Jimmy Cliff takes to the stage in London to prove himself deserving of his reputation as one of the true enduring legends of reggae.
Despite it now being a staggering 53 years since the release of his first single, Jimmy Cliff is one of the few reggae greats to still be celebrating as dedicated a following as ever. Now into his 67th year, Cliff continues to tour worldwide, which sees him come to indigo at The O2, London, on the night on the 7th August.
On this occasion, support duties are handed to Hamilton, New Zealand natives Katchafire, currently dubbed as one of the country’s “hardest working” bands. Formed back in 2000 as a Bob Marley tribute act, the group have developed their own chilled, roots reggae sound that is the perfect start to the evening. The skilled musicianship of all eight members joins together beautifully as a solid unit, with the tight rhythm section of drummer/vocalist Jordan Bell and bassist Tere Ngarua forming an excellent backdrop, whilst the three-part harmonies of lead singer Logan Bell, percussionist Leon Davey and rather animated lead guitarist Jordan Tolentino are a joy to behold. There is no pretension to their performance; they are simply there to entertain and get a good vibe going, and you couldn’t ask for anything more from this type of show. Katchafire are definitely a band to look out for in the coming years, and will be playing Nottingham, Manchester, Brighton, Leeds, and Boomtown Festival this week before moving onto the rest of Europe.
Soon after Katchafire vacate the stage, Jimmy Cliff’s own band take their place. A short musical interlude leads to the man himself stepping out, loud in both voice and dress sense, to greet his adoring fans. What follows is a show that few in attendance will be forgetting a hurry. Beginning with a thundering, percussion-lead rendition of ‘Bongo Man’, seguing brilliantly into The Melodian’s classic ‘Rivers Of Babylon’, Cliff’s performance is spellbinding. Despite his advancing years, he has a spark that few other performers could ever hope to match. He strides, stamps, dances and high-kicks his way across the stage with seemingly boundless energy, a wide grin seldom leaving his face and the audience firmly in the palm of his hand.
When it comes to the set list, Cliff once again knows how to keep his crowd happy. The material played spans his entire career, from his very earliest singles to his latest album, 2012’s ‘Rebirth’; everything from ‘Miss Jamaica’ to ‘Rebel Rebel’. The band themselves are a highly skilled collective, carrying the classic songs expertly whilst keeping the energy firmly in the present. Cliff’s vocals seem to defy age, particularly highlighted during a heartwrenching, note-perfect version of ‘Many Rivers To Cross’, in which he puts every ounce of his being into every word. The rest of the set list follows suit, with fantastic versions of ‘You Can Get It If You Really Want’, ‘The Harder They Come’ and ‘I Can See Clearly Now’ all making an appearance. Cliff’s own spins on ‘Hakuna Matata’ and Cat Steven’s/Yusuf Islam’s ‘Wild World’ are also included, as is ‘Let Your Yeah Be Yeah’, written by Cliff but initially made famous by The Pioneers in 1971.
The songs are broken up by short quips, call-and-response sections and brief stories from the singer, forever in good humour and thoroughly appreciative to all assembled. If one were to criticise the performance to any degree, a slight change in running order might be a point to raise. Whilst most of the aforementioned hits are ran through in the first half of the show, the latter sections are more geared towards the likes of 1983’s reggae/dance hit ‘Reggae Night’, a thoroughly enjoyable song in itself but perhaps rather divisive amongst reggae purists. Furthermore, with ‘Rebirth’ being as as strong an album as it was, it’s a bit of a disappointment that it doesn’t feature more in the set. Not one to be at risk of losing an audience, Jimmy Cliff keeps all enraptured even as he enters his encore. Returning to the stage with the crowd calling his name in full voice, Cliff launches into his final three, with a fierce rendition of ‘One More’ fittingly closing the show.
Within a couple of short hours, it’s clear to see how Jimmy Cliff has maintained the reputation he has held over the last few decades. His energetic performances and classic songs are the ultimate uplifting experience, raising the spirits of anyone in the vicinity. His music is not intended to get bogged down in deep, philosophical messages or technical workouts. Indeed, there are times during his shows that some may consider to stray a little close to mawkish, but within lies the charm. His music is open to all and all-inclusive; it is to create joy for everyone. Jimmy Cliff aims to create and perform music for one of it’s most important purposes, and hits the target every time.
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