ALL ROADS LEAD to the 100 Club in London’s West End every Thursday night, where – “in tune to Silver Camel Sound” – the weekly reggae sessions provide not merely the music’s star live attractions, but also the most relaxed venue and atmosphere for its enjoyment thereof.
Invariably ram-up, an audience of startlingly varied persuasion demonstrate a display of multi-racial harmony where, truly, the colour of one’s skin is of no greater significance than the colour of one’s eyes – or multi-hued locks, even.
In the weeks preceding the Anti-Nazi League’s convergence upon Hackney, participants of this 100 Club phenomenon have grown increasingly self-aware of their own singular contribution towards the blight of NF racism, in intermingling realisation of each other’s company.
The week previous to Aswad’s appearance, Albert Griffiths’ Gladiators had been the occasion for the most joyous celebration of this spirit to date.
The nature of the crowd, however, must have come as something of a surprise to the Jamaican group, and they were not fully able to effect its logical conclusion.
Aswad proved the perfect vehicle – capturing the right mood at the right moment and delivering a barnstorming set to vociferous appreciation.
It was the best show I have seen all year; concluding with the whole audience one voice in the chanting of a climactic ‘Natural Progression’ refrain, Aswad’s “We want to execute political system” lyric echoing throughout the length of the cellar for a full five minutes duration.
The group opened slightly uncertainly with ‘Behold’, during which they gained noticeable stride at the lusty approbation that greeted their “Israel unite” declaration; growing in confidence upon rendition of ‘Jah Give Us Life’ and ‘It’s Not Our Wish (To Fight)’, expression of which latter sentiment once more brought forward shouts of approval and “right on”/”go deh” exclamations from the crowd.
‘Can’t Stand The Pressure’, ‘Stranger’, ‘Spare Not The Rod’ and ‘Love Has Its Ways’ continued the set in similarly successful execution, and by the time Aswad launched into the hesitant opening bars of ‘Natural Progression’ the audience were eating out of the group’s hands.
The rhythm guitar struck up the song’s theme; Angus Gaye obliged with a snare pattern; recent acquisition Tony Robinson embroidered a flourish of organ riffs; and from the depths of the audience a voice cried, “drop the bass NOW!”
The bass did, and the crowd went wild.
Following their achievement with this closing number, the band were reluctant to return to the stage. Only sustained demands finally coaxed the group from the dressing room.
For an encore we received ‘Sons Of Criminals’ and ‘Three Babylon’, detailing the covert curfew that exists for black youth on the streets of Harlesden after dark.
Babylon, it’s your turn to go on the cross, this time.
© Penny Reel, New Musical Express, 13 May 1978