Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween - Ghost Town Covers

Happy Halloween. Today's post is to honor The Specials song "Ghost Town" and the way it captured and crystalized a moment in time and history. The song has a timeless quality. It never sounds dated and its lyrics have never been more pertinent. Ghost Town was The Specials last hurrah and they went out on top with a #1 hit on the UK pop charts. The song was released in response to the UK's then conservative government's failed economic policies that resulted in massive layoffs and unemloyment. Sound familiar?

There was an amazing article published in The Guardian in 2002 that provides a behind the scenes look at the genesis of the song and its recording. You can read it here.

Here is the classic Ghost Town video:

The covers are an eclectic mix including:

-The Dead 60's -my pick for the band that could have carried the mantle of The Specials into the 21st Century (had they not broken up)
-The Prodigy and their funky hip hop/dance take on the track
-An indie rock take on the track by the band Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly
-Finally, a very eerie and spooky live version of the song featuring Terry Hall and Tricky

The Dead 60's - Ghost Town
The Prodigy - Ghost Town

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Beat - The John Peel Sessions

John Peel. His name alone conveys musical gravitas. Peel probably made more of a contribution to British music (and its effect on the rest of the world) in the last 50 years than anyone else. As a DJ on UK's Radio 1, he spoke to succeeding waves of kids and was responsible for breaking new bands such as Radiohead, The Undertones, The Clash, The Smiths, Pulp, T-Rex, New Order and many, many more. And after a lifetime of listening to more music than most of us could ever hope to do, Peel rated The Beat as one of his favorite bands of all time.

He first crossed paths with the band at a University gig in Birmingham where he was booked as a DJ. Supporting him was a local, unknown Birmingham band called The Beat. Peel was so blown away by the band that he swapped his £800 check with the band for their £80 check and invited them to come record a live radio session for his show. He then promoted them on his show regularly and helped to make them big in the UK and Europe. Peel's affection for the band was obvious as he invited them to record three sessions for his show.

Each session is a microcosm of the band during the three distinct phases they went through. The first session from November 1979, features songs from the first LP "I Just Can't Stop It" and is notable for the fact that it does not include Saxa, so "Tears Of A Clown", "Ranking Full Stop" and "Mirror In The Bathroom" sound closer to the way they did when the band first started performing. Ranking Roger's toasting is more prominent and punk edge more apparent. David Steele's bass lines still astound for their creativity.

The second session from September 1980 demonstrates an amazing maturity and complexity in the songwriting from the session less than one year earlier. Both the non-album tracks "Too Nice To Talk To" and "Psychedelic Rockers" are real soundscapes that incorporate every influence the band could fit into one song (pop, reggae, calypso, Afro-beat). Saxa's playing on these two tracks is also some of the best I have heard. I was also struck by how much better the album tracks from the "Whappen" LP sounded, particularly "Monkey Murders".

The final session from March 1982, previewed songs from the "Special Beat Service" LP that was released later that year. The distinction between the pop and reggae numbers is clearer though the version of "Save It For Later" is sublime and "dirty" sounding, and is so much better than the recorded version we are all familar with. The reggae numbers are among the best by the band that I have heard.

As a huge fan of The Beat, its a real treat to listen to these sessions. Each one has something slightly different or unique about it that is distinct from the recorded versions you are used to hearing. First, there is a freshness that comes from the live recorded nature of the songs. Next, you can hear subtleties that you have never noticed before. A new guitar lick here or varied melody from Saxa on an extended solo. It puts their talent and songwriting on another level.


01 tears of a clown [5 nov. 1979]
02 ranking full stop [5 nov. 1979]
03 click click [5 nov. 1979]
04 mirror in the bathroom [5 nov. 1979]
05 big shot [5 nov. 1979]
06 too nice to talk to [22 sept. 1980]
07 new psychedelic rockers [22 sept. 1980]
08 monkey murders (nine mexicans) [22 sept. 1980]
09 walk away (nine mexicans) [22 sept. 1980]
10 spar with me [29 mar. 1982]
11 she's going [29 mar. 1982]
12 save it for later [29 mar. 1982]
13 pato and roger a-go talk [29 mar. 1982]
14 sole salvation [29 mar. 1982]

The Beat - The Peel Sessions

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Members & Rico Rodriguez Record Prophetic "Offshore Banking Business"

The Members were one of the wittiest and most imaginative bands to emerge from the 1977 punk explosion. Having formed in the sleepy suburbs of Bagshot and Camberley, they were too suburban and too far away geographically from the London scene to take their place alongside such pioneers as The Clash and the Sex Pistols. However like their London brethren in The Clash, Stiff Little Fingers and The Ruts, The Members were one of the first British punk-era bands to fully incorporate reggae into their music. And while the late Seventies contained plenty of shining examples of the punky-reggae party - The Clash covering Junior Murvin's Police And Thieves, The Special AKA launching 2-Tone - The Members were one of the prime movers in the era's cross-cultural mix of reggae and punk.

Much of the reggae influence in the band was due to guitarist Jean-Marie 'JC' Carroll who had been a banker in training when he joined the band. He later penned "Offshore Banking Business" which reached #34 on the UK charts in 1979 and seems incredibly prophetic nearly 30 years later as global financial institutions melt down and go bankrupt. The NME wrote of the band in 1978: “Of the many rock bands co-opting reggae into their act, few do so with as much love and style as the The Members.” JC told the NME, “My rhythm guitar playing is definitely reggae-based. It's not the same as blasting an audience with full-on rock riffs. It gets them moving in a different way. But, having said that, we're trying to play reggae in our own style. We're not singing about Jah Love. We're singing about living in Britain.” With their style built around JC's riffs and frontman Nicky Tesco's reflections on suburbia, The Members were the era's great satirists. They sang not about the 'big issues', but about a series of characters and everyday frustrations that anyone could relate to.

Though fully rooted in punk and rock, The Members abandoned rock completely and gave full vent to their love of reggae on "Offshore Banking Business", a non-album single, featured a loping riff, reggae brass and even a Jamaican-style talk-over section - 'a lesson in home economics' entitled Pennies In The Pound - from Nicky Tesco. The band added a horn section comprised of Rico Rodriguez on trombone and Dick Cuthell on trumpet who were on loan from The Specials to add a full-on reggae feel. Lyrically, the song was also one of the first recorded cases of rock 'n' roll insider trading, with JC using the knowledge garnered working in a bank to fuel a scornful condemnation of global financial corruption.

As JC said: 'We play English rock with a touch of reggae - and we do it so that people can enjoy themselves'.

Below is a video of the 12" mix of "Offshore Banking Business" featuring Rico Rodriguez on Trombone and Dick Cuthell on Trumpet:

Here is a download of the original single of "Offshore Banking Business" b/w "Solitary Confinement":

Saturday, October 25, 2008

BBC Arena Documentary From 1980: "Rudies Come Back Or The Rise And Rise Of 2-Tone"

Old and new fans of 2-Tone have spoken longingly of BBC Arena television documentary titled "Rudies Come Back Or The Rise And Rise Of 2-Tone" that aired during the height of 2 Tone. Arena is a British television documentary series, made and broadcast by the BBC. It has run since the October 1, 1975, and over five hundred episodes have been made.

The Arena program is an engaging and humorous profile of The Specials hosted by noted music journalist Adrian Thrills. It was filmed in 1979 and originally aired on the BBC on March 3rd, 1980. It may have been repeated a few times since, but it remains a holy grail of documentary footage of the The Specials and Coventry that captures them and 2-Tone at their peak. One of the highlights for me was seeing Neville in full judges robes on stage during "Stupid Marriage".

Until recently the 35 minute documentary had been very hard to find, but 3 excerpts of the program are now available for viewing on VBOX7, a Russian language version of YouTube. Enjoy!

The Specials on BBC Arena

Neville Staple In Dispute With Promoter Cancels UK Tour

As fans await word on when the reunited version of The Specials (minus Jerry Dammers) will perform again, there was excitement about a UK tour this December featuring Neville Staple's band along with Roddy Radiation's Skabilly Rebels and then Pauline Black of The Selecter. The hope was that these shows would satisfy demand for more shows by The Specials while they work out their next move. However a recent statement by Neville Staple on his MySpace page seems to suggest that this tour will not happen. It appears he had a falling out with the promoter who continued to advertise shows despite Neville informing him that he had pulled out.

You have to hand it to members of The Specials. They know how to keep fans engaged in their ongoing dramas and business disagreements.

Here is the statement which you can also read at Neville's My Space page


In reply to recent postings on the Specials website forum and and other websites regarding a U.K tour in December 2008, and for the avoidance of any doubt, I would like to confirm to everyone THIS TOUR IS NOT HAPPENING.

The tour promoter was Informed at the end of September that due to personal differences, I was unable to work with him and would not be doing the PROPOSED tour with my band.

He clearly has not listened, as he has for some reason, continued to advertise the tour now with Pauline Black instead of The Skabilly Rebels?

This is not the case, and I am not prepared to endorse these advertised shows as they have never been agreed by me personally.


Refunds for tickets already bought are the responsibility of the ticket agencies once the promoter confirms to them that the shows will not take place.

The Promoter should not still be promoting or advertising these shows.

For correct details of my shows please refer to my Myspace and Skabilly Rebels shows

Thank you for your continued support.


While you are visiting Neville's page take a listen to two new songs he has posted "What Can I Do" and "Entrapment" which are quite good.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Beat Live on Rockpalast - July 23, 1980

I wrote about The Beat covering Laurel Aitken's song "Pussy Price" early in their career. A slightly re-worked version of the song (minus the naughty song content) became "Ranking Full Stop". The only known recorded version of their take on Aitken's song is from the band's appearance on Rockpalast which is a German music television show that broadcasts live on German television station Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR).

Here is video from the Rockpalast broadcast of the songs "Big Shot", "Can't Get Used To Losing You" and "Hands Off She's Mine".

Below is a download of the audio from the show including the Aitken cover.

Here is the tracklist:

Pussy Price (Laurel Aitken cover that became Ranking Full Stop)
Two Swords
Tears Of A Clown
Big Shot
Rough Rider
Best Friend
Can't Get Used To Losing You
Hands Off....She's Mine
Twist & Crawl
Noise In This World
Whine & Grine/Stand Down Margaret
Ranking Full Stop
Mirror In The Bathroom
Click Click

The Beat - Live On Rockpalast July 23, 1980

Sunday, October 19, 2008

English Beat Rarities - Version of "Which Side Of The Bed" Featuring Ranking Roger Chat

Fans of The Beat are always on the lookout for anything remotely new that they can add to the somewhat finite universe of recorded material that is available from the band. With only three albums and very few non-album tracks, its been, slim pickings for anything new. I recently discovered a track I had never heard before (and I'm an obsessive fan).

Back in 1981 the band released their eighth single, "Hit It". It was backed by "Which Side Of The Bed?". Neither track appeared on an album. This alone has made the single a popular collectors item. Indeed, I am not aware that the band ever performed the b-side of the single live, which is a shame as its an overlooked classic and a slice of vintage Wakeling reggae-pop. The single only reached the #70 spot on the U.K. singles chart (this was a portent of things to come for the band in the UK as they began to focus their attention on breaking in the U.S.).

Imagine my shock and surprise at hearing a completely alternative, dub remix version of "Which Side Of The Bed" re-titled "Cool Entertainer" that features Ranking Roger toasting joyously over the track. If you have any information about this track let me know. Otherwise enjoy the song which is part of the download below which also includes the 12" dub remix of "Pato & Roger Ago Talk".

Here is story from the NME in 1981 that sheds a bit more light on "Hit It" and "Cool Entertainer"

UPDATE: After doing a bit more digging I learned that "Cool Entertainer" is the b-side of the Go Feet Records release of the single "Ago Talk". Mystery solved. Regardless its not a track I had heard and I imagine many other fans of The Beat might have missed it.

Here is a live performance of the a-side "Hit It" from the Oxford Road Show in 1981:

Here is a video of the hard to find b-side "Which Side Of The Bed"

Below is a tracklist and download of a mix including hard to find b-sides by The Beat and all their permutations including General Public, Ranking Roger, Fine Young Cannibals and 2 Men a Drum Machine and a Trumpet. Enjoy.

Pato & Roger Ago Talk (Tappy Lappy Dub Remix) - The Beat
Cool Entertainer (Dub Remix of "Which Side Of The Bed) - The Beat
Dishwasher (Longer) - General Public
Ever Fallen In Love (dub) - Fine Young Cannibals
Good Times and Bad (extended version) - 2 Men a Drum Machine and a Trumpet
Limited Balance (longer) - General Public
Make It Funky (extended version) - 2 Men a Drum Machine and a Trumpet
On My Conscience - Ranking Roger
So Excited (Alternative Mix) - Ranking Roger
Tired Of Getting Pushed Around (extended version) - 2 Men a Drum Machine and a Trumpet
Too Much Or Nothing (dance mix) - General Public

General Beat - Rarities & Remixes

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Potato 5 -Rare and Unreleased Tracks From Late 80's UK Trad Ska Band

The Potato 5 were, god bless them, one of the very few ska bands doing the rounds on the live UK and European circuit of the late 80's at a time when ska was no longer flavor of the month, and long after the demise of 2-Tone. In hindsight, the band did help to pave the way for the 3rd wave of Ska that began to emerge towards the mid 1990's in both the U.S. and around the world . They were well known for being a great band live and they helped to introduce old timers like Laurel Aitken and Floyd Lloyd to a younger audience.

Known primarily as one of the best live acts of the late 80's UK ska revival the band got its start in 1983 as a ska instrumental band in the vein of The Skatalites. The band teamed up with Jamaican singer Floyd Lloyd and later with the legendary Laurel Aitken and recorded their debut album in 1986 "Floyd Lloyd & The Potato 5 Meet Laurel Aitken". Their second album, True Fact saw the band experimenting with a mix of Ska and hip hop. In 1989 the band recruited Spider Johnson to sing and they embraced a classic skinhead reggae sound and released the excellent "Do The Jerk" single. The band called it a day after playing one final show at London's Town & Country on December 20th, 1989.

Below is the tracklist and download for a mix of unreleased and rare Potato 5 tracks:


Dial M For Murder
Things I Do
Dead Boring (Dub)
Do The Jerk (7 inch)
Do the Jerk (Dance Hall Pressure Mix)
Reburial (Lightning Flash Mix)
Ska Danger (Dub)
Sahara (alternative version) featuring Laurel Aitken
Sweet Lady (unreleased) featuring Floyd Lloyd

Potato 5

Friday, October 17, 2008

Rhoda Dakar - The First Lady of 2-Tone Is Back With A UK Tour

Rhoda Dakar began her career as lead vocalist with The Bodysnatchers. Their first single, "Do Rocksteady", b/w "Ruder Than You," written by Rhoda and Gaz "Rockin Blues" Mayall, took them into the UK pop charts (#22 in 1980) and onto Top of the Pops. The Bodysnatchers only released one more single "Easy Life" b/w "Too Experienced" and contributed a live version of "Easy Life" for the the "Dance Craze" film soundtrack (the film about 2-Tone included the live tracks "007 (Shanty Town)" and "Let's Do The Rocksteady").

Rhoda also had a UK hit solo single on 2-Tone Records with "The Boiler" backed by the Special AKA, before becoming a full member of Special AKA and appearing on their album "In The Studio" and the history-changing single "Free Nelson Mandela".

Since then, Rhoda has worked with artists as varied as Apollo 440 and Dr Robert of the Blow Monkeys fame. However, for the last few years, she has revisited her 2-Tone roots, guesting with The Selecter and appearing on a 3 Men + Black acoustic 2-Tone tour with Dave Wakeling (The Beat) and Roddy Radiation (The Specials), as well as, Pauline Black and Nick Welsh of The Selecter. Recently she was very proud to have been asked by the legendary Trojan Records to write a foreword for the latest release in their Reggae Sisters series, entitled 'Let Me Tell You Boy'. Rhoda will also be featured on atleast one track of the new Madness album "The Liberty of Norton Folgate".

Rhoda's first solo album, 'Cleaning In Another Woman's Kitchen', was released in May 2007. The album has been recorded and written with Nick Welsh. Here is a video of Rhoda performing an acoustic ska version of The Bodysnatchers song "Easy Life" that was recorded in April of 2008 with Nick Welsh of Skaville UK:

Rhoda is touring the UK with Skaville UK which includes ex-members of Bad Manners. The tour dates are below:

Oct 28 2008
TUC - Congress House

Oct 31 2008
The White Hart (with Skaville UK)
Caldicot, Gwent

Nov 1 2008
Queen’s Hall (with Skaville UK)

Nov 8 2008
The Railway (with Skaville UK)
Burnham on Sea

Nov 9 2008
Speedfreaks Ball 4 (with Skaville UK)

Nov 14 2008
Charlie Browns (with Skaville UK)

Nov 15 2008
The Rifle Club (with Skaville UK)

Nov 22 2008
Rio’s (with Skaville UK) & The Beat

Below are downloads of 2 songs from Rhoda's solo LP "Cleaning In Another Woman's Kitchen"

Rhoda Dakar - Landlord
Rhoda Dakar - Money Worries

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Dance Brigade - New Ska Band Featuring Lee Thompson (Madness) & Jennie Mathias (The Belle Stars)

While we continue to wait patiently for the new Madness album "The Liberty of Norton Folgate" let me introduce you to The Dance Brigade, a new ska musical project featuring the combined talents of Madness sax player Lee "Kix" Thompson and Jennie Mathias who was the lead vocalist of The Belle Stars (formed by ex-members of The Bodysnatchers).

Their ska-based music is a hybrid of styles mixed in with technology and is very reminiscent of The Madness project with the songs dominated by sampled drum sounds. They recently performed live at the 100 Club in London and their live show featured computers and a live band (guitars, horns, keyboards) on stage. They were joined at their live show by Dave Barker (Dave and Ansell Collins) who has also recorded a track with them. Though I'm not a fan of the overly processed drum sample sounds on the recordings and feel the lack of a real drummer live hampers the overall sound and live groove, the songs are interesting and its great to see Lee and Jennie working together again as their paths crossed at Stiff Records many years ago.

The band line-up includes:
Lee Thompson (Saxophone, Vocals)
Jennie Bellestar (Lead Vocals)
Keith Finch (Production and programming)
Chico Chagas (Keyboards, Guitar, Accordian)
Chalky White (Trumpet)
Daniel Burdett (Guitar, Backing Vocals)
Debra Barker (Backing Vocals)

Here is a video of the song "Who's That Girl" filmed by Madness guitarist Chris "Chrissy Boy" Foreman on his cell phone at The Dance Brigade show at the 100 Club in London in September:

Monday, October 13, 2008

Interview with Charley "Red Dread" Anderson Bassist of The Selecter

I've been listening to The Selecter a lot recently. In particular their second album "Celebrate The Bullet" which eerily seems to be a commentary on current events here in the U.S. Interestingly, the history of The Selecter is a who's who of Coventry musicians who went on to start The Specials, The Selecter and many other 2-Tone era bands and small record labels which I have tried to write about and honor on this blog.

One of the most interesting things about the origins of The Selecter is that the core of the band all grew together playing in a variety of reggae and soul bands around Coventry. According to Neol Davies' web site, "the seeds of The Selecter were sown along time ago in the early 70's. silverton hutchinson, a childhood friend and later the original drummer for the automatics/specials, invited me to jam with some friends at the holyhead youth facilty in coventry city centre. this was a basement where you could set up amps and drums and then play as loud as you wanted til late. here I met the people who would turn out to be significant throughout my life, they were charles "aitch" bembridge (who played more bass and organ then) arthur "gaps" hendrickson who played guitar (see the picture below which includes future members of The Selecter performing as Chapter 5) desmond brown (the person who taught me how to really play the reggae chip) charley anderson (the dreadlocked bass man) and lynval golding (later to be the specials guitar player)." Members of the band played together in Chapter 5 (a Coventry reggae band) and The Transposed Men (the pre-cursor to The Selecter.)

One of the original members was bass player Charley Anderson. He was born in Negril, Jamaica, but moved to Coventry when he was 11 years old. It turns out his brother and Lynval Golding were best friends and often rehearsed downstairs in the Anderson garage. He gained his first stage and music experience by dee-jaying at sound systems in the Coventry area and then started a band with his brother and Golding. Though The Selecter’s success didn’t change his life financially, Charley has been quoted as saying “It was a great mental boost – like graduating with a triple Ph.D. on how to survive in music.” After touring with The Selecter, Charley focused on his own career. He started The People with his ex-Selecter bandmate Desmond Brown and he toured Ireland with The Century Steel Band, and later moved to Mombasa, Kenya where he formed The Vikings Band.

Here is a recent video interview with Charley that includes his memories of playing with The Selecter as well as an update on his current musical project and single "Ghetto Child":

You can learn more about Charley at his MySpace site.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Basement 5 - Innovative Late 70's Reggae/Punk Fusion Band Featuring Punk Legend Don Letts

Basement 5 were arguably the first black punk reggae band who are described by many artists who followed them as "hugely influential" and "groundbreaking". Mixing rock elements with reggae and dub they were one of the bands that broke down barriers and paved the way for black kids to play rock music. Starting out in London in 1978, the band were an innovative and highly original post-punk group who created a kind of politically charged, futurist, punk-fuelled dub. The lyrics were an attempt to reflect the situation of young people in Britain in the era of Thatcherism, high unemployment, strikes, racism, and working class poverty.

Originally assembled by former Roxy DJ and punk legend Don Letts with money from Island Records' chief Chris Blackwell, the band's personnel was Winston Fergus on vocals, former Roxy barman and friend Leo Williams on bass (who went on to play with Big Audio Dynamite and Mick Jones' current band Carbon/Silicon) and friends J.R. on guitar and Tony ('T') on drums.

By 1979 after a short vocal stint by Don Letts himself, Basement 5's lineup was solidified with Sex Pistols/Bob Marley photographer Dennis Morris as vocalist, Leo, J.R. and soon to follow, ex-101'ers and PIL drummer Richard Dudanski. In their short life, the band supported John Lydon's Public Image Limited (PIL) debut at London's Rainbow Theatre, performed a number of shows in Portugal and signed to Island Records. The result was the album "1965-1980" co-produced by the legendary Martin Hannet (Joy Division. Magazine). It became the first and only Basement 5 LP. Long out of print, it was eventually reissued as a partial album along with selected tracks from its original dub mini-LP partner 'Basement 5 In Dub'.

The album did not sell as well as expected and as with so many other bands before and after them they fell in pieces and were never to deliver a follow up. Basement 5 had broken up by the end of July 1981. Dennis Morris blames their lack of success firmly at the feet of Island who according to him were spending all of their energy on breaking U2. He goes further by saying that after playing together, Bono and the boys borrowed various elements from Basement 5 that helped to contribute to their success!

It is somewhat criminal that there is nothing freely available from the band, despite '1965-1980' being coupled with 'In Dub' for a partial CD reissue. So it's happy hunting on E-Bay where you can overpay for it or whatever...

Here are videos of "LastWhite Christmas" and "Riot" from their LP "1965-1980":

Below are downloads of their first single "Silicon Chip" b/w "Chip Butty".

Basement 5 - Silicon Chip

Basement 5 - Chip Butty

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Jerry Dammers Speaks Out About The Specials Reunion Perfomance at Bestival

The November 2008 issue of Mojo Magazine includes a story titled "Partial AKA" that features a reaction quote from Jerry Dammers about The Specials reunion show that went ahead without him at Bestival in September. Amazingly, Jerry was at the show and watched the performance (I believe he was booked to do a DJ gig at the festival). Still, it is curious that he decided to watch rather than play. His reasons are summed up quite succinctly in his comment below.

"They did a fantastic job, but I think one of the reasons that I was excluded and didn't want to take part was because I had expressed the opinion that the real Specials would never do a gig where the real Specials fans couldn't even get in--Bestival was already sold out. I went, and it was very weird for me. Without my influence it felt like they were playing themselves a bit, it was too much of a 'fun' thing, a bit of a 'stars of the '80s' nostalgia vibe, not what a real reunion would have been at all. There was something missing, but unfortunately I'm the only person who really knows what that is. The subtleties in the music were a bit lost on them. "Doesn't Make It Alright" should have had the hairs on the back of your neck standing up, but compare it to the record and the heart and soul was a bit lacking. The best excuse for a reunion is if you can do some really good new music. The guy playing keyboards pulled his cap over his face so you couldn't see it wasn't me, which says it all."

Wow! Well without taking sides, Jerry's comments could give you a good sense why his bandmates may have decided to go ahead without him. With the 30th anniversary of The Specials and 2-Tone fast approaching lets hope Jerry is motivated to show up and fill in the missing "subtleties" rather than watch from the audience and critique. If you want to get a better sense of what hardcore fans of the band think take a trip over to The Specials web site where there is a lively debate taking place on their community forum page.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Exclusive: Interview with Stefan Tylunas of The Ammonites

I recently posted about The Ammonites and their role as one of the only pure 2-Tone styled ska bands to emerge from the vibrant late 70's/early 80's music scene in Brighton that was centered around venues like The Vault and The Alhambra. The Ammonites were a six-piece who were influenced by the sound of Trojan rocksteady. When they started their set was comprised of all cover songs including Clancy Eccles "Fatty Fatty" and Lee Perry's "Tighten Up" which you can hear and download from the previous post. Over time they developed a repertoire of originals including "Blue Lagoon" which, in my humble opinion is a lost gem of the 2-Tone era. I have always loved the Everly Brothers go ska sound of the song.

The band line-up consisted of: Colin Smith (bass), Stefan Tylunas (vox), Nick Stewart (guitar), Steve Kelly (sax), Mike Roberts (guitar), and Dave Doleval (drums). Though the were mostly limited to playing shows in the Brighton area, they did open for The Vandals and Toots & The Maytals and were such a local draw that they drew more fans for a show they played in Brighton the same night The Beat were booked to play.

Below is an interview I did with Stefan Tylunas who was the lead singer for the band. He shared his memories and experiences of playing with the band. He was also kind enough to share the picture above which includes from left to right: Steve Kelly, Stefan Tylunas and Nick Stewart.

Can you tell me about your introduction to music and ska music in particular?
I began playing guitar and vocals in bands with my mates at around the age of 15. It was only much later when I was about 19 that I was invited along to an audition for vocalist with the then embryonic Ammonites. I met Dave Dolezal (the bands 1st drummer and founding member) in a pub one Saturday evening in Brighton. He was a friend and he asked if I was interested in singing in a ska band the next day. At first I declined because I had arranged to play football the next day with some mates. However I was interested to know what a Ska band did? and eventually agreed to meet the next day. We were to meet in a large shed at the local dog stadium, where Nick and Colin where groundsman. It started off with the 4 of us and then we bought in Mike Roberts and Steve Kelly. That was the beginning of the ska sound for me.

How did The Ammonites get started? Did you know the other members of the band before you started the band?
I knew Dave and it was he, I believe that was into all things Ska and reggae and because he was good friends with Nick they got the idea for a band. Nick and Colin were work colleagues.

Was there a ska scene in Brighton when the band started? Who did you play shows with? Where did you play shows?
I believe we were the only Ska band in Brighton and possibly the South-East

Who was the main songwriter for the band and tell me how you approached the song writing process? Who's idea was it to cover the Clancy Eccles song "Fatty Fatty"?
I guess Fatty Fatty was just another Ska song, that was a possible, that would fit into the set. Like a lot of bands that start up we just played ‘cover’ material and built it up in such a way as to give the set cohesion and a variety. After a while of playing the set, Mike and Nick were writing independently of each other and presenting songs to us for a critique. They would be virtually finished, however they were generous writers and allowed us a say in the arrangements and the eventual song writing credit was given to the band.

What were your first live shows like and what was the UK ska scene of the late 70's and early 80's like? Did you play any shows with any of the 2-Tone bands? What about The Piranhas?
We initially began playing locally at a venue called the Alhambra. It was a pub which had a regular clientele and everybody and anybody would play there. You would ‘start-off’ as virtual unknowns, playing on a Monday and depending on your abilities to draw a crowd would progress to Fri/Sat evening (unless you caught the eye of a better band and was asked to be support). We eventually held a regular Friday night spot and we had a ball. The dance floor was always very busy. The Piranhas also played at the Alhambra, they were more of a punk thing and we never did any support for them.

Can you share any unusual stories about touring with the band or any shows that are particularly memorable?
I guess the most memorable gig for me was support for Toots and the Maytals at the ‘Brighton Centre’. It still is to this day a Conference Centre which is used by bands, corporations and political parties to stage events. The potential for a capacity of around 5000, it was the biggest venue I had experienced. I remember the massive stage and being able to dance and jump about without crashing into any of the band or the equipment, it was just great fun. I can’t remember meeting any of the Toots, probably to nervous to introduce myself, but I’ll never forget the smell coming from inside there dressing room.

Tell me about recording "Blue Lagoon" for the Vaultage 80" album. Did you record any other songs? Was there a plan to record an album?
Blue Lagoon was a song Mike had brought to the band. For all I can remember, it was recorded locally and the day I sang the vocal I had a cold. Apart from never liking my vocal, Nick and I always sounded well together. Steve’s sax is great (as was always the case) and Mikes guitar parts were always cleverly worked. We recorded "Big Eaters" and "Dressed to Kill" and that was all that I’m aware of.

How and why did the band come to an end?
I became disillusioned and tired with how we were being managed and left to return to college. The boys carried on for a while, but not sure for how long.

Are you still in touch with any of your old band mates?
No. However, we met a few years ago with the intention of reforming for a ‘Benefit’ but unfortunately nothing came from it. Shame.

Are you still active musically?
No, apart from singing in the bath!

Finally, what is your take on the current state of ska in the UK?
There has been a wave of revivalism here in the UK from 80’s bands. But nothing really happening mainstream and certainly not Ska. The BBC recently aired a show on the radio entitled ‘Too much to Young’ celebrating the ‘Two Tone Label’ established by Jerry Dammers and the bands associated with it. But apart from Suggs appearing on TV adverts here in the UK there isn’t any ‘scene’ to be talked of.

The Punk Brighton Web site has made a 15 song rehearsal tape the band recorded in 1980 available for free download. The link is below. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Ska Explosion @ The Astoria in London on March 23, 1989

On March 23, 1989 London's world famous Astoria played host to one of the biggest Ska festivals ever staged. The cream of late 80's contemporary British Ska were assembled alongside several veterans of the scene. Much more than a mere revival this was a celebration of the legacy of UK ska and reggae from the 60's through the early 80's.

The show was hosted by the legendary Judge Dread who also performed and according to those who were there the atmosphere was buoyant as one after another of late 80's UK ska bands hopped and bopped around the stage sending the crowd into a frenzy. In addition to Judge Dread, Laurel Aitken was also on hand to add a touch of authenticity to the proceedings with blistering renditions of Sally Brown and Skinhead that hearkened back to his heyday.

The bands included The Skadows (reunited specifically for the show), The Hotknives, The Deltones (formed by members of The Bodysnatchers in 1984), The Loafers (Specials drummer John Bradbury was an early advocate and produced many of their records and after Ska Explosion, Laurel Aitken tapped the Loafers for additional duties as a backing session band), The Potato 5 and Gaz Mayal's ground breaking Trojans who were all the leaders of a late 80's UK ska revival. There was great hope that the show would be a showcase for a new ska generation happy to embrace the music, though this resurgence was eclipsed by the rave scene and dance music that was coming out of Manchester with The Happy Mondays and Stone Roses.

Below is a list of the bands that performed and the songs they played:

The Skadows
Stir It Up
Low Rider

Judge Dread
Big Six

The Hot Knives
Don't Go Away
Driving Me Mad
Holsten Boys

Judge Dread
A Message to You Rudy

The Deltones
Don't Fall in Love
Lemon Squeezy
Show Off
Secret Agent Man

Judge Dread
Big Seven Loafers
Too Late Rudy
It's So Easy

Laurel Aitken
Sally Brown

Potato 5
Original Style
Stop That Train
Western Special
The Jerk
Got to Go

Judge Dread
Up With the Cock

The Trojans
Trojans Are Coming
Maggie Meets Ska-Gil
Riding for a Fall
Rude Rude Rudy

Below is very rare live footage of The Skadows from the Ska Explosion festival:

The Skadows - Stir It Up

The Skadows - Low Rider

Here is Brighton ska band The Hotknives performing "Don't Go Away" at the Ska Explosion festival:

Here is Laurel Aitken with The Loafers performing "Sally Brown" and "Skinhead"

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A question for my readers - Please read and comment

I've needed to take some time off from the blog to attend to work, family and band. I plan to begin posting in earnest again shortly and have some great exclusive interviews for your reading pleasure.

In the meantime I need to ask for reader feedback. When I launched this blog my vision was to combine my love of ska and reggae with my own personal insights and relationships to make it a full multi-media experience. The idea was to allow readers to not only read about the bands and musicians who made 2-Tone ska and reggae what it is, but also to listen to and enjoy the music. However, I have been criticized for allowing visitors to this blog to download songs and albums (most, but not all that are out-of-print and unavailable) via links found on other blogs and Web sites that make it readily available. It's been suggested that adding links to these sites is akin to being an accessory to a crime and that I am abetting the act of stealing music.

While I wish to withhold a decision on what I plan to do with this blog moving forward, I want to hear from all of you about your thoughts on this issue. There are people who fervently believe (and have made their views about this blog very clear here and on other blogs) that illegal music downloading is stealing and is morally wrong. They feel that it takes money away from artists who deserve to be compensated for their recorded work. As a musician and songwriter I can empathize with this position. Along with my band mates, I have invested thousands of hard earned dollars from gigs in recording 4 albums worth of our own original music. We have paid for studio time, paid for engineering, paid for mastering, paid for graphic art work, paid for pre- and post-production and paid for shipping the CDs. Don't get me started about indie record labels and the terms of their deals. I acutely know what it feels like to be on the other side. I'm pretty sure all our albums are available for download somewhere on the Internet. I know most kids who like our band have shared our albums with each other via get file programs that permit them to access each other's hard drives and download the music files directly. There is little we as a band can do to stop this. Instead we have to take solace in the fact that they like our music and know the songs when they see us live. If they buy a t-shirt or a button then we make up the cost and pay for our gas money and save for the next recording. That's life as an indie band.

On the other hand, as a passionate fan and music consumer for nearly 30 years, I have supported the old and new music industry and bands with my love, attention and hard earned cash. I've paid top dollar to see thousands of live shows at clubs, arenas and stadiums and I have always made a point of also buying a t-shirt, poster or a tour program (this is what some of my best memories are made of). I have spent countless thousands and thousands of dollars on records, 45's, 12" singles, bootleg LPs, cassette tapes, CD's and MP3 downloads. I am old enough to remember when albums and CDs were priced at $19.99 a piece at Tower Records and I have bought far too many $30 and $4o imports and paid $50 for bootlegs at New York City records stores. I am an active iTunes user and have bought plenty of music from eMusic and Amazon. I support new models of distribution that make it easier for fans to access music that is affordable. All to often, music fans have paid far too much for music. Our passion was often taking advantage of to underwrite high music executive salaries, drug and alcohol fueled band riders and largess. Like the current banking crisis, the music industry binged itself to death. Then, when Shawn Fanning launched Napster the music industry went after its own consumers instead of adapting and providing them what they wanted.

So, I'm asking both my regular readers as well as those of you who come here solely to download what you think and what you would like to see happen. Let me hear what you think.