New Kingston brings progressive reggae to Salisbury Beach
The roots of Jamaican music go back further than Bob Marley and Johnny Nash, or even Desmond Dekker, whose 1968 hit “Israelites” was the first taste of the island’s music for much of the world. Prior to all that, before Jamaica had gained its independence from Britain even, singer Alton Ellis recorded with producer Coxsone Dodd at Studio One, early home to many vital reggae artists. In the early 1970s, Ellis’s “Get Ready To Rock Steady” named an entire movement.
Bass player Courtney Panton, a first generation Jamaican-American, performed with Ellis in his band Kingston Crew. He and his wife had three sons, and in their teens, Panton steered each toward a different instrument – Courtney, Jr. took up drums, Tahir found keyboards, and Stephen Suckarie picked up a guitar.
Toward the end of Ellis’s life, all four Pantons played in Kingston Crew. After Ellis passed, the name changed to New Kingston in tribute. Since the release of a debut album in 2010, the Brooklyn band has become a force in reggae, with a sound that melds urban influences to roots music.
Courtney Panton, Jr. is a whirlwind of energy behind the kit, singing, rapping and dancing on his stool. He frequently DJs, and acts as New Kingston’s spokesperson. In a recent phone interview, he spoke of the band’s mission, and an upcoming show at Salisbury’s SurfSide ocean bar.
“There are so many things that we think about every day,” he said. “But our common goal is the music keeping us together as a family more than anything.”
They began playing together in middle and high school, jamming in their Brooklyn basement. This offered a way to keep them from playing in the streets. “It was at a deciding point, a definition point,” Courtney Jr. said, recalling when his dad brought home a bunch of instruments and told each boy to pick one. “Injecting music right there at that moment was like alright, this is cool [and] he actually paid us to practice… so we don’t have to get a job.”
Dad played bass and picked songs for them, beginning with The Wailers and Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Fantasy.” Eventually, after shake out shows in cabarets and neighborhood parties, they were writing originals. When New Kingston released its first album, it was fittingly named In the Streets.
Their 2013 follow-up contained another nod to their father’s influence – it was called Kingston University. “A lot of people don’t know our past history… with his extensive background, he pretty much put us in college in terms of that,” Courtney Jr. said, noting that many of the genre’s greats were also his peers. “More like friends and family; we got the opportunity to meet them and play for a lot of them. It kind of seasoned us.”
In 2014, they signed with Easy Star Records, and the following January released Kingston City, a breakout effort that hit Number One on the Billboard Top Reggae Album charts. A Kingston Story: Come From Far arrived two years later. Made in a Brooklyn nightclub during a tour break, it reflected the band’s “Brooklyn, Jamaica” live show energy.
Courtney Jr. said a new album is in the planning stages, and will be a more deliberate effort than the last one, a five day jam distilled into a record’s worth of songs. “We played everything like we used to back in the day, and got like 40 jams out of it,” he said of the band’s previous disc. “We kind of laid the ideas out, and just chopped it down.” Asked about the potential pitfalls of being a family band, Courtney Jr. laughed and called unity part of the common goal. “Every man is a lion, that’s a saying… but we try to understand each other,” he said. “That’s the thing; we’re a family, we’re gonna be together for our lives, so we gotta figure it out.”
New Kingston w/ Over the Bridge and Green Lion Crew
When: Sunday, August 11, 5 p.m. | Where: SurfSide, 25 Broadway, Salisbury | Tickets: $16 at ticketmaster.com ($20/door)