Jerry Dammers' Spatial AKA Orchestra, Colston Hall, Bristol

A dazzling tribute to the music and cosmology of bandleader Sun Ra is simply inspirational

At the end, when the 16 masked and robed musicians processed up the aisle and out of the hall, singing Sun Ra's catchy refrain of "Space is the place!", you realised that the whole dream-like performance was like being in some inspired, holy-rolling church, with saxophonists playing the preacher's role.

It was a long service, two and a half hours without a break. But despite seeing the show twice in 10 days, I'd go again tonight if the tour hadn't finished in Northampton on Friday.

"We're going to take you on a journey", Jerry Dammers had said, standing in his pulpit-like enclosure of keyboards, wearing an Egyptian helmet and the mask of a face on the back of his head. "It's a journey into outer space and to deep within ourselves." There was a bit of mumbling then, but he definitely said something later about life, death, rebirth and possession, introducing a version of the theme from The Exorcist by the trumpeter Dizzy Reece. He also described its composer, Mike Oldfield (the theme from The Exorcist is Tubular Bells, right?), as "someone else who had difficulties with fame", or words to that effect.

Jerry Dammers' difficulties with fame are well known, and if this show had too much material crammed into it, well, you could say he'd been preparing it for 30 years. Compared to the musical, intellectual and spiritual breadth of the evening – a free-jazz, reggae and exotica-tinged enquiry into man's place in the universe, with a sidebar on the transmigration of souls – the reunion of the old Specials (minus Jerry), topping up their pension pots by playing "Too Much Too Young" for the thousandth time is risible. It also sounds good fun, and of course they deserve a pension, but the Specials were always about far more than singalong ska, as anyone who stayed with the story as late as More Specials (only a year on from their debut) knows.

While the inspiration for this tour and the Spatial AKA itself was clearly the music and cosmology of the bandleader Sun Ra (Herman "Sonny" Blount from Birmingham, Alabama, 1914-93), the conception, as well as some of the tunes and all the arrangements, were Dammers' own, and easily traceable to that second album's fascination with cheesy organ-sounds. There's also a debt to his days as a DJ, surfing the craze for lounge music with a record collector's love of obscure grooves from old Italian soundtrack albums. The show's stunning visuals succeeded in putting Ra's Afro-Futurist visions into a clear context, with stills culled from sci-fi and architecture journals mixed with rare film of Ra and his troupe performing and posing by the pyramids.

Dammers' own contexts were less clearly expressed but the clues were there if you looked for them. He dedicated a wonderful version of a Sun Ra blues-ballad, "I'll Wait For You", sung by the superb Francine Luce, to his late father, adding ecclesiastical-sounding trills to a brief organ solo. It was a lovely, tender, even rather spooky moment and one freighted with meaning when you know that Jerry's dad was the Very Reverend Horace Dammers, Dean of Bristol Cathedral from 1973-87, and a canon in Coventry before that, his family's residence in that city perhaps the real genesis of the Specials and the 2-Tone label that Jerry and his pals went on to create. A disabled war hero, a member of CND, and a founder of the anti-consumerist Lifestyle Movement Horace, must, you feel, have cast a long shadow. And it's not hard to see a good, old-fashioned English-ecumenical impulse in Dammers' appropriation of Sun Ra, whose gnostic mythology can seem as endearingly eccentric as Stanley Spencer's visions of resurrection in a Cookham churchyard, lost souls searching for each other across the limitless vistas of black space.

What made the music really sing was Dammers' excellent casting for the band, picking the most soulful jazz saxophonists going in Jason Yarde, Denys Baptiste, Nathaniel Facey and Larry Stabbins, all of whom blew up a storm. By the end, as the band tooted their way out of the hall to continue the performance outside, you felt exhausted but also full of life and hope (partly the hope that Dammers won't wait 30 years before following it up). Arriving home afterwards on a cold clear night with stars dotting the sky, you just had to sing it one more time: "Space is the place!".

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on