“You can’t take yourself too seriously dressed in a silver cape” says Jerry Dammers but make no mistake, the Spatial A.K.A is fantastic jazz, ska and fun all wrapped up in a Sun Ra tribute; who could want for more?
There’s a lot more to be scared of than a mere silver cape as we enter Poole’s Lighthouse. If the tour t-shirt hadn’t been frightening enough, there was the collection of Egyptian mummy manikins on stage, illuminated plastic heads fronting Dammers’ bank of keyboards and suspended from the ceiling massive mirror balls. All that and a Robin Reliant Bug!
Dammers appeared on stage with a golden mask and started the set with what sounded like Hawkwind’s ‘Sonic Attack’ as the rest of the band processed their way through the theatre (was there really 16 of them or did I lose count?) chanting “…It’s after the end of the world…”, we knew we were in for an event as much as a celebration of the music of Sun Ra and like minds.
I must say this was an absolutely fantastic gig, not only did we have the inspiration of Jerry Dammers (founder of The Specials and 2 Tone Records, the band he has assembled as the Spatial AKA includes some of our favourite jazz musicians, notably Larry Stabbins (Stonephace, Working Week, Centipede), Finn Peters, Jason Yarde, Zoe Rahman, Anthony Joseph and Roger Beaujolais; this band is even bigger than Matthew Herbert’s Big Band!
Sun Ra, Egyptian mummies and Dammers’ ska inspired roots didn’t take long to come to the fore with the horn front line doing battle on solos on a tracks that could have come from the new Skeletons album (see review HERE). And while that’s “down the coast in Ethiopia”, Dammers tells us the Spatial AKA is “all about journey’s in time; backwards, forwards, in all directions.”
We may have an election in the next couple of months but this Dammers experience is no Live at the Moonlight Club, “it’s up to you…” is now a re-working of ‘International Jet Set’ (original on the “difficult second album”, More Specials from 1980) and now re-titled ‘Intergalactic Jet Set’ that features the superb Zoe Rahman and Roger Beaujolais in King Tut headdress! (in fact Roger was one of the many highlights of the show and was clearly loving it; see HERE for a more subdued Roger).
But it’s not all Sun Ra/Dammers re-incarnating where he envisaged The Specials 30 years on from ‘Gangsters’ or ‘A Message To You Rudy’. There was the cover version mash-up of Mike Oldfield’s Theme From The Exorcist as interpreted by Dizzy Reece, their version of Sun Ra’s version of ‘Unmask The Batman’ (with the front line horn section all standing up one by one and staying up; horn Viagra so to speak). And if there’s wasn’t enough to keep you entertained musically or visually with the band, there were some good video projections, the Batman one perhaps a bit obvious but there was enough 60s style editing to keep the Sun Ra theme going.
‘Batman’ featured Terry Edwards (he of Big Sexy Noise) on baritone sax and Robin Hopcraft on trumpet (he of the Soothsayers) but I don’t want to give it all away as there’s some great performances; OK, you’ve got to check out Francine Luce who re-invents jungle forest jazz scat (truly incredible, think avant-garde Johnny Morris) and it’s ideal for Finn Peters to shine. And how do you fancy Cedric IM Brooks doing Moondog with Jerry ‘Scratch’ Dammers on synth and Larry Stabbins on tenor sax? It’s enough to move your aging skankin’ feet.
And to prove rude boys never grow too old to dance, big band ska at its best with Tommy McCook’s ‘Samson’ and Nathaniel Facey takes the star turn on Alice Coltrane’s ‘Journey In Satchidananda’ (original included on the recent compilation Athens: Underworld vs. The Misterons).
And that’s not all! Anthony Joseph gets to recite parts of his African Origins Of UFOs (I’m sure you can see the connection) and he gets to do the vocals of an updated ‘Ghost Town’ with Dammers in gargled intro (you can see why Terry et al weren’t keen on Jerry re-joining The Specials for their 30th Anniversary Tour last year) and with a very warm welcome for special guest for the rest of the show, Rico Rodriguez (who goes back to the roots of ska, 2-tone, Jazz Jamaica and Jools Holland And His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra to name a few).
And if Ra meets Doom of 2-tone wasn’t enough, who about ‘Man At C&A’ (another track originally on More Specials) with Sun Ra’s classic ‘Nuclear War’ “as they are about the same subject”; Roddy Radiation where are you?
I’m reliably told that this is no recently band wagon jumping of Sun Ra’s train by Dammers (apparently he ran a club night playing inspirational soul-jazz in the basement with jazzy hip-hop upstairs “back in the day”) but even if it was, like the 2-tone trip, he’s a genuine guy that just wants to expose great music to a generation that missed it the first time around and have a great time doing so in the process (don’t leave early as you’ll miss the conga outro to ‘Space Is The Place’); he even plugged the Sun Ra Arkestra’s Saturday night headliner at the Mostly Jazz Festival in Birmingham (see details below) and by coincidence, the 1979 Sun Ra And His Solar Arkestra’s On Jupiter has just been re-issued this week on Kindred Spirits and an unreleased acetate mix of ‘Where Pathways Meet’ turned up on the Bob Blank – The Blank Generation Blank Tapes NYC 1975 – 1985 a few weeks back.
Definitely one for fans of Chrome Hoof meets ska and jazz and whilst it will take all week to fill in all the reviews we’ve done on the featured musicians (and apologies to those not mentioned – how often is there a drummer, a percussionist and a classical percussionist in a big band?), I urge you to get to see the remaining dates of this tour.
This journey was over 2 hours long and it’s great to have Jerry Dammers back as a leader; and the new mantra? “Space Is The Place”.
JERRY DAMMERS’ SPATIAL A.K.A. ORCHESTRA
2010 tour dates
4 Mar COVENTRY Warwick Arts Centre 024 7652 4524 warwickartscentre.co.uk
5 Mar BRIGHTON Dome 01273 709709 brightondome.org
7 Mar POOLE Lighthouse 0844 406 8666 lighthousepoole.co.uk
10 Mar BASINGSTOKE The Anvil 01256 844244 anvilarts.org.uk
26 Mar GATESHEAD The Sage Gateshead 0191 443 4661 thesagegateshead.org
30 Mar MANCHESTER Bridgewater Hall 0161 907 9000 bridgewater-hall.co.uk
31 Mar EDINBURGH Usher Hall 0131 228 1155 usherhall.co.uk
01 Apr LIVERPOOL Philharmonic Hall 0151 709 3789 liverpoolphil.com
07 Apr BRISTOL Colston Hall 0117 922 3686 colstonhall.org
09 Apr NORTHAMPTON Royal & Derngate 01604 624811 royalandderngate.co.uk
Recorded Live at the Moonlight Club, London in May 1979 on the eve of the British General Election that brought Margaret Thatcher to power. This is referred to by Terry Hall in his introduction, “Its the eve of the election, and its up to you…”
The African Origins of UFOs
www.mostlyjazz.co.uk Moseley Park, Birmingham’s eleven-acre woodland glade only two miles from the city centre. July 3rd & 4th 2010 – “For our inaugural year we have invited pioneering artists such as the Sun Ra Arkestra and Courtney Pine to perform alongside leaders of the new wave of British talent such as Polar Bear, Led Bib, Lizzy Parks and Portico Quartet.