Friday, May 6, 2011

2011 London International Ska Festival: A Yank's Perspective

While I was bummed that I wasn't able to attend the 2011 London International Ska Festival (for a whole host of reasons), I am really happy to be able to include this review from an American ska fan who made the journey. NYC ska fan Andrew Rundle, a regular Duff Guide to Ska reader, was kind enough to write up his impressions of the festival and share them via this blog.

All in all, the London International Ska Festival was a huge success--hats off to the organizers. For me the high point was The Trojans’ performance during which they brought out Rico to lead the band for about two-thirds of their set (see them all in action above), and had Lynval [Golding of The Specials] out singing and dancing for part of the set. Another personal high point was seeing Bim Skala Bim performing again; the last time was as one of the opening acts for The Bosstones’ Hometown Throwdown. The announcement that Bim was going to be on the bill basically sealed the deal that I was going to fly to London for the festival. For the audience in general, I think Dave Wakeling’s version of The English Beat was the most eagerly anticipated act--in the pubs around the venue the buzz was all about Dave. He performed a killer set, much better than recent outings in New York City, and stuck to The English Beat material rather than doing The English Beat/General Public mash-up I have seen several times in the US. He also had Rhoda Dakar and Jennie Bellestar as backup singers and my only critique of the set would be that they were under-utilized. It was also a thrill to see Ken Boothe, whom--up until the Festival was announced--I had given up hopes on seeing; great voice, great performance.

Probably the weakest act at the festival was Dave and Ansel Collins backed by The Caroloregians. It took them several songs to get in sync, with all Caroloregian eyes focused on Ansel, who sort of conducted the band. There also seemed to be some tension as to when Dave was actually going to take the stage--"Monkey Man" came and went before the vocalist actually appeared. It didn’t help that they were preceded by The Hotknives and The Loafers, who had both reformed for the show and turned in excellent sets to large fan bases. In many ways Friday night peaked with The Loafers. James Hunter on Thursday gave a strong performance, but his soul sound seemed like an odd choice for the festival. One hiccup was a misprint in the show schedule, which, combined with my decision to see the Chelsea game, caused me to miss The Amphetameanies.

The Clapham Grand is an old theater/dance hall with great sound and sight lines--and handy proximity to several pubs, a Cornish pastie store, and a kebab shop claiming to have “probably the best kebabs in London.” The crowd was there to dance and enjoy the music; there was one minor scuffle on the dance floor that was quickly shut down by the staff. A large portion of the audience had clearly been fans of skinhead reggae and 2 Tone back in the day when they were teens. Usually in NYC, I am one of the older people in the crowd, but at the Clapham Grand I was on the younger side of the age spectrum. It was cool to meet fans from across the world and hear about various ska scenes--people were there from Japan, the US, Australia, and South America. Also on Thursday night, Buster Bloodvessel was in the audience enjoying the music and dispensing hugs to fans.

I hope the festival proved to be as big a success for the organizers as it was for the audience. I would love to see this become a continuing festival.
Thanks, again, to Andrew for the LISF report!

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