Dawn PennLiverpool Music Week @ District 2/11/17
Liverpool Music Week, in conjunction with Positive Vibration, help to keep both the festival’s cosmopolitan mix of acts and the latter’s ongoing reggae mission well and truly alive with the booking of DAWN PENN. Penn is best known for her 1994 hit You Don’t Love Me (No, No, No); in fact to most she is only known for this record, a world-wide smash and one of perhaps only a handful of reggae records (Marley aside) to cross over to a wider audience and become a hit (reaching No 3 in the UK charts). However, the 1994 release was in effect a re-release, Penn having recorded the song originally in 1967 and having a hit in Jamaica shortly before dropping out of the music scene entirely for about 20 years. That hit was one of several in the mid-60s that saw Penn as one of the top Rocksteady artists of the period, so she has form, as they say.
Once again, District is buzzing with anticipation and bonhomie as the Dub Defenders DJs lay down an excellent mix of classics and rare grooves that sees the dance moves getting an early airing.
Penn’s backing band are the UK-based Tribal Awakening and they immediately settle into a sound accompanied by an almost jazz-fusion flourish, before dropping into a heavy dub that welcomes a smiling Penn onto the stage. Wrapped up in a yellow Puffa jacket and cool, white-trimmed shades she jokes about the cold but slips easily into Thank You Lord, her vocal delivery cool and insistent. Two originals follow, Chilling and Night And Day indicating that she continues to produce songs of quality, melding the rocksteady rhythms of the 60s with a modern pop/soul sensibility.
The way the crowd react to the first few numbers gives you the feeling that everyone here knows that there’s more to Dawn Penn than No, No, No. People are dancing and cheering from the off and, divest now of jacket and shades, Penn is clearly warming to the evening. There’s a sparkle in her eye and a shimmy to her movement that suggest she is enjoying Tribal Awakening’s grooves as much as we are. No wonder it’s called Rocksteady – they could sit on this groove all night long and you wouldn’t tire of it. The drum and bass combo of Carl Benjamin and Elroy Bailey combine absolute precision with undeniable passion. Upfront Gyasi Crosdale’s skating guitar rhythm’s and fluid licks underscore and embellish in equal measure as does Keith MacIntosh’s swirling, grunting keyboard.
Penn’s vocal style is rooted in a deep soul tradition, had she been born in the Southern U.S. you’d bet your bottom dollar she’d have found her way into Stax studios to cut some sweet soul music. There’s an exquisite version of Dionne Warwick’s Long Day, Short Night, the fragile, tremulous nature of Penn’s voice well served, and the easy roll of The Mighty Diamonds’ Pass The Kouchie sees Penn’s hands clasped, prayer-like over the mic as Crosdale coolly delivers the licks. “Oh, it’s so long ago,” she laughs, before delivering a sublime version of 1968’s When I’m Gonna Be Free.
The vibe gets an update with the appearance of Penn’s son, London-based rapper Continental Crooks, for a version of their song Wanted, a lovely moment, mother’s soul and son’s street vocals combining perfectly, Penn grinning from ear to ear.
“It’s time to do your favourite song,” she announces as the band break into You Don’t Love Me (No, No, No) to rapturous applause. It’s a stonewall classic, the uplifting brass signature of the original nailed by MacIntosh’s keys. Penn breaks into a joyful, skipping dance as the crowd sway and sing along to her signature tune – a fabulous moment to end the night on – but, tonight Dawn Penn and Tribal Awakening have delivered so much more than a one hit show.