Jerry Dammers' Spatial AKA Orchestra

Brighton Dome

Over the past year, Jerry Dammers has cut a rather peevish figure. He was the solitary Special who declined to take part in, then publicly decried, their successful reunion. But watching the Spatial AKA Orchestra's vibes player hammer out a funk-rock version of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells while wearing a glittering hat in the shape of Tutankhamun's burial mask and Dame Edna Everage glasses, it is difficult to see where the musical common ground between Dammers and his old outfit might have been found.

The Spatial AKA Orchestra's main influence is Sun Ra's Solar Arkestra, the "cosmic jazz" ensemble led by a man who steadfastly maintained to the end that he was from Saturn. Dammers's arrangements brilliantly join the dots between Ra's work and funk, making the inaccessible accessible. At one jaw-dropping juncture, they play, in quick succession, not just Tubular Bells, but Joe Meek's I Hear a New World, a ska take on Erik Satie's 1893 solo piano piece Gnossienne No 1, the Specials' International Jet Set and the theme from Batman. It is a long way indeed from knocking out Too Much Too Young while wearing the limited-edition £99 Tonic Suit that Burton produced to commemorate the Specials' reunion.

As his former bandmates reap the benefits of their national-treasure status, Dammers seems to be deliberately aligning himself with musicians denied mainstream acceptance because of mental illness, poverty or sheer bloody-mindedness. Their company suits him. Not only does he debut a rare new track – a conflation of ska, lounge music and spoken word called The African Origins of UFOs – but the whole gig is shot through with an infectious, gleeful enthusiasm. At its end, the musicians assemble in the bar, still singing and playing Sun Ra's Space Is the Place, the audience dancing around them. For a peevish man, Dammers is making a genuinely joyful sound.

At the Sage, Gateshead (0191-443 4661), on 26 March. Then touring.


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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