The Ferry, Glasgow, Sat 20 Jun
As mournful tenor trembles above falsetto and baritone amid a bubbling cacophony of bass and effect, the statuesque and trance-inducing ‘Fisherman’ ushers in a cult reggae masterpiece.
It is tempting if unfair to say that The Congos have carved a career out of that singular past glory. It is true that nothing they have released has come close to touching their blisteringly hot, proto-dub debut Heart of the Congos but they have hardly been resting on their laurels. Rather disputes, splits, solo careers, reformations and a heap of undeniably lesser albums have, one would surmise, kept the roots reggae vocal trio pretty busy in the three-and-a-bit decades since its initial release. Of course they had Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry at the helm for that revered debut, not to mention illustrious contributors like Ernest Ranglin at hand, making ‘a tough act to follow’ something of an understatement. However, lamenting the absence of Perry’s Black Ark studio wizardry denies the extraordinary vocal talents of Myton, Johnson and Burnett themselves, this fortnight at the Glasgow International Jazz Festival.
After the international impact of their brilliant first outing was quashed by bampot Perry’s crumbling relationship with Island Records, The Congos in their various line-ups and guises have proved among reggae’s most enduring artists. Certainly their offerings in recent years have been reassuringly good, once again attracting venerated contributors, and the trio has sustained a live attraction of some regard. Many more have been long admired for considerably less.