Main act of the 8th edition of the annual Bob Marley Birthday Bashment at Cultural Center De Werft in Geel -- a small village in Belgium, meanwhile well known for its Open Air Reggae Festival on the first Friday and Saturday of August -- was reggae veteran Freddie McGregor, who was accompanied by the Big Ship posse featuring Singing Sweet, Chino, Yeshemabeth (backing vocals) and the Millennium Band.

Opening the show for the Big Ship artists was Liege based Weed Family, the winners of the "Catch a Mic" talent contest which took place at the Reggae Geel 2007 festival. Weed Family consists of soundman Olibwoy and the three vocalists Deux13, Abel Irie and Jagan. After being a member of the Weed Family for about 4 years, Jagan has recently decided to leave the group and embark on a solo career. Thus Bob Marley Birthday Bashment was Weed Family's last show in its original line-up. Overall it was a worthy farewell from Jagan as the group gave a convincing and well received performance. Backed by well crafted, often hard hitting riddims, the vocalists delivered their conscious French lyrics in a hip-hop manner. If you can understand the French language it's entertaining to attend their show (as shown by a part of the audience), otherwise it's hard to keep yourself involved till the very end.
Weed Family
After a short break the members of the Milennium Band from Kingston, Jamaica, came on stage and kicked off the Big Ship showcase with the Studio One classic "Rockfort Rock". Then the dreadlocked rhythm guitarist took the mic and treated the audience to nice versions of the Abysinnians classic anthem "Satta Massaganna", John Holt's "My Satisfaction" and Bob Marley's "Small Axe". Next, musical director and Freddie McGregor's backbone for many years, Dalton Browne, took over with a well done version of Gregory Isaacs' "Hard Drugs" and Marley's "Crazy Baldhead", before 'Purple' performed an original tunes, the self-penned "(Never Let The) Children Cry No More". Besides doing a a good warm-up for artists to come, the band made a solid impression with each member obviously enjoying his presence on stage.

First artist to appear on stage was Singing Sweet, replacing Delly Ranks who couldn't travel to Europe due to visa problems. Announced by tour manager Eddie Brown as a talent with a bright future, the singer with a very distinctive voice started his set with his biggest hit to date, "When I See You Smile". The latter was the singer's debut single, recorded in 1992 when he was only 16 years old. The single brought a novel sound and its instant success paved the way for recording his first album entitled "Donna". With the title track of this album he rounded off a real nice, albeit short performance, which furthermore included "Don't Know What Love Is" and a rendition of the Bee Gees pop hit "To Love Somebody". Afterwards we had a nice chat with Swinging Sweet, who told us he really enjoyed his first ever tour in Europe, because everywhere he had performed so far it was obvious the people who attended the show are really into reggae music, which creates a very good vibe.
Next up was Daniel McGregor a.k.a. Chino, the 25 year old son of Freddie McGregor, who surely is a great talent in his own right. The multi-talented Chino is a versatile artist who plays instruments such as guitar, drums, piano and bass. Furthermore he can sing, rap and deejay, and besides that he writes, co-writes and produces tracks for artists such as Da'Ville, T.O.K., Wayne Marshall, Elephant Man, Kiprich, and Delly Ranks. Chino's first tune, "Weed Smoke", was received with nuff approval in the non-smoking area. The promising youth has a very good and energetic stage presence and truly knows how to enrapture a young audience. His last tune, the hit song "Red Bull & Guiness", in which he included lyrics of Mavado's "Wha Dem A Do", was the highlight of his set.

Great applause greeted the living legend Freddie McGregor when he came on stage after the band had played a few well known intros of his songs. Freddie opened his very entertaining and well organised set with "See It In You" across the "Down By The River" riddim, and continued with a truckload of classic songs including "Africa Here I Come", "To Be Poor Is A Crime", "Prophecy", "Push Come To Shove" and "Stop Loving You". All of them enjoyable timeless tunes with a strong reggae vibe, well received by the massive. He turned up the heat a little more when he performed his signature tune "Big Ship", which was followed by the wonderful "Key To The City" and a medley of the Jamaican Classics "Let Him Try", Loving Pauper" and "I Was Born A Winner". Then he made a special dedication to the sorely missed Crown Prince Of Reggae, Dennis Brown (1957-1999), singing the songs "Here I Come a.k.a Love And Hate" and "Revolution", which caused some real excitement. As it was 'Bob Marley's Birthday Bashment', he also paid tribute to the King Of Reggae. First Freddie, along with the audience, sang "Happy Birthday", before he delivered great versions of "Love And Affection", "War" and "Redemption Song". With the popular song "Fever" he rounded off in fine style and left the stage.
Freddie McGregor
However the people wanted more and their shouting, whistling and applauding made Freddie McGregor return on stage for an encore. The love songs "Just Don't Want Be Lonely" and "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" preceded his Studio One classics "Wine Of Violence" and the wicked roots anthem "Bobby Bobylon", which was done in a 'rub-a-dub' style. His commendable performance came to an end with the Ska tunes "This Carry Go Bring Come" and "Wings Of A Dove". As Freddie himself said during the show, he has released so many albums that he could go on performing tune after tune until next day's evening. But this was not to be! Judging from the audience's final applause, Freddie McGregor's performance was very entertaining and satisfactory.

Backstage we were introduced to Dalton Browne, Singing Sweet and Freddie McGregor, the latter being a very likable and warm person. News from Freddie and the Big Ship camp is the planned release of the fourth installment in Freddie's popular series "Sings Jamaican Classics" along with a "Live" album. Besides that there's the release of Chino's debut album "Unstoppable" and the soon to be released fifth album of Yeshemabeth (daughter of Freddie McGregor and Judy Mowatt), affectionately called Shema, who is a very popular singer in Japan where she already released four well received albums.

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Text : Mr. T & Photos/Video : Teacher