This is just what we need. In a time when right-wing extremism seems to be on a chaotic rampage throughout the world, what could be a better remedy than some of the best and most empowering, conscious and positive reggae music played by legends of the genre right in our home city? A perfect medicine by anyone’s measure.
The O2 Academy is almost brim-full on arrival and it’s hard to believe that an act of this stature would be playing in such a small room, more likely they’d be found in a venue twice this size. Given that, though, this setting suits them perfectly. It’s warm, the lights are dim and everyone is in high spirits.
Around the room, everywhere, people attempt to nestle in close in order to fill any empty space available. People from all backgrounds and from multiple generations mix and mingle with one another – a testament to the sense of unity that THE WAILERS’ music brings. The excitement is palpable and the room is packed full, as folks await a show that many of them possibly never imagined that they would witness.
Finally, The Wailers stride onto the stage to a thunderous applause. It’s heart-warming to see that the line-up is as close as it could be to the original (bar the obvious exceptions). These alterations have been made carefully, as is demonstrated in Marley’s replacement, Josh Barrett, the cousin of the legendary Wailers’ bassist Aston ‘Familyman’ Barrett. The Barrett family continuing to provide new generations of talent to make their very credible contributions to The Wailers’ sound, with the Familyman’s son Aston Barrett, Jr. taking up the drums. Aside from that we have the usual suspects of legendary guitarists Junior Marvin and Donald Kinsey, Tyrone Downie and Earl Lindo on Keys and organs and, of course, Aston Barrett himself on bass. A true family reunion.
The music is, in two words, weighty and deep. The grooves that we’ve heard so often through multiple listens of albums such as Exodus and Burnin’ do not seem to have aged a day as Barrett, Jr. plays from a groove pocket that feels primal and pure. Meanwhile, Joshua Barrett proves that he’s strong enough to front this band, giving potent and mighty vocal performances throughout tracks such as No Woman No Cry and Satisfy My Soul.
Aston Barrett’s bass shakes through the speakers with Buffalo Soldier and carries a powerful presence with it. Throughout the set, Junior Marvin and Donald Kinsey both give fierce performances and the crowd are a mass of bobbing heads, smiles and strange gyrations. Three Little Birds, I Shot the Sherriff, Redemption Song and Stir it Up are all crowd favourites as the band take us on a journey through their colourful and diverse career.
As the set draws to a close this feels like a celebration. Few bands have had the cultural, musical and political impact that this band has. Throughout the strains of Jamming and One Love, the pride and joy of the years shows itself in the wrinkles and smile lines of the players on stage. They’ve endured a peculiar and unique journey. And thankfully for everyone here tonight, that journey isn’t over yet.