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Toots & the Maytals

Edinburgh Liquid Room (Thursday August 9)

By • Aug 10th, 2012 • Category: Gig review

It’s apt, on many levels, that we should be in Edinburgh in the company ofa genuine Jamaican legend. 50 years since the Caribbean nation gained independence, reggae has become a worldwide phenomenon like the nation that spawned it. Team GB gymnast Louis Smith even told of his iPod keeping him calm as he pummelled (new verb) his way to gold – with a playlist apparently seeing Bob Marley sitting uncomfortably next to Beenie Man and Sean Paul, the latter of we should exclude from the group on the grounds of being dancehall.

I digress. On a night where Usain Bolt cemented his status as a legend the size of Marley, Toots Hibbert came to town, a legend in his homeland and though the Maytals’ reputation is hardly the size of The Wailers, the reaction of the crowd in a sold-out Liquid Room would dispel this notion.

As would the ‘MC’ – did he really introduce tonight’s headliner as the man who “invented” reggae? Sorry, the sound’s not great at this point, but to be fair, 60s single ‘Do The Reggay’ was – arguably – the first mention of the musical genre in song.

Before the main event, a couple of numbers, which act as a warm-up for the band, backing up Chantelle Ernandez, who later takes her place as one of two backing singers. Her mini-set includes a soulful cover of ‘First Cut is the Deepest’. ‘Lovers Rock’ we used to call this, and very nice it is too.

Then, to Toots, who kicks off a 90 minute set with ‘Pressure Drop’, characterised by its “Hmm mmm-m-mmm” refrain. Hibbert for a pensioner (do they retire at 65 in Commonwealth countries?) has a voice strong and rich, as displayed by his vocal technique which seems to involve holding his mic at arms length with no apparent loss of volume.

The band, whose lineup is unsurprisingly not the one that started out with Hibbert in the 1960s, are still seasoned pros. Long-standing guitarist Carl Harvey is given deserved props by the singer, particularly when rocking out in an extended jam ending on ‘Funky Kingston’ (I think) which sees Toots take on acoustic guitar himself.

I say “I think” as, apart from my notes being sketchy, there’s little in the way of between-songs chat. That’s despite a intimate relationship with the fans, who treat Toots like a returning messiah. So ‘Time Tough’, probably, is next – and steps up the pace after a while, into a ska groove which has the crowd bouncing (a moonstomp not possible due to the sellout nature of the show, which has seen the Liquid Room’s temperatures rise to Kingston levels).

But whatever the genre, every tune extends into a groove-laden epic – sadly there’s no dub in the set, though that’s just about the only musical style not explored. It’s even a touch cabaret on ‘Take Me Home Country Roads’, but proves that even the cheesiest of tunes can be saved with a backbeat.

In the main, however, it’s a funky reggae party – it’s not clear exactly what we’re celebrating, but the festival audience are happy to do the bidding of the band. So, a deserved encore of ’54-46 Was My Number’ sees Toots toying with the throng – “Give it to me 10 times!” he demands. An ecstatic crowd are more than happy to oblige.

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