Sunday, 4 October 2015

Jam Jah Mondays – they're baaaaack!

They thought it was all over. It isn't, now. A Birmingham Reggae institution steps it up

Robin Giorno is persistent. He's been cooking up reggae grooves in Brum for nearly twenty years, with his studio and the Friendly Fire collective. For well over a decade, Monday nights have played host to a freebie event mostly at the Bull's Head in Moseley, Birmingham: Jam Jah Mondays.

The Bulls Head has new owners now. Its days of frenzied music craziness are over. The place has great history – Sam Redmore and the Leftfoot crew ran nights there; Ben Calvert's Bohemian Jukebox, Brum Notes' live nights and many more have all left their mark. It was a small room, with iffy sightlines but great breakout areas.

So where have they all gone? Well, Sam's breaking through nationally, and not before time. And Ben's taken his Jukebox to the Hare and Hounds every other month. Now, JamJah Sound, after a short but worrying pause, are stepping it up fifty yards down the road, with a different landlord – now it's Keith, at the Dark Horse.

Robin, it's got to feel a bit weird moving out and on after all this time, from a place you know backwards. Why exactly has the Bull's Head shut down?
The Bull’s Head isn't closing - it's changing hands, and is about to become a Cuban Bar and Restaurant. The new owners are good friends so we’re not holding it against them. 

Which explains one bit of it. But you've been going for ever...
Jam Jah Mondays started in 2001 – originally taking over from a night called “dub wid a difference” at the Custard Factory, and quickly moving to the Bull’s Head which was owned by the same people.
Bongo Damo (aka Damon Wilding... of ADO and tons of other ventures) started it with Keir Williams (now a senior lecturer in Bristol). When it moved to the Bull’s head, Jon Walsh (now of Kambe, promoters of Shambala and Reggae City) ran the Jibbering Records shop in Moseley at the time, where I used to hang out. He invited me down to play some records for the launch, I met Damo, we got on, he invited me to come the following week…. and that was the beginning.

So tell me about the early days. Things have had to change a bit in 14 years. What did you set out to do? Did you get there, or has it gone in a different direction?
Originally, it was more of a reggae geek hangout, where we could come and chill and play our records. It stayed as a relatively low-key bar thing for a while. Gradually, we got MC Booza on the mic which stepped it up, and as I was starting to produce music it was also a good platform for trying out tunes. We were in the Drift for a year when Bull’s re-furbished after Leftfoot got hold of it, and when we came back to the Bull’s, we decided to use the room upstairs, which “clubified” the event, so people can have a skank.

The Friendly Fire Band came about eventually through Damo and I hanging out together, and we got involved with more festivals, more artists, and got more involved with the UK reggae scene in general… so Jam Jah reflected all of that. So it kind of evolved in its own way, from a chill out evening where Damo and I would play records to each other to a club night.

It feels to me that this moved from a reggae fanboy night to something a lot more serious. You actually evolved into a 21st Century Soundsystem. That's something else... 
Well, yes. As a Soundsystem, we now play a lot of festivals and a lot of club nights, but the real achievement for us as a collective is really what we have done in Moseley, in terms of catalysing the reggae scene.

When word got out that you and everyone else was finishing at the Bull's Head, it seems a bit final, Bit of a wrench to have to leave?
It was the end of an era. And we have had a lot of feedback. The last few sessions were amazing, and it was really heart-warming to see so many people there, including people who don’t even live in Birmingham any more, or that we hadn’t seen in a while. One group of people were telling me that their whole friendship group was created around coming to Jam Jah Mondays. In the same way, some people who discovered reggae through Jam Jah have now gone on to starting their own reggae soundsystems, starting their own reggae bands, and releasing their own reggae records, like Young Culture or Sticky Joe amongst others.

Apart from you, who are the main movers and shakers?
The team today is Bong Damo and myself selecting and djing, and Lion Art on the Mic. We also have a larger circle with Olbi Iyah, Tomlin Mystic and loads of singers and MCs – Jam Jah has become the Soundsystem division of the Friendly Fire Music label, so as the band and the label evolve, the Soundsystem evolves. There’s so many people to mention that have contributed through the years – Jibbering was a catalyst and through them, we got involved in playing at Shambala festival, and I now run the Roots Yard, Shambala’s reggae area.

Will you change the format at Dark Horse? The room is much bigger, for a start. And will it still be free? 
The Dark Horse is a little different to the Bull’s head, but is perfectly located for a seamless change of location – It is still free every Monday from nine to midnight, with a 2 am curfew on bank holidays. Monday 12th will run to the wee small hours as well, just for fun.
The Room is larger, the system is louder, there’s a better selection of drinks, so we’re really looking forward to it! Jam Jah Mondays has become more of a club night than just a chill out spot, so having a stage and a large space will allow us to step up the live side of things and push the party harder! I think it’s outgrown the Bull’s Head now, which often got uncomfortably packed by the end of the night.. We’re still keeping the spirit the same – it’s really a community thing, and we want to keep it as intimate and personal as it has been so far.
What can someone who has never gone to Jam Jah Mondays expect?
If you’ve never been – expect a lot of smiley faces, some heavy bass, carefully selected reggae spanning from foundation to the future, live percussion by Bongo Damo, live MC performances, occasional guest DJs … 100% positive uplifiting vibes! It’s difficult to explain the vibe without having been there, but as a testament of how laid back the night is – in 14 years, I can remember about 4 incidents. The crowd is probably one of the most varied and inclusive, with people of all ages and all walks of life, from just-come students, to seasoned locals, from professionals to dossers, from hardcore reggae fans to people who only listen to reggae at Jam Jah. To me this is really what drew me to this music in the first place, bringing people together in one unity, and to hear so many languages being spoken on your average Monday night is really cool.

There's another gig I always see you at... tell me what you're doing at Reggae City this year?
Reggae City! So this year, we’re doing a little showcase type thing at Reggae City, Turntables, Bongos and MCs – we’ll be showcasing some forthcoming releases by the Friendly Fire Band, with PA’s by Lion Art, Tomlin Mystic, and Myki Tuff. We’re really excited about this, it's become a real grass-roots event, where all the artists (even those not on the bill) contribute to it, the lineup is great. Macka B is an amazing home-grown headline, also The Equators (originally on Stiff Records) Sticky Joe, Lobster and many more of our friends will be there. 


Jam Jah Mondays kicks off at the Dark Horse on Monday 12th October, and weekly thereafter.

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