REVIEW: Jimmy Cliff @ Birmingham Ballroom, May 20th

Words by Cesilia Oriana Trecaquista

Arriving at the Birmingham Ballroom, I expect a long queue. Surely people will be lining up as far as Scruffy’s; awaiting the performance of the reggae veteran, Jimmy Cliff.

Yet to my surprise this was not the case. Although seeing the price of the on-the-door tickets (£32), I wondered if this had anything to do with it.

(Ed – ticket prices often reflect the cost of booking the artist. If you build it, they will come; but it can cost a promoter more than they’d like)

However, what the crowd lacked in (initial) quantity, they made up for in quality. The atmosphere; a contrast of excitement, expectation and contentment – the smell of marijuana inoffensively potent in the air.

Support act, 1Eye, warm the crowd up with numbers such as ‘Mr Bailiff’, ‘Worries and Trouble’ and a cover of ‘No, No, No’; aided by some seriously glamorous backing singers.

During the short interval before Mr Cliff’s entrance, I inadvertently become official drink watcher for people venturing out for a cigarette.

It was then I meet ‘Duffy’, who gleefully (and toothlessly) tells me he won his tickets from a competition on the radio, otherwise he’d never have been able to afford to see his ‘idol’. I felt, in this moment, that watching his Red Stripe was the least I could do.

Jimmy Cliff bursts on stage, in a bright outfit consisting of the Jamaican flag colours; and opens with ‘You can get it if you really want’. His energy is relentless, his voice as good as it’s ever been.

The set is versatile; consisting of an anti-war song about Afghanistan and some instrumental numbers which allow Cliff to show off his dance moves; namely the ‘Scooby Doo’ and the ‘Chucka Chucka’.

Looking at one point, whilst mid-dance, as though he was performing Tai-chi, I wonder if this is his eternal youth secret – enabling him to perform with a zest, at 64 years old, that would put counterparts half his age to shame.

Cliff takes to his guitar to perform the classic – ‘I can see clearly now’, and encourages the audience to partake in what felt like a 300 strong karaoke; getting the crowd involved in a call and response number, alongside splitting them in two to harmonise with one another. I can’t help but get into the full spirit; and become unashamedly emotional swaying away to ‘Many Rivers to Cross’.

The inevitable encores just keep coming, with Cliff performing a version of ‘Rivers of Babylon’; a cappella with only different percussive beats. After (at least) 20 minutes they stop, but at no point feel self indulgent – even with the singer wearing his own Jimmy Cliff t-shirt, available for sale at the merchandising stall.

Jimmy Cliff performs every number as if it were his last; making it impossible for the audience to take their eyes of the show, and I eventually leave the Ballroom feeling elated; after finally singing along to ‘Wonderful World, Beautiful People’.

And as expensive as it may have been to see it, Jimmy Cliff’s hard work pays off; leaving me, the rest of the crowd, and in no doubt Duffy – happy, uplifted and thoroughly entertained.

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