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LIVE: Roots Manuva / Chali 2na - The Ritz, Manchester

Before we even begin to give our account of what was, above all, quite a saddening evening out at Manchester’s Ritz the other night, it should be stressed that this is a review of a show that should never have gone ahead.

It’s understandable that industry pressures, contractual obligations and a desire not to disappoint fans lead to the occasional gig where the performer’s head might not be completely in it. These off days are always a let down, but sometimes recurring problems that stem from a place far deeper should be put before the old ‘show must go on’ mantra.

However, we’ll start with the positive part of the night in the shape of a typically entertaining and energetic (if occasionally slightly cheesy) support set from Jurassic 5 legend Chali 2na, who is expertly backed up by vinyl-scratcher extraordinaire Krafty Kuts.

Their 40-minute show is a smorgasbord of classic samples spanning everything from soul to disco, held together by Chali’s flawless flow and enthusiastic crowd interaction. There are perhaps more call and response chants than any hip-hop gig we have ever been to, as he conducts the audience’s aloft hands back and forth. And just as it seems the atmosphere has reached its peak, he brings out the big guns, finishing with a Jurassic 5 medley including ‘Freedom’, ‘What’s Golden’ and ‘Concrete Schoolyard’. As a support set, it’s been the best kind of fun.

Unfortunately, though, it really is downhill from there. Shortly before the band emerge for what is the last night of Roots Manuva’s current run of gigs, his tour manager arrives on stage to make a slightly bizarre speech. He references a show at the nearby Gorilla, which got pulled last year, before adding that tonight’s set is being filmed for a special DVD, a less than subtle hint that he’s after a rapturous reception from the audience tonight.

Then the band take to the stage, with DJ Timeless alongside backing vocalists Alex Watson and Ricky Ranking, and live bass guitar and drums. They seem to be playing in Roots Manuva for quite a while and the atmosphere is indeed buzzing initially, but as soon as he stumbles past the drummer to arrive on stage it is clear he’s in no fit state to perform.

The requirement for us to write this review is the only reason we can bring ourselves to stay for the entirety of what follows. After three songs of missed lyrics, nonsensical crowd interaction and repeated references to the “Lancaster” audience, the room is a strange split of forced cheers, bewildered silence and worst of all, deafening boos.

He wanders on and off the stage several times, and can be clearly seen telling the monitor engineer he doesn’t want to continue at one point, before being signalled to do ten more minutes.

It’s truly sad to see a master of his craft and an undeniable pioneer of UK hip-hop damage his legacy by playing while unfit. It seems that rather than facing the flack for more cancelled gigs, someone, somewhere down the line tried to take the easy way out and tick some boxes with a show they knew would be half-arsed at best and an absolute car crash at worst. Admirably, the band stay professional throughout, but you only have to look at their faces to tell they agree it’s been a disaster of a night.

Grievances from ticket-buyers are completely understandable, but aiming vicious boos in a bear-baiting, x-factor-like fashion at a man who is clearly embroiled in a serious personal struggle is a downright nasty way to behave.

We leave the (by now mostly empty) venue amid an eerie silence that we’re not at all used to, juggling our feelings of bemusement, deflation and pure sadness that one of the finest voices from the last two decades of British music has been allowed to give such a poor account of himself.

But whatever impact nights like this might have on the career of Roots Manuva, or anyone else for that matter, the most important thing to remember is that there is a human being’s health at the centre of all this…

Get well soon Rodney Smith, from all at Far Out x