Nearly 3 years after we began talking about bringing the legendary foundation reggae band “Twinkle Brothers” to Berlin for their first show here in as many decades, they finally made it across the channel to perform one of the most uplifting and spiritual reggae concerts in recent memory! You could really tell from the energy in the air that the audience – which had made the journey from all around Germany (with groups even travelling from abroad) – had been waiting a long time for the show and were understandably excited to finally see the band perform live in Berlin. Led by founder and lead singer Norman Grant, and backed by an all-star lineup of legendary musicians from the UK – including Dub Judah, Jerry Lionz, Black Steel, Barry Prince, Aron Shamash & Gussie P. – the band truly did not disappoint!
Big thanks to everyone who came from near and far for this amazing concert, and for keeping your faith! And of course to everyone involved in making this one a night to remember! Over the past few days I’ve summed up my thoughts and feelings, and have written a review of the concert (including photos, videos and some stories) below. Before we get to the concert however, here’s some exclusive “behind the scenes” footage..
And the survey says
Back in January 2019, I launched the Sound System Community in Berlin group on FB, primarily as a means to gather input on what people would like to see happen in the future of sound system-related events in Berlin. I started off by making a poll, asking people which artists they would like to see, and Twinkle Brothers were right at the top of that list! During the mini-tour we organised with legendary producer and soundsystem operator Jah Shaka later that year, he personally recommended the Twinkle Brothers, and at that point I decided to pursue the idea and see what it would take. Shortly after Shaka returned to the UK, I contacted his manager – who was also working with Twinkle Brothers – and we began talking about the possibility of bringing the band to Berlin. We ultimately decided on April 30th, 2020 at YAAM (and a potential follow-up show with the Kulturimpuls crew in Freising the following Saturday).
The show that (almost) never happened
Following the last session in Mensch Meier in December 2019, I took some time off in Morocco to catch some sun and surf. By the beginning of March 2020, I was looking forward to getting back to Berlin and organising the concert(s), when I started to hear reports of this new virus spreading throughout the lands. Before long it became clear that all indoor music events in Berlin would be postponed until further notice, and by mid-March we decided to delay the events – initially to October 2020, and then to April 2021.
A dark time for the Berlin club scene followed, and despite organisations like the Clubcommission advocating for the safe(r) operation of venues during the pandemic – demonstrating that this was not only possible, but that clubs and venues were in fact well equipped for implementing the necessary measures for “safer clubbing” (i.e. testing / masking / etc.) – music venues remained an easy target for politics. Despite the country’s best efforts, it didn’t seem like C-19 was going away anytime soon, and by March 2021 it still wasn’t clear if shows would be able to go ahead as originally planned. Once again I found myself pressured to postpone the events, this time a full year (to April 2022).
As the new year approached – and the new dates for 2022 with it – I began to get excited again. Despite the pandemic, clubs were still able to organise events – although in conjunction with tests and/or masks – and I was confident I would finally be able to invite the band after 2 years of delays. Then in early 2022 came the next big hurdle: YAAM announced the closure of their indoor areas for the foreseeable future. Once again I found myself walking a tightrope. We began to talk about the option of organising a day-time event in YAAM‘s extensive outdoor area, and – for a number of reasons including flight restrictions from the UK at the time (in March 2022), as well as the increased risk of poor weather at the end of April – we decided to postpone the event just a bit further (until May 21st). With the potential for this new format, we began to make plans for an extended programme – utilising the full outdoor area and inviting some of our friends to contribute to a kind of “block party” style event. Following a meeting with YAAM in early April 2022, it became clear however that we wouldn’t be able to go through with the event as we had hoped. On top of the already monumental struggles the venue had been facing, they were receiving even more pressure than usual from the authorities regarding capacity and sound limitations. After much deliberation we reached the tough decision of looking for another venue. It was difficult to move away from YAAM – a venue with a rich heritage in Berlin, which has also played an immensely important role in my own musical upbringing since I first visited them in 2001 at their original location near Arena Berlin. I began to ask around at a few venues, and was able to settle quite quickly on October 2nd at Festsaal Kreuzberg.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint
The next months leading up to the concert were a bit challenging, but despite a few minor setbacks, delays and confusion, I was able to find new motivation and a second (or maybe fifth?) wind to carry me to the finish line. At one point I had been ready to throw in the towel, but looking back now I’m happy I was able to find the strength to carry on. The Monday before the concert I received some troubling personal news, and the final days before the concert were understandably a struggle for me. But I hadn’t come this far just to give up hope!
What’s all the delay-ay-ay?
The day of the show I get up and the first message I saw was “our flight from Geneva to London was cancelled” followed by a brief oh shit! moment! Okay, keep reading, direct flight to Berlin later, heart rate returns to normal. So there had been talk about a potential show in Geneva of course, but as there was a lot of confusion between the UK manager, French agency and Swiss promoter, it somehow wasn’t clear until the end if the booking was confirmed or not, and I didn’t even know until that moment that they were (temporarily stranded) in Switzerland.. talk about rude awakenings!
Fast-forward to that evening. I reached the airport around 18:00, and the flight – which was meant to have landed already – is still marked as “landing” on the flight display board. About 30 minutes later, I overheard someone saying “the doors are stuck”, so I asked them what they meant, and apparently the plane has already landed, but somehow the doors of the airplane are having difficulty opening. Another 30 minutes passes, and the same person tells me the passengers are finally deplaning at another section of the airport. So I took off to the other side of the terminal, and eventually find Aron who is waiting for the rest of the band to get their luggage. After another 20 minutes, we finally see the others coming out of the gate, and at this point I’m getting really nervous! On the one hand I’m about to meet some of the most legendary musicians I’ll ever be likely to encounter, on the other hand we had planned to already be done with soundcheck by now, and here we were still at the airport! To make things worse, the band is understandably stressed from a long day of travel and complications, running on little to no food. Nonetheless, I think they were relieved to finally reach Berlin, and were all super humble (and despite the circumstances in quite a good mood!). We made our way out to the taxis, and – after being briefly accosted by a private driver posing as an official taxi – were on our way to the concert!
Before we even left the airport, guests were already arriving at the venue. Thankfully Festsaal offered to open the “Kaminzimmer” so guests could come in from the cold and grab a drink. By the time we made it back to the venue (around 20:00 – a full hour after we had originally planned to open!), there were already a few hundred people waiting expectantly for the band. We didn’t waste any time, and after a brief refresher and some snacks in the backstage the band was ready for soundcheck. Thanks to our master of drums Tommy (and the in-house technician), we already had everything set up and waiting for the band when they arrived. Still, soundcheck took a good hour or so, and we weren’t able to let guests in to the main hall until after 21:00, yet just in time for Roots Daughters first tune!
Warm up with Roots Daughters
The one good thing about starting so much later than planned, was that the main room was basically full from the moment we opened the doors to the Kaminzimmer where everyone had been patiently waiting since up to 2 hours. It was really cool to watch a few hundred people enter within the space of a few minutes! After so much patience over the past 2+ years, we didn’t want to keep everyone waiting any longer, and as the band was also eager to get on stage, Roots Daughters only had about 30-40 minutes to play before the band came on. Fortunately the venue agreed to prolong the curfew until midnight, and Roots Daughters were able to get in a few more tunes after the concert!
After 3 years of planning, postponing, losing motivation, finding new energy, postponing again, and sticking it out until the end, the moment I had been waiting for for so long was finally here! The Twinkle Brothers came out on stage, and the energy in the air was thick. Gussie P. – the band’s engineer who was stationed at the mixing desk in the back of the main hall – commented after the show: “Germans are loud man“! Apparently he had been having trouble hearing the band over the pure exuberance of the crowd. Even Norman Grant was impressed by the volume of the crowd – especially during Jahovia where he asked the crowd to sing along with him. I was once again reminded that there were a lot of people who had been waiting for this moment as much as I had been, and even made the trip from Denmark, Poland, Austria and of course all over Germany. Even one of my best friends made it over from the US just in time for the concert!
The Twinkle Brothers wasted no time and jumped right in. The musicians were all very much on point, and delivered a powerful show. Their – and especially lead singer Norman Grant‘s – energy was infectious! Fuelled in no small part by the crowds hunger (and maybe even their own, as they still hadn’t had a proper meal after travelling all day!) – they began to deliver some of their classics such as “Jah Kingdom Come“, “Jahovia“, “Babylon Falling“, “Since I Throw The Comb Away” and “Never Get Burn“, as well as their first hit “Somebody Please Help Me“, and Dub Judah‘s “Babylon is a Trap“! There’s really not much to say about the concert. It was truly a special vibe, and you just had to be there. It was deep, spiritual, uplifting, at times mystical, and wholeheartedly inspiring. I’m always amazed by the pure conviction of people like Norman who have been doing this thing so long and are still putting so much love into it (60 years later in his case).
Fortunately Peter from reggaestory.de had reached out and offered to take some photos and videos of the concert. He uploaded his video material (nearly 60 minutes!), which you can view here:
After the concert – which felt like it was over much too soon! – Roots Daughters played some more tunes and kept a large part of the crowd dancing until the venue turned on the lights around midnight! I spent some time in the backstage area making sure the band had everything they needed (most importantly food, drinks and some relaxation!). They were understandably exhausted, yet still in high spirits. We had some nice reasonings, a few people asked if they could join to give their thanks to the band, exchange some memories, or ask for an autograph. And after some persuasion Yugo rounded (nearly) everyone up for a group photo!
As is often the case, I was quite stressed out during the show, and where I would usually be calmed down by around 4:00 a.m. (after already running around for 12 hours), the concert was already over and it all felt a bit surreal. I was still able to enjoy some of the band, but it’s always a strange balance of labour and stress put into organising a show, and that brief period of actual enjoyment without worrying about the turnout or wanting to take care of the artists. For example: while everyone was enjoying the concert, I was backstage hectically trying to figure out the food situation. The band still hadn’t eaten a substantial meal at this point, and I knew they would be going from hungry to hangry very soon! On top of that it was a Sunday night: most restaurants were closed or closing soon, and the band had fairly specific expectations for dinner. Luckily we were able to settle on a Sudanese restaurant nearby, and my friend was willing to go pick up the food (thank you so much Matt!) before they closed too and the night ended in potential disaster.
On top of that – and always lurking in the shadows – is the financial strain that organising a show of this size can create. With no backing or funding of any kind, I’ve often (perhaps foolishly) put my entire savings on the line – all for the love of the music and bringing my favourite artists to Berlin. And although the concert looked full from an outsider’s perspective, I still lost a significant sum in the end. I’ve often lost a months worth of wages organising shows (more often than not to be honest), but this was quite a bit even for my standards. Anyway, I don’t want to complain. I knew full well about the risks, and don’t regret organising the concert in any way! But for the sake of transparency (and as I often hear people commenting that the show went really well) I find it necessary to shed some light on what goes on behind the scenes, as things often don’t go as well as they may seem to. There are so many factors involved in the overall success of an event, and it takes quite a bit of hard work (and luck!), to make everything work out.
In the days following the show I felt kind of at a loss (also due to my own personal struggles at the time). After a week of downtime I’m feeling a bit better though, ready to move on with my journey (although I’m still not quite sure where I stand or how I want to move forward with organising soundsystem and dub-related events in the future). I often reminisce about organising events with a larger crew (e.g. Serendubity, Dub der guten Hoffnung, or more recently Rootsbase) – both for the dynamic of working together with others to shape a common vision, as well as the reduced personal financial risk of having an (official) organisation behind you. I don’t want to stop doing what I’m doing by any means, but definitely need to re-think the way I’ve been doing things the past few years. For now, it’s a Monday afternoon and the sun is shining as I’m finishing up this review, so I think I’ll go outside and enjoy some of the last nice days of the year, take some time off this week to tend to the chickens, chop some wood for my stove and get ready for the cold months ahead.
Photos by Tommy Lexxus