Toots and The Maytals at the LCR 14/10/2018
A gospel evening of ska, dub and reggae which took everyone to church.
Standing in the LCR amongst others brought there by the history of reggae and the very roots of the word ‘reggae’ itself, there is a tense sense of expectancy as we wait for Cardiff ska/dub band, Captain Accident and the Disasters to begin what was, a very rousing and well constructed support set. A particular stand out song being a seemingly innocent love song called ‘Another Evening’, with the lyrics:"Wrap up warm tonight/ let me breathe you in breathe you in/ til everything's alright”. Which forms the basis of a mellow chorus. I am later told by Captain Accident himself (a friend of mine from the festival circuit), that the song has a hidden meaning ... By the end of ‘Twenty Pence’, which concludes the band’s performance, the floor is fit to burst with people skanking and enjoying themselves.
Now for the main event: there is the noise of excited chatter amongst the audience, which looking around, appears like a colourised photo of the 70’s punk and mod gigs held in yesteryear at the LCR: mullets, skinheads and plenty of DM’s and braces. As I stop appreciating the spectrum of people in the audience and start considering the significance of this gig in relation to Black History Month, Reggae History walks onto the stage.
Toots Hibbert is wearing a red leather suit - no jacket - just a waistcoat, trousers and amazing red leather boots - the appearance of which is almost Papal. Indeed, after the call and response of ‘Fire’ the audience is whole-heartedly invested in what is quickly becoming an almost church - like experience: there are raised hands and between songs Toots takes his time to speak to his audience/congregation: ad-libbing, but always making sure his message of “peace and love” is clear - Toots’ Rastafarian beliefs ever apparent. It is clear during these breaks that the Maytals are a seasoned band - from the beginning to the end, the steady rhythm of bass guitar, rhythm guitar and organ accompaniment never stops - and neither do the people in the pit - moving in time to the rocksteady syncopations.
The pace of the music builds and builds, despite his age Toots is an enigmatic performer and his energy is infectious. Toots play ‘Marley’, an homage to Bob Marley “a good friend” of Toots’ - in the breakdowns and between Peter Tosh - esque electric guitar solos, Toots takes us through a history of his music and the Maytals. It is nearing the end of the gig and the music reaches its pinnacle: A brilliant cover of John Denver’s ‘Take me Home Country Roads’ gets the audience singing along followed by ‘Funky Kingston’ with another chance for audience participation: Toots seems genuinely shocked that the audience follows his lead when he says “give it to me ten times” and we respond - he brings the band down to tell us that we are the first audience of the whole fifteen week tour to have done that! ’Monkey Man’ - a standard in the Toots and the Maytals' repertoire is next - this is the last song surely - everyone is in high spirits and loving the experience. The band comes to an end, the stage goes dark, then the lights come back up and the band finish with ’54-46 (That’s my Number)' - a song written about Toots’ time in prison for possession of cannabis. The show ends - the atmosphere is something else.
I go backstage to await the emergence of The Man Himself, but instead am invited into his personal Green Room and we have a conversation on the subjects of both being Sagittarius (his birthday is the 8th December, mine is the 11th - what are the chances ey!?), appreciation of a good outfit - we compliment each others outfits and also mutually agree that there is a difference between your on stage persona and when you’re not performing - particular clothing helps this transformation it seems. We seem to click, and end up chatting more over a drink or two. The rest of the band filter in and out of the room casually, asking about my studies and my other music work - it feels like it could be 3am but it’s only 11pm. Toots and Maytals continue their tour in Bristol on Wednesday and are clearly keen to get some rest - I say my goodbyes, am wished blessings from Haile Selassie, given a T-shirt and promised a place on the guest list for future gigs, he also takes my details for my Podcast and DJ pages!!
All in all, a brilliantly memorable night - fantastic music, a lovely, lively atmosphere and the chance to meet a true legend, the inventor of the word Reggae, Mr Frederic ‘Toots’ Hibbert and his band.