Liverpool Music Week: Dawn Penn, Dub Defenders at District

By Shaun Ponsonby
Fri 03 November, 2017

Positive Vibration brings another reggae legend to Liverpool as part of Music Week. As if Shaun Ponsonby would miss this one.

It hasn’t taken Positive Vibration long to make their mark in the city.

The amount of reggae gigs happening in Liverpool now is abundant, and it is primarily down to their efforts. District appears to have become their go-to venue, which makes all the sense in the world. With Yard right outside, there’s a chilled out festival vibe that suits reggae to a T.

Tonight is a big one. A genuine reggae legend, Dawn Penn.

Soundcheck was still going on as we entered, so it’s no surprise that she entered the stage fairly late.

But when she did appear following a short jam from her band The Tribal Awakening, she looked every inch the bad ass. Still wearing her coat and sunglasses, she joked about the cold. But she didn’t let that stop her.

Her performance remains effortless. She is in the zone completely and barely breaks a sweat, completely at the centre of the world she inhabits.

What is most striking is how she transforms songs that are well known to us from other sources. Covering songs like Dido‘s Thank You (or was it Eminem‘s Stan?) and All SaintsNever Ever had the potential to fall into dreaded UB40 territory. But Penn has more class than that. She finds the soul of these songs, and delivers with a passion that probably weren’t even heard in the original recordings.

Towards the end of the set, her band leader whispered in her ear. Perhaps the late start meant that they had to cut the set short, as she immediately said “We’re gonna have to do your favourite song now“, before launching into You Don’t Love Me (No No No).

It’s rare that you see such a ubiquitous classic being played in the flesh, and the crowd responded accordingly. The room erupted, arms went in the air, everybody was dancing.

She took it one step further. The gentleman who was filming at the side of the stage, picked up a microphone and started freestyling, which even led to Penn herself grinning from ear to ear in pure joy.

Dub Defenders opened the evening with a lengthy DJ set that captured the mood of night perfectly.

There really isn’t much you can say about them. They weren’t pretentious mixers desperate to be seen as genius DJ’s, they didn’t try to show off how obscure their knowledge is. They just played to the crowd, mixing in massive reggae classics with lesser known bangers, and you would be hard pressed finding anybody in the room who didn’t just find them utterly delightful.

Positive Vibration continues to make District a central place for reggae-loving scousers. Long may it continue.

Photos by Graham Smillie