By James Simms
Among all the excitement surrounding the New Year’s shenanigans, this gig always stood out as being the best event in town.
With a great line-up, a good crowd and even free cocktails in the historic Tabernacle, all signs pointed to a first-class event. That is pretty much what transpired…
After arriving early enough to check out the free cocktails and say hi to the many familiar faces in the downstairs bar, it was time to check out the main show upstairs. While the legendary Jerry Dammers set the mood with some choice vinyl selections, the auditorium was slowly filling as The Rotten Hill Gang carried out a few last minute stage adjustments and readied themselves for kick-off.
Augmented guitar-wise by the worthwhile inclusion of Gus Robertson, as well as the return of George Vjestica, a heavier guitar presence seemed to add atmosphere, weight and live presence to their sound. The Rotten Hill Gang proceeded to stroll effortlessly through a series of retro-inspired numbers that veered from the cockney knees-up of “Maybe It’s Because I’m a Londoner” (with great Bow Bells-style riff from George), via darker, funkier rapscapes, to the cartoon psychedelia of “Shrangri-La-La-La”. The audience responded well, with a floor-filling crowd dancing and singing along to the music, and as midnight came and went the festivities rolled on unabated.
The Gang’s set reached a suitably exhuberant conclusion as Mick Jones, dressed in a natty silver suit, joined the band for a version of the ‘Oliver’ inspired “Pocket or Two”,
followed by a great Phil Spector-style Christmas number. They have a depth of talent with Gary Stonadge and Andre Shapps at the very core of the project, as well as talented rapper Reds and charismatic singers Hayley and Holly. Without doubt they are locally popular and at every level use their Notting Hill and London roots to connect with their fans – “trustafarians” (incoming wealthy residents) are mocked and the band masquerade themselves as salt of the earth, barrow boy types. Although this ‘underdog’ status in itself may seem slightly incongruous coming from such well-connected individuals seemingly intent on further success, it helps to cement their position as one of the most influential bands in an area where ‘credibility’ is all important, whilst adding an entertaining cabaret element to proceedings,.
Having exited the stage to loud appeals for more, we are to be allowed one more very special treat. Gaz Mayall takes to the stage in an immaculately tailored blue suit with matching fedora, in order to introduce Mick Jones and the band once more. In what sounded like the only totally live song of the night, Mick and the band play a really rocking version of the classic “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” Although Mick has played with The Rotten Hill Gang on many occasions, watching him perform this classic in the historic surroundings of The Tabernacle was surely worth the ticket price - yet still there was more to come.
Now it was Gaz’s turn to spin a few tunes – there’s not much this guy doesn’t know about Ska, Bluebeat or Reggae music after hosting and DJing at Gaz’s Rockin Blues for over 30 years and as always this was evident in his informed and choice selections.
By this time it was around 1am and we were still waiting for the headline act, Dreadzone. Whilst some of the audience took an opportunity to top up with refreshments at the bar, the band took to the stage to make their final preparations.
After a few minutes they were ready to go – immediately launching into an upbeat, really authentic style of reggae that quickly pulled people from the bar to dance. Infectiously dancy and underpinned by effortless bass-playing from Leo Williams, Dreadzone really showed why they have achieved such success on the road. The combination of backing track with breakbeats (Chris Oldfield) and drums (Greg Dread) was fairly seamless, while Ex-Trojans guitarist Chris Compton put in a typically assured performance, a mixture of choppy chords and well-executed, more complex riffs.
Vocally, Dreadzone also have a formidable combination in MC Spee and Earl 16. MC Spee played the role well of geeing up the audience -despite sitting in a stool with a crutch for support he still exuded tremendous energy, whilst toasting and singing in a quite feisty reggae/urban style. Earl 16 added sweet vocal harmonies that were notable for their relaxed, melodic delivery, as well as some gritty toasting.
Unusually, Dreadzone incorporated some interesting hybrid styles into their set - including a quite relaxed sounding Country-Reggae-World Music song - that exhibit greater stylistic diversity than many bands. Couple this with a high level of technical mastery of the styles involved and you can understand the band’s enduring popularity – an always danceable, genuinely rootsy act, that is unafraid to keep it fresh by exploring new genres without straying so far as to dissuade too many reggae or dance fans.
An upbeat version of “Cocaine In My Brain” by Dillinger and a snippet of “Me, Myself and I” by De La Soul, were delivered with aplomb, much to the crowd’s satisfaction. By the time the justified encores culminated with “Little Britain”, the whole place seemed to be dancing.
And so, as Gaz played the night away on the decks, it seemed a fitting end to what had really been a great night at The Tabernacle. To see so many old friends together for New Year in such familiar surroundings gave the old place a real community feel. It was a really well put together event and, while it would have been better to hear the bands play a bit louder, they still sounded great! With a well-mixed crowd, gender-wise as well, this must surely have been a great success, let’s hope there is more where this came from!
You can see a video with Mick Jones at the Tabernacle here: MJ @ The Tabernacle 2
Plus a video from the Rotten Hill Gang - City of Cold Steel
Rotten Hill Gang Interview - Part I
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