Positive Vibration was back for its third year in the Baltic Triangle and was better than ever as the Getintothis team of Sinead Nunes, Mark Rowley and Peter Goodbody discovered.
Two solid days of reggae and dub in the Baltic Triangle. What’s not to like?
This year’s Positive Vibration saw the kings and queens of reggae congregate at a monster convention presided over by Lee Scratch Perry, Misty in Roots, Roni Size and Carroll Thompson along with assorted princes and princesses. There was no filler here.
The festival is now into its third year and has established itself as a mainstay in Liverpool’s summer festival calendar, alongside Africa Oyé, Smithdown Road Festival, LIMF and more. Located in the Baltic Triangle, the festival is spread across three medium sized venues, all within a stone’s throw of the aptly-named connecting route of Jamaica Street.
Positive Vibration is very much a community festival and children of all ages make up a sizeable proportion of the numbers in attendance. In addition, the festival is dog-friendly which has to be a first, although to be fair, we didn’t see that many dogs over the weekend.
There are plenty of hands-on activities, such as arts and crafts workshops, drumming circles; and workshops in capoeira, beat-boxing and Jamaican dancehall.
For the most part, the sun was out, everyone was smiling; even venue security staff were super-friendly and helpful. This vibe carried through into all the venues, and made for a very friendly, holiday-type experience.
The showcase for Saturday’s dub poetry workshop led by local ‘urban griot’ Levi Tafari, epitomised what the festival is about, with children of all ages taking centre-stage of Contellations Garden, to read out their work and entertain a very receptive audience. This was then rounded off with Levi re-citing an old classic from his back-catalogue of poems spanning 30 years, Plastic Fantastic.
Clearly, Positive Vibration is much more than just a music festival, as the Saturday afternoon Q&A hosted by John Robb also proved. The discussion centred on the extent to which reggae music has influenced and impacted on mainstream music and culture in the UK.
Panel members were university lecturer and researcher Dr Lez Henry, Brixton community legend Blacker Dread, reggae singer-songwriter Carroll Thompson and Alpha Boys School alumnus, Basil Hilton. Discussion initially centred on tracing the origins of reggae music during the 1940s, for which Alpha is credited as being a fertile a ground.
Basil Hilton pointed out that reggae was the first music to place emphasis on the second and fourth beats in a bar, and thus revolutionised popular music as we know it today. Stories about Sister Ignacious and her sporting prowess added much humour to the debate.
Dr Lez Henry told of his experiences as a Rude Boy in the 1970s and how his childhood and life since has been shaped by reggae music; whilst Blacker Dread gave his view of the importance of reggae in spreading love and peace. Carroll Thompson spoke of her family, where the influences of the church and reggae were predominant features of her formative years.
It was clear from the debate that Reggae has not only impacted on UK music (for example through hip-hop and grime) and wider culture, but has had a major impact on music, politics and life across the globe; leaving John Robb to ponder with the panel how this has been so, for a relatively small island in The Caribbean Sea.
As the Q&A was extended to invite questions from the floor, a black young woman in her mid-twenties pointed out that there was a distinct absence in the demographic of festival attendees for black young men of a similar age to her and asked the pertinent question, … what can reggae music do for them? This was a particularly sobering thought, as we still see bias media reporting that criminalises black youths over white youths for knife crime. The response (from Blacker Dread) was to listen to the rebel music that seeks to bring about change, like the generation before and promote it amongst your friends and peers.
The discussion ended on a personal and touching tribute from Blacker (following a question from the floor) on the late singer and rapper, Tenor Fly, whose music he had produced. Known as ‘the news reporter’ for his insatiable appetite to freestyle on daily news items, Blacker Dread had the audience smiling when he told of his original name Jon Suto, and why the name Tenor Fly sounded better.
Constellations had also been turned into a mini gallery for the weekend, hosting the Art of Reggae Exhibition, with 100 posters submitted by artists from 68 different countries around the world. Each image taking reggae music as a theme, but with the artists otherwise free to interpret as they wish. The result was an impressive collection of pictures showing the influence of reggae music worldwide.
All of the pictures on show were available to buy in a secret ballot type auction, with proceeds going to the music department at the Alpha Boys School in Kingston – a school devoted to giving chances to those who need special care.
Of course, for many, the music is the main draw and the weekend didn’t fail to deliver. Lee Scratch Perry had Constellations absolutely rammed for his unique brand of dub – he certainly looks the part, wearing garish hat and jacket, more than 10 rings on his fingers and dyed red beard. His set involved burning copious amounts of incense and whatever else there was smoking on the stage.
Adrian Sherwood is a man with an impressive pedigree and he proved why in District as he conducted Creation Rebel from the back of the room to create a perfect set that could have been made for the festival – a Positive Vibration indeed.
Constellations Garden was always busy with acts keeping the drinking and dancing punters entertained in the sun. From the quirky Baked A La Ska to the somewhat bewildered kids who comprise Staged Kaos there was all manner of styles and sounds playing out. Saturday evening in the garden finished with a DJ set from the legendary Don Letts – a big enough draw in his own right.
The line up in District was spectacular with Dreadzone and Dub Pistols being Friday standouts along with reggae royalty Misty In Roots, Adrian Sherwood and Carroll Thompson seeing out Saturday in style. But that feels a bit like singling out a few selections from a superbly curated weekend where there was quality to be found everywhere across the site.
The food and merch stalls were also a hit and added to the flavour of the weekend in no small way. The fact we spoke to one guy who had travelled from Brighton to come to Liverpool to offer his wares says volumes about the draw and significance of Positive Vibration.
Alongside the music, a full programme of artistic workshops bulked up the bill; Saturday saw Constellations transform from gig venue to family zone, complete with crafts, ball pit and a chance to screen print your own Positive Vibration festival poster, thanks to the Baltic-based The Paper Moon studio, hot off their trip to Primavera, Barcelona. Elsewhere, drumming circles weren’t just for kids, and the talented Curtis Watts got the room to embrace the rhythm and jam.
After hours served up just as many positive vibes, with Leeds’ Dub Club’s finest, Iration Steppers, bringing Friday night to a close with the very finest in reggae, dub infused DJ sets and Don Letts closing off Saturday.
So, from where we were standing, Positive Vibration is in rude health and we’re already planning what to wear for next year. Obviously, the weather helped make the vibe, but so did the quality of the bill.
The Getintothis top acts of the weekend
Dub Pistols – District
“We only came to Liverpool to get fucked up” announces the band after their first number. They clearly understand the post watershed etiquette at this Fest. A kind of Ruts infused punky skanking but with the manic energy of a four year old. Absolutely wicked. They had District jumping and then some. Their version of The Stranglers Peaches was a treat. Peter Goodbody
Rubberdub – District
Rubberdub is a young Liverpool dub reggae 6-piece that has evolved from The Isrights. Shedding the tired, straitjacket formula of traditional two guitars, bass and drums indie rock, the band now has much more of an experimental format and is looking to carve a niche by producing a creative and much more alternative sound.
Fronted by the understated but classy, Che Wilson on vocals and keyboard, they are quietly building up a sizeable underground following. Live performances, which involve the band and other like-minded artists, also include DJ sets under the brand, Xjukebox Music. This combination is steadily creating a scene that is growing and spreading across Liverpool and beyond. Rubberdub’s stock will inevitably grow, if their Friday night opening slot in District is anything to go by. Mark Rowley
Misty In Roots – District
Described by a writer-photographer friend as the ‘Rolling Stones of Reggae Music’, the imperious Misty In Roots entertained a packed District crowd with a serving of good ol’ fashioned Roots, Rock, Reggae, with horns and saxophone complimenting the vibe perfectly.
As one of the original 1970s UK-based reggae bands, along with Steel Pulse, Matumbi and Aswad, Misty In Roots played an integral part in the Rock Against Racism movement at that time. Consequently, a sizeable presence of older punks (mostly t-shirted, balding and pot-bellied, it has to be said) contributed to the squeeze.
And with Walford ’Poko’ Tyson at the helm on vocal lead and moves like Jagger, Misty In Roots showed unequivocally that whilst rock ages, reggae is timeless … and more appropriately, making ‘The Rolling Stones the Misty in Roots of Rock Music’! Mark Rowley
Lee Scratch Perry – Constellations
Lee Scratch Perry is an undisputed icon. Known for his unrivalled personality and style, the grandfather of dub was a welcome addition to the Positive Vibration line-up. Having played in Liverpool countless times, the city still wanted more and the room was packed in anticipation of his headline slot. Delivering everything you would expect – the hits, the presence, the lighting up on stage – Perry gave the audience exactly what they came for; world class music from end to end. The 82 year old treated his adoring fans to the classics, moving swiftly through an hour-long set that included Disco Devil and Beat Down Babylon. Sinead Nunes
The Upper Cut Band ft. King Lorenzo, Carroll Thompson and Horseman – District
Advertised as ‘a UK-based roots, reggae band’ backing the best artists and available for booking and enquiries, The Upper Cut Band are a professional band of musicians well-versed in backing the very best of reggae artists.
Here they provided the platform for a trio of artists, King Lorenzo, Carroll Thompson and Horseman, playing flawlessly for the best part of two hours.
Contemporary reggae singer Andel Henry aka King Lorenzo was first up, singing a mix of spiritual and militant songs with positivity and intensity.
Carroll Thompson, introduced as the First Lady Of Lovers Rock followed, opening with the upbeat Don’t Stand In My Way. Carroll then ran through her repertoire of infectious love songs to a steadily-paced backing. spreading her lovers vibe to one and all.
Last of the trio of artists up was Winston Williams, aka Horseman. Previously a drummer that has worked with numerous top reggae artists, including Sugar Minot, Tippa Irie and Gregory Isaacs in a music career spanning the last four decades, he made his first album as an MC in 2014. Providing reference points in his song introductions that made for a helpful musical education, he wooed the crowd with his ‘fast chat’ singing style which he told us was introduced by Saxon Crew artists like Papa Levi. After rapturous applause greeting Horseman’s final song, the trio of artists returned together for an encore to round off a heart-warmingly superb, master-class showing. Mark Rowley
Adrian Sherwood and Creation Rebel – District
Been a massive fan since the early days of his involvement with bands such as Maximum Joy, Pigbag and The Pop Group. He’s never conformed to a norm.
He conducted Creation Rebel from the back at the mixing desk with a style that’s unlike any other. Twisting and turning knobs and levers, drumming things and generally waving his magic potion around District. A set of sheer joy and wonderful class. Just brilliant. Peter Goodbody
Images by Getintothis’ Peter Goodbody