Cornell Campbell Meets Soothsayers - Cottons, London - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

Cornell Campbell Meets Soothsayers - Cottons, London

by Charly Richardson Rating:8 Release Date:2012-11-15

After leaving late and getting caught in the delay-plagued joys of the circle line, I was mightily relieved when the man on the door announced that the band had started "literally one minute ago". As I stepped into the basement of Cottons, a well-regarded Caribbean restaurant in a trendy stretch of Islington, I was immediately struck by the heat.

The room was rammed for the album launch of Nothing Can Stop Us, the excellent album from Cornell Campbell and Soothsayers (read my review here So rammed that I spent the whole gig by the door, underneath a baking stage light on one of the hottest days of the year, and cruelly out of reach of the bar. Luckily, the sound was crisp and my view clear as Soothsayers launched into a number of tunes from previous albums.

Before introducing the star of the show, they played the anthemic 'We're Not Leaving' (released as a single in 2011 and included on last year's Human Nature). Trumpeter Robin Hopcraft happily recounts how he first discovered Cornell Campbell in 1982 after finding one if his records in Brixton market. In what must be a dream come true, 30-plus years later he introduces the man himself.

Apparently oblivious to the heat and in full leathers, Campbell steps on stage to deliver his version 'I'll Never Leave'. His stage presence is as cool as his look, and his voice in remarkably good shape for a man who recorded his first single in 1956. His soft, lilting falsetto immediately fills the room, sitting perfectly on top of the band's tight groove.

As with most album launches, if they just played the album through it would have been a pretty short gig. Luckily, Campbell's rich back-catalogue ensures that the fillers are of the highest calibre, from the sweet 'Queen of the Minstrels', to the classic 'Stars', and the upbeat swagger of 'The Gorgon'. The Soothsayers back Campbell so superbly that I can't help wondering why they aren't backing more Jamaican artists.

It's a testament to the strength of the new album that when they return to it, songs like 'Nothing Can Stop Us' sit nicely among old reggae gems. Although much of the album was Campbell voicing melodies over existing Soothsayer rhythm tracks, the way they are recreated live is natural and seamless. Not only is Campbell's voice as sweet and strong as on the record (if not stronger), but the grooves Soothsayers create are as solid.

Lokkhi Terra's Kishon Khan bubbles away on keys. Hopcraft and saxophonist Idris Rahman provide muscular hornlines but never overplay, leaving plenty of room for Cornell Campbell to shine. The only solos come on the Eastern-tinged 'Jah Jah Me No Born Yah' (an update of an old Campbell number).

Drums and bass are locked and steady as a rock, and the two sharp guitars take turns to cover the skanks or double-up basslines on a single string. But what is perhaps the most striking is the quality of the backing-vocals provided by Hopcraft, Rahman and vocalist Julia Biel. Their three-part harmonies are absolutely spot-on.

All the remaining tunes from the album are visited, including the sublime lovers rock of 'There's a Fire', and a few more Campbell classics like 'Ten to One' are interspersed among them. When the welcome encore 'My Country' comes, anyone who wasn't dancing before gets involved, and some hero opens the door and lets a glorious breeze in. Campbell walks off to a hero's applause, the band finishes in an Afro-dub frenzy, and some poor bastard walks in as they strike the last chord.

As the sweaty punters filter out, a mulleted Jerry Dammers spins some classic rocksteady and roots reggae (Hopcraft leads his Spatial A.K.A. Orchestra  and I finally reach the bar for a much needed Dragon Stout; the perfect end to a fantastic gig. In August, you can catch them at Canary Wharf Jazz Festival. As Hopcraft notes, it probably won't be as 'vibey'. Might be a little cooler though.

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