Thursday, February 26, 2009

Jerry Dammers: The Specials Have Recorded Brand New Material

In this corner Jerry Dammers! The ongoing "he said, they said" saga of The Specials reunion continues unabated. Coming roughly one week after Terry Hall, Lynval Golding and John Bradbury were interviewed in The Guardian, Uncut Magazine has an interview with Jerry Dammers who continues to claim he has been unfairly prevented from joining the band he started.

Adding another layer of intrigue to ths story is Dammers revelation that he recorded new Specials material with Panter and Golding in 2003. Uncut Magazine had an exclusive listen to one of the tracks, the first new Specials’ material recorded since 1984. Entitled ‘First Victims of War’, it features regular Specials’ contributors Rico Rodriquez and Dick Cuthell on horns and is heavily dub-influenced, opening with Golding singing “the first victim of war is always the poor man”.

Based on Dammers quotes in the Uncut story, it would seem he was intent on having the band learn his new, unreleased material as the basis for joining in the reunion: “My whole thing was starting where ‘Ghost Town’ left off. Rather than the usual reunion thing, which is retrogressive, nostalgic,” said the Two-Tone founder. “Joe Strummer said the reason he didn’t want to get the Clash back together was that it was like an admission that he’d got nothing left to offer. I’m too arrogant to admit I’ve got nothing left to offer! So I wanted to do it in a way where we came back as adults, making adult songs.”

Roddy Radiation confirmed the story about the song in a post he made on The Specials web site message board writing, "Yep thats the track he played us at the first meeting.. it droaned on and on and on and on... and he said that was the way he wanted to progress and play the old stuff in the same vien..on my mothers life"

Here is the link to the online version of the story. The full interview is available in the hard copy of the March edition of the magazine available on newsstands near you.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Dead 60's - The Black Sessions Capture The Band At The Peak Of Their Powers

It's times like these that I truly miss The Dead 60's. Like many others, I have joined the guessing game about the support acts that will be opening shows for The Specials UK tour in a few months time. The recent announcement that Dub Pistols will play some of the London shows has heartened me a bit, but imagine what the shows could have been like if The Dead 6o's were still around to bring their inspired combination of dub and reggae infused rockabilly ska stylings ripe with organs, bass and drums and their angst-ridden vocals to the proceedings? My mind boggles at the thought.

The core of the band formed during their teens under the name Rest Home, a 5-piece pop-punk band which played cover versions alongside their own original material. Eventually stripping down to a 3-piece, they changed their name to Pinhole and their first release was the 4-track "122 Duke Street" EP (named after the address of Liverpool bar The Pit, where the band played many of its first shows). The Dead 60's eventually morphed out of this period and hit an incredibly creative period between 2005 to 2007 recording and promoting their self-titled album "The Dead 60's", a dub remix of their self-titled album and "Time To Take Sides" which was released shortly before they went their separate ways.

Even though the band is no longer with us, you can listen to an amazing bootleg of a live performance the band performed at the height of their powers in October 2005. The show was recorded as part of the Black Sessions which are live performances broadcast on the French Radio station France Inter. The Black Sessions are the brainchild of the well known French radio DJ Bernard Lenoir (Lenoir means black in English). Lenoir is a radio pioneer (the French John Peel), and the Black Sessions are high fidelity, live recordings for his show. Unlike the "Peel Sessions" the band's play live, in one take and in front of an audience of 200 people.

Here is video of the band performing a live dub version of "Too Much TV":

This 12-song recording of their live set gives you a sense of how tight and talented the band were and how they could have become the new face of ska in the 21st Century. It also brings home what a memorable combination a tour featuring The Dead 60's and The Specials could have been.

The Dead 60's - The Black Sessions
Recorded on October 3, 2005
Paris, France

01. just another love song
02. a different age
03. red light
04. tv and magazines
05. control this
06. train to nowhere
07. we get low
08. riot radio
09. intro song
10. the last resort
11. loaded gun
12. cold soul
13. you're not the law
14. intro reprise
15. riot radio

The Dead 60's - The Black Sessions

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Exclusive: Interview with Steven Morley of The Ska-Dows: From Pre-School Children's TV Show Performer to 2-Tone Era Ska Bassist

By far, one of the most interesting and intriguing stories of the entire 2-Tone era is the story of The Ska-Dows. Often overlooked and under appreciated, the band were written off by the UK music press as bandwagoneers, though they were contemporaries of their 2-Tone brethren and their first single 'Apache', a cover of the classic instrumental originally written by The Shadows gained decent attention and airplay. However, little is know of the band's origins. Believe it or not, the core of the band started out as costumed musical performers on the popular 1970's UK children's television show 'Animal Kwackers'.

Animal Kwackers was a preschool children's lunchtime program shown on ITV beginning in 1975. It was similar to the Banana Splits here in the U.S. in that there were three men and one woman inside large costumes with huge animal heads. Each member of the group played a musical instrument and they were fronted by Rory the lion (Ska-Dows guitarist and main songwriter Bev Doyle).

In the opening animated titles of the show, all four characters would appear in a flying saucer which would land on earth. The show was mainly about music but would also have a story or two read by Rory. The other members of the group would all begin chanting "Rory, Rory tell us a story", "Rory, Rory tell it like it is." Rory would then tell a story often with a moral attached to it. Rory was joined by Boots (a tiger with a patch over one eye), Twang (a monkey) and Bongo (a dog). At the end of each episode the four would board the flying saucer and leave for the stars. There were at least 39 or so episodes of the show covering what was then three seasons. Each episode lasted approximately fifteen to twenty minutes. The show's catch phrase was to "Keep Kwacking."

If you are not familiar with the program, it needs to be seen to be believed. Many adults in the UK who grew up watching the 'Animal Kwackers' remember being frightened by the characters and the slightly trippy feel of the whole affair. Below are some videos from the show. The first is the opening credits, followed by Rory reading a story and a very ska/rocksteady version "Swing On A Star", which would suggest the core of the band were already planning the sound of their next permutation as The Ska-Dows.

Though not the original line-up for the first two seasons of the show, the line-up for the third season and for the touring version of the show included three of the future members of The Ska-Dows including:

Rory (guitar) - Bev Doyle
Twang (bass) - Step Morley
Bongo (drums) - Atalanta Harmsworth
Boots (guitar) - John Basset

The Ska-Dows got their start right before 2-Tone broke big in the UK and were formed in late 1978 by vocalist Tony Sibthorpe and saxophone player Andy Dummett. Sibthorpe had been a skinhead in the early 70's and had a huge collection of ska and reggae records which influenced the sound and direction of the band. They met up with Doyle, Morley and Basset (who moved to drums)from Animal Kwackers. The band's first recording "Apache" (a cover version of the old Shadows hit) was kicked around to all the major record companies in London. Finally, Chas Chandler of Animals fame who had started Cheapskate Records signed them. He loved the track so much he released it in its original demo form. Unfortunately it wasn't until late 1979 that "Apache" hit the airwaves and record stores and by then The Ska-Dows were accused of jumping on the 2-Tone bandwagon. Nevertheless, "Apache" was deemed record of the week on BBC Radio 1 and held the #1 spot for a week on the stations airplay chart. The Ska-Dows had 3 singles released on Cheapskate Records, the last being 'Skas on 45' which was released after they split up.

Below is a rare publicity photo of the band taken to promote the release of 'Apache' and a poster to promote their final post-humous single "Ska's On 45":

Though they never achieved the kind of recognition or respect they deserved from the 2-Tone scene, they recorded and released some superb 2-Tone styled singles and a very entertaining album's worth of ska and reggae songs that are among the best of the rest of the 2-Tone era. The band's sound and look comes closest to a combination of Bad Manners and Madness.

I connected with the band's bass player Steven Morley, who agreed to conduct an interview with me about his days in 'Animal Kwackers' and how that experience lead to the creation of The Ska-Dows. Below is the interview:

Can you tell me about your introduction to music?
I started learning guitar at Grammar school after hearing a guy at school who could play all the chords. Me and my mate Bev (Doyle, the guitarist from the 'Dows) started meeting to talk about our favourite bands and roped my brother Ron and his mate Jim in to form a band. Bev knew one more chord than me so he became the lead guitarist and I was bass.

How did you end up as Twang - the bass playing monkey on the ITV children's TV show 'Animal Kwackers'. How long were you on the show?
Bev and I stayed in bands together until 1976 when we both joined different bands. I stayed in Germany where we had been touring and one day, when I was thoroughly fed up with being there, I got the call from Bev saying Pete, who was Twang, wanted out and would I come back.

Was it difficult to play your instrument while wearing the costume?
Yes. We were primarily there to entertain the kids and after much experimentation with live playing we couldn't maintain accuracy and move about. the costumes were large and unwieldy. So we played along to a backtrack and sang live.

What was the creative process on 'Animal Kwackers' like? Who wrote the songs? Who decided what songs you would perform? Did 'Animal Kwackers' ever tour as a live show?
I was only part of the Kwackers for the live shows. By the time I joined the third and final TV series had been recorded. I enjoyed 7 years of touring with the AKs. Much fun. For the series all the songs and story lines were decided on by the creator, Peter Eden and his team. We had carte blanch for the live shows though and recorded loads of stuff specially for live work.

What kind of influence did the UK music scene of the late 70's have on the music performed on the show? There is a clip of you all performing to The Clash's 'Bankrobber' which seems like an interesting choice for a kids show.
We did like to be cheeky! Most of the time we played strictly for the kids though but you cant let the parents get bored and that's the stuff that was around then. I we were doing it now I would like to think we'd stick in the odd track by Anthony and the Johnsons!

What was the genesis of The Ska-Dows? What attracted you all to playing ska in particular? How did you meet Tony Sibthorpe and Andy Dummett?
John Bassett ran a recording studio and we recorded stuff regularly, mostly Bevs original stuff. I have always loved reggae, especially the early stuff and when the new ska explosion happened I was determined to be part of it. I came up with the idea of a faithful - ie recorded in one take and using all dynamic mics - cover of "Apache". We did it in one take too, apart from the vocal and sax overdubs. I also naturally came up with "The Ska-Dows" as a naff but funny pun on the band who first had a hit with it, The Shadows. I had worked with Andy in Germany and Tony had just joined the Kwackers as Bongo replacing Bobby Parr, who left to pursue other things.

Tell me about meeting Chas Chandler and signing with his Cheapskate Record label and recording your first two singles 'Apache' and 'Telstar'?
We had intended to release Apache" on our own label as we were running another band, with the same members (apart from Tony) alongside and had a single ready for release (Never Gonna Lose Me" by the Sax Maniax). We hawked it around a bit and Chas, who was starting up his new label, saw it as the perfect vehicle with which to do that.

What were your first live shows as The Ska-Dows like? Who were some of the bands you performed with? Are there any particularly memorable shows from that time?
Most of our shows were The Ska-Dows supported by the Sax Maniax! How about that? Most of the Dows gigs were full of skinheads who chanted a lot but there was never any trouble as our material was all joyful stuff. The most memorable gig was in Canning Town where my 1963 Jazz bass was nicked.

What kind of reception did the band get from the 2-Tone scene and the UK record buying public?
We weren't part of the 2 tone scene being a London band. Our early singles, Apache and Telstar, got good exposure in London but not so much further out.

Who wrote the songs on your album 'Ska'd For Life'? What was the idea/thinking behind recording 'Ska on 45'?
The songs on Ska'd for Life were a mixture of originals "Twice", "Grooving Power" were written by Bev. "Ska'd For Life" was written by Bev and John and "Wish You Were Mine" by Tony and covers such as "Apache", "Monster Reggae", "Mrs Walker" etc. "We Gotta Get Out" was started by us taking the piss out of Chas who used to be in The Animals

Why did the band break-up? Were you part of the version of the band that reformed in 1989?
Musical differences :-) Unfortunately the recording of the album coincided with personality clashes within the band and we had effectively split before it was released. Tony reformed the band in the 90's with Andy. Bev John and I were not part of that.

Are you still in touch with any of your band mates?
Yup. I still see Bev and we play the odd gig together.

What are you doing these days?
Musically I am in a 60s covers band called The retros. Other than that I am training to be a flying instructor.

Here is video of the album title track 'Ska'd For Life'

The band's one and only LP "Ska'd For Life", dating from 1982, has been in and out of print over the years. It was re-issued on 2001 on Captain Mod Records including 7 bonus tracks to give a near complete document of The Ska-Dows complete recordings. Included are the singles 'Apache', 'Telstar', 'Yes Yes Yes' and 'We Gotta Get Out Of This Place'. You can find it online depending upon where you live. There is one copy for sale on in the U.S.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Specials Conduct Series of Pre-Tour Media Interviews: "We Did Not Kick Jerry Dammers Out Of The Band"

The Specials conducted a series of UK media interviews published today including an in-depth interview with The Guardian and a shorter interview with NME in which Terry Hall reinterates that he and his bandmates did not kick Jerry Dammers out of the re-formed band.

The Guardian article is a great read. One of the best I have seen that really distills how the band's past still effects the current reunion and if Hall, Bradbury and Golding are to be believed, the real story on why Jerry Dammers refuses to participate. My gut tells me they are telling the truth here.

Here is the link to The Guardian story (the full story pasted below) and the link the NME story which includes quotes from The Guardian. I've learned that articles are also planned for upcoming issues of Q Magazine and Uncut Magazine (which will feature an interview with Roddy Radiation).

They broke up in a Top of the Pops dressing room in 1981, but now the Specials are back. In their first post-reformation interview, they tell Alexis Petridis how good it feels
Alexis Petridis
Friday February 20 2009
The Guardian

There is something slightly disconcerting about seeing Terry Hall laugh - at least the first time it happens. This is, after all, a man whose permanently gloomy expression was once the stuff of urban myth: at the height of the Specials' fame, a playground rumour insisted that their frontman was physically incapable of smiling. Today, however, you quickly get used to it. Hall keeps laughing, as do his fellow Specials, guitarist Lynval Golding and drummer John Bradbury. They sit around a restaurant table in buoyant mood: "I've never had so much fun as I've been having since the Specials reformed," says Bradbury, resplendent in 2-Tone uniform of Crombie coat, skinny tie and dog-tooth check trousers. Golding and Hall enthusiastically nod their assent.

In one sense, the trio's disposition is hardly surprising. The Specials' reunion tour, announced on 11 December last year, sold out immediately ("45,000 tickets in an hour," notes the band's PR approvingly): evidence, should one need it, of the unique place the band holds in the nation's affections, almost 30 years on from the release of their debut single, Gangsters.

All the same, there still seems something unlikely about finding the Specials in such a cheery mood. For all their celebrated live shows, and the brilliance of their slender oeuvre, an aura of darkness clings to the Coventry band's story. Eight years ago, I interviewed the band's ex-members. They expressed plenty of pride in their achievements, but there was nevertheless a sense that all of them had been rather traumatised by the experience of being in the band.

The Specials' success had been sudden and immense: five top 10 singles and two No 1s in under two years between 1979 and 1981, with a whole youth movement, 2-Tone, effectively forming in their wake. Their concerts were regularly disrupted by violence (Hall and Jerry Dammers were arrested and charged with incitement to riot after one particularly bloody confrontation between fans and bouncers in Cambridge) and the attentions of the National Front: the band had begun playing ska in the hope of short-circuiting the far right's concerted effort to co-opt the burgeoning skinhead revival, and recruiting fans instead to their left-wing, anti-racist credo.

Relations within the band became fraught, exacerbated by a punishing work schedule - "we played everywhere," says Bradbury, "including a caravan park in Crosshands, which, with all due respect to the people who live there, is a little out of the way" - and the kind of arguments that bands with a less determinedly political stance might never face: there was much heated discussion over the ideological correctness of travelling by limousine.

"Everything was a drama," says Hall. "Getting picked up at the airport was a drama, checking into the hotel was a drama, leaving the hotel was a drama. You couldn't get any space, not even for an hour or two, because wherever you went there were these lads who'd travelled 9,000 miles to see you live and didn't have anywhere to stay, so you had to put them up in your room and then you had to sit up all night with them." He sighs. "Talking about the fucking Specials.

"Even their greatest achievement is mired in gloom: the 1981 No 1, Ghost Town, remarkable not just for its brilliantly original, impossibly bleak musical content but the way its tenure at No 1 coincided with some of the most serious urban rioting of the 20th century; and the fact that the band celebrated its success by splitting up in the dressing room at Top of the Pops.

Today, however, the three Specials' ebullience is such that it even seems to reflect on their history. "I've got to admit, this time around I feel a lot more at ease with the other people in the band, but I thought the first time around was absolutely brilliant," says Bradbury. "Needless to say, a lot of people look for the downside more than the fun side, in terms of journalism. A lot of the good side never got discussed."

Lynval Golding goes even further. Some ex-Specials have claimed that their fans' penchant for stage invasions made it virtually impossible to play live, but Golding insists they were fun: "The more people on the stage with me, the more I felt like we'd broken down a barrier. I thought we were really integrating, we're all brothers now." He didn't even mind the National Front turning up and sieg-heiling during gigs, which seems enormously sporting of him, given his raft of horrifying stories about experiencing racism in 60s and 70s Britain, and the scars he still bears as the result of a racially motivated 1980 knife attack. "I always thought: what is the point of having a person with a racist view and locking him outside? Bring him inside so I can talk to him, we can discuss each other's culture, we can end up understanding each other and shake hands."

Perhaps Golding's memory has been a little rose-tinted by the experience of meeting Specials fans too young to remember the band first time around. He had stopped playing guitar altogether and was living quietly in Seattle as a stay-at-home father when Lily Allen contacted him and asked him to perform the Specials' Blank Expression with her on stage at Glastonbury in 2007."

Afterwards, you get these 17- or 18-year-olds coming to you and talking about the music and the effect it has on them. This one kid, he had a Specials tattoo on his arm and when I met him, he started crying. I thought I'd done something to upset him, but it was the songs, the multiracial thing, it had really touched a young generation. It's fantastic, but it's pretty strange. And that's when I started thinking, oh my God, perhaps the Specials should reform."

Terry Hall, however, had always remained implacably resistant to a Specials reunion, while piloting an irregular solo career that took in everything from world music to a tenure as resident DJ at the Guilty Pleasures club nights ("I've stopped now - you were getting a lot of hen parties coming in," says the man who once skewered the awfulness of a cheesy disco, hen party and all, on the Specials' Friday Night, Saturday Morning). He says he found his feelings softening after seeing the reconstituted Pixies live: "It felt a bit ... not like religious, but they were fantastic." He and Golding began performing together occasionally, and mooting the idea of a reunion. Eventually, the Specials performed live, unannounced but to rapturous response, at last year's Bestival.

But for all the trio's positivity, a distinct whiff of the old trauma surrounds the band's reformation. The band's founder member, keyboardist and chief songwriter, Jerry Dammers, didn't play at Bestival, but was initially involved in the reunion. Then relations between him and the rest of the band appeared to inexorably sour. Hall suggested that "the door was still open" for him to take part, but Dammers put out a long statement that decried the reunion as "a takeover", involving Hall's friend Simon Jordan, the multi-millionaire former owner of Crystal Palace: the implication being that the tour's primary motivation is money. It went on to claim that Dammers had been "kicked out" of the band he formed, that he had been legally prevented from contacting any members of band, that the other Specials refused to rehearse with him. But the reformed Specials dispute pretty much everything the band's founder now has to say about the reunion. "I've read Jerry's statement and I just don't get it," says Hall, for once looking like someone who might be physically incapable of smiling. "'They're trying to kick me out of the band' - not at all mate, not at all."

No, they say, Dammers wasn't ex-communicated by the other members. Golding and Bradbury both claim they spent vast amounts of time trying to convince Dammers to take part and that it was his own intransigence that caused the split. "I spoke to Jerry night after night all the way through 2008," says Bradbury, "and at the end there just wasn't a meeting of the ways. A little more give and take, a few more people skills, it could definitely have worked out better." "He wanted to do one date, in Coventry, in front of 30,000 people, at the football stadium," says Hall. 'I thought that was a bit of a Take That thing. We wanted to play 2,000- to 3,000-sized venues. I don't think he likes the idea of touring, to be honest. I think he hid that a bit in his statement. But apart from that, I have no idea why Jerry isn't doing it."

And no, they insist, the reformation isn't about the money, although there's clearly a lot of it waiting to be made: it's about the fans and the music's continued relevance. "Part of me feels I shouldn't have to get on stage and sing Why?, which I wrote about beng attacked," says Golding. "But people are still getting knifed, and that really gets to me, because I know what it's like to be in the hospital, with all the doctors and nurses running around going, 'We can't stop the bleeding.'"

In addition, there's the feeling that the Specials reunion has to do with the band's members reconciling themselves with the past, putting a final positive spin on their turbulent history. All of them struggled with life in the shadow of the Specials' legacy. After the split, Hall, Golding and Neville Staple had success with the Fun Boy Three, while Bradbury and Dammers soldiered on together through another Specials album, In the Studio, which spawned the hit single Free Nelson Mandela, but seems to have been even more traumatic to make than its predecessors. But it gradually became apparent that nothing they did for the rest of their lives would ever quite measure up to what they had achieved for two years in their early 20s.

"We've all done good stuff individually, but we've never done anything as good individually as we did collectively," says Bradbury. It was a realisation that some found easier to accept than others. Various ex-members toured and recorded under names like Today's Specials, Special Beat and the 2-Tone Collective in the 1990s, but Hall says he spent years trying to blot the Specials out of his life entirely - "from 1985 to 1990, I distanced myself from everything, the music and everything, as much as I could, really" - before bowing to the inevitable. "It's obvious that when we're standing together there is a definite chemistry. That's something I wanted again in my life. I had an eye-opener a few years ago: I had to put my life in order. I just sort of wanted to reach out to the people I cared for - a couple of school mates, my family and especially this group.

"Hand on my heart, this is what I feel is a bit sad for Jerry. He's fucking missing out. He's missing out on being in this incredible band. We haven't changed that much, we still take the piss out of each other, there's an understanding there that hasn't gone away. And he's missing out on that, and it's sad for him, to be honest."

For a moment, a rather gloomy silence settles around the table, but then the cheery mood returns. The trio talk excitedly about making a documentary in which fans detail their experiences of the Specials' music, of how great it'll be to play without, as Hall puts it, "having to stop every five minutes because people are fighting", of how, Dammers aside, relations in the band have never been better.

"Now when there's arguments, I just laugh at it," says Golding. "Before I would have been like, 'You fucking bastard'; and now I can just laugh and laugh. That's where we're at now."

"The fuse gets lit all the time, but someone's able to stamp it out now," says Bradbury. He frowns. "Of course, there'll probably come a time when we're not able to. I don't want to be tempting fate in this article." Across the table, Terry Hall laughs again. "Being in the Specials," says Golding firmly, "is wonderful."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Terrorists - Late 70's New York City-based Punky Reggae Pre-Dates 2-Tone Explosion In The UK

Perhaps one of the most influential and overlooked U.S. ska/reggae bands of the late 70's and early 80's was the New York City-based band Terrorists. While Los Angeles of the early 80's was enjoying a full-blown mod/ska explosion that propelled The Untouchables straight to London and a recording contract with Stiff Records, a very different kind of music scene was brewing in bars and clubs around New York City. This scene helped to produce many iconic rock bands including The Ramones, The New York Dolls, Talking Heads, Patti Smith, Suicide and others. It also nurtured and supported Terrorists who were playing a unique blend of reggae, ska, dub and punk a full two years before 2-Tone officially kicked off a punky reggae party in the UK.

The band was formed by a group of white New York City kids who were punk, ska, dub and reggae freaks, at the same time that Bob Marley & The Wailers released "Exodus" and helped launch the whole punk and reggae love affair in the U.K. Begun in October 1977 by drummer Dro (David Ostrowe), bassist Gary Schiess (a/k/a DB), singer and guitarist Ray De Angel and keyboardist Frank Covello, the band quickly became a mainstay of the New York music scene. They shared the stage with well known artists including Talking Heads, Patti Smith, Brian Setzer (of Stray Cats), Johnny Thunders, and Sylvain Sylvain (of The NY Dolls and The Heartbreakers), The Selecter, Lee Alan Vega (of Suicide), The Fast, Joe Bowie (of Defunkt), Lester (Almost Famous) Bangs, and many, many more. Their propulsive brand of punky reggae filled the dance floor at clubs throughout New York City including Max's Kansas City, CBGB's, Irving Plaza, Hotel Diplomat, Hurrah's, The Ritz, The 80's Club, The Rat, Peppermint Lounge, Electric Circus, Trax, Tramps and many others.

The Terrorists' were directly inspired by and committed to playing traditional Jamaican ska, reggae, and dub and their adherence and ease with the genre soon caught the attention of superstar dub producer Lee "Scratch" Perry. This was during a time when Perry had parted company with his Jamaican house band The Upsetters and was traveling widely, forging musical partnerships wherever he went. His work with the Terrorists was one of the first of these partnerships. The band played live with Perry during his time in America in the early 1980s, and two studio recordings captured their brief collaboration: "Love Is Better Now" and "Guerilla Priest". The former is a love song with Scratch in the producer's chair, while the latter is a typical early '80s ranter with Scratch on vocals.

The band also worked extensively with Rolando Alphonso of the legendary ska institution The Skatalites who recorded and performed live with the band and added further credibility to their reggae and ska chops. Terrorists drummer Dro recalls the meeting with Alphonso that lead to his joining the band (Sidenote: Alphonso had suffered a stroke in 1975 that left him unable to play saxophone. He had to re-learn new ways to play his instrument and it was during this time that he agreed to join the band): During these years Roland would often be present at rehearsals of his son Noel's band, Outer Limits. It was at one of those rehearsals, at Matrix Studios on West 27th [New York City] in the spring of '75, that David "Dro" Ostrowe first met Rolando. "He had his old Selmer tenor that never got polished in its case. Roland was just sitting there watching, but he never played with them, at least when I was watching", Dro recalls. That was probably because the stroke had left Roland with limited dexterity in his right hand, and it took him time to develop new techniques that would enable him to play the music the way he had before.

As Dro elaborates, "It was a couple of years later that I saw him come onstage with Noel's band Jah Malla, and he blew a tune. Nobody seemed to know who he was and when he left no one seemed the wiser. So I approached him and asked if he would play with my band, Terrorists. I told him we could provide a proper stage for him. He said yes, and we planned it for Max's Kansas City. By spring of 1979 we were ready to do them. We'd play our set, and then bring on Roland as the headliner to blow his own set of tunes. We worked with him for about two years, even playing a show for Ron Delsner in The Diplomat Hotel's Main Ballroom. It went great, Roland was in good spirits, and blowing really well. Terrorists played shows with him through '79 into 1980, and by the end of the year his name was properly established in New York and he had developed a following." Dro notes that, "we did some recordings with Roland that Max's Kansas City backed, the aborted Sax Scandal album."

Sadly, Dro passed away in October 2002. He was well known in New York City reggae circles and had a very popular reggae radio show on WBAI-FM. His legacy and the legacy of Terrorists lives on in the generations of New York and New Jersey ska and reggae bands who began to build one of the most vibrant U.S. ska scenes of the mid-80's through the early 90's. Below is a download of a sample of a few tracks ('Hail The Day', 'Guerilla Priest' featuring Lee Perry and 'Christine Keeler' with Roland Alphonso) that are included on their long play release "Forces: 1977-1982" (originally released only on cassette on ROIR in the 80's) which features all 17 tracks the band ever recorded.

Terrorists - Sampler

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Kevin Long of The Untouchables Captures The Mod/Ska Scene of early 80's Los Angeles in his essay "Epicenter of a Scene"

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Kevin Long, one of the original singers of Los Angeles Mod/Ska band The Untouchables. In the course of doing research for that post, I also came across a great blog called California Mod Scene written by Mike Page, who was part of the scene that grew around the O.N Klub and The Untouchables. His site documents the LA mod scene through amazing pictures, old news articles and original show flyer's and it was there that I came across an early version of an essay that Long had written called 'Epicenter of a Scene' that provides an engaging and thorough historical perspective on the LA mod/ska scene. The essay also memorializes the shrine of a club that started it all, a small, hole in the wall called the O.N Klub. I asked Long about the essay and he said he had just revised and updated it and offered to share with with me to post here on my blog. I wanted to post it in its entirety as a follow-up to the interview and also to use it as a jumping off point for future posts focused on the U.S. ska scenes of the late 70's and early 80's.

The essay is a true thing of beauty. First, because Long is an eloquent and passionate writer and he illustrates the scene vividly with his prose. More importantly though, he provides his unique vantage point as a member of The Untouchables, while placing LA's love affair with mod, ska, soul and RnB into into sociological and historical context. Long's essay, combined with pictures and flyer's from Page's California Mod Scene blog provide the be all and end all look at the U.S. version of 2-Tone that flourished very briefly in sunny California from 1980-1984.

Epicenter of a Scene
By Kevin Long

In the early 1980s, on a less than glittering strip of Sunset Boulevard, was a tiny and unremarkable dive called the O.N. Klub. The O.N. Klub, or simply “the ON” to its habitués, was located at 3037 W. Sunset in Silver Lake, then a down-at-the-heel commercial and residential area located just east of Hollywood.

It was at the O.N. Klub that the spark of a brief, but magical, alternative music scene first caught fire in 1980. The scene was an odd amalgamation of sorts, combining the sound and style of 1960’s swinging London with the music of original and second-wave Jamaican and English ska, the danceable grooves of American Sixties soul and R&B, while tapping into the DIY spirit and independence of late Seventies punk rock.

Unlike punk rock, however, this scene made no claims of political or social upheaval; revolution was not on the agenda. Nevertheless, it was not entirely apolitical either, for if this music scene had a manifesto it was simply one of inclusion, where African-American kids dressed as sharply as their Latino brethren, where Asian-American girls were as coolly detached as their white sisters, where kids from South Central and La Cãnada amicably (and endlessly) debated the merits of Vespa v. Lambretta, not unlike white English boys did half-a-world away and a generation earlier.

Hardly the building blocks of revolution, this scene was never about tearing things down but rather building them up. So while the media often focused myopically on the apparent anomaly of American kids driving vintage Italian scooters and listening to British and Jamaican music, they often missed entirely the bridging of cultural and ethnic divides taking place before them. In years to come, no less than local, state, and federal agencies, with corporate America bringing up the rear, would spend tens of millions of dollars on the challenges of incorporating cultural and ethnic diversity into public institutions and the American workplace. In early eighties Silver Lake, however, dancers found it effortlessly between the vinyl grooves of Booker T and the MGs and the Specials while workin’ it on the dance floor at the ON Klub.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this scene -- more than the music and bands it spawned – was the emergence of an amazingly broad diversity of youth, arguably unlike any other music scene L.A. had witnessed before.

Measured by most standards, including race, gender, socio-economic standing, education, or sexual orientation, this scene was broader, deeper and more expansive than any other local music scene at the time. What united these otherwise disparate forces was its passion for R&B, soul, and ska music. This was the colorful and wildly popular L.A. mod scene, circa 1980-1984. It all began at a dingy little club in a once dingy corner of the city.

I. Charlie Don’t Surf, but Surf Punks Do
The dominant alternative music scene in the city prior to the rise of the mod movement was punk rock. While the roots of the L.A. punk scene went back to at least 1976 (many cite the Ramones show that year at the Whiskey A Go-Go as the watershed punk event), the pivotal moment in the rise of the L.A. punk scene occurred in 1977 when the legendary Masque club first opened its doors.

That the opening of a small underground night club would directly correlate to the rise of a local music movement is of little surprise; such phenomenon has played out countless times before, from Liverpool to London, from New York to Detroit. In L.A., bands such as X, the Dickies, the Germs, the Weirdos, the Go-Go’s and others found a home at the Masque, and the local punk scene was underway.

Around these bands developed a dynamic scene that not only challenged, but even altered the perception of the laid-back southern California rock sound then defined by such loathsome MOR stalwarts as the Eagles, Jackson Brown, and others. By 1981, however, the original L.A. punk scene was foundering; with a few notable exceptions, bands were stagnating and the scene had by then developed a well-earned reputation for violence.

There was no clearer sign that punk had reached a state of irrelevancy in L.A. than the rise of the absurd surf punk movement. A truly “only in L.A.” musical moment whose only redeeming quality was its short life, surf punks simply did not get it. The brilliance and uniqueness inherent in the likes of the Ramones, Clash, and X were discarded for a tribal mentality that regularly manifested itself at gigs in the form of indiscriminate and often brutal violence.

Further, surf punks not only created their own stereotype, they gleefully enforced it: to wit, predominantly white male lunkheads from the beaches and the hinterlands of L.A. and Orange counties who, as when in the water (if in fact they surfed at all), forced out any non-locals (i.e., anyone “different than us”). On the L.A. alternative music scene, homogeneity and narrow mindedness ruled the day, while the New Party Army sported sun-block.

The result was that many young people who were otherwise inspired by the alternative sounds of first wave L.A. punk bands now turned away from the likes of local bands that were too closely aligned with the goon squads that principally defined their audiences. Besides, what was it that one found attractive about paying hard-earned scratch to see a third-rate outfit at the Starwood or Florentine Gardens, all the while under the threat of violence for not conforming to the enforced status quo? Wasn’t new music and style then based at least in part on a rejection of the status quo? This irony was laughable in a scene that lacked humor. Disillusioned by violence and the same three chords, many potential newcomers turned away from this in-bred scene as if to say, “let them eat Oki-Dogs.”

The mod movement wasn’t the sole beneficiary of the fall of punk. Kids flocked to other forms of alternative music then afoot, including the neo-psychedelia of the “Paisley Underground,” a brilliant rockabilly revival, a genuine and developing interest in American roots music (the terribly named “cow punk” scene comes to mind), and both funk and the seeds of rap. The end of punk was the well-spring of an incredibly active and flourishing time in the city as numerous avenues of music were simultaneously explored, with many sub-genres of alternative music developing their own legion of passionate followers and new clubs opening seemingly every week.

Nevertheless, one factor that separated the mod scene from all others was that it drew kids from every corner of the city and the Valley. Whereas punks were typically white males in their late teens and early 20s, from the get-go the mod scene at the ON Klub was a fresh and colorful palette of ethnicities and cultures.

However, even before the seeds of the L.A. mod scene took root, the ON Klub was already on the city’s alternative music map.

II. The Rise of the ON Klub: Roots, Rock, Reggae
The transformation of the building at 3037 W. Sunset from failing property investment into one of the most diverse independent nightclubs in the city is one of those rare instances where it is possible to identify the work of an individual who was singularly responsible for both vision and implementation of a small business that soon proved wildly successful.

Howard Paar was a young Englishman who early in life developed a love of music. While growing up listening to rock and pop music in all its forms, Paar soon developed a passion for bluebeat and ska, the upbeat Jamaican precursors to reggae that even into the mid-1970s continued to circulate beyond the West Indian communities of south London and into the clubs and consciousness of those willing to listen.

His other musical influence at the time was punk, although by 1979 Paar felt that punk music in the UK – perhaps with the exception of the Clash – had painted itself into a corner from which it could not escape. Miraculously, these separate musical streams somehow merged in Britain in 1979 at a confluence called Two-Tone.

Paar cites the Specials first single, “Gangsters”, as his motivation to open and manage a nightclub. “The catalyst, musically speaking, for what would become the ON Klub was undeniably the day “Gangsters” was released,” Paar recently said. While the Two-Tone movement unleashed a huge ska phenomenon in Britain, Paar had by then relocated to Los Angeles. Still, he was so smitten with this song and the energetic and youthful ska revival taking place in the U.K. that he knew immediately he had to open a club, never mind that he had never before managed one or that ska registered nary a blip then on American music radar.

Soon, however, he was pitching his idea for a nightclub to a friend of a friend, Bob Selva, who owned a small building in Silver Lake. Selva’s property was primarily used as an Asian restaurant, but as the proprietors struggled to meet their lease Selva was on the lookout for other opportunities. Desperate to make the property profitable, Selva agreed to meet Paar over drinks at Filthy McNasty’s (later the Central, today the Viper Room) on Sunset. He sat transfixed as he listened to this young Englishman speak passionately about music he had never before heard.

The combination of financial desperation, musical intrigue, Paar’s charm, and strong drinks was enough to seal the deal: Selva would give the young, would-be impresario a chance. 3037 W. Sunset would be made over as a night club, and Bob Selva and Howard Paar were soon partners in the entertainment business. Given the Silver Lake location was an Asian restaurant and bar named “Oriental Nights”, coupled with the fact that Selva refused to pay to alter the business license, Paar simply abbreviated the restaurant name and called his venue the “ON Klub.” While Paar envisioned the ON as a “ska and soul” hotspot (the club billed itself as such in its earliest promotions), he soon discovered there were two fundamental flaws with this plan: there were virtually no ska bands in L.A. at the time the club opened and where he envisioned his place full of club-goers sharing his love of Sixties soul music, the L.A. club scene was then dominated by punk, new wave, heavy metal, and MOR bands, while disco – then in its death throes – still held sway among the dance crowd (to wit, Flipper’s Roller Disco in West Hollywood, among others).

Until a ska scene developed in L.A., of which Paar’s certitude had convinced Selva to bet the house, he was pressed to fill his club. Fortunately he had another ace up his sleeve, this time in the form of reggae music.

The O.N. Klub was one of the first clubs in southern California to regularly showcase reggae music. Like punk rock during the same period, reggae was well outside the musical mainstream; it was an outsider’s sound, or, as many in the genre called it, rebel music.

In fact, reggae music in America then was so far outside the mainstream that in 1980, the year the ON Klub opened, Bob Marley and the Wailers – arguably the most popular act in the world outside of America – briefly toured the U.S. as the opening act for Lionel Ritchie’s band the Commodores in a desperate bid to reach an African-American audience that up to that point had both largely ignored it and had little idea what to make of it.

Paar had more than passing familiarity with reggae given his exposure to it while living in London, and thus he was well-positioned to establish his club as the place in L.A. to listen and dance to it. Paar also capitalized on the fact that few L.A. clubs then spun reggae records, while simultaneously benefiting from the “outsider” nexus that existed between reggae and punk/new wave at the time. This combination, he hoped, would generate sufficient revenue to keep the lights on at least until his unshakable belief in a homegrown ska and reggae scene was realized.

In addition to the outsiders’ view that reggae and punk shared, a brothers-in-arms like solidarity was strengthened when a few punk bands began incorporating reggae rhythms into their own material, perhaps no better expressed than the Clash’s version of Junior Murvin’s reggae classic “Police and Thieves”. Conversely, a few reggae bands flirted with a punkier sound and in some cases, as with Washington D.C.’s brilliant Bad Brains, reggae and punk often were explored within the context of the same song.

This loose punk-rasta alliance began to show its colors early at the ON Klub, and Paar, as club manager and house deejay, had the satisfaction of being on hand nightly to see his vision unfold. The club had found its footing.

III. South Central to La Canada: We Are the Mods
In England, the rise of Two-Tone in 1979 coincided with a potent mod revival movement. For better or worse, the Who-produced film “Quadrophenia” was the touchstone that galvanized kids there to look back to the original mod movement of the early 1960s. Typical of the fickle nature of English pop culture, many there felt punk had had its day in the sun and it was time to move on to something different. In 1979, Mod and Two-Tone simultaneously planted their respective flags and staked their youthful claim.

In L.A., the mod scene developed under similar circumstances, with the ’79 release of “Quadrophenia” kick-starting mod awareness, though it would take another year before mods began to have even minimal presence in local clubs. This delay was due in large measure to the fact that the few L.A. mods then were simply too young to get into nightclubs and there were no underage clubs that catered to mods. Additionally, there were no local mod bands that “of-age” mods could go see; there were a few new wave acts that flirted with mod imagery and style but – critically – none that played the music. Thus unlike London, in Los Angeles there were virtually no clubs and no bands around which a scene might coalesce.

The lone exception was the Starwood, a club located on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, where one night a week a deejay named Phast Phreddie (nee Fred Patterson) spun soul records in one of its back rooms. Outside of the rare house party and prior to the “mod”-ification of the ON Klub, Phreddie’s soul sets on Monday nights represented all that L.A. clubland had to offer the neophyte modernist.

Phreddie was a record collector second to none (he was a fixture at the old Capitol Records parking lot swap meets and also founded and edited the seminal L.A. rock fanzine, “Back Door Man”), and while he was on the L.A. punk scene from its earliest days (the legendary all-girl punk band Runaways’ first-ever show was played in the living room of his parents’ Torrance home), his real passion was soul, R&B, bebop jazz, and blues. (He would later effortlessly front Phast Phreddie and Thee Precisions, a short-lived jumpin’ jive jazz and juke-joint R&B act that had many of L.A.’s best musicians – including members of Los Lobos, Blasters, Plimsouls, and X – clamoring to sit in with him).

It was at the height of the original L.A. punk scene that Phreddie persuaded Starwood management to let him spin Sixties soul and R&B records one night a week at the club, never mind that a punk or hard rock band was often raising the rafters at the same time in another room of the large club.

While the dancers at Phreddie’s Starwood gigs never numbered more than a dozen or so, they were as dedicated to that music as the Phast One himself. Among those dancers were future members of the Untouchables, several of whom met for the first time on Phreddie’s dance floor. As the Untouchables were the first overtly mod band during L.A.’s new music heyday, Phast Phreddie played a key role in providing the ideal forum for these and other like-minded musicians to meet.

It was always an experience in those early days when mods and punks crossed paths in L.A., as was often the case at the Starwood. Because there were so few mods then, confrontations were typically one-sided affairs. Many of us wondered why we were fighting in the first place, as punks and mods actually shared the same level of contempt for mainstream rock music and style.

Nevertheless, differences remained and often it took little more than arriving on a scooter or wearing a suit for sparks to fly. Even so, the threat of violence and, not uncommonly, violence itself wasn’t enough to deter the few hardcore mods then from the joy of dancing to Phreddie’s incredible sets of music. Besides, we reasoned, where else could we turn?

Violence or not, mod was always about attitude, style, and music. It was amazing the lengths mods would go to get the “right” look. Years before the commercial rise of Melrose Avenue I remember spending hours upon hours in the Fairfax district rifling through thrift-store shops looking for that perfectly sized three-button jacket, all the while the gracious and patient Jewish ladies never failing to comment how nice it was to see boys wearing suits and ties again.

Or driving with vocalist Chuck Askerneese on scooters to the far reaches (anywhere by scooter is far) of San Fernando Valley in search of some undiscovered used clothing El Dorado we knew in our style-obsessed minds must exist. We tried on and rejected enough clothes to dress an army, all in pursuit of something different, something cool, something definitely mod.

For if the devil is indeed in the details, mods provided him plenty of company. Mod is nothing if not about the details: the remarkable and expansive knowledge of music, often including label, producer, and even studio session facts; the impressive 45 rpm record collection of original soul singles from Stax, Atlantic, Motown, Chess, and a myriad of obscure but no less amazing labels; original ‘60s Italian scooters and scooter accoutrement; and of course finding sharp clothes, purchased used because “new vintage” did not then exist.

L.A. mods wore suits, for example, in tribute to the early ‘60s American soul stars they idolized. But a suit also looked sharp on the dance floor, and that never hurt when looking to meet someone. In a strange fashion paradox, the suit also was embraced as alternative clothing to the largely mainstream couture that punk fashion had by then become; for when it plays in Peoria the rebel is definitely without a clue.

Ask any scooter-less, suit-wearing mod what it was like, for example, to board a bus in L.A. in 1980, and he would likely equate it to being viewed as a visitor from a distant galaxy. RTD bus driver to self: “Three old ladies sitting up front? Check. Leather-clad punk with purple Mohawk and bike chain? Check. Pimply-faced metal dude with big hair and small brain? Check. Clean cut teenager wearing ‘60s suit and tie? Che…what the…? Not on my watch, mister!” And in a cloud of diesel, clang, clang, go the RTD doors. Strange days, indeed.

By 1981, the ON Klub had survived its first year. Howard Paar had stitched together a patchwork calendar of live reggae and new wave acts; this, plus his work as deejay (and that of guest deejays), set the stage for the mod breakout that followed.

IV. Mod(ern) Diversity
It is difficult to pinpoint precisely why the L.A. mod scene was so diverse. While the city was even then a hugely diverse place, that fact alone is an insufficient explanation; for as above, neither the punk scene nor any other scene during the same period exhibited near close the depth of diversity as did the mod scene.

In other words, a number of competing subcultures drew from the same pool of kids looking to dive into something other than mainstream music, and yet, by and large (though not exclusively), it was the mod scene that a majority of kids of color chose to align themselves with.

So why did mod attract so many different types of kids in numbers that other scenes in L.A. did not? A brief analysis provides some insight. The L.A. punk scene morphed from its origins as an open and creative place for disaffected youth that at one time, for example, attracted more women musicians than perhaps any other music scene during the same period, into one where originality was discarded in favor of a rigid code of male-dominated hardcore bands playing generally unmelodic tunes as fast as possible. As creativity and difference were winnowed out of L.A. punk, it followed that its audience dynamic would change, too, and soon violence seemed to dog it’s every step.

Intimidation made for a less than ideal reception, while aggression all but slammed the door in the face of young newcomers who did not look or act like those who came immediately before them. Thus by 1981 punk held little appeal to kids looking for acceptance into the new music community, but particularly so for anyone not white, male, or both.

Other alternative scenes at the time also failed to attract largely diverse followings, but for reasons other than those listed above. For example, while the neo-psychedelia of L.A.’s Paisley Underground shared the mods love of Sixties music, generally speaking, it was a predominantly white scene led by white musicians. Unlike the last vestiges of the punk scene, however, the Paisley Underground was neither violent nor exclusive; it was a loose affiliation of like-minded musicians who shared a love of Sixties-era garage rock as well as that decade’s move towards psychedelia that resonated strongly with many L.A. club-goers, male and female alike. Nevertheless, its appeal failed to reach very deeply across ethnic lines.

The hard rock scene at the time was well established on Sunset Strip and other L.A. locations, but it and heavy metal have traditionally played poorly in urban areas and, even worse, in the inner-cities. As a result, few minorities then joined the hard rock ranks. Further, for those – whether in the inner-city or not – with alternative tastes in music, the hard rock crowd was viewed as part of the cultural mainstream and, therefore, a worthy target of contempt. This view only hardened with the rise of the cartoonish characters that made up L.A.’s hair-metal bands of the mid-1980s.

It is worth noting that these scenes included varying degrees of diversity. It is difficult to imagine zero diversity within any music scene in a city the size of Los Angeles; that argument is not being made here. What is being examined is why one group was so vastly diverse relative to others that were not, yet all occurring at the same time and place. The foregoing reasons to some degree explain the lack of diversity, whereas what follows is an attempt to understand the basis for the depth of racial diversity within the early Eighties L.A. mod scene.

The link between ON Klub mods and racial diversity was put in place – wittingly or not – when Howard Paar opened the club with a love of reggae and ska unabashedly pinned to his chest. Many of the early reggae acts booked there were comprised entirely of African-Americans (and/or ex-pat Jamaicans) or an integration of local black and white musicians. In turn, these musicians brought with them their own mix of friends and followers to the club.

Paar’s deejay role also contributed to diversity at the ON Klub, as his set lists were wonderful and eminently danceable mixes of reggae, Motown, Jamaican ska, Two-Tone, and Sixties soul. Anyone with a pulse (and cover charge) could not help but dance. These set lists were, at the time in L.A., a unique integration of music and artists that were soon mirrored by the club-goers themselves, but particularly so when mods descended upon the club.

The next influential step occurred when Paar booked on a regular basis the Boxboys, the first genuinely homegrown L.A. ska band. Though an all-white outfit, their brand of “Uptown Yankee Ska” provided a critical link between what Paar had put in place at the club from the outset and that of a younger and even more diverse crowd that followed.

The Boxboys were the DIY bridge that spanned that vast and mythical chasm between dance floor and stage for L.A.’s first mod band, and later heir apparent to the Boxboys’ ON Klub reign, the Untouchables. The Boxboys influence on the Untouchables exceeded that of the far-removed English Two-Tone and mod sets the group admired; whereas the English bands gave shape to the dream, the Boxboys embodied it.

Up to this point, the ON Klub was equal parts reggae club, new wave/ska club, and retro-soul dance club. With the arrival of the Untouchables, however, a new dimension was unleashed at the tiny Silver Lake venue whose repercussions were eventually felt in alternative music communities across the country.

The Untouchables were mods who made no apologies for their love of Sixties American soul and British power pop in an era where, at least on the L.A. alternative scene, hardcore punk (i.e., testosterone-driven SST bands) was all the rage. The band also loved to play ska, and Howard Paar, who recognized individual members of the band as young patrons of his club, gave them their first-ever club gig. This move not only set the stage for mod mania at the ON Klub, but it also proved equally critical to the diversity of the scene there and that which grew from it.

It wasn’t just that the Untouchables played a mix of music inspired by black and white artists, but rather that the band itself was racially diverse. And while there was no shortage of racially mixed bands around L.A. at the time, there were very few diverse bands that identified themselves with the alternative crowd and essentially none that brought to bear the same influences as did the Untouchables. As such, the only mod band in L.A. at the time was a young septet of five black and two white musicians, and the ON Klub was the only venue that agreed to give them a shot.

It didn’t take long for word to get out about the band or the club. Soon Paar elevated the band to weekend nights, and the Untouchables’ several Vespas and Lambrettas parked out front were joined by dozens of others. All corners of the city were represented on the dance floor in a crazy quilt of culture, color and style, all dancing to the band and Paar’s inspired sets of vinyl.

The strength of the mod scene’s diversity arose naturally from music that transcended color and class lines. Equally important, it was not imposed by outside influence, i.e., political dogma or culture cops, but instead was, more than anything else, an organic celebration of youth and music. And, finally, because the only mod act in town was simultaneously racially diverse and at the vanguard of the scene, it set the precedent that the mod-scene door would remain open to all. And that is precisely how things played out as many kids of color crossed that threshold at the ON Klub.

Before long the mod scene at the ON Klub took on a life of its own. Scooters were regularly lined up nearly the length of the block in front of the club, which got the attention of the cops, which, in turn, got the attention of the local media. Suddenly, mod was an L.A. buzzword. Inside the club, meanwhile, dancers – seeking relief from the crowded dance floor – regularly bum rushed the tiny stage to dance with the band, all the while Paar yelling – in no uncertain terms, and at the highest registers of his Cockney accent – for them to get off the stage.
Eventually, the band outgrew the limited size of the club, which by then was feeling the heat from LAPD for both over-crowding on the inside and dozens of underage mods loitering on the outside. While the success of the ON Klub was ultimately its undoing, the L.A. mod scene that originated there – in all its beautiful diversity – marched on.

It was estimated that by 1984 the scene had swelled to over 5,000 kids. It grew to include a dozen or more bands in and around L.A. and Orange counties, and many clubs adopted a “mod night” to cater to the ever expanding mod army, while other mod events flourished across the city. No longer an underground scene, the mod phenomenon soon stretched the breadth of California to exceed in numbers any other mod scene in America before or since.

Much like the fate of the ON Klub, though, the scene in L.A. eventually began to crumble under its own weight; many who were on hand from its earliest days either moved on or, fed up with the scene’s immense popularity, simply stayed away. The Untouchables signed a record deal, released several albums, and toured the U.S., Europe, and Asia. Other bands that have roots in the L.A. mod scene include Fishbone (who were under-age regulars at the ON when the Untouchables played there) and No Doubt; both are racially diverse bands.

Common among youth cultures is the inevitable surrender of some level of personal identity in order to conform with a given culture, be it punk, mod, jocks, Sharks, Jets, or whatever the flavor of the month. One manifestation of that surrender typically is the adoption of a style (or anti-style) that identifies one as a member of that class; bandanas, pocket-protectors, mohawks, parkas, and pompadours all come to mind.

Like punk and all others, mod had its uniform, too. But an important difference to potential newcomers then to the mod scene at the ON Klub was not so much what the uniform looked liked, but rather who was wearing it. And in this case, several years before the rise of the Rainbow Coalition and at least a decade before diversity became a cultural buzzword, in a little dive well off the Sunset Strip, the mod uniform was draped on the twin shoulders of tolerance and acceptance.

Special thanks to Kevin Long for giving his permission for me to post his essay and to Mike Page from California Mod Scene for all the amazing pictures and flyers on his blog, many which I included with this post.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Ammonites Ride Again! - Review of their show @ The Portland Rock Bar in Hove on January 30, 2009

Well it only took 30 years, but Brighton's finest 2-Tone era ska band The Ammonites reunited for a night of music this past January 30th at the Portland Rock Bar in Hove. Short of being able to attend the show in person, it was very satisfying for me personally to hear the show was a success and that the band had a great turnout and played two full sets of their own songs mixed in with covers that they also used to perform.

The Punk Brighton site was in attendance and recently posted a review of the show along with some great pictures of the band performing that I have posted as well. Here is the review posted on the site: What a night, what a band, what a belter. Reformed for the evening after a 30 year lay off, the Ammonites took the Portland by storm and man, the joint was jumpin'. It was great to see lots of old faces, survivors! The atmosphere was good before the band even took to the stage. Once up there they ripped through their bouncy repertoire of ska, bluebeat and reggae like they'd never been away. This is one tight outfit. There was a nice meshing of the two guitars, punctuated by some fine sax playing while Thesius on drums and Mike on bass pumped it up and drove the rhythm, Stefan was free to sing his heart out. The crowd lapped it up, it was a great all-round performance. I hope this incarnation of the band will stay together and do some more gigs like this one. They deserve to be heard.

The reunited band included original members Stefan Tylunas on vocals, Nick Stewart on guitar, Steve Kelly on sax and the other original guitarist Mike Roberts who moved over to bass. They were supported by Thesiuos Gerrard on drums and a fello named Matt on guitar.

I received an e-mail from Stefan Tylunas who shared his impressions of the evening as well as the set-list. "Thought I would drop you a line to let you know how the gig went on Friday. Well, we had a fairly full house,which was a good mixture of friends and punters, which produced a good feel within the 'pub', short of a party. We played two sets, finally finishing around midnight. The place was really jumping at times Fatty Fatty, Tighten Up, Move ya Mule and Reggae in Ya Jeggae, really feeding the dancing, with people bouncing off each other in a frenetic punkish, friendly way. It was great to see so many people on the dance floor having fun and was very reminiscent of our 'glory days'. Although we could possibly had benefited from some more 'full band rehearsals', people were having a great time and we kept it together."

The set list was as follows:

1st set:
Greedy Girl
Fatty Fatty
Tighten Up
Johnny Too Bad
Crossing Lines
Hong Kong Flu
Move Ya Mule
Mix It Up
Where's the Action

2nd set:
Reggae in Ya Jeggae
Rude Boy Ska
Indian Tiger
Secret Lives
Everything Crash
Blue Lagoon
Dressed to Kill
Big Eaters
Fatty Fatty
Tighten Up
Pressure Drop

You can visit this older post featuring an interview with Tylunas to download a rehearsal tape that they recorded in 1980 that features most of the songs they performed. The band has produced a CD for the occasion, including sleeve with some pic's and some badges and Tylunas said he would send me a copy. If I get permission from him I will post some of the songs here on the blog at a later date.

Finally, here are a few more pictures of the band's performance. Here's to hoping they don't wait another 30 years to perform again.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Special Beat Kick Off 2-Tone Frenzy In Early 1990's America

While anticipation builds for The Specials 30th reunion, its worth looking back at previous 'reunions' of members of various 2-Tone bands since the demise of the label. The first reunion/collaboration of real merit dubbed Special Beat, occurred in 1990. Constructed from the ashes of The Specials and The Beat the band was headed by Beat toaster, Ranking Roger and the core of The Specials including Neville Staple, Lynval Golding John Bradbury and Horace Panter as well as Finny from The Loafers who played the role of Terry Hall. This original version of the band toured the U.S. extensively in 1990 and 1991 and produced two live albums. Indeed, Special Beat can be credited with helping to nudge the U.S. into its own full-blown 2-Tone delirium in the 1990's.

Below are two video segments of the band. The first features a studio performance of 'Ranking Full Stop' interspersed with interviews of Ranking Roger, Neville and Finny about the genesis of the band and the second includes interview footage with Ranking Roger, Neville, Finny, John Bradbury and Horace Panter. Of note is footage of the band recording 'Rainy Days' which ultimately ended up on the third and final General Public album "Rub It Better" released in 1995

While all the 2-Tone bands toured the U.S. during the height of their popularity in the late 70's and early 80's, most had split up or called it quits just as they were beginning to make inroads (read Horace Panter's book "Ska'd For Life" for some great stories of The Special's U.S. tours). But those early tours had an effect and impact by spawning legions of young musicians around the U.S. to start their own bands and scenes. Though it took the U.S. a bit longer to have its own love affair with 2-Tone and ska, by the mid to late 80's, there were ska bands and thriving ska scenes in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Chicago and Los Angeles. Ironically, members of Special Beat, who had helped to set the stage for a revival of ska in the U.S., returned as conquering heroes playing sold out shows across the country. For most, the Special Beat tour of 1990-91 was the first time many of them had heard songs by The Beat and The Specials performed live.

Below is a segment on Special Beat from the UK music television program 'Rapido' which reported from their first show in New York in December 1990 about the impact the band's tour was having on fanning the flames of ska frenzy in the U.S. Rapido was a BBC2 television show which ran from 1988 to 1992 in over 14 countries and was presented by Antoine de Caunes. The show featured reports from up and coming new bands linked together with footage of Antoine standing in front of a large Rapido sign on a white background. Aside from its coverage of a variety of popular bands and musical acts of the time, it was notable for the immaculately dressed presenter, who brought with him a flirtatious Gallic charm, a flip, slightly smug sense of humor and an appropriately rapid delivery - in an accent so excessively French that many viewers simply refused to believe that he really was French.

Of special note in the clip above is the inclusion of my band Bigger Thomas. We were the support act (along with The Toasters) for the New York show and we were included in the 'Rapido' segment about the band's triumphant U.S. return. Indeed, yours truly is interviewed along with my bandmate Roger Apollon, the singer for Bigger Thomas, about why ska has finally exploded in the U.S. There is also a bit of footage of my band performing (I can't believe how young Roger and I look in the interview!) The show at The Ritz in New York was the highpoint of our relatively young career at the time and it was one of the largest audiences we had ever played for. The show helped to expand our name recognition in and outside of New York and when we opened another show for Special Beat later in 1991, Horace Panter walked right up to me and complimented me on my interview in the Rapido segment. To this day, that remains one of my most prized memories of playing in the band.

Interestingly, Special Beat have risen again and will tour Australia in April of this year right before The Specials reunion tour of the UK. The band will feature Neville, Ranking Roger and special guest Pauline Black from The Selecter.

Dates for the Aussie tour are:

April 12, 2009 - Brisbane, The Step Inn
April 13, 2009 - Byron Bay, East Coast Blues and Roots Festival
April 16, 2009 - Sydney, The Forum
April 17, 2009 - Melbourne, Prince Of Wales
April 18, 2009 - Perth, West Coast Blues and Roots Festival

Below is a download of "Special Beat Live" featuring live performances of the best of The Specials and The Beat. This set is also the one the band performed at The Ritz in 1990. I still have the set list as a treasured souvenir.

Track list:
1. Concrete Jungle
2. Monkey Man
3. Tears Of A Clown
4. Rough Rider
5. Too Much Too Young
6. Spar Wid Me
7. Rat Race
8. Too Nice To Talk To
9. Get A Job
10. Nite Klub
11. Gangsters
12. Ranking Full Stop
13. Mirror In The Bathroom
14. Enjoy Yourself

Special Beat - Live