Dan Lovatt witnessed a ska and reggae masterclass in Manchester.
Date published: 22nd Oct 2018
Image: Royal Vision
The pink sky hung suspended over a jam-packed Manchester Academy, as hundreds of loyalist ska and reggae fans from across three generations shuffled impatiently to await what promised to be a era defining gig from one of the greatest ska and reggae bands to ever bless the genre. Overlooking these glorious followers in their ox blood Harrington jackets and platform doc shoes, it wasn't difficult to be swept up by the cultural significance of the gig. Another step in redefining and reinforcing the unity of humankind with music. Another chance to remind the millennial generation of the sheer awesomeness of the Maytals.
When settled inside, the crowd had to talk amongst themselves for the best part of half an hour as Captain Accident sat back stage. However, this wasn't all in vain, as it gave spectators the opportunity to look around and see themselves in the faces and two step shimmy of one another, accompanied by a ska instrumental soundscape, the D.I.Y pre-gig entertainment aspect once again allowing the crowd to reach out to one another. It was almost a shame when the crowd dispersed from talking amongst each other to welcome the support act.
Storming onto the stage came Cardiff five piece Captain Accident, a self-proclaimed "clumsy" reggae/ska infusion band. A project birthed from the captain himself, who wrote and produced all of the bands hits in his bedroom, before calling upon his mates, also known as The Disasters, to bring the tunes alive. They have not had a new release since their 2016-second studio album ‘Wake and Break’, so instead indulged fans in tracks from the well-loved album.
Two of the standout tracks were ‘Restless Man’ and ‘Mouths Wide Shut’, tracks that had undercurrents of agitation and revolt against our current system, which is true to the nucleus of the genre. Mouth Wide Shut began with the lyrics ‘Sit back down and behave now, do not raise no insecurity, you are disrupting the plan…’ a clear political opposition to conformity, which continued with the opening ‘give me my freedom, I’m a restless man’ in the former track.
What stood out about these tracks was the paradox between heavy political commentary and the boisterous rocksteady base and guitar supporting it. It’s a shame that summer has just passed, because despite their serious tone, Captain Accident are like summer pouring through the amp. With the crowd truly warmed up, they then performed a cover the classic Fugees song ‘Ready or Not’ that erupted a chorus from the crowd turned backing singers. They finished the 45-minute set with ‘By your Side’ and ‘Behind Closed Doors’, both emanating a warmth and declaration of peace which certainly took the chill out of the winter air. Providing the seasons continue to recycle summer, Captain Accident will always have a home as performers.
Then the highly anticipated climax, Toots and the Maytals arrived on stage to a wall of screams and jeers. Lead vocalist Toots Hibbert draped in a yellow, green and red waistcoat with trousers of the same Jamaican flair, whilst ‘Raleigh’ and Winston Wright posed smoothly in t-shirts and shades. Joined by two backing singers who contributed a truly soulful touch to an already visceral sound. The first hour of the set comprised of steadier songs that built the anticipation toward the most love tracks.
This included 1984 track ‘Peace Perfect Peace’ a more melancholic track that instructs us all to reach for God to restore love amongst us and 1972 grooveadelic track ‘Funky Kingston’ a homage to black America that got everybody including Hibbert bopping on the spot. These were followed by ‘Careless Ethiopians’ a song which perfectly encapsulated the struggle of the black community, the relevance of a need for faith and the still unflawed musical and vocal abilities of the band. The first half of the set closed with a new song ‘Marley’ that debuted this year, commemorating the friendship between Hibbert and a young Bob Marley, with Hibbert stating that we need to “uplift each other with our words.”
The second half of the set was considerably more crowd orientated, with Hibbert encouraging us to repeat his words and woo woo woos back to him as Raleigh and Wilson swayed side to side. At last, the classics emerged, beginning with ‘Take me home country roads’ as fans waved lighters and became absorbed in the raw tonal brilliance of Hibbert’s voice, and of course, nobody struggled with singing along.
Then came ‘Louie Louie’, the calmer version in comparison to Iggy Pop’s cover that compelled friends and lovers to throw their arms around each other in a tamer stage of the performance. Nevertheless, what they lacked in energy, the band compensated for at the end with a performance of the ingenious ‘Monkey Man’, the two steppers came into the limelight and joined Hibbert as ‘a ya-ya’ rang around the arena as they bid the crowd farewell and good fortune.
Of course, with the chants of ‘Toots Toots Toots’ bellowing, it was only polite for the band to re-emerge to perform one of ska’s greatest ever tracks ’54-46 was my number’ and the crowd went wild as the instrumental overran for an extra couple of minutes to facilitate the madness. A performance so flawles Unfortunately, the time arrived for the Toots and The Maytals to leave for good and embark on the rest of their UK tour. In a time begging for peace and love, what a time it was for god is to step down from their thrones and teach us how to achieve it.