KENNY ROGERS APPRECIATION CLUB

My first encounter with the music of Kenny Rogers was in the mid 90s. I was working as a waiter in Pontins and shared a room with Alan from the Rhondda Valley. There were many peculiarities about Alan but the most relevant here was his taste in music, it was literally the worst I’ve ever known. He delighted in buying £1 tapes of pub cover bands singing naff songs, those were his absolute favourite, he would come in drunk after the pubs closed at night and play them at full volume. The reason this is important is because out of everything he played, 2 songs were a reprieve from the rest, Carl Douglas’ ‘Kung Fu Fighting’ and Kenny Rogers ‘Coward Of The County’. Both he played a lot, I mean a few times a day. That in itself could easily have driven me insane but I actually breathed a sigh of relief when they came on, trust me it was better than everything else in his collection.

I never really paid Kenny much mind after that, until Wyclef Jean from The Fugees dropped his Dubplate of ‘The Gambler’, I hadn’t yet heard the original but I loved that version. Then of course fellow Fugee, Pras dropped ‘Ghetto Superstar’ to the tune of ‘Islands In The Stream’, Kenny’s classic duet with Dolly Parton. Again, at that point I’d never heard the original but when I did, my brain already had a positive association which meant I had an automatic appreciation.

It took me many years more to build up a proper love for Country Music, in fact it took watching Smokey & The Bandit 1-3 back to back one late night to even plant the seed properly (never ever both watching number 3 by the way, Burt Reynolds only appears in flashbacks).

I still can’t quite get with the majority of Kenny’s output, saccharine love songs and over polished production abound, however there’s no question that he’s left behind some phenomenal music. His early work with The First Edition is probably my favourite stuff, it’s country music blended with soul, blues and folk, but there are still many gems in his more mainstream years, his story telling especially is second to few. I’ve tried to pick out the best for my latest ‘Appreciation Club’ playlist and it’s really lifted my mood no end since putting it on myself. Hopefully it can do the same for you. Even if you never thought you liked Kenny Rogers before, please pay tribute to this lost legend today by putting it in, you never know!

In case you didn’t get the news, Kenny Rogers died last night. Rest in power Kenny, thanks for the music. Here’s the playlist…

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ISOLATION RAVING

How many times have you heard the word unprecedented in the last couple of weeks? To be fair nothing else quite seems to sum things up as precisely and with nobody really having any clue as to what’s happening next (or now come to think of it), expect to hear the word a hell of a lot more.

Certainly I’ve never known anything come close, watching the fragility of the world around me as it unravels is truly humbling and more than a little unnerving. My whole life is events and music pretty much, I’d never ever conceived of a time when people wouldn’t be gathering together, not even in my most dystopian visions of future wartime. But I’ve watched in shock and more than a little horror as seemingly unshakeable institutions such as Glastonbury fall foul of covid-19s viral reach, we can but hope that most of the festivals and events which have been affected / infected are simply ‘off work sick’, although I’m sure there must be at least a few with underlying health issues already.

But it’s impossible for me to be totally pessimistic at this exact moment, because I am currently tuned into Darius Syrossian’s DJ set at the Defected Virtual Festival, if ever there was an injection of relentless optimism this has to be it.

Before I was inspired to sit down and write this I’d been dancing round my kitchen to the sounds of Shapeshifters, prior to that I’d been trying to keep up with BoJo’s daily broadcast via subtitles with The Vision playing in the background and Dan Shake’s set which started my afternoon at the festival (sadly I was late to the party and missed Joey Negro,Monki, Melvo Baptiste and Defected head honcho Simon Dunmore) was probably enough good vibes to see me through the apocalypse.

What’s been particularly great though is the amount of people I’m seeing locked on and loving it. Sure there has been online broadcasts for many many years and some have built up a sense of community around them, but this feels different somehow. Perhaps it’s because we don’t have much other choice for communal musical appreciation (even the Eurovision Song Concert has been hit, not that I could ever remember watching it) and anything is better than nothing, even in isolation there is a certain sense of togetherness. Of course nothing beats being together in the same place, united on the dancefloor, and you’d better believe I hope we can get back to that soon, but at least social distancing in times of the internet doesn’t have to mean complete social exclusion.



Of course I shall see how I get on after 7pm when I switch to the Run Tingz ‘Big Bristol Lockdown’ stream. A good old fashioned sweaty rave up probably won’t be the same on my ones but it’s important to keep on moving and keep positive.

See you on the virtual dancefloor ❤

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A is for ACID TECHNO – BOOMTOWN MUSICAL ALPHABET 2020

This is the first letter in my Boomtown Alphabet… it might be the last, I make no promises but I do plan to stick it out til the final Z (26 points if you guess what it might be).

Of course even with all of those letters I won’t come close to covering everything, but hopefully it will give you all a greater insight into what Boomtown is all about and enhance your appreciation for all the weird and wonderful sounds you might come across whilst there.

Acid Techno is a broad church, as a fully fledged genre in it’s own right, it stretches back to Detroit legends such as Underground Resistance and Plastikman (aka Richie Hawtin) and can be found at the very peaks of today’s techno vanguard such as Amelie Lens and ANNA. For these intents and purposes though, I am specifically referring to the hard edged London style of Acid Techno, championed by the likes of the Liberator DJs and their record label Stay Up Forever. The kind you’ll find whilst hanging out at the Acid Leak in Area 404 especially.

Chris Liberator was the first DJ to bring that particular sound to Boomtown back in Chapter 1 (2009) and it has been a part of the festival’s DNA since then, but it was born in the early 90s when the rave scene spilled over into the Anarcho Punk squat community.

The Liberator DJs (Chris, Aaron and Julian) were all from a punk background but started to DJ at the squat parties in 1990, playing a mixture of Detroit Acid Techno, UK Hardcore and Belgian Acid Trance, eventually these would all merge into their own banging Acid Techno productions for the Choci’s Chewns label before they started their own legendary Stay Up Forever label alongside like minded souls such as The Geezer (aka Jah Scoop), D.A.V.E. The Drummer and Carlos Fandango (all three from the excellent band Back To The Planet), or DDR from the Full On sound system, the first guest artist on the label.

I don’t know if they ever regretted the name, but they’ve certainly lived up to it over the years playing more squat parties, warehouse parties, free parties, protests and festivals than most DJs get to see in a lifetime. You can catch a few of this original gang in both Acid Leak and Scrapyard this year, alongside a whole host of talented others that have grown from the seeds that these guys planted.

Here’s a playlist featuring a bunch of these acts and beyond, spanning across the generations. The sound throughout is raw, energetic and takes no prisoners, so if that sounds up your street then jump in, enjoy and pass it on to your fellow Boomtown citizens.

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DESPERADOES TAKE PANORAMA

Although I’ve always been partial to a little bit of steel pan, I never fully appreciated the power and grace of a steel band until I went to Trinidad last year. There truly is nothing quite like it, such warmth from cold metal, and to witness the best in the world compete at Panorama during the carnival is an absolute treat you should allow yourself at least once this lifetime.

Here’s a video of the winning performance this year, the group Desperadoes are one of the longest running bands (since 1945) and have won the competition many times over the years, this time they chose the track ‘More Sokah’ by Nailah Blackman, granddaughter of the late great Garfield Blackman aka the father of Soca (or Sokah as he preferred). You can see her upfront waving the flag, that’s quite the complement for the band and no doubt helped give them an extra winning boost.

Although the video doesn’t come close to the full impact of seeing the band live, hopefully it will whet your appetite enough to go and catch the real deal one year. I would also recommend digging deeper into the instrument’s history, from humble, somewhat roughneck beginnings to its place as the country’s national instrument today. There’s a great documentary called ‘Pan: Our Music Odyssey’ which is well worth the watch.

I’ve also started a Pan appreciation playlist on Spotify called ‘For The Love Of Pan’ for anyone who may be that way inclined.

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Pirate Ship on the Streets Of Salvador.

People have been sending me videos of BaianaSystem at Brazilian Carnivals for the past few years and what a site to behold they truly are, a perfect example of bacchanalian spirit personified. Mass musical participation and unbridled revelry, I have to join them one year!

This particular video is from earlier today at the Carnival in Salvador. The group host their annual Navio Pirata blocos (essentially Pirate Ship block parties) both there in the Bahian capital and in Brazil’s largest city São Paulo. Contrary to most blocos, BaianaSystem choose not to charge for theirs, keeping it as open as possible. The group themselves are politically charged and very much against the continuing commercialisation of Carnival, but they also believe keeping it free fosters a much more creative and spontaneous environment. I think this video speaks for itself in that respect.

This year the group have collaborated with AfroPunk in putting Navio Pirata together. It seems the Brooklyn based global festival brand and cultural commentators are very much branching into the Brazilian festivities, as I also noticed they have joined forces with the all black LGBTQ run bloco Batekoo in São Paulo and have their own one in Belo Horizonte. Other acts that joined them in Salvador included: Afrocidade; Cronisto do Morro; Vandal; BNegão; and Mano Brown, a founding member of seminal hip-hop crew Racionais MCs.

One year I will manage to get BaianaSystem to Boomtown, we got close last year when they played in London for the first time the week before the festival, but I got in touch just a little too late… watch this space for the future but for now enjoy their brand new single alongside fellow countrymen Tropkillaz, who have linked up with Major Lazer for their own bloco in São Paulo today after the crew joined them for a secret set last year. The FOMO is very real right now.

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WHO WEARS THE SOCA CROWN THIS YEAR?

My Carnival FOMO is kicking in hard this weekend, to solidify this fact I decided to stay up late Friday night and watch the International Soca Monarch on my laptop. Not quite as exciting as being there in the midst of things like last year but I have to admit I still felt a little like sports fans must feel before watching a big match, the anticipation was real.

International Soca Monarch is a tournament between (mostly) established vocalists from across the globe but especially from the Caribbean Islands of Grenada, St Vincent, St Lucia, Antigua and of course it’s homeland, Trinidad & Tobago. These artists are judged by their performance of one original track and the contest is split between the “Groovy” entries (slower more melodic Soca better suited for radio and Carnival fetes) and “Power” (faster paced and higher impact Soca, perfect for those long days marching on the Carnival parades). Generally the chosen tracks will have had some kind of official release and we’d be familiar with them on the Super Soca Show, however given the “Soca Mafia” favourtism given to a limited amount of songs in Trinidad, they are not always well known by the crowds who have come to watch. This can prove a problem for entrants who don’t fall into those favoured few, as people are often far less receptive to unfamiliar offerings.

Surprisingly, this year’s Groovy winner seemed to fall into the latter category. Not only was it his first time entering Soca Monarch but College Boy Jesse’s chosen track ‘Happy Song’ doesn’t seem to have had anything near the pick up it really deserves, with many of the often acerbic social media commentators unaware of the song at all. Still there’s no doubt that the young singer was aware of his disadvantage and put on a great performance, which included a short medley of other peoples hits (perhaps so that the crowd had something recognisable to latch onto) and a quick additional verse that took a dig at the defending champion Swappi,

“See Shadow dead, Swappi take he voice, he singing all the song and think he can take crown twice…”

This made reference to the fact that Swappi’s entry ‘Jumbie Head’ (as with last year, a collaboration with Ultimate Rejects) and his performance on the night, very much pays tribute to the Calypso legend Shadow, who sadly died in 2018. Swappi came in just behind Jesse at second place with Viking Ding Dong in third, another relative newcomer to the Soca stage despite being a recognisable DJ and Radio presenter in Trinidad for years.

There was some controversy however when Skinny Banton from Grenada failed to place in the Top 3 with his hugely popular song ‘Wrong Again’. This is one of my favourite tracks of the season and there’s no doubt that Skinny put on an energetic performance, though it was quite refreshing to see that crowd favourites alone don’t make a winner, especially with the controversy that followed in the Power Section.

My personal choice for the Power segment was Problem Child from St Vincent, whose track ‘Nasty Up’ is an absolute powerhouse that seems to be causing bedlam in fetes across the islands. Sadly his performance was marred by a number of technical difficulties which no doubt went against him unfairly. Problem was quick to call out forces that he claimed were out to sabotage his win and “keep the money in Trinidad”. Although I wouldn’t be quick to support this claim, the lack of winners from any of the smaller islands definitely has people talking. It’s a tricky call when there is no clear winner, such as last year when Mr Killa from Grenada scooped up the prize for ‘Run Wid It‘. That was the first time there had been a winner from outside of Trinidad and he would have been in for another shot at the prize this year with ‘Soca Storm’ but pulled out of the competition early citing a lack of support and information needed to give his best performance.

Problem Child did not end up placing in the Top 3, although Trini artist Lyrikal came in second with ‘Rukshun‘, a track on the same riddim as ‘Nasty Up’. Third was Olatunji, who is back in the Soca game stronger than ever this year, after some time away here in the UK competing in the X Factor contest.

The winner is where the real controversy comes in. Iwer George is a well respected veteran of Soca and the Soca Monarch contest, however he hasn’t claimed a win since 2007. He’s also been runner up a number of times in the Road March competition (more on that after Carnival) but only ever been a joint winner with Superblue back in 2000. This year has seen him really come out fighting on this count and there’s a strong chance he will win with one of his collaborations, either Stage Gone Bad with Kes (who came second in the Road March last year with ‘Savannah Grass‘) or Conch Shell with Machel Montano and Skinny Fabulous (who took first place last year alongside Bunji Garlin with ‘Famalay‘).

It was with the track ‘Stage Gone Bad’ that he became the International Soca Monarch this year. Although it was undoubtedly a crowd favourite, it was far from one of the best performances with Iwer short on both energy and voice. Things were only really saved when Kes stepped to the stage and raised the levels up further, however it has rightly been pointed out that Kes was not the one in the competition. That said, I do love Iwer George and even though it doesn’t seem fair it’s good to see him finally gain a title again. Hopefully the controversies don’t damage the competition too much as it’s an important institution that really makes for a great start to the extended Carnival weekend and I very much look forwards to being back there again next year.

Don’t forget to tune into the Super Soca Show on Ujima 98FM every Saturday 12:00-14:00 GMT.

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HAITI KANAVAL 2020

With Pre-Lenten Carnival festivities switching into top gear all around the world, the people of one Caribbean country are most likely viewing the next few days with as much trepidation as excitement.

After anti-corruption protests shut down the majority of Carnival celebrations last year, Haiti is once again in the midst of troubles (if it could be said that they ever departed that is). Aside from the massive political and social instability the country faces, a rise in kidnappings, outrageous inflation and the ongoing public protests, the last few days have seen the Haiti National Police burning Carnival floats and stalls as part of an impromptu protest for the right to unionise.

Despite this unrest, Prime Minister Jean Michel Lapin has announced that ‘Kanaval 2020’ will still take place in the capital Port Au Prince and other cities from Sunday 23rd to Tuesday 25th of February under the theme “Ann pote kole pou Ayiti dekole” (Together let us unite for Haiti’s recovery). There is also a smaller annual Carnival in the town of Jacmel which happened last weekend, seemingly without too many problems.

Despite all the troubles, one of my favourite Haitian bands, Mizik Rasin legends RAM, have released their latest musical offering for Kanaval 2020. According to their Twitter account, they have released one every year for the last 3 decades, aside from 1994 during the time of the right wing paramilitary group FRAPH (Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti) and 2011, the year after the country’s devastating earthquake.

I’m afraid I can’t properly translate the lyrics, even if I could, RAM are known to use voodoo based metaphors within their songs, but (according to Google translate) there is mention of trouble in the streets and reference to Haiti being ‘sick’. That said, it is hard to feel anything but a sense of joyous upliftment when you listen to their music, this tune’s very essence seems to be as defiant as it is acknowledging of the problems people are facing. If you’re feeling it then I very much recommend you listen to more of their music and also take a delve into their colourful history, oh and as a special treat I can let you know that they will be here in the UK this summer and performing at The Forge stage in Boomtown, if you’re at the festival it’s an absolute must!

Note: The picture above is from Wednesday’s arson attack on the carnival stalls. The figure in the statue is Jean Jacques Dessalines, a leader of the Haitian Revolution and the country’s first ruler after independence. It certainly makes for a powerful image.

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