Review: Beres Hammond & Bunny Wailer in London, UK - July 17th 2015
07/22/2015 by Angus Taylor
A week after Chronixx' sellout show at Somerset House, reggae history was made in London again. Hoary old Brixton Academy hosted what must have been one of the most heavily attended shows in its 86 year existence. Queues encircled the 4.9k capacity building to witness two of the Big B's of Jamaican song – Bunny Wailer and Beres Hammond share a stage (co-promoted by BJ Productions and Irie Heights).
As readers of these concert reports will know, the Academy sound leaves a lot to be desired - both acoustically and in the abilities of the in-house PA. Given the fierce love for Beres and the irascible Wailer's penchant for cussing engineers when such matters go awry - there was the potential that sonic issues could become the story of the night.
Ultimately, the sound quality, while on the muddy side, was actually pretty good by the venue's modest standards. Bunny, shuffling on, dancing bandy legged, dressed in white adorned with red green and gold and wearing his shades, was a smiling presence throughout. His ninety minute set took in his 70s roots work from album Blackheart Man, 80s rubadub dancehall exemplified by Cool Runnings, and the catalogue of his colleagues Peter and Bob. As he sang Trench Town Rock, calves strained by the Academy's sight-line-friendly sloping floor were temporarily alleviated from pain. Bar some slightly off harmonising, his Solomonic Reggaestra (without veteran guitarist Dwight Pinkney but packing full horn section) played well.
"When I was coming into the venue I saw people lined up. That's a wonderful thing" said Bunny in his evocative late night radio Jamerican drawl. “I'm going to tell Jamaica about you when I go back. I’ll say ‘If you're not like those people you got to start over.’” Bunny left just after midnight - but not before collecting a surprise British Reggae Industry Award for his achievements in music from DJ Tony Williams presented by Jamaican High Commissioner Aloun Ndombet-Assamba.
“If you brought a lady out you’re gonna get bun” teased compere Daddy Ernie, rocking special edition JA flag coloured Clarks for the occasion.“For an hour and a half all she’s going to think about is Beres”. The audience had been pondering Beres and his whereabouts for a while during a near 40 minute band change selection from Daddy Fridge and Mr Mighty (who played a nice tribute to departed colleague Roberto Allen with Johnny Osbourne's Ice Cream Love). Rumours sparked that the venue had 6000 people inside. Security broke up a fight down front and handed out free water in case anyone got too hot.
By ten to one, Beres' Harmony House players were ready for the man of the increasingly small hour. At SummerJam two weeks earlier, his voice sounded a little raw. Here it was hard to tell due to the acoustics and the screams from his female devotees. What cannot be denied is that his Guinness and ice-cream tones are among the richest since the late Dennis Brown. Dressed in his usual cap, a pink jacket and calico shirt, he repeatedly brought his knees up to his chest to dispel any questions about his physical health. Grinning ear to ear and giving equal attention to the gallery and stalls he looked as overjoyed as his public (although it was difficult to glimpse him at all through the throng).
“Love songs make me want to sing more love songs” he crooned and there were plenty on offer: from uplifting classics like I Feel Good and What One Dance Can Do to powerful minor key fayre such as Another Date on the Swing Easy rhythm. Can You Play Some More, always the highlight, carried a slight undertone that the 2 o’ clock curfew was approaching (Rockaway had to be sung a cappella then abandoned). Once again Tony Williams stepped in to proffer a lifetime achievement British Reggae Industry Award presented by Etana who called the laughing legend a "God of lovers rock".
Fans of Mr Hammond only, may have been disappointed that Bunny got a 20 minute longer set. Yet Beres still sang for over an hour to one of the biggest crowds reggae music at the Academy has ever seen.
PHOTOS: BERES HAMMOND # BUNNY WAILER
PHOTOS BY VERONIQUE SKELSEY