|Skindred - Newport, The Bassment - 19th March 2010|
|Written by Ian B|
|Tuesday, 30 March 2010 06:00|
Benji Webbe has been on my musical radar for some time now since first witnessing Dub War at the Big Weekend festival in Cardiff some point in the mid 90's and, after being totally won over, heading to Spillers to extend my student overdraft further to find out what I had been missing and still regularly have a spin to this day.
Fast forward a few years to the year 2000 and a chance to check out the newly formed Skindred still with a couple of Dub War veterans in the line up supporting Motorhead and Therapy at the Xtreme World festival in Swansea; I was not disappointed as they were the band of the day for me and I couldn't wait for some new music to discover on cd but it was a further two years before their debut album 'Babylon' was released.
Skindred are currently on a relative wave of success with a string of positive reviews in the likes of Kerrang on the back of their live performances and being touted as the best British live act on the circuit. Having been a regular at their tours this is much deserved and long overdue, including a near sell out of Cardiff University on the first leg of this tour, the most tickets I had seen shifted going by the size of the crowd considering the likes of Murderdolls and my beloved Wildhearts in the same venue failed to shift anything like the number of tickets or generate anything like the atmosphere.
Skindred weren't always fortunate to have the current press support and over the last 10 years in which they have released the albums 'Babylon' (2002, 2003, 2004), 'Roots Rock Riot' (2007) and 'Shark Bites And Dog Fights' (2009), they have paid their dues playing some poorly attended and strange venues, including Ebbw Vale College in 2003 which required a visit to Big Bob's Discs and a dodgy handshake to know that bugger was happening, a bar in Pontypridd in 2006 where you could only actually purchase tickets from the bar in advance during opening hours, playing from the back of a truck at the Tredegar Rock and Dance festival 2002 to a few of us in a park, or even Bristol Bierkeller in 2005 in which it wasn't necessary to put that particular show in the promotional listings in the press, the one constant has always been though that Skindred couldn't care less about the venue or crowd size as soon as they hit the stage..
Tonight was always going to be a little bit different, the sad passing of John Sicolo the owner of TJ's for the last 40 years the previous Sunday was still fresh, with rumours about the gig being cancelled as TJ's was now closed for business closely followed by the gig itself being saved and moved last minute to The Bassment, along with the fact that this was a home town gig for Skindred. On entering The Bassment it was clear this was a night of honour for John and what TJ's stood/stands for with the world famous TJ's back drop hanging in its rightful place behind the drum riser.
Arriving in time for the end of Forever Never's support slot (day job commitments causing a delay in arrival times) it was very clear that there was only going to be one winner tonight, as it was pointed out by one punter stood next to me "you know it isn't your night when the chants for Skindred start before you can even leave the stage." On arriving at the club and seeing the size of the stage, the size of the crowd rammed into the place, and knowing how quickly the entire crowd became a pit the last time they played Cardiff, I was having doubts as to whether this last minute substitute, despite its bravest efforts, was up to playing host to this occasion.
Skindred hit the stage with 'Stand For Something' from their latest release and before Benji even gets to the stage - dressed like he has just walked of the video set for the song - the crush at the front is on and the two now lonely looking security warriors at the front don't know what's happening. By the time the band are into 'Rat Race' Benji is urging the crowd to step back with genuine concern as kids are going down and a monitor has disappeared into the front row. Despite all the crushing at the front, the crowd rammed in like sheep, the lack of real vantage points to see the band on stage, the temperatures soaring, the entire crowd moving as one sweaty mass, at no point was the atmosphere anything other than that of a celebration for Skindred and TJ's, the age range covered all spectrums and the mix of shirts on show included punk, metal, ska, skins, goth, classic rock; a pretty good homage to the ethos of TJ's.
'You Can't Stop It' came next followed by the first real band/crowd chant and remembrance for John before kicking into 'Pressure' with a respectful sample of AC/DC's 'Back In Black' mid tune, the songs kept coming and the crowds grins grew wider through 'Bruises', 'Rude Boy' and 'Selector.' Stood at my vantage point at the side of the stage I could see the front PA starting to move in an unhealthy manner, more kids going down under the crush at the front although still grinning like fools as their comrades pulled them back up onto their feet. Tonight though there was only one man in control of events who had the entire crowd doing what he wanted when he wanted and the crowd loving it and that was Benji. Benji is one of those rare frontmen that has a presence on stage that means during the song you can't take your eyes off him as his enthusiasm for what he does is contagious, to make you feel damn good about life on one hand and on the other you know you would gladly punch Simon Cowell Inc right in the head if he was stood next to you, and then between songs make you laugh and make everyone in the room feel like one.
Next up is a near Acapulco version of 'State Of Emergency' teaser before kicking into 'Destroy The Dancefloor', 'Get It Off', 'Roots Rock Riot' and 'Invincible' with the heat still rising and the crowd response growing before the final song of the night 'Nobody' is introduced and even the bar staff are now showing their appreciation to the magic of Skindred as a live experience. The expected encore doesn't materialise unfortunately tonight and, as the lights go up, there are nods and smiles of appreciation as everyone knows they have seen a special gig tonight. On the one hand Skindred and having received incredible value for my £12.50 ticket price and on the other hand although I didn't know him, I believe a fine memorial to John Sicolo, for the contribution he and his little club in Newport have contributed to the music scene in Britain he should never be forgotten, for this reason TJ's should be saved for John's memory and plenty of more nights like this.