Linton Kwesi Johnson, Barbican, London

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The Independent Culture

Linton Kwesi Johnson exerted a major influence on the punk and reggae tribes of late 1970s Britain. The Jamaican-born dub poet published his Dread Beat an' Blood collection in 1975, but it was his debut album of the same name from Island in 1978 that brought him international attention. Teaming up with British dub and reggae pioneer Dennis Bovell, that debut was followed by a string of classic poetry and dub albums through the late Seventies and early Eighties – the likes of Bass Culture, LKJ in Dub, and Making History.

Tonight's gig features Bovell and his international Dub Band, with guests including poet Jean Binta Breeze and veteran reggae crooner Winston Francis gathering with LKJ for a one-off gig celebrating the 30th anniversary of his recording career.

Young performance poet Zena Edwards opens the evening, her freewheeling verse accompanied by thumb piano, guitar and sax. Binta Breeze enjoys the backing of the band for a set of short poems that segue into upbeat reggae tunes, while Winston Francis bounds and shimmies manically around the stage, like some cruise entertainer looking for his sea legs.

Bovell mines his own back catalogue, including a superb I-Roy number, "The Power", during which Bovell opens up the sound for the night's first live dub experience, wreaking havoc with the venue's bass speakers.

LKJ, when he appears, has a fantastic sense of delivery, a real iconic presence, and great shoes. And he has a lot to say. "I don't see a lot of difference between my generation and today," he raps. "We live in a more materialistic and consumerist world, driven by technology, but the most significant thing is the easy availability of guns. Why is it so easy?" he asks. "Are the police powerless to tackle the easy availability of weapons in this country?"

It's a loaded question, and one with which he kicks off "Ain't No Funny", a powerful reggae protest song from the late Seventies, followed by the likes of "Fight Them Back" and "Reggae for Peach" (for the anti-racist activist killed by a paramilitary wing of the Metropolitan Police in 1979). You hope LKJ will keep going for another 30 years.

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