It was a gift to reggae fans on a cold Sunday night in Dublin. Sly & Robbie – Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare – two of the best known and prolific names in Jamaican music, originators and innovators since the seventies, paid a visit to Whelan’s. Throw the incomparable guitarist Ernest Ranglin into the mix and you have an unmissable night, and an appreciative crowd turned out to see the masters at work.
Joined by a keys player, the band take us through an effortless set of blissful grooves and impressive ensemble playing. As things kick off Ranglin sits on a stool in front of the bank of keyboards, playing the distinctive muted string sound that is almost an extra percussive layer complimenting Sly’s rhythms. The drummer wears a yellow hard hat – a man at work, the engine behind Robbie’s foundation basslines.
The bassist takes centre-stage for Fat Girl before they embark on a dub instrumental. Ranglin frantically finger-taps while Sly throws out some impressive snare fills. It often appears that Ranglin hangs back, observing Robbie’s bass before weighing in with some licks on top, almost jazz-like at times. An experimental interlude, improvisational funk with some impressive guitar work from Ranglin, sets the crowd off before Robbie calms things down with some slow reggae.
Then it’s just a pleasure to watch Ranglin’s nimble fingers pick out notes. He’s upstanding for Lively Up Yourself and the crowd whoop it up as he flies over the frets, while the keys player – the unsung hero of the night – layers it up. Dawn Penn’s You Don’t Love Me (No No No) warms up the crowd’s vocal chords before a surprise guest makes an appearance.
Sinead O’Connor, who’s 2004 ‘Throw Down Your Arms’ album was produced by Sly & Robbie impresses with a rootsy None a Jah Jah Children and Rivers Of Babylon, soulful versions both. She exits to a dub breakdown and it’s the final hurrah of the night. Sly comes out from behind his kit, walking stick in hand, and he and Ranglin soak up some crowd appreciation as Robbie flies solo, controlling the crowd with his stop-start basslines. It’s a call and response finale as he leads the crowd in a “Woah, yeah!” shoutout, downs his bass and leaves everyone hungry for more. But that’s our lot – the opportunity to see three of the genre’s leading lights delighted all in attendance, and the memory of Ranglin’s unique fretwork is still raising a smile. Kick yourself if you missed it.