Sunday, April 19, 2009

Marco On The Bass Podcast Series: More Obscure UK Ska Gems Of The 2-Tone Era

The response to last week's podcast suggests that there are a lot of you out there who also enjoy obscure ska songs by UK bands from the 2-Tone era. As a follow-up here is one more podcast of those obscure gems.

This podcast includes more UK-based ska and reggae bands that you probably have not heard of before (Sax Maniax, Rimshots and The Plugs) as well as a few that made a dent but did not get the attention they deserved like The Ska-Dows. Of particular note are two bands The Mexicano and Graduate fronted by musicians who either previously had or went on to have significant careers.

Here are highlights about the bands and performers in this week's podcast:

The Ska-Dows - The Ska-Dows 'Skas on 45' is a very rare 7" that features the band performing a medley of early 2-Tone hits (a la the popular 'Stars on 45' track of the early 80's)including the The Specials version of "Monkey Man", The Beat's "Ranking Fullstop" and "One Step Beyond" and "Baggy Trousers" by Madness and more. This song is not available on The Ska-Dows anthology "Ska'd for Life."

Graduate - Graduate was not a ska band but they wrote one pretty good ska pop song. They released only one album in 1980 before breaking up and becoming a trivia question(the band featured Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith who went on to chart success with Tears For Fears). The single 'Elvis Should Play Ska' was in response to Elvis Costello complaining about how everybody seemed to be hopping on the ska bandwagon and nobody cared much for his sound at that time.

21 Guns - The band 21 Guns had connections to The Specials as their lead singer Gus Chambers had been the singer with the Coventry punk band Squad replacing Terry Hall when he left to join the Specials. By 1981 he was fronting 21 Guns who recorded the single 'Ambition Rock' for Neville Staples' label Shack Records.

The Mexicano - The Mexicano was actually Rudy Grant, younger brother of Eddy Grant. Grant's career as The Mexicano took off in 1977, when with the help of his brother, he recorded a tribute to the popular television series Starsky And Hutch, entitled "Move Up Starsky" ( which was a DJ version of Bob Marley's "I'm Still Waiting"). The single topped the UK reggae chart. By 1981 Mexicano's career changed direction when he decided to sing as Rudy Grant. He recorded reggae versions of John Lennon's "Woman" and Stevie Wonder's "Lately" for Ensign Records, which entered the UK pop chart. The success of the single led to a contract with Stiff Records, who released "Trial By Television" under his earlier name. While the single failed to generate interest, it is one of the most unusual and unique ska songs you will ever hear. It sounds like an Eddy Grant cast-off mixed with some Devo-like sound-effects.

Judge Dread - Alex Hughes (who took his recording name from one of the characters in a Prince Buster song) was a huge influence on 2-Tone era bands particularly Madness and Bad Manners. Indeed, it was Judge Dread who first recorded a cover of Prince Buster's "Al Capone" (later to be recorded as "Gangsters" by The Specials"), a version of Dandy Livingstone's "A Message To You (Rudy) and a ska take of "Swan Lake" long before Madness had a go of it. Judge Dread even wrote a song for Madness called "One Eye Lodger" which they turned down and he released as a B-side in 1981. The song 'Lovers Rock' is a classic example of his X-rated song style which resulted in him having the most songs banned by the BBC, 11 in all, which is also the same number of singles he placed in the charts.

The Gangsters - A band who fashioned themselves as a poor man's version of The Specials. They recorded a 7" single featuring a cover of 'Wooly Bully' of the A side Rare and this very catchy number 'We Are The Gangsters' on the B side.

Boss - Very little information actually exists about Boss other than the fact that they were The Gangsters (see above) with a different name. The song 'Rude Boys Are Back In Town' is a great slice of 2-Tone ska that was produced by Shel Talmy who was best known for his work with The Who and The Kinks.

The Rimshots - Bristol-based pop/reggae band. They released two singles one for Shoc-Wave and another on Spectro Records. Their song 'I Was Wrong' is an umemployed man's lament about the lack of opportunity in early 80's Bristol.

The Tigers - London-based band formed in the autumn of 1979 that released a collection of catchy pop/reggae/ska nuggets that would be fine-tuned into the album 'Savage Music'. With their second single, 'Kidding Stops', the music press took notice. In the 1979 pre-Christmas edition of the New Musical Express made it 'Record of the week'. The band signed to A&M Records and toured the U.S. during 1980 where the garnered good reviews but did not enjoy the success of The Police who they were most often compared to.

Sax Maniax - A side-band featuring all the members of The Ska-Dows minus their lead singer Tony Sibthorpe. The band supported The Ska-Dows at all their gigs and released the single 'Never Gonna Lose Me' on Chas Chandler's Cheapskate Records.

The Plugs - I can find very little information about this band who question the growth of mindless consumer culture brought on by indoor shopping centres in the UK (what we call a 'Mall' in the U.S.).

The Ska-Dows - Ska's on 45 (1981)
Graduate - Elvis Should Play Ska (1980)
21 Guns - Ambition Rock (1981)
The Mexicano - Trial By Television (1981)
Judge Dread - Lovers Rock (1979)
Gangster - We Are The Gangsters (1980)
Boss - Rude Boys Back In Town (1980)
Rimshots - I Was Wrong (1980)
Tigers - Kidding Stops (1979)
Sax Maniax - Never Gonna Lose Me (1980)
The Plugs - Indoor Shopping Centre (1980)

Marco On The Bass Podcast #8

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