Live From Old York: Lee 'Scratch' Perry, Penetration, Juan Martín, Ugly Duckling & She'Koyokh

Live From Old York: Lee 'Scratch' Perry, Penetration, Juan Martín, Ugly Duckling & She'Koyokh
Martin Longley By

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Lee 'Scratch' Perry
March 13, 2014

A legend of reggae music, at home in a small club, with a crammed crowd. This was Lee 'Scratch' Perry's second visit to Fibbers, and judging by his onstage comments, he really digs the joint. Scratch is a legend on several levels, from producer to performer, notably working with Bob Marley, right at the beginning, then developing into reggae's prime innovator, plunging into deep dubby waters as he operated out of his own Black Ark studio. Upsetter was his record label, and The Upsetters were his band. Perry also shaped the rootsy wobbles of Max Romeo, Junior Murvin, The Heptones and The Congos. Working alongside English dub extremist Adrian Sherwood, Perry's creations got even freakier, highlighting his utterly unique stream-of-verbiage toastings. Some folks believe that he's mentally on an alternative plane, but Scratch appeared very directly focused during this gig, backed by his combo of keyboard, guitar, bass and drums. Scratch appears to have regular bandmates in whichever country he's touring, and this crew are a touch older than his Stateside cohorts, more steeped in 1970s reggae tradition. Sometimes Perry offers brief sets, and doesn't seem completely enthusiastic, but on this night he was front-of-stage for the duration, consistently conjuring up a wordy ramble. Initially, the motion was bereft of that desired special coalescence, the club's atmosphere quite restrained. It took an extraordinary long while for the Upsetter's vocals to reach a decent level in the mix, so it was useful to move around the space, investigating the differing acoustics. Not as much bass up at the back, but the mix was more democratic. Even so, a move back down to the front was necessary: better to be flooded with bass, ultimately. Around the halfway point, leader and band locked into their chugging groove, dipping into a ska skip, then getting slower and more hypnotic with the wacky "Inspector Gadget." At 77 years, Scratch was brimming with energy, constantly pacing back and forth across the stage, garbed in his shaman cap, which was barnacled with shiny disc-talismans, a huge jewel perched on its brim. His microphone was wrapped in a customised holder with another huge metal disc attached, and every Perry finger was encircled by a chunky ring. "Exodus" became "Sexodus" (not the M.I.A. incarnation), as Scratch rolled into his extended peak number, bandmates digging in to a rumbling, unstoppable skank. Returning for a brief encore, this was one of the Upsetter's longer sets, with nearly 90 minutes onstage, most of that filled with his continually creative tongue-twisting.

March 14, 2014

The next night made it a punky reggae coupling at Fibbers, with one of the UK's prime purveyors during the 1976 Mohican uprising. It's almost four decades since Penetration played their first gig, and their energy charge remains potent, now that they've been activated for their second period, post-2001. Manchester foursome Obsessive Compulsive preceded Penetration, delivering a forceful, committed set of punk ditties that were moderately conventional in structure and subject matter, but engorged by a full-tilt delivery, singer Kelli combining humour and threat in close succession, whilst guitarist Giz (this band favours first name terms) spewed out several capsule solos, too low in the mix, but still audibly acidic. Their "No Logo" was notably sincere in its anthemic assault.

Originating from County Durham, Penetration became regulars at The Roxy in London, during this punk breeding-ground's golden age. Singer Pauline Murray and bassist Robert Blamire are core-founders, but guitarists Steve Wallace and Paul Harvey have been duelling their lead parts since 2001. The phosphor still burns, even if the band have, in the intervening decades, developed a post-punk irony, perched closer towards being a mainline rock band. Actually, it's more likely that the songs now simply sound more involved, once shorn of the punk media surround of their contemporary period. Murray still delivers her lines with an intense demeanour, eyes staring fixedly into the heavens, connecting with the primitivist punk spirit. She sported a waistcoat with large polka-dot tie, ultra-towering wedge heels lurking down below. Penetration remains tight, the fivesome sounding like they're regularly playing together, both on and off the public boards. They galloped through their set in around 45 minutes, then exited, soon to return, realising that they had time to play a couple more songs before Friday club-nite curfew time. Around half way through the set they'd started to visibly interconnect, the guitarists moving around the stage, making visual and physical contact. The gangling Blamire towered over all, cracking smiles with a constantly pacing Murray. Sometimes she hid right in the back stage corner, only to return, rattling tambourine and staring out the audience, like the evil sister of Stevie Nicks. The expected "Danger Signs," "Don't Dictate" and their well-chosen cover of "Nostalgia" by Manchester's Buzzcocks were bolstered by newer songs, but Murray hinted that these were actually older tunes that had just been under-performed over the years.

Juan Martín
Grand Opera House
March 15, 2014

Spanish flamenco guitarist Juan Martín divides his time between London and Málaga, and it seems that most of his ensemble for this gig flew up here from the latter city. This was the expanded version of his stage presentation, featuring a pair of dancers, Raquel De Luna and Miguel Infante. Martín was side-stepping from his usual musical intimacy to a show with a more extroverted flash. The leader's guitar was the sole instrument, the fourth member of the ensemble being a singer, Amparo Heredia, she and the dancers providing palmas time-keeping when they weren't otherwise occupied. All four performers manged to grasp a sense of close communication with the audience, in this comparatively large theatre, but still projected up to the circle, combining café warmth with exaggerated showiness. Small gestures threw captivating shadows up into the rafters. De Luna's moves were robust and smoulderingly commanding, but as is often the case, it's the territory of the male flamenco dancer to ensure the brewing up of a sweat-puddle, with Infante overloading the drama, setting heels machine-gunning and grafting his passion onto the eyes of the gathered. Martín amply filled out the consistency of the music, impersonating dancer-footwork by rapping with his fingertips during the numbers which featured just him and Heredia. His rippling flow of notes kept up a constantly shimmering sound-stage for the dance-dramatics. It was a show that looked and sounded larger than would be expected from its mere foursome crew.

Ugly Duckling
March 20, 2014

The Californian threesome Ugly Duckling represent one of hip hop's more specialist nooks. Now together for just over twenty years, they've never been rooted in any of the genre's conventions. Or at least the conventions that grew around the gangsta cliché elements, once the 1990s arrived. The Long Beach Uglies are more attuned to the music's original old school vibe, not averse to large dollops of mischief-humour, and certainly not scared of loquacious rhyming substance and wide-veering subject matter. Plus, with Young Einstein at the turntables, they have a maestro DJ who actually scratches vinyl in a raw-cutting fashion. Was his gold neck-chain worn with irony, or as a homage to 1983? Or both? Luckily he got his own solo steel-wheeled spot during the show. The Ducklings had played at Fibbers before, around eighteen months previously, but this gig surpassed that one, even though the posse in the house was not particularly voluminous. Most folks got right down to the stage-front, where there was the atmosphere of a much larger gig, overtaken by the Ugly energy. Over two decades, MCs Andy Cat and Dizzy Dustin have developed an easy banter, engaging the crowd with complete confidence and snappy patter, merging with the swift syllable-spillage of their rhymes. Dizzy looks like a typical hip hopper, but Cat goes for the clean-cut college look, although his performance lends this visage a subversive streak. Their mid-set skit involving the dragging of a female subject onstage to choose her preferred rapper-suitor was questionable (and also repeated from last time), though pretty well executed, if this was the way they were set on going. The Uglies ended with the atypical "A Little Samba," and sadly didn't have time for much of an encore, due to the curfew prior to a soon-coming post-11pm club-nite.

The National Centre For Early Music
March 22, 2014

She'Koyokh are 'officially' a klezmer combo, but over the years their repertoire has spread from the turn-of-the-century-before-last NYC songbook, casting across the Atlantic to its Eastern European origins: tunes from Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia. Lately, the band's Balkan gypsy influence has become entangled in the Jewish roots, klezmer itself being something of a mixed form. She'Koyokh were touring to herald the release of their third album, Wild Goats & Unmarried Women (World Music Network, 2014). The band got together in 2001, with clarinetist Susi Evans being the central figure, here in her top hat and red leather jacket, although the other members enjoyed sharing out the between-song introductions during this packed Saturday night gig. Evans studied in Istanbul with the Turkish clarinetist Selim Sesler, and it shows in her deft darting of convoluted, singing phrases. Several times, the crew broke up into various trio permutations, to highlight some of the sparser alternatives in the repertoire, with guitarist Matt Bacon, violinist Meg Hamilton and Serbian accordionist Zivorad Nikolic given space to preen in the converted church venue's cradling acoustics. The band appeared to be two or three members short of their optimum line-up, but upright bassist Paul Moylan is one of She'Koyokh's regular guests, and he was no shrinking violet when it came to his own anecdotal introductions, or his striking free jazz solo at the beginning of the second set. He re-christened this venue The Early Centre For National Music. The king of klezmer, Dave Tarras was paid a necessary homage during the set, and Nikolic contributed a vocal to "Ederlezi," which will be familiar to many as a song that's rivetingly central to Emir Kusturica's "Time Of The Gypsies" movie. Nikolic's version was sung in a much deeper tone, imparting a more intimate nature when compared to Goran Bregovic's epic incarnation. The audience wouldn't let them finish, and the night climaxed with significant elements of the crowd dancing with hands held, around the edges to the church, the biggest contingent being an unlikely coachload of Asian students, unearthing their secret Balkan roots.


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