Great ska news out of the U.K! The Equators, the 2-Tone era ska band from Birmingham who were signed to Stiff Records and released the criminally overlooked cult album 'Hot' in 1981, have released a new song "Bed Of Roses." The band, who reunited in 2011, will perform during the London International Ska Festival 2017 which will be held from April 13-16 at venues across London.
The Equators were way ahead of their time. I remember borrowing a copy of 'Hot' from the original guitar player of Bigger Thomas when we first met. He told me that he wanted our band to sound like the songs on this record. I remember listening to the album and wondering why I had never heard of the band or why they weren't more popular. The album captured an effervescent and upbeat 2-Tone ska and reggae sound that included rock and new wave as best represented by songs like 'Age Of Five" and their own fantastic cover of The Equals 'Baby Come Back' which should have been a massive hit.
Formed in 1977 by the brothers Bailey (Donald, Leo and Rocky), the offspring of Jamaican immigrants to England, The Equators were discovered by Stiff Records’ President, David Robinson, performing with The Beat (which shared The Equators’ Management team). Robinson, ecstatically impressed with the raw energy of their concert performance and the soulful innovation of their ska-pop-reggae sound, moved to sign the band to the label which was also the home of Madness and Elvis Costello.
Stiff Records released their album during 2-Tone mania and it should have had the same level of success as The Specials, The Beat and The Selecter. In my mind they suffered from I call "Fishbone Syndrome." That is that they were an amazing band that was doing something way ahead of its time and that didn't fit preconceived notions of what black or white music should sound like. Instead it was a melting pot of different musical sounds performed by an all black band and it seemed to throw a lot of people off. That, and Stiff totally mismarketed The Equators as a reggae band when they should have been marketed as a ska band.
Despite that, the band remain hugely influential if sinfully overlooked. Dave Wakeling of The English Beat recalled:
"The Equators were brilliant. In our earliest formulations of The Beat sound we discovered that if one played an all punk set, the audience would get burnt out; And if one played an all reggae set, the audience would fall asleep. Therefore our music would encompass the energy & intensity of punk & the hypnotic, laid-back groove of reggae, a punky-reggae hybrid. But just when we thought we discovered something new, we discovered The Equators, right in our home town of Birmingham, who had already come up with a similar formulation. Whereas we were a bunch of kids searching out, learning, and adopting this music, The Equators were first generation Jamaicans in England. Prince Buster was part of their own heritage. It was from The Equators that The Beat learned to stylize this blend in a soulful, delicate manner. It was from The Equators that we learned lightness and depth of touch in playing’ this music."Jerry Miller of The Untouchables was also a fan of the band:
"Man, it was because of bands like The Equators that we formed The Untouchables. We were very big fans of 2 Tone, but with The Equators, that’s where it was at with us because it was so groovin’ and soulful. Their recordings were sacred to us. We used to listen to ‘em in the dark and take in their influence. I remember when The Equators toured the U.S. in 1981. My friends and I went to see ‘em at the Reseda Country Club dressed in our best mod & rude boy get-ups and attitudes. Then The Equators took the stage, a bunch of black guys dressed in sweat pants and such. At first our mod-fashion heads were taken back. ‘Where’s the style in this?’ we thought. Then they started to play and by the end of the show we were questioning our own mod and rube boy identities. Who were we to judge when The Equators’ music, style & performance was so real, so smooth and so authentic.""Bed Of Roses" was written by lead singer Donald Bailey -- who still performs with his brothers Rocky on keys and Leo on drums who are joined by Ian Harper on bass and Robin Giorno on guitar.
The song draws its inspiration from the Bailey's father who immigrated to England from Jamaica in the 1950's in search of a better life for his family. According to Donald Bailey, their father used to say, "Life was hard, but you can achieve any goals or dreams with hard work. But he would remind me that life is not a bed of roses!"
The band are considering releasing an EP of new music -- they have 4-5 songs already recorded -- and decided to share "Bed Of Roses" to see the response to it ahead of their performance at the LISF. Give it a spin and if you are in London for LISF be sure to see the band!