Thursday, July 26, 2012

Jamaican 50th Anniversary of Independence Concert, Symphony Hall, Wednesday 25th July 2012

Jamaica and Birmingham go together like...well...rice and peas...with the original Jamaican immigrants and their descendents having a huge impact on Brum’s musical soundscape. From Steel Pulse to UB40, The Beat to Musical Youth, Andy Hamilton to Soweto Kinch, Jaki Graham to Jamelia Birmingham’s the home of the Jamaican British (or British take your pick) sound. So it’s entirely appropriate that Birmingham’s Symphony Hall should play host to a very special celebration of the 50th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence. By a happy coincidence (what are the chances eh?) this anniversary coincides with the...not sure if we can even write the words given the frankly paranoid rules around the use of Olympic iconography...whoops...said the word Olympic...balls...oh well...Olympic Games and who should choose to base their team here...Jamaica! Kismet.

Tonight the organisers did a cracking job of pulling together a bill that embraced the past, present and future kicking off with some reminiscences from Count Prince Miller who, incredibly enough, took part in the original independence day concert in Kingston way back in 1962. Blimey. The dude’s still going strong too, must be all that rum punch.

MC for the night, Radio WM DJ Joe Eldred, introduced soprano Abigail Kelly who sang a delightful trio of Jamaican folk songs in an operatic stylee culminating with a clapalong version of Nobody’s Business But My Own before handing over the baton (metaphorically) to Horizon Youth Choir for an impassioned Something Inside So Strong. I guess the drawback of trying to fit so much in to one night is that you barely get to see what performers are capable of and I’d have loved to see/hear more of Horizon and the next group from Aston Performing Arts Academy whose energetic medley (snippets from Alicia Keys, Shaggy, Fugees) amongst others was a real highlight. Bonus points for the mass Usain Bolt pose. 

Jazz legend Andy Hamilton received a touching tribute from his sons and friend Vic Evans who played Honeysuckle Rose...s’funny I’d never really focussed on the double entendres in this track before. They are risqué aren’t they...or is it just my dirty mind? Hmmmm...probably.

With a comment on Jamaican’s love of religion...any religion “If you invent it...Jamaican’s will join it...we’ve got more churches per square mile than any other country in the world” Joe introduced the soul stirring Town Hall Gospel Choir. I’m not religious but that should be by heaven...I love gospel music. There’s no bull there. It’s pure, joyful and totally devoid of any pretence and if the good Lord was watching tonight he’ll be downloading some Town Hall Gospel Choir tracks right stick on his...wait for it...i-God. Ouch.

Anyway, glossing over mild blasphemy (God’s more of a vinyl fan I reckon) Musical Youth dedicated a rousing version of Pass The Dutchie to the City of Birmingham and the City of Birmingham (well, those of us who were there) reciprocated with much Jamaican flag waving and jigging about. Next up Jaki Graham reminded us that she’s responsible for one of the great modern soul pop classics in Could It Be I’m Falling In Love (yes I know it was recorded by The Spinners in the '70s but Jaki and David Grant's version is the best). Forgotten just how brilliant this track is...have a listen...see? Brilliant.

After a quick break (and with the clock ticking...the event started a little late so there was a bit of tail chasing) the Lord Mayor of Birmingham presented the Jamaican Olympic Squad with something made of silver...couldn’t see what it was...probably a bull...or a bust of Jasper Carrott. Much of part two involved a tribute to Bob Marley with various performers picking tracks from the most enviable back catalogue in reggae...yes...even more enviable than Chaka Demus and Pliers. No Woman No Cry and Redemption Song were particularly impressive....not sure who sang which. Damn my fading memory.

Beverley Knight, the undisputed queen of UK soul, has nothing to prove but any doubters here tonight would’ve been converted thanks to a powerfully sensual version of Bob’s Is This Love. Not content with outshining one Jamaican legend she did it again with Jimmy Cliff’s Many River’s To Cross. Just beautiful.

Finally, proof that you should always leave ‘em laughing, Benjamin Zephaniah’s poem about the melding of British and Jamaican cultures should be stuck on every school curriculum in the country. Somehow managing to take the piss out of both nations but remaining as funny as hell to all concerned it was, perhaps, the greatest celebration of all. After all the City that laughs together, sticks together eh? Here’s to the next 50 years...apparently Count Prince Miller’s already got it in his diary...

Pictures courtesy of Steve Thorne

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