The Skatalites - Paard van Troje, Den Haag - 17/11/2004

"This is not just another Ska band, this is The Skatalites."





After dribbling in to the venue on a filthy, lashing Wednesday night in Den Haag I was in need of something to warm me. Having unfortunately arrived just in time to miss Dutch Ska kings Rude Rich and the High Notes, it was left to the backing tapes of crackly old Jamaican recordings and checking out the wildly diverse audience. Young, old, black, white, punks, skins, hippies, students, teachers, grandparents, lovers, dancers, Rude Boys and polite people. Had they come in 'two by two' we'd have had an Ark. This says a lot for the persistent appeal of Ska, yet this is not just another Ska band, this is The Skatalites.


Formed in 1964, they were there at the very birth of Ska. They are Ska's parents and I suspect that more than a few of the crowd are here to pay homage. They may have only been together for a little more than a year before they split, and did not reform until the early 80's, but in that short time they had laid the foundations of Ska, Rocksteady and Reggae.


The Skatalites now boast only three of the original line-up, drummer Lloyd Knibbs, singer Doreen Shaffer and bassist Lloyd Brevett. It would have been rude to refuse their invitation to a journey on the Ska Spaceship. We countdown and blast off and head back to "the year of the sixties" for a Ska and Rocksteady history lesson.


They do what they do best and they do not divert from their chosen path. Each tune begins with a shout of  "Jah, Jah, Jah, Jah, Jah ............RASTAFARI!!!!!!" and a brief explanation as to where it came from, either by Brevett, who's like your Grandad talking with wistful eyes about a time when things were better and his limbs were strong, or Doreen Shaffer who introduces her sweet Rocksteady gems like a cuddly Aunt who makes lovely cakes.


I don't need to describe Ska music for you, but The Skatalites have the blueprints, they work from ancient scrolls. Their sounds and musics are influenced by R & B and Boogie-Woogie mixed up with African rhythms and then crowned with Jazz and Calypso style horns that pick out a singalong refrain, and then drift away into soulful solos before finally returning to that singalong horn hook. And it's brilliant.


Every tune is a classic. "The Guns of Navarone", "James Bond", Marley's "Nice Time" and "Simmer Down", "Rivers of Babylon", "Phoenix City" everything has a magical quality. I was mesmerised, particularly by the mystical Brevett, all scruffy beard and ancient dreadlocks. Looking like the Jamaican Gandalf with his skinny electric double bass like a staff of power. He cuts a mystical figure in a shamanic trance, shrugging and muttering while his right hand, apparently an entirely different creature, dances and springs across the strings.


He and drummer Knibbs create the flight-path along which the rest of the room travels, be it the horn section or the bar staff, the Paul Simon look-alike keyboard player or the Geography teacher mixing it up with the punks and skins at the front. And after the Ska Spaceship brings us back to our own time and space, we shout and sing in the hope of another short ride.


The lights come on and we get our coats and head off to get the car before the car-park shuts. The pissy, cold Den Haag night is even more of a shock after a couple of hours of sunshine.



Words : MONO

Photograph : Damian Leslie