Assorted scribblings of a dog-eared music journalist

Melody Maker | Live | 5 December 1987

The Astoria, London

Words? Pish!

When Augustus Pablo takes his mouth away from the melodica, when he feels he has to speak, he looks uncomfortable. He turns his head to one side, whispering and mumbling. It is impossible to hear what he's saying, even if the audience is totally hushed. It's not simply that they are straining to catch an introduction to the song, an appraisal or a praise. This silence is born out of respect. Everybody is in awe.

There's no showmanship, no toasting, no boasting, no light-hearted skip, no foppish flip of rhymes. There's just a presence that defies the norm. The band rock on and on, constructing humps and bumps of rhythm, a slap, a dash of keyboards and a burping horn, and Augustus Pablo stands at the very centre of the humdrum, humming into the melodica, only his fingers moving, adding so much and yet appearing to do so little.

But, of course, he works hard, reworking tunes crafted with the likes King Tubby and Joe Gibbs and made popular by the likes of Johnny Osborne and Gregory Isaacs. An odd, ageing Pied Piper, he leads the way, all the way, weaving new melodies, a sweet fizz of sounds – plink plonk plop, sugarlump drop – into the heavy beat, blowing through the heady, smoky atmosphere.

Whether he knows it or not, and the latter is most likely, Augustus Pablo's brief tonight was to breathe fresh life into reggae, to relocate the spirit and the soul. The proof that he was successful, chapter and verse, is in the warm glow on every single face.

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