Managed to make it somewhere between out and Micky Flanagan’s out-out last night. In other words, I didn’t change out of my manky khaki shorts I’d been gardening in, but still got a pint or so down “the Gate.” I’ve been aching to witness the duo, TwoManTing for myself, Captain Obvious; yes, TwoManTing is a duo, you can’t make it up.
Appearing at the Devizes trusty Southgate a few times previously, it’s been something I’ve been meaning to catch-up with, being their appellation sounds all rather reggae, my favourite cup of tea. My residual curiosity though, how can a duo make reggae, something you surely need a gang for; a bassist, a drummer, brass section et all?
Answer revealed, the “ting” part might be misconceiving to our preconceived notion the phonologic is Jamaican patois. The Bristol-based duo consists of English guitarist Jon Lewis, who has a clear penchant for Two-Tone and punk inclinations of yore, and Jah-man Aggrey, a Sierra Leonean percussionist. They met playing together as part of dance band, Le Cod Afrique, at venues such as Montreux Jazz Festival and WOMAD, formed the duo in 2004, and make for an interesting and highly entertaining two-man show.
Something of a surprise then, and a rarity around these backwaters, to hear maringa, demonstrative folk of Sierra Leone, perhaps catered more to our tastes via Jon, but essentially the same ballpark, acoustic guitar and percussion. Somewhere between calypso but with the Latino twinge of rhumba, best pigeonholed, their sound is motivating and beguiling, and achieved with originality. In fact, to my surprise most of their compositions were their own creations, save the sublimely executed known cover of The Clash’s Guns of Brixton, Jon’s clear punk inspiration showing forth.
They told there’s a Clash cover on each album, of which they’ve produced three. Story checks out; Armagideon Time on their first album Legacy, which I could quibble is actually a Coxsone’s Studio One cover by the Clash, aforementioned Guns of Brixton on 2015’s Say What? and something of a rarity from Combat Rock, the poet Allen Ginsberg’s duet with Strummer, Ghetto Defendant, which can be found on their most up-to-date album, 2019’s Rhymes With Orange.
But this punk influence is sure subtle, the mainstay of their enticing sound is the acoustic maringa, palm wine music traditional throughout West Africa, at least for the start of the show. The most poignant moment for me was Jah-man attributing his homeland’s natural glory, rather than that which people tend to ask him about, the civil conflicts and war, in a chorus which went, “why not ask me about….”
As the performance progressed the fashion modernised, live loops upped the tempo, and it became highly danceable afro-pop, in the style of soukous, more spouge than cariso in delivery; how apt for the current heatwave! At times lost in the music, it was easy to throw-off the notion the wonderful sound was reverberating from just two guys, rather than an eight-piece band, reason enough for BBC 6Music’s Lauren Laverne to say of TwoManTing, “brilliant – if you want a bit of early summer, then get this into your ear-holes!”
Today they can be caught at Salisbury’s Winchester Gate, but appreciation again to The Southgate for supplying Devizes with something diverse and entertaining. Next Saturday at “the Gate,” Rockport Blues appear, for a night of blues, rock and soul classics, starting at 7:30pm.
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