Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Exclusive: Interview With Pauline Black Of The Selecter


For my money, The Selecter and Pauline Black embody the best of 2-Tone and if pressed to name my favorite album of the entire 2-Tone era I would have to say "Celebrate The Bullet" by The Selecter. Surprised? You shouldn't be. Now don't get me wrong. I love The Specials first album and I am always moved by the near perfect majesty of 'Ghost Town' and the straight forward and soulful lament of 'Why'. The first album by The Beat was the soundtrack to my youth and I love the way I can track different times and places in my life by each Madness album. Indeed, 'Victoria Gardens' and 'The Sun and The Rain' are among my top 10 favorite songs of all time.

However, in my humble opinion "Celebrate The Bullet" broke the mold and remains the most creative and unique collection of songs to come out of the whole 2-Tone era. I wouldn't even call it a ska album necessarily. This is a dark, haunting, bluesy iteration of ska that to my knowledge has never been attempted before or since (No Doubt tried and failed). This is very intense and emotional music. For that reason, it is a very unique record and it goes against the grain of what fans of 2-Tone probably expected when it was released. At times the songs have a new wave feel via synthesized keyboard melodies that buzz over Neol Davies' blistering, bluesy and soulful guitar solos and riffs. Other times its almost undefinable as the songs are driven by a seamless melting pot of rock, reggae and new wave via memorable melodies that stick in your head. In fact, I would argue that 'Celebrate The Bullet' is on par with 'Ghost Town" as one of the best songs of the 2-Tone era. And personally, its the very end of 'Bristol and Miami' when there is an acapella chant taken from The Beatles 'Black Bird' that seals the artistic and emotional quality of the record for me.

I had the honor and pleasure to meet Pauline Black and Neol Davies when my band supported The Selecter when they toured the US in 1991. I most recently saw her when she and Lynval Golding of The Specials sat in on tour with The English Beat in 2006. The highlight of those shows was when Pauline came out mid-set to perform 4 songs by The Selecter. Black remains a triple threat as an artist -- she sings, acts and writes -- and she remains one of the most intriguing personalities to emerge from the 2-Tone era. While some members of other 2-Tone bands distanced themselves from their legacies, Black kept writing and recording new music under The Selecter moniker through the 90's and into the 2000's.

As the band celebrates its 30th anniversary, she has returned with renewed energy and vigor to reclaim the spirit that fueled the band and has moved forward in playing live shows around the world in the last year. Despite differences with some of her original bandmates that mirror The Specials reunion saga of last year (guitarist Neol Davies has announced the formation of his own version of The Selecter with a new singer), Black is enjoying a well deserved resurgence.

Black recently conducted a detailed, straight-forward and honest interview with me about the current state of The Selecter, her forthcoming book, solo record and a screenplay about her 2-Tone experience, as well as the 'Celebrate The Bullet' album, which also happens to be her favorite by the band.

You have been touring quite a bit lately. What kind of response have you been getting from fans around the world? Are there any plans to come to the U.S.?

I was asked to do the Warped Tour this year, four dates on the West Coast, but in the end it proved impossible to make the schedule work. Coming to the US is certainly on my agenda, but it is probably going to be next year in 2011.

I returned to the “live” performance scene again, largely because I had an offer from two South American agents to tour in Argentina and Brazil in early 2009 and I was feeling adventurous.

I didn’t have a band together at the time, having disbanded The Selecter due to some directional difficulties with my songwriting partner Nick Welsh, in 2006, after a fruitful 15 years of building up a solid reputation on the “live” ska circuit all over the world. It was a welcome opportunity to re-charge my batteries and for Nick to follow his particular path with Skaville UK.


The Selecter achieved much from 1991-2006, 2 live albums, featuring Neol Davies, 4 studio albums after Neol’s departure, 3 Trojan Songbook albums,2 Selecter Acoustic albums “Unplugged For The Rudeboy Generation” and “Requiem For a Black Soul”, plus a collaboration between Jake Burns(SLF), JJ Burnel(The Stranglers), Bruce Foxton (The Jam) & Nick Welsh and me for the ‘3 Men & Black” Acoustic album. Nick and I were rarely short of new ideas or songs during those years. Often it felt like “pissing in the wind” during the “ska doldrums” of the late 90’s & early Noughties, but we buoyed each other’s spirit until it was obvious that we could no longer move musically forward. We decided to disband in December 2006, possibly less than amicably, but always with a lot of respect. I believe both of us are now beginning to reap the benefits of decisions made during those tough times.

From 2006- early 2009, I performed a show “The Very Best of Nina Simone & Billie Holiday” with a jazz trio as an homage to these two great ladies. The trio included Pick Withers (Dire Straits) on drums and Dom Pipkin (currently touring with Paloma Faith) on keyboards & Nigel Portman-Smith on double bass. I also performed on the “This Is Soul Tour 2008” with Geno Washington and Eddie “Knock On Wood” Floyd. Both projects were eminently enjoyable and allowed me to stretch my wings beyond purely ska or 2-tone music. The Geno show was kind of ironic, because he supported the original Selecter at the Whisky A Go Go in Los Angeles during our 1980 US tour when his career was in a similar downturn phase. It was a real pleasure for me to be included on the bill with these two fantastic artists, who still generate so much energy on a stage.



After my two-year hiatus, I was feeling particularly gung-ho as regards performing again, so I decided to re-enter the fray by going somewhere entirely different-South America-a whole continent in a different hemisphere that apparently had a very different “take” on the ska sound.

Initially, I went to Brazil to do 6 very successful shows in Sao Paolo, Porto Alegre, Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro, Curitiba & Campinas, backed by an excellent homegrown ska band, Firebug. Then I did two shows in Argentina, in Buenos Aires and Mar del Plata with Doreen Shaffer of The Skatalites billed as “The Queens of Reggae and Ska”. I have known Doreen a long time and the shows really were the perfect fit for both of us. While in Buenos Aires I met a young man with a furious talent, Hugo Lobo, who plays trumpet and leads his own mega ska band, “Dancing Mood”. Instantly we had a rapport and he invited me back to Buenos Aires the following October to headline a concert that he organized in front of 30,000 people complete with Nyabinghi drummers and a 30 piece string orchestra, where I performed, “Bristol & Miami”, a self-penned song for the Selecter’s “Celebrate The Bullet” album, for the first time in 29 years! (see the video of this performance below). We have collaborated since on other recorded material and a DVD of the concert will be released soon in Argentina. On my return to the UK, I was asked by Neville Staple and Ranking Roger to join them on their “Legends of Ska” tour in Dubai and Australia.



It was after these musical excursions that I decided to work primarily as a solo artist and concentrate on my new material, as well as the Selecter hits and some choice covers. This involved forming a new band. Initially Neville Staples’ band very kindly offered to back me and learn my set. This was just an interim measure until I could build myself a band that I was happy with. It’s taken a lot of rehearsal and gigging, but currently I have my own fantastic 6 piece band including a choice horn section and 19 year old keyboard wizard Greg Coulson. The band has been working and rehearsing hard for the past few months and now has garnered a couple of nice reviews along the way and a date sheet that is filling up all the time in the UK and Europe.

You just signed a publishing deal for your memoir 'Black By Design.' What was it like to write a book? Did you sit down and write everyday?

I have been writing short stories and opinion pieces for BBC Radio 4 in the UK for years, since the early 90’s. I also wrote a novel in the mid 90’s “The Goldfinches” which picked up publishing interest, but then the recession hit and money was scarce and the interest evaporated. Therefore I did not approach my book as a novice. I knew that I wanted to write my own memoir. When a “ghost writer” is used it is usually obvious. The main difference between my first outing into the book world and now, is that I got a literary agent. Without a literary agent it is almost impossible these days for a writer to be taken seriously by publishers. Publishing interest in my memoir was there from the beginning, largely because I was the only female among the bands that did the legendary “2-tone tour” in 1979 and also because I have extended my repertoire over the past 30 years to include, acting, presenting, radio broadcasting & writing, while still remaining active as a musician throughout the 90’s and Noughties. Therefore my story covered a wider brief. I didn’t want my memoir to be just about the brief period of the 2-tone years. Fortunately my literary agent and publisher agreed with my approach. For the book to have been signed by influential, maverick publisher “Serpent’s Tail” is very much a dream come true. They have a great publishing history reflecting many of the books that have influenced me throughout my life, most notably many of the “Harlem Renaissance” writers like Langston Hughes and Nella Larsen.

Primarily, “Black By Design” is about my search for my cultural and racial heritage, which, I discovered, had surprisingly original beginnings. It vigorously discusses the twin evils of “racism” and “sexism”, which gave me the motivation to join a 2-tone band in 1979 and enter the ongoing musical polemic offered by that inclusion.

I wanted my book to be “ideas driven”, to ask some difficult questions about what it meant to grow up black in a predominantly racist Britain in the 50’s and 60’s and how being adopted into a white working class family influenced my decision to choose music as a career path. I didn’t want to write some dishonest potted history of my private life or just a scrupulously kept diary. Hopefully I have achieved my goal.

Your new album 'Pigment Of My Imagination' features an amazing cover of The Motels 'Total Control'. What prompted you to record a version of it?

The Selecter’s tour manager, Malcolm Rigby, had this Motel’s song on tape and used to play it on our tour bus during the band’s first visit to the US in 1980. I immediately loved the song and it has remained as a firm “all-time favourite” of mine ever since. When I was putting new material together for the album, the idea of covering the song surfaced and I decided to give it a try. I’m very pleased with the result (see a live performance of the song in the video below).



It is not an obvious choice to sing to a ska crowd, but you just have to be brave and surprisingly enough, audiences really enjoy my interpretation of it. I’m very pleased that I have managed to bring something of my own to the song. It’s a real treat to sing it on stage in such a stripped down format. When a song is stripped down that much, there is no place for a singer to hide. I like that challenge.

I wasn't in a hurry to get my new album “Pigment Of My Imagination” out. Now I have my book publishing deal in place, it makes more sense to coincide the release of my album and the book together. So I’m working on that package for 2011. I like to let songs evolve in “live” performance. I may indeed record some of the album again. We shall see. People can hear the tracks on my website; just click on “discography”.

Another song that I love singing at the moment is a ska/reggae version of Amy Winehouse’s “Back To Black”. She is always trying to do old ska tracks, so I thought it might be nice if one of us 2-tone ladies returned the favour, because she is a fine songwriter as well as singer. Obviously she wrote this particular song for me! It goes down a storm at gigs.



A film called 'Ghost Town' is now in development that will feature your story along with Neville Staples and the boxer Errol Christie. Can you share a bit more about the film? Will you be in it?

No I will not be acting in it, but I hope they find somebody suitable to play me if it makes it into production in the not too distant future. It would be rather wonderful if the movie release also coincided with my book release and a Selecter tour next year. Roll on 2011!

You recently announced a 30th anniversary show to celebrate 'Too Much Pressure' later this year in London. Are there plans to do more shows like this around the UK or EU?

Gaps Hendrickson and I did not want to miss the opportunity of doing something constructive for fans, many of who would like to mark the celebration of the release of the Selecter’s “Too Much Pressure” album this year.


Earlier in the year, I was approached to do two shows as The Selecter, “The Sinner’s Day Festival” in Belgium and Bloomsbury Ballroom in London. Never one to shirk my responsibility, I accepted both shows. My plan was to invite other members of The Selecter, most notably Neol Davies & Gaps Hendrickson, to join me. Unfortunately, the day the London show was announced coincided with Neol Davies’s announcement that he had formed a new version of The Selecter band with a new singer. This was an unfortunate piece of serendipity, but then the artistic course of The Selecter never has run smoothly!

Fans can make their own choice or better still relish the best of both worlds. Nothing would give Gaps and me greater pleasure than for Neol Davies to come on board for both shows. I firmly believe that doing these two celebratory shows does not have to preclude what either of us are doing as solo artists.

The plan is to perform the “Too Much Pressure” album in its entirety and include 4 bonus tracks, “The Selecter”, “The Whisper”, “Train To Skaville” & “On My Radio”; surprisingly the latter song did not appear on the album release in 1980. I hope fans of The Selecter will support this venture and put as much effort into its promotion and being there on the night as they did for The Specials.




I believe that the song "Celebrate The Bullet" is on a par with The Specials "Ghost Town" as one of greatest songs of the whole 2-Tone era. It’s such a haunting and emotional song. What was the genesis of that song and were you surprised by the reaction to it?

“Celebrate The Bullet” remains my all time favorite Selecter song. In fact the whole album is full of forgotten and neglected gems. When we recorded the song back in 1980, Neol Davies wanted to sing the song. Fortunately for me, Roger Lomas our producer, made him see sense. It is a surprisingly difficult melody line to sing; not for the faint-hearted vocalist. Neol brought a delicate poignancy to the guitar solo, which is after all his forte, that is unmatched by anybody that I have ever heard try to play that solo since.

Not a lot of people know that after the band sacked Charley Anderson as Selecter bassist in July 1980, Norman Watt Roy from The Blockheads was brought on board to play the fabulous bass on this track and the equally sublime “Washed Up And Left For Dead”.

It was a shame that the brain dead moronic DJs who inhabited BBC Radio 1 at that time banned the single version of “Celebrate The Bullet”. With no airplay the single was doomed. It was a tremendously upsetting period for the band and largely led to our breakup. But the song has stood the test of time. It’s relevance is more obvious these days than in 1981, because we now live in a society with a rampant gun culture and the powers that be seem to have no idea how to deal with it.

Charley Anderson (Selecter bassist 1979-1980) chooses to remember a different version of these events. I recently read an interview with him that you conducted Marc, in which he implied that he thought “Celebrate The Bullet” was a bad single choice and a totally wrong direction for the band to go in. He cites this as the reason why he left. He even suggests that he received “Divine Intervention” while making his momentous decision: I quote:

“With regards to my leaving The Selecter, I refused to play on “Celebrate the Bullet”. I didn’t think it was the right direction for the band and the rest is history. We all know John Lennon was shot two days before the album was released. Maybe I had a premonition”.

In my humble opinion, his statement is disingenuous and a distortion of the actual truth. “Celebrate the Bullet” was The Selecter’s proudest and finest moment and more importantly didn’t pander to what was expected of us. Strong words indeed from Mr. Anderson, considering that he never wrote an original song for the band during his one year tenure.

You wrote the song "Deepwater" which could be the inner monologue of a person here in the U.S. contemplating the loss of their home in the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Tell me a bit about that song?

Or indeed the theme tune for what is currently happening with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico! I like the fact that my song works on many different levels.

Just before the Selecter disbanded in 1981, “Deepwater” was a next single candidate after the unfortunate demise of the single version of “Celebrate The Bullet”. I have some rather strange, quirky mixes of “Deepwater” on which Neol plays some very funky guitar; totally different from the album version.

The idea for the title came to me on the Selecter’s first US tour. I saw a highway sign from the window of our tour bus for a town named “Deepwater”. The name just struck a chord with how I was feeling at the time. That tour was fraught with internal problems among us and I was deeply unhappy for most of the time, so I began to pen a song to reflect those inner feelings. I finished writing the song just around the time that keyboardist Desmond Brown finally walked out of the band for some unknown reason, just prior to the sacking of Charley Anderson. Believe me, it really did feel as though we were in ‘deepwater’ back then.



When I wrote that song and more particularly one of my other self-penned contributions to the album, “Bristol & Miami”, which dealt with race relations in the UK & US in 1980, little did I think that within 30 years a black man would be elected to the highest office in the US, primarily to deal with the deep shit that the country’s foreign and domestic policies had landed itself in. The future is most definitely difficult to predict.

There seem to be two versions of The Selecter at the moment. What are the chances that you, Neol and other members of the original band will end up on stage together sometime this year?

The Selecter shows to “Celebrate 30 years of Too Much Pressure” that I have accepted are in place. If members from the original band wish to approach Gaps and I, with a realistic sense of what it would mean to work together again, in order to give loyal fans a wonderful evening’s entertainment, then perhaps a discussion could begin. If not, then I hope fans will understand that Gaps and I have done all that we can to bring about some kind of reconciliation. I fervently hope Selecter fans will do everything in their power to make these shows and any future Selecter tour a huge success.

Pauline Black and Gaps Hendrickson will be celebrating the 30th anniversary of the 'Too Much Pressure' album with a concert on Saturday, November 13, 2010 at the Bloomsbury Ballroom in London. Tickets are now on sale.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Heavy Manners Returns!: Chicago's First Ska Band Releases New Tracks Including Long Lost Peter Tosh-Produced Song


While Los Angeles and New York get the lion's share of the credit for the nascent American ska scene of the early 1980's, the Chicago-based ska band Heavy Manners were American ska trail blazers. The multi-racial and gender mixed band ruled the Chicago music scene of the early and mid-80's creating a decidedly Mid-Western version of American ska that took the Windy City by storm. They perfected a high energy show and sound akin to The Selecter, highlighted by Kate Fagan's vocals and a unique ska/reggae meets rock sound and helped to give birth to a thriving Mid-Western ska scene that flourished throughout the 90's and into 2000's.

While Chicago is known for being the birthplace of Blues and Jazz music, Heavy Manners carried the ska torch on their own for much of the 80's ahead of the ska explosion of the mid-90's that rocked Chicago. According to a great article in the Chicago Reader on the roots of the Chicago ska scene, 'The first wave of ska had little impact on white Chicago. Reggae caught on much earlier, largely because rock acts like The Police, The Clash, and Eric Clapton dabbled in it. Charley "Organaire" Cameron, a Jamaican singer and harmonica player who moved to Chicago in 1976 after recording with Bob Marley, Derrick Morgan, Jimmy Cliff, Prince Buster, and Toots & the Maytals, remembers only two bands playing ska around 1980: the Jamaican-American band Heavy Manners, which gigged heavily at the roots clubs on the north side, and the Blue Riddim Band, from Kansas City.'


Throughout the early 80's Heavy Manners built a huge cult following in Chicago and the Midwest opening shows for a who's who of 80's bands including The English Beat, The Clash, Third World, Jimmy Cliff, The Ramones, The Go Gos, Grace Jones and Peter Tosh among others. The band's live shows were so legendary, that a gig they played with Tosh during a sold out show at Chicago's famed Aragon Ballroom nearly changed their fortunes. The reggae superstar was so impressed by their live performance and the quality of the band's songwriting that he offered to produce a recording session with them. Studio sessions were soon set up in Chicago and Tosh flew in from Jamaica to produce along with his guitarist Donald Kinsey and his engineer Dennis Thompson.

Those Tosh produced tracks were released as a part of a collection of new and vintage Heavy Manners cuts called 'Heavier Than Now' a few years ago. Included on the disc are remastered versions of the band's vinyl singles previously released on Disturbing Records and a five song set. You can purchase the CD here and you can hear versions of the songs on the band's MySpace site (including my personal favorite 'Taking The Queen To Tea'). However there were more Tosh tracks that went unreleased until now.

Chuck Wren, the tireless Chicago-based ska enthusiast who runs the Jump Up! ska label which has promoted and helped to celebrate Chicago and Mid-Western ska for more than 20 years has joined forces with Heavy Manners to distribute the band's first new material in 25 years including an unreleased track recorded with Tosh in the 80's. According to Wren, "Heavy Manners is the Midwest's missing link between British 2 Tone and American ska's third wave. Without their influence on a future generation of musicians, I truly doubt the American Skathic series would ever had existed. In addition, their acceptance by the reggae elite (like Peter Tosh) gave the entire U.S. scene a much needed boost, which is why I felt the unreleased Tosh dub was so necessary for this release."

I was able to connect with and interview members of the band including singer/keyboardist Kate Fagan, bassist Jimi Robinson, drummer Shel Lustig and saxophonist/keyboardist Kevin Smith about the early days of the band, their memories of the 80's Chicago music scene and what it was like to work with Peter Tosh.

What was it like growing up in Chicago in the 70's and early 80's and how did that influence you musically and artistically?

Kate: I was living in New York and getting into Ramones, Talking Heads, Patti Smith, and Blondie. When I moved to Chicago I started the punk band, Banned. Then I put out my own single, I don't wanna be too cool and played at Space Place. Then I joined BB Spin as the lead singer, doing kind of a Blondie thing, or at least that is what some people thought of what I was doing at the time. We wrote originals and that is what I have always been into, writing original songs.

Were you a fan of ska and reggae growing up?

Kevin: No, I received my reggaeducation in college. I discovered Marley, Cliff, Tosh and Steel Pulse and it was all over.

Kate: I became a fan of dub reggae when engineers became big in the reggae remix scene.

How did the band get started? Did you know any of the members beforehand?

Jimi: I had recently returned from Europe and was telling Mitch (guitarist Mitch Kohlhagen) about this music I heard in London called ska. On that basis, Mitch and I started writing, playing and recording ska music. Mitch and I had been working on a ska sound for at least 6 months before we found Kate. After Kate joined us Mitch, Kate, and myself put an ad in the Reader to find a drummer. Frankie answered the ad and said he knew a good drummer but we would have to take him too, on sax. He got Shel to join, who was a DJ on WXRT at the time and knew about ska. I came up with the name of the band based on a Jamaican slang expression.

Kate: I lived upstairs from Jimi in Lincoln Park. We were promoting reggae shows together in lofts. Bands we brought from New York in the meat packing district. I was in the band BB Spin. He was playing reggae downstairs and Mitch was coming over to jam. It was impossible not to start jamming. My punk meet their reggae and we started our own brand of ska...simultaneously actually with 2-Tone.

How did you decide to call the band Heavy Manners?

Kate: Jimi came up with the idea...it's a phase that's Jamaican roots yet street slang. It captured our music, which was a bit street-punky in attitude yet musically rooted in reggae.

Where did the band fit into the Chicago music scene of the early 80's?

Kate: We were originators of Ska in Chicago. We had to bust into the night club scene because there were a lot of long hair guitar bands. We would be booked on so-called "punk nights" with a band like Tutu and the Pirates or Hugh Hart, who were new wave bands. We started selling out night clubs when we released "Flamin First." Honestly, playing in the clubs at that time, you could bring home a few hundred dollars a night per band member. At Tut's we got a percentage of the bar and 100% of the door. Those were some high times.

Shel: The early 80's scene was quite diverse in Chicago. Everything from techno pop to metal bands were getting airplay and attention. We were unique in that there simply wasn't another band in the city that either sounded like us or looked like us. And that was part of the draw. Here we were, a group of very diverse people; independent thinkers who came together through a love of reggae & ska music. We threw all of our influences and playing styles into a blender and came up up with Heavy Manners. The political message was in the music but you weren't hammered over the head with it because you were usually having too much fun dancing. (See the video below of the band's song 'Famin First' set to clips and pictures of the band during the height of their popularity in Chicago.)




Did you make a conscious decision to only play ska and reggae music?

Shel: Absolutely. We'd all played in rock bands and some of us had dabbled in jazz and blues too. But the allure of ska and reggae was the unifying force that really brought us together. The music was challenging to play if you came from a rock & roll background. It was rhythmic, political, danceable and cutting edge. It forced each of us to think about ourselves as musicians in a new way, to stretch ourselves out and to explore songwriting and song construction from a different perspective. The sound we ultimately achieved was ska with the power of rock and roll behind it and a reggae style that was uniquely Heavy Manners.

Kate: Seriously, I never thought of playing another other than ska. Not really interested in rasta subject matter, so not so big on playing reggae. Punk I would enjoy again.


The band had a reputation for putting on a great live show. Do you any have memories of any shows is particular that stand out?

Shel: When we released 'Politics and Pleasure', we headlined at the Park West. When I arrived, the line to get in snaked around the corner for about 1 1/2 blocks. I'd been to the Park West for many shows and we'd played there before, but I had never seen a line like that. I was blown away by the excitement I felt from the crowd who were looking forward to our new album and our new songs. We played a great show that night. It was as if we were feeding off the pure energy of the crowd. Another memorable night was opening for The Clash at the Aragon Ballroom. There were about 7,000 people in the audience and as I looked out into the crowd, I could see hundreds of our fans right in front of the stage, singing along, word for word, with every song we played. That night I knew we had had a real impact on the Chicago music scene.

Kevin: I came into Heavy Manners after they were already established. My first gig is the most memorable, it was at The Park West. I was ending a relationship with one band and starting my relationship with Manners. That was a transitional period all the way around, with the band, my education and career choices and personal life. The next most memorable was the first gig without Frankie when he went out to Hollywood. I was terrified; we made it through but the pressure was intense. I also have great memories from Tut's and On Broadway where we rocked the house.

Kate: We premiered the song 'Say It' at the Aragon opening for The Clash. I could do that night again.

How did you meet Peter Tosh?

Jimi: Peter was standing just off stage as we were playing as his warm up act at the Aragon. When we finished our set, he came up to me and said "nice dance, I'm going to be in Chicago around Christmas, let's make a record". He took my phone number and said he would be back in Chicago in a few weeks to visit a girlfriend here. He called me on his arrival in Chicago and said "get a studio and some herb and let's make a record". He had been working with Don Kinsey, a guitar player in Chicago that had played with Bob Marley. He also brought along Dennis Thompson as an engineer, who was Marley's live engineer.

What was it like to go into a recording studio with Tosh? What was he like as a producer? Did he have specific ideas about how the songs should sound?

Shel: Peter Tosh was probably the most laid back producer we could have worked with. He listened to what we were doing and made suggestions but he didn't try to change the band. We weren't a Jamaican reggae band and he knew it. Tosh let Heavy Manners be Heavy Manners and simply worked on fine tuning the studio performances to get us to play our best. He let us know if there was something he didn't like and we'd go back and do another take. Guitarist Donald Kinsey, who was recording and touring with Tosh at the time, was also in the studio with us acting as a co-producer. He worked closely with us, helping produce some of the the guitar leads and other solos.

Kate: I was surprised he selected 'Say It' as the first cut he wanted to record. It's a rock song with a ska skank, and the subject is where the woman is kind of scolding the man. It just didn't seem like Peter's style. But he really liked that song, Donald Kinsey opened up a can of woop-ass on the guitar solo.

With Tosh as a producer was there any talk at the time of a major label record deal?

Shel: We had representation at the time and the demo we completed with Tosh was shopped to a number of major labels. The record companies just didn't seem to know what to do with us. They heard reggae and ska, with a dash of rock and roll and weren't sure where to go with it. In 1982-1983, the only thing the major labels wanted was a hit record. They weren't convinced that we'd be able to chart with the sound we had. In the meantime, we were drawing the largest crowds of any local band in Chicago, which we thought was proof enough that the music could be brought to a larger audience. It all comes down to marketing. If we had been in New York or LA and the record executives had seen our live shows and the crowds that came to them, we probably would have had the major label deal that never came our way.

Kate: We had been trying to get a major deal since Flamin First. We were rockin college radio and indy stations, but suddenly the 80's had British hair bands with synths and they became the rage. I think we were in the wrong country -- ska was big in Britian.


After a long hiatus off, the band is releasing a new 12" vinyl record titled 'Get Me Out Of Debt' on Jump Up Records. What songs are on the record? How did that come about?

Kate: You know, we are spirited individuals who want to make a difference. Our band was always special to each individual and we all wanted to reunite. Once we hit a rehearsal, we clicked again and started having fun. We always had a blast together. There are very funny and fun and creative individuals in the band and for the most part we are all laid back. We like each other and we like our sound together.

The Bush administration really brought us back together as a band -- We were all like, what the fuck is going on? What happened to progress? Why are the poor still getting poorer and the rich still getting richer? Why are we going broke on two wars that's feel like like quick sand? What happened to kids and education and the environment as priorities of society.? So needed to roar back out with our sound and our songs back out. The two new cuts, 'Get Me Outta Debt' and 'Fight The Good Fight' are the next chapter -- We are asking questions, we are trying to wake people up, we are trying to rally people and shake things up.

Who produced the new songs for this release? And how did those sessions come together?

Kevin: I did. Kate and I had threatened to get together and work on tunes. She came to my home studio with her guitar and a song called "Get Me Out Of Debt". We worked out the form and she let me do my thing producing the tracks. Eventually, the entire band was over working on the tracks. I wanted to keep the true Heavy Manners sound and use current recording technology to give it some edge. The other new track I produced is a song Kate brought in called "Fight The Good Fight" and we had already performed it live. So recording it was matter of using current technology to add some flavor. Working in a laboratory environment gave us all the chance to focus on giving the best performances. Then Johnny "Jackson" Bomher at Horse Drawn Productions did a great job mixing.

The band is playing a show this July in Chicago to celebrate the release of the record. Are other shows planned?

Kate: Hey, it comes down to demand and supply. If people want to hear us, we are up for playing all night long. We have a blast playing together.

If you happen to be in or around Chicago in July, be sure to swing by Wren's 'The Return of 80's Ska Nite with DJ Chuck Wren' at the Late Bar where he will debut the new Heavy Manner 12" vinyl single, their first new recordings since the early 80s, including the long lost Peter Tosh produced disco/dub of 'Could Not Get Enough'.

The band play a reunion show to celebrate the release of the record on Sunday July 25th as part of the Taste Of Lincoln Avenue event in Chicago. More details here.

You can listen to and purchase a copy of 'Get Me Outta Debt' from Amazon.com:

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Exclusive: Nick Welsh Is King Hammond! - UK Ska Musician, Producer, Songwriter Comes Clean


The cat is finally out of the bag! I'm pleased to be able to share one of the worst kept secrets in modern ska history. Nick Welsh is King Hammond and King Hammond is Nick Welsh! Coming nearly 25 years after the release of 'Revolution 70' in 1987, Welsh has once again donned his alter ego 'King Hammond' and graced us with 'The King And I'. Its a startling crisp and addictive collection of skinhead reggae tracks that pay homage to the originals that inspired them but retains a contemporary pop feel and has to be considered one of the best ska/reggae releases of 2010.

Welsh remains one of the busiest and most prolific ska musicians on either side of the Atlantic and his resume is a mile long. He has worked with and produced A-list artists like Prince Buster, Laurel Aitken, Dave Barker, Rico Rodrigues, and Judge Dread as well as Lee 'Scratch' Perry with whom he worked on the Grammy Award winning album 'Jamaican ET'. Nick has also been the bassist and song writer in Bad Manners and The Selecter (helping to shepard both band's post 2-Tone careers - he wrote 'Skaville UK). If that wasn't enough, he also fronts his own band Skaville UK, and writes music for U.K. and U.S. television shows and video games.

I had the pleasure to meet Welsh in 1991 when my band Bigger Thomas was the support act for The Selecter's first tour of the U.S. since the band had broken up in the early 80's. Welsh, Pauline Black and Neol Davies were all very kind to us (it was our first proper tour) and they always made sure we got a sound check and a dressing room (which is more unusual than you might expect in the cut throat music biz). As a fellow bass player I was also always impressed that Welsh played a Steinberger bass (which is a very sleek guitar that has no tuning pegs.)


Its fair to say that much of the ska music that has been produced and performed in the U.K. over the last 20 years likely has Welsh's finger prints on it somewhere. When I heard about the release of a new King Hammond album, I eagerly sought out Welsh who is among one of the most approachable musicians I've met and always willing to share a good story and tell it like it is.

What was it like growing up in London and how did that influence you musically and artistically?
I grew up in London at a time when all forms of music was peaking - The Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Tamla, Motown, Trojan. Then put in to the mix that my father was a musical arranger/producer making all kinds of great music in the 60's & 70's. I was lucky enough to be able to see him work at places like Abbey Road! Now these people were considered 'proper' musicians they came into the sessions which ran from 10 am-1 pm, 2-5 pm and 7-10 pm and just played what was written down for them. At that time I thought making music was beyond me, but then punk came along and showed people that it was not all about musical brilliance and that suited me down to the ground!.

In London in the mid seventies you could see 2 or 3 good bands every night in pubs and clubs. My first public gig was in 1976 in a Church hall in North London (I think there were a lot of Cream covers that night). In early 1977 I formed a band called The Dead with some like minded friends and we played gigs like the legendary Roxy Club. You had to play first on a Wednesday night which was 'audition' night and if you were any good (or you let the manager touch you up) you were given a Friday or a Saturday night. I remember playing there with Cock Sparrer and Joe & Mick from The Clash bought us a drink and said we were really good ( I think they were just being nice to us!) My idol all through this time was Marc Bolan. I was expelled from my school for 'bunking off' and following T.Rex around on tour. The area where I lived around Hackney was and still is a multi-racial area so that was where I first heard and fell in love with skinhead reggae which I heard from radios and stereos in the flats where I lived.

Is it true you went to school with Doug Trendle (Buster Bloodvessel)? How did you re-connect with him and end up joining Bad Manners in 1986? Can you share any memorable experiences of working with Doug or touring with the band?
I went to school with Doug Trendle, Louis Cook, Dave Farren, Paul Hyman & Brian Tuitt from the original line up of Bad Manners, even the roadie Royden was there (although he never went!). We were all very good friends and I used to love going to the bands early gigs around the pubs in London. This was before the band 'went ska'. I preferred it pre-ska myself. They used to play mostly rock n roll songs like 'Love Potion #9' and 'Riot In Cell Block #9'. There was a lot of comedy songs as well like 'The Milky Bar Kid' which was my favorite. It was the penultimate song in the set before 'Caledonia'. See i like it so much I can still remember it over 30 years later!

Doug was a great front man and they were sort of like local heroes. I had not seen any of them for about a month and Doug invited me down to a show at a place called Chats Palace and it was a real surprise the band had suits on and were playing things like 'Double Barrel' and 'Fatty Fatty' I still liked it but it was a shock. A bit like when my brother Richard left the house in the morning with long hair, flared suit & platform shoes and came home at night with spikey dyed short hair, leather jacket, drainpipe trousers and Doc Marten boots!. I was in contact all the time with my friends from Woodberry Down school all through the 'hits' period in the UK. In 1984 I formed a band with Louis and Paul called Love Squad which was a bubblegum pop reggae folk hybrid. We recorded 14 tracks for an album (which never came out) and did a few local gigs. I played my first gig with Bad Manners in 1986 and the following year formed Busters All Stars with Doug. In 1988 the two combined and we recorded the album 'Eat The Beat.' I have a lot of good memories from that time, but the best must be the gig we did with The English Beat and about 10 other bands in 1990 at the Greek Theatre in San Francisco. It was such a great night and we really shook the place. It was a great time for Bad Manners.


The first King Hammond album came out in 1987! What inspired the name and the songs?
Now we are talking right at that time in England when there were maybe 2 or 3 ska bands, like The Potato 5, The Deltones. I was playing a lot of gigs with Bad Manners and Busters All Stars, but as anybody who knows me will tell you, I cant stand still for one minute. I have to move forward like a shark or Neil Diamond. The first King Hammond track I wrote was 'Skaville UK' which was a lot slower than most people may know the song. The intro and the bits of vocal in the song was me trying to do a 'Dave Barker.' I first recorded the song in 1986 along with a song called 'Tighten Up' which had the chorus 'I Roy, U Roy, Byron Lee, Al Capone & Lee Perry' which ended up years later in a song called '(I Wish It Was) 1973' that I recorded in my band Skaville UK 20 years later!

I recorded most of the 'Revolution 70' album on a Casio organ on a portastudio! I then took that into a 24 track studio and added some things. It was at this time that I decided that King Hammond should be an unsuccessful reggae singer of the early 70's and that story did the rounds in music papers, fanzines etc. I chose the name King Hammond because of names like Prince Buster, King Horror etc. The original name I had was Lord Manchester but I changed that at the last moment. I had a couple of tracks on ska comps in the late eighties like 'King Hammond Shuffle' and 'Right On King Hammond' and the album 'Revolution 70' came out in 1989 on Bluebeat Records. It proved to be very popular amongst skinheads so i went into the studio to cut a follow up album 'Tank Tops & Hot Pants' but before it was finished Bluebeat Records went under. In 1992 the 2 albums were released on one CD under the name 'Blow Your Mind' which was on Receiver Records, which was part of the Trojan empire so I made it on there in the end! To promote the album I toured doing a live PA show (singing to backing tracks) with 2 go-go girl dancers with me which was fun, but not the same as playing in a live band.





After helping Bad Manners gain a second wind, you and Martin Stewart left the band in 1991 to join the re-formed version of The Selecter. What prompted the move and what are your memories of touring and working with Pauline Black and Neol Davies?
In 1990 Pauline & Neol started to guest on stage with Bad Manners (although it was called Busters All Stars) and I really enjoyed it. Pauline is graced with the best voice in 2-Tone and Neol is a great guitarist. Martin Stewart (the keyboardist from Bad Manners) approached me and asked me if I would I be interested doing a full tour of the U.S. as The Selecter which of course I said I would. So Martin booked the tour but was kicked out of Bad Manners which was ridiculous. Anyway we did the tour and it was a huge success and musically rewarding for me so when I got back to England, I asked Doug that if any other tours came up would it be OK for me to do them if I was able to find a replacement for Bad Manners (as I had done while I was in the U.S.). However this was apparently not acceptable so I left and joined The Selecter full time which I did for the next 15 years. This might sound strange to people, but I had more fun in The Selecter then in Bad Manners. We tried to make new records changing the set around regularly which are the sort of things I enjoy about being in a band. My favorite of The Selecter albums of the 90's is 'The Happy Album.' The tour we did with No Doubt in arenas around the U.S. was cool but my favourite moment was playing a gig in Santa Cruz, California with The Monkees and The Village People! The Selecter was and still is a very important part of my life. (Have a look at the ultra rare promo below, produced to promote The Selecter's 1991 reunion. You'll catch some glimpses of Welsh).



Given your work with various members of a variety of 2-Tone band, can you share your honest perspective on why the members of The Selecter have been unable to reunite to celebrate their shared 30th anniversary?
Well I would not have the first idea why they did not get it together. What I will say is that if The Selecter got together who would it be in it? Out of the first two albums, I prefer 'Celebrate The Bullet' to 'Too Much Pressure' but there were different members in each line up. so for me its not so straight forward. My thinking is that most people would say the 'On My Radio' line up is the one they would want to see. I don't know why it did not happen but from conversations I've had with Pauline, she is very happy doing what she is doing. I saw film of her singing in South America with a brilliant band and an orchestra and thought it was fantastic. I also played a gig with her last year in Amsterdam doing mostly new songs of hers and she sounded better than ever, so maybe the guys thought it was not worth doing without her but again I am the wrong person to ask. I'm just wrapped up on my own in my perfect world!

Your latest project King Hammond was originally started back in the post 2-Tone days of the late 1980's. What inspired you to re-form and release a new album in 2010?
That's a funny question!. What happened was back in January of 2010, I was going to a friends 40th birthday and I could not think of a present for him. I knew he was a big fan of the King Hammond records, so I recorded him a birthday song in the 'King Hammond' style. While I was doing this it reminded me of how much fun I used to have doing them. So on February 1st, I recorded the first of the new batch a song about gun and knife crime amongst our youth called 'Cool Down Your Temper.' I wrote and recorded it in a 3 hour session. A friend of mine Paul Williams (who wrote 'You're Wondering Now - The Specials From Conception To Reunion) put together some old skinhead footage and put the two together and stuck it on You Tube. The response to the track was so positive that I recorded 11 more tracks and by May 18th I had 'The King & I' in my hands. Just three months from start to finish. For the record my personal favourites are 'Mr Easy Talk' a song for the politicians, 'Dave & Ansel' which is about how friends may come and go but records are your friends for life! Also 'The Rudest Girl In Town' which is my ode to rude girls everywhere.





You've been quite prolific of late recording and performing with your band Skaville UK, others projects (Rhoda Dakkar's solo record) and as a solo artist ('The Soho Sessions' album). What do you like most about being in a band vs being a solo artist?
The other day someone gave me a pile of albums to sign for them. While I was signing they told me that since I had left The Selecter in December of 2006, I have produced and released nearly 90 pieces of new music! That surprised me. I knew I had released a couple a year but when you say that amount even if half of them are any good that is still good going! I used to love being in a band but nowadays I prefer to be on my own. Of course when King Hammond plays live I will have a band behind me (The Rude Boy Mafia) but i like making records on my own and just pleasing myself first and foremost and if other people want to come along for the ride that's great. My other big love is playing my accoustic shows where I can choose songs from my past and rework them tell a few stories, make a few bad jokes and just have nice cool mellow evening like Randy Newman but without the talent! My favorite albums I have recorded in the last few years are Skaville UK -Devil Beat, Rhoda Dakar & Nick Welsh-Back To The Garage and of course King Hammond -The King & I.



Your new album 'The King And I' lovingly pays homage to your love of skinhead reggae. Did you play all the instruments on the album? It sounds like it includes a mix of sampled and organic sounds?
On 'The King & I' I play all the instruments, but there are a couple of samples thrown in like the woman's voice on 'The Rudest Girl In Town,' but otherwise its all King Hammond. I record in 3 and 4 hour sessions. Some of the songs were made up on the spot and some written the night before I went in. That keeps it all fresh for me. What freaks me out is that some days I would write a track at 1.00 pm and finish at 4.00 pm and put it up on the Internet and by 7.00 pm I was getting e-mails from people in California or Canada about the music. I mean we all know it's the World Wide Web but when its actually in front of you its strange. I mean I did not know about the song till a few hours earlier! The only song that had been around for a couple of months was 'You Can't Get Those Sweet Things Anymore' which i wrote after visiting Noel Coward's house in Jamaica. I wanted to write a song in his 'fruity' style. It's a serious song about desperation. I just went in and played live in one take; couple of overdubs and Bob's Your Uncle another track!

In light of the success of The Specials reunion tour (and rumor of a new album) is it a good time to be in a ska band?
Well not for me cos I'm not in a ska band! But maybe some people who went to see The Specials on tour might think 'hey, that was good I wonder if there are any new ska/reggae records out there' but it has not effected me yet. But anything that brings attention to the 'scene' has got to be good. I don't really look beyond making some good music. Nothing more maybe a little less!

Having spent some time touring here in the US, what is your take on the American ska scene?
Well I have been lucky enough to tour the USA a lot of times in the past 25 years. Back in the eighties i thought it was a very exciting scene with bands like Fishbone, The Untouchables, The Toasters & Lets Go Bowling. I liked the attitude of the people in the bands and I found the audiences to be friendly and informative. I have nothing but good memories of those days. I have not toured America since 2005 with The Selecter so i'm not really up to speed with what's going on over there. I heard a few bands that I have liked including Westbound Train, Chris Murray and of course The Toasters are still going strong. I think on a grass roots level the American ska scene is a lot stronger then over here in the UK which is a shame cos there are some good bands over here like The Rough Kutz, Semi Skinned and Swagga. I holidayed in L.A. a couple of years ago and did a small acoustic show at The Bluebeat Lounge in Hollywood which was great fun but what I would like is to do some King Hammond dates in the USA. So if there are any bands out there who would like the King to come along and play some shows get in touch with me!

You can purchase a copy of the new King Hammond album 'The King And I' directly from Welsh at his Web site. King Hammond will be playing its first live show in 20 years at The Gaff in London on Friday July 30th. You can get more details and information here.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Exclusive: Interview with Chris Metzler and Lev Anderson - Directors of 'Everyday Sunshine: The Story Of Fishbone'


I don't even know what to write about Fishbone that hasn't already been written. They remain, hands down, the best live band I have ever seen. I distinctly remember hearing their very first record being played inside Tower Records in New York City in early 1985 when it was first released. Once I heard the skanking chords from "Party At Ground Zero" blasting through the store's speakers, I ran over to the counter and asked the clerk what was on the turntable. "FISHBONE!," he shouted. I bought the LP on the spot. They've been a favorite band ever since and my Fishbone t-shirt (with 'Bone In The USA' on the back) was a staple of my college wardrobe. I had the good fortune to see the band perform one of their legendary shows at The Ritz in New York City on Halloween in 1985 (on a bill that also included 24-7 Spyz and The Red Hot Chilli Peppers). It remains one of the best live musical experiences that I have ever had.



As one of the only African-American bands (as opposed to acts) to emerge from the 80's (along with Living Colour), Fishbone were a uniquely American cultural and musical phenomenon. They exploded out of the Los Angeles music scene of the early 80's with ska as the foundation for their early sound. They quickly expanded their musical palette to include everything from punk to funk to metal to rock into a unique and uncompromising musical stew. Poised to break-out of the alternative music scene of the early 90's they were confronted by a variety of forces that conspired against them. First, a music industry that seemed confused by and unwilling to market them to a wider mainstream audience. But the band also suffered from a self-inflicted destructive streak that often ended up taking them one step forward but then two steps back. Despite some uneven albums and a shifting range of personnel and personal problems, their live show always remained free of the ongoing trials and tribulations they endured. Whatever problems they might be having, they left it off-stage or used it to fuel an even more energetic and intense performance. The show always went on (see the video below for a taste).




As the band celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, their long and colorful story is finally ready to be told. 'Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone' directed by two talented filmmakers Chris Metzler and Lev Anderson is finally due to have its debut screening at the prestigious Los Angeles Film Festival this month. I recently connected with Metzler and Anderson who were kind enough to tell me all about the film and what it was like to work with Fishbone and the many music celebrities who are interviewed in the film.


What is your personal connection to Fishbone?

CHRIS: We were fans of the band and approached them about doing the documentary one rainy night after a show in San Francisco. Since then, we have spent a lot of time with the band on the road and hanging out with Norwood and Angelo in L.A. Like many other college students in the early 90s, I definitely appreciated their energy and unique place in rock music at a time when there where not a lot of African-American rock stars.

LEV: I was a fan of the band for years, and even did an interview with Norwood in Chicago for my college radio show and newspaper when they were on tour with De la Soul. After hanging with Norwood that afternoon, I learned there was plenty of personality and insight behind the crazy stage show.

Do you remember the very first time you heard Fishbone? Do you remember the first live show you ever saw?

LEV: My dad was an eclectic music lover and he bought their first EP and took me to a show when I was like 10 years old. It must have been the first time they performed in Portland OR, like 1984 or '85. I just remember the show being like it was when I listened to them - lots of jumping and flailing around. I think I introduced the mosh pit concept to a lot of 10-year olds.

CHRIS: Do I remember the first show? Ha! Not really as it was in the middle of a long party in college at USC.

What was the inspiration for the documentary?

LEV: I think just the cross-genre talent of the band is where it all starts. When you look deeper, you understand that all the original members had very strong personalities and from there you can trace out their influence on other artists at the time. And I knew that in doing the documentary, we could approach all kinds of musicians for interviews about the band. In the film we have interviews with Ice-T, Flea, Mike Watt, Keith Morris, Branford Marsalis, Gwen Stafani and others. There are not many bands out there that connected with such a range of talent.

CHRIS: I was definitely intrigued by the personalities. Just watching Angelo on stage, you can see a mad genius at work. Singing his ass off, a middle aged stage diver, honking his saxophones, playing the theremin! The theremin?! Plus, I really liked the idea of exploring the social and cultural forces in LA that gave rise to a Black rock band from South Central. That these guys were outsiders that really didn't fit in anywhere and so they just decided to blaze their own path.

What was the band's response when you first approached them with the idea for the film?

CHRIS: I think it took them a little time to warm to the idea that we were the ones to do the film. We pretty much came out of the blue and probably come off as square white boys. But when we showed them my previous film PLAGUES AND PLEASURES ON THE SALTON SEA, they seemed to really enjoy the weirdness of that film and understand that I too was an odd duck. After that I think they felt more comfortable that we would be able to pull it off.

LEV: Yeah, I think they were a little indifferent at first as we were not the first to suggest doing a documentary about them, as there many other people wanting to make a film on Fishbone too. But we were persistent and I think that showed them we were serious, especially when we followed them all the way to Hungary.


Fishbone's fan base is quite loyal to the band. What kind of input/feedback have you gotten from them about the project?

CHRIS: It may not come across clearly in the film, but it is obvious that Fishbone has a dedicated fanbase that has helped keep the band going throughout the years. I am not sure there is another band out there that has managed to survive so many line up changes and financial hardship and still keep it authentic and new. They have not stopped touring over 25 years and that is a testament to the fans showing up to the clubs and showing the love.

LEV: Fishbone has a very dedicated fanbase and they have been pretty cool about the project. Many fans have lent us use photos or videos from Fishbone shows that they took throughout the years. I think all of the Fishbone soldiers out there were excited that the film was being made and all chipped in whatever way they could. Funky thanks to you all!

There's a who's who of artists, musicians and celebrities in the documentary. How hard or easy was it to get them all on board with the project?

LEV: It seemed pretty easy to get artists and celebrities to be interested, as their love for Fishbone is great. The interviews that did not happen were mainly because of people being so busy and never being able to schedule something. There are a lot of interviews we did that are not in the film that will be DVD bonus features like Chuck D, Bad Brains, Robert Trujillo of Metallica.

CHRIS: The interviews that we included in the film are there because they help move the story along. There are not interviews in there simply because we wanted so and so to be in there, but because they really contribute something to the story we are telling and even then we had to cut people out just because sadly we couldn't make an 8 hour film.

Its taken four years from start to finish to complete the film. For the uninitiated, can you explain a little bit about the process behind how a documentary film is produced and what keeps you busy during that time?

LEV: Well, scheduling interviews with rock stars can be time consuming in itself because they have such crazy schedules. This being an independent DIY we had to work within a very limited budget. We pretty much raised money, scheduled and shot interviews and shows, did all the research and tracking down of archival footage, went through all the legal hoops, negotiated music licenses - all that and more - by ourselves.

CHRIS: We definitely had help along the way from generous collaborators that were either friends or fans of the band that have been able to contribute high quality work on a low budget. But when you ask people to do things cheaper than what they may be getting paid to do other work, things tend to take a little longer. If you have a big budget to pay everyone what their time is really worth or to be able to fly around the world to do interviews with people wherever they are on tour, things can be done in no time. But really, it all comes down to a daily hustle to get things done with modest resources, lots of love, and caffeine.


Can you share any unusual or particularly memorable experiences from filming the documentary?

CHRIS: The European tours were pretty sweet because you go to all these amazing places, sometimes where people may not know Fishbone or their music, but then the band quickly wins them over and to see that is amazing. There were both 20 year olds and 80 year old men in a small town in Hungary approaching the guys after a show to tell them how much they enjoyed the concert. The guys in the current line-up were very cool having us follow them around on the road. It was a real grind but the band and the crew worked as a nice team.

LEV: And, the guys in the band now were always super cool. It would have been nice to showcase their talents more but that would maybe have been a different kind of film than what we were trying to make. I think all the guys we met that have been in Fishbone - past and present - are very down to earth, cool motherfuckers and that's what I will remember the most. Also, the week CBGBs shut down, Fishbone played one of the last shows and that was fun, filming from the mosh pit in such a shithole of a landmark. I think I still have broken glass in my hand from that show.

What has kept the band together all these years despite the many ups and downs that would have caused others to break-up?

CHRIS: I think the dedicated fanbase has helped carry the S.S. Fishbone through the roughest waters. That and I think Angelo and Norwood both have this eternal optimism as artists that believe in their art, that they are doing the right thing and even if the money ain't there, the music brings them a satisfaction they couldn't get any other way.

LEV: Well, people have come and gone in the band but what some of the guys have said is that they might not be able to play the kind of music they do with any other band. That is how unique Fishbone is in the world today. They might be able to play a Punk Rock trombone on one song but can they also play reggae styled accordian on the next song?


In your opinion, what is the band's enduring musical legacy?

LEV: The genre blending style of the music will definitely define the band's legacy. Some critics may say that playing metal and ska at the same time turns people off that may onluy like one style but that is their legacy. Fishbone could play anything and didn't give a fuck about fitting into any industry defined parameters. And on the best nights, I am not sure any other bands can really come close to the energy and musicianship.

CHRIS: It's the live show. Since day one of this project, anytime anyone heard we were doing a Fishbone documentary, countless people would say "that was my first show" or "I remember seeing them..." or "best concert I have ever seen" even if these people never listened to a Fishbone record. That isn't a bad legacy because doing it on stage, in front of a crowd, shows how talented and dedicated these guys are.

When can fans expect to see the film at their local movie theater?

LEV: We will be doing the film festival circuit through the Summer/Fall and hope to have a theatrical release by the end of the year.

CHRIS: You can check out www.fishbonedocumentary.com to find all of our upcoming screenings as they are scheduled and you can also sign up for the mailing list there. We will be working our ass off to get the film screened in as many locations as possible, count on that!

'Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone' will be presented at the 2010 Los Angeles Film Festival in downtown Los Angeles from June 17-27 and the film is competing in the documentary category. It features the history of the band through its ups and downs, the creative process and insights from Flea, Ice-T, Perry Farrell, Gwen Stefani and Branford Marsalis in addition to past and current members of Fishbone. The story is narrated by Laurence Fishburne. For more information visit the film Website.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Van's Warped Tour California Dates To Celebrate The History Of Ska

While ska took root all over the U.S. in the 80's and 90's, it has always been most popular in California, particularly Los Angeles and Orange County. Starting with The Untouchables in the 80's to Fishbone, No Doubt, the crop of bands that rode the 90's 3rd wave revival (Reel Big Fish, Save Ferris) and current bands like The Aggrolites, musicians and fans living in California have had a long standing love affair with the sound of ska.

One Californian who has consistently championed ska in its many splendored forms is Tazy Phyllipz. He has documented the California and U.S. ska scenes for two decades now, hosting 'The Ska Parade' radio show. Over the years he has also produced many live concerts, a video documenting the California ska scene, and a number of compilations of California ska including 'Step On It: The Best of the Ska Parade' and 'Runnin' Naked Thru The Cornfield.'

To celebrate the twentieth anniversary of 'The Ska Parade' radio and online show (which helped to launch and support the careers of No Doubt, Sublime and other 3rd wave American ska bands), Phyllipz has teamed up with the Van's Warped Tour, and will be hosting '6 Hours Of Ska' at four California dates during this year's tour. At each show, a hand-picked group of ska bands will be performing 1-2 songs of historical importance to the development of ska as part of their sets (e.g., 1964 Millie Small's 'My Boy Lollipop'; 1979 2-Tone ska; 90's Third Wave American ska)

The bands performing include and who's who of California-based ska bands from the last twenty years including:
VOODOO GLOW SKULLS
KNOCK-OUT
THE UPTONES (who have posted their set list on their Web site)
GOGO13
MONKEY
HASKALA
MAXWELL SMART
THE IMPALERS
THE SKANK AGENTS

The four '6 Hours Of Ska' dates on the Vans Warped Tour 2010 are:

Fri., June 25 - Home Depot Center, Carson, CA
Sat., June 26 - Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View, CA
Sun., June 27 - Ventura County Fairground At Seaside Park, Ventura, CA
Tue., August 10 - Cricket Amphitheatre, San Diego, CA.

For more information visit the Van's Warped Tour Web site or The Ska Parade Web site.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Play The Marco On The Bass World Cup Pick Em Competition And Win A Full Package Of Ska CDs


In case you didn't know, I love football (better known as soccer here in the U.S.) as much as I love ska and reggae. The World Cup is my personal favorite sporting event of all time (I travelled to Germany for the 2006 tournament) and I'll be supporting the U.S. team passionately the next several weeks.

So as I gear up for one glorious month of the beautiful game, I want to invite all regular and casual readers of the MOTB blog (who hail from almost every country in the world!) to join me in a friendly competition to see who can pick the most winners of all 64 matches from the group stages all the way to through to the final on July 11th.

In order to make the World Cup 'Pick Em' more interesting and competitive (aside from national pride of course!), the winner and runner-up will receive a full music package of all four Bigger Thomas CDs (Bigger Thomas, Resisting Success, We Wear The Mask and Steal My Sound) plus a 'Steal My Sound' T-shirt.

Click the link below to join the competition and demonstrate your World Cup 2010 football prowess.

(The password is: stealmysound)

To get everyone in the tournament mood, below is a video by Kid British of their new World Cup-related Motown-meets-ska single "Winner," which will be released on June 28th. The video features English World Cup soccer legend Sir Geoff Hurst and Manchester City player Nedum Onuoha, amongst others.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Introducing Dionne Bromfield - Amy Winehouse Protege Channels Millie Small in Ska Cover of 'Foolish Little Girl'


While readers in the UK may be very familiar with 13 year old singing sensation and Amy Winehouse protege Dionne Bromfield, those of us here in the U.S. are just starting to get wind of her and her fantastic singing voice. Bromfield (who also happens to be Winehouse's God-daughter) is the first signing to the beehived one's Lioness Records label, which according to Winehouse, 'is inspired by Berry Gordy’s Motown, and The Specials’ 2Tone label'.

While Bromfield may look on the surface like an attempt by Winehouse to jump into the burgeoning and lucrative tween music market, she is no Miley Cyrus! Quite the contrary, with a soulful and expressive big voice that belies her young age, she is an artist to watch. However, what's of great interest to me is her addictive ska cover of The Shirelles 1963 hit 'Foolish Little Girl'. The track brings to mind Millie Small's 'My Boy Lollipop' (which Bromfield also happens to cover on her 12-track self-titled album of covers) in sound, sweetness and ska purity. The song was released as a single in the UK late last fall and continues to demonstrate Winehouse's ongoing love affair with ska, as evidenced on the 'Ska EP' bootleg that was issued two summers ago with a killer ska cover version of Sam Cooke's 'Cupid'.

Below is the video of 'Foolish Little Girl' by Bromfield as well as great version of 'My Boy Lollipop' by Millie Small from a Finnish TV show that aired in 1964.





Bromfield's new album is available as an import from the UK via Amazon.com and iTunes. She is reportedly back in the studio recording a follow-up to her debut. Here's to hoping she and Winehouse keep ska and reggae a big part of her next batch of songs and include a lot more originals.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Exclusive: Interview With David Ditchfield of The Mood Elevators - Birmingham Indie Band Signed To The Beat's Go-Feet Records


The late 1970's and early 1980's saw the explosion of indie record labels all over the U.K like Factory Records, Stiff Records and Rough Trade. One of them was Go-Feet. Though inspired by the energy and ethos of the 2-Tone label, the Go Feet label founded by The Beat in 1980 sought to take control of their own destiny.

The Beat established Go Feet (as a subsidiary of their major U.K. label Arista) to shield themselves from the many negative aspects of dealing with a corporate record label. In this way, the band was given more creativity to record their own music, as well as to sign and promote bands that the major labels would not take a chance on. Dave Wakeling describes the band’s inspiration for forming the label as coming from “The Specials’ notion of 2-Tone. We were quite impressed that it appeared that they had signed with a record label that could get them on the radio and that they had control of them.”

One of the band's that The Beat discovered was The Mood Elevators, who also hailed from Birmingham. The three original members of the Mood Elevators (David Ditchfield, Noel Green, and Jenny Jones) met after literally being thrown together following a street fight. Once ready to gig in early 1980, the band began to book gigs at pubs around Birmingham. Impressed by the live performance they witnessed, The Beat offered them an opportunity to record a single on the Go Feet label along with the supporting spot on a UK tour. Only two 7-inch singles were released by the band. Their first, 'Annapurna' (named after a series of peaks in the Himalaya Mountains in Nepal), was a big hit on the indie scene.

According to the Go Feet records fan site, the band practiced regularly in a hardware shop owned by Jenny's parents located in Maypole, Birmingham. Once ready to gig in early 1980, the band began to book spots at pubs around Birmingham. These gigs earned them a following and it was not long until they gained notice. On April 16, 1980 the Beat attended one of the Mood Elevators' gigs at the Barrel Organ pub after being enticed by a flyer for it. Impressed by the performance they witnessed, The Beat requested a demo.

The Beat had been impressed by the band's live performance. Believing that the Mood Elevators deserved greater exposure and confident that they could produce a hit, The Beat offered them an opportunity to record a single on the Go Feet label along with the supporting spot on a UK tour. However, this relationship was not enough to ensure a place on the charts by that point in time. The ska craze which had gripped the UK was in a steady decline, so simple association no longer meant a hit single (granted that the Mood Elevators did not actually play ska).


While a slot on the UK charts would ultimately elude the Mood Elevators, they made quite a big name for themselves within the independent music scene. The N.M.E. described them as "Friendly, frenetic and brilliantly instantaneous," and the band's compelling live performances quickly drew in many fans as they toured throughout the country playing on bills with other Midlands-based bands like The Equators, Eclipse and The Au-Pairs.

I've always loved the band's first and only single 'Annapurna' for Go-Feet. It has a mysterious and intoxicating pop feel featuring the co-vocals of Ditchfield and Jones and has a definite Beat-inspired vibe (which is no surprise given it was produced by Andy Cox and David Steele who called themselves the 'Punjab Brothers'). Its clean, crisp and catchy and deserved a larger audience than it received. The band's second single, a cover of the 60's hit 'Georgie Girl'' is backed by a song that is delicious guitar driven pop made even more irresistible by a Ranking Roger chat. Again, production duties were handled by Dave Wakeling and Roger giving the song a proper Beat-like sheen.

I recently connected with the band's guitarist and singer David Ditchfield who recounted his memories of the band's experiences writing and recording for Go-Feet and touring with The Beat.

What was it like growing up in Birmingham in the UK in the 70's and how did that influence you musically and artistically?
Birmingham in the 70's was pretty much Britain's 'Motor Town' & the city centre itself was a ripped up, architects 'City of the Future' disaster. In the middle of this were some great clubs centered in the old decaying parts of town. Barbarella's was a small punk club that I was lucky enough to go & see just about every single punk band from X-Ray Spex to The Clash performing there in this fantastic intimate venue.


When did you pick up the guitar and decide you wanted to start a band?
I picked up the guitar around the age of 14, my big brother was in a really good local progressive rock band at that time, so I looked up to him & I really wanted to be a part of that whole scene. By the time I was 17 I was turned on to the whole punk thing. I auditioned to play guitar for a punk band called 'Red Alert'. Using a 5 pence coin as a plectrum to get a real raw sound out of my guitar, I got the job! It was at this time that I met Jenny who had joined the band a couple of weeks previous playing drums. We had a mad time, but the bubble soon burst so I started writing some songs of my own. Jenny & I always had a great working chemistry so we decided to form our own band.

Is it true that you met your band mates Jenny Jones and Noel Green as a result of a street fight?
It sounds like some fancy concocted story but it is actually true..not that we were led to the notion of fighting in the street! Me & Jenny had been to a party with my old school mate Phil & his brother Noel. After leaving, a couple of blokes set about me for changing the music at the party & Phil, Noel & Jenny literally jumped to my defence. We walked away triumphantly brushing our tails & decided there & then to bring Noel on board.

How did you decide to call the band The Mood Elevators?
We wanted a name that was like a movement almost in the same way the Pre-Raphaelite's were to art...A collective!

What was the music scene in Birmingham like in 1980? Where did the band fit into the Birmingham music scene of the early 80's that included UB40, The Beat, Dexy's Midnight Runners, The Equators, Au Pairs? How would you describe the style of the music you played?
It was odd but by 1980 there was a sudden uprise of creative talent coming out of Birmingham like it had never really seen. Following the Two Tone revolution in Coventry, there was this whole overnight shift in boundaries of gender & race broken down within this new crop of bands. We, as a band were part of that notion, suddenly the energy of female musicians were shinning through. Bands with female members like The Belle Stars, The Au Pairs & ourselves at that time were, to quote words of 'The Specials' song 'The Dawning Of A New Era'


How did you end up meeting members of The Beat? Is it true that a flyer you posted for a show initially caught their attention?
We wanted to make a visual statement of who we were before people had even heard a single note. A kind of Andy Warhol approach if you like! Yes it's true to say that The Beat saw our posters around the streets of Birmingham and were intrigued by the image of three people sat in a Triumph Herald convertible with a huge full moon blazing down on them but with no other information on the posters.


You ended up on tour with The Beat quite quickly after playing your first show with them. Can you share any memorable experiences from being on tour with them?
We had a fantastic time touring with The Beat, following only a handful of gigs in Birmingham for us there was a sense of being part of an experience, something new, a whole cultural event, there was a great vibe about that tour! We were now playing to 2,000 people a night all around the country and going down well. The first show happened literally within days of The Beat coming down to see us playing at a small pub in Birmingham called The Barrel Organ. We were the support act to a reggae band that night, who ironically were keen to get the opening slot on the forthcoming Beat tour. We had a phone call from The Beat management that eve, saying that a few members of the band would like to come and see us play. I can remember as we performed on this tiny stage, seeing the whole of The Beat walking in. They came up after and congratulated us on our gig, saying that they liked our sound, telling us to ring their management. Then to our surprise they asked if they could borrow our gear to play a few songs before the reggae band went on. Despite The Beat being top 5 in the singles chart that week, the audience in this tiny pub were then treated to a handful of their finest!


The band recorded a song called 'Anapurna' that was released on the Go-Feet label in 1981. Tell me about recording the single and the reaction it generated? Was there ever any discussion about recording and releasing an album on Go-Feet?
We recorded and mixed 'Annapurna' in two days at a studio in central London. It was produced by David Steele and Andy Cox. There was never really any talk between us all to do an album, the whole idea behind it was to be a spring board for us and it certainly had that effect. We went on to receive reviews in all the national music press and radio, we were suddenly headlining our own tour in the UK then eventually Europe.


You recorded a second single titled 'Georgie Girl' for the Red Records label. It was produced by The Beat and features Ranking Roger on the B-side. What was it like to record with Roger?
We recorded this single that was again produced by the Beat, though this time Dave Wakeling & Ranking Roger also became involved. We were laying down the backing track to a song called 'You Never Try' & Roger liked this song from hearing it in our set from the tour. He then turned round & asked for a mic & laid down some toasting. He just picked up on the lyrics & it sat so well & grooved within the song

Why did the band break-up in June 1981?
I can remember John Mostyn who was The Beat's Manager at that time saying that the average life of a band is around two years, which surprised me then, but he was right!

Can you tell me what you do now? Are you still involved in music and the arts?
I am still involved in music, I have expanded my range from being a guitarist to writing & arranging string parts for other artist's & have recently composed my 1st symphony for orchestra which was performed to a sellout audience in Cambridge July 2008. I am now working on my 1st solo album project that will encompass a mix of both my routes of being in a band using electronic sounds meeting my new found discovery of orchestra. You can have a listen at my MySpace Web site.

What are your lasting memories of being in The Mood Elevators?
Starting an idea between three people in a small garage & sticking with it!

Though the band's recorded output was limited to just two singles, they did record a radio session for BBC Radio One, which was so popular and well received that they were soon asked to return for another session 'by popular demand'. It hasn't been heard since it was aired but Ditchfield has been kind enough to share two songs ('Waiting For Jane' and 'Metro Girl') from the BBC session for download. I've also added 'You Never Try' featuring Ranking Roger from the b-side of the band's second single 'Georgie Girl'. While The Mood Elevators may not have experienced much success on the pop charts, their music should not be ignored. It is well worth checking out - especially for hardcore fans of The Beat.