Gdańsk Ska Jamboree – that’s the kind of festival we need

Last weekend was gonna be great and I knew that way before it started. First Gdańsk Ska Jamboree was already fantastic and for its second edition promoters planned so much great bands from abroad, that it was even remotely imposssible to imagine, that something could go wrong.

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Two days, one scene and nine gigs – at some festivals you can see lineups so long, you can’t remember who’s playing what day, but here we’re talking about a club festival, where party starts not at 2pm but in the late evening. At outdoor events sometimes I let myself to be selective and to omit some concerts, but here I’ve decided to be ambitious and to check out all bands. Besides I was honestly courious of all the performances, so any kind forcing myself was not the issue.

To face that challenge and not to miss anything I came to Protokultura club almost directly from train. For all, who hadn’t a pleasure to visit that place I’ll add few words about its location. In the middle of Gdańsk shipyard, gigantic cranes in the background, generally speaking full industrial option. It makes an impression.

When I arrived, club was not full yet, but there were already lots of people – more than that, they didn’t waste any time, but had great fun to sounds of Ska Petarda. I heve to, I just have to be a little critical of this band, simply beacause it’s not the kind of playing, I’m excited about nowadays. But I have to honestly admit, that it was quite cool. First of all I’ve heard a ton of progress comparing with recordings from internet and their debut album. Quick ska with funny lyrics, sometimes even compatible with my sense of humor. There was a four piece horn section, which probably could give some more, but it fitted nicely to a served repertoir. Gig was definitely above my expectations and I’m cheering those guys very much.

While waiting for The Downsetters I’ve found a minute to look around more closely. As last year, in the hall nearby, there was a nice fair set up – records, clothes, shoes, leatherware, festival merch – you could exuip yourself there with pretty much anything and eat something tasty too. That was also the best place to comfortably talk with rarely seen friends, exchange remarks about the shows. It’s a huge value of Ska Jamboree – it creates circumstances that make people from all around the country (from abroad too ) wanna go for few houndreds (or even tausands) kilometeres and simply be part of this scene. You just cannot overestimate it while talking about any building or consolidaion of our musical scene.

Downsetters didn’t dissapoint. Hour was still early, but it looked right at front. Musically it was kinda surprise to me. On the one hand I got a portion of classic, jamaican, realle well played ska. On the other the gig was full of interesting experiments with sounds making me think more about electronic beats. I don’t know nothing about technical side of all that, so I can’t tell you what exactly stands behind this effect. The important thing is my general impression was definitely positive. Vocalist gave full measure and his fantastic voice really did the job done. Separate word of praise goes to a trombonist – many full sections could envy that guy’s effect. Genre purists could pick on kinda peculiar sound, mentioned above. I treat it as an intersting direction in developement of my beloved kind of music. A really good gig.

Next in line were The Bartenders & Dr. Ring Ding, or so I thought. I completely missed that on a poster those two names are actually not put together. I knew from good sources that I should count a joint show, but Doctor entering stage alone kinda baffled me.  After a while it was obvious that Barteners have no intention to join him anytime soon, so that’s how I got an unexpected, bonus performance. Dr. Ring Ding has never let me down – this wasn’t an exception. His voice never breaks and is always as great as before or only better. Music from player and Richie’s vocal – magnificent show with lots of classic hits, from ska, through calypso to dancehall. With so huge artistic output there’s a lot to choose from. If you add to that the perfect interaction with the audience, you should get the idea, what was the mood before main course of the night.

When, after a short break, I came back near stage, The Bartenders and Dr. Ring Ding were already installed on it. Feast! Well, what can I say? I can’t count how many times I’ve seen this Warsaw ska-jazz combo live. During last few years I’ve also had quite few occasions to admire the Doctor. But it’s not too often to catch them together – it’s a phenomenon you just can’t miss. Hits from old Richie’s repertoir, from times of Senior All-Stars or even El Bosso & Die Ping Pongs, with power of classic jamaican tunes, and a collaborative composition Polecat as frosting on the cake. To say it was great is to say nothing at all. We don’t have too many bands in Poland capable of musically and technically keeping pace with Ring Ding, but Bartenders are definitely one of them. Apart from his characteristic voice Doctor of course also brought a trombone and beautifully joined the sound of horn section every now and then. Gigs like that make Gdańsk Ska Jamboree climb up the ladder of my favourite festivals to a very dignified place.

On friday as well as on saturday the silence betweeen and after the gigs was filled by Karma Sound. I must admit, that it was a job well done. Because of a cool selection I was happy to move my hips on the dancefloor, luckily not alone, long time after last tones from the stage.

I’ve ended friday almost in the morning, so saturday looked a little risky at first. Magnetics were planned to begin the party and start was set to 6pm. I was really keend to see that gig. Previously I’ve catched them last summer at This Is Ska Festival in Germany and as I’ve had an extremely good time, I must honestly admit, that for quite obvious reasons my memories are kinda blurry. This time, because of early hour if nothing else, this should me different, so I’ve done my best  and arrived to the club right on time.  Magnetics started with a little delay, so I missed nothing. Vocalist had his birthday, so there had to be a little gift and usal “happy birthday” sang. After this short ceremony guys started to play. And I have a little problem with their show. Generally it was ok – as on records – nice, cool songs and well played. The problem was with sound.  It’s quite possible it was the acoustics, but everything was kinda flat. Sound was allright but had a problem filling the room. And it’s not because of small audience, people were there. Not to complain too much, it was a really cool gig and I’ve probably had pretty overdone expectations. There was place for best known songs – “Money, money”, “King Kong Girl”, or “Coffee & Sugar”, title tune from the new album. As any band from sunny Italia should, they had to play some italian smash hit. Singing “Volare” together with audience – pearl. Don’t let my previous whineing significantly influence your perception of this band. It was good and right after gig, I went to buy anything they had on vinyl.

I don’t remember when exactly and in what circumstances, but I’ve seen Yellow Cap at least two times already, so I knew more or less what to expect. Repertoir was consistent with my predictions and although it’s not something that moves me deeply, I must admit that it works during gigs very well. What surprised me, was quality of performance. I knew it’s the band with many years of experience and has its sound precisely polished, but what those guys had showcased was a level much above my expectations. I didn’have eny acoustic doubts like a moment before. It sounded great and brass section did true marvels. Despite the fat, I’m not a huge fan of Kay’s vocal, I liked it here. Now I’m wainting for a jubilee album, which will have its premiere by the end of november.

Next, Vespa appeared on stage. Oh wow, what a gig that was? They have a well deserved star status in Poland and for another time they proved to all doubters, where did that status came from. There was an obligatory set of swinging tunes from last album. Lena in great vocal shape and Grzegorz Kupicha in equally great mood perfectly got the audience rocking. Fun, fun, crowds up front, the party at full swing. During previous gigs it was tight, now it’s gotten really serious. You could say, with this gig  Vespa celebrated the debut of their legendary “Bujaj się” album on vinyl. There had to be rarely played nowadays hot songs from that records on the setlist.  “TT56″was lovely sang by a guest, Jacek Staroń from Las Melinas band. Audience went nuts to songs like “Polska Miejska” or “Złote Lata”. If fans had a great time, I simply have no words for a level of fun showed by a horn section. True dancing skills were there, choreography, you could even say. There was also a dancing contest for couples (just like old times) and new Vespa Psycho Fan Crew memberships given.  What surely needs to be mentioned is a gift tifo display from fans – handmade banner saying “Vespa Warsaw Psycho Crew on tour” with a huge wasp drawn besides Warsaw Palace of Culture and Science. If all that starts to fell like some kind of carnival full of quite expected turns of action – you’re absolutely right, that’s what was supposed to happen, that’s what happened and let’s hope will happen forever. Two more songs missing – “Skuteromania” and “Gorące Lato W Mieście” – now you know for sure, there’s only one king,  “Vespa rulez, other bands crap”.

During Vespa’s show in the background you could see members of Bottle of Moonshine glimpsing from backstage. They looked a little overwhelmed by audience enthusiasm, as if they were worried if they can meet expectations of red hot crowd. Good for them, they came excellently prepared. First songs resolved any doubts. 5-piece horn section presented level unavailable for most and whole crew found themselves perfectly in classic jamaican ska repertoir. When a vocalist joined band on stage, they really started to get things going. Marvelous femal voice, and its marvelous usage. Not often you can hear gigs that great. I have only one objection. I was very much anticipating soul music, which is very important part of group’s albums. Sadly, in Gdańsk, there weren’t much of that. All those soul killers I wanted (and which would be my first connotation with this band) were removed to make room for classic jamaican sounds. When I think about it now, it’s not much of a an accusation, but still, my need was not fulfilled. As I learned later, band decided to adjust their setlist to festival’s name – that’s why we got this kind of selection. I’d recommend a live show of Bottle of Moonshine to anyone, but if nothing’s gonna change it might be a little tricky. It appears that for more than a year this band actually doesn’t exist. They agreed to play in Gdańsk only because of intensive requests of promoters. They treated that show as kind of last goodbye to the audience and I have to admit, they played like there was no tomorrow.

As I’ve written in festival’s announcement, Spartan Allstars looked like a perfect ending for this festival. I was right. Great skills plus cover setlist containg mainly known, liked and most importantly great songs.  Dances full ahead, singing along, some fantastic instrumentals. Mission of the band for the night was to play until no one’s left and audience was not in a hurry to go home. Party was full blown, I myself was jigging under the stage. There was only one thing spoling this idyllic image – the thought that band so cool hasn’t recorded no single album. After the show, I’ve had a chance to talk with those guys for a while. They explained it typically with lack of time and other commitments, but also promised to change that. I really hope they’ll finally make it.

After-party skillfully led by Karma Sound also didn’t disappoint. and allowed us to continue party with the sunny island classics for quite some time.  It’s worth noticing that some of band members didn’t stick to the backstage area. I’ve noticed guys from Bottle of Moonshine, Spartan Allstars near the dancefloor and pretty much everywhere you could see obviously happy of the whole festival Dr. Ring Ding.

He was not the only happy one. I think you couldn’t find any participant of Gdańsk Ska Jamboree, who felt let down. Perfect combination of bands, world class shows, very good organization, huge mobilization of fans in Poland and abroad – that’s the kind of festival we want and need. Personally I also appreciate the right scale here. I have much more fun in club events like this than at summer outdoor behemoths, where I make rounds all day with a printed guide to find bands I’m intrested in. Those smaller (but not small) events create much better atmosphere and like nothing else can integrate people.

Well, it can’t be all that perfect. We already know, that financially not everything has clicked here. Promoters are asking for support and are hoping that the 3rd edition will happen as planned. Tagline “buy us a beer” refers rather to covering loses than actually investing in alcohol, so we definitely join their request. On  Ska Jamboree fb page you’ll find a “donate now” button – use it, please.

Let’s hope everything’s gonna work out great here and next year we’ll meet again in Gdańsk.

Make sure to also check out photos from saturday!


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