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ONE of the things I love about Britain is our love of reggae music, which has never really been accepted by the radio or television. But the people love it. And I love us more for that.
Just about everyone can sing along to The Israelites, even though no-one knows the words, and Pressure Drop coming on the jukebox can get a whole pub shouting: “Oh yeeaahh eeah eeah.”
The upcoming Easter weekend sees the 30th London International Ska Festival, a grassroots-organised event with top names from ska, rocksteady, reggae and 2 Tone performing. There are also sound systems — big up Gladdy Wax.
The festival has grown from being a couple of nights at the much-missed George Robey pub and it’s grown because real people love real music.
It kicks off on Thursday March 29, with The Clarendonians making a very rare showing. But for me the pick of the day is DJ Ranking Joe picking up the mic. Babylon Bridge, Drunken Master and his cut of Tristan Palmer’s Fussing and Fighting were huge choons in my yoof.
Good Friday sees a rocksteady cruise down the Thames with Ken Boothe. I’ll just say that again — Ken Boothe! Spinning vinyl is Asher G, the rocksteady daddy himself.
There are multiple events every day and Saturday sees Ken Boothe singing and a gig of new ska bands put on by the long-running Do The Dog 'zine. Nothing more grassroots than 'zines, long may they fold and staple.
Easter Sunday sees one of the nicest guys I know, Ras Digby, doing a turn and he's on the same bill as Johnny Clarke and Horace Andy.
Clarke’s run of choons with Bunny Lee are more than impressive and his Peace and Love is one I drop regularly. I once saw Andy at the tiny Gossips club in Soho, where the band ran out of songs they knew. But Andy stayed on and did an extra 20 minutes a capella. Magical.
Also gigging on Sunday are Maroon Town, who not only bring their '80s ska rhythms with a bit of hip hop-kick but the Potato 5 horn section. The latter really got ska music rolling again after 2 Tone had waned.
Not be missed is the closing party with my old mates the Tighten Up Crew on the decks. All killer, no filler and no doubt all lager too. Also worth catching are Glasgow skinhead faves Capone and the Bullets, I’ve not seen them since the Robey days. Is Scott still in the band? Does he still have that crumpled trombone he bought at Paddy’s Market?
All in all, if you like a shuffle, good times, and songs with a bit of conscience, it’s a long weekend not be missed. I’ll see you there, I’m the stout fellow in a Brutus shirt with a beer in me hand.
Tickets available from londoninternationalskafestival.co.uk
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