First surprise - the stage is set for an actual orchestra, with Dammers' bank of largely analogue keyboards and synths front of stage right. The stage is flanked by shop dummies attired in space gear, and "playing" guitars and shoulder strung keyboards. There is also a 1970s black three wheeler suspended from the ceiling lit from the inside with an eerire green glow. It's the one that was shaped like a door wedge, for those of you old enough to remember these things.
The lights dim, and Mr Dammers' wanders on to the stage wearing a cape and an Egyptian headdress. He starts proceedings by waving two sticks through a theramin styled device that sets off swathes of synth noise. After a while he turns to his keyboards and produces all manner of bleeps, squiggles and swooshes - could've been an intro for Hawkwind circa 1973! I'm going to like this, methinks.
We were sat eight rows from the front in the stalls by the aisle stage left. After a few minutes of said squiggles, we hear percussive noises from behind us, and the entire band, all 19 (!) of them file down our aisle and onto the stage. They are all attired like extra's from a 1950s sci-fi movie, lots of capes, glitter, sequins, more Egyptian and other headgear. They take their places and a rhythmic swell has built to be accompanied by a never ending chant of "It's after the end of the world". The band consisted of an electric piano, 5 saxophones, a trombone, a trumpet, a flute, classical percussion, African percussion, vibes, electric double bass, bass guitar, 2 electric guitars, and drums, 2 singers! A joyous noise was made. The back screen is showing slides of planets, moons, suns, Egyptian symbols, and shots of a strange man, again with the ubiquitous cape and Egyptian headdgear with his similarly attired jazz band. This would turn out to be Sun Ra & His Arkestra.
At the end of the gig JD thanked numerous people as this was the last gig of a short 11 date tour. One of the people he thanked then, and played numerous tunes by during the night, was Sun Ra. He said that if it wasn't for this somewhat eccentric American who thought he was from Venus - my words not his, he (JD) would never have returned to live performing. That first song and the entire set up of the orchestra was all Sun Ra, who was heavily into sci-fi and Egyptian mythology. Now, I knew nothing about Sun Ra before tonight, but if his concerts were anything like as joyous and uplifting as this then I may well be investigating his huge discography - however I have been warned that some of it is sprawling free jazz and can be a painful experience!
The gig continued with songs by Eric Satie, Alice Coltrane, sundry Jamaican ska and jazz people I had never heard of, and JD himself (International Jet Set, here renamed Intergalactical Jet Set to tie in with the theme, Man At C&A, here spliced with an anti nukes song by Sun Ra that worked a treat, the inevitable Ghost Town, now Ghost Planet with new and fitting lyrics, and a new tune over which two rappers did their thang). There was also a tune introduced as "some exotica" - now I've heard of this genre but never heard it. It turned out to be a long funky jazz groove over which the exceptionally well tonsilled girl singer did various jungle animal impressions, later being joined in this by one of the male band members. Written down that sounds terrible, but it was actually so wacky it worked. you were laughing with the band not at them.
After nearly two and a half hours without a break that whizzed by the gig ended with a song called Space Is The Place, which was the title of a 1974 sci-fi film by Sun Ra the plot of which is too weird to go into here - see Wikipedia! This song ended in the same rhythmic chant and sax squawking fashion as the first song had started, and the band danced back up our aisle, JD did some more Hawkwind impressions and disappeared backstage. Everybody gets up to leave, but wait, what's that we hear as we file out into the foyer? Some of the band, minus JD, are still playing in the space in front of the bar, dancing around and having a ball. The audience join in - mobile phone video cameras come out all over the place, mine included.
After seeing this band, obviously a labour of love for JD, it's no wonder he did not want to join the reformed Specials for their pension plan tour. Why would he when he has this much musical ambition?
A great gig, and why this band has yet to record a live album is a mystery. Somebody sign them up now!