Over the past few weeks I’ve seen three concerts: all quite different, but very enjoyable in different ways.
First was a real step back in time: The Beat, who played at Chelsea’s Under The Bridge club.
I saw the original Beat a frightening 35 years ago, at the height of their commercial success. They had a string of hit singles in 1979-81, with an album called “I Just Can’t Stop It” that was one of the very best of the Two Tone movement. A movement based on the rhythms of Ska, played by the kids of black and white communities; especially, for some reason, in the Midlands.
The time I saw them was an incongruous affair. It was the University College, Oxford Ball in 1980. My good friend Jon was JCR president that year (essentially the student voice for the college) and was heavily involved in the organising committee for the Ball. He played host to members of the band before their appearance. One member was Rankin’ Roger, who provided supporting vocals, with an element of the Jamaican toasting style. He was 19 and nervous. Jon says that while he waited he said something like, “I’m bricking it, having to go out and sing before all those fucking penguins”. Yes we were all in black tie.
Fast forward to 2015 and Roger was fronting the band. Lead singer, Dave Wakeling has a different Beat. Not sure why. “Musical differences”, no doubt.
It was a wonderful concert in an intimate venue. Roger, resplendent with long dreadlocks, sang most of the hits; but there was a young lad supporting him – playing the old Rankin’ Roger role – who turned out to be his son. What a great thing that is: father and son in the same band, sharing vocal duties.
Almost all of the great hits were played – the likes of “Mirror In The Bathroom”, “Hands Off She’s Mine”, “Tears Of A Clown”. It was a great sight to see loads of fifty-somethings skanking to full effect. No inhibitions. Just a total celebration. One of the best receptions of the night was when the band played The Clash’s “Rocking The Casbah “. Memories, memories.
One thing so evident on the night was the importance of the bass. A central feature of any reggae or ska. As they say, give me a little bass line… all else revolves around that foundation.
A great gig. Nostalgia and a reason to skank. One love.
A week later, it was Nils Frahm, German keyboardist, at the Roundhouse. Much anticipated. He was brilliant at Latitude last year. His music is entrancing, and live, he really branches out on a whole load of keyboards. But this is not 70s prog rock. It’s ambient: looking back to classical piano, forward to electro, taking in the looped patterns of the likes of Philip Glass. It’s fascinating, soothing, exhilarating.
The concert was a wonder, and incredibly well-received. Interestingly, the audience was quite young – and hip. The predominant character was the twenty/thirty something bloke with a fashionable beard.
I said the music had its soothing moments. Two of my four compadres succumbed to a snooze at points in the concert. Quite a lot of Asahi beer and white wine had been consumed in Sushi Salsa beforehand!
On record – at least the ones I’ve heard – Nils focuses on the piano, the organic sound. Live there is much greater variety, some amazing electronic soundscapes. I hope some of this will be captured on record soon. It will be awesome.
And then, just yesterday, back to the Roundhouse for The Replacements.
A hardcore US indie-punk band whose heyday was the eighties. Somehow they passed me by at the time. Maybe it was because the eighties were when I focused on reggae, dance, jazz, funk, world, rap. Didn’t give up on rock’n’roll, not at all, but an American follow up to punk may not have been my priority.
Anyway, my friend Osama was keen to go, so I went along.
And it was good – very good. The essence of punk, of rock’n’roll, was there. The faster the songs, the more that The Ramones crept in, the more I liked them. There was a decent amount of rocking in the crowd, given that this was probably a forty-something gathering, although I did spot quite a few youngsters.
Yeah, it was good stuff, and I need to listen to a bit more than the greatest hits album.
Three great concerts. All different, but all with the same essential spirit. A love of music, which transmits to the audience.
Do you remember I sent you a link to Rat Patrol From Bragg, the Clash album that was eventually slimmed down to become Combat Rock? Well the unreleased version of Rock The Casbah from that has Rankin Roger providing some of the vocals.
As for The Replacements last night, was still buzzing when I got back home. Glad you liked them.
Also not entirely sure the two versions of The Beat are to do with musical differences and rather Dave Wakeling just enjoying living in California.
“We tried a General Public reunion, but me living in California, and [Beat and General Public vocalist] Ranking Roger living in Birmingham, made it $10,000 just to get a rehearsal together…So eventually Roger and I agreed that he would do shows in England as The Beat, and I would do shows over here as The English Beat, and if we ever wanted to tour either side of the pond, we would do that together. We’ve tried a few times, but it hasn’t happened yet.”
Although they did reform for a one-off Beat concert at the Royal Festival Hall in 2003. Which I missed!
Good reminder! They were selling some kind of CD of Rock The Casbah at the gig. And yeah, the two Beats explains why iTunes stocks them under The English Beat. I’d always assumed that there must also be an American Beat.
Yep, Osama’s right about the two Beats, which I explored after the night at Under the Bridge. Seems to be a very amicable split, based on lifestyle decisions!
Having been to two of your three gigs, John, I concur with everything you say about The Beat and Nils Frahm.
With the first I feared disappointment, thinking that Ranking and the boys might sound tired and, um, middle-aged. But instead there was so much pace, verve and energy – and indeed joy. Just a brilliant vibe.
As for Frahm, I had no expectations at all, and as you know, I was completely blown away. (I very nearly went back the following Monday for a touted ticket.) I guess the key for him, as we discussed afterwards, is to enshrine in future recordings that monstrous and compelling sound, which was ringing in my ears for days after.
A cracking couple of evenings.
Yes, I should have mentioned that awesome bass sound that Nils threw at us from time to time. Made the seats shudder! I want more of that.
It was those shuddering seats what woke me up.
Not Smithy though!
Smithy’s still up there in the balcony, I think. That job is wearing him out.