Controlled blast for seated audience
In terms of time, Saturday night's Blast From the Past at Oakton Park, Half-Way Tree, St Andrew, was a contained Christmas firecracker. It was on time. At 8:48, the uniformly dressed Fab Five Band entered the venue and was on stage to strike up at precisely the advertised 9 p.m. start. And MC Bob Clarke bade all farewell at about two minutes shy of the 2 a.m. legally stipulated cut-off time.
However, this time containment was done without the inclusion of one billed performer, Cocoa Tea, and after the series of Christian choruses with which George Nooks ended his rousing performance, there was no explanation - or even mention - of the standout singer, just the fare thee well.
The musical blast was absorbed by far fewer persons than space was made for. While the seating at the third of the audience space closest to stage front was taken, it took a while for persons to line the guard rail behind the last seat. And that perimeter of standers never got more than two persons deep.
Still, from Fab Five's opening salvo in which they did their own hits such as Shaving Cream, Andrew Cassanova leading Reasons to the ladies' yelping, and Grub Cooper doing an Otis Redding take, through to Nooks, there was high-quality music on the stage. In addition, during intermission, there were well appreciated disco selections from Mutabaruka, who said that there were some songs he could not play in his radio slots on all-Jamaican music station IRIE FM.
As it is the season of good cheer, there were naturally a number of Christmas songs, or tunes appropriate for the time period. Boris Gardiner remarked that he got to do The Meaning of Christmas once a year before starting out "C is for Christmas, the season of good cheer". Gem Myers expressed her happiness in singing Oh Holy Night and intends to keep at it for the rest of the Christmas period, the high notes well suited to her voice. And Ernie Smith declared his All For Jesus, his song for the season.
The Christmas fare was a small, but significant part of a musical serving in which the first section of Blast From the Past was structured to build up from Fab Five's opening to Boris Gardiner's cool command, to Myers' vocal pyrotechnics, then Smith's gravelly acumen, and Derrick Morgan's ska splendour. And it worked, Morgan earning a cheer from the audience as he saluted them with a raised walking stick and doffed hat before starting Forward March. In the second section, Ken Boothe preceded Big Youth, and in terms of building to a peak, it would have been better the other way around, Nooks capping off the night.
Boothe and Nooks were the two performers for whom the audience hollered to return to the stage, Ken declining a second return after even more was demanded after the first encore.
The hits were there, Clarke informing the audience that Gardiner's I Wanna Wake Up With You was a number-one hit on the British charts. Myers was recalled to do her One Man Woman (during which she advised the men who took out a woman to look and see if she was waving an arm as required to signal her fealty), her take on And I Am Telling You I Am Not Going taking the house down previously.
HONOURING LATE RIVAL
On a cool, clear night, with the three-quarter moon rising gradually behind the stage, Smith took the audience on a Pitta Patta journey of rain on the rooftop and lovers in embrace. Morgan honoured the late Prince Buster, once his rival, singing a couple of the songs Buster slung at him.
After the break, Ken Boothe was on the money from Freedom Street, adding shuffles and shifts to his vocals to engage the audience through Silver Words and The Train is Coming. Big Youth's opening plea, I Pray Thee on the Satta rhythm, delivered as he mowed sideways smoothly, engaged the audience, the hat coming off later in his performance (punctuated with trademark yelps as Big Youth requested "hit the road Jack") for his locks to twirl in a figurative flogging.
Whether singing Zion Gates and morphing into the disclaimer that "the dread no have no forty leg inna him head", comforting with God is Standing By, or ruminating on the lack of equilibrium between possession of cash and receiving love, Nooks enjoyed the audience's's vociferous support.
At the end of Blast From the Past, some persons chose to walk the short distance from Oakton Park to the car-parking facility at the St Andrew Parish Church, while some took the shuttle on a system that worked well before and after the blast.