Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Dualers - From Buskers to Indie UK Ska Sensations

Living in New York City I am accustomed to seeing musicians performing on subway stations and train platforms. Its part and parcel of the whole underground experience here. Some of the musicians are good and in rare cases I've been moved to drop some money in a hat or to buy a CD. However, I doubt any of the New York City street performers or "buskers" as our friends across the pond call them, have ever reached the pop charts. The Dualers, who are brothers Si and Tyber Cranstoun have done so twice: "Kiss on the Lips" reaching 21 in the UK Pop Charts in 2004 and "Truly, Madly, Deeply" which reached number 23 in 2005. That acheievement on its own is amazing, but even more impressive is that they accomplished it as a ska band and without the benefit or support of a record company.

The Cranstoun brothers are well known around Bromley and Croydon in South London where they are fixtures as regular street performers and perform cover versions of well-known and more obscure ska and reggae songs. Below are videos of their street shows:

Performing their own original "Kiss On The Lips"

Performing ska classic "Taller Than You"

Based on their popularity as street performers they recorded and released their debut album "Melting Pot" in 2006. The songs on the album draw on the jiggling, infectious skank of 2-Tone as well as the fierce simplicity of labels like Trojan, artists like Sam Cooke, The Skatalites, The Blues Busters, and even 50s vocal groups. They have a new album called "Cooking Pot" which is about to be released.

Here is an interview with Si and Tyber with LondonNet from 2006:

First of all I want to say thank you for giving me a wonderful night witnessing your sweet Ska sounds at Pop. Do you agree Ska, like most music really, has to be heard live to get the full effect?
Si: Thank you! Ska is about an energy that absolutely has to be witnessed at source was the full on dance music of it's day. So for sure we dance it up!
Tyber: Yes, I totally agree. The skank is the heartbeat of the music, the music is incredibly energetic and if you perform it in this way it has a huge effect on the audience.

Your father was the founder of the Savoy Sound System which helped introduce Ska into the UK back in the early sixties. He's clearly endowed you with a strong appreciation for the ska-beat. How critical is his influence to your act today?
Si: Our father has extremely high musical standards it was a major challenge that we rose to, to finally meet his approval. He has been a bench mark in The Dualers sound.
Tyber: Extremely critical we seek our fathers approval on pretty much every track and our Mums as well, she has a good ear too.

Even to an old rude-boy like me it seems that talk of a Ska revival is almost an annual event. However, I think it's fair to say that the only time a revival really took hold was with the Two-Tone assault on the charts in 1979-1980 led by The Specials. Is this the year that Ska goes big time once more?
Si: I think that annual chat aside, The Ordinary Boys, The Dead 60's and so many adverts that tap into it may see it finally emerge on the mainstage for good. SKA is merely a style of music, a template for existing and new bands blossom from. Just as indie rock, punk, rap, r&b and dance are musical templates. The difference with SKA at present is that it desperately needs to be supported by the industry the same way as the other styles hopefully this year may see a more level playing field.
Tyber: I do agree it does seem to rears its head every year but never quite seems to break the surface. It seems to be around more on the radio, on adverts but it just needs someone to come along and grab the mantle hopefully it will be us.

Two-Tone added a touch of punk to the Ska formula. You're going down a different route; sticking to the genuine old-school sound. Is that thanks to your father's influence?
Si: I think there is a flavour to our new album that pulls from both trad ska and Two-Tone as a kid growing up Trojan and Two-tone to me were the same thing - great great music !!
Tyber: Our fathers influence has helped us to keep it traditional but we have also been influenced by Two-Tone, which helps give our music attitude, especially if you are singing romantic lyrics as they did back in the day.

The first time I saw you, you were busking on the street in Kingston. For a brief, glorious moment hearing Truly Madly Deeply (the band's second single) I thought I was in Kingston, Jamaica, not Kingston-Upon-Thames. But it's a long way from the streets to the charts and you've made the trip. How important has the busking been to your performing and musical development?
Si: For me it is where I learnt my craft, where I honed my skills as a performer. It will always be something I'm proud of and indebted to.
Tyber: Its been incredibly important, its allowed us to hone our skills, try out ideas, develop our voices without professional criticism. The public don't lie, if they don't like something they will soon tell you.

I know that you're passionate about keeping control of your talent. You publish and distribute your music through your own label Galley Music just like Two-Tone did way back when - to help make this happen. Is this the future or is it more trouble than it's worth?
Si: Well with the long awaited release of our first professional album the next few months will be telling times! I do however feel that there is a real trend for DIY music, I think the public genuinely want a real alternative purchase in their music collection and they definitely will get it with us!
Tyber: I'm not sure that it is the future and I'm not sure its more trouble than its worth yet.

I see that you have a few tracks available for free download on your website;, including your stunning debut single Kiss On The Lips. As an independent label do you see downloads as an enemy or a friend?
Si: I think so as the figures collected are genuine then it's a very good thing, after all music needs to be heard by any means possible!!
Tyber: I see downloads as a friend I get on well with all of them and they're great listeners! But I think there is something to be said for going into a store and buying a record then going home to listen to it.

You cite the Skatalites as your prime musical influence. What's so special about their sound?
Si:The players man !!! nobody plays better SKA than the Skatalites they were the original machine behind almost all the early Ska tracks. They are the Gods !

You've got a new single out at the end of the month "Don't Go". Like the majority of the songs on your new album The Melting Pot, this one is penned in-house. Going forward where do you see the balance settling between your own songs and classic Ska covers?
Si: We are songwriters, that's the juice, there are only first wave ska covers on the 15 tracks new album. We play a few covers at live shows as a toast, a mark of respect for our early influences, which for me also included the late great Sam Cooke!
Tyber: I see the balance somewhere in between. We have been influenced by such a variety of musicians that we could never be completely authentic yet at the same time we want to stay true to the original music

You've helped set up the Ska night, Skavoovie at Pop in Soho (now moved to Opium from the 7 June 2006, then second and last Thursdays of the month). What's the reason and format behind this and how's it working out?
Si: My brother set this up with Steve Edwards. he knows the score !
Tyber: The reason we set the club up was simply because everyone seems to love the music yet there were very few venues that played it. The fact that the band plays down there on a regular basis is a bonus, we can now use it as a showcase for professionals as well as a central location for people to get to. There are been 3 nights so far, each one has been a success and I'm happy to say they are going from strength to strength.

I've got to say the atmosphere there is quite electric, with a good vibe and, pleasingly for an old-timer like myself - the age range is unusually diverse too. Is that the essence of Ska?

Si: Well I think that it has a lot to do with the simplicity of the music, the melody lines are always strong when you pull on original Ska, this helps the music to transcend through the age range and broaden the appeal.
Tyber: The music has been around for so long, some people remember the first wave, some people remember the second wave and we being the third wave are pulling on a younger generation, uniting everyone that hears it.

And finally, there's a children's charity called Alpha Boys School, in Kingston, Jamaica that you guys support. Can you tell us a little bit about it and why you've got involved?
Tyber: the alpha boys school is a school for troublesome and orphaned boys. They are taken in and taught by nuns the ways of God but above all how to play and make music. So high was the calibre of musicians at the school that top producers such as Sir Coxsone Dodd and Duke Reid plucked them straight from school and into the studio. Players such as Rico Rodrigez and Don Drummond, two of the founding members of the mighty Skatalites. By giving to this charity it is our way of giving something back to the music.

Here is a download of their 2006 CD "Melting Pot":