Royal Albert Hall

We sang together like brothers at family lock-ins, like siblings reunited at surprise birthdays. We were family for three hours that Monday evening. Not in blood and not in name, but in hoarse voice, singing as one; a clan five-thousand strong brought together at the Royal Albert Hall by Kano our conductor, who steered proceedings from the arena’s small stage.

It was the final night of his Hoodies All Summer Tour, another jewel in an already glittered career. The melodic calling that was unearthed decades back in pirate radio stations on East End rooftops had now taken Kano to the Royal Albert Hall, and we had come with him, packed-in tight under a delicate-glass dome.

Kano entered the arena wearing dove-white, beckoned to the stage by eager whistles of the thousands who had followed his career and who now massed in the pit and peered out from the decorated boxes that stair-cased to the sky. Free Years Later opened up the set as it opens up Hoodies All Summer, but now it was backed by a choir and a live band armed with steel pans and strings, drum kits and silver brass. They regaled the Royal Albert Hall with pulsating melodies while Kano discharged the lyrics of defiance and liberation that define his latest masterpiece.

Free Years Later felt like the anthem played before the cup final, the poignant pause before the soldiers leap over the trenches, an indicator of the evening to come and the anarchy to be unleashed. Because what followed shortly after was P’s and Q’s and the Royal Albert Hall descending into a bedlam it had never seen. When the opening drums were heard and the stage lights dimmed, faces out in the crowd got tense. Nerves boiled and butterflies fluttered in stomachs. By the time the first verse was underway, and Kano was chanting “POP POP POP, then we’re OUT,” limbs flailed like flags in the wind and gun fingers scattered from the private boxes. In all directions there was chaos, and this odd family of five thousand were together as one in our racket and our euphoria.

Kano writes like a poet and performs like a titan. He is an artist made for the stage. This is England, Can’t Hold We Down and Signs in Life all followed P’s &Q’s and through it all he managed to find a unique groove: intimate but rowdy, candid but chaotic. Live instruments held firm to his sound system roots. Crashing steel pans and heavy trombones offered up reloads when Giggs entered for 3 Wheel Ups. On more sincere songs, like Got My Brandy Got My Beats, Kano bared his soul to an audience who listened attentively and applauded respectfully when he was finished.

Since Hoodies All Summer’s release in late August, the hunger for a live rendition of cult-track Class of Deja has been rabid. It was the unspoken current that weaved through the evening. On Monday, that desire was met without warning. In a short interlude, when the lights went black and the stage briefly vanished from our view, a lone figure trotted out into the darkness; their identity obscured like a ship in the mist. When the stage lights flickered back to life, there was D Double E in a regal green tracksuit and matching commander cap.

The time for chaos had come. Kano rushed back to the stage and Ghetts followed shortly after. They performed Class of Deja for seven wild minutes, passing the wired mic back-and-forth through their fingers. Time seemed to stop. The floor shook, the ground moved, the air swelled in our lungs and sputtered from our lips in short breaths and spirited grime parables. We were an audience entranced, a crowd who had grown with Kano from his first gold-album at twenty to the new spring of his thirties.

By the evening’s last notes you sensed that though the show was over, this was not the end. Some undetermined time from now, in another venue, under a different glass dome, this scattered family would reunite, would continue to amass in our droves for as long as he wanted to perform. Kano has an audience that has grown with him, individuals from across the country whose hearts sing to his music and who will burn down the Royal Albert Hall with him again whenever he is ready.

Read our October cover story with Kano.