Natty at Scala: A nifty little gig
North London’s favourite alternative venue, Scala, entertained North London’s favourite alternative/reggae troubadour, Natty last night, 21st June. He was out and about with his full band celebrating the release of his new mixtape (read mash up album) Out of Fire.
It’s only fair to say that Natty’s career has been a bit of a slow burner in the music world, though judging by the reception of some of his older material, he has not been forgotten. His recent tour with Ziggy Marley will have brought Natty a nifty new audience, and so the slow, clichéd evolution from ‘troubled youth’ to accomplished songwriter and performer seems to be complete.
Last night Natty performed with real verve, panache and, most importantly, emotion. Out of Fire is a funny little collection of songs. It can’t really be called back to basics reggae – there’s much too much going on for that. The mixtape is an angry, urgent thing that embraces the power that good reggae can muster in a way that 2008’s Man Like I did not. The songs explore similar themes to the music that has inspired them: namely identity, inequality and injustice. Early highlights in the set included the tracks Afrika and Alarm Bells, whose catchy refrain “alarm bells in my head they’re going ring ding ding” was a particular favourite with the audience. With the help of a tight, inventive band, these heavily produced tracks were stripped back to basics. And if the band had a tendency to stray into lengthy solos, then it didn’t seem to bother the rapturous crowd.
However, the old material was always going to be the most well received. For an album that is nearly four years old, Man Like I sounded fresh and vibrant. Bedroom Eyes, in particular, raised the roof. Natty wasn’t afraid to go it alone, and the band left him to it for an acoustic interregnum. This approach highlighted a mellow voice with hidden power and lyrics with intellectual integrity.
Just as things were threatening to lose their edge, Natty returned to the new material with some bone-rattling bass lines from the new album. The angry yet understated King Had A Dream, which explores the legacy of Luther King, was a nice bridging song before we were plunged into the depths of some of the more full-blooded numbers. The whole set, it seemed, was a timely mix of anger at a broken, disillusioned world and the healing power of love and fraternity.
Scala is a funny venue, and it takes a certain quality of performer to feel at home and really work the place. While all I had to contend with was the debilitatingly exorbitant beer prices, Natty did his best with levels that were occasionally just plain wrong, and wowed a crowd that sounded several sizes too big for the venue. This was a more than accomplished set, and one which shows that Natty is an important, prescient artist.
Photos: Bartek Odias
Head to Natty’s official website to download Out Of Fire for free!