London International Ska Festival 2016

Although the mainstream press stopped talking about Ska many years ago (and perhaps thankfully so), as any person who has been to the ChinaTown district of BoomTown knows, there remains a vast and dedicated underground following who span generations and sit almost in opposition to what is happening in pop culture today.

One other place this is still very noticeable of course, is the London International Ska Festival, an annual Easter feast of worldwide Ska bands. From the traditional to 2 Tone, from the originators to the fusionists, with healthy pockets of Reggae in amongst it all.

The audience is as varied as the music, with mods and skinheads mixing with the dreads, the rudeboys, the punks and the international crusties, with everyone in-between. As The Simmertones play their wicked version of Dr Who, I can almost imagine myself hurtling through a timewarp in my own Tardis skank.

Of course not everybody quite gels with all the music on offer, I could hear a couple of grumbles from the older heads when Sonic Boom Six took to the stage, but there were enough people (myself included), who were more than grateful to see their return, and by the time The Beat came on, everybody was involved together once again.

Sadly I missed the Thursday with the likes of Hollie Cook, Maroon Town, King Zepha, Freddie Notes (one of my favourites of the original Ska generation) and David Rodigan, who dug even deeper into his extensive collection for a special Ska selection. However I managed Friday to Sunday, so here’s a few of my choice acts from the rest of the weekend.

The Defekters

A great band full of positive energy but with enough genuine anger and frustration at the state of the world to let loose on the Punk side too. As you can hear from both these tracks from their new Ghettoblaster EP, their singer Cara has an ear for a strong catchy lyric plus an incredible voice which she puts to fine use over some infectious Ska, Dub Reggae and Punk fusion riddims from the rest of the band.

The Downsetters

These fellas from Ipswich have been around for a while but this was the first time I’ve managed to catch them live, I was mightily impressed! They play fairly traditional sounding Ska, but pumped right up to the max with tons of energy and good stage presence. Their brand new album ‘The Asylum Hotel’ is out today.

U Roy

The days at LISF were split between live bands in the daytime and DJs / Sound Systems in the night time. There were also Boat Parties, but sadly I was too late to get tickets for either of these. I was particularly gutted about missing the one with U Roy on board so was pleased to find out he’d be making an appearance at The Garage (the main festival venue) on Saturday night.

As the club cleared out from The Beat, the lights went out and Solution Sound launched from the middle of the room. The room soon packed out again with a whole new crowds so I found myself a nice little spot next to a big stack of speakers and settled in for a couple of hours of Roots & Culture Reggae vibes with some friends.

Eventually the legendary U Roy made his way to join the proceedings and although I couldn’t see much from my spot, I could hear things just perfectly, and it was great to catch him in a proper Sound System environment rather than on stage, where I feel the vibe might have been compromised. Mark Solution stepped off the decks so he could get behind the camera, and Oxman selected a whole bunch of classics for U Roy to toast over, from Natty Rebel to Chalice In The Palace. The vibe in the place was incredible and U Roy handled the mic like the all-time originator that he is.

Pannonia Allstars Ska Orchestra

This band from Budapest were probably my highlight of the weekend. I’ve got a few of their tracks, mostly covers and was already expecting great things from them. They didn’t disappoint! They managed to get the whole room onside and even though they were performing on Sunday, when energy levels were at their lowest, they got everybody jumping and raised everyone’s spirits 200%. Aside from a couple of choice covers, they performed mostly their own tracks including a number in their native Hungarian. They also had a little Gypsy flavour to some of their tracks which always goes down well in my books.

Pama International

Sadly, although there’s no recordings that have surfaced of their new line up yet I have to give a mention to these guys. As with the band’s previous incarnations over the last decade or so, LISF organiser Sean Flowerdew, has gathered together an incredible line up of musicians, with two new stunning vocalists in the shape of Jewels Vass and Anna Uhuru (previously of East Side Reggae Collective).

The music is classic sounding Rocksteady and Lovers Rock, that with Anna on vocals, reminds me a little of Amy Winehouse‘s great Reggae moments.

The band will be making their first appearance at BoomTown since Chapter 2 in 2010 and if they sound in any way up your street, then I can’t recommend them highly enough to catch live in the Hidden Woods.

You can join the London International Ska Festival Facebook event for 2017 here.

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