Toots and the Maytals

Toots and the Maytals


Ska is sadly mourning when Toots & The Maytals arrive at Manchester’s Academy. Prince Buster has just died and a vivid legend is born. What a better way to pay tribute than with a superb performance by ‘Toots’ and Co.? This is a special show for another reason too: it’s the last one of the come back tour of singer/songwriter Frederick ‘Toots’ Hibbert, after a “nasty incident” at a gig in Richmond, Virginia (USA), that put him aside from the music scene for three years. Some drunken half-wit threw a bottle of vodka to the Jamaican musician with so much bad luck that it seriously hurt his head.

It’s sad to read the letter he wrote to the judge: “I continue to suffer from extreme anxiety, memory loss, headaches, dizziness and most sadly of all, a fear of crowds and performing.” Luckily, he’s still a great performer. He still has the reggae. He has the soul, definitely. No one would say that he’s afraid of any crowd anymore. He’s in such an enviable good shape.

Circa 9pm and the packed audience is pretty excited, courtesy of Cardiff’s reggae/ska/soul artist Captain Accident and ‘The Disasters’. The crowd mostly consists of young people, all tribes gathered: mods, rastafaris, skinheads, authentic reggaes – the dress code is to not have a dress code at all.  There’s a certain post-derby euphoria in the thick air.

The opening song is ‘Pressure Drop’, a revengeful ode to karma. Certainly, ‘Toots’ receives a warm ovation as a welcome back! Dressed in an outrageous black leather outfit, he smiles and I guess that his eyes are also glowing behind his dark sunglasses. I hear a faint, inexplicable booing next to me after ‘Never Grow Old’. (WTF?)

By the time the mighty Maytals perform peace-makers hits such as ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Time Tough’, waves of beer are already overflowing the place. What is all the “sorry, sorry” about if you’re showering me with your beer anyway? Guess I’m just getting old for this kind of ‘communion’, so, never mind.

“Higher and higher…”. Upwards and onwards, as Kingston’s Alpha Boys School’s slogan says.

The CEO and founder of the term reggae and his rather rocksteady band are in full swing –superb chorus girls by the way, featuring ‘Toots’ daughter Leba Thomas. Like father, like daughter. If it wasn’t for the absence of a proper quality sound, the show would be spot on.

I hear the racket surrounding me much louder than the music on stage. This is a shame, especially if you’re looking for something more than the party vibes, which of course are guaranteed with these guys. ‘Toots’ is the kind of man that makes you smile every time he smiles, as well as you feel pleasantly good as long as he’s singing. Soulful, well-tempered voice indeed.

‘Louie Louie’ cover goes ska, therefore the crowd goes nuts. Smoke gets in our eyes, too.  We get into an operatic reggae experience with more smashing hits like ‘Sweet and Dandy’, ‘Funky Kingston’, ‘Do The Reggay’ and a sublime ‘BAM BAM’, a song that proclaimed The Maytals winners of the first Jamaican Independence Festival Popular Song Competition, back in 1966.

Seriously, where’s all the sound have gone? Could it be that the crowd has just absorbed it all? Anyway, ‘Toots’ takes his sunglasses off to solemnly dedicate ‘Take Me Home Country Roads’ to his beloved Jamaica. Everybody sings along.

It’s followed by a rather nostalgic moment with fluttering lighters (‘Light Your Light’). It has taken a while but finally comes ‘Monkey Man’ and the crowd goes berserk again. A grand finale whose mind-bending encore is a never-ending ‘54-46 That’s My Number’. Epic, super funky and soulful goodbye with a song that means so much for the great ‘Toots’, as it tells about his time in jail. 

“You’re the best audience EVER!”, he cajoles us. Sweet.

None of us want to end the party, so we divert towards Big Hands and, naturally, The Thirsty Scholar, where Dj Martin The Mod is paying a special tribute to the late Prince Buster. Enjoy yourselves and keep the faith.

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Amaia Santana

Good karma brought me here to Manchester, my second home, where you can stay healthy (despite the weather) and young forever, as you can breathe live music in every corner of the city. I do believe in the healing power of music (rock is my life vest) and I'd be so glad to share my passion with you rockers of the world!