Saturday, December 6
Billed as the 50th Anniversary tour – for indeed a band called The Skatalites started recording and performing music back in 1964 – this was one of those situations where you could cynically talk about the band being a cover act, a tribute version of itself; one original member to carry the legacy of the sound (Lester Sterling, alto sax) and a bracket of songs from the ‘Queen of Jamaican Ska’, Doreen Shaffer (also a founding member, if in a cameo role). But there’s no room for cynicism – not when you hear the summery melt and soul-stirring groove of blended horns against that shimmery rocksteady beat.
Wellington’s weather has been appalling of late, but it felt like the very best summer moments all wrapped into one as soon as this (current) version of The Skatalites hit the stage. And we got the hits – every feelgood moment – from their clever sizzle through the James Bond theme across a version of The Beatles’ I Should Have Known Better, through tributes to Desmond Dekker and Bob Marley. It was all – and always – about pleasing the crowd.
Hard to fault as Trevor Thompson (drums) and Val Douglas (bass) kept the groove churning, always warm as it simmered, the horns dancing across the top, each solo applauded as the younger trumpet, trombone and sax player worked with Sterling; the compounded sound of the quartet locked in together was magnificent. Great technical skill and a perfect, intuitive feel combining.
Halfway through the set Shaffer was introduced and got the dancing crowd really stepping it up straight away with her rendition of My Boy Lollipop and the first of several Bob Marley mentions with Simmer Down. Later a version of Three Little Birds was a testament to just how crowd-pleasing this set aimed to be. No pretension here – just the best, happiest tunes. All expertly played.
The bookending version of Freedom Sounds, a fun romp across El Pussycat, so many highlights – maybe that’s not the real thing…but anyone unimpressed with what they heard and saw here was at the wrong gig. That simple. The Skatalites – 50 years on – are still serving up the music (and a great tribute to the original spirit and sound) in fine style.