Toots and the Maytals, Shepherd's Bush Empire, London
Friday 11 June 2004
Touring on the back of
True Love, his excellent new album of his own classics, with guests ranging from Terry Hall and Ben Harper through Bootsy Collins and Shaggy to Keith Richards and Eric Clapton, Toots Hibbert has just pushed open the door on 40 years in the music business.
Touring on the back of True Love, his excellent new album of his own classics, with guests ranging from Terry Hall and Ben Harper through Bootsy Collins and Shaggy to Keith Richards and Eric Clapton, Toots Hibbert has just pushed open the door on 40 years in the music business.
The man who invented the term "reggae", with his 1968 single "Do the Reggay", retains the soulful, rousing power of a voice that has sung to successive generations of fans - The Specials and The Clash covered his songs - and tonight's concert is proof that sometimes good things really do improve with age. The Maytals - including the drummer Paul Douglas, the bassist Jackie Johnson and the guitarist Dougie Bryan - play exultant music, effortlessly combining reggae, rock, blues and soul.
The Selecter, key players in the British ska revival at the end of the Seventies, open the show. The band's spiky, itchy take on ska helped to define the two-tone sound, but all that is in the past: now, only Pauline Black remains. In skinny, black-striped pants and grey trilby, Black may look as if she's never left the two-tone stage but this is Selecter Acoustic, which means the singer and Mike Walsh, formerly of Bad Manners, on acoustic guitars.
Black's slightly theatrical approach to a song sounds at odds with the acoustic strum - which is more redolent of a pub session - but though the beam of the zeitgeist has passed, the voice and the songs are still good. The duo open with "Three Minute Hero", and thereafter Desmond Dekker's "Israelites" nestles alongside other ska-revival hits, such as "A Message to You". It's a sprightly enough warm-up for the arrival of Hibbert.
It's the first night of a tour that will include a headlining appearance on Glastonbury's jazz stage. Now pushing 60, an exuberant Hibbert cuts the kind of figure you would expect of one of the true architects of reggae. Musically, he is lord of all he surveys, and the band are in cracking form in a night of classics and extended jams.
The beat shakes the foundations, and with two keyboard-players, a horn section and female singers, the textures of the sound range through deep reggae, on the excellent Willie Nelson cover "Still Is Still Moving to Me", to a superlative "Pressure Drop", shifting tempo from Stones rock into a lulling reggae groove, and back again.
Hibbert is bandleader as well as vocalist, often disappearing to the side of the stage to observe proceedings; when he returns, everything changes. He has showbiz down pat, working somewhere between Kingston and the Apollo. Only occasionally does the showbiz glad-handing of the audience make the music slip from focus. But on this form, Toots and the Maytals are above criticism.
Northumbria University, Newcastle, tonight; Dome, Brighton, tomorrow; Glastonbury Festival, 26 June
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