Jerry Dammers' Spatial AKA Orchestra - Bristol Colston Hall
Thirty years after the birth of 2Tone it’s great to see that all the original members of the Specials have been out on the road this month. It’s not so great to report, however, that they’ve not all been on the same stage and that, for reasons which will forever remain shrouded in a fog of bitter recriminations, there’s still no place for Jerry on the bus. Clearly remains a matter of some concern to Mr Dammers but, undaunted, he’s pulled together some of the most respected Jazz musicians of their generation to form the Spatial AKA which, as he told the Bristol Evening Post, is a ‘retro futuristic’ venture which shines a light upon a time when musicians were dreaming up a better world.
Upon entering the auditorium it becomes clear that this is no ordinary orchestral recital for we find, frozen at the point of imminent impact, a spaceship hovering above a stage which is surrounded by the detritus of ancient civilisations and a pair of alien creatures clutching futuristic electric guitars. As we take in the scene Dammers quietly makes his entrance to take his place behind a bank of analogue synths and keys from which he will conduct and compere the evening’s entertainment. He’s soon joined by a beat poet who embarks upon a repetitive mantra which informs us that, had we not already guessed, we’re now inhabiting a time and place after the end of the world. Eventually he’s joined by a motley crew of musicians who enter the auditorium from the rear, forming a bizarre procession of ancient Egyptians, aliens, and oddballs hidden behind venetian masks who, as they take their places onstage, transform the mantra into a stone cold jazz funk epic. The scene is set and were heading off into outer space.
Musically the show skates freely between avante garde free jazz, resplendent with the most incredible screeches, shronks and wails that you’ll ever hear, and Trojan style dub ska. It’s not always a wholly successful balance but, on the whole, the audience are content to free their minds and drift with the flow, some even shaking their booties a little to the spatial reworkings of some old Specials classics rebranded here as ‘Intergalactic Jet Set’ and ‘Ghost Planet’. Which brings us back to the incessant debate over the perceived worthiness of Dammers’ artistic endeavours versus the Specials ‘nostalgia trip’. Yes Terry and the boys may be peddling 30 year old songs to the converted but the fact of the matter is that Jerry is performing them too, albeit in reworked fashion, and he’s also performing a barrage of jazz covers which stretch back over 100 years to Eric Satie. Space may well be the place but there’s nothing new under the sun and to suggest that either has the upper hand in terms of credibility is risible. Having witnessed both the Specials and Dammers’ in the last few months it is clear that both still have a significant role to play in British pop culture; the Specials show provides the ultimate, sweat sodden party atmosphere while Dammers’ orchestra is a more cerebral, mind expanding venture.
Not that there’s no room for a bit of fun with the Spatial AKA; Jerry encourages the audience to take advantage of their ‘relaxed’ orchestral style and to go grab a few drinks and get dancing before leading off into some floor shaking, window rattling dub ska which could surely melt the most cynical of hearts. Sadly the staid, seated venue doesn’t really allow for the evening to fully take off in a rub a dub style and hence the most successful elements of the show, musically, are the virtuoso jazz explorations of the work of Sun Ra and Alice Coltrane. So, The Music Fix can now die happy having finally seen the whole set of Specials on stage in the last year, it’s just a shame that, like Pink Floyd, it’s had to have come piecemeal.