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The Telegraph   10 March 2010

Jerry Dammers’ Spatial AKA Orchestra at The Dome, Brighton

Jerry Dammers's Spatial AKA Orchestra show would work magnificently on the summer festival circuit.

Thomas H Green

A rambunctious version of Sun Ra’s Space Is The Place closed the show, the whole 19-piece jazz orchestra trooping offstage, down the aisles, playing and singing. Jerry Dammers stayed on, alone and robed, surrounded by banks of antique synthesizers, looking like Keith Emerson in his prog-rock prime. He eventually wound things down, firing out analogue squawks, such as might have accompanied Dr Who circa 1972, before disappearing.

Exiting the gig was difficult due to crowd congestion. It was soon clear why. The band were continuing Space Is The Place in the foyer, without amplification, encircled by a throng of dancing concert-goers, a vibrant end to an entertaining evening.

Dammers, founding member and creative driving force of the Specials, was very publicly left out of their recent reunion. His take on things is that their reappearance is down to a business consortium who didn’t want him contaminating their nostalgia-circuit cash cow with crazy jazznik notions.

He’s long had jazz tendencies, as anyone who’s heard the final Special AKA album, In The Studio from 1984, will know. Now, he’s taken it further, forming a sprawling unit that includes heavy hitters such as Zoe Rahman (piano) and Larry Stabbins (saxophone).

Taking maverick jazz eccentric Sun Ra as his starting point, the stage set alone was a talking point, crowded with life-size alien mannequins, Egyptian iconography, including a sarcophagus, and an airborne sci-fi spacecraft. The band were variously masked, hooded, costumed as everything from beatnik sun gods to Tutankhamen, but Dammers’ delivery was gratifyingly grounded, introducing every track with dry self-depreciating humour that punctured any pretentiousness engendered by the bizarre set-up.

Happily, the music was rich and colourful, as well as unexpectedly light-hearted and fun. There was plenty of freak jazz, Sun Ra and Alice Coltrane numbers running wild and freeform, but also a brilliantly danceable ska version of Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies, a wild assault on the theme from Batman, frantic exotic easy listening, and plenty more.

The Specials were in there too for three numbers, completely rearranged versions of International Jet Set, Ghost Town and Man At C&A, the latter transmogrified into a psychedelic freak-out.

For the Dome audience, a set of over two and a half hours was too long, but if this show hits the summer festival circuit, it would work magnificently and be the making of a project that, for all the right creative reasons, deserves more attention than the slick heritage pop package of Dammers’s former bandmates.