Monday, October 28, 2013

MOTB Exclusive: Interview with Horace Panter of The Specials About His New Musical Project -- The Uptown Ska Collective

The Specials bassist Horace Panter has just announced plans to launch a brand new ska and reggae musical project he has christened The Uptown Ska Collective. According to Panter, “I have wanted to get a band like this together for years; the seductive quality of these rhythms is irresistible ... it is impossible to stay still while this music is playing.” Using the core of the additional musicians from The Specials (keyboards and horn section), he has put together the ultimate modern ska band.

The band will feature Panter on bass, with members of The Specials touring band -- Jon Read (trumpet), Tim Smart (trombone), Nikolaj Torp (keyboards), Drew Stansall (tenor saxophone) along with Dave Anderson of The Beautiful South (drums) and Tony Looby  (alto saxophone) and Stan Samuel (guitar) of The Pressure Tennants. According to Panter, most of the songs performed by the band will be ska/reggae instrumentals, though guest vocalists are expected to join.

“The guys I’m using are seasoned musicians; they all know one another so the musical rapport is amazing and, like me, they live and breathe this stuff,” said Panter. ‘This stuff’ is classic ska, based around the work of the legendary Skatalites out of Kingston Jamaica’s Alpha School. It also ventures into reggae, citing the majestic compositions of Rico Rodriguez, another Alpha alumni and original Specials stalwart. “I want to find a new audience for this music; to my mind it belongs on World Music stages on balmy sunny evenings. It’s the musical equivalent of sunshine, the sexiest music in the world!”

I recently connected with Panter who took time to answer a broad array of questions about his life in ska and the motivation behind his new band.

What are your earliest memories related to hearing 60’s ska and reggae music?
Being intimidated by hulking skinheads at local youth club discos when I was 16. They seemed to hate all the pop stuff, but danced very aggressively (I thought) when ‘The Liquidator’ or ‘Return of the Django’ was played!

Do you remember the first ska record you ever bought?
Intensified’ - a compilation LP purchased whilst in The Specials as an educational aid I suppose.

You write in your memoir "Ska'd For Life" that Lynval Golding gave you a reggae bass lesson when you first joined a nascent version of The Specials. What are your top 3 ska or reggae bass lines to perform?
I Shot the Sheriff’. That’s not a bass line, it’s a symphony! There was a track on one ‘I Roy’ album I used to play but I can’t for the life of me tell you what it’s called. Also, a lot of bass on Burning Spear’s ‘Marcus Garvey’ (Sly & Robbie plus the Barrett Brothers).

I've previously written about the story behind the recording of "Ghost Town." I'm particularly interested in the way the song was recorded in the studio with John Collins. Can you share a bit about the recording and production techniques that resulted in the very Sly and Robbie sound that you and John Bradbury were able to get?
‘Ghost Town’ was recorded in a tiny basement room on the studio drum kit on 8-track. The bass went into the board direct. I had an amp (my V4B and 8 x 10) in the room, but it was only used for monitoring. The ‘sound’ was achieved in the mixing process. John Collins reduced the whole thing to 2-tracks and mixed it in his living room in Tottenham, London, where he used to make his own dub material. I think a lot of ‘the sound’ came from that, rather than the recording process itself.

Can you tell me a bit about how you, John Bradbury and Nikolaj Torp connected with M.I.A. on a live performance of "It Takes A Muscle" on Later With Jools Holland a few years ago?
M.I.A. ... She was offered a Jools Holland spot and said she’d like to do it on the proviso that The Specials backed her. Lynval lives in Seattle, so he wasn’t available. It wasn’t a Roddy tune, so that left Brad and I. Initially, Brad was sceptical about doing it but I was very keen. I’d wanted Brand and I do do ‘rhythm section for hire’ for a while and this seemed a good way to start. Nikolaj was the obvious choice for keyboards and his talent for arranging was an asset to the session. It was a very ‘seat of your pants’ performance. Maya was very nervous; she doesn’t do ‘singing’ - she’s a rapper. I really enjoyed it.

What inspired you to found the Uptown Ska Collective? Between touring with The Specials and your work as an artist, how have you found the time for a new project?
I’ve always wanted to form a ‘traditional’ ska band. I had one in Coventry about ten years ago, while I was still teaching and we did a few gigs but it was difficult to get ten people to be in the same place at the same time, let alone do shows that paid anything like decent money. I originally asked Brad if he wanted to do it with me but he declined. Having played with Nikolaj, Tim (trombone), Jon (trumpet) and Drew (saxophone) for four years, we’d got to know one another pretty well and it was only a short step to getting the thing together. Strange, the older I get, the busier I seem to be!

Can you share a few songs from the band’s set list?
We’ll be doing mainly Skatalites stuff: ‘Confucius’, ‘Occupation’, ‘Storm Warning’; some keyboard stuff for Nikolaj to shine: Jackie Mittoo’s ‘Killer Diller’, plus some Rico tunes, for example ‘Africa’. We intend to have ‘guest vocalists’ as well. I’d like to do some tunes that haven’t had a ska treatment too. I’d like to find a new audience for this music. There are a lot of ‘world music’ stages at festivals in the UK and Europe. Since the tunnel under the English Channel has been built, it’s a lot easier to get to Europe!

Do you have any plans to tour beyond your debut show in London in November? If so, may I suggest a double bill featuring your band and Lee Thompson's Ska Orchestra!
The November show is basically to showcase the band and get a buzz going. We’ll then do a short tour of small UK venues in the Spring and a dozen or so festivals (The Specials notwithstanding) in the summer. The festival-goer is our target audience for this project. As far as Lee Thompson’s Ska Orchestra is concerned, fine! We’ll play with anyone - but they’d better watch out!

The Uptown Ska Collective will debut at the 229 Club in Great Portland Street, London, on November 29, 2013. This is a small venue so tickets will be limited. Thereafter, the band will announce tour dates.

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