Wednesday, September 3, 2014
John Peel. His name alone conveys musical gravitas. Peel probably made more of a contribution to British music (and its effect on the rest of the world) in the last 50 years than anyone else. As a DJ on UK's Radio 1, he spoke to succeeding waves of kids and was responsible for breaking new bands such as Radiohead, The Undertones, The Clash, The Smiths, Pulp, T-Rex, New Order and many, many more. And after a lifetime of listening to more music than most of us could ever hope to do, Peel rated The Beat as one of his favorite bands of all time.
He first crossed paths with the band at a University gig in Birmingham where he was booked as a DJ. Supporting him was a local, unknown Birmingham band called The Beat. Peel was so blown away by the band that he swapped his £800 check with the band for their £80 check and invited them to come record a live radio session for his show. He then promoted them on his show regularly and helped to make them big in the UK and Europe. Peel's affection for the band was obvious as he invited them to record three sessions for his show.
Each session is a microcosm of the band during the three distinct phases they went through. The first session from November 1979, features songs from the first LP "I Just Can't Stop It" and is notable for the fact that it does not include Saxa, so "Tears Of A Clown", "Ranking Full Stop" and "Mirror In The Bathroom" sound closer to the way they did when the band first started performing. Ranking Roger's toasting is more prominent and punk edge more apparent. David Steele's bass lines still astound for their creativity.
The second session from September 3, 1980 demonstrates an amazing maturity and complexity in the songwriting from the session less than one year earlier. Both the non-album tracks "Too Nice To Talk To" and "Psychedelic Rockers" are real soundscapes that incorporate every influence the band could fit into one song (pop, reggae, calypso, Afro-beat). Saxa's playing on these two tracks is also some of the best I have heard. I was also struck by how much better the album tracks from the "Whappen" LP sounded, particularly "Monkey Murders".
The final session from March 1982, previewed songs from the "Special Beat Service" LP that was released later that year. The distinction between the pop and reggae numbers is clearer though the version of "Save It For Later" is sublime and "dirty" sounding, and is so much better than the recorded version we are all familar with. The reggae numbers are among the best by the band that I have heard.
As a huge fan of The Beat, its a real treat to listen to these sessions. Each one has something slightly different or unique about it that is distinct from the recorded versions you are used to hearing. First, there is a freshness that comes from the live recorded nature of the songs. Next, you can hear subtleties that you have never noticed before. A new guitar lick here or varied melody from Saxa on an extended solo. It puts their talent and songwriting on another level.
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
What does it mean to be a Rude Boy in the 21st Century? Is it a fashion statement? Is it a musical statement? Is it an attitude? Is it all of the above?
"Return Of The Rude Boy" attempts to answer these questions. It is an immersive exhibition in London running through the end of August, that explores the style, swagger and significance of the 21st century Rude Boy. It features original photography, film, installations and live events. Curated by photographer and filmmaker Dean Chalkley and creative director Harris Elliott, it celebrates the sharply dressed individuals who exemplify an important and rarely documented subculture. The exhibit has generated significant U.K. media interest, including coverage in The Guardian, Channel 4, and GQ Magazine and many more.
That said, I wanted a first-hand impression of the exhibit, so I asked my good friend and Bigger Thomas/Rude Boy George band mate, Roger Apollon, who is in the U.K. on a family vacation, to visit the exhibit and share his impressions. But first, you need to know that Roger is a Rude Boy. He could have been included in this exhibition. When I was looking to start a ska band back in the late 80's, I briefly saw Roger on a train platform decked out in sunglasses, a pork pie hat, a Specials t-shirt and brothel creepers. I stood in shock. Here was a real Rude Boy in New Brunswick, New Jersey! I lost sight of him when the train arrived and departed. Later that summer he magically appeared on my apartment doorstep clutching a flyer I had posted looking for musicians to start a ska band. The rest is history.
Roger has his own Rude Boy style that is modern but also includes touches of old school Rude Boys. He is never without his pork pie hat (he has summer and winter versions) and often wears suits. More than that, he exudes a style that is effortlessly cool and confident.
After visiting the exhibit, Roger shared his thoughts and some incredible pictures.
Return Of The Rude Boy is a tight and precise exhibit that was an inspiration to Rude boys everywhere! As you walk in to the the austere setting of Somerset House, you are welcomed by a pulsing soundtrack of reggae and ska. The portraits are exquisite as each man and woman captured is not styled; they are in their natural and VERY cool state.
As I walked through, I was not only inspired but struck how "Rude Boy Culture" is not about style of clothes (although the clothes were extremely stylish), but more about the character of the individual. They are unique, confident and against the grain but not for the sake of being different.
To me, it felt like a sort of homecoming as I saw bits of my past, present and future reflected in these portraits. If you're in London before the end of the summer, check out this amazing (and FREE) exhibit!
Monday, July 28, 2014
Over the past two years, the wonderfully amazing Music Vault has been remastering more than 13,000 concert videos, which they are now posting up on YouTube. The footage spans the last five decades and features performances by a wide array of legendary artists.
I recently came across footage of a fantastic live performance of The Beat from the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey from September, 1980. The Capitol Theatre was built in 1926 as a vaudeville house, and later served as a movie theater. Promoter John Scher bought the property and converted it into a venue for rock concerts. Throughout the 1970s and into the mid-1980s, the 3,200 seat theatre was a popular stop on nearly every major rock artist's tour. The venue was known for its in house video system which resulted in a number of good quality, black and white video bootlegs.
The Beat were the support act for The Pretenders in what would be their very first tour of the U.S. during the fall of 1980. As such the band receive a muted response from fans of Chrissie Hynde and company who were likely perplexed by the punky reggae sounds of the multiracial septet from Birmingham. As a side note, I procured tickets to see this show without telling my parents who forbid me to attend on a school night when I let them know the day before the show. I was forced to sell the tickets at school to classmates who made sure to let me know what I had missed the next day!
The video is a must watch for anyone who missed the band in their prime. Shot from a variety of camera angles with remastered sound, the footage reveals The Beat at the height of their powers -- Psychedelic Rockers and Mirror In The Bathroom are both breathtaking. Saxa in particular is a revelation as his melodic riffs and solos reach sublime heights. Its also great to hear the keyboard work of Dave Blockhead whose playing was often overlooked in the band's records.
Here is the set list and set timing:
00:00 : Hands Off She's Mine
02:49 : Psychedelic Rockers
06:10 : Noise In This World
08:27 : Big Shot
11:29 : Tears Of A Clown
15:14: : Ranking Full Stop
18:00 : Mirror In The Bathroom
21:24 : Click Click
The Specials first single, Gangsters, was released exactly 35 years ago on July 28, 1979! According to the excellent 2-Tone.Info:
Having been rejected by numerous record companies The Specials decided to release a self-financed single. If the legend is to be believed the single was recorded for a mere £700 financed by a ‘sort of’ local businessman by the name of ‘Jimbo’. It is said that a piano part on the track took up most of the studio time and as a result only one track, Gangsters, was recorded.
Needing a b-side the band turned to an instrumental track Noel Davis had recorded two years previously in 1977 with drummer John Bradbury and trombonist, Barry Jones. Originally titled ‘The Kingston Affair’ the track got a slight reworking and was re-titled The Selecter. The track also came complete with it's own unique catalogue number, which may seem unusual but was actually quite common with old ska and reggae singles.
The single was initially distributed via Rough Trade Records, who persuaded the band to produce 5,000 copies, twice what the band had originally intended. The single was issued in a plain white sleeve stamped by the band themselves with the words THE SPECIAL A.K.A 'Gangsters' Vs THE SELECTER. The band then signed to Chrysalis Records, who were more than happy to sign both The Specials and the 2 Tone label. Chrysalis pressed up more copies of the single in the now familiar 2 Tone sleeve resulting in a top 10 hit and the biggest selling independent single of the year.
Original Specials drummer Silverton Hutchinson had left the band just prior to the recording of Gangsters and was replaced by John Bradbury, and as a result Bradbury was the only person to play on both sides of the labels debut single.
Saturday, July 26, 2014
After taking time off to watch the 2014 World Cup in its entirety, I'm back to blogging, playing the bass and writing more songs for the next Marco On The Bass digital release that will be out on a new ska-only label (more on that later).
In the meantime, I wanted to share a brand new song which was inspired by a catch phrase that Bigger Thomas/Rude Boy George singer Roger Apollon uses. It always makes me laugh and I thought it would make a great title for a song.
And so, without further ado, I present "Stay Mad," which mixes sampled vocals from two of my favorite movies over traditional ska bass, guitar, organ, drums and some new wave keyboard!
Friday, July 25, 2014
Ranking Roger announced the release of a new solo album titled "Pop Off The Headtop." The album is out August 1st and will be available via The Beat's web page.
The album appears to be a compilation of remixes of tracks Roger has recorded for a variety of albums, including his recent collaborations with Mr Anonymous on the tracks "Yam And Banana" and "Spaceman."
Here is the entire track list for the album:
1. Future Sounds (AleXanna Remix) - Ranking Roger
2. 16 Tons - AleXanna Featuring Ranking Roger
3. Rock The Casbah (AleXanna Remix) - Ranking Roger
4. Return Of The Dread-I (Dropgrinders) - Ranking Roger
5. Muscle Ska (AleXanna Remix) - Ranking Roger
6. Spaceman (Ambient Version) Mr Anonymous Featuring Ranking Roger
7. On The Road (Dopegrinders) – Ranking Junior & Ranking Roger
8. Side To Side (Dopegrinders) – Ranking Junior & Ranking Roger
9. Yam And Banana - Mr. Anonymous featuring Ranking Roger
10. Mirror In The Bathroom (Gaudi remix) – Gaudi vs. The Beat
11. Freedom - Ranking Roger
12. Joe 90 Meets Thunderbirds Near the Tardis (Dub) – Ranking Roger
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
So, if you've been following along at home, there are two UB40's these days: the version led by original singer Ali Campbell with keyboardist Mickey Virtue and toaster Astro, and the version of the band led by Ali’s two brothers -- guitarist Robin Campbell and singer Duncan Campbell with the remaining original members -- Jim Brown, Brian Travers, Norman Hassan and Earl Falconer.
Campbell and his band mates have been busy touring across Europe and the U.K. and have just released a preview of the first single, a cover of 50's doo-wop group The Rays "Silhouette" due out on August 18th on Cooking Vinyl Records. The song will feature on Campbell's new album out this fall that will feature a mix of original songs (give a listen to the previously released"Reggae Music") as well as reggaefied cover versions of classics by The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Chi-Lites and others.
Campbell is also prominently featured on the Radio Riddler version of "Purple Rain" from the excellent Purple Reggae album.
According to a recent interview Campbell did to promote his tour and new single with a newspaper in the U.K., he intends to continue using the UB40 name.
Nobody owns the name you see. UB40 was a government registration form to get your benefits and we never patented it. I think we’re all entitled to use the name, all original eight of us. So at the moment there are two UB40s out there: one promoting country and western with a bloke who’s never made a hit record in his life, and there’s another one promoting reggae and we’ve had 40 top 20 singles. It’s up to the fans who they want to go and see; the original singers or somebody else.Campbell also dismisses claims that fans are confused by two versions of UB40 touring and releasing music:
It has been confusing but since I left the dark side I have made very clear that it’s “Ali Campbell’s UB40” or “Ali Campbell – the legendary voice of UB40”. I’ve always made it clear who I am, whereas the UB40 dark side have never once said that it’s not the original line-up, and for five years they’ve been punting off the brand name. It’d be like going to see The Stones and Derek Jagger comes out; you wouldn’t be very happy would you? I wouldn’t!I was impressed with the quality of the sound on "Silhouette." The song is a good start for Campbell, Virtue and Astro and it captures the classic UB40 sound that many fans of the original band fell in love with. The true measure for me will be to see if the new album can maintain this level of quality. We will see.