Last time veteran singer Cornel Campbell was in London town with reggae Afrobeat horn-led collective Soothsayers was one of the hottest days of July at Lambeth Country Show. Having shared a bill with Max Romeo in sun-drenched Brockwell Park they followed up with a sweaty launch party for collaborative album Nothing Can Stop Us in the basement of Caribbean restaurant Cottons. This time Cornel chose one of the most freezing nights of February to appear at Brixton Hootananny with the group – as part of an eight date English tour funded by the Arts Council and the Performing Rights Society. And it was proof of their mutual reputation as live performers that the place was nearly packed when many a lethargic Londoner might have preferred to stay in.
A late start to a large number of local acts delayed the main event. Deejays Selvie Wonder, Buck Jo, Hiya P and three-way ensemble Ninja Lee performed to famous backing tracks. Given the headliners it was a very uptempo and dancehall oriented choice and their forays into singing were less successful than their fastchat – but respect is due to promoter Cecil Reuben for always supporting diversity and community at his events. The polite applause for this segment was dwarfed, however, by the reception for the evening’s first true singer, Jimmy London. He looked bemused on stage yet his voice, while ragged, still carried raw emotion for I’m Your Puppet, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Til I Kissed Her and A Little Love.
The concert was billed as “Cornel Campbell with Soothsayers band” rather than the usual “Cornel Campbell meets Soothsayers”. So when trumpeter Robin Hopcraft, saxophonist/flautist Idris Rahman, and the rest of the musicians took their positions at midnight they did not play their customary full mini-set of their own prior to bringing Cornel on at the midway point. Instead, they cleverly lulled roots purists into a sense of security with the opening bass pulse ofNatural Mystic before turning Bob’s classic into a sprawling Afrobeat instrumental. Brixton’s European Shaka disciples seemed baffled but many tricolour tams were bouncing. In an interview last year Cornel told Reggaeville the Londoners bring “A different flavour. You have reggae but you can divert it with different flavours like the multi-cultural side to the music – a new thing where everybody in every nation can really participate with it. It’s like coffee – sometimes you drink it without milk and the next you add sugar. I can’t drink it just pure coffee.”