In all the hullabaloo about Nelson Mandela reaching the grand old age of 90 you might have missed that one of those musicians at his Hyde Park birthday bash turned 60 himself this year. Not that you’d guess it. Eddy Grant, dreds heaped up in his hat and eyes as penetrating as ever, is back. Presumably from carbon freezing.
He’s not had a hit or toured in ages, so maybe he’s just been soaking up the balmy Barbados beach climate around his studio, occasionally putting down his pineapple juice to submit to a stress-banishing massage while being informed of his multi-million-selling back catalogue’s latest sales figures. And then, a eureka moment must have chimed. Why not indulge in a final tour before sitting back on a deckchair for good, while also releasing a little retrospective?
All this so-laid-back-it’s-horizontal stuff sits only slightly off kilter with Grant’s back catalogue, the most famous slices of which have been mined and dusted down for Road To Reparation. And what gems they were and prove still to be. Odd to think that Gimme Hope Jo’anna, his three-chord plea about the injustices of apartheid-era South Africa, only reached number 7 in the UK charts, though it achieved this feat back in the days when that still mattered. It’s this record’s lock-stock highlight. If he’d released nothing else in all of his six decades, it’d still be a classic and he’d still be remembered for it.
Of course he did release much else besides it – Jo’anna was one of his later singles. Well before then he was walking down to Electric Avenue – visit Brixton today and you could do something remarkably similar, if you fancied – and, in 1982, he also topped the fickle singles chart with I Don’t Wanna Dance. Living In The Frontline underlines his commitment to political causes throughout his career, proving Jo’anna was no one-off. With its lilting reggae line it sounds like an homage to the father of all things peace and love Bob Marley.
But it’s the lesser known tracks included here that make Road To Reparation the essential eye-opener to Grant’s canon, and that prove to be unexpected and decidedly African-tinged treats. California Style is perhaps the most complete of these, but each has its charm. Baby Come Back and Dance Party are really quite addictive, if repetitively so, and Gotta Be Positive is a feelgood shout against doom, gloom and the purveyors thereof.
With some reports suggesting this first tour in 20 years will also be his last, for now at least Eddy Grant is back, and the world feels momentarily like a better place for it. So, crack open a beer, kick back and relax in the convivial company of a man who’s earned his place in the sun.