Cleveland Watkiss, QEH, EFG London Jazz Festival

‘'More blacks. More dogs. More Irish, that’s what we want'' – was singer Cleveland Watkiss' verdict as he celebrated his 60th on the South Bank closing the 2019 London Jazz Festival in a hard hitting performance that tapped deep into roots reggae …

Published: 25 Nov 2019. Updated: 9 days.

‘'More blacks. More dogs. More Irish, that’s what we want'' – was singer Cleveland Watkiss' verdict as he celebrated his 60th on the South Bank closing the 2019 London Jazz Festival in a hard hitting performance that tapped deep into roots reggae and vintage sounds covering the waterfront and tapping into several overlapping strands of his musical interests.

The Hackney singer, an icon of UK jazz, presented the Great Jamaican Songbook, an idea suggested by the bowler hatted Orphy Robinson, who was on keys and played percussion to his side with 'Windrush Generation' emblazoned on the back of his shirt.

With horns arranged by alto/soprano saxophonist Jason Yarde, Ray Carless on tenor was given a prominent role as both an old school friend from Watkiss’ Hackney childhood and for his tenure with Cleveland in the seminal big band the Jazz Warriors. Young trombonist James Wade-Sired made a great impact within a heavy horn section completed by Byron Wallen from the Mulatu Astatke band. Remember the name.

The evening was full of reggae and large sprinklings of jazz (‘'this is our folk music,’' Watkiss told us) with graphics highlighting some key records and New Cross protest footage interspersed for a sociopolitical flavour.

Guest vocalists were highly promising twentysomething singer Sahra Gure and cellist-vocalist Ayanna Witter-Johnson who received some of the biggest applause of the night as Watkiss and Ayanna duetted on The Abyssinians’ 'Declaration of Rights'.

The reggae rhythm section, including a some times dancing pianist Phil Ramacon who Watkiss told us had earlier in his career played with Bob Marley and had the crisply effective drummer Dan Barnett, father and son bass guitarist Delroy Murray and guitarist Brandon Murray, strong and true.

Watkiss was best on the Gregory Isaacs material especially ‘Night Nurse’ and he was a cool ruler himself and then some.

Stephen Graham. Pic. Marlbank

Tags: Live reviews

The Coalminers, The Spice of Life, Soho, EFG London Jazz Festival

Around 11 years, the band’s guitarist Rob Updegraff told marlbank before the gig, and clearly they have built up a following as the Spice was as full as I’ve ever seen it. The club’s promoter Paul Pace introduced the band who began instrumentally …

Published: 24 Nov 2019. Updated: 7 months.

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Around 11 years, the band’s guitarist Rob Updegraff told marlbank before the gig, and clearly they have built up a following as the Spice was as full as I’ve ever seen it. The club’s promoter Paul Pace introduced the band who began instrumentally before vocalists Tommy Hare and Sumudu joined. Sumudu confined herself to tambourine initially and as the performance continued she and Hare each took songs to feature on while they also with saxophonist Ben Somers added did three-part harmony and that was a significant part of the overall sound.

Standouts were Sumudu’s take on ‘Break a Way’ synonymous with Irma Thomas and also ‘It’s Raining’.

The band kept the perennially popular Earl King tune synonymous with Professor Longhair ‘Big Chief’ towards the end and the two sets were packed with some great choices, mainly with a New Orleans, Dr John, Fats Domino and Allen Toussaint-type core.

The Zigaboo Modeliste-inspired drummer Pat Levett leads the band (taking its name from the Lee Dorsey associated Allen Toussaint song ‘Working in the Coal Mine’) and soloed early on in a chromatic harmonica feature. Pianist Arthur Lea playing an upright with a tiny Yamaha synth for organ effects on top also added some backing vocals and his comping had a bouncy alert quality throughout. Bass guitarist Spencer Brown unspectacular but steady as well as the aforementioned Updegraff completed the line-up, the guitarist delivering some well aimed bluesy bursts.

A fun and enjoyable show, the moustachioed neckerchief-wearing extremely tall Hare who has a grizzly voice that lands between Rod Stewart and Joe Cocker was hilarious at times in his theatricality getting into the crowd later for a bit of a walkabout even. The strikingly diminutive Sumudu by contrast standing next to Hare was tremendous. I’ve seen her at Hideaway in Streatham during a singers night oh nearly a decade ago when she blew everyone else away and in more recent years she has been a backing singer/guitarist along with Dana Masters for Van Morrison although I think she is no longer in the band at least currently. (Check Sumudu and Dana out on the stirring ‘Transformation’.)

Stephen Graham

Pic. marlbank