A rising star shows who’s boss at this year’s reggae festival in Newcastle, as Matt McKenzie reports.—
THAT most irresistible of festivals, Boss Sounds, is back this week. A show that has brought some of the finest acts in reggae to the North East continues to impress.
Many a great has graced the region in recent years – a top-off-the-head list is impressive: the late Gregory Isaacs, Max Romeo, John Holt, Toots and the Maytals, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and Jimmy Cliff.
But this year marks a departure in that a contemporary superstar tops the bill in the shape of Jamaican singer Anthony B.
Inspired by Rastafari beliefs and politically-conscious lyrics, he is one of those modern-day performers who has managed to shimmy up the pole of recognition to forge an identity in a field still dominated by the 70s superpowers.
His 1996 hit Fire Pon Rome was a furious way to announce himself on the scene, with a powerful lyric decrying the treatment of the underclass coupled with a slo mo dancehall style, articulate even as it implores you to move your feet.
Head wrapped in a turban synonymous with the Bobo Ashanti branch of the Rastafarians, he was born Keith Anthony Blair – no, not that Tony – in Trelawny; his religious upbringing honed his singing.
And while peers leered at girls and guns, he wrote dancehall songs that were socially-aware and uplifting.
The 36-year-old headlines at World Headquarters in Newcastle on Friday on a bill that also features two of reggae’s leading toasters – DJ Ishu and, from Glasgow’s Mungo Hi Fi, Rudey Alba. Across town at The Cluny the night after are three stars of ska, as the festival takes on a retro feel.
Winston Francis, whose career kicked off in the 60s and recorded for Clement ‘Coxone’ Dodd’s Studio One label, is perhaps best-known for his version of the Mamas and Papas’ California Dreaming.
But his Rocksteady single Mr Fix It showcases his famous mellifluous vocals as well as any of his hits.
Also on the bill is Freddie Notes, the man who led The Rudies, whose Trojan single Montego Bay makes you want to head straight there.
Tony Washington makes up the third of the night’s ‘Originals’, the man who produced Millie Small’s My Boy Lollipop, the UK’s first ska hit after this joyful music arrived in Britain in the 60s. Those unsated can head back to World Headquarters for an aftershow DJ set by none other than former Special, Jerry Dammers.
Anthony B, Rudey Alba & MC Ishu are at World Headquarters on Friday from 11pm-3am; Winston Francis, Freddie Notes and Tony Washington are at The Cluny on Saturday from 11pm-3am; and Jerry Dammers plays World Headquarters, also on Saturday from 11pm-3am. Visit www.jumpinhot.com