Dub And Poets

Dennis Bovell and dub poets in the NME, 24 January, 1981.

Dennis Bovell’s Dub Band
Commonwealth Institute

“Dub” said Dennis Bovell, dubmaster “you just – do it. Spontaneous. That’s the effect I wanted to create onstage.”
Looked at as a try-out for an idea Dennis has been harbouring for a while – taking a dub band on the road – the evening was pretty successful. The musicians didn’t know who was going to be playing till they arrived at the Commonwealth Institute, and Matumbi’s new drummer, Erroll Melbourne, arrived in London from Birmingham just before the show began.
As with so many improvised, spontaneous events, there were moments where the music degenerated into self-indulgent, meandering jams. But Dennis in particular is an innate musician who can’t help but make music wherever he goes; seeing him play dub guitar is entertainment and education, gift-wrapped. Perhaps those longeuers are part of the deal.
The musicians -Matumbi and Webster and Jah Blake, plus his 13-year old whizz kid brother Paul who shone on keyboards but faltered when switched to bass and guitar, the eloquent James Paxton on sax, and lanky Julio Finn soaring on blues harp, plus Feyoum Netfa on percussion – with a little more thought , the music could have been far harder.
Regarded as a prototype test, though, the results were encouraging enough to convince Dennis to pursue the idea.
The evening also featured the debut of a jazzy, funky reggae band called Rebirth, whose vocalist couldn’t find his level within the solid playing. While not dramatic as yet, they could develop.
But the most enlightening part of the evening were the poets, Imruh Caesar, journalist, film maker and poet, began with his lively well-delivered narrative poems of Caribbeans arriving in England – his central image is of England as one big cold outdoor toilet in comparison to the warmth of the islands. Then an African poet presented his revival of the celebrated African oral tradition with a very moralistic, anti-women fairy tale featuring a snotty know-it-all vulture who tries to rig a royal love affair via the mean advantage of being able to bring the dead to life. If that’s the oral tradition, I’d stick to sign language.
The last poet was T-Bone Walker, whose cameo part in last week’s ‘Wolcott’ was a gem. His poems were funny and emotional, focusing on domestic details like burning bananas in the frying pan; and homely evocations of the destabilisation of high-rise dwellings brought great applause.

Vivien Goldman


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