Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Reunion Planned To Celebrate 25th Anniversary of 80's American Ska Classic N.Y. Beat!: Hit & Run - April 10, 2010

I'm excited to announce a reunion to celebrate the release of the iconic ska compilation N.Y. Beat!: Hit & Run is confirmed for Saturday April 10, 2010 at 8 P.M. at the Dusk Lounge in New York City (owned by A-Kings/Thick As Thieves bass player Sid Reitzfeld). Members from almost all of the 13 bands featured on the album are expected to attend, and fans, family and friends are all welcome to join the festivities. The night will feature Steve Shafer (The Duff Guide To Ska) spinning all three waves of ska, reggae and rocksteady, lots of old pictures from back in the day and giveaways. It will be historical!

The reunion came about as a result of profiles and interviews I posted over the last year about bands and musicians who were part of the 1980's NYC ska scene. As I met and spoke with more and more musicians who played in the bands featured on the N.Y. Beat! compilation, they were excited about the idea of coming together to celebrate the social and musical movement they collectively created.

The Beat Brigade reunion at the Knitting Factory this past fall was the catalyst that really set the reunion wheels in motion. I got to know the members of the band and I also met Sid Reitzfeld (A-Kings) at that show and after speaking with him about the idea, he graciously offered his bar as the location for the reunion. The final piece of the the puzzle has been meeting Steve Shafer who writes the great blog, The Duff Guide To Ska (which is also based in New York City). Shafer worked at Moon Records for nearly 10 years during the late 80's and 90's and has a unique insider perspective on the growth of the NYC ska scene and the resulting 3rd wave ska explosion in the 1990's. He also shares my passionate devotion to ska music and the NYC ska scene. We are working together to get the word out through our blogs and hope to work together on more ska-based events.

As background, 'NY Beat: Hit and Run' was the very first compilation of U.S. ska ever. Released by Moon Records in 1985-86, it captures a snapshot in time of a vibrant New York ska scene that was notable for its musicianship but also its cultural diversity and its relative youth (average age 17-20 years old). While the music on the record is more influenced by the British 2-Tone movement than the later bands that would drive the third-wave revival, its a diverse mix of ska, reggae, pop, punk, funk, rock and soul. Artists include A-Kings, Beat Brigade, The Boilers, City Beat, Cryin' Out Loud, The Daybreakers, Floorkiss, The Press, The Scene, Second Step, The Toasters and Urban Blight. Amazingly, many of the musicians who started and played in these bands are still actively playing and performing.

The original issue of the comp was celebrated with a big show at Danceteria in 1986 featuring all the major bands who were part of the NYC ska scene at the time. In many ways it was the high point for the NYC ska scene which really exploded both in the New York City area and outside the northeast, particularly in California. I was at the launch party show, and it inspired me to pick up the bass guitar and start my own ska band Bigger Thomas.

There is a NY Beat! Facebook page dedicated to the reunion and it has quickly gained fans and become a way for band members and fans to reconnect. There are also tons of amazing pictures, interviews, articles, video and live shows posted on the page which speak to the power of the NYC ska scene to connect and bring together a diverse scene of musicians and fans who helped make ska the sound of New York in the 80's and early 90's. Feel free to visit the page and add your own two cents, upload a picture or share a memory.

If you happen to be in New York City on April 10th, please come by Dusk Lounge.  In the meantime, please feel free to contact me with any questions.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Specials confirm New York City Date - April 21st at Terminal 5

Following confirmation of am appearance at the Coachella Valley Arts & Music Festival on Friday April 16, 2010. The Specials have confirmed a show in New York City on Wednesday April 21st at Terminal 5. Tickets will go on sale Friday January 29th.

So while we all know what to expect from the band, what can be expected from the venue? Touting itself as the 'Largest Midtown Venue To Open In More Than a Decade' when it opened, Terminal 5 is the largest capacity venue for the Bowery Presents team to date (capacity 3,000). The former Latin/Hip-Hop venue Club Exit underwent a multi-million dollar renovation creating a 40,000-square-foot multilevel venue. The main floor features 40' ceilings, unobstructed sightlines and a first and second wrap-around mezzanine provide excellent views of the stage.

So what about the sound? Reviews have been mixed. It is true the sound is not great, and something that should be noted is that Bowery Presents in all of its other venue's (Webster Hall, Bowery Ballroom, Music Hall of Williamsburg and The Mercury Lounge) had chosen either EAW or Meyer Sound speaker rigs - basically the Ferrari and Porsche of pro loud speakers. For some reason a JBL system was the choice here, which is sort of the Mercedes C-Class of the group which is fine for the layman, but live sound enthusiasts will not be impressed. The club is located on the far west side of Midtown Manhattan at 610 West 56th Street between 11th and 12th Avenues which can make for long post-show avenue walks to the subway in a fairly desolate area.

I expect the entire New York City ska scene to be energized and mobilized by this show and its announcement will kick-off weeks of speculation about whether The Specials will select a local/regional ska band to play the show or will already have a support band in tow for the entire tour. I will be planning a post-show after party at a local bar in Chelsea and hope to have a few members of the band and their entourage there. More details to follow.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Specials Confirm Coachella date for April; NY and LA dates in the works!?

Despite the tight lipped approach that The Specials and their management are taking in not discussing or even acknowledging a U.S. tour this year, it would appear that plans are afoot for The Specials to take on America for the first time since 1980.  It was just announced that the band are confirmed to play the opening night at the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival on Friday April 16, 2010. The band will be joined by Echo & The Bunnymen and the reformed P.I.L. giving the festival a decidedly early 80's feel.

If the band follows the template of their 2009 UK tour, it would make sense that they would play a festival or two here in the U.S. to reach a large audience to build media and fan buzz followed by a small 10-12 date U.S. club tour as a headliner.  The delay in announcing dates may be due to negotiations with a large U.S. concert promoter and on whether or not they will headline on their own or bring on a band with a comparable draw to ensure sell-outs.

I connected with the band's guitarist Roddy 'Radiation' Byers to check in with him about a U.S. tour.  Byers towed the party line about sharing any details (which I know must be killing him!) but did share that venues keep changing for a possible U.S. tour and that there is no news about possible support acts stating 'They usually ignore my choices anyway!' Byers did give hope to fans living in New York City about a possible show here, when he said he was looking forward too doing a bit of shopping in the Big Apple, stating 'I need some more engineer boots and a new bike jacket.' 

The Specials have not been on American soil since a grueling 6-week, coast-to-coast tour launched in January 1980 (one of the colder winter's in U.S. history) all but broke the band up.  Many U.K. bands have been unprepared for the distance between U.S. cities and the amount of travel time that is required to go from the east coast of the U.S. to the west coast and everywhere in between.

While The Specials may have been ready to kill each other off stage, on stage they channeled their anger at one another into stellar live shows.  They opened a number of shows for The Police during the tour, whipping crowds up into such a frenzy that they often stole the show from the headliners.  Adding to the band's fervor had to be Jerry Dammers edict that the band not travel in a 'rock and roll' style, banning limos or stays in expensive hotels while in the U.S.  Horace Panter documented this in great detail in his memoir 'Ska'd For Life'  noting that the band's tour manager was sent ahead on some occasions to ensure the band's accommodation were not too luxurious. In fact, Jerry Dammers hated touring the U.S. so much that not even finding out that their EP "Too Much Too Young" had gone #1 in the U.K. could raise his spirits.

Here is rare footage of the band's performance at Hurrah's in New York City in January 1980:

To celebrate the band's imminent arrival back in the U.S., below is the track list and download link for The Specials performance in January 1980 at Hurrah's in New York City. The band should expect the same exuberance from American crowds and New York crowds in particular.

Track List:

01 Monkey Man
02 Rat Race
03 Blank Expression
04 Rude Boys Outta Jail
05 Too Hot
06 Doesn't Make It Alright
07 Stupid Marriage
08 Too Much Too Young
09 A Message To You Rudy
10 Gangsters

The Specials - Live @ Hurrah's

Friday, January 15, 2010

Acid Ska - A Look Back At A Late 80's U.K. Ska Phenomenon

Depending on how much of a ska purist you may or may not be, the late 80's U.K. acid ska (or skacid) phenomenon was either 1) a highly danceable ska resurgence which gave the remnants of the 2-Tone scene one last chance to shine or 2) an incredibly annoying and vapid fad that sullied ska and 2-Tone's reputation to no end (I'm in the former camp - I've always loved acid ska). Whatever your position, acid ska had its short moment in the sun in 1988 and 1989 when cheap ecstasy and rave parties were all the rage in the U.K. and house music producers saw a chance to put a twist on acid music (house music in the U.S.).

For the uninitiated, acid ska features the signature characteristics of house and techno, namely a Roland TR-909 drum machine, a Roland TB-303 bassline synth and an MC vocalist/toaster. Where acid ska was different than straight techno and house music was that it replaced the classic breakbeat sample with a ska or pitched-up reggae rhythm guitar sample. The most sophisticated of acid ska tracks had melodic horn sections in the same arrangement that a typical ska song would include them. Historically, acid ska is the predecessor to jungle, dub step and other reggae hybrids that have proliferated in the U.K. in the last 20 years.

Longsy D, a UK-based producer, is widely acknowledged as the very first acid ska artist and his track 'This Is Ska' (particularly his remix featuring Buster Bloodvessel from Bad Manners) remains the best and brightest of the batch of songs that suddenly sprouted up following its release. The name acid ska/skacid most likely originates from Longsy D's earlier release 'Mental Ska' in 1988, where the lyrics repeat the word skacid in the second verse when he raps about his new style of 'hiphop-reggae'.

Other notable acid ska tracks that were released in 1989 include Ranking Roger and Lynval Golding's collaboration 'We Play Ska' with The Children Of The Night further cementing acid ska as a short term refuge for 2-Tone era musicians looking for safe harbor for a bit while ska in the U.K. was transitioning to bands like The Loafers and Maroon Town. One of the best and most overlooked acid ska tracks is Double Trouble and the Rebel MC's 'Just Keep Rockin' which features a sample of 'I'll Take You There' by The Staple Singers and the bass intro from "Mr. Big Stuff" by Stax label artist Jean Knight which is sampled and pitched/sped up.

Below are videos of some the best know acid ska tracks including 'Mental Ska', 'We Play Ska' 'Rock To Dis' Just 'Keep on Rockin and 'Musical Scorcha'.

Here is the track listing and download link:

Longsy D - Mental Ska (The Rap)
Double Trouble & The Rebel M.C. - Just Keep Rockin' (House Mix)
Roughneck - Force Ten From Navarone
Rackit Allstar - Musical Scorcha (Kung Fu Mix)
Maroon Town - Resolution '99
Jamaica Meantime - Rock To Dis (House Mix)
Children Of The Night (feat Ranking Roger) - We Play Ska (The Trojan Horse Mix)
Longsy D (feat Buster Bloodvessel) - This Is Ska (Buster's Original Ska Mix)
Ministry Of Ska - Skanking With The Toreadors
The Rude Boys - The Rude Boy Shuffle
Flowers Ltd & BMG - The Swingin' Thing (Swing To Dis Mix)

Ska Beats 1 - Street Sound Of Freestyle Ska

Believe or not, but there has been a very minor resurgence in acid ska (I know I was incredulous when I discovered it). Nevertheless, the Swedish electronica duo REVL9N (pronounced Revlon Nine), shared a copy of their song 'Waiting For Desire' in 2008 with their favorite re-mixers, asking them to remix the song in the acid ska style. According to the band's Facebook page, some of the producers didn't know what acid ska was. To make it simpler, REVL9N attached Longsy D's "This Is Ska" as an inspiration and recommended them to play around with their original files.

According to the REVL9N, "The results were a revelation. REVL9N were hit with a set of remixes far beyond their imagination and expectations. Some of them managed to put REVL9N in a time machine – all the way back to London, 1989 – and some took a more futuristic approach. Others fused nostalgia with modern technology."

Below is the download to the nine mixes. Some include classic elements of 80's acid ska, others the barest hint. Have a listen for your self...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Jerry Dammers launches Web site for his Spatial A.K.A. Orchestra: UK Tour Dates Announced

If 2009 was the year of The Specials triumphant reunion, then 2010 (or the month of March and April anyway) may will be the year of Jerry Dammers' Spatial A.K.A. Orchestra. The band has just launched a new, one-page Web site that lists all 18 band members and dates for an 11 date tour of the U.K. which is notable for not including a date in London.

The Web site also includes videos of four songs the orchestra performs including a magnificent take on a medley of 'Ghost Town' called 'Ghost Planet'. Have a look and listen below:

For the uninitiated, Dammers; orchestra is inspired by Jazz pioneer Sun-Ra's Arkestra down to the Egyptian costumes, theatrics and visuals, and a mix of ska, reggae, hip-hop, dub-step, rock and outer-spatial sounds - featuring a crew of leading jazz soloists - Larry Stabbins, Denys Baptiste, Finn Peters, Nathaniel Facey, Jason Yarde and Zoe Rahman amongst them - and the voices of Francine Luce, rap poet Anthony Joseph and dub poet Space Ape. The big band covers versions of some of Sun-Ra's songs as well as tracks by Alice Coltrane, Cedric Brooks, Moondog, The Batman Theme, and the occasional song by The Specials.

The Independent in the U.K. reviewed one of the Spatial's shows last year declaring, "Part of the justification surrounding Dammers' ban from the Specials reunion includes the fans' belief that he has sold out on his punk credentials. True, in playing a 15-minute-long free-jazz version of the Batman theme, Dammers has entirely broken the golden rule of his generation. But the simple fact that he has dared to do so is considerably more punk rock than the irrelevant nostalgia-fest the rest of The Specials will be laying on this summer. Jerry Dammers as a cosmic free-jazz progressive? How times change".

If we can't get The Specials over to the U.S. in 2010, here's to hoping Dammers' decides to give the States one more chance.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Ska Fanzines Chart The Rise Of The 80's NYC Ska Scene In The U.S. & U.K.

In this electronic age of blogs, Websites and the immediacy of Google searches in keeping up with bands and music, its almost impossible to fathom the pre-historic era of the music fanzine and its importance in promoting bands and keeping fans up-to-date and informed. The rise and subsequent explosion of ska in the U.S. in the mid and late-1980's (and to an extent its resurgence in the UK and Europe at the same time) was chronicled by an ever shifting assortment of ska fanzines that served as a lifeline to ska fans around the U.S. and U.K.

Here in New York City, the ska scene of the 80's was diligently covered by Jeff Baker (AKA King Django) who also played Trombone and sang with The Boilers (and later Skinnerbox and Stubborn All-Stars). Baker's fanzine titled 'Rude Awakening' offered fans interviews and inside information on the comings and goings of the scene. As I help to plan a reunion of NYC ska bands who appeared on the N.Y Beat!: Hit & Run compilation, the interview provides a further look inside the growth of the scene and the young bands fueling its popularity.

I recently came across a scanned copy of a 5-page interview Baker conducted with Rob 'Bucket' Hingley that appeared in Rude Awakening. The interview which appears to be from 1986-87 based on the line-up of the band mentioned, provides great historical information about the genesis of The Toasters as well as the early days of the New York ska scene from Hingley's perspective. I was interested to learn that Hingley had a ska/reggae band in the UK called I-Witness (that had a song in the charts!) before he arrived in New York in 1982 and that he was struck by how young most of the other ska bands in New York were at the time (most were 16-18 years old and still in high school).

Hingley also mentions how he came to meet Joe Jackson who later produced the first album by The Toasters under the fake name Stanley Turpentine (to avoid any problems with A&M Records) and also shares his thoughts on the rest of the ska scene including Second Step, Beat Brigade, The Boilers and A-Kings. The full interview is below. Click each page to see a larger, readable version of the interview.

The American and New York ska scenes also generated interest in the U.K. in the mid-80's. This interest was stoked by a deal that Moon Records signed with Roddy Moreno's Ska Records to distribute albums by The Toasters, The Boilers, Shot Black & White and Detroit's Gangster Fun in the U.K. A U.K.-based skazine called Skankin' USA included a detailed article about the U.S. ska scene of the 80's, focusing on U.S. bands that had albums for sale in the U.K. Though I don't have details, it's likely the article was written by someone at Ska Records. Even without a date or details, it makes for great reading and there are fantastic pictures of The Untouchables, Shot Black & White, Bimskalabim and Gangster Fun.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Jerry Dammers and Robert Wyatt Partner To Record Overlooked Political Pop Classic 'The Wind of Change' To Benefit SWAPO

Though his band had broken up and he was in debt to Chrysalis Records, Jerry Dammers was on a hot streak in 1985. Right on the heels of producing and releasing the political pop of 'Nelson Mandela' which went to the top of the U.K. pop charts and raised awareness about Mandela's continued imprisonment, he next turned his sights and attention to the situation in the country right next door to South Africa: Namibia.

With The Special AKA in disarray and 2-Tone Records on its last legs, Dammers enlisted Robert Wyatt, the former drummer of The Soft Machine, a popular solo artist in the U.K, and a outspoken political activist and paired him with the SWAPO Singers. SWAPO (South West Africa People’s Organisation) was the national liberation movement of Namibia that was then at war with the Apartheid-led regime of South Africa. The single produced and arranged by Dammers was released on Rough Trade Records and musicians on the single included a who's who of 2-Tone musicians including Lynval Golding (rhythm guitar), Dick Cuthell (cornet), Annie Whitehead (trombone) and Jerry Dammers (piano, synths and guitar).

The pairing of Dammers and Wyatt was a match made in political pop heaven. Wyatt's solo work during the early 1980s was increasingly political, and he became a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain. In 1982, his interpretation of Elvis Costello's Falklands War-inspired song "Shipbuilding", the last in a series of political cover-versions, reached number 36 in the UK singles chart.

During an interview in The Mirror from 2008, Wyatt admitted to being a fan of The Specials, "I think the last time I felt really in tune with pop music was when The Specials were around. I used to love going to see them, such an exciting band.” Dammers confessed his admiration for Wyatt, stating. "What I like about Robert is that he comes from an era that wasn’t just about money. Discovering music was the important thing. He’s kept that spirit alive.” The single and its B-side 'Namibia' were recorded on August 30th 1985 at the Power Plant and released with a video that fall in the U.K. Twenty five years later the song sounds just as catchy and danceable as 'Nelson Mandela' and it features some great musicianship like Wyatt's smooth and steady vocals, a hall of fame worthy horn line courtesy of Dick Cuthell and subtleties like the way Annie Whithead's trombone line shadows Ernest Mothle's bass line on Dammer's brilliant arrangement. Many thanks to Liam Ska for posting the song on his blog and for inspiring me to tell a bit more about the story behind the song and its impact on helping to raise awareness about SWAPO and the situation in Namibia in the mid-80's.