Don-e live @ Jazz Cafe, London

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Photo: Courtesy of Michael Antoniou Photography 

Having been told, time and time again, by so-called ‘friends’ to give up music and seek out pastures new; Don-e has survived his Luke Skywalker Jedi test. Through following his inner belief and gut feeling, he has made it through his self-confessed wilderness years, all the way to performing a soul stirring headline album showcase on the infamous Jazz Cafe stage in London.

Hailed as his finest collection of songs to date ‘Little Star’, Don-e’s third album for the UK’s exalted Dome Records label, was indeed showcased to maximum effect. It was fitting that another long-time champion of UK Soul music, Fitzroy (da buzz- boy), from ‘the Soul Survivors’ was on hand as deejay for the evening to call the unheralded genius Don-e and his band to the stage:

“… He’s a legend. He’s one of the U.K.’s finest. Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for Don-e!”

And with that, a masked man in a white shirt jumped on stage behind the drum kit and began thumping out the full on beats of the night’s introductory tune, ‘Let Me Take You to My Little Star’. After one minute all those in attendance had deduced that the mast man in the white shirt must be the main protagonist, as he rose from the stool, handing over drum duties to another masked man in a black T-shirt (His brother Andrew).

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Andrew McClean (drums)
Photo: Courtesy of Michael Antoniou Photography 

Then the multi-instrumentalist (still masked) walked across the length of the stage motioning to the audience to clap to the beat, before tweaking something on his computer, picking up his bass guitar and positioning himself comfortably behind his keyboard. Bass in hand, the masked musician then laid down some nasty bass lines, with the rest of his masked cohorts nodding appreciatively as they joined in the groove on their respective instruments.

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Photo: Courtesy of Michael Antoniou Photography 

After a Stevie Wonder staccato style solo on the keyboard, the anonymous bandleader took centre stage behind the microphone, before turning his back on the audience, whipping off his mask to reveal the main man, Don-e! He immediately launched into a quick-fire rap while simultaneously bouncing energetically behind the microphone stand.

Nearly eight minutes in, Don-e addressed the crowd: “Are you ready to party tonight! I’m just so happy to see so many beautiful faces out here… People told me, ‘D’, you should give it up! Stop singing man! Go back to doing something else! – But I’m so happy! Thank you so much! So I’m going to take you on a trip to the ‘Little Star’ tonight. We’re going to take a little ride, a musical journey to the little star; so sit back and relax/stand up and relax.”

And so with the words, “Okay, let’s get into this,” Don-e proceeded to launch into the first of the tracks from his latest album release. ‘Hot like the summer’ utilises the familiar refrain of The Fatback Band’s ‘I Found Loving’. And it works a treat!

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Photo: Courtesy of Michael Antoniou Photography 

“So, we’re going to do the title track off the album now… It’s about me sitting and wondering when my little star is going to shine again. Let’s do it!” And with that intro, Don-e gave the nod for his band to explode into the aforementioned title track.

Making his way from behind the keyboard to the microphone stand centre stage, Don-e continued to convey the song with the boundless energy of a young child. With his band and backing vocalists keeping things running smoothly, Don-e then segued into one of the killer mid-tempo cuts from his ‘Little Star’ album, ‘Step in My Room’.

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Hannah Khemoh & Aleysha Gordon (Backing Vocals)
Photo: Courtesy of Michael Antoniou Photography 

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Patrick Buttons (trumpet)
Photo: Courtesy of Michael Antoniou Photography 

Remaining at the microphone stand, Don-e strapped a mobile voice synthesiser over his shoulder, first popularised by one Mr Roger Troutman and later a certain Mr Teddy Riley, working perfectly as an intro to a styled out version of this super sublime tune.

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Photo: Courtesy of Michael Antoniou Photography 

Next up Don-e took us back in time, “Okay we are going to go old school now. Who remembers this one? I’m gonna take you back to 1992!” And with that, now back behind the keyboard, Don-e began playing the subtle opening chords of his early 90s hit ‘Love Makes the World Go Round’. It obviously struck a chord with his audience because they began to sing along to every line and got notably louder during the chorus.

After a couple of minutes Don-e, buoyed by their response and enthusiasm and with mike in hand, took to the front of the stage again, belting out his timeless classic and four minutes in gave his guitarist Rueben Gaerlan his time in the limelight – he did not disappoint.

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Reuben Gaerlan – guitar
Photo: Courtesy of Michael Antoniou Photography 

Following the traditional crowd only sing-a-long, Don-e repositioned himself behind his keyboard and the tune transitioned into a beautiful mellow down tempo vibe which played out for the next four minutes to its natural conclusion.

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Photo: Courtesy of Michael Antoniou Photography 

Staying firmly seated on his stool, a softly spoken Don-e introduced his next song, “I decided to Don-efy this tune man.  It’s a track called ‘Waiting In Vain’.

Don-e then went on to give a faithful rendition of the Bob Marley lilt, taken from his 2009 album on Dome Records ‘Natural’.  It was sumptuous from beginning to end. And the knowledgeable audience duly showed their appreciation.

For the next five minutes Don-e entertained the crowd with a medley of old school revivals, ranging from the Hill Street Blues’ theme tune to Dennis Brown’s ‘Money in My Pocket’.

Normal service was resumed as we returned to the Little Star album with the catchy ‘This Is It’ followed by ‘BS’ (Bullshit) a most welcome duet performed by Don-e and his long-term UK rap cohort and lyrical maestro, Ty.

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UK rap purveyor, Ty
Photo: Courtesy of Michael Antoniou Photography 

The mutual respect was evident as Don-e welcomed his musical brother to the stage. “So right now I’d like to bring to this stage… a very good friend of mine, a dope MC, UK talent – We’ve got to represent the UK, that’s what I’m trying to do man!… So ladies and gentlemen make noise for my boy Ty!” Acknowledging his plaudits Ty languidly strolled across the stage to the microphone stand and returned the compliment, “… Before we go anywhere, can we please salute one of the absolute unsung heroes of soul music?” Once again the crowd whooped and hollered, this time for the main protagonist, Don-e.

Neither artist disappointed, Don-e with his distinctive vocal phrasing and Ty with his insightful lyrics and full on delivery, even inviting the ladies in the house to flip the lyrics from Bullshit girl to Bullshit guy, whilst Don-e did his thing in the background on his voice synthesiser. Equal opportunities for everyone!

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Photo: Courtesy of Michael Antoniou Photography 

As Ty exited stage right, Don-e positioned himself once more in his comfort zone behind his keyboard and revealed the full story behind his next song ‘So Cold’.  The track was also lifted from his 2009 set ‘Natural’.  However, as Don-e explained, the track first surfaced on an album release from his US counterpart D’Angelo (Don-e himself, only being alerted to the fact by his sister). He then went on to perform an impassioned and spine tingling version of his self penned tune.

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Junior and Don-e
Photo: Courtesy of Michael Antoniou Photography 

With time running and passing, Don-e clicked a button on his laptop which played the instantly recognisable sampled vocal of Imagination’s Mr Leee John, heralding the introduction to ‘Spiritual’, the initial release from mega UK soul combo The Collective. To the crowd’s delight Don-e welcomed to the stage a few other UK soul luminaries, in the guise of Omar lye Fook, Junior Giscombe and Glenn Goldsmith (Goldsmith substituting for the absent Carl McIntosh, Noel McKoy and Paul Johnson.)

The audience were indeed getting full value for their money. It was made clear from the get-go that Omar was just passing through as he was performing himself at Scala, a little way down the road. Don-e set the tone with his opening verse, Omar followed with his signature vocal interjections before Junior played the key domino at six minutes and thirty seconds, laying down a truly inspirational verse of his own, elevating the aptly named ‘Spiritual’ to the next level.

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Don-e and Omar
Photo: Courtesy of Michael Antoniou Photography 

Glenn Goldsmith did an admirable job, having been called up on short notice, and the soul music faithful expressed their gratitude. After a few more vocal exchanges between the three, with Don-e revealing that the vamp towards the end of the tune was his favourite part of the song, Omar took his leave and strode up the stairs and onto his own headline performance. Don-e, Junior and Glenn remained to round out the song, with Junior announcing that the original Collective will have material out before the year end and performing live in Brixton, London in March 2014.

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Don-e and Glenn Goldsmith
Photo: Courtesy of Michael Antoniou Photography 

The anticipation heightened amongst those gathered, as Don-e confessed that he only had time for one more tune. The choices offered were the stunning ‘Hold on’, from his current Little Star project, or his anthemic early 90s slow jam ‘Unbreakable’.  From the unmistakable intro chords Don-e played on the keyboard, we were left in no doubt that the enduring sentiments of ‘Unbreakable’ won the day.

Don-e took pride in delivering the poignant lyrics to the best of his ability, prowling from side to side on the stage, engaging with as many audience members as possible. Five minutes in and with the audience swooning from side to side, Don-e expressed his heartfelt gratitude and appreciation to his loyal followers that kept the faith, and as a result got to witness first-hand the live Don-e experience. Just like his soul brother Omar before him, Don-e exited stage right and bounded upstairs. Job done! It was left to Fitzroy ‘the buzz boy’ to edify Don-e once more to the Jazz Cafe massive. It was indeed a very fulfilling night of UK soul music!

Michael J Edwards

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Michael “The Dood” Edwards and Don-e backstage after his super-soulful performance.
Photo: Courtesy of Michael Antoniou Photography 

The band line-up:

Don-e – Lead vocals; drums; keyboards; bass; voice synthesiser

Ruben Gaerlan – guitar

Andrew McLean – drums

Aleysha Gordon – backing vocals

Hannah Khemoh – backing vocals

Laurence Iboogie Insula – bass

Goz-I-Am – keys

Patrick Buttons – trumpet

Essential Album:
Little Star (Dome Records, 2013)

Essential Singles:
Spiritual (The Remixes EP) (Dome Records, 2013)
Hot Like The Summer (Dome Records, 2013)

Essential Websites:
http://www.don-emusic.com/
http://www.domerecords.co.uk/

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