Sunday, November 22, 2009
NYC SKA LIVE - American 'Dance Craze' Captures The NYC Ska Scene At The Dawn Of The 90's
Its hard to believe that the excellent, but sadly overlooked NYC SKA LIVE compilation is fast approaching its 20th anniversary in 2010. The album was the brainchild of The Toasters leader and Moon Records honcho Rob 'Bucket' Hingley and conceived as the American sequel to 'Dance Craze' which chronicled 2-Tone at its peak. In fact, the show recorded at the Cat Club in New York City on March 26th, 1990 was supposed to be filmed by 'Dance Craze' director Joe Massot.
The dawn of 1990 saw the release of the Toasters third full length album 'This Gun For Hire' (and the first without co-front men Sean Dinsmore and Lionel Bernard who had left and signed a record deal as The Unity 2), and the seminal New York Citizen's 'Stranger Things Have Happened' EP. NYC SKA LIVE was to be the icing on the cake capturing all the bands -- The Toasters, The Scofflaws, The NY Citizens, Bigger Thomas, Skinnerbox, Skadanks, and The Steadys -- on the New York ska scene at that moment in time.
What I remember about the whole experience was the tremendous amount of planning that went into the filming of the show and recording of the accompanying soundtrack. My Bigger Thomas band mates and I travelled from New Jersey to attended a meeting at Moon Records HQ in the East Village in New York, where the details about the filming of the show were discussed. We were also presented with waivers and release forms as well as contracts which we signed with a certain amount of excitement, Hingley explained that he and Massot had plans to distribute the film widely around the World and that with ska breaking out in the U.S., the finished movie was expected to be exhibited at film festivals and possibly have a theatrical release. We left the meeting expecting big things.
Sadly it didn't work out as planned. Unfortunately, due to reasons that were never fully explained to us, Massot pulled out of filming the show at the last moment, despite the fact that expensive lights, special room mics and a remote sound truck to record the show had all been procured. Nevertheless, Moon Records did mix and release the 14-track album later in 1990. Though the artwork for the record and cassette tape are pretty awful, the sounds captured on the vinyl and magnetic tape still sound pretty fresh (though my one complaint is the annoying crowd sounds that were dropped in during post-production).
I have mostly fond memories about the whole experience. Though we no longer had to deal with cameras in our faces on stage, there was still a very large crowd on hand (attracted by the chance to be in a movie). As the openers for the whole show, there was added pressure to come out blazing and we did our best performing 'Moving' and 'Ska In My Pocket', except our original guitar player Steve Parker had all sorts of technical problems with his amp and effects pedal during the recording. This required us to play the song 'Moving' twice. The technical problems continued during the second take, requiring Bucket to cut off the whole intro to the song from the actual finished recording. While we were disappointed that Joe Massot bailed, we were still excited as the new kids on the block (we had been together a mere 18 months at this point) to be included on the record (see picture above courtesy of Paul Gil of The New York Citizens: From left to right on stage Steve Parker (guitar), Roger Apollon (vocals), Jim Cooper (drums), Kevin Shields (trumpet), yours truly (bass).
Five years on from the release of the N.Y. Beat:Hit & Run compilation which captured the sound of mid-80's New York City ska, NYC SKA LIVE documents the evolution of the New York 80's ska scene 2-Tone sound to a post-2-Tone take with more of an emphasis on roots reggae, rocksteady and dancehall reggae. The Toasters and The New York Citizens remain holdovers from the mid-80's, but newer bands including my own, King Django's post-Boilers band Skinnerbox, The Steadys (who may be the best sounding band on the comp), Skadanks and Long Island's Scofflaws all offer their unique takes on American ska at the start of the 1990's.
Sadly NYC SKA LIVE remains out-of-print (though I just saw a copy of the record for sale on Ebay for $35)and it is very unlikely it will ever be re-issued. Apparently Megalith Records (the successor to Moon Records) has audio of the whole show, though all the band's who participated would have to give permission for it to be re-released, and that is highly unlikely.
Below is the track listing:
NYC Ska Craze Intro
Bigger Thomas - Moving
Bigger Thomas - Ska In My Pocket
Skadanks - Dancehall
Skadanks - Just Ska
The Steadys - Just Reflections
The Steadys - All You Can Stand
Skinnerbox - Promise
Skinnerbox - Move Like You Gone
The Scofflaws - Going Back To Kingston
The Scofflaws, - Aliskaba
NY Citizens - National Front
The Toasters - Don't Say Forever
NYC Ska Allstars - Matt Davis