Friday, December 6, 2013
For anyone who came of age in the 80's, General Public's video for "Tenderness" was nearly ubiquitous. It featured smiling, happy children, interspersed with moody shots of Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger singing and dancing in front of swirling lights. When paired with the songs upbeat sound, the video highlighted the brighter side of the lyrics more melancholy undertones. Otherwise, the video didn't stand out in a way from the many other pop and new wave videos of the era.
That said, if you really paid attention, the lyrics were deeper than they appeared. According to Wakeling:
"There was a darker side to the song, because it came out in that period of AIDS, fear of AIDS. Nobody really knew much about it, and everybody was all of a sudden terrified to touch a door handle. Being a terrific hypochondriac, and everybody was always having colds on the road on tour, it's like any time anybody sneezed, I was like, could that be AIDS? So it was to do with that, but in sort of non-obvious way."
And to that end, there was another, much darker and more adult version of the video for "Tenderness" which was filmed in the U.K. (by the director of Bronski Beat's cutting edge video for "Small Town Boy") that never aired here in the U.S. The story behind the two very different videos is a classic case of American puritanical views on sex and a U.S. record company that was aiming to place the song at the top of the pop charts (it reached #27 in the Billboard Charts) with a video that would garner regular rotation on MTV. According to Wakeling:
We did two versions. We did one in England with Nicholas Roeg’s son, who’d just become a video director, and he’d just done a Bronski Beat video. I really enjoyed that video, and so our first one had this female lifeguard, and we’re all playing around in the swimming pool. I’d been a competition swimmer, so when they proposed a swimming pool, I said yes yes, thinking I could show off a bit. So the girl and I are supposed to be eyeing each other and then we end up in the shower, and she takes off her jacket and she’s actually a female bodybuilder with a crew cut. She tosses off her wig and embraces me, and that’s the end of the video. Everyone in England thought it was amazing. We brought it over to Miles Copeland and his crew and they said [in a barking tone] “No no no no no.” We said we didn’t have any money to re-shoot, but IRS Records came up with the money. They introduced us to [director] C.D. Taylor whom I like very much, and I think the theme of that video was that Roger and I were very attractive people at sunset. (laugh) We shot much of the performance on the A&M lot. C.D. Taylor found these eye drops that made blue eyes look even bluer with the right lens on. It ended up being my mom’s favorite video. I showed the two cuts to my mom, and she said, “ah, your eyes do look lovely in that one.”
Check out the radically different UK version of the video for the song below. The risque visuals and storyline of a family man dealing with temptation and infedlity while on the road is far more compelling than most pop videos of the day and completely changes your view of the song forever. Too bad Miles Copeland was so shortsighted!
Monday, December 2, 2013
Antonee First Class of The English Beat Releases "Step On Through" Featuring Tappa Zukie & Militant Barry
If you have caught Dave Wakeling's version of The English Beat during any of his coast-to-coast U.S. tours over the last five years, then you have had the pleasure of enjoying the singing, toasting and stage moves of the band's resident toaster and MC, Antonee First Class. He complements Wakeling's crooning with crisp toasts and shines on his own songs and freestyle chats. But what you may not know is that Antonee comes from reggae royalty, which he wisely taps on his brand new, irresistible single Step On Through (available on iTunes and Amazon.com).
Antonee (the son of 70's/80's reggae artist Militant Barry and the Godson of 70's reggae singer Tappa Zukie, who together recorded a number of important reggae tracks which which were popular in Jamaica and the U.K.) has updated the duo's 1977 track Living In The Ghetto by sampling the bass line and the chorus and adding his own take on 21st century ghetto life. It's a song that harkens back to the golden age of 70's reggae with a traditional sound (produced by Antonee and ex-English Beat bassist Wayne Lothian) that is sorely lacking these days and that should appeal to both reggae heads and 2-Tone fans.
I spoke with Antonee, who shared that his father (who served as Tappa Zukie's UK manager before embarking on his own career as Militant Barry) were, along with Don Letts, responsible for helping to popularize reggae with punks, particularly John Lydon of The Sex Pistols (who was a huge reggae fan) and The Clash. Zukie's MPLA was a favorite of Mick Jones.
"I learned all I know about reggae from my father and Tappa Zukie. I've had nuff sleepless nights as a kid in recording studios with these two, not to mention ghostwriting songs before I was even a teen. They are well affiliated with the punk rock scene of the 70s & 80s. They use to take The Clash and The Sex Pistols to reggae dances in the UK. U2 once opened for Tappa, whom my dad was road managing in Ireland before they were U2. My father was also Miles Copeland A&R for his record label. I used to see Sting and The Police at Copeland's house as a kid before they went famous. They was actually learning the reggae through people like my Dad and Tappa. Dave Wakeling's favorite reggae artist and the first reggae record he ever bought was by Tappa Zukie, whom I lived with. My music history is longer than the average!"
So its no surprise that Antonee has connected with Dave Wakeling, who was a punk when he started The Beat in the U.K. in 1978. The reggae-punk connection was particularly strong with Miltant Barry who recorded the song Pistol Boy, which was produced by Tappa Zukie and questioned whether or not Side Vicious really killed his girlfriend Nancy Spungen.
Read more about Antonee's life as a musician and his time running a reggae record store with his father in Pittsburgh here and listen to his toasting on my new band Rude Boy George's reggae version of The Romantics classic Talking In Your Sleep.
Saturday, November 30, 2013
The New Specialized 7″ Series Featuring Music From Dave Wakeling, Ranking Roger & 2-Tone Stars Is Here!
The Specialized 2 - Beat Teenage Cancer 7" series is now available! The brainchild of Paul Williams, author of "You're Wondering Now The Specials from Conception to Reunion" and admin of The Specials fan website, the limited edition 7" series (in conjunction with Jump Up Records) is a follow-up to the recently released double CD collection Specialized 2 Beat Teenage Cancer which features 44 unique and diverse covers of The Beat's entire song catalog. Sales of the compilation and proceeds from 7"series are all slated for the Teenage Cancer Trust (TCT) in the U.K.
The Specialized project, was conceived by Williams in September 2011 after he watched a TV program about young people with cancer in the UK. At that point, The Specials had just played a prestigious gig at The Royal Albert Hall in aid of the TCT charity. This inspired Williams to come up with the idea of an album of cover versions of songs by The Specials recorded by modern day artists. Thus was born "Specialized- A Modern take on Specials Classics."
The 7" series has the full support of members of The Beat. Both Dave Wakeling (listen to an interview Wakeling did with the BBC about the project) and Ranking Roger have contributed singles in the series --Wakeling has re-recorded "Mirror In The Bathroom" and Ranking Roger appears with Hunt Emerson's band The Spritely Allstars (Emerson is the designer of the Beat girl logo) on the track "Two Swords (Majestic Mix)." They have been joined by other 2-Tone era stars including Neol Davies of The Selecter, Lee Thompson of Madness and Rhoda Dakar of The Bodysnatchers who have also contributed songs. The 7" series also includes my band Bigger Thomas who have contributed our version of "Sole Salvation" on the B-side of the re-recording of "Mirror In The Bathroom.
The entire Specialized 7" series includes:
#1: The English Beat “Mirror In The Bathroom” (new Dave Wakeling version!) b/w Bigger Thomas “Sole Salvation” 7″ (Red Vinyl)
#2: The Spritely All Stars featuring/Ranking Roger “Two Swords” (Majestic Mix) b/w Stiff Joints “Ackee 123″ 7″
#3: The Values featuring/Neol Davies “All Out To Get You” / Lee Thompson “Madness (Acoustically Speaking) b/w Nick Welsh featuring BJ Cole “Save It For Later” / Rhoda Dakar “Too Nice To Talk To”
U.S. residents can order the singles from Jump Up Records and U.K./Europe residents can order through Specialized.
The Next Electric Avenue Show: King Django, Rude Boy George and The Royal Swindle on Saturday, December 7, 2013
The final Electric Avenue show of 2013 will kick off next Saturday, December 7, 2013 at Characters NYC in the heart of midtown Manhattan with a headlining set by the one and only ska legend King Django, the 80's new wave meets ska, reggae and rocksteady of Rude Boy George and the 60's R&B ska of The Royal Swindle. Selector Steve and The Fat Albert Soundsystem will spin an awesome mix of ska and New Wave! And its only $10 to get in! Doors are at 8 pm and the cover is a super low $10!
Check out videos of each band below including King Django performing "Anywhere I Roam", Rude Boy George performing a Goth reggae version of "Love My Way" by Squeeze and The Royal Swindle performing "I Don't Need No Doctor."
Electric Avenue is a partnership between myself and my fellow New York City ska blogging pal Steve Shafer (Duff Guide To Ska who also happens to be a member of Rude Boy George). We have teamed up to present monthly ska and reggae shows at Characters NYC, a midtown Manhattan Irish pub (243 West 54th Street, between Broadway and 8th Avenue in Manhattan) with a big back room ideally suited for live music.
Since last fall, we've been undertaking this labor of love--doing it for free (the bands split 100% of the cover, nobody else takes a cut)--to support ska bands and their fans, and have some fun in the process. Electric Avenue shows already have featured some of the best acts on the Northeastern U.S. ska scene, including Chris Murray (Los Angeles), The Ladrones (Brooklyn/New Jersey), King Django (NJ), The Snails (Philadelphia), The Frightnrs (Brooklyn), Destroy Babylon (Massachusetts), Bigger Thomas (NY/NJ), Beat Brigade (NY), Doomsday! (NY), Los Skarronerros (Brooklyn), The Pandemics (Long Island), The Scofflaws (Long Island), The Bullbuckers (Wilmington, DE), The Reggay Lords (Brooklyn), The Copacetics (Providence, RI) and The Rudie Crew (NY) and The Royal Swindle (New Haven, CT). This summer we were blessed to have Roddy Radiation and Lynval Golding of The Specials perform a solo show for us.
The Facebook Electric Avenue event page can be found here. And take a moment to "like" the Electric Avenue FB page, so you keep up on our shows.
Friday, November 29, 2013
While visiting home for Thanksgiving this week, my mother handed me a box of old family photos to sort through. As I was flipping through the pictures, I suddenly and unexpectedly came across this autographed A&M Records promo/press photo of UB40 from the early 1980's that I had completely forgotten about. It seemed appropriate, given I considered the picture a prized possession and the band honorary family members during a very formative period of my life. I listened to their first 4 albums (Signing Off, Present Arms, UB44 and Labor Of Love) constantly and absorbed an education in British reggae music and concepts of social justice in songs like Tyler, Burden Of Shame, Present Arms, One In Ten, I Won't Close My Eyes and The Earth Dies Screaming that molded me in very important ways. I distinctly remember scrawling the lyrics to Madam Medusa on a desk in my University library as a small form of political protest during the South African Divestment protests of the mid-80's.
In light of the band's current situation, I wanted to share my personal story of meeting members of UB40 at an A&M Records press event for college DJ's in NYC in 1984 or 1985 where I was given the press photo. Astro, Jim Brown, Robin Campbell and Norman Hassan greeted the 15 or so people in attendance, previewed their new album "Geoffrey Morgan," and then autographed press photos for everyone in the room. Being in close proximity to the band and hearing new tracks like If It Happens Again and As Always You Were Wrong Again was energizing, and I remember feeling more excited than I ever had about any thing in my life up to that point.
After leaving the press event, I saw Astro and Robin Campbell outside the A&M Records offices. They were admiring Rolex watches that were displayed in a high end jewelry store. As I debated approaching them to tell them how much I loved their music, Astro caught a glimpse of me, and recognizing me from the event, waved me over and asked which watch I thought he should buy! I pointed at one without thinking and he laughed saying I had good taste! He then asked me my name and said he would put me on the guest list for the show at The Beacon Theatre later that night. I couldn't believe it. True to his word, my name was on the guest list. Its a day I will never forget.
And so, despite the band's current ups and downs and its latest trials and tribulations, I want to give thanks for UB40. Fantastic music and a small act of kindness many years ago had such an important impact of me as a young man.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Days after announcing his split from UB40, vocalist Astro (Terence Wilson) has announced he will join the band's former lead vocalist Ali Campbell and keyboardist Mickey Virtue for a live show next Friday, December 6th at London's indigO2. Campbell and Virtue left UB40 in 2008. Its unclear if this is a one-off show or if Astro plans to join Campbell and Virtue's version of UB40 on a full-time basis. Astro stated that his departure was due in part to unhappiness with band management and the new country-flavored album "Getting Over The Storm."
According to a report in Complete Music Update, Astro stated: “It’s going to be great working with Ali again after all this time. We started on a mission to promote reggae music and that mission is still ongoing. Onwards and upwards!” Campbell added: “We originally formed UB40 to promote reggae. It was never about promoting individual band members – it’s about the music and the fans. Nothing else matters. Welcome home Astro!”
UB40 drummer Jim Brown posted comments on the band's message board which provide more insight on the move. According to Brown: "The band had a meeting with astro a couple of weeks ago because we had heard a few rumours that he had been in contact with Ali. Astro completely denied that he had seen Ali, he also gave us his word that he was totally committed to the bands up coming gigs. We also gave him extra money because he was having financial problems. He took the money and we haven't seen him since."
UB40 saxophonist Brian Travers also posted about the move on the band's message board: "The 1st time I heard astro was unhappy was on the radio the day he left…he was 100% behind the project before that, he did loads of interviews enthusing about the album, he didn't contribute anything to it BUT then he was never a prolific writer and never wrote any music…his interview shocked the shit out of us….Anyway...y'gotta laugh…" Travers added: "...what Jimmy didn't tell you was it was all the money we had available, leaving ourselves skint!"
Sunday, November 24, 2013
New York ska musician, vocalist, and songwriter Brandt Abner tragically passed away from thymic cancer on September 13, 2013 at age 43. In response (and in celebration of Brandt's life and music), the NYC ska scene is holding a massive benefit ska show with 100% of the proceeds going to support Brandt's family (his wife, whom he met while they were in high school, and his nine year-old daughter). The show will feature reunions of key 80's and 90's NYC ska bands including Skinnerbox, Skadanks and Beat Brigade as well as performances by current NYC ska bands Mephiskapheles, Pilfers, Dub Is A Weapon, Bigger Thomas and The Rudie Crew.
Abner was a founding member of Skinnerbox and also worked with Jeff Baker/King Django for the Version City compilation and the Roots and Culture album, and played keys on some of the tracks for The Toasters' This Gun for Hire album. He was also the keyboardist for Japanese alt/rock band Cibo Matto who are performing.
Here is video of Abner performing "Promise" during the Subborn Records 20th Anniversary Party at the Knitting Factory Brooklyn in May 2012:
An established musician in his own right, here is Abner performing a beautiful version of his won song "Honestly."
The New York Loves Brandt! benefit show will take place at B.B. King's on 42nd Street in Manhattan tomorrow, Monday, November 25, 2013, starting at 5:30 pm and going all night long. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for kids 16 and under (advance adult tickets may be purchased here adn tickets are also available at the door).
This is going to be an extraordinary night of ska and reggae music--all of it in support of a worthy cause--so don't miss it if you are in the New York City area!
Set times for the show below:
Cannabis Cup Band featuring Ras Droppa, Marcia Davis, Andrew McIntyre and friends and introducing -Sasha Abner- w/ special guest Jeremy Manasia
Dub Is A Weapon
Rudie Crew with special guest Rev Sinister (Inspecter 7) and Roger Apollon (Bigger Thomas)
Skadanks featuring Rocker T, Jamalski, Yami Bolo and surprise guests!
Netherlands w Timo Ellis
Abner's Oeuvre featuring Malcolm Gold, James Yarish, Jon McCain & Cavass
Pilfers w/ Clark Gayton