South West London’s tropical bird of paradise
Last night I saw Hollie Cook in concert for the first time, my wife, myself and a couple of hundred other eager Norfolk reggae fans danced the evening away at Norwich’s Epic Studios. I must confess, in the run up I was slightly worried! I have all her albums and love the songs, but was the live version of Hollie going to live up to my expectations?
In the days before this gig I got thinking about live music versus recorded music, and the hypothesis that reggae is definitely best listened to on record. Historically I have been a little underwhelmed by live reggae acts, they never quite match the rounded sound that you get on record, and often feel a little too lightweight.
My reasoning is that for reggae the studio was always king and fed the sound systems with those beautiful 7” singles that we all love. Bands playing live was traditionally not the primary way reggae music was presented, the big booming sound system was where new music was socially heard. In contrast if you look at indie and rock music for example, the live band experience is so much more important, as that is how bands first cut their teeth.
Any band of worth would have started out playing crappy pubs to an uncaring audience. Recording contracts and studio time come later when reputation is earned!
So back to Norwich and how would Hollie Cook and her band General Roots come across? Thankfully I was not disappointed, what a great night it was. My wife reasoned that as new young reggae bands come through, they are writing music for the stage and less for the studio. I think she has hit it on the nose. In this case General Roots were perfect, they were tight, together and you could hear that they have played together for a number of years and were comfortable replicating the sounds live. It is not for nothing that the great Dennis Bovell described them as “The product of tomorrow. These young gentlemen are of the highest quality. They have risen to the rank of General”.
Joe Price on guitar was particularly outstanding and despite the reggae sound he even managed to spin out some rock guitar solos. In the band’s capable hands the new album tracks like Angel Fire and Freefalling went from beautiful bouncy singles to reggae monsters, they sounded big and captivating. James McKone on drums and his brother Ben on bass had a rhythmic link that obviously went deep into their shared DNA and Sam Ross on keyboards added the details that these super melodic songs needed.
But what of the lady herself. The tropical bird reference in the title of this piece was again from my wife, Hollie danced and flited across the stage with her colourful flowing dress and was much like a bird of paradise. Her voice was perfect and brought some much needed warmth to a chilly October evening. New track ‘Sweet Like Chocolate’, a cover of the 90s Shanks & Bigfoot garage number was a highlight, was there ever a song that suited a reggae re-boot? It was also good to hear some of my favourites, Shadow Kissing was excellent, and with the band fired up and the crowd really warming to the tropical sound, penultimate song Milk and Honey took the lid off the place.
Faith fully restored
On reflection I am glad to say that my faith in live reggae music has been fully restored and on stage it is this new young generation of reggae artists that are giving the music a shot in the arm. If you get a chance to catch them on this tour please try, it is a wonderful live experience. Check out Hollie’s website for details of the remaining dates and if you are not so familiar with her music head to her Bandcamp site, the recent ‘Angel Fire’ LP is a good place to start. General Roots have their own back catalogue, click here for their website, and first port of call the ‘Walk Tall’ album.
Hollie Cook reigns as the tropical princess of reggae, with a clutch of wonderfully exotic albums to her name. She has now conquered the live stage, it’s a perfect platform for reggae’s own bird of paradise.
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Bless, Paper Lion