Sunday, February 28, 2010

Marco On The Bass - 'Musical Biscuit': A Free 10-track Excursion Upon The Version

After some severe procrastination, I've finally gotten around to collecting a selection of songs I have recorded over the last few years. Some of them were demo ideas for Bigger Thomas songs and others were just recorded for my own pleasure and entertainment. I've decided it was as good a time as any to finally share these songs for your listening entertainment, bemusement or derision. After all, its no use recording and working on songs that are never heard. The goal of most artists is to share their creative endeavors, though there is often some hesitation because the songs never feel quite right, good enough or finished. But the hell with that. Here they are warts and all.

As background, the inspiration for these 10 songs comes from my love of all things ska and reggae, but also pays respects to DJ culture and artists like Norman Cook (Fatboy Slim, Beats International), Gorillaz (Damon Albarn) and other Acid Ska and Big Beat studio artists (Longsy D, Basement Jaxx) who have created uniquely entertaining reggae and ska by mixing sampled vocals and riffs over traditional reggae and ska bass, guitar and drums. Since I'm not a singer, I utilize the borrowed vocal talents of many others as my stand in. That gives me a chance to pay my respects to artists I respect and love through the vocal samples I use. You will hear Joe Strummer and LKJ as well as snippets of Terry Hall, Neville Staples, Dave Wakeling along with Malcolm X, Chuck D, Craig David, Jay-Z, Missy Elliott and numerous reggae artists from the 60's and 70's.

So without further ado, I present to you the 10-track 'Musical Biscuit' for your free downloading pleasure. All comments (good, bad or indifferent) are welcome.

Musical Biscuit 3:15
Rice & Peas 2:52
I've Got Something To Say 3:21
All The Way From Jamaica 3:06
Is Everybody Happy? 3:43
Big Power 3:16
Kiss The Microchip 3:47
Gun Shot 3:24
Mi Own Sense Of Time 4:16
Laugh Track 4:18

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Jerry Dammers Calls His Spatial AKA Orchestra A 'Progression' of The Specials Since 'In The Studio' LP

While The Specials continue to dominate the UK music scene (the band picked up their 'Outstanding Contribution To Music' award at the Shockwaves NME Awards in London this week), their estranged former leader is preparing to launch a UK tour of his own with his 19-piece Spatial A.K.A Orchestra who play their first show in The Specials hometown of Coventry on March 4th. An added bonus will be that the famed trombonist Rico Rodriguez will be joining Dammers for the Coventry show.

To promote the show and the tour, Dammers conducted an interview with Pete Chambers of the Coventry Telegraph. Of particular interest were Dammers comment that his orchestra is a 'progression from the Specials second album (More Specials) through to 'In The Studio' by the Special AKA' and that he has recorded some of his band's gigs saying 'I’m hoping to combine that with a small amount of original studio stuff. I just don’t want to put out a covers album. You know me, if I promise an album, you’ll be waiting another 20 years, so I’ll never make any promises.' Though I haven't seen Dammers new band live, he may have a point. There are songs from the The Special AKA 'In The Studio' LP that do have unusually angular jazz melodies and atonal tones (think 'Alcohol' and 'Housebound'). See the videos below from the 'Play At Home' video that was originally broadcast in the UK on Channel 4 in September 1984.

Then compare it to the clips of the orchestra performing one of their more ska flavored songs. Hear any similarities?

For more information and tickets for the Coventry show go to

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Specials share Top 10 Highlights & Prepare To Play 2 Shows in New York In April

The UK's love affair with The Specials keeps right on rolling. The band's latest coup is a recent 6-page cover story in the NME that charts the history of 2-Tone, the band's reunion and their observations on the current music scene and a side-bar story on all the UK bands they have influenced (from Lily Allen to Massive Attack). Its definitely worth a read.

Now it's America's turn to fall in love with the band again. In case you haven't heard, the first show the band booked at Terminal 5 here in New York City on Wednesday April 21st sold out during the two day pre-sale. A second show was added for the night before (Tuesday April 20th) to satisfy the pent-up demand that has clearly been stoked by the the amazing live reviews the band has generated. If you missed out for tickets for the first show, then the ska gods are smiling. Move with post haste this Friday February 19th when tickets for the second show go on sale.

If you live in New York City or plan to attend one or both of the shows, I'm planning to host after-show parties at a bar in the Chelsea neighborhood. We will have good drinks, a DJ spinning ska, reggae and rocksteady, a crowd of ska lovers and hopefully a member or two from the band. More details and information to be posted in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, to feed your desire for all things Specials, below are fascinating interview segments with Terry Hall, John Bradbury and Lynval Golding posted by NME in conjunction with the cover story. They touch on their memories around a variety of topics old (appearing on Top Of The Pops for the first time, the 1980 tour of Japan, hitting #1 in the UK charts with 'Too Much Too Young') and new (their emotional reactions to the first reunion show in Newcastle). Have a look...

Finally, one more gift to really get the blood moving. Below is a rip of the audio of the band's live show from the Wolverhampton Civic Center last November that is featured in the new DVD released this week. Its likely that the 17 song set list may be similar to what the band plays at shows here in the U.S.. Download link below. ENJOY!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

VH1 'Bands Reunited' Officially Kills Any Chance Of A Reunion by The Beat

Though 2-Tone officially died in the early 80's when The Specials and The Selecter split, the musicians who performed in these bands as well as other bands associated with the label like The Beat, Madness and Bad Manners have kept its legacy alive over the last 30 years. Other bands have risen from the ashes of 2-Tone including Fun Boy Three, General Public, Fine Young Cannibals, The Madness, Crunch, Buster's All-Stars and Special Beat. And while each of these bands retained some of the essence and magic of their founding bands (and in some cases created their own), there is nothing like hearing, seeing and experiencing the original. I think that explains the excitement and joy surrounding the The Specials current 30th reunion tour and the release of 'The Liberty of Norton Folgate' by Madness last year. And it got me thinking about an aborted attempt to reunite The Beat almost six years ago.

Back in 2004 there was a very entertaining program on VH1 called 'Bands Reunited'. I am not ashamed to admit that I was a regular viewer and thoroughly enjoyed each and every episode. Part of the show's allure had to do with nostalgia but also the possibility of reconnection. There was a great quote from the shows executive producer Julio Kollerbohm, who at the time said that he believed viewers were responding to the universal theme of mending fractured relationships. 'These bands are like dysfunctional families that haven't spoken in sometimes 10 to 20 years. They're making peace with that period in their lives,' he says,'Even if [the reunion doesn't happen], it's going to make for good TV.'"

And so, for one short moment in time, the program attempted to do what no one has been able to do before or since -- bring the original members of The Beat back together for a reunion. Like The Specials, The Beat occupy a very special place and time in musical history and in the hearts of their many fans, Like The Specials, the bad feelings and acrimony between the original members lingers to this day with both Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger leading their own versions of the band separated by the Atlantic Ocean and bassist David Steele and guitarist Andy Cox on to other endeavors. Nevertheless, in 2004 there seemed to be an opportunity for a reunion, or so the producers of 'Band's Reunited' and its chirpy host Aamer Haleem, would have lead us to believe.

For the uninitiated, 'Bands Reunited' consisted of the shows host, producers and crew hunting down the ex-members of the band one-by-one, and convincing them to agree for the one-time concert; the members were "contracted" by signing a record album by their former band. The band members were then interviewed, usually focusing on the reasons of the breakup. The final segment would consist of the formal reunion of the band in the rehearsing studio, and a joint interview about why the group parted ways. If the reunion was successful, the episode ended with the final performance.

Like all reality shows, the outcome was more often than not known in advance. By that I mean the 'would they or won't they' of whether or not a band would reunite was know well in advance by the show producers. In fact, the behind the scenes string pulling and contractual negotiations with band members have been detailed. Kurt Harland of Information Society detailed his own negative experience with the program, and how his experiences differed from the portrayal of events as broadcast on his website. Its a fascinating read.

Alas, VH1 did not deliver a happy ending on The Beat's edition of Bands Reunited. Cox and Steele, despite an impassioned plea from the aging Saxa, refused to reunite with their former band mates. When one of your band mates is pushing 80, opportunities to reunite grow dimmer by the year. And that was that. Or so it would seem. In recent blog interviews and newspaper interview conducted over the last year or so, Dave Wakeling has provided an inside look at the maneuvering that took place behind the scenes as the producers for the shows tried to make something out of nothing.

According to Wakeling, the whole experience was unpleasant. "It was a beast. It was funny as well, knowing what was going on behind the scenes. I don’t want to say much about it. I knew that it wouldn’t work to get the group back together. I was being interviewed and agreed to be a part of it, knowing that it wouldn’t happen. There were two people in the group that refused to even be in the same room together. I phoned VH1 and said I can’t do this, it’s going to take me away from my family and it’ll take too much time. They came back and said we’ll take you and your family and pay all your expenses to fly back to England. At that point, I felt I didn’t have a choice because it was such a great offer. Then the whole thing became comedic because they were staking out Andy Cox. What they didn’t realize, is that he takes that sort of thing very seriously and he started monitoring them! He could look out his window and see their reflection in the windows across the street. He showed me a log he started keeping, tracking when they were in front of his house. Roger got a gig while we were there and they got all the instruments together and set up chairs for everyone. Not everyone showed up, but they asked those of us that were there, to play a song. We agreed and started to set up when suddenly Roger went mad and made them turn the cameras off and take away all the instruments. But I had a great two weeks in London for free and my family enjoyed it. I think the premise of the show was good, but they started to get desperate and I think that The Beat got a whiff of it and that caused it to fail.

The problems, Wakeling shared in a newspaper interview, emerged once it began to look as if a full reunion of the Beat wasn't possible. "At that point, I suppose the producers have a dilemma of how to create some drama to make an interesting TV show, so they started to play games behind us, trying to get that band members to phone this band member, or to get that band member to go around another band member's house," Wakeling said. "After it was all over and done, the people who were reluctant to do it felt they'd been publicly ridiculed by VH1. They said, 'there's always been an off chance of the full band reuniting, but that VH1 show was the nail in the coffin.'" "So VH1 finally killed the Beat," Wakeling laughed. "Thanks a lot."

In the event that you missed the series or the episode featuring The Beat when it originally aired in 2004 or live outside the U.S., I've gathered the entire episode below from four YouTube clips. I also found a great summary of the entire episode here, so you can also follow along at home.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

English Beat Rarities - Elusive and Unreleased Tracks Finally See The Light Of Day

Fans of The Beat are always on the lookout for anything remotely new that they can add to the somewhat finite universe of recorded material that is available from the band. With only three albums and very few non-album tracks, its been, slim pickings for anything new. However, I recently heard two incredibly rare and unreleased tracks by the band which have been the holy grail for obsessive fans of the band.

Back in 1983, as the band was focused on breaking their 'Special Beat Service' LP in the U.S. (and were in the process of breaking up themselves), they returned to the U.K. to record a session for the Kid Jensen radio show on BBC 1. Rumor has it that the band recorded up to 4 new and never released songs during the session, including a lovely cover of Cole Porter's 'Night & Day'. As the band disintegrated and reformed as General Public and Fine Young Cannibals in 1984, the tracks recorded for those sessions were lost to the annals of time.

Though the tracks have remained elusive and hidden away, their existence has never been in doubt. In fact as far back as 1999, Dave Wakeling was quoted in a Rolling Stone story about the possible release of a greatest hits retrospective that would include rare tracks. "I'm told the labs in England had found some live tapes and maybe we'll put some of that on it," he says. "Somebody said there was an idea that they'd found a couple of tracks on the master reels that we'd never finished. Ah, 'contains previously released tracks.' It's probably because they were s---."

Now, 27 years later, the band's ultra smooth version of Cole's 'Night & Day' along with a funky number called 'It Makes Me Rock' featuring some seriously angular sax playing from Wesley Magoogan (think Oingo Boingo) have finally seen the light of day via an amazing mix of rarities, b-sides and 12" remixes posted by Liam Ska on his blog. The mix also includes the hard to find version of 'Rock The Casbah' by The Clash featuring Ranking Roger which was on Mick Jones mix of 'Rat Patrol From Fort Bragg' which would later be re-mixed and re-cut as 'Combat Rock'.

Below is the track listing for the mix along with notes about each song compiled by Liam Ska.

1. Pussy Price (Live) - This version of Laurel Aitken's 'Pussy Price' was recorded live in Germany. It comes from the Beat's concert for German TV's 'Rockpalast'.
2. Stand Down Margaret (Dub) - This was a double 'A' side with Best Friend. It has been previously available on cd on the 'B.P.M...Beats.Per.Minute' compilation in 1996. This has since gone out of print.
3. Psychedelic Rockers (7" Version) - This version has only previously been available as the 'b' side of the 'Too Nice To Talk To' 7" in 1980.
4. Hit It (Auto Erotic) (7" Version) - This was a non-album single from 1981. It has previously been available on cd in the USA on the 'What Is Beat?' compilation.
5. Which Side Of The Bed (7" Version) - This version has only previously been available as the 'b'-side to 'Hit It' in 1981.
6. Cool Entertainer (7" Version) - This was released as the 'b'-side to Pato & Roger's 'Ago Talk' single in 1982.
7. What's Your Best Thing (7" Version) - This was released as the 'b'-side to 'Save It For Later' in 1982.
8. March of the Swivelheads (7" Version) - This version was only previously released as the 'b'-side to 'Jeanette' in 1982.
9. It Makes Me Rock - Unreleased track from a 1983 Kid Jensen Radio 1 session
10. Night & Day - Unreleased track from a 1983 Kid Jensen Radio 1 session
11. Rock The Casbah - Ranking Roger toasting over 'Mustapha Dance' by The Clash and is unreleased.
12. Hands Off...She's Mine (12" Version) - The Beat's first 12" single, released in 1980.
13. Twist & Crawl (12" Version) - Double 'a'-side with 'Hands Off...She's Mine'.
14. Too Nice To Talk To (Dubweiser) - Taken from the 'Too Nice To Talk To' 12".
15. Psychedelic Rockers (Dubweiser) - 'B'-side of the 'Too Nice To Talk To' 12".

Friday, February 5, 2010

Ska and The Super Bowl? - Canadian ska band The Afterbeats To Star In Super Bowl Commercial

With the annual American sports holiday known as the Super Bowl fast approaching this Sunday, and with The Who booked as the halftime entertainment, I was pleasantly surprised and heartened to learn that Canadian ska band The Afterbeat will be starring in a Budweiser beer commercial airing during the Super Bowl telecast in Canada. Yes, that is correct.  A ska band is being featured in a Super Bowl TV commercial. The news has created quite a stir in Canadian media and is a great opportunity for the band to build a name for itself with the 4 million viewers expected to watch the game in Canada. The ad is expected to run for several weeks following its initial airing this Sunday.

The commercial, which won't be seen by the Super Bowl audience in the U.S. (the Canadian telecast of the game will run its own separate commercials), was shot in Los Angeles last November and features the band playing to a wildly enthusiastic audience in a packed club. Several patrons order a pitcher of Budweiser but the waitress has trouble navigating through the writhing crowd.  When the band members are alerted to the difficulty, they slow the music down, quieting the crowd enough to allow the waitress to pass with her precious cargo.

The band released their first album for free online putting their energies into licensing their songs out for TV, movies and commercials. The song 'Rude Boy' caught the ear of a Toronto ad firm which, in turn, pitched it to Budweiser.

Here is video the commercial shoot that took place in Los Angeles:

The Afterbeat formed in Winnipeg, Canada in 2000 and are play a mix of Ska, Reggae, Punk, New Wave, Soul, Rock & Roll. Originally a straight-up ska band, they released their first EP titled 'The Balls Out EP' in 2003 featuring the underground ska hit 'Me & You' which garnered airplay across North America. Continuing their strong Jamaican influence, they refined their sound somewhat for their first full length in 2005 called 'Personals', adding elements of Punk, Soul and Dancehall into the mix. After a few lineup changes, the band has soldiered on incorporating more British Punk and Rock & Roll influences into their sound but still carrying on the ska vibe that they started with.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Specials Confirm 2010 North American Mini-Tour Dates

It would appear that tickets for The Specials show at Terminal 5 in New York City on Wednesday April 21, 2010 will finally go on sale this Friday February 5, 2010 at Noon. Click here to buy tickets from the venue.

There was significant confusion about the date after the show was first announced almost 2 weeks ago on the Terminal 5 Web site and then suddenly disappeared. Speculation and innuendo ensued and there has not been an explanation from either the club or the band about what happened. Nevertheless, the good news is that the show appears to be on. The question now is how fast will it sell out, if it does will any additional New York dates be added and who is the support act?

Bryan at Read Junk posted the band's itinerary for the Spring including live and TV dates in North America:

Tuesday 13th April: Appearance On NBC`S Late Night With Jimmy Fallon 12:35/11:35c

Thursday 15th April: Concert At Club Nokia Los Angeles California

Friday 16th April: Performance At Coachella Festival Indio California

Monday 19th April: Concert At Sound Academy Toronto Ontario Canada

Wednesday 21st April: Terminal 5 New York NY

In the meantime, to whet your appetite for what to expect, below is video taken from the forthcoming Live DVD recorded last fall in Wolverhampton that is set for release later this month.

I'm hoping to organize an after party the night of the show at a bar in Manahattan for all fans of the band. More details to be posted in the next few weeks.