Sunday, January 1, 2012

Marco On The Bass Takes A Look Back At The Year In Ska 2011

Happy New Year to all readers of the Marco On The Bass blog!  While 2011 was a stressful year for most people (continued job losses, mounting unemployment rates, continued home foreclosures) it's going to be very hard to top when it comes to ska. There was an unbelievable cornucopia of 2-Tone era band tours, shows, books, media coverage and new albums and music to enjoy. In fact, the amount of ska related developments came so fast and furious at times, it was hard to keep up because there was so much to write about. So in that time honored tradition of looking back at the year that was, here is my totally subjective, top 11 Marco On The Bass ska highlights countdown of 2011.

11. King Hammond visits New York City!
Ska renaissance man Nick Welsh revived his King Hammond moniker in 2010 and since that time has been prolific releasing three albums (The King and I, Jacuzzi, and Showbiz) and two vinyl EPs ("Riot in London Town" and "Hey, Mr. DJ") of some of the best skinhead and dirty reggae around. Welsh made a quick trip over to New York in early December to show us Yanks what we have been missing.

10. The Toasters celebrate their 30th Anniversary
The Toasters celebrated their 30th anniversary in 2011 with a tour of the U.S. While the band are known around the world for carrying the ska torch and Bucket long ago moved his home base to Spain in order to tour Europe more easily, New York still remains the band's spiritual home and its where Bucket often honors the band's legacy. To mark the occasion, the band played a show in Brooklyn earlier this year and was was joined by its former toaster/vocalist Coolie Ranx (who appeared on the Dub 56 and Hard Band Fe Dead albums) for an extended version of one of their most popular and iconic tracks 'Run Rudy Run' taken from their first 'Recriminations' EP (which was produced by Joe Jackson). The band is about to embark on another U.S. tour.

9. Books, books and more books about ska!
Was it me or were there more and more books about ska and ska bands available to read in 2011?   Librarians with librarian degrees should make sure these books get into libraries. Pauline Black of The Selecter set the bar high with her no holds barred autobiography 'Black By Design' which recounts her experiences growing up as a bi-racial child adopted by a white family in 60's era Britain. It also takes an unflinching look at her life and times in the early days of the birth of 2-Tone and The Selecter. I was also a fan and regular reader of Horace Panter's blog on The Specials website titled 'Specials U.K. Tour By Sir Horace Gentleman'. The posts are detailed updates -- part travelogue and part tour diary -- of The Specials experiences on their very last U.K. tour (at least until 2013) and picked up where Panter's excellent read 'Ska'd For Life' left off.

Fans of 2-Tone can look forward to two more books in 2012.  Lynval Golding, the guitarist and prime mover behind The Specials successful 3 year reunion is collaborating with Paul 'Willo' Williams author of the definitive history of the band 'You're Wondering Now -- The Specials from Conception to Reunion'. The two have been meeting together for several months and are in the early stages of mapping out Lynval's story and perspective on the band and his life changing experiences playing music. The current working title of the book is 'Back In Time'.

Madness fans can look forward to a tome from lead vocalist Graham McPherson (A.K.A Suggs). The book is due out in the Fall of 2012. U.K. publishing house Quercus announced that they had purchased the world wide rights to Suggs' autobiography. This will not be Suggs first book writing adventure. He previously authored 'Suggs And The City: My Journey's Through Disappearing London' in 2009. The book was billed as the Madness frontman's personal guided tour of the unseen nooks and crannies of his London hometown.

8. Hollie Cook the new face of U.K. reggae?
After playing her eponymous album over and over this summer, I can say without hesitation that Hollie Cook (daughter of Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook) could be the new face of reggae! Her album, produced by none other than Price Fatty, was the soundtrack to my summer and is without a doubt the finest UK reggae set of 2011.

7. Meet America's Finest 2-Tone Band -- The Crombies!
Combining their love of ska, reggae, punk, and rock, The Crombies may be the finest American 2-Tone All-Star tribute band I've ever seen or heard! Founded by vocalist Mike Park (ex-Deal’s Gone Bad, Lord Mike’s Dirty Calypsonians) and Deal’s Gone Bad guitarist Dave Simon, the six-piece band perform fantastic, pitch perfect versions of songs by The Specials, Madness, Bad Manners, The Beat and more.

The Crombies have made such an impression on crowds around Chicago, that none other than super ska label Jump Up Records released a 7" single by the band featuring a fantastic 2-Tone inspired cover version of Niney The Observer's reggae classic 'Blood & Fire' backed with 'Mad At The World'. The song is a revelation taking the best of The Specials and The Selecter and mixing it with a hint of punk and reggae.

6. Stranger Cole & Patsy reunite for first show in 40 years!
Stranger Cole and Patsy! The names are synonymous with the founding of ska and rocksteady in Jamaica in the early 1960's. Some of my earliest memories of discovering original 60's ska are of hearing Cole belt out the lilting and anthemic 'We Are Rolling' and Patsy duet with Derrick Morgan on 'Housewifes Choice' from the raw and always sensational 'Intensified: Original Ska 1962-66' album that rarely left my turntable in college.  So I was beyond excited to be part of the crowd that packed the Bell House in Brooklyn in October to witness ska history. Nearly 40 years in the making (and nearly four years of persuading, pleading, and negotiating to set this show up) it finally came to pass -- Stranger Cole and Patsy reunited! Read a great review of the show over at the Duff Guide To Ska and watch footage of the show below.

5. The Saga Of The Selecter continues
While 2010 marked the 30th anniversary of the release of The Selecter's iconic 'Too Much Pressure' album, it also saw the emergence of two competing versions of the band led separately by vocalist Black on one side and lead guitarist Neol Davies on the other. In 2011 Black moved to take ownership of the band name ahead of the release of a new album 'Made In Britain'.

Though the reality of two version of The Selecter has always been intriguing on a certain level, its also been a shame that the original members have been unable to patch up whatever differences existed between them and come together to properly honor their legacy. With this decision, Davies, who has also been playing and performing under The Selecter band name will be known as Neol Davies AKA The Selecter for any of his future musical projects. Davies has been invited to perform at the 2012 London International Ska Festival.

4.  London International Ska Festival 2011
Featuring a who's who of notable ska legends and current up and comers, the second edition of the London International Ska Festival was so much of a success that the 2012 version was announced days after the 4 day festival ended.

The 2011 version was much more ambitious and broader in scope that the 2010 kick-off including a diverse mix of original artists from the 60's and 70's (Ken Boothe, Dave & Ansel Collins) as well as bands from the original festival in 1988 (The Loafers, Napoleon Solo, Bim Skala Bim) and ska mainstays like The English Beat, Dub Pistols, The Trojans and last minute addition The Lee Thompson All-Star Ska Orchestra. Special guests included Lynval Golding of The Specials, Rico Rodrigues, Rhoda Dakkar of The Bodysnatchers/The Special AKA and Buster Bloodvessel of Bad Manners and Jerry Dammers (who were both spied dancing in the audience).

The 2012 edition is shaping up quite nicely and will include The Dualers, Neol Davies AKA The Selecter and The Hot Knives.

3. New Madness album confirmed for release in 2012
Madness frontman Suggs has confirmed the U.K. ska/pop institution plan to release a new studio album in 2012! The new record will be the band’s first since 2009′s ‘The Liberty of Norton Folgate‘, which broke into the UK Top 5. The band showcased songs from their brand new, as yet untitled, tenth studio album, in all its glory during their 'rehearsal set' as part of the House of Fun Weekender in the U.K. this past fall. As with ‘The Liberty of Norton Folgate’ which the band performed live a full year before its release, Madness gave the new album tracks an early airing in their embryonic state for their most hardcore fans who attended the show. Quite a few of the songs have been played live during the band's summer tour, but it was the live debut for more than half the songs on the set list.

2. Jimmy Cliff collaborates with Tim Armstrong of Rancid on release of 'Sacred Fire' EP
In a musical collaboration that makes perfects sense, Jimmy Cliff teamed up with ska/reggae aficionado Tim Armstrong of Rancid (who cites Cliff as a major influence and inspiration) to release a 4-song EP of ska and reggae songs in November including a memorable and haunting version of The Clash's 'Guns Of Brixton'. A full length album is due out in 2012.

Its fitting that Cliff covered the song that Clash bassist Paul Simonon penned with a knowing nod to the classic reggae gangster film The Harder They Come that made Cliff an international star. Its also telling that the song, which depicts feelings of discontent that were building in the U.K. in the early 80's due to heavy-handedness of the police (leading to the Brixton riots in 1981) was released the week riots once again exploded across London and other cities in the U.K. in 2011.

Guns Of Brixton by JimmyCliffMusic

1. The Specials to soldier on!
The good news is that The Specials have decided not to call it quits after all following what was to be the very last show of their three year reunion in London in early November. The news represents a complete about face for the band, who announced the tour would be their very last. In fact, only recently, front man Terry Hall had announced that after this tour they’d call it a day. The decision to continue on was confirmed by Lynval Golding and the band are now hinting that new material may be on the way.

So what does this news mean for fans of the band? First and foremost it would suggest more touring, particularly in the U.S. and Japan which are markets where the band remains incredibly popular. It also means the band may have finally committed to writing new material as they have now taken the live show of the their two albums as far as they can. It also begs the question: What role will or won't Jerry Dammers play in the future? Stay tuned!

Below are my favorite songs of 2011

1. Jimmy Cliff - Guns Of Brixton
2. Little Roy - Lithium
3. Madness - You Can't Keep A Good Thing Down (Unreleased)
4. Blue Riddim Band & Big Youth - Nancy Reagan Remix 2011 Voice Of The People
5. Hollie Cook - Walking In The Sand
6. King Hammond - Rocking On Ridley Road
7. The Rudie Crew - Newscarrier
8. The Selecter - Back To Black
9. The Forthrights - Camp Birdman 7"
10.  The Crombies - Blood & Fire


Steve from Moon said...

A fantastic year-end round-up! Can't argue with any of your points here!

gobshyte said...

hi marco.i recieved the below email this morning from the will be of interest to all U.S ska fans:

It's the news some our American readers have been waiting nearly 7 years for,
as recently rumoured US dates by Madness are happening!

Here's just a quick a newsflash to tell you The Coachella Festival have announced
Madness, for April 13th and April 20th of their two festival weekenders, at the Empire Polo
Club in Indio California's Coachella Valley.

Expect some more shows to pop up between those dates with the band being over
there on the west side.

Nice to see Jimmy Cliff sitting near them on the poster too.

Check for details.

happy new year marco