Friday, August 19, 2011

'Urgh! A Music War' Celebrates 30th Anniversary: Film Features Best Of Early 80's U.K. Reggae

It was 30 years ago this month (August 26th, 1981 to be exact) that the 'soundtrack for Urgh! A Music War' was released.  Filmed in August and September of 1980 at a variety of venues across the U.S., U.K. and Europe, the soundtrack would soon became a staple in the record collections of most fans of what would be called 'New Wave' in the U.S. Truthfully, it was more accurately a diverse mix of rock, reggae, ska, pop and some of the most cutting edge alternative rock music of the era featuring The Police, XTC, The Go Go's, The Cramps, Oingo Boing, Gary Numan and others.  Released as a film in 1982, the film was a 'Woodstock' like experience for those of us who came of age during the 80's.  It certainly was for me and I still listen to many of the bands featured in the film and soundtrack.

The trailer for the film is below:

I distinctly remember the first time I saw the film in the mid-80's. My college had a free movie night every Friday in the student center. This was long before the advent of personal computers and long before VCR's were affordable enough for students have in their dorm rooms.  I actually enjoyed seeing these kinds of films in a communal atmosphere and this movie was an opportunity for me to finally see all the bands I was obsessed with (and that MTV would never show).  More importantly, the film contributed to my growing love of U.K. styled reggae and it confirmed for me that I needed to pick up an instrument and start a band.  It was a revelation to see all the bands in the film but for a budding ska and reggae bassist it was the promise of finally seeing The Police, UB40 amd The Members live that had such a profound impact on me.

While all the above bands satisfied me with their performances, one performance in particular stands out for me. There is a point in the film when Steel Pulse suddenly appear and kick right into "Ku Klux Klan" that crystallized my love of reggae and made them one of my reggae bands of choice. Its a theatrical performance punctuated by the appearance of one of the band members in a white Klan hood and gown that sent shivers down my spine. Coming out before The Specials released 'Ghost Town,' the song was meaningful to me and my friends as we attempted to make sense of the increasing racial and economic polarization of the Reagan years with economic recession marked by Klan and Nazi Party marches in places like Boston, North Carolina and Skokie, Illinois. As a budding musician, this song demonstrated the power of combining a political conscience with story telling that could entertain and educate. Its something I still believe and miss in most of current music today.

While 'Urgh! A Music War' was finally re-released by Warner Brothers two years ago, it was done so without input from any of the artists or with attempt to create a package that the film is due given its iconic status (rumor has it that each band recorded 3 songs for the film, so there is a tremendous amount of unreleased material).  In fact, Jim Skafish of the band Skafish who feature prominently in the film has posted a critique of the way the re-release was handled.  I can't disagree with any of his points.  While I would never suggested that fans of the film not purchase the re-issue, please do so with caution.  Nevertheless, the film and soundtrack is worth a listen again if you haven't heard it in a while.  Those of you who are new to it are in for treat.  Without further ado are a few of my favorite clips from the film.

Steel Pulse - Ku Klux Klan

UB40 - Madam Medusa (Did not appear on the movie soundtrack album)

The Members - Offshore Banking Business

The Police with Jools Holland, XTC, UB40 and others - So Lonely


Matt said...

Great film and great article on the subject. I have posted a link to your article on my urgh discussion group on yahoo.

Matt said...

also thanks for posting the poster i had never seen that one.

Marco On The Bass said...

Thanks Matt! Heading over to check out your discussion group now...