Friday, March 18, 2011
NYC SKA Live Compilation Celebrates 21st Anniversary!: American 'Dance Craze' Captures NYC Ska Circa 1990
Its hard to believe that the excellent, but sadly overlooked and long out-of-print NYC SKA LIVE compilation is 21 years old this month! The brainchild of The Toasters leader and Moon Records honcho Rob 'Bucket' Hingley the record was conceived as the American sequel to 'Dance Craze'. In fact, the show recorded at the Cat Club in New York City on March 26th, 1990 was supposed to be filmed by 'Dance Craze' director Joe Massot.
The dawn of 1990 saw the NYC ska scene at its peak. The Toasters had just released their third full length album 'This Gun For Hire' (and the first without co-front men Sean Dinsmore and Lionel Bernard who had left and signed a record deal as The Unity 2), and the New York Citizens had released their seminal 'Stranger Things Have Happened' EP. The NYC SKA LIVE compilation and film was to be the icing on the cake capturing all the New York bands on the scene at the time -- The Toasters, The Scofflaws, The NY Citizens, Bigger Thomas, Skinnerbox, Skadanks and The Steadys.
What I remember about the whole experience was the tremendous amount of planning that went into the filming of the show and recording of the accompanying soundtrack. My Bigger Thomas band mates and I travelled from New Jersey to attended a meeting at Moon Records HQ in the East Village in New York, where the details about the filming of the show were discussed. We were also presented with waivers and release forms as well as contracts which we signed with a certain amount of excitement, Hingley explained that he and Massot had plans to distribute the film widely around the World and that with ska breaking out in the U.S., the finished movie was expected to be exhibited at film festivals and possibly have a theatrical release. We left the meeting expecting big things.
Sadly it didn't work out as planned. Unfortunately, due to reasons that were never fully explained to us, Massot pulled out of filming the show at the last moment, despite the fact that expensive lights, special room mics and a remote sound truck to record the show had all been procured. Nevertheless, Moon Records did mix and release the 14-track album later in 1990. Though the artwork for the record and cassette tape are pretty awful, the sounds captured on the vinyl and magnetic tape still sound pretty fresh (though my one complaint is the annoying crowd sounds that were dropped in during post-production).
I have mostly fond memories about the whole experience. Though we no longer had to deal with cameras in our faces on stage, there was still a very large crowd on hand (attracted by the chance to be in a movie). As the openers for the whole show, there was added pressure to come out blazing and we did our best performing 'Moving' and 'Ska In My Pocket', except our original guitar player Steve Parker had all sorts of technical problems with his amp and effects pedal during the recording. This required us to play the song 'Moving' twice. The technical problems continued during the second take, requiring Bucket to cut off the whole intro to the song from the actual finished recording. While we were disappointed that Joe Massot bailed, we were still excited as the new kids on the block (we had been together a mere 18 months at this point) to be included on the record (see picture above courtesy of Paul Gil of The New York Citizens: From left to right on stage Steve Parker (guitar), Roger Apollon (vocals), Jim Cooper (drums), Kevin Shields (trumpet), yours truly (bass).
Five years on from the release of the N.Y. Beat:Hit & Run compilation which captured the sound of mid-80's New York City ska, NYC SKA LIVE documents the evolution of the New York 80's ska scene 2-Tone sound to a post-2-Tone take with more of an emphasis on roots reggae, rocksteady and dancehall reggae. The Toasters and The New York Citizens remain holdovers from the mid-80's, but newer bands including my own, King Django's post-Boilers band Skinnerbox, The Steadys (who may be the best sounding band on the comp), Skadanks and Long Island's Scofflaws all offer their unique takes on American ska at the dawn of the 1990's.
Sadly NYC SKA LIVE remains out-of-print and its unlikely to be re-issued any time soon (though it is a personal goal of mine to do so!). I just need to get permission from all the bands involved for it to be re-released. Wish me luck. In the meantime you can stream the Bigger Thomas songs from the album below. Enjoy!
Bigger Thomas-Ska In My Pocket