Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Ammonites Reunite! - Brighton's Finest 2-Tone Era Ska Band To Play in Hove on January 30, 2009

First I want to wish everyone a very happy new year. Indeed, 2009 is shaping up to be a very happy new year for fans of 2-Tone ska. I'm incredibly grateful that The Specials have reformed for their UK tour this coming spring and that Madness have released their first album of original material in nearly 10 years and that they will also be playing Madstock in London this coming June. Now, in the immortal words of Ian Dury, we have more reasons to be cheerful. Brighton's very own 2-Tone era ska band The Ammonites have announced that they have reformed and will be performing a show at the Portland Hotel and Rock Bar in Hove on Friday January 30th, 2009.

Outside of the well known core of popular 2-Tone bands (The Specials, The Selecter, The Beat, Madness, Bad Manners), I believe that there were two other unsung bands from the era that deserve more notice, attention and recognition than they received. One is The Akrylykz from Hull, who featured Roland Gift on vocals (look for a post about them very shortly) and the other was the Brighton-based band The Ammonites. I have posted about the band before and had the opportunity to interview their lead singer Stefan Tylunas.

Stefan recently posted on the Punk Brighton web site that he and his bandmates had decided to reform and that the reunited band will include four of the original members including himself, Nick Stewart (guitar), Steve Kelly (sax) and Mike Roberts (guitar). To celebrate, the Punk Brighton Web site has made a 15 song rehearsal tape the band recorded in 1980 available for a free download. The link is below. The songs should give any interested listeners a sense of the great ska/pop the band played and it should get those of you in the UK who plan to attend the gig excited to hear the band play live again after nearly 30 years. Enjoy!

The Ammonites - 1980 Rehearsal Tape

Friday, December 26, 2008

Sent From Coventry: 1980 Compilation Captures The Roots Of 2-Tone

While most people associate Coventry with 2-Tone, the truth is that Coventry had a very vibrant music scene at the end of the 1970’s. This was partly a legacy of the the 1960’s R&B boom and partly an extension of the 1970’s Punk explosion which had made its way up from London (The Sex Pistols and The Clash played a gig together in Coventry). The music scene was also supported by a mix of venues. The large venues catered to the big touring bands, while the smaller venues were key for the development of a local music scene. Finally, local music magazines and independent record shops were key for spreading the word about bands and giving people a place to meet. Indeed, 1979-80 was a golden era for music in Coventry, as there were lots of bands playing different styles of music, who all knew one another and engaged in friendly rivalry. The Specials and 2-Tone's early success also seemed to galvanize the scene.

One of the leaders of the independent music scene was Martin Bowes who was the editor of the Coventry Alternative Sounds Magazine. During the height of the 2-Tone frenzy in Coventry, he was instrumental in organizing and producing 'Sent From Coventry" an album full of local Coventry bands of the day. The album was such a success that it flew off record store shelves and was estimated to have sold 8,000 copies in its first week hitting #8 on the UK Alternative charts.

The bands featured on the LP were all popular local bands who played live regularly and many of the bands shared members, as the whole Coventry scene was quite ‘incestuous’. Musically, there’s an interesting mix of punk and pop (particularly with a disco-esque tinge which reflect the era) in tandem with a strong reggae influence which reflects the multicultural aspects of the Coventry music scene at the time. The album is also a wonderful historical archive of the roots of 2-Tone in Coventry. Three of the bands featured on the album include members of The Specials in their ranks: Machine's drummer was Silverton Hutchinson - the original drummer with the band before he was replaced by John 'Brad' Bradbury; Terry Hall who was the lead singer with punk band Squad before being discovered by Jerry Dammers and Roddy 'Radiation' Byers from the very popular punk band The Wild Boys who feature two songs on the record . Finally, the comp also includes Kevin Harrison the singer of Urge, who had been in Transposed Men with Brad from The Specials and Noel Davies of The Selecter and many of that band's songs went on to form the basis of The Selecter's set including the original version of ‘On My Radio’.

Urge were one of the most popular local bands and were tipped for success. Given Harrison's relationship with members of 2-Tone bands, they toured nationally with both The Specials and The Selecter and released the single 'Revolving Boy' on their own label before signing to Arista where they recorded demos with noted reggae producer Dennis Bovell (bassist with Matumbi). While clearly not a ska band, the band's most well know song 'Revolving Boy" marries an updated Stax groove with a hypnotic dub bass line.

Here is a video of the band performing 'Revolving Boy' live from a show in Birmingham in February 1981:

Machine (later to morph into popular local ska band Hot Snacks) featured Silverton Hutchinson, who left in early 1978 to be replaced by John Bradbury.

Squad were the stars of the local punk scene, having formed in 1977 with Terry Hall as their early vocalist. They released 2 singles (£8 A Week / Red Alert and Millionaire / Brockhill Boys), before Gus Chambers stepped in for Terry Hall who left to join the Specials. They included the song Flasher on the comp. By 1981 the band had broken up and Chambers was fronting 21 Guns who made a single for the Neville Staples record label Shack Records. Their single was 'Ambition Rock'. Unfortunately, Gus Chambers, passed away at the age of 52 on October 13, 2008.

The Wild Boys were a very popular local group, initially started by Roddy Radiation in 1975 and were Coventry's first punk band. The band supported The Buzzcocks, but split up in 1977 just as punk was kicking off. Their influence on the city's music scene was immense and provided the catalyst for the influential punk edge that would emerge later in The Specials. After Roddy left to join The Specials as lead guitarist, the Wild Boys' name was taken over by Roddy's brother Mark. A few months later their reputation was cemented as one of the main draws in Coventry. That reputation was soon to increase even more when they landed two tracks on the "Sent From Coventry" compilation album. The tracks 'We're Only Monsters' and 'Lorraine'were both Roddy Radiation songs.

Unfortunately, despite good reviews, the Coventry music scene lacked the money and the infrastructure of London to help push these bands to the next level. Sadly, because of some internal wrangling, the album's distributors Pinnacle and the label Cherry Red fell out and the record never achieved its true potential. For more information on the compilation and the Coventry scene of the early 80's visit the Coventry Music History Website.

Here is the track list and the download for the "Sent From Coventry" LP:

The Wild Boys -We're Only Monsters
The Clique - Mothers Never Know
The End - Panic In The Night
The Mix - With You
Machine - Character Change
Urge - Nuclear Terrorist

Protege - Protection
Solid Action - Message From A Loner
The Wild Boys - Lorraine
Squad - Flasher
Homicide - Armageddon
Riot Act - Sirens
V. Babies - Donna Blitzen

Sent From Coventry - Side One
Sent From Coventry - Side Two

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Villains - 1980's Legendary UK-Canadian Ska Band Take The Great White North By Storm

The period of 1978-83 was a very fertile time for ska music on both sides of the pond. While the UK had The Specials, Madness, The Selecter and The Beat and the US had The Untouchables and The Hoovers, Canada had The Villains. Never heard of The Villains? It's fair to say that The Villains were one of the most popular bands in Canada from 1980 - 1986 and made a huge impression on the Canadian media and public becoming synonymous with ska in the Great White North. For those who never saw the band, there were a 2-Tone styled musical circus that toured the country non-stop.

The band was founded when Canadian lead vocalist Count Steve and saxophone player Tom Perry met in Vancouver, B.C. in the late 70's as the sounds of 2-Tone made their way from the UK to Western Canada. Sensing a musical opportunity and recognizing that Canada had no ska scene to speak of, Count Steve traveled to the UK with a mission to recruit the best drummer, bass player and guitarist he could find. Perry stayed in Vancouver with a plan to travel to London to rehearse as soon as the other band members were recruited. Once Count Steve arrived in London he placed an advertisement in the NME and was swamped with calls from interested musicians.

Count Steve rented a small rehearsal space in a studio in Brentwood, Essex with a view to auditioning a guitarist and bass player. Out of the session came Dave Neal who had been playing guitar in a pop band and Tom Robinson who had a distinctive funk flavor to his bass playing. The final piece of the band puzzle was solved when a young skinhead drummer named John Jacobs arrived with his father to audition as the drummer. With no tour, work permits, accommodation, or recording contracts Count Steve managed to persuade John’s dad that this was going to be a great opportunity for John.

The band spent several weeks in London writing songs and rehearsing Ska favorites and covers that the band could perform in Canada, as well as writing their most popular song 'Life of Crime'. Before returning to Canada, the band visited a clothing shop called The Last Resort, which was located in Petticoat Lane, London. There the band became fast friends with the shop owners, and spent considerable time there. They were kitted out with crombies, pork pie hats, tartan bondage trousers, Doc Martins, blue suede creepers, braces, T Shirts, black wrap around shades. The band wrote the song 'Urban Skins' as a way to chronicle all the time they spent at the Last Resort.

Shortly after arriving back in Vancouver, the band found itself in the middle of an event that made front page headlines and coverage on local and national Canadian radio and television that established them as national headliners. Performing in front of a packed club in downtown Vancouver, the band were arrested on stage in the middle of a set by Canadian Immigration Officers. There are famous pictures of the band stepping into a paddy-wagon, dressed in full ska/punk gear, tipping their pork pie hats to the photographers (see the news story below). The local booking agency had snitched off the band to the officials, saying they may not have working visas (turns out, the band had blagged their way through customs in Vancouver). Ironically, there was a civic strike in Vancouver at the time and the normal immigration detention center was not available, so the band were taken to the local prison. However the band's reputation had already preceded them and the word inside the prison was that these guys were famous musicians and they were received and treated like rock stars including being asked for autographs for the warden's daughter.

The band members made their appearance in court and were allowed to voluntarily depart the country and not be deported. At this point a Canadian management team, recognizing the valuable publicity the band had already generated, stepped in and the proper paperwork and performance contracts for a Canadian Tour were filed with the authorities and the band was allowed to return legally to Canada. Once back in the country the band's first performance was a free show for the inmates and the guards in the prison they had been held in, resulting in another wave of national media attention.

The Canadian press loved to give the band nicknames like: Ska Na Na, the Blues Brothers of Ska, Pied Pipers of Ska. However, the excitement and buzz about band's live performances was not just a result of all the media attention, it was also largely because they were a truly great live band who played with an infectious energy on par with The Specials, Madness and Bad Manners. Indeed, The Villains approached everything with their particular wacky sense of humor and countered any negative skinhead labels by headlining Anti-KKK rallies and performing free concerts for sick kids in hospitals across the nation. The Canadian press embraced this fun spirit of the band and they went on a unprecedented 5 year run of non stop touring, sold out concerts, impressive merchandise sales and released 2 records in the process. This was all accomplished without the support of a major record label, in fact, The Villains are indie pioneers in Canada by recording and distributing a record on their own label (Skinhead Records) in 1980.

The Villains quit touring in 1986, as management and band members moved on to pursue other opportunities. The band had experienced some personnel changes over time and had morphed into a mainstream rock band and by the time they released a nationally distributed album on Attic Records called "Go Crazy" they were playing very few actual ska songs live. They were still an up tempo dance band but no longer a pure ska band, it was a calculated effort to cross over into the pop radio market and not the first time a ska band failed to make that difficult transition.

Recently, three original Villains expressed an interest in reforming and they have started writing new ska songs for a record scheduled to be recorded in 2009. Plans are in the works for a North American Tour following the re-launch of the band and new CD release - now scheduled for late spring 2009.

The band's first 4-song 1980 EP "Life Of Crime" is out-of-print and very hard to find. Below are videos of the four songs that were on the record including: 'Ska Music', 'Life Of Crime', 'Wooly Bully' and 'Urban Skins'.

You can read more about The Villains at their MySpace web site.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Exclusive: Interview with Madness Central Headman Steve Bringe

What a year 2008 has been for 2-Tone related band news and developments. First, The Specials announced in March that they had been rehearsing, followed by a surprise gig in September. Earlier this month they announced that they will reform (sans Jerry Dammers) to play UK shows in 2009 to mark their 30 year anniversary. Not to be outdone, Madness released a new single (NW5) and played a series of shows in London over the summer to preview songs from their long in the making LP 'The Liberty of Norton Folgate' (their first original collection of songs since 1999's 'Wonderful). Just this week they announced that they will finally release all the songs as a box set in March 2009, but that fans who purchase it as part of a pre-sale now will be able to download nearly half the songs now! It's still hard to fathom that 2009 will feature tours from both The Specials and Madness. My head is still spinning!

What's been most interesting in the case of both bands, has been the role that social media, particularly the band's web sites and community forums, have played in the way these developments played out. The web sites have provided fans with the latest news, often times from the band members themselves, and have often provided fans with access to tickets and music ahead of their availability to the general public. I've been a regular visitor to The Specials site for some time and just recently had the chance to interview Paul Williams, who is one of the site administrators and a fan of the band. I also recently had the chance to visit and spend some time on the new Madness fan site, called Madness Central, which just launched last month. In both cases, the web sites are amazing resources that can provide both the casual and hard core fan with whatever experience they may be looking for.

Madness Central was over two years in the planning and six months in the development, and included the combined talents of a commonwealth of dedicated Madness fans to bring it to life. The result is an unprecedented Madness website with such an all-encompassing spectrum of nutty information that there is really no denying it is the ultimate reference source for all things Madness related. The site serves up the goods with exclusive interviews, the largest collection of vintage and contemporary press articles around, the most complete lyrics book on-line, the most exhaustive and extensive discography of every international pressing, the"Tour Madness" project that lists every show the band has ever played, an ever-growing directory of unofficial live recordings, an outstanding pictorial library of concert photos and Madness paraphernalia, and an ever-rotating selection of audio and video downloads sure to please newbies and old-timers alike. Above all the site is also a Madness fan community where Madness fans from all over the globe are being kept up to date with what's happening. It's an incredibly impressive site.

The longer I blog, the more opportunities I have to meet and connect with people who share my love for the bands who started under the 2-Tone umbrella. We all seem to have similar touchstones for songs and live shows that have marked different times in our lives. Like me, these fans have directed their energies into web sites, blogs and fan community forums and like me, they all clearly have a passion for spreading their love to others. One of these people is Steve Bringe, who can best described as the front man for Madness Central. While Bringe may be one of the busiest and most vocal contributors to the site, Madness Central is definitely a team effort and the entire team deserves credit for bringing the site to life. They include:

Madness Central Management:Kevin Tizzard, Steve Bringe
Managing Partner:Lee "Loobyloo" Buckley
MySpace/Facebook Webmistress:Trish Morgan
Project Managers:Jonathan Young, Chris Carter-Pegg, Graham Yates, Phil Morris, Jermaine, Emma Southerby

Though clearly a group effort, Steve Bringe is the eloquent and witty mouthpiece for the operation and as the "Loud American" of this mostly UK team, I decided to seek him out to tell me more about what put him on the path to creating what can only be described as an "Online Winter Wonderland for Madness Fans".

Without further ado, here is the interview with Steve.

Can you tell me about your introduction to ska music and 2-Tone in particular?
If you want to delve into the introduction of any and all music in the formative years, you needn't look any further than KROQ 106.7 fm, which was then headquartered in Pasadena, California. The older kids on my street would bring by their Devo and Adam & the Ants lps, stuff that was totally skewed from the Barry Manilow-hyped popular stations. I asked this dude named John Fuller, who lived two doors down from me, where he was getting that music. The answer was KROQ.

The lump term for all the KROQ tuneage was "New Wave" in the early 80's, and in the playlist mix were regular rotations of British ska. Bad Manners, the English Beat, the Specials, and most importantly Madness got their airtime every day, and as I was tuning in every day, every day I got to grooving 2 Tone music more and more. I had no idea what they were talking about, be it Dave Wakeling crooning about "fighting the front or fronting the fight" or Madness carrying on about "kipping on the sofa" or "the newsagent on the corner." The music was good, so that's all that mattered. And I was reasonably sure they weren't lyrically prodding me to host a severed goat head above my bed at night, so that was nice.

What was the ska scene like in Southern California when you were growing up? What were some of the memorable shows you saw back then that set you on the path you are on now?
The whole music scene in So Cal was charged with change and raw energy in the 80's. It wasn't just ska, it was all these bands that were breaking with the sixties and seventies mainstays like Fleetwood Mac and... well, Barry Manilow. And so many of them were homegrown. I've got a really big softspot for Oingo Boingo, who I guess were ska tangentially, as they had songs like "Violent Love" and "Only Makes Me Laugh" that are mutant bluebeat creatures at their core.

The ska scene in the LA area wasn't strictly ska, it also incorporated a strong stylistic sense from the British mod scene. For the most part, they were synonymous with each other. You could be a huge Jam fan and a huge Madness fan and it was pretty much expected of you if you dressed under the porkpie and drove around on a Vespa. There were some great ska bands from the LA area like the Untouchables and Fishbone that were hometown heroes to this crew of kids. We even had our own magazines, most notably Twist that lasted all of six issues I think.

Memorable shows... man, so many to choose from. There was this gig in San Diego on the campus of UCSD where Madness and Oingo Boingo opened for The Police. The Untouchables were always playing around town. And at least 80 or 90 times a year Boingo would be doing gigs. You could say all these gigs started me on the path to loving music and loving live music even more.

Can you remember the first Madness song you ever heard? What was the first Madness show you ever saw and where was it? How many Madness shows have you seen? What was the best show?
That would be "One Step Beyond." I was hooked. I'd never heard anybody abuse a sax so beautifully. Madness had two albums out by the time I discovered them, so I was treated to other gems like "Baggy Trousers", "Embarrassment", "Bed & Breakfast Man", "Madness" and "Night Boat To Cairo" in a very short space of time, but "One Step Beyond" is the instigator.

I'm a little fuzzy on the first Madness show I saw. It might be the opening act for The Police in San Diego, it might be the Hollywood show on the same tour, or it might be the opening rumblings for David Bowie, again on the same tour in 1983. For some reason I've got this memory that I saw Madness play a charity baseball game in Long Beach before I saw them play live in concert. In 1983, and then again in 1984, Madness took on the KROQ djs and staff in these charity games. Madness won both times.

I think I've seen Madness a couple dozen times. Most of those shows were in the US, although I've had a chance to see them in their home country as well. The audiences are totally different in the UK. Everyone knows all the words. It's bizarre sitting in Wembley and hearing a contrived howl of thousands of people singing along. Fans in the US know the music, but you haven't experienced a Madness concert until you've entered an arena where it's like everyone's breathing at exactly the same time and their hearts are all beating in unison.

It's tough when you put superlatives on questions, but "best show" is actually pretty easy to pin down. It was in May, 1999, at Sonic Studios in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Madness was doing a short stint of the upper Eastern Seaboard and they'd set up this radio performance through Y100 fm. Aptly named "The Sonic Sessions", Madness played this tiny studio to an audience of about 50 people, most of whom were radio contest winners (and not necessarily Madness fans). Chrissy Boy was good enough to sneak me and the now-ex-wife in for the show. I swear, it was like having Madness play in your family room. Everyone was sitting on the floor with Madness separated from the crowd by just a white painted line. It was only five songs, but that was the greatest Madness gig I've had the pleasure to take in. And, we got to chum around with the band for a good hour after the performance, taking pictures, getting autographs, stealing souvenirs...

How did a guy like you (American no less!) end up running what is arguably the greatest Madness online resource ever? Where does this story begin?
Geez, I don't know. Next question!

Madness has been with me since 1980, thinking back on it. All my notebooks and homework had the little Madman doodled on them. I was able to get my high school yearbook themed "One Step Beyond...", featuring a picture of my 7" single and the opening lyrics to the song in the center of the book. It had a lot to do with the girl I was dating at the time being on the yearbook staff. So the dedication was there from the start, which is actually kind of pathetic.

I think I got into the Madness online community around 1997, on the Madness Mailing List which was run by this dude named Robert Hazelby, the same guy who runs the MIS-Online newsletter nowadays. It's really petty, but there was this, to use a Brit term, tosser of a man who was hazing the whole email list, and this English guy named Kevin Tizzard and I decided we could do it better in a friendlier environment and we went off and did up our own listserve. The Total Madness Mailing List is what we called it I think. We did a few interviews with the band and producers, set up industry contacts with the record companies, built it up... and then left.

A couple years later Kev and I got back together and ran the Madness Trading Ring, which was set up for Madness fans to trade bootlegs of live gigs, hopefully to keep fans from buying the boots on eBay by getting them for free instead. That didn't stay contained as such for more than a few months, and while the moniker kept for about seven years, the MTR became another successful fan community for news and interviews and fan-frolicking that went beyond bootleg distribution.

What's funny is back in 1998, when we first did up the TMML, we had the idea then of having a one-stop-shopping Madness reference site run by a cooperative of fans. It's only taken ten years to make it happen, as about a month ago we renamed the MTR to Madness Central and launched the site we always wanted to create.

Who are your co-conspirators in bringing it to life? Did you have the cooperation and support of the band and their management?
As I mentioned, my partner Kevin Tizzard and I have been working on Madness fan sites for going on ten years now. Kev does all the unsexy things for the site. Where I get to be the loudmouth, pain in the ass, Kev sits behind the scenes making the site come to life. We'll discuss what we'd like out of the site, agree on a direction, and he goes off and makes it happen. Kev's an absolute genius when it comes to coding, and the Madness Central site would not be possible if not for Kev.

Then we've got this girl Lee "Loobyloo" Buckley. She's a jackie-of-all-trades really. Technically she's the powerhouse behind the In Print section of the site, but she's got her fingers in just about every pie sitewide. She's a total doll.

Jon Young does up the Tour Madness section of the site, as well as editing the News Blog. He and I have been pals for several years now, and when he offered to help out on Madness Central I took him up on it straight away. Jon's another one of those hyper-dedicated fans. He's an editor with MIS-Online as well.

We've got Chris Carter-Pegg who generously allowed us to use his comprehensive discography for the site. Chris has arguably the best and most complete Madness vinyl/cd/tape collection on the planet, so he was a natural for this section. If you've ever bought a really rare Madness record off eBay, most likely you got it from Chris.

Graham Yates is a new friend of mine, and asking Loobs who would be good for the task of handling the Lyrics, she immediately recommended Graham. We were looking for someone to draft up the pages and reams of Madness lyrics, many of which are appearing on Madness Central for the first time online. He's got a great ear for what our boys are singing, and he's putting the talent to work on the new songs and a slew of unreleased demos for his Lyrics section.

Trish Morgan is the only other American on the team. She's friendly from here to the moon, so we asked her to take care of the MySpace and Facebook profiles for Madness Central. Be sure to send her a note and say howdy if you're on Facebook and MySpace.

The Live Recordings Directory is a late addition to the site, but it's an important reference tool so we couldn't just shrug it off. Phil Morris is doing this up for us, putting together a comprehensive listing of live recordings (aka bootlegs) so collectors will know what's available out there. We're just now getting started on this, and Phil's got an impressive and massive collection of boots to draw upon.

Emma Southerby, Chris CP's lovely wife, will be managing a Madness Shop for us, which will be coming online next year. As I said, Chris is one of the foremost Madness dealers on the 'net, and he and Emma have graciously agreed to let us host their shop.

Did the Madness management know about Madness Central?
It wasn't a closely guarded secret, but we did develop the site in secret. The only one in the band that we told about the site while it was being built is Chris Foreman. Otherwise, we kept it in the circle of the Madness Central Team. The management has been great, though. They're aware of us and have been very supportive. We do what we can to promote their efforts, too. Anything at all to prove to the world that everyone could use a little bit of Madness in their life.

You seem to be very well connected with members of Madness (Chris Foreman in particular). How did you meet them? If you had to match a member of Madness with each of the seven dwarfs how would they match up?
Chris is my good pal. I don't remember exactly how we met. I know we started emailing in the late 90's and then we met up during the US tour in 1999... we've stayed in touch ever since. He kind of abuses the privilege of being my friend, though. The guy has this habit of calling in the early hours, never remembering that England is seven hours ahead of New Mexico time.

Suggs has got this running joke, asking me crazy questions like, "If you know so much about Madness, tell me what I had for breakfast." It's funny to him, I'm sure. That he sells fish fingers is funny to me. So there.

As long as you don't ask me to explain, I'll play your game. I'm sure some of the madnoraks can appreciate where this is going.
Sneezy - Chas
Sleepy - Mike
Dopey - Lee
Doc - Suggs
Happy - Woody
Bashful - Bedders
Grumpy - Chris

How big a job has it been to bring Madness Central online and how much time a day are you managing the site and administering the community forum?
The job has been huge. However, it's been created only through the talents and resources of a stellar and cooperative team of fans, so it's been a lot fun and hasn't really seemed like work. Kev might disagree, but he's kind of a curmudgeon.

Now that the site has gone live, it's not such a rush trying to get content posted any longer. For about two months we all put a lot of time into getting the site ready. Now the attitude is we have the rest of our lives to finish a site that will never be finished, so it's really relaxed. It's a hobby, after all.

The Madness community has never been something that has to be refereed or managed to any great degree. It's always impressed me how friendly everyone is to each other. I've been part of other forums through the years, both for entertainment and professionally, and the pissing contests and flame wars I'd see on these other forums never crop up in the Madness community. This is really nice, for all that I've had to do so far is split and merge a few topics. I get to participate in the forum rather than manage it. Tres laissez faire.

Do any of the band members post on the community forum?
Pass. :)

Have you met any of the fans of the band who post on the community forum?
Let's see. I've met Jon Young at the 2005 Troubadour gig in West Hollywood. Sadly, I've never met my evil twin Kevin Tizzard before, not once in ten years. There are a few other fans who don't really post to the forum who I've had the pleasure of raising a couple pints with. I spend a lot of time talking to other fans around the world on Skype. There's something tangible about putting a voice to a name on the monitor.

What's your take on 'The Liberty Of Norton Folgate' album? Where does it fall in the pantheon of Madness albums?
I was thinking on this earlier. Musing away, musing away. It's really easy to say, "Yeah, that song sounds like it could have been on 'Keep Moving'" and be done with it. And you bet, there are songs like "Rainbows" that have that "March of the Gherkins" jive to them. I dig the way producers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley have given Lee Thompson free rein to layer in his harmonizing and reedy shredding sax wanderings. That was missing on both of their last two albums, "Wonderful" and "Dangermen." Chris' guitar work is at the forefront on most of the songs, bold and angular, which best represents his live performances nowadays. The keys aren't relegated to simply the piano and Hammond this time, either, which takes me back to the "Rise and Fall"/"Keep Moving" era. Its nice to feel reminders of songs from days past, but it's more than nostalgic regurgitation, though. That's just intellectually and artistically lazy. What I came away with after listening to the album for the tenth or twentieth time today is that that "Norton Folgate" is the album they would have made if "Mad Not Mad" never existed, Mike Barson had never left the band in 1984, and the whole lot of them had taken a couple of years to find their direction again.

What do you think of the way the band are selling the album to fans via pre-purchase of a box set and digital downloads?
It's an interesting model. The band recently struck up a deal with Power Amp Music Fund, an investment pow wow with portfolios featuring several artists in the music industry. Madness funded Norton Folgate through their association with Power Amp, which allows them to try out unorthodox marketing and distribution ideas like releasing the digital download some two months before the physical release. Other bands have gone a similar route with great success, most notably Radiohead's "In Rainbows." Of course, Radiohead let fans name their own price on the digital download.

The box set... we'll see how this pans out. The initial pressing is an economy of scale endeavor, necessitating a 5,000 count pressing due to the costly nature of the box itself. A few years back Madness recorded the majority of their live tour (save the Ireland gig) for purchase at the merchandise stands after the gig. Whatever didn't sell was then offered online. I think the run on these was 2,500 units, and here we are, two years later, and Concert Live is offering them up on a 2-for-1 special. Is that related? Maybe... where was I?

Oh, I know the point I'm making! "Limited edition" releases, as the box set is being sold, don't always generate big sales. Never mind that the box set will enjoy a second pressing if the first "limited edition" reaps in the dosh. As a collector, I'm thrilled with special packages like the Norton Folgate box set. I think a good many music fans will opt out for the regular, less-expensive, non-box cd, though. I ordered my box set yesterday and it came in at $80 USD with shipping.

All said, I always want to see Madness succeed in everything they do. I think ultimately having this sort of freedom from a record company will play to their benefit. Virgin wasn't all that great in promoting the band or their releases, so being in charge of their own destiny can't be a bad thing.

It's kind of a relief, really. Just a few months ago they were talking about releasing Norton Folgate via the Sunday paper like Prince did. Yikes!

What is the most obscure piece of Madness memorabilia you own?
For a long time I would scour Chrissy Boy's trash cans on the street the night before pick-up for his nail clippings and coffee grounds. The goal was to synthesize a compound similar to vinyl where I could press my own copies of the Madness albums, making me the only fan on the planet with a copy of "One Chrissy Beyond." I don't think he was all that thrilled.

I've got these VIP passes for the Electric Factory in Philly of which there are only two. They're generic Electric Factory After Show perris with Madness stenciled on them. I've also got some reel-to-reel tapes from Geffen's mix of "Mad Not Mad." A few years back I had some fun at the expense of other collectors by putting out there that there was an Italian version of "Complete Madness" with "Crying Shame" as one of the tracks. Man, that would be quite the obscurity... so obscure it doesn't exist!

What other bands are you a fan of besides Madness?
Oh dude, the list is endless. Check out my MySpace profile for a good rundown of bands I dig. I tried composing a complete list once and then got bored with keeping it up...

Currently, I'm listening to a lot of English Beat, which typically happens around the time of a Wakeling gig. He's a gem of a man. How many years ago did Tim Armstrong's "A Poet's Life" come out? I still can't put that down. It's the best 2 Tone album since 2 Tone. I've got an advance on some of the tracks off the forthcoming Morrissey album which are really good. The Bravery's "The Sun and the Moon Complete" is in the Jeep. Jimmy Eat World celebrated the tenth anniversary of "Clarity" this year, which reminded me what a great band they are. Oingo Boingo for sure. Along with Madness, Boingo is at the top. The list is long. Check out the MySpace profile if you're truly interested. Music rocks.

Finally, is Madness all in the mind?
Socrates had this notion that's commonly referred to as "The Cave." The allegory goes something like this: You've got these dudes who since birth are chained up in a cave so they can't turn their heads, only able to look straight forward. Behind them is a fire burning, illuminating the cave and casting their shadows before them onto a flat, low wall. For entertainment, some sadistic dude stands behind a translucent sheet showing objects in shadow through the sheet, so once again the chained-up sods only see a reality expressed as rough, monochromatic, two-dimensional forms. So one day one of these guys is unchained and taken out of the cave, shown the sun, shown water and reflection, shown depth of field and more than those ethereal two-dimensional representations of the universe.

What happens when he goes back and tries to express all that he's experienced to his former cave-buddies? Naturally, they'd think he was completely mad. Is the madness based in perception, or is madness based upon the description? It's a coin-flipper, that one.

It's really more of a statement on whether what we observe is actually how the universe is truly composed, and this particular allegory by one of the earliest natural philosophers held the academic imagination on through to the Renaissance. So, I think madness is more than just in the mind, it's in the very fabric of the universe. We are limited in our interpretation of the universe by our minds, though, so perhaps it's just as well saying that madness is, at its perceptive root, all in the mind.

That's all fine and good, but what I always wanted to know is, who the hell would chain a bunch of babies up in a cave?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Madness Release 'The Liberty of Norton Folgate' Box Set on March 2, 2009 - Digital Download Now Available

At last! Good news on the release of the new Madness album. The band have finally committed to a release date! The newly re-launched Madness Web site announced yesterday that 'The Liberty of Norton Folgate' will be available as a 'Limited Edition Luxury box set' with a release date of March 2, 2009. The even better news is that those among you who commit to the purchase of the box set at a cost of £40 will be able to digitally download nearly half of the album starting this Monday December 22, 2008. Sounds like some Madness fans are going to have a very 'Nutty' Christmas.

Here's the full inside scoop from the good folks at Madness Central who had a chat on the phone with Madness guitarist Chris Foreman who explained how the process will work. Anyone who pre-orders the Norton Folgate box set will be able to download 12 of the 23 songs recorded for the project this coming Monday. The download is meant to be a sampler of the album, and a reward for fans who pony up the cash early for the box set.

So what are the 12 songs? I was able to get some inside information ahead of the release that the songs available for download will be:

We Are London
Forever Young
Dust Devil
The Liberty Of Norton Folgate
Sugar and Spice
Clerkenwell Polka
That Close
Idiot Child
On The Town

A quick word on the “limited edition” moniker associated with the Norton Folgate box set: Foreman believes the initial pressing is 5,000, mainly because of the economy of scale associated with manufacturing the costly box itself. However, when the band sell off these 5,000 copies, another 5,000 will be pressed. He assured Madness Central that fans don't need to worry about the edition being so limited that it will limit access to purchase.

So with this announcement, its clear that the band have decided to release the album on their own, without any record company support. They look to be taking a page out of Radiohead's recent digital release of 'In Rainbows' which was also done without a record company. Personally I think its a smart strategy and should help them meet the pent up demand among hardcore fans who have been clamoring for the album while not having to deal with the headaches associated with negotiating a one-off deal with a record label.

A recent deal with the Power Amp Music Fund who have signed the band to a long term deal seems to have kick started the release of the record. According to a press release distributed earlier this week, “The Power Amp Music Fund is an innovative investment vehicle offering the opportunity to invest in a diversified portfolio of UK music talent. The Fund uses an artist-centric development model that brings the source and destination of music closer together and generates enhanced returns for artists and investors. By investing directly in artists’ careers, investors participate in all revenues available: recording; publishing; live; merchandising; and alternative (digital, branding etc,). The model offers an effective route into an industry with strong future revenue potential. Power Amp’s management team has the advantage of employing a combination of traditional investment managers together with professional music managers.”

I will probably buy the box set, if only to satisfy my curiosity to hear the 12 songs in all their studio recorded glory. However, a word of caution for U.S. fans. The total cost of the box set with shipping (which includes a CD and vinyl along with membership in 'M' which provide access to all sorts of special goodies) comes to a whopping $80. I think its worth it. What about you?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Exclusive: Interview with Paul 'Willo' Willams Author of 'You're Wondering Now - A History of The Specials'

Everyone I have ever met who is a truly devoted and passionate fan of 2-Tone and ska tends to have followed a similar path. Like alien abductees, we remember in great clarity and detail that singular moment when we heard The Specials first album for the very first time. And almost to a person, I have noted that the lightning bolt 'religious' experience of hearing that record has led each of us to other 2-Tone bands (Madness, The Beat, The Selecter) and then to an exploration and journey back to the golden age of ska, rocksteady and reggae in Jamaica in the 60's. For me it was when a friend at school played me The Specials first album in late 1979 (which he had stolen from his older sister). I rushed out and bought my own copy and that started a regular routine every Friday after school when I haunted the local record store near my house. I pestered and annoyed the clerks there so much about The Specials that when they saw me coming they would suggest new records for me to buy. This was the start of my ska and 2-Tone education and it lead me to where I am today.

I count Paul Williams (aka Willo) a fellow traveler and 2-Tone devotee. Though we lived thousands of miles part, our love of 2-Tone and the impact it has had on us throughout our lives is striking. Willo's first exposure to The Specials sent him on a path that has included being an author, promoter, commentator and lifelong fan of 2-Tone, ska music and British skinhead subculture. He is best known for writing the book 'You're Wondering Now - A History of The Specials'.

Willo's love of ska and 2 Tone started in 1980, when he snuck out of his parents' home in York and travelled to nearby Bridlington, where he saw The Specials perform live when he was 13 years old. This event had a long-lasting and profound effect on him. Throughout the 1980s, Willo played briefly in the ska band "The 'Matics," and began hosting a regular ska night "Pressure Drop" in York. In the 1990s, he created, wrote and distributed his own quarterly ska and 2 Tone fanzine Street Feeling (1994-1998) from his back bedroom. In 1995, Willo wrote 'You're Wondering Now - A History of The Specials'. It received many favorable reviews, including three stars from "Q Magazine", and was used to compile the band history section on the official Specials website. The book is now a collectors' item. 'You're Wondering Now' was the first book to fully document The Specials history and it pays equal attention to the bands that followed their break up - Fun Boy Three, The Special AKA, JB's Allstars, The Colour Field, Vegas, and so on. The book also includes one of the most complete Specials discographies.

Willo's experience and knowledge about 2-Tone and The Specials has made him a frequent guest and interview subject with media outlets (VH1and Channel 4 in the UK). He has been featured on BBC4 Radio's celebration of 2-Tone music, "Fashion Music" and was interviewed by Radio Coventry for which he contributed rare Specials tracks to the program. His work can now be seen online, as the co-administrator for the official Specials website and as the administrator for Roddy "Radiation" Byers' MySpace profile In 2007 he designed and maintained the Ska Splash website for the UK's first International Ska Festival. Willo continues to promote and review ska and punk rock bands in the North of England under the banner of "YorkSka Promotions".

In his role as co-administrator of The Specials official web site, Willo has a unique vantage point. He is in touch and is friendly with members of the band and their management (he was standing off stage during the Bestival performance). He is also a fan of the band and serves as a conduit of information and news to the many thousands and thousands of fans around the world who visit the site for the latest news about the band and the tour. Willo was kind enough to share his story, his experiences and his thoughts as The Specials prepare for their 30th anniversary tour next Spring. Enjoy the interview.

Can you tell me about your introduction to ska music and 2-Tone in particular?
My first introduction to Ska was with the coming of 2Tone in 1979.I just remember sat at home,doing homework from school and there was a local TV programme on.They introduced this band,I was not taking much notice to be honest but the sound.....My god- I became transfixed.The offbeat struck me like a sledgehammer. I dont think I blinked til the full three minutes was up.It was The Specials and 'Gangsters'. I bought the record the day after.I was then caught up in the frenzy of the 2Tone boom-clothes,records,gigs,the lot.Through listening to the 2Tone covers of old ska classics like 'Guns Of Navarone' and 'Longshot' I found a much bigger ska world- I was in my element.I became a Skinhead- Life was very good.The whole youthful gang thing,the camaraderie,the bank holiday trips to the sea to get up to mischief,having rucks with Mods and Teddy Boys and with 2Tone and original ska music as my soundtrack- it was electric.

What was it like growing up in York? Did you experience the 2-Tone explosion firsthand? You promoted ska shows right?
Growing up in York was boring. An ancient tourist town with no venues for bands to come to.No decent shops for clothing- we always went through to Leeds for the gigs and the clothes.The only thing York was good for was the local independent record shops like 'Red Rhino' and 'Track Records'- always up to date with releases and had every format of those releases (i.e. 7",12", albums, cassettes,picture discs etc..) When 2Tone was popular,York had a good crowd but the town is so fickle when it comes to fashion.Whatever is NOW is how the town goes,even to this day.Its taken 25 years for York to get a decent Oi!/punk band!!! Ska bands? well, we got a couple of student ska/punk/experimental groups but nothing to write home about.It has a hardcore group of punks and skins that has developed over the last five years or so but it took me 40 years to leave the place after many years of saying I would and moved to Darlington in County Durham to be with my lady.I put ska nights on in York in the 80s when it was quite unfashionable to do so- started out just me and a few friends in back room of a pub and it got a decent crowd and then in the late 80s I started promoting concerts and putting bands and stuff on in the town.I created YorkSka Promotions as a vehicle to put on the shows,and had great success with a Desmond Dekker gig.Other acts like Roddy Radiation & The Skabilly Rebels,Bad Manners, Rough Kutz, Skaville UK and the Ska Dance Craze revue have always gone down a storm,and lots of the smaller bands over the years have been well supported.My last York venture was The Steady Boys at the end of September 2008.I'm bringing Roddy and Skaville UK back next year.York is still a tough town to please and suffers a lethargy to get out there and experience music at its live best but I never give up trying.I'm just glad the shows have gone well.

Tell me about your 90's 2-Tone skazine "Street Feeling".
Ah,Street Feeling.My baby! Street Feeling was fanatastic and the heights it rose to were beyond anything I imagined.It ran from the early 1990s for about fourteen issues- It had a great reputation,and as it was the first and only proper 2Tone fanzine, people lapped it up.It proved to me that the love for 2Tone was well and truly alive.I was talking about The Specials ,Madness up to date stuff and people couldn't get enough.It was done with just cutting out and typing in my kitchen.It was a quarterly Zine,that gave away live concerts cassettes and ran competitions as I had a deal going with the great Dojo Records label where they supplied me with new releases on CD to give away as prizes. I miss Dojo! The zine got great reviews in many other Zines and mags and the subscription list went through the roof.I made many friends through the Zine as well,many that I still see now.It went all over the UK,USA,Europe and went to Russia,Australia and the Philippines.Its still remembered today which is nice.

Tell me about your book "You re Wondering Now- A History Of The Specials". What prompted you to write the book and what did you learn about the publishing business?
I was prompted to write it because I loved the band.People were releasing books on Madness and Bad Manners and I thought 'whats going on here?'. The Specials deserved something-I had started the book back in the mid 80s and then I forgot about it.By the mid 90s,I was very much an avid fan of George Marshall's ST Publishing stable.I thought stuff like Zoot! and the Skinhead Times that George published were brilliant.I approached George with an idea about doing a Specials book and he was so positive.He gave me free reign and it went from there.I had the time of my life doing the book,met some of my heroes,it was great.I wasn't that pleased with the final result though, because material was omitted and I never liked the cover, but it was out there and George was a top man all the way through,can't thank him enough.It did very well on the sales front.It will always be the first biographical account of the band and Im pleased with that.The book also led to a Radio 4 show I did for the 25th anniversary of 2Tone.I am revamping the book completely with great unseen photos for the 30th Annivesary next year- its looking good and I will get it to look how I always really wanted it to look at last.As for the publishing business- all I know is send in the manuscript and leave the rest to someone else LOL!!!!!

You seem to be very well connected with members of The Specials. How did you meet them? Which band members mobile phone numbers are on your mobile phone?
I met the various members of the bands through many years of gigging and interviewing them for 'Street Feeling' and then hassling them and interviewing them for info for the Specials book.Ive had some great times with them and can count on some as good friends.As for mobile numbers? Ive got.........

When did you get involved with helping to manage The Specials web site and how big a task is it to serve as one of the admins of the community forum?
I registered with the site on the very first day I got my first computer back in 2003.I have always contributed to the forum and early last year the other admin main man Mike Cornwell asked to me help out which I was pleased to do.We have managed to get it updated a little and now we have added the ability for members to post videos which was long overdue.We have tried to get the site overhauled but the Specials management have said that may be happening in 2009 so exciting times ahead!!!! As for running the forum,as Mike would also tell you its a huge task. Last year we were getting hit by serious spamming and we had to delete thousands of rogue members and posts-it took forever.The forum often crashed but we got it debugged, and since the reunion of the band and the tour has been announced- it has gone through the roof!! Its a task but we love it.

Who are some of the more passionate fans who regularly post on the community forum? Does anyone stand out in particular?
Well,in between the lunacy of it, everyone is passionate in their own way.It would be hard to single people out because some people stand out for many other different reasons! Its definitely full of characters and I have had plenty of laughs as well from it as well as headaches! I have had a look around other forums and The Specials is one of the more zany ones! but it provides a great access link to up and coming gigs and news and keeps people connected.We announced the pre-sale of tickets for The Specials tour a day before the actual sale day to members only- it was always gonna be hard to stop people using that link who weren't members and I would have preferred a code system we could have mass emailed to members- but it seems like everyone got what they wanted and that was the result we were looking for.

Have you met any of the fans of the band who post on the community forum?
Yes I have met a great deal of them in person at various get togethers and events.I think the new Specials tour will see more of us getting together either prior or after the gigs as well-theres definitely going to be a party atmosphere.

Were you privy to plans for The Specials first reunion show at Bestival in September?. I know you and your mate Mike Cornwell were there. What was it like seeing the show from the side of the stage and seeing the band before and after the performance?
Yeah,Mike and I were honoured that we were privy to the info.It had been on the cards a few months.It was deemed very important by their management that the group remain a secret act on the Bestival bill and this was the case with the Bestival organisers as well.Their performance there caused a few understandable ripples on the forum but for me it was just the fact that they were back together.I never thought I'd see the day.Ever.We almost missed the opening of the gig as the UK was hit by terrible weather conditions that day and we were running 4 hours behind schedule.It was a manic trip by train from the north to London that caused the problem then a speedy car ride to Portsmouth,a quick hovercraft and a speedy taxi ride to the event (we will always be grateful for the carelessness showed by the taxi driver to get us there!!)We arrived as they went onstage.Being a fan first and foremost, I cant describe in words the feeling to be stood on the side of the stage with them.I couldn't believe it.I think Mike and I definitely had tears in our eyes! It was out of this world and to top it,they played brilliantly!!! .Afterwards it was a party atmosphere- one of the best moments of my life.

What is your take on Jerry Dammers? Do you think he will decide to tour with the band to help mark the 30th anniversary? Is it still The Specials without him?
I think Jerry is a genius .Without him we wouldn't have what we have today as 2Tone is his creation but the picture is much bigger than that.However, in the present climate, I can't see him touring with the band but never say never I suppose.I have personally liased with Jerry over the last few years regarding The Specials so I see both sides to the current situation.We have one side claiming he IS The Specials etc...and for his fans that's how it will always be but for me personally,I admire all of them.Every one of those seven men were there at that one moment in time in 1979,with their own individual contributions.All of their skills came together to make The Specials.Like I said,I'm a fan first and foremost so I would go see a paper bag perform if it called itself The Specials.That's why I went to see Specials Mk2.I wasn't stupid, I knew there was only four of them and knew it wouldn't be The Specials as such but it was still good and give credit where credits due I say.Its a shame the relations with Jerry and the other lads are at an all time low but in essence,that's their concern to sort out.Lets go with what we have is what I say-it still promises to be great.People have seen many many bands with far less original members-From a fans point of view,this tour is very very exciting as the ticket sales have shown.

What is your favorite 2-Tone song and why?
Easy this one.'Too Much Too Young' (THE LIVE EP SINGLE) by The Specials -and why? Because it encapsulates the pure energy and power of what The Specials were all about and it is also a true picture of the 2Tone sound.Nothing comes close.Put it on your turntable- and turn the volume up full.

What is your take on the ska scene in the UK at the moment? What do you make of The Rough Kutz and Skaville UK? Do you think another revival is in the works?
I'm not so sure about a ska revival.Would it be good for the scene if it did break big? I'm unsure on that also.We have to remember how fickle the music industry is over here in the UK- a big revival could be detrimental to the bands once its died its death. Since the late 80s boom came,things have sort of simmered on an underground level.The odd track breaks through, there are a great deal of ska bands out there in the UK and I think the scene is quite busy.You could probably go to a ska gig a few times a week at the moment.I think the 30th anniversary of 2Tone next year will definitely raise the profile of ska and I also think that bands like the Specials and Madness should cater for the young and the not so well known long standing bands that are about at the moment as support acts.The Rough Kutz I have known for over ten years and in my eyes the passion they have for ska and their own unique style, is immeasurable.Their albums are fantastic.One of the best bands to come out of the UK ska scene.As for Skaville UK,well,Nick Welsh has an amazing musical pedigree and his songwriting skills are superb.The original material he has knocked out through Skaville UK shows there is a market for ska in the music biz.With big company backing,some Skaville tracks would have topped the charts.

You can read more about Willo at his MySpace web site page or contact him directly through The Specials web site.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Beat Girl - Noted Cartoonist Hunt Emerson Designs a 2-Tone Era Icon

Ah The Beat Girl... If it was possible to be very attracted to the inanimate cartoon logo of a band, than count me in. Indeed, I spent much of my college years looking for a girl who looked, dressed and had the same sexy allure as The Beat girl. I had to settle for wearing her on a Beat t-shirt that was my most favorite band shirt of all time. I have the badly stretched out and tattered remains of it in a drawer somewhere.

When it came time for The Beat to create a logo for their first album and for marketing posters and advertisements they called upon Hunt Emerson. Born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, cult cartoonist Hunt Emerson has lived in Birmingham since 1971. He has drawn cartoons and comic strips since the early 1970s providing a grown-ups alternative to the Warner Brothers cartoons of Chuck Jones, with characters like Alan Rabbit (AKA Bill the Bunny), Max Zilion, Victoria Stork, Calculus Cat and Firkin. Additionally, his comics have appeared in numerous comic books and magazines, but in particular his Phenomenomix strip has appeared regularly in the Fortean Times since 1979, and his two page adult feature Firkin has appeared in the British soft-porn magazine Fiesta since 1981. Most recently he has illustrated children's books for Walker Books and drawn Little Plum for The Beano.

As a result, it was quite a coup for The Beat to work with Emerson. A quick trawl of the web and newspaper archives easily gathers a host of acclaim: "the funniest cartoonist in the UK"; "one of the greatest surreal cartoonists"; "Britain's national treasure"; "quite simply Britain's funniest and most visionary cartoonist"; "one of the best and weirdest British comic artists ever"; "England's finest. Full stop."; "one of the world's top comic artists"; "for sheer penmanship there are few who can touch him"; "Why isn't this guy a household name?", and of his Citymouth strips, "definitely the product of a mind on a wavelength untouched by most humans." For a detailed interview with him visit

Emerson drew the Beat Girl from an original photo of a woman dancing with Prince Buster in Jamaica in front of a juke box in the 1960s (see above). You couldn't tell if Beat Girl was white, black or Asian. That was on purpose. According to an interview with Emerson, "You know the story about the old '60s photo I spotted in a newspaper of Prince Buster dancing with the Beat Girl. I don't know who she was - she was never identified by us. I wonder where she is now - probably fat with six kids... The Beat wanted a logo and I wanted to do something to rival Jerry Dammers' Walt Jabsco; I was so envious of that perfect bit of design and marketing. Well, The Beat got their logo, which is still very much recognised, but I don't think she was as good as The Specials...but of course, not many were as good as the Specials, were they?"

According to Dave Wakeling: "The Beat Girl image had a real purpose. Our early shows were mainly dominated by males. And of course they were drinking, so there were a lot of fights at the shows. That was the reason why we had the Beat Girl. We hoped the Beat Girl logo would draw more women to the gigs. With women there, the guys would stop trying to break each others noses. They'd dress a little more dandy and be on their better behavior to impress the women. It worked." Within 3 months of inventing The Beat Girl, we got loads of girls in Beat Girl costumes at our gigs. With all the skinheads showing off like crazy to the girls, we hardly had any fights after that."

Later Emerson created a gigantic painting of the band showing them being engulfed by a multi-coloured tidal wave. The mural, which was created during an all-nighter ended up being the front cover of the band's second album "Whappen" when the band couldn't make up their minds on anything else.

In addition to his acclaimed work as a cartoonist, Emerson plays guitar and sings in a band called Hunt Emerson & The Hounddogs. Here they are live performing 'Money' and 'To Love Somebody':

You can learn more about Emerson and purchase his cartoons and art work at his web site Large Cow.

Friday, December 12, 2008

My Favorite 2-Tone Era Album Of All Time: Celebrate The Bullet

If pressed to name my favorite album of the entire 2-Tone era I would have to say "Celebrate The Bullet" by The Selecter. Surprised? You shouldn't be. Now don't get me wrong. I love The Specials first album and I am always moved by the near perfect majesty of 'Ghost Town' and the straight forward and soulful lament of 'Why'. The first album by The Beat was the soundtrack to my youth and I love the way I can track different times and places in my life by each Madness album. Indeed, 'Victoria Gardens' and 'The Sun and The Rain' are among my top 10 favorite songs of all time.

However, in my humble opinion "Celebrate The Bullet" broke the mold and remains the most creative and unique collection of songs to come out of the whole 2-Tone era. I wouldn't even call it a ska album necessarily. This is a dark, haunting, bluesy iteration of ska that to my knowledge has never been attemped before or since (No Doubt tried and failed). This is very intense and emotional music. For that reason, it is a very unique record and it goes against the grain of what fans of 2-Tone probably expected when it was released. At times the songs have a new wave feel via synthesized keyboard melodies that buzz over Neol Davies' blistering, bluesy and soulful guitar solos and riffs. Other times its almost undefinable as the songs are driven by a seamless melting pot of rock, reggae and new wave via memorable melodies that stick in your head. In fact, I would argue that 'Celebrate The Bullet' is on par with 'Ghost Town" as one of the best songs of the 2-Tone era. And personally, its the very end of 'Bristol and Miami' when there is an acapella chant taken from The Beatles 'Black Bird' that seals the artistic and emotional quality of the record for me.

When the album was released it took a beating from the critics. That's especially depressing given the rave reviews for "Too Much Pressure", which, while a great record, was almost a by the books ska revival recording. Songs like "Celebrate The Bullet", "Deep Water", "Washed Up And Left For Dead" and "Red Reflections" still give me the chills every time I hear them and demonstrate the huge steps the band had taken since their first LP. Under different circumstance this record could have really opened up a new path for ska, which has essentially remained fixed in time and space, except for this album. Some bands have moved beyond ska, but only The Selecter dared to expand and evolve the genre. It's too bad they were punished for it, when they should have been richly rewarded.

While the music is a step above, what stands out above all though is some absolutely great vocal work from Pauline Black. Black seems to channel her own musical heros (Billie Holiday, Nina Simone) and their presence can be felt in the music. Unlike The Specials ironic take on British society and Madness's nutty view of English life, The Selecter's second album come across like a very dark and serious news report with Pauline and Arthur "Gaps" Hendrickson reporting from the frontlines of an early 80's Britain straining under the reduced expectations of Thatcherism (sound familiar??). Indeed the songs and their subject matter seem spookily relevant for those of us in the U.S. who have barely survived 8 years of George Bush, the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, mortgage foreclosures and a financial meltdown that threatens to devour the life savings and job security of all of us.

Here is video of the band performing "Celebrate The Bullet" live on the Old Grey Whistle Test in 1981:

Here is the promo video made to promote the song and the album:

I had the honor and pleasure to meet Pauline Black and Neol Davies when my band supported The Selecter when they reformed and toured the US in 1991. I most recently saw her when she and Lynval Golding of The Specials sat in with The English Beat in 2006. The highlight of those shows was when Pauline came out mid-set to perform 4 songs by The Selecter. She has always been very kind and accessible and remains a true artist to this day having acted in a number of UK TV shows and stage productions in addition to her singing with The Selecter and as a solo artist exploring soul. She recently agreed to conduct an interview with me about the "Celebrate The Bullet" album, which also happens to be her favorite by the band. Unfortunately, due to unforseen circumstances the interview has had to be delayed. Hopefully it will be rescheduled some time in the near future.

In lieu of that interview, below is a great clip featuring an interview with Pauline about her recollections of gigs at the Hammersmith Palais in London:

Finally, below is a download of a live show by The Selecter from Milan, Italy in late 1980 that includes most of the songs from the "Celebrate The Bullet" LP (Thanks to Judge Fredd of The Beef, The Original And The Cover for the link!):


1. Out On The Streets
2. Danger
3. Deepwater
4. Missing Words
5. Red Reflections
6. Washed Up and Left for Dead
7. Street Feeling
8. (Who Likes) Facing Situations
9. On My Radio
10. Tell Me What's Wrong
11. Selling Out Your Future
12. Cool Blue Lady
13. Everyday
14. Bristol and Miami
15. Three Minute Hero
16. Bombscare
17. Too Much Pressure
18. Encore: The Whisper > Riots > The Whisper reprise
19. James Bond

The Selecter - Live from Milan, December 16th 1980

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Tour Dates for The Specials Sell Out in Minutes - Jerry Dammers slams the tour as a "Takeover, Rather Than A Reunion"

Did you get your tickets for The Specials reunion tour of the UK next spring? Me neither. Apparently they sold out in minutes. According to today's Birmingham Post, the two shows there sold out in 4 minutes! 4 minutes! Amazing!

You and I aren't the only ones who won't be seeing the shows. Jerry Dammers won't be at any of them either. Jerry slammed the tour and let his feelings about this be known in a statement released by his management. It isn't pretty.

Dammers claims there has been little communication with his former bandmates. And he says that he has lawyers' letters from the other members insisting that he is not to speak to any of them. In a statement issued through his management, he describes the tour as a "takeover, rather than a reunion."

The statement further read: "Jerry was not invited to take part in this proposed tour, or even told about it. "He also has to say that claims that 'the door is still open' to him fail to mention that Jerry has been driven out every time he has attempted to get involved over the last year. He also wonders why this appears in the newspaper when former bandmates have his phone number?

"Jerry does not wish to go into too much detail at this point, except to say that for over 25 years he had dreamed that his former bandmates might come back one day, and was deeply shocked to find that when they did, for some of them, it was apparently to kick him out.

"A meeting was called to which Jerry was not invited. Jerry turned up anyway and played the music he had started recording, and suggested starting serious rehearsals, but was subjected to a severe dressing down from people who had barely spoken to him in 25 years.

"Apart from the recording, Jerry wanted to try and aim for a proper reunion and 30th anniversary celebration, including [performing] the best part of both Specials albums, 'The Ghost Town' EP and a small amount of new material, in proper concerts, in venues worthy of the band's status and legacy.

"Jerry sees this whole thing as a takeover, rather than a proper reunion... At the moment this is not the proud reunion and 30th anniversary celebration Jerry had hoped for."

You can read Jerry's entire press statement here

As always visit The community forum for the real inside story.

Finally, you can read more coverage about the unfolding drama here:

The Guardian

Babylon - The First British Movie About Reggae Has Been Restored & Remastered

The MC in my band is named Roy Radics and he hails from North London. When I ask him to tell me what it was like for him to grow up as a young black youth in London during the Thatcher years, he always tells me I have to watch the movie "Babylon". He says that the movie comes as close as possible to painting the picture of what it was like to be young, black and a fan of Reggae soundsystems (Roy was a follower of Saxon). Until very recently the movie was out of print and dubbed copies were passed from person to person. The movie was also shown periodically on TV in the UK, so that was also a source of copies floating around. It has now been remastered and remixed and is now available finally as a DVD.

For the uninitiated, 'Babylon' is a dramatic story set in South London in 1980 at the beginning of the Thatcher era, involving two competing reggae sound systems, that also touches on racism, fanaticism, unemployment and false accusations. One could call this a reggae Quadrophenia (it was co-written by Quadrophenia movie scribe Martin Stellman and does have more than the odd similarity in tale and tone). But Babylon is a very different movie. It's a movie with more realism, it's a movie with more bite and it's a movie that captures a unique moment in time. The movie includes some great performances from Brinsley Forde (of Aswad) as Blue the main character, Karl Howman (as 'white boy' crew member Ronnie) and Quadrophenia's Trevor Laird as Beefy.

Here is a great recap of the movie from a recent article in The Guardian this past October that heralded the film's re-release: Brixton, 1979. Fat Larry's record shop. Reggae soundsystem wannabes Ital Lion are trying to strike a deal. Days before their Christmas showdown with Jah Shaka's soundsystem, the crew are looking for the right track. Two tunes are given an airing on a reel-to-reel tape recorder. "Exclusive, straight from J to me, pre-release," says Fat Larry. Dreadhead sneers, dismissing the first track as "prewar." An offer is made for the second. Dreadhead pulls a melon from a brown paper bag. It's followed by a telephone directory-sized bag of weed. Then a couple of £10 notes. Unimpressed, Fat Larry caves in when the Ital guys begin leaving, but demands Dreadhead's pendant as part of the deal. Melon in hand, Ital Lion are satisfied that the conscious Warrior Charge is the tune that will shut Jah Shaka down.

Warrior Charge was written for the film Babylon by British reggae band Aswad. Revolving around south London's soundsystems, Babylon was the first British non-documentary to centre on reggae. Former child actor and Aswad member Brinsley Forde is the alienated Blue, a car mechanic by day and toaster by night. In the lead up to the soundclash with Jah Shaka, the tensions in Blue's world increase: racism, a two-timing girlfriend, family problems, peer pressure and police brutality.Sharing the then-recent Scum's brutal neo-realism, Babylon is a unique musical time capsule.

A few whites, like the Clash and the film's Ronnie (played by Karl Howman of Brush Strokes fame), might have ventured into the half-lit dancehalls, but scriptwriter and director Franco Rosso knew exactly what he wanted to portray. As the editor of Horace Ové's seminal 1970 documentary Reggae (why isn't this out on DVD?) and director of the BBC's Lynton Kwesi Johnson documentary, Dread Beat An' Blood, he was the only British film-maker with a track record in covering reggae. With future Quadraphenia screenwriter Martin Stellman, he'd conceived Babylon as a BBC TV play in 1975. The BBC passed and it took another four years to get funding. Rosso and Stellman were determined to capture the scene in the raw and took their cameras into south London's smoke-filled reggae hideouts. The footage of the righteous Jah Shaka is priceless. Babylon couldn't have been anything but authentic.

"It was great to have a script that was real, even though someone in the film said to me, 'You can't be dread and be an actor,'" recalls Brinsley Forde, with a laugh. "It is accurate, the reality of the soundsystem. But how does this little soundsystem go against Jah Shaka? They have to make this amazing dub! To this day you can go to a Jah Shaka show and that is what you will see. You get the soundsystem in its natural form."

Babylon was released on DVD by Icon Home Entertainment on Oct 13

Here is the trailer to the movie which features the great song "Warrior Charge" by Aswad:

Here is a another clip featuring a performance by Johnie Clarke:

You can purchase a copy of the DVD at in the UK.

Here is the tracklisting and download for the movie soundtrack:

1. Deliver Me From My Enemies-Yabby U
2. Turn Me Loose-Michael Prophet
3. Free Africa-Yabby U
4. Whap'n Bap'n-I Roy
5. Thank You For The Many Things You've Done-Cassandra
6. Hey Jah Children -Aswad
7. Warrior Charge-Aswad
8. Beefy's Tune-Dennis Bovell
9. Manhunter-Dennis Bovell
10. Jazterpiece-Dennis Bovell
11. School Skanking-Dennis Bovell's Dub Band
12. Living In Babylon-Dennis Bovell
13. Runnin' Away-Dennis Bovell
14. Chief Inspector-Dennis Bovell's Dub Band
15. B Flat Reggae Concerto-Dennis Bovell's Dub Band
16. Jazterpiece (Reggae Version)-Dennis Bovell
17. Beefy's Tune (Long Version)-Dennis Bovell