sterling, trombonist Don Drummond, Johnny “Dizzy” Moore, Cedric Brooks, Vin Gordon, Rico Rodriquez, Ernest Ranglin, Eddie “Tan Tan” Thornton, Bobby Ellis, “Horsemouth” Wallace and JoJo Bennett, all of whom have played with or were members of The Skatalites, were also students at Alpha Boys School.
Sterling remembers the school as a place you could learn a trade and an instrument. Legend has it that Moore got himself in trouble just to be sent to Alpha so he could play music with the best. Music theory was an integral part of learning to play, and the rigorous training at Alpha Boys School resulted in a brilliant generation of Jamaican musicians. These musicians would influence the changing sounds of the 1960s.
As Jamaica gained its independence, the island's music took on a new life, mixing dancehall with jazz and incorporating social consciousness into the greater themes of the songs. The brain trust of this new world was Studio One, where The Skatalites began recording. One of their songs, “Simmer Down,” became Bob Marley's first No. 1 Jamaican hit. In addition to backing Marley and The Wailers, The Skatalites played behind other top singers of the day -- Stranger Cole, Alton Ellis, Ken Boothe, Toots and The Maytals, Delroy Wilson, Peter Tosh and Jimmy Cliff, all of whom benefited from the incredible musicianship of the band.
How good were they? So good that after officially forming as The Skatalites in 1964, their first rehearsal -- at the Hi-Hat club, a legendary New Orleans burlesque club -- turned into their first gig when so many people crammed inside to listen that the owner started charging admission. The salad days were short-lived however, as The Skatalites' story took a dark turn.
Trombonist Don Drummond was often described as a “mad genius.” Widely acknowledged as both a brilliant songwriter and erratic performer, Drummond often admitted himself to the sanatorium. Ultimately, his instability led to the stabbing and killing of his common-law wife Marguerita Mahfood in an apparent fit of jealousy on New Year's Eve of 1965. By August, The Skatalites had split into two supergroups, Rolando Alphonso and the Soul Vendors, and Tommy McCook and the Supersonics. In early 1967, Drummond's ska adaptation of the theme to the film “The Guns of Navarone” entered the U.K.'s Top Forty chart. He died in the Bellevue Asylum in 1969.
But this was not to be the end of the story. In 1974, bass player Lloyd Brevett was recording a solo album that, bit by bit, turned into a Skatalites reunion. In 1979, the band recorded an album that remains unreleased due to contractual disputes. That setback didn't keep them from moving forward -- they reunited and played Montego Bay's Reggae Sunsplash festival in 1983. The success of that show propelled them forth yet again. Simultaneously through the late 1970s and early 1980s, English two-tone revival groups The Specials, Madness, The English Beat and Selector incorporated The Skatalites influence into their own highly popular music. American bands followed along including The Slackers, HepCat, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, No Doubt, David Hillyard and The Rocksteady 7, The Toasters and King Django. The success of bands influenced by The Skatalites has helped keep the originals -- and the new version of the originals -- in demand.
Through the late 1980s and into the 2000s, the band continued to tour and record. Notably, after first serving as Bunny Wailer's backup band in 1989, they followed up in 1990 performing behind Prince Buster. The momentum continued, leading to 1993's highly acclaimed “Skavoovee.” U.S. audiences were embracing ska with fervor at the time and the constant touring of The Skatalites kept their old fans engaged while gaining new ones exponentially. Even as the band returned to their jazz roots, their following remained extremely loyal.
The Skatalites' current members are Lester Sterling (alto saxophone); Doreen Shaffer (vocals); Azemobo “Zem” Audu (tenor saxophone); Andrae Murchison (trombone); Kevin Batchelor (trumpet); Val Douglas (bass guitar); Natty Frenchy (guitar); Cameron Greenlee (keyboards) and Trevor “Sparrow” Thompson (drums). When it comes to adding new members, the guiding philosophy is that the music is its own entity and each musician brought on board respects that and helps to continue carrying it through to audiences new and old.
Reviews of “Walk With Me,” The Skatalites' 15th studio album released in May 2012, praise the expert arrangement and impeccable performances. Dana Smart writes in the Examiner that “their inimitable chug and hot syncopation confirming the band's status as the originators with such zeal that one would swear Duke Reid or Coxson Dodd himself was behind the boards, coaxing these fiery performances from the band.” In the Austin Chronicle, Dan Oko raves “... dancehall done right. Pass it along!” An Afropop Worldwide review gushes “'Walk With Me' is, front to back, an unqualified pleasure of a listen.”
Samples from “Walk With Me” can be found in the audio section of skatalites.com.
With the word “legendary” firmly attached to their reputation, the fact that The Skatalites are coming to Humboldt is spectacular. The fact that they're playing in the intimate venue of Arcata's Jambalaya is even more amazing. Catch them Saturday at 10 p.m. and be sure to get tickets ($20) in advance through jambalayaarcata.com. The show is 21 and over. Elephant Dub Squad opens.
What: The Skatalites
When: 10 p.m. Saturday
Where: Jambalaya, 915 H St., Arcata
Admission: $20 in advance, 21+
During its short but eventful five year history Dan Wiltshire's One Love Festival has survived repeated venue changes, unsympathetic authorities and rival promoters. This year the event faced battles with their site's owners, stringent noise regulations and a couple of artist no-shows, yet maintained its mix of good music and low key relaxed vibes - blessed by one of the most gorgeously sunny weekends of the year. After two years based in Hainault, Essex, Wiltshire decided to return his event to Kent – to the site of Vince Power's Hop Farm Festival in Paddock Wood. The traditional growery of hops, a crucial ingredient in beer and a member of the cannabis family, seemed the perfect place to continue the uniquely chilled out reggae and dub vibe of the gathering in bucolic seclusion.
Reggae legends The Wailers will make their Northwest Arkansas debut in Fayetteville in November, it was announced last week. The band, known best for its work with Bunny Wailer and late Reggae-music icons Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10 at the Walton Arts Center.Original member Aston Barrett remains an anchor in the band on bass guitar, and is joined by Elan Atias and Koolant Brown on lead vocals; Keith Sterling on keys; Anthony Watson on drums; Audley Chisholm on rhythm guitar; Chico Chin on trumpet; Everald Gayle on trombone; and Brady Walters and Cegee Victory on background vocals.Tickets go on sale at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 12, and range from $16-$28. Tickets may be purchased by calling the Walton Arts Center box office at 479-443-5600 or by visiting waltonartscenter.org.