Words: Michael J Edwards
Photos: Carl Hyde
‘The Revolution Will Be Live’ Gil Scott-Heron tribute concert, was a dream come true for poet, performer, and concert organiser Malik Al Nasir. Over four years since the idea was spawned in Malik’s head, he proved that persistence overcomes resistance and brought to fruition a magnificent spectacle worthy of the splendour of the venue in which it was held. It was a very poignant evening indeed, given that from the age of eighteen Gil Scott-Heron was Malik’s guardian, confident, big brother, poetic teacher and closest friend. August 27, 2015 at St George’s Hall, Liverpool provided an opportunity for Malik to put on a fabulous tribute concert in honour of the great wordsmith, who guided him throughout his formative and adult years. The evening was in fact the culmination of five days of interrelated events, including a special dinner held in Liverpool town Hall in Gil’s honour and hosted by the Lord Mayor of Liverpool.
Rumal Rackley – Son of Gil Scott-Heron got proceedings underway
Both events were graced by two of Gil’s children, Rumal Rackley – his son and Administrator to The Estate of Gil Scott-Heron, and his daughter Che’ Scott-Heron Newton. It was fitting then that Rumal was on hand to address the audience and thank them for attending the tribute concert in his father’s honour.
Concert Host – Ngunan Adamu (BBC Radio Mersyside)
The privilege of opening this most prodigious of tribute events was bestowed upon Sophia Ben-Yousef, a talented Liverpool born and raised young singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, whose future looks extremely bright. As with Rumal Rackley, Sophia was introduced by concert host Ngunan Adamu, who is known locally for her ‘Upfont’ show on BBC radio Merseyside. Sophia has already made a big impact on our ears and consciousness, given her tender years of eighteen. She first came to prominence via her song ‘Carry On’, a beautiful yet poignant song about her family who were out in Libya when the revolutionaries started opposing the tyranny of Col Gaddafi. The song subsequently went viral, being played on national TV and radio during the Libyan revolution.
The song Sophia chose to perform on this evening was ‘Perfect’. Dressed resplendently in a long black dress and adorned with the most eye-catching of necklaces, solo performer Sophia stood elegantly behind her keyboard and microphone and proceeded to engage immediately with those gathered in the magnificence of St George’s Hall. Her beguiling songbird-esque vocal floated featherlike up towards the beautifully crafted and painted ceiling of the venue. Ms Ben-Yousef was definitely the perfect choice for opening performer.
Malik & The O.G’s:
Malik Al Nasir – Tribute Organiser and Instigator
Next up to the stage were Malik & The O.G’s, headed up by the ‘Revolution Will Be Live’ tribute organiser and instigator. The band had the honour of being welcomed to the stage by none other than Gil Scott-Heron’s son, Rumal Rackley, who exclaimed, “And now please give a big warm Liverpool welcome to one of your very own, Mr Malik & The O.G’s!”. With that Malik strode purposefully towards the microphone at centre stage and proceeded to address the masses gathered in Great Hall. “Liverpool make some noise! This is the end of a very long journey and the beginning of what hopefully will be an even longer journey. In 1984 I was an 18-year-old kid, barely literate, living in a hostel for homeless youths, and I walked over to the Royal Court Theatre, just over the road here, where Gil Scott-Heron was performing. My brother thought I was a little bit rough around the edges and that I needed some guidance, so he told me to go to the show. When I got there, there was a lady called Penny Potter… She had a backstage pass. I said, Can you sneak me in, I can’t even afford a ticket. She snuck me in backstage, and that was the time that changed my life, because that was the night I met Gil Scott-Heron. As a consequence of that meeting, Gil went on to be a good friend and mentor, and someone who not only explained to me the industry, but someone who taught me the politics of the music and the struggle. So I developed as a poet as a consequence of that”.
Malik then went on to thank and edify the OG’s Musical Director, Orphy Robinson, the then Director of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Simon Glinn, the two original members of Gil’s original Amnesia Express band, Rod Youngs, (drums) and Ebo Shakoor (percussion/flute), as well as Liverpool International Music Festival creator Yaw Owusu.
Malik & The O.G’s: L-R: Mo Nazzam (guitar), Phil Marshall (sax), Malik Al Nasir (Band Leader), Orphy Robinson (Vibes), Ebo Shakoor (Flute/Percussion), Cleveland Watkiss (voice), Tiago Ciombra (bass) and Veslemoy Rustad Holseter (background vocals)
With all the Introductions and ‘big ups’ concluded, Malik & The O.G’s, launched into their opening song, a reggae infused track entitled ‘Shock & Awe’. The tightness of the band was evident from the outset, with Malik’s trademark punchy, clear, crisp and direct vocal style perfect for relaying the poignancy of his lyrics. The message and first-class musicianship continued with ‘S.O.S’, a track lifted from Malik and the O.G’s highly acclaimed double album ‘Rhythms of the Diaspora – Vol’s 1&2’. The aforementioned first-class musicianship on show was highlighted two minutes and thirty seconds in, when Phil Marshall stepped forward to lay down a slick saxophone solo, closely followed by Mo Nazzam’s furious guitar riffs, evoking cheers, whoops and whistles from the capacity audience.
Phil Marshall (sax)
Mo Nazzam (guitar)
The O.G’s were joined on stage by Sophia Ben-Yousef for their next track, ‘Fruit of My Love’ – also lifted from Malik’s new album; with Sophia’s mature wholesome vocals and phrasing belying her tender years. The song is another infectious mid paced tune underpinned with a Reggae-tinged lilt.
Sophia Ben-Yousef with Malik & The O.G’s
“With young kids being thrown in jail for five or six years just for posting on Facebook, do we really have freedom of speech?” That was how front man Malik Al Nasir introduced Malik & The O.G’s next song of the evening, fittingly entitled ‘Freedom of Speech’. Malik’s conscious lyrics are evident of the indelible imprint his guiding light and poetic mentor Gil Scott-Heron has stamped on his consciousness, outlook and awareness of the constant struggle for the unheard and under-represented minority voice.
Ebo Shakoor (flute)
Rod Youngs (drums)
The raw, earthy and full-bodied beats of ‘Africa’ enabled Ebo Shakoor (percussion /flute) and Rod Youngs (drums) [two of the original core members from Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘Amnesia Express’ band] to showcase why and how they earned their stripes as part of Gil’s esteemed Group whilst Malik reminded us in his narrative that St George’s Hall was in fact built on the blood, sweat and tears of African slaves and the debt we owe them. He also recounted the first time he travelled on a ship to Africa, “This building here has been built on the proceeds of colonialism and slavery, and I’m a product of colonialism and slavery. So that’s why it was fitting that we did this here today in this place…. When I travelled to Africa for the first time, I was off the coast of Angola on a ship, and I could smell Africa, and it was like a home-coming for me. So, whilst I was inside the ship I wrote this song – this is called ‘Africa'”. And with that the O.G’s transitioned into the tribal rhythms reminiscent of those from the motherland. Midway through the O.G’s Musical Director and co-founder of Warriors International, Orphy Robinson unleashed a spirited vibraphone musical soliloquy which received a deserved ‘Big Up’ from the O.G’s Bandleader.
Orphy Robinson (vibes)
Cleveland Watkiss (vocals)
Malik & The O.G’s final song was a high octane and rousing version of Richie Haven’s ‘Freedom – Motherless Child’. Another UK Jazz troubadour, core member of Warriors International and vocal gymnast/technician, Cleveland Watkiss was given the platform to exercise his lungs to the maximum. Before the O.G’s departed the stage Malik left the capacity crowd with a parting quote: “Thank you Liverpool for this warm welcome. Keep alive the memory of Gil Scott-Heron and keep alive the message of hope for the people. Peace. Thank you!”
Joey Ankrah (guitar/vocals), Garry Christian (lead vocals), Neil Griffiths (acoustic guitar/vocals)
Eighties pop group and Liverpool natives, The Christians, were next to take to the St George’s stage. Garry Christian (lead vocals), Joey Ankrah (guitar/vocals), Neil Griffiths (acoustic guitar/vocals), treated the capacity audience to a selection of their most popular hits, most of which were lifted from their acclaimed classic self-titled album.
Garry Christian (lead vocals)
‘Born Again’ was the first of the four tracks they performed from the 1987 collection, with Garry Christian’s vocals sounding as strong as ever. ‘Forgotten Town’ and ‘Ideal World’ followed swiftly which definitely kept their audience engaged and singing along. The highlight of their set was definitely the elongated version of Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘The Bottle’ which saw Garry Christian jumping from the front of the stage to orchestrate the audience during the catchy sing-a-long chorus. Joey Ankrah and Neil Griffiths also got a good workout during the bridge.
Joey Ankrah (guitar/vocals)
Neil Griffiths (acoustic guitar/vocals)
The band returned to their eponymous album for ‘Hooverville’ yet another Top 30 hit from their heyday. The final track of The Christians’ impressive and vibrant set was their well received cover version of The Isley Brothers classic, ‘Harvest for the World’. Garry Christian synchronised the mass audience clapping, whilst raising his hands high above his head, clasping the tambourine he had been clutching for the duration of their set. With the locals fully contented with what they had heard, Garry, along with his fellow band members, took their bows, before the lead vocalist exclaimed, “Thank you Liverpool! Enjoy the rest of the evening!”
Garry Christian (lead vocals)
L-R: Alan Weekes (guitar), Brian Edwards (sax), Patrick Anthony (trumpet), Drummie (vocals), Kenrick Rowe (drums), Kevin Sutherland (Keyboards), Tony ‘Gad’ Robinson (bass)
After a ten minute interval the ante was raised still further when Drummie and Tony “Gadd” Robinson, a.k.a. Aswad, sauntered onto the stage with their band and proceeded to permeate the particles within the vast St George’s Hall with some sweet Reggae music. It was evident that there was a vast majority of thirty and forty something’s in the audience that were keen and eager to see their idols perform live. Aswad’s discography dates back to the 1970s, and of the 12 tracks performed on this evening there was something for everybody.
Brian Edwards (sax) [Warriors International], Drummie (lead vocals/drums), Kenrick Rowe (drums) [Warriors International]
Drummie had his public eating out of his hand from the get go. Wearing a light beige suit in tandem with a simple plain black T-shirt and Indiana Jones style hat, Drummie nonchalantly swaggered back and forth across the stage. With Tony ‘Gad’ Robinson in his default bass player pose, it was evident that Aswad had lost none of their stagecraft. Hit after hit was forthcoming, with some even given the dub wise treatment. Particular highlights were the tracks that help to build up their legacy, such as ‘Bubblin’, ‘Back to Africa’ and ‘Roots Rocking’ which had audience baying for more.
Tony ‘Gad’ Robinson (bass)
Three quarters into the set Tony ‘Gad’ Robinson addressed the microphone announcing to the crowd, “We are here to celebrate the life and times of Mr Gil Scott-Heron. There’s a lot of artists who inspired us to play reggae music. This one is dedicated to Gil Scott-Heron and Robert Nesta Marley – Watch this!” And with that the show continued with Tony taking over lead vocals and Drummie taking over from Warrior International, Kenrick Rowe on the drum kit. Infact, Aswad’s band included three representatives from Warriors International – Alan Weekes (guitar), Brian Edwards (sax) and Kenrick Rowe (drums).
All too soon Aswad’s twelve song set had come to an end as Drummie broke the news, “You know what, we have to go. Do you want to hear one more?! As one would expect, Aswad could not depart the stage without playing their most recognised and successful reggae anthem. And right on cue the familiar strains of ‘Don’t Turn Around’ emanated around the Arena, with Drummie loosely skanking across the stage in his uniquely stylish manner, and the masses singing every word of the song of verbatim, before the band exited stage right, with cheering and whooping still resonating in their ears.
Drummie and Brian Edwards (sax) [Warriors International]
Before the keynote performer Talib Kweli took to the stage hometown boy and big Gill Scott-Heron Craig fan Charles laid down a funky dj set which kept the revellers bouncing during the extended interval. Perched high above the crowd overlooking all those assembled below in grandeur of the Great Hall below, Craig well and truly got the party started, getting everyone in a dancing mood and raising eveyone’s pulses prior to the main protagonist coming on to close the show.
And so to the main headliner of ‘The Revolution Will Be Live’. Talib Kweli had been called in to headline the show at short notice, as his good friend and fellow Blackstar co-member Yasin Bey aka Mos Def had double booked himself. As the saying goes, ‘Everything happens for a reason’, and Talib Kweli definitely brought his A-Game to St George’s Hall, Liverpool on Thursday 27th August 2015. An avid lover of Gil Scott-Heron’s music and message from an early age; and with family members who knew the legendary poet personally, Mr Kweli had taken time out in his dressing room beforehand to put together a specially prepared set to honour the rhyme-meister’s memory.
From the moment the US Rap star bounded onstage there was an energy and an intensity and a purpose in his demeanor. Talib Kweli had come to raise the roof of the cavanas Great Hall even higher and keep the people of Liverpool hyped up and jumping whilst wholly embracing the legacy of Gil Scott-Heron. Well he definitely ticked all the boxes and what a finale he provided for those diehard fans who had remained untill well after midnight for his appearance.
Like Gil Scott-Heron, Talib packs a powerful punch and message into his lyrics offset by catchy hooks, loops and samples which have endeared him to the masses worldwide, elevating him to the premiership of the Rap league table. He performed potent versions of some of his past hits, some of which were tweaked especially for the occasion. The set was littered with sound bites from Gil Scott-Heron himself, creatively interspersed and spliced into Talib’s music.
His interplay and connection with the crowd was first-class. His vocal delivery was clear and concise, and managed to cut through the heavy beats his DJ was dropping. Those gathered within the Great Hall were more than happy to participate in his effervescent performance. Wearing his trademark baseball cap, sneakers, grey jeans and white T-shirt, the heavily tattooed Talib Kweli jumped down from the stage to entertain his followers up close and personal, to the obvious glee of those in the first few rows.
To show how conscious, thoughtful and aware he was as to what city he was in Talib asked, “Where we at right now?”, then proceeded to tell the DJ to ‘Drop the beat!’ and instantaneously the familiar strains of The Beatles’ ‘Eleanor Rigby’ rang out to the visible delight of the Liverpudlians present, before Talib added his own vocal and lyrical spice to the mix, rapping 1000 words per minute, or so it seemed, sending the crowd into hysteria.
From their reaction it was evident that the hard work done by event organiser Malik Al Nasir, to get this man over at such short notice, was a masterstroke. It was evidently clear that Talib Kweli had provided a superb finale to a perfect evening and which was a befitting tribute to the legend that is and will always be Mr Gil Scott-Heron. The revolution was, and is, definitely live.
Michael J Edwards