Review: Clinton Fearon in London, UK 1/27/2013
01/28/2013 by David Katz
Review: Clinton Fearon in London, UK @ Rich Mix 1/27/2013
Clinton Fearon is a real roots reggae treasure. He will always be most associated with his membership in the Gladiators, one of the most high-profile roots trios of the 1970s, but after relocating to ‘the other side of the mountain’ in the mid-1980s and basing himself in Seattle, Washington, Fearon has been a consistent solo artist, creating meaningful music of inspired quality in his own right. During the last few years, thanks to the efforts of Makasound, the defunct French label now reborn as Chapter 2, overseas audiences have been able to hear Fearon in an unplugged setting as part of the ‘Inna De Yard’ live reviews, which brought him on tour as part of a package with the Congos, Kiddus I and Earl Chinna Smith, among others.
Furthering the concept, Chapter 2 recently issued the excellent Heart And Soul, in which Mr Fearon revisited his back catalogue in an acoustic setting. Now Sterns Records has had the good sense to issue the album in the UK, along with a couple of bonus tracks, and the showcase for the release was this superb Sunday night performance at London’s Rich Mix – a smart choice of venue for the event, as it is an intimate space with excellent sound, and draws a crowd that typically comes for the actual music, rather than to be seen or get drunk, as is the case at countless other London venues.
I made my entrance just a few minutes after the reported start time of 8:30pm, and caught the last notes of the opening number (but never found out which song it was). Although the venue was not full to capacity, there was a good crowd in attendance and everyone there was fully drawn in by the music from the get-go. Fearon looked great in black converse high-tops with red green and gold trimmings, which also adorned the edges of his vibrant green shirt. He looked entirely relaxed and had barely seemed to age since the Gladiators first reached the UK’s shores, during the time that they were signed to Virgin Records in the mid-1970s.
As he carried on with the set, the up-tempo One Love was delivered a sprightly romp while he conjured great accompaniment from his battered acoustic guitar; the noteworthy hook line, ‘If you got it in your bosom, check it out so that we all can be redeemed’ rang out with clarity. The wistful Follow The Rainbow, with its warning against corruptive greed, held plenty of emotion, and had nice guitar flourishes at the end. On The Other Side reminded that, although Clinton Fearon was usually a baritone foil to the high tenor lead of Albert Griffiths in the Gladiators, he did not really take a back seat in the group; instead, we can think of him as being akin to Mick Jones in the Clash, or Jerry Butler in the Impressions, which is to say, when he sang lead, it was always strikingly different, as this song made perfectly clear. Similarly, although he was the bass player in the Gladiators band, he began as a guitarist, which was attested to by the sweet blues licks he brought into his Rich Mix rendition. Before launching into Who Cares, one of the songs from his first acoustic album, the 2005 issue Mi An Mi Guitar, Fearon explained that the song was inspired by an experience he had at a Native American pow-wow, in which he was approached for donations by a down-and-out Native American and an African-American war Veteran. Then came Chatty Chatty Mouth, the chilling song he addressed to a Jamaican politician that made so many promises to Kingston’s ghetto dwellers, yet caused so many deaths once in office. By the time he hit Rich Man Poor Man, he was in full stride vocally, and the emotive power of his voice was causing the hairs to stand up on the back of my neck. The Studio One classic Tribulation sounded dynamite too, and he was evidencing a very broad vocal range on this song and Never Get Burn, sounding almost soprano at the end of the latter. Marvel Not, which Fearon identified as a favourite, got a very strong audience response, as did the closing Lovelight, leading to an encore request that took the form of Halleluyah another contemplative number from Mi An Mi Guitar. Then the Reggae Roast deejays took over, playing great roots discs to the end of the night, while our man stuck around to chat to the fans and sign CDs, being just as down-to-earth and humble off-stage as he was on-stage.
Throughout the set, Clinton Fearon took time out to impart a bit of wisdom, speaking of the motivations behind the songs and his general view of the world, but he did so in a way that was never preachy. He focussed on the positive, and the audience fed on the positiveness—a great exchange powered by uplifting music and the hope of making the world a better place. One man, one mic and one battered acoustic leaves nowhere to hide on stage, but with his guitar and voice, Clinton Fearon achieved what many fully electric bands fail to impart in a live setting.
Mr Fearon, take a double bow, as I can only describe this concert as the sound of reggae at its magnificent best. Don’t miss him if he comes to your area!