Review: Dawn Penn @ The Magic Garden (London, 17th February 2017)


In the convivial and cosy confines of Battersea’s Magic Garden pub, reggae legend Dawn Penn made an unassuming entrance, in hat and coat and carrying a large handbag she took to the stage, as her band warmed up before a modest crowd. She began to sing. Her tone was pure and drenched in soul and for a few minutes, it felt as if the performance had begun.

The band disappeared and left DJ El Diablo to spin his brand of reggae and get the mood well and truly set. The atmosphere was definitely building, as the crowd began to surge through the doors. Often described as “a festival in a pub”, The Magic Garden was soon full to capacity. The heavily delayed start giving an added authenticity to the festival vibe.

Along with the dubby, rootsy nature of ‘No No No’, the crowd were treated to a number of lovers rock tracks, including Jacob Miller’s Baby I Love You So’ as well as a fantastic cover of Gwen Guthrie’s ‘Ain’t Nothin’ Going On But The Rent‘, which provided the second biggest sing-along of the night.

A very moving version of ‘The First Cut Is The Deepest’ was able to elicit all sorts of emotions, rooted in young love and heartache, it evoked grainy, Super 8 quality images of yesteryear; briefly, it was just you and Penn in that room.

Moving effortlessly from one style to another, Penn performed ska, dub and lovers rock with equal aplomb. The passage of time has not dimmed her talents, but despite the music sounding so pure, there was still something strangely incongruous about her energy, her presence, feeling so understated. However, by the end of the night our collective enjoyment was more than intact.

A native of Kingston, Jamaica, Penn’s career began in rocksteady fashion in the late ‘60s, before stalling a few years later, as disillusionment took hold and she left the music industry. Those of us bopping and head-nodding along to her music at The Magic Garden are very glad she chose to return.

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