London International Ska Festival - Clapham Grand, London

  • In Live Review
  • 20:50 on 25th Apr 2011
  • By Lorne ThomsonLorne Thomson
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I was a mere child when the Two Tone movement appeared in the late 70s but still remember picking up a 7" copy of The Specials "Gangsters" single on its first week of release after hearing it a couple of times on John Peel's radio show. For the next couple of years I dipped in and out of the Ska revival scene, purchasing music from the likes of Madness, The Beat and Scottish band The RB's alongside material from "original" Ska acts, including The Skatalites and Prince Buster. I didn't really keep up with the genre much after the Two Tone ensembles stopped bothering the charts but I've always enjoyed giving my Ska faves a spin in the decades that have followed.

I can't say I have any knowledge of the current Ska scene. I've a soft spot for the Spanish female-fronted band The Pepper Pots but they veer more towards the soul side of things. However my interest in the genre was tweaked after hearing a week of interviews promoting London's International Ska Festival on Chris Hawkins' Early Breakfast Show on BBC 6 Music. I had caught a reformed Specials playing in 2010, enjoying the show immensely, so felt the time was right to acquaint myself with a few more like-minded bands, so headed along to the Clapham Grand to take in the third night of the LISF. The Festival was taking place over four evenings, pulling in acts from around the world, with stars such as Ken Boothe, Dave and Ansell Collins and Bob and Marcia all treading the Grand's boards.

I arrived just in time to take in a large chunk of The Amphetameanies set. I had done a bit of research via Spotify earlier in the day, with the Scottish band coming up trumps as I warmed to their album's Right Line in Nylons and Now! That's What I Call....The Amphetameanies immediately. The band led by Jane Chalmers and Stan Millar managed to pull a few audience members down the front for a bit of a boogie to their enjoyable output. I liked a lot of what I heard, especially their closing number "Backbeat Fucker", whose intro resembles "Dark Entries" from Bauhaus but transforms into an upbeat shouty romp!

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As much as I was enjoying The Amphetemeanies performance I was mindful that they seemed to be playing a fairly lengthy set for an early support. It was at this point I realised after a brief calculation that I'd be struggling to view headliners The Beat before my last train at midnight. I was slightly despondent but decided to have fun, taking in what I could of the evening anyway, with Denmark's Napoleon Solo lifting my spirits quite easily. The band were a lively bunch, with lead singer Søren Ole Christensen an energetic fellow and the group delivered a high energy set, flooding the dance floor with stomping patrons who lapped up each track, including the band's take on "Baby Elephant Walk" (the tune from "Dancin' Homer"!).

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UK band Intensified were up next. I can't say I enjoyed much of their set as it just didn't seem to be my thing. It wasn't the band at fault as they were good at what they did, they just didn't pull me in compared to the previous two acts. I photographed a couple of their songs then went for a wander, checking out the CD stall, then moving up to the balcony to view the set from above, taking in the audience who were liking the band a lot more than me! There was a really excellent atmosphere in the venue throughout the night, with a very friendly vibe during each of the sets.

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I viewed the first couple of songs from The Trojans from a distance. I was in need of some decent music to perk me up again but I wasn't pulled in till about the third song, where I was drawn like a magnet to the front of the stage, really starting to enjoy the band's output. The Trojans are fronted by Gaz Mayall on vocals and melodica, with the band delivering an odd mix of ska and reggae mixed with Irish folk at times. The group had a couple of guests onstage with Specials member Lynval Golding and Rico Rodriguez both joining the large ensemble for a few songs, including "A Message to You Rudy' and "Wonderful World". It really was an exceptional set and certainly made up for my lack of Beat time!

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I spent the majority of the last part of my Clapham evening clock watching, hoping Dave Wakeling's band would take to the stage before I had to leave. It was now around 11.20 and I patiently watched as the road crew set things up for another twenty minutes! Eventually Lynval Golding appeared front of stage to introduce the headliners, telling the audience that it because of Dave's encouragement that he joined The Specials again, so there wouldn't have been a reunion without his help. The band finally took to the stage at 11.45 and I was able to take in a great sounding "Rough Rider" and the opening chords to "Tears of a Clown" before I had to leg it across the road to the train station!

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I was disappointed that I missed The Beat's set but I really couldn't have handled at least two night buses home. The Trojans performance certainly made the night for me so the evening was far from a lost cause. I'll be keeping an eye on at least a couple of the bands on the bill in the future anyway.

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