As a young suburban New Jersey ska aficionado in the early to mid 1980's, I had an ongoing love affair with a big ugly hulk of a building in a blighted area of Trenton, New Jersey known as City Gardens. What I loved most about City Gardens was the number of ska shows the club's promoter Randy Now booked. He was clearly a fan of the genre and he went out of his way to bring in local and regional bands from NYC and Philly. It was always easier to wait and see these bands when they came to Trenton then to trek into CBGB's or The Ritz in New York City and it made me love the club even more that they came to us in New Jersey.
My love and passion for ska led me to start my band in New Brunswick, New Jersey while I was a student at Rutgers University. In fact, it was a chance meeting that the band's singer Roger Apollon and I had with Steve Meicke (our original sax player) at a Ranking Roger show at City Gardens in August 1988 that took our band (then known as Panic!) from the planning stages to reality. Somehow Randy Now heard about our little ska band making some noise in New Brunswick and New York in the fall of 1988 and spring of 1989 and he offered us an show opening for Boston's Bim Skala Bim in March 1989. We must have made an impression because he kept on booking us for the next 2 1/2 years until the original band split after a bittersweet gig opening for our musical heroes The Special Beat in September 1991.
I recently liberated and digitized video of a show the original band played on September 29, 1989 at City Gardens. Known at the time as Panic! (we later changed our name to Bigger Thomas), we had been together about a year at the time of this show. The band line-up included Roger Apollon on vocals, Steve Parker on guitar, Jim Cooper on drums, Sean Moore on trumpet, Kevin Shields on trumpet, Steve Meicke on saxophone and yours truly (with a ridiculous amount of curly hair and 80's eye glasses) on bass.
Randy Now, had taken us under his wing and tapped us as the openers for reggae legend Yellowman. There was a sizable crowd at the show (a mix of punks, dreads, mods, rockers, hippies and skinheads) and we took full advantage of the opportunity to bring our 2-Tone inspired mix of ska, reggae, punk and calypso to the diverse audience who warmed to us as our set went along. We definitely worked up a head of steam as we went along and this footage includes the last 3 songs we played that night including 'Telling Time', 'Chaos' and 'I'm Not Waiting' which all featured on our first self-titled album that we would record in early 1990. I think its fair to say that this show was the turning point for us and as we built a crowd at City Gardens, we also started to play more shows at clubs outside the area. Though we played more and more shows outside New Jersey and New York, we were always happy to come back to City Gardens which we considered our home away from home.
Last year I was interviewed about the ska scene at the club for a book that is being written about City Gardens. 'No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes: How City Gardens Defined An Era' by Amy Yates Wuelfing and Steven DiLodovico which will chronicle the club's key role in alternative music history. An excerpt from my interview that will appear in the book was published in the Charlotte Indie Music Examiner. The book will be available for sale shortly. In the meantime I hope to convert the entire show from 9/29/89 to video and will make it available here and on YouTube for viewing.