Who: The Caribs – A Celebration of Melbourne Ska
Where: Festival Hub, Melbourne
When: 18th October 2013
Having the various sound’s of Jamaican music; mento, calypso, reggae and ska, emanating from speakers on a balmy Friday evening, isn’t something that you would normally associate with the banks of the Yarra. If you were to include images of people dancing – or in this case skanking – while wearing pork pie hats, doc martin boots, Fred Perry clothing or braces – if stretched a little further these days for some! – then you’d be forgiven for thinking that something was strangely amiss. In fact what occurred in the city last night, was the first of two nights celebrating all things ska, and what part, Melbourne had to play in this much loved and groundbreaking genre.
The heat that had built up in the venue, when local act Strange Tenants took to the stage, was already quite evident, and by the time they had finished their energy sapping set, the place was comparable to that of a sweltering hot box. This nine piece have been on the go for 32 years, and are viewed as one of the pioneers of not just the Melbourne ska scene, but of the nation as a whole, so it didn’t take too long, to get the audience skanking to their 2-Tone inspired, and politically driven songs.
With limbs going every which way, during each passing high octane number, it was obvious that dual vocalists; Ian and Bruce Hearn, were having a hell of a lot of fun. “Killer Zombies” was quite reminiscent of UK ska bands such as Madness and Bad Manners, which resulted in the ageing and slightly pot bellied rude boys (now mainly men!), skinheads and suedeheads, to stomp their feet and bounce in unison. “Rude Celebration”, brought the pace down a notch, and was similar in vein to that of the Lord Tanamo track, “I’m In The Mood For Ska”. With the crowd in the palm of their collective hands, the Strange Tenants finished up with a blistering “When Ska Was King”, which was quite apt for the night that was in it.
PBS DJ Mohair Slim then took to the mic and introduced Peter Stoddart (keyboards) and Denis Sindrey (guitar) of The Caribs, on stage. With both elder statesmen in their early 80’s and having flown in from Jamaica and the United States respectively, it was quite obvious that tonight’s proceedings meant alot to them. From 1958 the Caribs were the house band in the infamous Glass Bucket nightclub in Kingston, Jamaica, and are considered to be the first bona fide studio band to have come out of that island’s legendary music scene, where they appeared on many of its earliest, and most cherished recordings.
Instrumental number “A Taste of Honey” kicked off proceedings, and it was obvious from the start, that Sindrey and Stoddart were in fine form, as both musicians were clearly at ease with the intricacies of their respective musical parts. They were joined by a 9 piece band, which included; stand up bass, percussion, guitar, a three piece brass section, keyboards, bass and a shaker of all things. Ska custodian Prince Buster, then received the cover treatment, with their rendition of “Hard Man Fe Dead”, a tune which led the masses to shuffle their feet in earnest, throughout the packed out room.
It wasn’t just ska tunes that The Caribs played however, Jamaican doo-wop appeared courtesy of “Your Eyes Are Dreaming”, Laurel Aitken’s “Drinking Whiskey”, contained a very blues-like vibe to it, and included a biting sax solo. Nicky Bomba from local mainstays, The Melbourne Ska Orchestra, also joined the fray for an interpretation of the Byron Lee classic “Jerk Pork”.
Highlight of the night was The Caribs very own Chris Blackwell – Island Records owner – produced track “Taboo”, which had Sindrey playing a hypnotic guitar riff throughout, the slow yet attention grabbing number. It’s a piece that wouldn’t feel out of place on a James Bond or Tarantino soundtrack. Another Byron Lee track made an appearance in the form of “Sammy Dead”, and with its brass section based introduction, it had us all skanking, bopping and smiling in tandem. The latter of which was quite evident for all to see on the faces of Denis Sindrey and Peter Stoddart as they left the stage, safe in the knowledge that what they kick started in back in 1958 in Jamaica will never be forgotten here at home.
This review was written for Tonedeaf (An Australian music site)