This week's podcast takes a slight turn to the more obscure 2-Tone era ska that was released in the UK during 1980-81 time frame when the sound was at its peak around the British Isles. I've gathered together songs from 11 bands and artists who were on the periphery of the 2-Tone mainstream. However, just because they were outside the mainstream and lacked radio play did not mean that they were not good songs. Its a shame that more of the songs in this week's mix didn't reach a wider audience. Better later than never.
This podcast includes UK ska and reggae bands that you probably have not heard of before (The Javelins, Errol Ross and The Details) as well as a few that made a dent but did not get the attention they deserved like The Equators, The Ammonites and The Akrylykz. Most of these bands did not garner any radio airplay and fewer headlined any big shows (short of Rico who was touring with The Specials and The Equators who toured with other Stiff Records bands).Of particular note are two bands fronted by women. Bette Bright (backed by the Madness production team) and The Belle Stars (featuring ex-members of The Bodysnatchers) definitely had the connections and the material to be bigger than they were. What's interesting about the group of bands highlighted in this mix are the links and associations that many of them have to established 2-Tone bands, songwriters or producers.
Here are highlights about the bands and performers in this week's podcast:
The Javelins - Not much is know about The Javelins. They were a UK-based ska band that was signed to Eddy Grant's Ice Records and only recorded one single, a cover version of Dandy Livingstone's 1967 ska song 'You're No Hustler'. It's clear that Grant produced the track as it includes his hallmark heavy electronic bass sound.
Errol Ross - An established Jamaican engineer and producer who moved to the UK in the 1970's. He was well known in 2-Tone circles for producing several tracks off The Selecter's first album. He also recorded a number of his own songs including this 2-Tone era rocker called 'Round In Circles' which has a great funky 2-Tone meets disco groove thanks to its bass line and hot horns.
The Details - One of the most obscure UK 2-Tone era bands. They recorded a cover of the Spencer Davis Band track which hit #1 in the UK charts in the late 60's (which ironically was written for Spencer Davis by ska and reggae musician Jackie Edwards). The song was recorded and promoted during the 1981 London Marathon, hence the song title.
The Equators - The most talented and most overlooked band of the entire 2-Tone era in the UK. A band that influenced any number of bands that followed in their wake including The Beat in the UK and The Untouchables in the U.S. Their brilliant cover version of Eddy Grant's original 'Baby Come Back' with The Equals connects the circle of great black pop music made by the Caribbean diaspora in the UK.
Rico - Rico's single 'Sea Cruise' for 2-Tone was one of the most accomplished releases on the label (though it did not chart) and The Specials frequently played it live and even recorded it for a John Peel Session. In keeping with the 2 Tone traditions of covers the title track was an old rock'n'roll vocal track by Huey Smith.
The Belle Stars - An all female British pop band founded in London in 1980 by former members of 2-Tone band The Bodysnatchers. The band's debut single for Stiff Records, 'Hiawatha/Big Blonde' was released in the late spring of 1981, produced by the Madness production team of Clive Langer & Alan Winstanley. The band promoted the single by playing support for The Beat and Madness. The A side 'Hiawatha' was a Bodysnatchers original and is very close to the version that The Bodysnatchers played live.
Arthur Kay & The Originals - Along with Judge Dread, Arthur Kay was one of the first musicians in the UK to embrace ska and reggae. A 60's era mod and scooterist he was attending gigs at London's Ram Jam club long before the ska revival and working as a session musician for Trojan Records. His single 'Play My Record' was released during the frenzy around the first 2-Tone records and never received its proper due. Kay still performs live in the U.K.
Bette Bright & The Illuminations - The single 'Hello, I am Your Heart' was Bette's only hit in the UK, recorded with a backing band that included Madness producer Clive Langer on rhythm guitar and future Lightning Seed Ian Broudie on guitar on this jaunty piece of ska-pop (which would be a great cover for Lily Allen to consider covering). Bette later married Suggs from Madness in 1982, and slipped quietly into pop history.
The Ammonites - Brighton's ska pop phenomenon who had the look and the sound to go much farther than they did. Along with The Piranhas they helped to establish ska in the famous seaside resort. Their cover of The Ethiopians 'Hong Kong Flu' is taken from a long lost rehearsal tape from 1980 that was recently unearthed.
AK Band - This is the AK Band's first recording from 1980. They were a British power pop trio who played 2Tone inspired ska with no horn section or keys that was reminiscent of The Police.
The Akrylykz - Hull's 2-Tone era band featuring future Fine Young Cannibal's singer Roland Gift on vocals and saxophone. The song 'Smart Boy' was the band's one single on Polydor in 1980 and the vinyl is inscribed with the words "Eat your heart out 2Tone"
Here is the track list for the podcast:
The Javelins - You're A Hustler (1980)
Errol Ross - Round In Circles (1980)
The Details - The London Marathon (Keep On Running) (1981)
The Equators - Baby Come Back (1981)
Rico - Sea Cruise (1980)
The Belle Stars - Hiawatha (1981)
Arthur Kay & The Originals - Play My Record (1980)
Bette Bright & The Illuminations - Hello I Am Your Heart (1980)
The Ammonites - Hong Kong Flu (1980)
AK Band - Pink Slippers (1980)
The Akrylykz - Smart Boy (1980)
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