Event review: ‘Rum & Reggae’ at Matthews Yard, Friday 13th November

By - Thursday 17th December, 2015

On a wintry Croydonian night, ‘Rum & Reggae’ is a ray of sunshine for Katie Rose

Image by Matthews Yard, used with permission.

The walkway to Matthews Yard is smokin’ as the unmistakable aroma of Bobski’s Big BBQ fills the cold Croydon November air. Despite the wild wind, there is a warm glow around the Yard tonight – in keeping with the ‘Rum & Reggae’ song-shine I am here to enjoy.

Bobski is icing a red velvet cake – is it going on the barbecue, we ask? He says he will put a photo on social media if it does. In the meantime his bowl of icing looks so delicious that I am tempted to dive into it and not come out again until at least next spring.

Inside the Yard there is a whole menu of delight on offer – alongside food and drink from Hoodoo’sBgr & BeerStreet Cocktails and Bobski’s, there is the Auto Gothic Art Exhibition to feed the eye and a feast of tunes for the ears from the café decks. Folk are floating about with cocktails in coconut shells as the party amps up.

Songwriter and vocalist, Jimmy Lindsay, leads us gently into the realms of reggae

I’ve been lucky enough to have a sneak preview of the latest exhibition, as I have been co-leading Croydon Community Choir in the descART.es GalleryJoanna Nicholson describes a process called automatic drawing as the starting point for her art pieces, which each lie somewhere ‘in between a painting and a drawing’. The beautifully detailed mazes of symbolism she weaves in acrylic, oils, watercolours, ink and biro extend through embroidery into clothing. Intricate detail is balanced by the bold flourishes of gothic theatricality. Her exhibition runs until 3rd January 2016.

It is time to move away from the colourful hubbub; an initially ‘small but select audience’ is welcomed to the night by Sam Kelly with a shimmering flurry on his drumkit. Our Fowokan reggae experience has begun.

Songwriter and vocalist Jimmy Lindsay leads us gently into the realms of reggae. His beautiful, lingering rendition of Bill Withers’ ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ is unforgettable. His lyrical and storytelling abilities as a songwriter shine through his soulful vocals: he ranges across the deep valleys of Rasta wisdom (‘the power to see you through is within you’), whips up a storm with ‘Monkey Man’, and brings on the bliss with his famous version of the Commodores ‘Easy’.

Jerome Marcus displays dexterity on a collection of world percussion as vibrant as his shirt

Jimmy’s vocals drift across a soundscape created by master musicians. Much-loved drummer Sam Kelly is in full flow tonight: “I normally do blues and rock but I can do reggae”. Jerome Marcus displays percussive dexterity on a collection of world percussion – all of which are as vibrant as his shirt – featuring conga, triangles, chimes, cabasa and cymbals. Tony Quinta’s guitar solos are electrifying, in a laid back reggae kinda way. Accomplished bass player Richard Sadler joins the band for the second time and Adrian Reid for his first – the relaxed precision of his keyboard playing ensures “it will not be his last” according to Sam Kelly.

Sam is the front-man-from-the-back for many song introductions, filling us in on the band’s history: “about a million years ago when afros were still in, Sam and Jimmy were in a band called Cymande, sometimes pronounced Cyanide”. Cymande was in fact formed only forty years ago by a group of self-taught, Caribbean-born and London-living musicians who toured with the likes of Al GreenEdwin Starr and Kool and the Gang in the early ’70s. In 2010 the band regrouped, and are due to release their fourth album next year. Jimmy played with Cymande during the ’70s and went on to enjoy a solo career in which he produced three albums. He rejoins the members of Fowokan, which means ‘the artist’ or ‘the one who creates with the hand’ in Yoruba. The artist George Kelly is an important influence for the band, who released their album Shadows of Rasta in 2012.

Ain’t no point in running, the train is always comin’

This amount of kit and talent could be overwhelming, but skillful and subtle musical choices have been made in the arrangement of each song which ensures this is not the case. Fowokan build improvisational magic on the deep foundations of reggae grooves, giving us a fresh perspective on classics like ‘Stir It Up’. Solos, duos and trios arise spontaneously within the whole band experience and there are moments verging on gospel tradition when they all sing together in heavenly harmony. Lovely, long and resonant finishes to each song allow us to soak up the good vibes.

“If there’s anyone who doesn’t want to have fun, you can go out”, says Jimmy and everyone stays put. There’s no getting out as Hoodoo’s is now full to bursting – “ain’t no point in running, the train is always comin’”. Dancing soon emerges as the best option in the face of relentless reggae happiness. After rapturous applause, Jimmy asks us to “tell your friends if you liked it that we’re Fowokan but don’t say who we are if you didn’t like it”. So I’m telling y’all that they most definitely are Fowokan.

As I leave, the wind is gaily upending the gazebos outside Matthews Yard in accordance with the wild party spirit of tonight’s event. Winter’s chill may have just begun to bite, but I’m taking a ray of reggae sunshine home in my heart.

‘Rum & Reggae’ will be back in March 2016 at Matthews Yard…

Katie Rose

Katie Rose

Katie Rose - Singer, Composer, Conductor, Writer - Katie loves singing and helping people sing. Described by the Guardian as a 'fine singer' and by fRoots magazine as an 'eye (and ear) opener,' she has released three albums. Committed to creating uplifting, inclusive experiences of singing, Katie has led singing sessions in hospitals, hospices, festivals and community choirs across London. Convinced of the power of music to make waves in the world she has conducted mass choral events for Sing for Water and is directing Croydon's first Festival of Peace 2018. For more information visit www.therosewindow.org

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