Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Interview with Roger Lomas - 2Tone Producer

Roger Lomas, who is best known for his production work with 2 Tone bands The Selecter, Bad Manners and The Bodysnachers achieving 18 hit singles along the way, was also an extremely successful musician in his earlier years as lead guitarist of Coventry band The Sorrows, who in addition to achieving chart success in the UK & Europe were hugely popular in Italy where in the mid sixties at the tender age of 17 worked & lived in Rome performing on sell-out stadium tours & TV shows. Although officially ‘hanging-up’ his guitar in 1979 as his record production career took off he returned to the stage briefly for a four month period in 1989 to perform 60 shows & several TV appearances after joining the extremely successful 60’s band The Fortunes.

This interview was conducted by Paul Williams who is a 2Tone afficianado and lives in the UK and can also be found on his My Space web site .

PW - You were a big part of the music scene in Coventry before you started your production work. It seems Coventry has always been a hive of musical activity, something was bound to take off at some stage, so was it any surprise about the success of 2Tone?
RL - Not surprised at all ... I was working with The Specials in early 1979 doing their front of house sound, it was obvious to anyone attending their gigs that they were going to make it.
PW - What was it like in Coventry at the time of 2Tone's coming?
RL- I can't remember 2Tone being a bigger buzz in Coventry than anywhere else.

PW- How did you come to produce the b-side of The Specials "Gangsters", "The Selecter"?
RL - I actually recorded "The Selecter" in 1977 in my small 4 track studio at the end of my garden. Neol Davies was a friend of mine way before 2Tone. He wrote "The Selecter" (previously titled "The Kingston Affair") and couldn't afford to make a demo, so asked me to help out. After hearing the track I thought we should try our best to record a 'master' rather than a demo, as the song obviously had masses of potential.

PW- Was it good working with the Selecter? Especially as the tracks you produced were hits?
RL - It's always good to be confident that the work you are producing is going to sell and I was totally confident that The Selecter's records would be hits, however, their constant bickering and differences of opinions did not make it a pleasurable experience.

PW - What's your verdict of the sound of the "Celebrate The Bullet" album? Was it what you aimed for?
RL - I love the sound of "Celebrate The Bullet" although at the time I had absolutely no preconceived idea of how the album should sound.

PW- You became principally famous for being the Bad Manners man. Was that a manic time working with them?
RL - Working with Bad Manners was fantastic. Rarely a dull moment. We mostly went into a studio with not much of an idea what was going to come out, but thankfully the chemistry between us all somehow made it work.

PW - Was it your idea for putting Desmond Dekker and four Coventry based Specials together for "King Of Kings"? and do you think the record deserved the criticism it got?
RL- I was asked by Trojan Records to record an album with Desmond Dekker, but not his band, so I thought it would be a good idea to team him up with as many members of The Specials as possible. The four members who played on the record (Lynval Golding, Roddy Radiation, Neville Staple & Horace Panter) were the only members of The Specials (at that time) who were prepared to work with each other and as they were the majority (four out of seven members) of a band that equally own the name, they were legally entitled to use the name The Specials alongside Desmond Dekker. So if the criticism you are referring to, is regarding the use of the name, then NO, I don't believe it was deserved, as they only did what thousands of other bands do to help maintain their careers ... They worked for it !!!

PW - Were The Specials albums "Skinhead Girl" and "Conquering Ruler" good to work on? and a good idea in essence?
RL -They were both good albums to work on, but a good idea in essence? in hindsight ... possibly not.

PW - You got a grammy for the Jamaican ET album for Lee Perry. Was that the highlight of your career or just one of many?
RL- Highlight of my career? Definitely! Grammy's don't come along every day, although as you suggest, one of many.

PW - You've worked with lots of good artists, who are your favourites?
RL - No favourites. When you are in the lucky position of earning a successful living from your hobby every job is satisfying, although there are a few people (no names mentioned) who I would not choose to work with again.

PW - What music do you listen to for your own enjoyment?
RL - I don't listen to music for enjoyment and haven't done so since I was a teenager. I get all of my musical satisfaction from working in music.

PW - Have you any plans to produce more Ska tracks in the future?
RL - No plans to record any Ska tracks, at the moment...

PW - Should the seven original Specials have reformed when the chance came in 2004?
RL - There are only two reasons, in my opinion, why any band reforms; one, because they want to (for a variety of reasons) or two, the main reason, because they need to financially. In the case of The Specials, I don't think any of them particularly want to reform, for any reason, but some of them could do with a few extra quid in their pockets. Therein lies the problem for The Specials. Because of what The Specials were all about in the first place, I don't think they could be seen to be getting back together for monetary reasons.

PW - Do you still produce your own music? do you keep your hand in, so to speak, as a musician yourself?
RL - I very rarely "keep my hand in" as a musician these days. I should do really I suppose. Haven't produced any of my own music for years.

PW - Who's your favourite 2Tone band and why?
RL - Again, no favourites, I love 'em all.

PW - Do you think 2Tone should be celebrated more in Coventry like Liverpool are proud of The Beatles & Merseybeat etc. The 2Tone label had a massive effect on the UK music scene and was responsible for spawning probably one of the last true youth movements this country has seen?
RL -YES!! Coventry should celebrate 2Tone more than they do at present, BUT, if the truth be known, the majority of 2Tone band members do not give a shit about Coventry anymore. If they did and made their presence known in Coventry a bit more, then maybe the powers that be in Coventry would do more to remind the people of Coventry about 2Tone. Not that they haven't tried in the past though, a couple of years ago Coventry City Council tried to organise a huge concert/party at the city's SkyDome Arena to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of 2Tone. They (the Council) had even cancelled the annual New Years Eve celebrations to fund it. Obviously, how can you celebrate such an event without the band members themselves? Unfortunately, The Specials declined to appear, neither as a band or as individuals. How could the Council possibly hold a concert of this size without the main players? Inevitably, it was cancelled. A huge disappointment to Coventry 2Tone fans.

PW - Anything big musically ever going to break out from Coventry again? Do you keep an eye on the city's music scene?
RL - Who knows? I Don't keep a musical eye on the local scene as much as I should.

PW - What are you working on at the moment production wise?
RL - Most of my time these days is producing, recording and sometimes remixing the audio for 'live' music DVDs most of which are also released as 'live' CDs. Recent projects included: Echo & The Bunnymen, Happy Mondays, ELO (remix), The Bluetones, Ozzy Osbourne, The Farm, Bad Manners, The Beat, The Tubes, Hazel O'Connor etc.

PW - Thanks for your time Rog. Any final words for up and coming ska bands looking to capture the right sound?
RL- Yes! Ditch the black & white cheques and pork pie hats and do your own thing! Leave the old image to the original 2Tone bands..

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Black Seeds - The new UB40?

And I mean that in a good way.

It is my humble opinion that this 7-piece from Wellington, NZ have what it takes to become one of the biggest and most popular reggae bands in the world. They have a sound and a vibe that is very reminiscent of UB40 yet is distinctly unique to New Zealand. They have mined a successful formula through three albums packed with infectious reggae beats, smooth melodies and singalong lyrics, all wrapped up in a warm blanket of pop, rock and dub sensibilities.

Formed in 1998, The Black Seeds fuse dub, reggae and funk sounds to form a unique musical "party" sound. They usually perform with ten members, with instruments including vocals, guitar, saxophone, trumpet, bass, drums, bongos, keyboard, woodblock and more. The Black Seeds' lead singer Barnaby Weir is also the mastermind behind the sideproject Flash Harry, and band member Bret McKenzie is also a member of international award-winning comedy duo Flight of the Conchords

The bands most recent album Into The Dojo has been on regular rotation on my iPod. According to UK Reggae Guide " ‘Into The Dojo’ blends traditional roots sound with hints of funk, soul and sun-kissed grooves to create an impressive album worthy of note. The opening track ‘Cool Me Down’ sets the tone, with its smooth production, effortless swagger and beautiful summer vibe. ‘Way The World’ is an outstanding track. The muted and imposing horns make this track; they wash over you, creating a stirring sense of happiness. There are many remarkable tracks on this release, my promo copy has a few missing for some reason, however cuts like ‘Got a Girl’ just ooze style and class, with its slow, down-tempo beat, just perfect for chilling to on a sun-soaked summer day. ‘The Prince’ is another instant winner, a hypnotic dub-wise cut with huge depth and intensity. ‘Sometimes Enough’ rides a more funky reggae riddim, which skanks along at a fine head-nodding pace, again utilising some serious horn playing."

What's going on with UB40?

I probably should have been born in Birmingham, England instead of Philadelphia, PA. I've always been an anglophile and my inclinations and preferences really seem to be British in so many ways especially when it comes to music. In addition to being a die hard fan of The Beat I have also always loved that other Brum institution UB40. In fact I would count the first two UB40 records as classics that would make my desert island disc list. I credit the UB's with opening up the whole wide world of reggae for me as a young man. I started with them and graduated to the amazing and diverse sounds of Jamaican reggae. Its fair to say the release of Labor of Love in 1983 started me on the path of loving and listening to ska, rocksteady, roots reggae and dancehall.

I was also inspired by the UB40 story because none of them knew how to play their instruments when the started and neither did I. That didn't stop them and it has never deterred me even though I can't read or write music. I play the bass by ear and have educated myself by listening to hours and hours of music.

Formed in 1978 and named after an unemployment benefit document, UB40 have enjoyed huge success, with more than 70 million records sold worldwide and 51 hit singles including Red Red Wine and I Got You Babe with Chrissie Hynde – more than The Beatles or Rolling Stones.

Now their eagerly awaited new album, 24/7, is to be released next week.
The new release takes on added significance for UB40 fans as it will be the last album ever recorded by the band's original line-up. Ali Campbell, the band's lead singer, left earlier this year to pursue a solo career, followed by keyboard player Michael Virtue. The original line-up of boyhood friends from the inner-city areas of Birmingham, whose multi-racial line-up has always seemed like a microcosm of multi-cultural Britain, even managed to conquer the notoriously hard-to-crack American market.

They credit their longevity to the fact that there is no room for egos. Which is why the recent split with two founder members has come as such a shock. The departures have led to bitter recriminations on both sides.

Rumor has it that the remaining six members of the band have tapped Maxi Priest as the new lead singer of the band to fill in for Ali (shades of Van Halen/Van Hagar anyone?) but it remains to be confirmed. It now appears that 24/7 will be the final studio album the original UB40 ever records. While we wait for the new album fans can seek solace in the Dub Sessions album which features ten tracks in total, four of which will be dub versions from 24/7. The other six tracks on the dub album will be made up of exclusive and very cool tracks that were worked on during the recording of the 24/7 album.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Ripps - Coventry Strikes Again

I am definitely behind the times when it comes to The Ripps. I got hyped to them by a few ska message boards I visit and when I saw this picture I knew I had to find out more (that's producer Roger Lomas (Bad Manners) along with Horace Panter and Lynval Golding of The Specials with The Ripps and The Enemy).

People on the boards were saying The Ripps were the reincarnation of The Specials and it didn't hurt that they were also from Coventry. Truth be told the sound of the first album "Long Live The Ripps" which came out last year has more in common with the Sound of '77 and the songs lift liberally from The Jam, The Buzzcocks, The Sex Pistols etc. There is a tinge of ska here and there but overall I give them the thumbs up. I'm hopeful that the new album that is coming out this summer and is being produced by Roger Lomas will be more 2Tone/ska/Clash-style reggae and if the 3 songs now up on their Myspace site ( are any indication it will (I particularly like "The People Have Spoken and Rude Boy).

The band is 3 piece and has a woman on the drums (which is pretty rad). They also have an interesting back story. The review below from Indie London provides the lowdown on the band.

COVENTRY upstarts The Ripps boast a sound that’s fast, furious but mostly fun: it’s essentially punk power pop that’s as effusive as early Supergrass but with an outsider edge that stems from brothers Patch and Raul Lagunas’ parents, who were political activists in General Pinochet’s Chile, living in exile in the UK since the ’70s.

Their influences range from the obvious likes of The Clash, The Pixies, The Buzzcocks and Blur, to the more surprising likes of the B-52’s and The Shangri-la’s. Former single Loco is typical of what to expect; a joyfully exuberant opening salvo that taps into the “loco” nature of proceedings. It’s essentially a love song about two dysfunctional people who want to party but it’s delivered with such gusto that it’s impossible not to be swept up in its cavalier attitude.

It’s followed by the similarly brash Vandals, a rousing blend of early Blur-style guitar riffs and punchy lyrics (“we are the vandals, a generation of losers and wasters heading for trouble”). There’s elements of The Jam and The Specials too. Slightly angrier and certainly more punky is Hypocrite, while the opening riffs of Vampires appear ripped right out of Pixies’ culture.
It’s a distinct feature of the album, however, that it’s easily divided into angry punk moments and more infectious power-pop. Needless to say, it works best when occupying the latter territory.

Stranger, for instance, is a firm highlight; a track that begins with a whistle and unfolds with some catchy hooks and vocal melodies. Holiday employs some Beach Boys-style melodies before careering head-first into breezy Brit-pop territory, a la Blur. And You Don’t Even Care drops some cheeky, laddish lyrics into the mix to conjure an anthem about juvenile affection and unrequited passion. During such moments, the album positively vibrates with the energy of youth and the sound of a band finding its feet. Hell, there’s even a nod towards Kaiser Chiefs territory on final track, I Don’t Like You Any More, which employs the same sort of chant-along chorus that made Every Day I Love You Less And Less so memorable.

But in spite of its obvious comparisons, Long Live The Ripps appears happy to wear its influences on its sleeve because it also retains a confidence in its own ability to entertain. The result is mostly infectious in a loud, brash, guilty pleasure kind of way. Download picks: Loco, Stranger, Holiday, You Don’t Even Care, Benefits, Bad Influence

Track listing:
You Don’t Even Care
Cov Song
Bad Influence
I Don’t Like You Anymore

The Ripps - Long Live The Ripps

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Bodysnatchers

I have always had a soft spot in my heart for The Bodysnatchers. As the only all female band in a universe of 2Tone testosterone they made an impact on the UK charts and for a short time were the standard bearers for the label in the UK while The Specials and The Selecter were touring the U.S. and Europe. The Bodysnatchers released their debut single, "Let's Do Rock Steady". The B side was "Ruder Than You". The single reached the #22 spot on the U.K. singles chart.

I was always surprised that they never recorded an album for 2Tone (that came later when members of the band formed The Belle Stars). Apparently they had a 2 single deal with Jerry Dammers and the extent of their recorded output comes to 5 songs. It was always hard to find all of them, but I have been able to do that and now you can also have them all in your collection.

They include:
Too Experienced
Easy Life
Ruder Than You
Let's Do Rock Steady
Let's Do Rock Steady (Live)

Rare 2Tone Spin-off: Pauline Black with Sunday Best featuring Lynval Golding and Neville Staple

The musical blogosphere continues to amaze me. I have been looking for this very hard to find single for almost 25 years. I remember reading a small article in a copy of NME back in the summer of 1984 shortly after both the The Selecter and Fun Boy Three announced they were breaking up that mentioned this band (really a one-off project) was planning to record. It sent me on a search that finally culminated earlier this week.

Pauline Black with Sunday Best features the unmistakable vocals of The Selecter frontwoman. After the band split, Black released a few singles including "Pirates on the Airwaves" which included Neville Staples and Lynval Golding, formerly of The Specials and Fun Boy Three.

While I won't say this is the best song I have ever heard all three of them perform, its novelty makes it worth a listen or two as part of the ongoing history of 2Tone.

According to Vinyl Goldmine Pirates on the Airwaves has never appeared on CD even though countless Selecter and Pauline Black compilations have been put on the market over the years. Downloads of both the A and B side (which features the toasting of Neville Staple) are below courtesy of Vinyl Goldmine.

Pauline Black with Sunday Best - Pirates on the Airwaves

Inside The Songwriters Mind - An Interview With Dave Wakeling of The English Beat

I have always been fascinated by the songwriting process. Its very personal and unique to each person and the best songwriters seem to make it effortless. I have always respected Dave Wakeling's ability to tell a story in a 3-4 minute pop song. The first three English Beat albums and the first 2 General Public albums are testament to his strengths and the timeless quality of many of his songs. I recently found a very extensive interview with Dave on a fantastic site called Song Facts . I highly recommend the site for other interviews with well known songwriters. Without further ado here is the interview. At the end I've posted a link to a great live show The Beat played in the U.K. in 1982.

Dave Wakeling is a founding member of The English Beat, known outside of America as The Beat. Any legit Ska playlist will include their songs: "Mirror In The Bathroom," "Save It For Later," "I Confess." Dave tells the stories behind these songs, and explains why it's our weaknesses that unite us.

Carl Wiser (Songfacts): How do you typically write?
Dave Wakeling: The lyrics - I have to just build up a head of steam, and either some kind of intense emotion, either great happiness or great sadness, something. They often come to me in a big wedge, as if it's been delivered from somewhere else. But I think what happens is that you just put yourself in a situation so you're somehow in the middle of the flow. You're in the middle of the river rather than dragging on the wave at the edges. And quite often the nucleus of the song, the hook line and the primary points I'm trying to make for those couple of rhyming couplets, they'll all arrive in a very quick amount of time. That's why I say, sometimes it feels like it's being delivered. But then once you realize the gift you just got, it's a matter of, Okay, now what do you want to do with it? What points do you want to make? And then often it can take months. And I don't rush it, I just wait until stuff pops: like Wow! There you go. That's it. So I just ponder all the issues around it and let my self-conscious deliver suggested rhyming couplets as the weeks go on.

SF: So you would write most of the lyrics?
Dave: Yeah. And I would agonize over them. I could sit up all night staring at the lyrics trying to figure out whether something should be sung as a colon or a semicolon.

SF: But it sounds like you don't get your inspiration from waking up and sitting down at a desk and thinking, I'm gonna write a song.
Dave: No. I have done it a couple of times with other songwriters, and I've found it very exciting and very freeing, because in those situations, you're just writing a song from a point of view of poetry. But most often I write my own songs from a point of view of feeling really strongly about something. Something has to be very heartfelt and I have to be moved to the point where sometimes I'm shaking a bit with it.

SF: What's an example of one of those songs that you felt very heartfelt and almost shaking that you wrote?
Dave: Well, actually, most of them. "Tenderness" was very much like that (This was a hit for General Public, a group Dave formed with Ranking Roger after The English Beat). A lot of it, in writing a song, it's like you're searching for some answers. And you've got maybe this first rhyming couplet that's come up, and that's fired up your imagination. And it sparks off a series of questions about your own life, so you start pondering it. And so there's a lot of sort of self-analysis that goes on: What do you think about this, then? What do other people think about it? By the time you get to the end of the song, sometimes you've figured out that rigor, at least in your own mind, and then you play it to people and find out if it connects. My notion of it was that you have to find something really personal, and you have to try and find a way to express it that is as universal as possible. I also have the notion that where we connect the most is in our confessed weaknesses, not in our comparative strengths. So the songs will have a bit of a nod and a wink in them: anybody ever mess up like this? And you feel it come back from the crowd, "Oh, my God, I've done that." So I suppose the basic elements of our humanity is our own sense of foibles.

SF: Well, "Tenderness" was one of those songs that definitely touched an audience. And there are some really interesting lyrics in there. For instance, when you're whistling in the graveyard calling up to your girlfriend, where would that come from?
Dave: It was a phrase of my father's when I would disagree with him and try to stand up to him as I was growing old. He'd be like, "You're just whistling in the graveyard." So it was like he was accusing me of a false sense of courage, like I was trying to act more bravely. I think the phrase was actually whistling past the graveyard. He said it to me as, "Oh, you're just whistling in the graveyard." I actually stick quite a lot of my dad's little phrases and witticisms in songs. And I suppose in Birmingham they had a sort of colloquial history that most people's dads would have said to them. But it was trying to build up a false sense of courage and call up your girlfriend, knowing whatever it was that she was going to catch you at because you weren't telling the truth.

SF: That's great. One thing I notice is that sometimes English sayings put into songs do very well in America. There's this Steve Winwood song, "While You See a Chance you take it."
Dave: Yeah.

SF: And the next line, which I was always fascinated by, is "find romance, fake it." And nobody in America knew what that meant. I talked to the guy who wrote it (Will Jennings), and he said, "Yeah, it comes from a saying called fake it till you make it."
Dave: Fake it till you make it. If you have confidence, somebody might believe it.

SF: Did "Tenderness" start as an English Beat song?
Dave: Yes, it did. It started being written during that time. We tried to get rehearsals set, and it was one of the reasons that we knew that The Beat had really come to its end: where I was before, everything had gone very smoothly and magically without even trying. It was now almost nigh impossible to get rehearsals together. Somebody would have something to do in the morning, so they couldn't be there until 2, and somebody else has got to leave at 2:30 because they've got a meeting to go at 3, and they couldn't do Thursday, what about next week? And on and on and on. And it was hard for us to get anything done. I think we managed two rehearsals, perhaps, for that third album.

SF: So in a way is "Tenderness" about your experience with the English Beat?
Dave: No, not really. I used to like traveling with the trucks that carried the gear. I'd always been a big fan of that TV show Cannonball when I was a kid, and thought that the idea of American trucks was very romantic. So when we came on tour, I used to love to drive overnight with the truck drivers and talk rubbish on the CB in there. And so it was as if the trucks were driving in what's called "the endless gray river." And the notion was that you were driving around in there in America searching for the tenderness, whereas, of course, it's in your heart all the time. So it's like you're looking in the outside world for something that can only be discovered in yourself, because love is a verb, not a noun. That was the notion of it. But also there was a darker side to the song, because it came out in that period of AIDS, fear of AIDS. Nobody really knew much about it, and everybody was all of a sudden terrified to touch a door handle. Being a terrific hypochondriac, and everybody was always having colds on the road on tour, it's like any time anybody sneezed, I was like, could that be AIDS? So it was to do with that, but in sort of non-obvious way.

The English Beat released just three albums, but covered a variety of styles and subjects in that short time. Here, Dave explains why the "neck down" jobs can be great for songwriting, and how an uncomfortable triangle inspired one of their classics. And if it sounds like Dave is singing something naughty on "Save It For Later," that's because he is.

SF: Could you tell me a little bit about "Mirror in the Bathroom"?
Dave: Yeah. I was working in construction at the time, and it was the winter, I had forgotten to hang my jeans up to dry overnight, so when I got into the bathroom to shower up, I noticed my jeans were still on the floor, soaking wet, covered in sand. So I hung them up thinking well, it's probably best to have them steaming hot and wet. I went to shave, and it was snowing, and I really, really didn't want to go. So I started talking to myself in the mirror as I was shaving up. And it was weird, because I looked deeper in the mirror, and I could see the little caption on the door behind, and I said to myself, Look, David, there's just me and you in here. The door's locked. We don't have to go to work. Of course we did. Got on the motorbike, and I just started pondering as I skated my way to the construction site on this motorbike. And that's how it started. It was thinking about how self-involvement turns into narcissism and how narcissism turns into isolation, and then how isolation turns into self-involvement again, and how what a vicious cycle that can become. So then I just started thinking about different situations where people would ostensibly look like they were doing something, but in fact they were checking their own reflection out. And you'd see it perhaps on Saturday afternoon with people window shopping, half the time they're actually just looking at their own reflection. Then this restaurant opened, and it was a big deal at the time because it had glass tables, and I was like, oh, you can watch yourself.Then, in America in the early '80s, everybody gave me knowing winks and said, "Oh, I know what that one's about, then, Dave." And it wasn't that mirror in the bathroom at all, it was the one on the wall, and not the one on your knee. And oddly, songs can become sort of strangely prophetic, though. But certainly at the time of writing, nobody had any money or any access to cocaine... until after the song was out.

SF: No wonder people got confused.
Dave: I know.

SF: It sounds like you're not like Bruce Springsteen, who has just made music his whole life. You've actually had some real jobs before you became a full-time musician.
Dave: I was a firefighter for a couple of years. But I used to like working construction because it was called a "neck-down" job, what we call it in England. Clock on, switch off. They could have the use of your muscles below your neck for the eight-hour shift. But quite a lot of the lyrics, at first we tell them, we wrote over that snowy winter.

SF: Were you in the band, or were you making music while you were working this job?
Dave: Yeah, they kind of overlapped a little bit. It got to be very tough work, because you'd get home from the site and then go off and do a gig, and sometimes when it was out of town you wouldn't be back till the sun was coming up and you'd get home and get on the motorbike and go to the site. It became too much in the end.I was the only English kid on the squad. And I said to my foreman, "I won't be coming in." And he said, "Oh, Jesus. Well, fuck you, then." He says, "I'll see you tomorrow." I said, "No, no, you can't. I won't be coming in." And that was it. The last day of my construction career. I took a break during the early '90s and I worked full-time for Greenpeace.

SF: That's an interesting kind of a job direction there.
Dave: It had always been an ambition of mine. To be honest, I wanted to be three things; I wanted to be in a pop group, I wanted to work for Greenpeace, and I wanted to be a Buddhist monk. And those were the only three things I really wanted to do when I was 18. And so I needed to pass a good few years of IRS records, I needed a soul cleansing. And this opportunity came up with Greenpeace, and the timing of it was so magical, I loved it and stayed there for five years working special projects and everything with liaisons in the entertainment industry. I got to be executive producer of the solar power live album called Alternative Energy, which was a fundraiser and all about the issues of global warming and climate change, which are very difficult for Greenpeace to get hard news all of the time, because there was a lot of money invested in saying the science wasn't real, it was an unproven theory.

SF: And then you still haven't become a Buddhist monk, huh?
Dave: I haven't. I say my prayers every day, and I find it probably more helpful than anything else in keeping a sense of humor, a sense of irony, and a slight sense of detachment. I don't go skinning like I used to. And sometimes it helps when things are difficult or painful, to be able to just sit in it instead of looking for an escape away from it. They say that when we get in trouble, that it's actually a sign that we're just about to learn something very important to us, if we can sit in it.

SF: One of the harder things is just sitting there quieting the mind.
Dave: Well, it's impossible, especially with a jackhammer mind like mine.

SF: There's what's called a Dharma Center in Vermont where if you don't want to go all the way to Asia, it's a good way to get a little Buddhism.
Dave: Yeah, I've always fancied going on one of those ten-day retreats. I'm told they're very challenging. But I very rarely get ten days off from work, and I've always felt a bit guilty disappearing and leaving the family, if they've only just seen me coming back off tour or whatever. So I still haven't managed it, but I always think I will one day. At the moment I try and convince myself that I'm doing a kind of Dharma yoga. You know, I'm trying to spread good feelings with my concerts. Trying to uplift people's spirits a bit and remind people you can still have a bit of fun with a sense of irony and although life's tragic, so be it.

SF: How about the song "I Confess." Can you tell me about that?
Dave: Well, like a mixture of my songs, they would have an element in it that was autobiographical, which would often be very, very deep. And it would borrow from stuff I'd read in magazines and seen on the news, or overheard. I used to love listening to people's conversations on buses. And in order, I suppose, to make it appear more confessional and more personal, I would often mess with which person it was written, whether it was I, or he, or she."I Confess" was only partly autobiographical. A lot of other references point to a story I'd seen in a magazine about how a guy screwed his wife's sister on their wedding night. That was taking it a bit far. But it made me think of how people can get very sorry for themselves in any sort of situation regardless of their own actions. And so two things in it that were really personal for me was that I found that I ruined three lives, but didn't care, till I found out that one of them was mine. And the second thing was, I noticed in my own life and in the young friends' love affairs that were going on, that when things started to go wrong in them, the argument was often about who loved each other the most, and the accusation was that the other person didn't love as much as you did. And so it seemed to me that the hardest confession to make in those sort of situations were they were right, you didn't actually care very much. And so really the deepest of the confessions for me in that song was if it's all the same to you, I'll stay indifferent.

SF: Like you said, you ruined three lives. So that is really how you feel.
Dave: Well, it can be whenever you get caught in some sort of uncomfortable triangle.

SF: And this did happen to you?
Dave: Yeah. (laughs) And not just once. But yes, it happened once to the point where it reminded me of this story I'd seen in a magazine, so I mixed the plight of this guy in the magazine who had been caught having sex with his new bride's sister on their wedding day. "No, no, you don't understand, it's not what it said." "Yes, it is." And I mixed that with my own tawdry tales of young love.

SF: Oh, my goodness.
Dave: But often in order to make a point harder I would switch the stories around. Like in the song "Best Friend," I'm actually singing it to myself in the same mirror that "Mirror In The Bathroom" was written in. It was actually my sister's bathroom in Birmingham. But I kept that mirror for a long time, eventually lost it. But "Best Friend" was singing a song to a reflection, you know, I just found I'm your best friend – you.

SF: How about the song "Save It For Later"?
Dave: "Save It For Later" is funny, because it's not really about anything - I wrote it when I was a teenager. I wrote it before The Beat started. And it was about turning from a teenager to someone in their 20s, and realizing that the effortless promise for your teenage years was not necessarily going to show that life was so simple as you started to grow up. So it was about being lost, about not really knowing your role in the world, trying to find your place in the world. The actual hook line itself was just a dirty joke, I just thought it was hilarious that you could get in a song: "save it – comma – for later – F-E-double L-A-T-O-R."

SF: Oh, so it's fellatio.
Dave: (laughs) So I thought it'd be really neat to get that in a song and everybody would be singing it. I didn't know it was going to be a joke that lasted for 30 years. So, you couldn't find your own way in the world, and you'd have all sorts of people telling you this, that, and the other, and advising you, and it didn't actually seem like they knew any better. So it was like keep your advice to yourself. Save it – for later.

SF: In the song "Jeanette," is she a real person?
Dave: It was an archetype, but there was somebody, evidently her name was Jeanette. It wasn't a friend of mine, but a friend of somebody else's in the group who did have a Ronettes' style haircut, like a big beehive hairdo. And she was the initial inspiration for the song. But then it sort of got written about an archetype, I suppose. Sort of a rich girl that might want to hang around musicians. Like a trustafarian or something.

SF: Your song "Twist And Crawl," could you tell me about that one?
Dave: Well, not really. Because I didn't write the lyrics too much to that one. I filled out the lyrics, but it was actually a friend of David Steele's, the bass player, Peter Greenall, wrote the lyrics to it. We sat and talked a bit once and he showed me the poem. I filled in the song and made it scan a bit more, and I wrote the changes in sort of middle 8 breaks and stuff like that. It was about somebody wanting to be in the twist and shout kind of casual '60s confidence, but found that it was more like twist and crawl. Just social discomfort to the point of pitiful pain of always feeling you're in the wrong place at the wrong time and saying the wrong thing to the wrong person. Never getting anywhere with it, you know.

SF: Well, that sounds similar to the theme of "Too Nice To Talk To."
Dave: Yes, that was exactly "Too Nice To Talk To." There was a club called Barbarella's in Birmingham that was quite famous. And they used to have this dastardly trick at 20 past 2 every morning, because they closed at 2:30, it didn't matter what was happening, whatever record was playing, they would just scratch the record off and turn on the lights. And it was like (screeching sounds), "Okay, thank you, good night." And you'd be in the middle of some delightful fantasy dancing with somebody. They used to play a lot of Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music in there, very romantic. And a lot of punk songs, too. And so it was a story really about wanting to go and dance with somebody and just spending too long, and going over in your mind what you would say, or what you ought to say, or having your friends going, "Go on, go and talk to her." And you waited that long for it, you took a big breath and strode towards the dance floor, all the lights in the club went on and the record got scratched up (screeching sound), "Okay, thank you, good night." Oh, it's too late now, it's 20 past 2, I've spent all night just watching you. But yeah, it's to do with that shyness to the point of discomfort. And then finally making the bold move just a moment too late.

SF: And you do have one very political song, which is "Stand Down Margaret."
Dave: Yeah.

SF: A lot of Americans don't really know what was going on there, could you give us a bit of an idea of what you were dealing with?
Dave: The late '70s in England were troubled times: high unemployment, secession, the fear of nuclear war breaking out, the kind of fantasy end-of-the-century, end-of-the-world kind of feeling. And Margaret Thatcher came on, kind of like the last great hope of the British Empire. She'd actually been born above a grocery store in Nottingham, a working class city. But had developed airs and graces and a posh accent and kind of saw herself as being of the upper classes, which she wasn't. So it was sort of a false accent, and a false attitude that went with it. Then she fell head over heels with her teenage heartthrob, Ronald Reagan, and went about trying to dismantle any sense of social unity that England had: breaking the unions, letting people go out on strike and starve. And in a very few short years she managed to turn people in England from neighbors to competitors. A lot of people bought shares in the gas company and the train company and the water company, bought shares in the companies that our dads had already paid for. And in doing so turned everybody into competitors - instead of neighbors now we were competing as investors, jealously guarding our shares. Our people stopped talking to each other at bus stops. People started to become more suspicious of each other. And the sense of camaraderie was broken in a way that I haven't ever seen fully replaced, really. It may have been that Britain needed dragging into the 21st Century, but it may also be that making the mistake of believing that just because communism was obviously collapsing, that didn't mean that all of the tenets of world capialism were absolutely accurate. That there was perhaps stuff in our system that weren't that great, either. And I think they're starting to see that it's okay for someone to make a billion dollars, but if they do, somebody else has to go without dinner that night, because that money comes from somewhere. And so the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, and poor old Margaret was acting as though she had airs and graces to the manor born. So it was stand down in the political sense – resign. But it was also stand down as in get off your soap box. Get off your high horse. Stop trying to talk down to people. You don't really know that much more than them, anyway. And stop putting on this hoity toity accent, because you know you're really a shop girl from Nottingham.

SF: Well, the whole theme of unity and getting together, that seems to show up in your song "Doors Of Your Heart."
Dave: Yeah. Everybody needs someone they can cling to now and then, no more defense, no more pretense, no reason to explain you can feel love thumping at the doors of your heart. I try sometimes to stop pretending everything's okay and be isolated, and actually enjoy the fact that we are all one, that what's good for one of us is good for all of us, and what's bad for one of us is bad for all of us. And that whether we like it or not we're all in the same boat. So that was what it was about, really, and how much comfort could be derived from that. Sometimes you can have as many intellectual ideas about something as possible, but when your heart starts bursting through your chest, you get a different sense of reality.

SF: I know the heart versus the brain.
Dave: Exactly. And I am trying to get the two of them to co-exist whenever possible.
The first single for The English Beat was an uptempo cover of the Smokey Robinson classic "Tears Of A Clown." It was released on the Chrysalis subsidiary 2-Tone Records, which was started by Jerry Dammers of The Specials. After this single, The English Beat negotiated a deal with Arista records to form their own Go Feet label, which gave them a great deal of creative control.

SF: What gave you guys the idea to cover "Tears Of A Clown"?
Dave: When we first started rehearsing the songs, the drummer (Everett Morton) thought our songs were a bit weird. We had rehearsed the songs, and it would go okay for a minute, and then we would all veer off on our own little tangents and we'd lose the groove on it again. And so Everett said, "Why don't we find a song that we all know and learn that one by ourselves, come back next Tuesday, and we'll play that song and get a groove with that one. And then we'll go back and play one of your weird songs, like that mirror thing." And so that's what we did, we'd play "Tears Of A Clown," then we'd play "Mirror In The Bathroom," then we'd play "Tears Of A Clown." We'd play "Twist And Crawl," and we'd play "Tears Of A Clown," "Big Shot," "Tears Of A Clown," "Click Click," "Tears Of A Clown." And by the time we got five or six songs together that would hold together, David Steele, the bass player, said, "Let's do a show. We should do a concert." We're like, "We've only got six songs." He said, "Yes, but one concert is worth a thousand rehearsals." Because you can sit around and be pretentious in rehersals as long as you like. So we started doing shows, and in order to have seven songs instead of six, we put "Tears Of A Clown" in the set. We'd practiced that song more than any of the others, it turned out. Because it was our magnet, our training model for all the other tunes.We took all and any sort of gigs, some were punk gigs, some were reggae gigs, some were working men's clubs, some were pubs that were trying to get some business going mid-week, we'd take anything. And sometimes the punky songs went well, sometimes the reggae songs went well, and sometimes neither of them would go down well, but everywhere we went, every time, "Tears Of A Clown" always went down fantastic. So Jerry Dammers came to us, told us about 2-Tone and came and saw the band. He said, "Would you like to do a single for 2-Tone," and we said yes, we'd love to, thanks. And he said, "We really liked that 'Mirror In The Bathroom' song." And we said, "That's probably our best song. Yeah, that would be a good one." Then he came back a week or so later and he said, "Oh, Chrysalis says you can do 'Mirror In The Bathroom,' they like it, but they would own the rights to it for five years." We're like, "No." I said, "You know, that's our best tune. We'd want it on our album. But so long as we can bring it out on our album, that would be fine, you can have it as a single." So he went off again and he came back and he said, "No, Chrysalis said if it's the single it can't be on your first album." So we said, "Well, tell them to fuck themselves." and we said, "We'll do 'Tears Of A Clown' then." Because that always goes down great. And you can tell the fellows at Chrysalis they can argue with Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson about whose song it is. And so we just insisted, and as luck would have it, our song came out in October, and by December 6 it was Number 6 in the charts, and it was the runaway dance party hit of the Christmas of '79. It was on every jukebox and every turntable for every Christmas party. So I think it probably worked out really well, because I don't know if "Mirror In The Bathroom" would have been that cheery as a Christmas single.

SF: Probably not.
Dave: A British song about isolation and narcissism that will morph into a song about cocaine in the bathroom, you know?

SF: The B-side of "Tears Of A Clown" is a song called "Ranking Full Stop." It's a lot of fun. Could you tell me what "ranking" is, and anything about that song?
Dave: Yeah. I can't tell you much about the song, because it's Roger's lyric. But "ranking" is just like in top ranking, or high ranking, you know. It would be the sort of boast or name that an MC, a Master of Ceremonies will toast at a concert he'll give himself. The guy that works with the DJ and talks over the radio and talks over the songs and introduces the band. So that would be where "ranking" Roger came from. It's just like high ranking or top ranking.
SF: But that's a fairly common saying over there?
Dave: It's a Jamaican phrase that we use quite a lot in England.

SF: It was always strange to me how Jamaican sayings make their way over to England, the reggae sayings.
Dave: Well, it's not that strange, really, because there were hardly any black people in England until the mid-'50s, which I think a lot of American people don't know. My mama tells me she remembers seeing her first black person ever sometime in the 1940s during the War. They were all very excited and followed him down the street, poor buggar. But it wasn't really until after the end of the second World War when the British infrastructure had been devastated with the German bombings, that they invited people from the British colonies and protectorates and commonwealth – British Commonwealth country, they call them – to come and help rebuild the motherland. And the idea was that people would come out for three years, make a load of money, go home, and build themselves a big house in Jamaica. But like anything else, when you travel across the world on some sort of spurious idea like that, people ended up setting roots, people ended up having kids, going to school, you never quite saved enough money to go back and build that big house in Jamaica. But although some people now have some roots that they've re-established in Jamaica, the vast majority of the population ended up staying in England. So that first set of kids of Jam-English people were born in the late '50s, and so about the time I was born, mid- or to late-'50s, you had a whole generation of first generation English born of Jamaican parents who had only been in England for a few years. And the Mods and the Rude Boys on the Jamaican side have seen styles of sharp suits and ties and hats and a slightly dandy-ish approach to stuff. Dressing up is a big thing. And looking smarter and richer than you actually were, you know. It's like a working class way of putting on a brave front dressing sharp. So there was quite a lot of cross pollination between Mods and Rude Boys there towards the middle to late '60s. And that was where I heard my first ska music, the Trojan Tightened Up volumes 1 through 4 that become very popular amongst the Mods, who turned into Suedeheads, the Suedeheads turned into Skinheads. And that early ska/reggae was the favorite music of the skinheads on the soccer terraces. That was where I heard my first reggae was at the soccer games.

SF: The Mods and the Rude Boys, were they necessarily black or white? Or did that even matter?
Dave: The Mods were white, in the main part. The Rude Boys were the first English generation born to Jamaican moms and dads who had emigrated to England. So they were the first JamEnglish generation.

SF: That's really interesting. I don't think a lot of people over here know about that stuff.
Dave: No. It's always been so convoluted, I think the racial politics of America, they presume that England must have had a very similar racial background to America. But although the good old British Empire helped design and make fortunes out of the slave trade, there weren't any slaves in England. Very few. A handful. But they would be more personal butlers than people who were used in the fields.

SF: So which of the songs that we haven't talked about are some of the ones that you feel are some of your stronger more really intense songs?
Dave: We've covered most of the main contenders. "Click Click" is about suicide. About there being five shots in the cylinder. "Click, click, click, click, click, six shots and you've clicked it five times, so you know the next one's a bullet.

SF: What made you write that song?
Dave: A rainy afternoon in Birmingham, England when you've just got 15 months of rainy Tuesday afternoons in England. And suicide can seem like a viable alternative, you know. But it was with a sense of irony about it, as well. It was like considering suicide, but not really. Probably not going to do it, but pondering it. And it was funny, because I've had a lot of people tell me, "Do you know how really close I came to killing myself when I was 19 or 20 or 21..." That time when one does consider that sort of thing the most. They say, "It's your song 'Click Click' that put me off the idea." Made me laugh about it a bit.""Big Shot" was about being stuck at a bus stop trying to go to work, and everybody would be driving by, one person in the car, and enjoying splashing in the puddles so as to soak everybody at the bus stops. So there I was at the bus stop seething. So it's people going after their office jobs, you know.

SF: This was when you were a construction worker?
Dave: No, actually this was a little before then. My dad had hooked me up with a great job in a car battery shop that ruined your clothes - every time you touched a battery it burned another hole in your shirt. It was horrible. And it stung, battery acid. Nice people, though. Very nice people. He really wanted me to be in the motor trade. Terribly disappointed.

SF: The last thing I have for you, Dave, I'm wondering how you went from Greenpeace to then leaving Greenpeace to make music again.
Dave: Well, it was odd. Stoker, the drummer from General Public, got in touch with me and said that he bumped into Roger and they'd been talking. And would I fancy doing a General Public style thing again? I said, "Oh, that might be fun." And about the same time this guy I knew who put songs in movies, he was just starting at it, but he ended up becoming very big at it and very successful. And he said that he'd got this movie called "Threesome" that he was looking for music for, and they wanted kind of suggestive songs to go with this soundtrack. He'd got a big long list of songs that we'd thought up, and he actually first approached me, "Would you like to do 'Stuck In The Middle With You,' and I was like, "No. Thanks for the thought. No." I noticed "I'll Take You There" was on that list. And "I'll Take You There" had always appealed to me as a song, because there was a Harry J & the Allstars instrumental called "Liquidator" about an assassin. And it's the bass line to "I'll Take You There." In fact, it came out in Jamaica and in England two years before "I'll Take You There" came out in America. And "I'll Take You There" is, for all intents and purposes, just the "Liquidator" with lyrics on the top. And so I thought that would be good, we could do a version of "I'll Take You There" for this movie, and we could try and knock as many pieces of the original "Liquidator" back into the tune and see if anybody dared say anything. And of course because it had been a dirty secret for 30 years, nobody dared mention it now. Even when we said, "Well, actually, there's a lot of this song 'Liquidator' in there, should we mention that in the publishing?" "Nonono, just leave it." And we did. And it went to like 1 on the dance chart, so that was it. We made an LP then, and toured a little bit for General Public. But it really wasn't to my taste. Some people were living in England, some people living in America, it cost ten thousand dollars to fly everybody together for rehearsal, and the Earth starts being a place twice as big as your hand. We had technicians scurrying around. it was all a bit high-falutin' for me. So after a little while I'd got the bug back in my feet for wanting to tread the boards again, but I wanted to do it in a different way. I started my own 4-piece band and called it Bang. And sort of went back to roots. The Beatles, there was only four of them and they sounded okay, so I did that instead. Bang went on for a couple of years, but so many times I would show up, and they would say, "Tonight: The English Beat, General Public, Bang, and Dave Wakeling," like it was four groups. In the end, I just gave up. I was like all right, fine. English Beat it is. You can't fight against the tide.

SF: Yeah. It's like what Eric Clapton tried to do with Derek and the Dominos. They would show up and it would say, "Eric Clapton, and Derek and the Dominos."
Dave: That's right, exactly. I had all sorts of stuff in the contract, you know, if he dares mentioning The Beat or General Public you have to pay me in full and I don't have to play the show. And you get there and it's sold out and there's a line 'round the block, and everybody's really excited. So you just shut up and sing.

SF: I guess that's the lesson. Which of your songs go over particularly well when you play them now?
Dave: We do a segue of Ranking Full Stop into Mirror In The Bathroom that always brings the house down. "I Confess" always goes down great, because I think the whole crowd is wondering, will he hit the six falsetto? A couple of the covers, the dirty reggae songs of Prince Buster. "Tenderness" and "Never You Done That" always go down very well. "Hot You're Cool" goes down great if we do it. We end up playing about 2 hours and 20 minutes a night now. And then we come off stage and somebody, some bright spark, will rattle off the names of eight songs that we haven't done. And we just look at them in disbelief. I suppose it's a compliment if we played 28 songs and you're still bummed about 8 that we haven't done, then obviously the cup runs pretty deep.

SF: Yeah. I think you're seeing a lot of guys that are probably now about 40 years old who were playing your records back when they were DJs at college radio, and are so happy to see that they were right, this was a big deal.
Dave: Oh, it is. It's a lovely feeling. And I get to meet a lot of them. You know, we played 138 shows last year (2007), most of them were sold out. We do three or four different new songs every night as we build up a collection of songs that will be on our next record of some sort. We have some new songs, some live songs, some acoustic songs, some studio modern remakes of old classics.

The Beat with a great show from Hammersmith Palais in 1982 which includes many of the songs that Dave Wakeling discusses in the interview above.

1.Big Shot
2.Doors of Your Heart
4.I Confess
5.Spar Wid Me
6.Get A Job/Stand Down Margaret
7.Tears of A Clown
9.Twist & Crawl
10.Walk Away
11.Save It For Later
12.Ranking Full Stop
13.Mirror in the Bathroom

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Madness Rareties (Volume 1)

I love Madness. Always have and always will. Between their "Nutty" sound and look, humor and one of the best live shows I ever saw in the early 80's they personified what a band was to me. Even more impressive is that they have remained virtually intact and continue to make new music. We almost had a chance to open for them during their Dangermen phase a few years ago.

In November '82, they released their 4th studio album, "The Rise & Fall". The album was well received in the UK, but didn't get an American release. Instead, many of the albums songs were included on the US compilation Madness, including "Our House", which was their most internationally successful single to date. "Our House" reached number 5 in the UK music charts and number 7 in the US charts. Many reviewers compared the The Rise & Fall to The Kinks' Village Green Preservation Society, and it is at times retrospectively considered a concept album.

In 1983, their single "Wings of a Dove" peaked at number 2 in the UK charts, followed by "The Sun & The Rain" (no.5, nov 83). Their following album, Keep Moving, peaked at number 6 in the UK album charts, and two singles from that album reached the top 20 in the UK music charts. The album also included backing vocals by Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger who had just left The Beat to form General Public.

Here is the first volume of four rareties and its a true cornucopia of extended 12" versions and demos of songs from the middle period of Madness albums (The Rise & The Fall, Keep Moving and Mad Not Mad) when they were moving away from ska and incorporating more pop, soul, rock sounds. I've always loved the "Keep Moving" album that followed their U.S. success with "Our House".

01. Cardiac Arrest (Extended 12" Version)
02. Our House (Extended Version)
03. Tomorrow's Just Another Day (12" Warp Mix)
04. Wings Of A Dove (Blue Train Mix)
05. The Sun And The Rain (Extended Version)
06. Michael Caine (Extended Version)
07. Yesterday's Men (12" Version)
08. Uncle Sam (Ray Gun Mix)
09. Sweetest Girl (Extended Mix)
10. Seven Year Scratch (Hits Mix)
11. Yesterday's Men (Demo Version)
12. Uncle Sam (Demo Version)
13. Sweetest Girl (Dub Mix)

Madness Rareties Volume 1
(Here is the password for download: geantvener)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Coventry Automatics

If you love The Specials then this item is essential. These 1978 recordings by The Coventry Automatics (or The Specials right before the name change) are raw, fast and exciting.

From the liner notes: "The story behind the recordings dates back to 1978 when a six piece band called The Automatics travelled to London to record a number of demo tapes with the intention of securing a record deal with a major British record label. The group, consisting of Jerry Dammers on keyboards, Lynval Golding on rhythm guitar and backing vocals, Roddy "Radiation" Byers on lead guitar, 'Sir' Horace Panter on bass, Silverton Hutchinson on drums and Terry Hall providing lead vocals, laid down a total of thirteen songs. Despite the obvious potential of the material, major companies seemed unwilling to take a chance on the group and after months without progress, the group finally decided their best and possibly only chance of success lay in releasing their material on a label of their own. Fortunately, the conditions for such a move could not have been more favourable. The wind of change blown in by punk had left the way open for new talent to emerge in its wake and by the late seventies a framework for small, independent labels to operate and achieve national distribution and air-play was firmly established in the UK."

Here is the track listing and the link to download the album (credit to I Supply the Country With Butter blog on the download)

Wake Up
Nite Klub/Raquel
Rock & Roll Nightmare
Look But Don't Touch
Concrete Jungle
It's Up to You
Stupid Marriage
Blank Expression
Too Much Too Young
Little Bitch
(Dawning of A) New Era
Jay Walker

The Coventry Automatics - Dawning Of A New Era

Fun Boy Three Live!

If there was another band I really wanted to be in it was the Fun Boy Three. I was initially shattered when The Specials broke-up (but recently heartened to hear they have reformed with the intention of playing live later this year). When I heard the first FB3 album "Fame" I was confused and I hated it. Over time it grew on me as I got older and when their second and final album "Waiting" was released I was a huge fan. Produced by David Byrne of Talking Heads it was an amazing mix of pop, reggae, avant-rock and just a hint of all round weirdness. I never saw FB3 live and until recently was content to listen to their first two albums and watch videos on You Tube. Imagine my glee at discovering two gems. First, a recording of a live concert on the UK music TV show Old Grey Whistle Test from 1983.

I found this live album on a blog called "I Supply The Country With Butter"

Incredible live set from former Specials members, Terry Hall, Lynval Golding and Neville Staples. Recorded in 1983 for the Old Grey Whistle Test program, this album catches Fun Boy Three at the top of their game. Unforgettable versions of Fun Boy Three classics, such as Our Lips Are Sealed, We're Having All The Fun, Summertime and a cover the Specials classic, Gangsters!

Track Listing:
Stone Fox Chase (Theme) Area Code 615
The More I See (The Less I Believe)
The Pressure Of Life
Going Home
Things We Do
Our Lips Are Sealed
Tunnel Of Love
We're Having All The Fun
T'aint What You Do (It's The Way That You Do It)
Well Fancy That [Kid Jensen Radio 1 Show]
Tunnel Of Love [Kid Jensen Radio 1 Show]

Fun Boy Three Live on Old Grey Whistle Test 1983

Even better was a discovery of a live video of Our Lips Are Sealed on You Tube which I have also posted for all you other FB3 fans. I remember hearing that Terry, Neville and Lynval were backed by a band of all women but it was great to finally see them.

The Debut of 2 Tone Records

On this date in 1979, 2 Tone records released their first single. It was called "The Special AKA vs. The Selecter". On the front, The Special A.K.A. did "Gangsters". On the back, The Selecter did "The Selecter". The Special A.K.A. was an alternate name used by The Specials. It was the first release for the two Coventry, England ska bands. The single reached the #6 spot on the U.K. singles chart. It was the starting point for the legendary record label.

You can download the original 45 disc here:

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Ska Weekend Preview

We were just invited to play at Ska Weekend 2008 on Saturday July 19th. For those not familiar with the festival, it is a music festival in Knoxville, TN that began in 2003 with only a few bands and had grown to more than 30 bands by 2007.

The festival is touted as the largest Ska festival in the country by its organizer Ben Altom. The event usually takes place during April, but has been moved to July for 2008, and draws some of the most popular ska, punk and rocksteady bands in the country (Mustard Plug, VooDoo Glow Skulls, The Slackers, Westbound Train, Hub City Stompers, King Django and The Pietasters all played the festival in 2007) it also routinely attracts more than 1,500 people. The festival was held in Knoxville's historic "Old City" but will move to the Knoxville World's Fair Park in 2008 to accommodate a larger audience and more stages.

I plan to preview the bands that have been announced (save Bigger Thomas) and will post songs, reviews and video so any one who is interested can check them out.

Here is the list of announced bands. More are expected:

50:50 SHOT

Saturday, April 12, 2008

City Gardens - House of Ska

Long Live City Gardens! Long Live Punk Cards!

I've been thinking alot about the early days of Bigger Thomas (when the band was also called Panic!) and the club that helped put us on the map in late 80's and early 90's. City Gardens was a mecca for disaffected, suburban kids in NJ who were outside the mainstream and were looking for more out of the music that was being force fed on the radio (Springsteen and 80's pop crap).

I remember the first show I ever saw at the club (The Groceries, a local NJ band with a good following) when I was a college freshman at Rutgers. The club was in run down part of Trenton and it was a dark and dingy place but I was always excited to go there. The car rides with my friends to and from the club were always memorable and the characters who ran the club (one Randy Now) seemed larger than life to me as a 18 year old. Its fair to say that my experiences seeing a variety of diverse shows at City Gardens molded me into the music fan I am today.

As a young ska aficionados in the early to mid 1980's, the best part of City Gardens was the number of ska shows that Randy booked. He was clearly a fan of the genre and he went out of his way to bring in local and regional bands from NYC and Philly. It was always easier to wait and see these bands when they came to Trenton then to trek into CBGB's or The Ritz and it made me love the club even more that they came to us in NJ.

My love and passion for ska led me to start a band in New Brunswick while I was a student at Rutgers University. In fact, it was a chance meeting that Roger and I had with Steve Meicke (original and current band sax player) at a Ranking Roger show at City Gardens in August 1988 that took the band (then known as Panic!) from the planning stages to gig ready.

I don't remember the sequence of events anymore, but somehow Randy Now heard about our little ska band making some noise in New Brunswick and New York in the fall of 1988 and spring of 1989 and he offered us a show opening for Boston's Bim Skala Bim in March 1989. We must have made an impression because he kept on booking us for the next 2 1/2 years until the original band split after a bittersweet gig opening for our musical heroes The Special Beat in September 1991.

Its safe to say that Randy Now played a huge role in helping Panic!/Bigger Thomas become the band we are nearly 20 years later. He acted as an unofficial booking manager, connection maker and guru to us. The sheer variety of shows we played opening for bands as diverse as De La Soul, Burning Spear and Token Entry ensured we were seen and heard by many. In fact, people still come up and say to us that they remember seeing us at City Gardens back in the day.

To honor Randy and City Gardens I have posted all the punk cards of shows we played. These cards which Randy made by hand (long before home computers and graphics programs) used to arrive in the mail every month or so promoting shows at the club. I loved getting them and planned many weekend s based on shows I wanted to see. I am amazed at the variety and diversity of bands Randy booked at the club. Looking back its a who's who of punk and underground rock hall of fame bands like Nirvana, Green Day, The Ramones, DEVO etc. I'm proud and more than awed by the company of bands we shared the stage with all these years later.

If you want to see some real rock and roll history be sure to visit Randy's web site where all the punk cards are on display:

Long Live City Gardens! Long Live Punk Cards! Long Live Randy Now!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Why I Love Ska

Welcome to Marco On The Bass. After reading and visiting hundreds of other blogs dedicated to all types of music and taking full advantage of all the amazing music that so many other people have kindly shared with the musical blogosphere I have decided to give back. Once I figure out how to share mp3's from my collection I will start posting them here. In the meantime this is small step forward for me.

After nearly 20 years as a bass player in a ska and reggae band called Bigger Thomas I have amassed a sizable collection of ska and reggae music and memories. I've seen hundreds and hundreds of shows as well as gotten to meet and perform with many of my musical heroes. For my very first post I want to share some music that made me who I am as a bass player and a fan of ska and reggae.

These bands and songs are responsible for my musical education and still inspire me to this day:

The Specials: To this day they are the be all and end all of what 2Tone meant to me. The idea of the band meant as much to me as the music and it was the template for starting my own band, Meeting Lynval Golding and opening for bands he played in is still a thrill for me. That he is a lovely fellow and gentleman reaffirmed my belief in humanity. Note that David Steele from The Beat is playing bass in the video of "Do Nothing" below.

The Beat: The band that I have always wanted to be in from the first time I heard I Just Can't Stop It. I have David Steele and his unorthodox mix of reggae and punk bass playing to thank for picking up the bass guitar in the first place. I have modeled my bass playing on his. To this day the best show I ever saw was REM and The Beat at the Fountain Casino in Aberdeen, NJ on April 24, 1983. The experience of that show is followed closely by meeting and opening shows for Dave Wakeling's English Beat the last few years.

Here is a Westwood One Radio broadcast of The English Beat taped onto open reel, then recorded to cassette to edit out the commercials.

1) Get A Job (6:37)

2) Tears Of A Clown (3:27)

3) Twist and Crawl (2:25)

4) Save It For Later (3:18)

5) Mirror in the Bathroom (5:32)

6) End Of The Party (3:45)

7) Rough Rider (5:22)

8) Tenderness (4:06)

Bim Skala Bim: In my opinion the best American ska band ever (along with The Untouchables) and the 2Tone influence is unmistakable in early songs like The Key, Jah Laundromat and Solitary Confinement from their first self titled album. We played a number of shows with them in our early days at City Gardens in Trenton, NJ. For my money Vinnie Nobile is the world's best trombone player and his distinctive sound makes the band. Vinnie now plays with the reformed Pilfers.

Here is a link to a download of Bim's 1995 album "Bones"

Here is a link to a download of Bim's 1989 album "Tuba City"

Bad Manners: One of the best live 2Tone ska era bands of all time. I wore out my first copy of their self-titled LP and songs like Lip Up Fatty, Inner London Violence, Special Brew and Lorraine were the soundtrack of my teen years in high school. I saw them at the Ritz in New York City with my friends in August 1984 and it still ranks as one of the most memorable live shows I have seen. Buster and his band of free spirits really knew how to entertain. Later we opened a few shows for them and just played a show with them at the Filmore East (AKA Irving Plaza) a few weeks ago. Buster remembered us and invited our band to share his dressing room. He is such a down-to-earth and level-headed person.