With two massive reggae gigs in just a couple of weeks, Brian Sayle and Graham Smillie are blown away by the ambition of Positive Vibration.
The Positive Vibration festival are determined to make Liverpool a reggae town.
Aside from their acclaimed annual festival, they have started bringing some of the biggest names in reggae to the city, and over the last couple of weeks they have been responsible for shows by two bona fide legends; Big Youth and Horace Andy.
Not only that, but they’re making the gigs feel special.
District is perfect for this. The outside area, called Yard, had DJ’s spinning some classic reggae tunes, during which you could jam to whilst enjoying some food from ItalFresh. Inside Africa Oye DJs Marley and Vegas warmed the crowd up. It gives the night a bit of a festival vibe, perfect for a summers evening.
This was followed by half an hour of Levi Tafari’s wonderful poetry. There is a social consciousness that runs through Tafari’s poetry, and it often feels like he is imparting wisdom or helping people understand the hardships faced by black youths. He can do it through humour too, though. Such as speaking about getting stopped by the police even when he was in his pram. He also talked about growing up in Toxteth and even paid tribute to Bruce Forsyth, who had died earlier that day.
The showtimes got a bit messed up. Big Youth was stuck in heavy traffic, and arrived a little later than planned. This gave us a bit of opportunity to case the room out a bit. It struck that there was a huge cross-section making up the audience.
There were reggae fans from the original boom, kids who are discovering reggae for the first time, punks from the old Eric’s days. Just looking around the room was a fine example of one love.
The Upper Cut Band started with a instrumental track and announced the main man – Big Youth finally took to the stage.
Big Youth arrived in the wake of a plethora of reggae legends, but quickly established his own style. That style is as potent today as it ever has been. It is always refreshing to see artists who are able to balance a wealth of history with a vital message, and Big Youth is certainly one of those artists.
His command of the stage could eclipse even hungry young bands. Decked out in a gold shirt and a porkpie hat that he occasionally removed to shake his dreads about, he was a joy to behold. The Upper Cut Band were stellar, and it was a thrill to hear classics such as Mind Blowing Decision and Jim Squeechy in the flesh.
Horace Andy was just as great.
With a career spanning 50 years, he doesn’t seem to have taken the time to stand still.
An early recording in 1967 failed to make an impact and it wasn’t until 1970 that Andy began making an impact, recording at Coxsone Dodd’s Studio One. A string of hits followed.
With a move to producer Bunny Lee more hits followed, before Andy moved to the USA and then to Ladbroke Grove in London where he continued recording and writing throughout the eighties. In the nineties he began a very fruitful collaboration with Bristol’s trip hop pioneers Massive Attack.
Now 66 years old, he carries a back catalogue many would envy and he dips into all of it in this live show.
Backed by Mafia and Fluxy and the Matic Horns, he treats us to Skylarking, Fever, Zion Gate, with Money Money being particularly exceptional.
A packed District were dancing all the way. It was refreshing to see the crowd genuinely into it. There were a serious lack of phones in the air. People weren’t recording every second, they were enjoying the moment for what it was and everybody who was there was totally in the room.
Encores of Ain’t no Sunshine, Hymn of the Big Wheel and Leave Rasta sent most of us home happy, while others stayed to enjoy the Positive Vibration DJs, who also set the scene earlier with a set of awesome tunes, and they played until late on.
The ambition of Positive Vibration is truly marvellous to behold. We don’t recall anybody bringing so much reggae to Liverpool before, and if the crowds at these two nights at District are to be believed, there is a huge market waiting for it.
It’s a relief to see them going from strength to strength. We hope they can keep up their relationship with District, as it is definitely a perfect venue for many of these gigs, and with them having a hand in bringing Dawn Penn to this very venue as part of Liverpool Music Week, it seems that they will continue to go from strength to strength, helping to widen the scope of Liverpool’s live music scene.
Thank Jah for that!
Images by Brian Sayle and Graham Smillie