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Laurel Aitken in Soho

Posted by The man 
The man
Laurel Aitken in Soho
February 07, 2006 08:23AM
Laurel Aitken
Soho Gossips

The one they call the Godfather of Ska, the man Laurel Aitken bounds onstage at Gossips in Soho last Thursday and energetically barnstorms his way through a set of material old and new. He unfastens the three top and two bottom buttons of his pink shirt, ties the tails into a brisk knot, rolls back his cuffs, unfastens his belt and gets down to work.

Backed by his regular Pressure Tenants combo and looking fit and ready, the wee singer prances elfishly to vociferous approbation from the audience as he leads us through a glimpse of his back pages as a performer and recording artist for more than 30 years. So that midway through the show the tempo changes a pace and suddenly we are there at the very beginning: a rousting rendition of Louis Jordan's familiar boisterous 'Caldonia' segues uninterruptedly into 'Boogie In My Bones', the song that is not only Laurel's first but also the landmark debut of the Jamaican recording industry per se, and ironically from a man who hails originally from nearby Cuba.

Yet other than this brief interlude and despite the titles his posters claim for him, Laurel Aitken's set is for the most part devoid of the music he actually recorded during the ska era - the boogies and ska jumps, ballads, revivalist tunes and odd calypso musings - and instead he concentrates on the hybrid reggae and humorous persona he evolved during the early Seventies.

The feeling is that a whole more interesting aspect of Laurel Aitken's personality is submerged by the role his current young audience demands of him. Thus while some of us nod off to the monotonous 'Jesse James', a greater majority of the crowd jump excitedly up and down. Well-worn themes like 'Pussy Price' and its rewrite 'Landlords And Tenants are performed also to great acclaim, though their live renditions pall beside the original recordings and have nothing new to add.

Some of the more modern material gains at least from its freshness, despite the inevitable novelty content. His two-tone hit 'Rudy Got Married' is sung with apparent pleasure, while efforts such as 'Sahara' and the good time 'Sally Brown' sound inspired and are highly enjoyable stage songs.

He closes his set with the number most requested throughout its length, 'Skinhead', and thus guarantees that those of this persuasion who come regularly to see him go happily home every time.

Penny Reel
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