Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Birth of the NYC Ska Scene: Interview with Sean 'Cavo' Dinsmore of The Toasters & Unity 2

I regularly attended NYC ska shows held at CBGB's, the Cat Club and The Continental in 1987-1988 and that time period is owned by The Toasters, who were just about to rocket out of the New York scene to begin touring and preaching the gospel of ska around the U.S.. The Toasters line-up during that time period was among the very best the band ever had and the band's musicianship and stellar showmanship had everything to do with their growing success. The NYC Ska scene of the mid-80's had energy and style in spades (see Second Step, Urban Blight and Beat Brigade) but it was two particular individuals -- Sean 'Cavo' Dinsmore and Lionel 'Nene' Bernard -- better known as the Unity 2, who may have embodied the look and sound of the 80's NYC ska scene the best.

Its one thing for me to write about seeing The Toasters in the mid-80's and another for you to experience it for yourself. Below are two very rare live video clips from The Toasters performing 'Little Hidden Secrets' and 'Pool Shark' at the Cat Club in New York City in 1986. The band had been gigging together 3 years at this point but was in transition. The original core of the band that Rob Hingley had recruited from the Forbidden Planet comic book store was still in place, but the addition of the Unity 2 as additional vocalists had taken the band to a whole new level and their live shows rivaled any band performing at the time. Interestingly, this show features the original bassist Vicky Rose as a vocalist and may have been her last show with the band.

While Dinsmore and Bernard brought a stage look and showmanship to the live performance, they also added a new dimension to The Toasters evolving sound. Indeed, when the band's album 'Skaboom' first hit the racks back in 1987, it (along with Fishbone and The Untouchables in L.A.) signaled the dawning of a new era for American ska. The album features the high energy writing and singing of band founder Rob 'Bucket' Hingley, well supported by the Unity Two (particularly on 'ABC's'), who's stage antics were being worked into the lead on new songs in the studio. The songs feature guitar and keyboard driven skank accompanied by a delightfully raw horn section. Each track paints an atmospheric picture of life in mid-eighties NYC, hanging out in the East Village shootin' pool with the sharks at Blanche's and playing gigs at CBGBs.

However, the 'Thrill Me Up' album may be The Toasters at their peak capturing the full contributions of the Unity 2. Vocals and songwriting on this album were split between Hingley and Dinsmore (who holds his own as a lead vocalist) with Bernard taking lead turns on 'Haitian Frustration' and 'Johnny Goes Ska'. The album is filled with Toasters classics like 'Decision at Midnight', 'Go Girl', and the title cut, not to mention fiery instrumental 'Frankenska' which used to open all their live shows.

The strength of The Toasters live show was being fueled more and more by the Unity 2 and the popularity of 'Thrill Me Up' led to a higher profile for Dinsmore and Bernard who placed a song called 'Shirlee' on a compilation album of reggae/hip-hop called 'The Funky Reggae Crew' while still with the band. The song became popular quickly and Unity 2 split The Toasters to sign their own deal with Warner Brothers Records in 1989-90. Their first album 'What Is It, Yo?' placed them squarely in the hip hop/reggae scene of the early 90's and the duo put together a band of New York ska and reggae musicians and were off and running. My band Bigger Thomas opened a show for Unity 2 and De La Soul at City Gardens in Trenton, NJ in the early 90's (another inspired pairing by club promoter Randy Now). I remember a close to sell-out crowd turning out to welcome them. They had a great live sound that successfully incorporated a DJ.

Dinsmore and I both attended the same high school in New Jersey (a few years apart), and it has spawned an unusual number of musicians and bands (e.g., Spin Doctors, Blues Travelers). I was able to reach him in Shanghai, China were he now lives and works as a producer and DJ. He was kind enough to take time to share his memories of the New York ska scene and The Toasters, Unity 2 that has lead to regular work as a leading producer and DJ with the Dum Dum Project.


You grew up in Princeton, NJ like me right? Princeton High School seemed to be the source for a lot of future musicians (The Spin Doctors, Blues Travelers, etc.).
Yes, I went to PHS. Don’t forget guys like Andrew Weiss and Sim Caine from Henry Rollins Band, or Adam and Charlie Roth who played with Jim Carroll, Del Fuegos, etc. Chris Harford was on Elektra…the place was a hotbed of creativity! (Dinsmore's Princeton High School yearbook photo is below. I wisely did not include mine).

When did you first get into music? Do you remember the first record you ever bought? Who introduced you to ska and reggae?
Always was into music, my mother sang opera. I declined piano lessons (much to her dismay) in favor of sports, but made her happy by joining the glee club and choir, so I became a singer. First record I ever bought with my own money was the Apple 45 ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’ the b-side to ‘Old Brown Shoe’ by The Beatles. First time I heard reggae I was hooked…I was getting high in my bedroom with my next door neighbor and he told me it was Bob Marley and The Wailers and that they believed in ganja. The next day I stole two Wailers albums – ‘Catch A Fire’ and ‘Babylon By Bus’

When did you discover that you could sing/chat?
I used to get up with my friends’ bands cause I could mimic lots of stuff, like Desmond Dekker and Prince Buster. I didn’t do it for myself until I jumped up with The Toasters at Danceteria in ’84 (Joe Jackson on sax was the hook). I joined the band after that, and brought Lionel Bernard in for the next one.

What brought you to New York City in the early 80's?
I lived in New York City when I was younger, and had an apartment on the Upper West Side all through high school, so I was always in the city going to shows and hanging out – it was a natural progression. Finally I started going to CUNY (City University of New York) in 1982.

Tell me about how you and Lionel Bernard met and started the Unity 2. Were you doing your own thing before you joined The Toasters?
Well before CUNY I was kicked out of a small college in Ohio. I was there in 1981 and one of my friends went to Kenyon College down the road, and was friends with Lionel there – so we met and we were all into ska and reggae. Lionel and I both knew we weren’t going back there, so we joined forces back in New York in summer of 1982 and started up our St. Mark’s Place Rude Boy Crew…haha. It was a blast. We hung out in front of the Holiday Cocktail Lounge and then ended up at Mudd Club almost nightly – because the DJ’s there would spin ska for us late night. Constant was there too. We always talked about starting a band, but were too into partying and having fun until I met Bucket (Rob Hingley) and jumped on stage with The Toasters, which of course was also just about partying and having fun.

How did you meet Rob Hingley and when was your first show with The Toasters?
I met Buck (who Lionel and I named by the way…because he used to carry a loaded .38 pistol in the back of his jeans – his ‘bucket kicker’) in Blanche’s on Avenue A. We got along instantly. He had a good job and always had beer money, plus he knew Joe Jackson. I was greatly impressed by this.

The addition of Unity 2 to The Toasters took the band to a whole new level. The energy of the live show was amazing and the diversity of vocalists and musical styles really made The Toasters the premiere U.S. band of the time. How easy was it for you and Lionel to be integrated into the band?
I was much less impressed by The Toasters the first time I went to see them at CBGB’s in 1984. They didn’t look like a ska band at all. Buck was kind of ska-billy, which was something Roddy Radiation from The Specials was also trying to do then, but the rest of the band looked like thrift shop manic panic types. When Lionel and I joined we started really pushing the ska look and feel. The second or third gig we ever did I invited the Urban Blight horns to join us cause they were my favorite band and also our boys, and it was a total transformation – Buck could see we needed a horn section. Then it just took off. I also started writing songs and singing more around then, so I would write in vocal parts for us as Unity 2.

What was the New York ska scene of the mid-80's like? I always got the impression that it was a very tight knit scene.
Very tight, very small…but really started growing around 1985-86 (See picture of Dinsmore with Remi Sammy from Second Step above) . I remember going to see The Untouchables at Irving Plaza around that time and going backstage to meet them and they had heard of us! I was shocked. But all the local bands, like Second Step, NY Citizens, etc. were always playing on bills together, so we all hung out and partied together too. Around 1986 The Toasters started touring incessantly, mostly clubs and colleges up and down the east coast.

Can you share any unusual stories about any live shows that were particularly memorable?
Buck will kill me, but once we were playing in Chicago in a big union hall for like a thousand kids and he used to do this kind of Chuck Berry duck walk thing sometimes, squatting down and hopping on one foot while playing his guitar. Anyway he had on some very tight black jeans, and the whole ass seam broke open, exposing his royal highness to the crowd. I was right behind him and cracking up. He got up and was also laughing while trying to keep playing…he spent the rest of the show facing the audience.

Another memory that always stands out was the first time we played in Los Angeles. For most of us, we had never been to the west coast before (1987) and we were headlining an all ages show at the Receeda Country Club in the Valley. We had no idea what to expect, but when the bus pulled up to the venue at around Noon we saw our name in huge letters on the marquee and a line of at least 100 kitted out scooters in front of the club. We were like ‘whoa’, because nobody in New York had a Vespa, cause it would get banged up or stolen. That was so impressive.

Tell me about recording 'Ska Boom' and 'Thrill Me Up' with The Toasters. You helped to write many of the songs on both albums. What was it like working with the legendary Joe Jackson who produced?
By the time we were ready to release ‘Skaboom’ I was starting to write songs. I was always coming to Buck with song ideas, horn lines, funny concepts that would work live. Usually it was ‘Unity 2’ based, but he was always cool about that. We had signed with Celluloid Records and it was time to make an album, so we just used the songs we had in the live set for ‘Skaboom’. We did it all ourselves in a little 16 track studio in Chelsea.

By the time we got around to ‘Thrill Me Up’ I was writing a lot, as you can see by one of my songs being the album title. We had matured a lot as a band and were touring constantly, so we were tight. We recorded the basic tracks at a studio in Bedford Stuyvesant called Charlie’s Calypso City, which was always funny when we piled out of the van, a bunch of 2-tone, East Village Rudies in the middle of Bed Stuy. Then Buck brought Joe Jackson in to mix it in a proper 24 track studio in Manhattan. It was a clear step up! I remember as we were listening to the soul song ‘Keep On Going’ for the first time, and Joe looked at me and Buck and said ‘Do you really want the bass to sound like that?’ we both said ‘no!’ like, ‘make it anyway you want Mr. Jackson sir!’

Why did you and Lionel leave The Toasters? The Toasters seemed to have tremendous potential with the two of you.
The short version is we were growing apart creatively. We didn’t want to be in a ‘ska band’ anymore…you can see it from what we were writing: ‘ABC’s’ had rapping, ‘Keep On Going’ was a soul stomper, ‘Haitian Frustration’ was almost dancehall, and ‘Don’t Blame Me’ was reggae calypso. I had already written the track ‘Shirlee’ for the funky reggae crew compilation as ‘Unity 2’ so we were ready to bust a move. Also we had been touring non-stop for 4 years and were tired of always being in this ‘ska band’ fishbowl. I used to talk to the Fishbone guys about this, and they felt the same way – it was very constricting musically.

How would you describe the Unity 2 sound you and Lionel were aiming for after you left The Toasters?
Reggae hip hop, but it never ended there…we had all these other influences that came out too. We definitely produced the record more like a full band record and not a hip hop record.

Tell me about recording the 'What Is It, Yo' LP? The single 'Shirlee' was originally part of a Toasters song right? What was it like to work with Keene Carse from Urban Blight who produced the record?
No, ‘Shirlee’ was something I wrote for the ‘Funky Reggae Crew’ compilation for wb. But we used to try out some of the lyrics live at Toasters shows in the freestyle sections. Recording it was a blast…we just got a bunch of money from Warner Brothers and made a record with our friends, Keene Carse from Urban Blight and Sydney Mills from Boogie Down Productions, plus the Urban Blight guys, and lots of people hanging out in the studio like KRS-One, Shelly Thunder and Frankie Paul. It was like a month-long party. Keene is a great musician and had lots of great ideas, and we tried to explore them all. Sydney is Jamaican, and he really transformed our remake of ‘ABC’s’

Is it true that the actor Matt Dillon directed the video for 'Shirlee'? What was it like to work with him? Was he a fan?
Matt used to introduce The Toasters at live shows sometimes, and Lionel and I became good friends with him. The funny thing is that when he suggested directing the ‘Shirlee’ video we were initially hesitant because we wanted someone with a music video resume, he had never done one before. When Benny Medina (our A&R guy at Warner Brothers) heard about it he told us we were crazy and so we said yes to Matt. In the end Matt did a great job, along with Drew Carolan who was another of our downtown homies.

How and why did Unity 2 end?
Again you can say creative differences. Our second Warner Brothers album was all over the place…we recorded with Lamont Dozier (of Motown fame), Bobby Konders, Freddy Bastone, Skatemaster Tate, David Kennedy…and it was kind of a mess. Finally Warner Brothers was through spending money on it and suggested we release a single first, but everyone knew there was no album to follow it with yet. I wanted to move to Los Angeles and try acting, so we said no to Warner Brothers and just broke up. I did move to L.A. for six months but never became an actor, ha ha!

What have you been doing musically since the end of Unity 2?
A lot. After Unity 2 split I produced Sha Liv for Blunt Recordings, worked with other alternative hip hop guys like 1000 Clowns and Mickey P in LA. Then started my own group Supercuz back in NY, which was very loopy and psychedelic stuff with a sitar in the band. Then I went to India and came back to make Indian/Bollywood sample albums under the name of Dum Dum Project. All the while I was DJ’ing, and finally I moved to London in 2001 to tour around with the Asian Underground DJs and make more DDP albums. We had a big hit on the Asian scene there in 2003 with a track called ‘Punjabi Five-0’ that was on tons of compilations and even a Bollywood film. After touring in Asia and living in Bombay for a while, I finally settled in Bangkok for 3 years, and now am in Shanghai for the last 4 years. I’m still remixing and producing. In 2009 I produced an album for MC Yogi which has been on the iTunes world charts for over a year. We are recording some new DDP material as we speak…it never ends. It will end when I stop having ideas I guess.

What are your lasting memories of performing with The Toasters and the NYC ska scene of the 80's?
Too many! So many great times and laughs. For Lionel and me it was always about humor and having fun – The Toasters too. We were never ones to take ourselves too seriously. Certainly I remember headlining The Ritz after we got back from our last Toasters tour, and it was sold out. We had played there the year before for two big shows with Fishbone and Murphy’s Law (maybe the best shows we ever did) but now it was our house…that was an incredible feeling. Ironically I think that was our last gig with The Toasters.

You can read more about Dinsmore and the Dum Dum Project on their MySpace page.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

New York Ska Festival = The Blueprint For A New American-styled 2-Tone?

What a week for ska its been in the Big Apple! First, two sold out shows by The Specials in New York City created an energy and buzz about ska music that I have not felt in many years. The shows brought out a mix of old and new fans who seemed energized, revitalized and renewed by the music. There were slews of pre-show gatherings and after show parties and in between them all the people I talked to seemed genuinely excited about having seen The Specials live again. There was even some talk that The Specials reunion (and an album of new material?) could be a good thing across the board for ska in the U.S.

The Specials shows mid-week were a wonderful lead in for an interesting musical experiment -- the New York Ska Festival -- that took place at B.B. King's in Times Square in New York City on Friday night. It came the same day that Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed a bill into law making failure to carry proof of citizenship or legal status a crime (essentially giving the Police free reign to stop Hispanic looking people to check them for their citizenship status). As such, the show saw the first real coming together of the Anglo and Latino ska scenes in New York City. Something which would have seemed to be a no brainer, but which in fact has occurred less than you would think. While New York City is no Arizona, the Anglo and Latino ska scenes remain quite separate. As my fellow blogger Steve Shafer from Duff Guide To Ska pointed out in his recent post that reviewed the show 'For all the talk and singing--and I believe all of it to be very sincere--about racial unity at so many of the shows I've seen over the years, the New York Ska Festival audience actually embodied it! The crowd was fully integrated, the vibe was great, everyone had a blast, and bands from both ska scenes now have a slew of new fans they probably wouldn't have had without this show.'

The fact is that this may have been the first show where I saw a packed dance floor that actually featured a real mosaic of black, White, Asian and Latino ska fans dancing and moving to all eight bands on the bill regardless of the language they were singing in. It occurred to me that the dawning of a new anti-immigrant political reality in Arizona (and other border states) could be a clarion call for the beginnings of a new American-styled 2-Tone, (or 3-Tone - black, white and brown!) musical and political response, that is bi-lingual, but built on bringing together the rich musical variety of ska in all its forms. One of the amazing qualities of ska is its mutability. It has easily incorporated a variety of musical styles over time, including Latin music. As someone said to me backstage on Friday night, "Ska is ska. It really doesn't matter what language the singer is singing". How true.

Interestingly, The Specials influence could be felt throughout the whole show (musical, political and fashion-wise) and my band Bigger Thomas had the pleasure of welcoming Drew Stansall (sax) and Nikolaj Torp (keyboards) from The Specials (see the picture above of them with us). I had met them at the Dusk Lounge after parties earlier in the week and they were interested in seeing the New York ska scene in action. They sat in on two songs with my band (see the videos below of Nite Klub and Monkey Man) and their appearance sort of blessed the night, giving the show an inspirational feel. Both Drew and Nik are very friendly and approachable and they spent most of the night speaking to fans at the bar and backstage.

The show was not only cross cultural but cross generational, featuring the reunion of some N.Y. Beat era bands (Beat Brigade featuring Remi from Second Step, Floor Kiss) as well as the return of King Chango (see the video below), who have carried the banner of Latin ska for some time in the U.S. and South America. Their return could be well timed based on what I saw on Friday night and their re-imagining of 'Venezuelan In New York' by Sting and the challenges faced by immigrants is more current than ever. Here's to hoping this is the first of many shows here in New York and around the U.S. Keep your eyes open for more shows this summer!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Reflections on The Specials in New York

It took nearly 30 years, but it was well worth the wait. That seemed to be the prevailing sentiment of most everyone I spoke with who saw The Specials perform at Terminal 5 in New York City the last 2 days. The show had a magnetic effect on drawing anyone and everyone who has been a part of the New York Ska scene over the last 25 years as well as large contingent of young fans who had not even been born by the time the band had broken up in 1981. There was a real buzz and excitement throughout the crowd and the energy never let up for the nearly 90 minutes the band played. The feeling must have been mutual as the band played a second encore featuring 'Long Shot Kick The Bucket.'

I won't bore you with a show review (you can find good one's here and here) but I was struck by the pure energy of the band which still rotates around the fixed pole of Terry Hall who was in rare form last night. Despite his recent profession of good cheer, Hall seemed to revert to his moody nature shouting down an unruly fan with a tirade of expletives and then hurling a mic stand in anger across the stage. Later, after water spilled in front of his mic stand, he stopped the band in the middle of a wonderful version of 'You're Wondering Now' to take his shoes and socks off. After padding around the stage in his bare feet he watched in dismay as Neville Staple deposited the socks into the audience! Whether is was genuine behavior or theatre, it didn't matter as it added to overall experience of the show. I was also amazed by guitarist Roddy 'Radiation' Byers rock god moves and searing leads and Lynval Golding's energetic runs across the stage. Later, I had the pleasure of meeting keyboardist Nik Torp (who ably fills the big shoes of Jerry Dammers) and saxophonist Drew Stansell who both made appearances at the This Art-2-Tone after parties at Dusk Lounge.

The bands stay in the city created a media buzz and bassist Horace Panter and drummer John Bradbury were interviewed live on WNYC-FM (the public radio station here in New York City). They had an entertaining chat with host John Schaefer about the history of ska and the band's reunion on the music-focused program Soundcheck. You can listen to the interview here.

I can't wait for August 22nd at Central Park Summerstage.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

New York Loves The Specials!: First Show Since 1981 Is A Scorcher

While I was not at the show last night at Terminal 5 (I was tending to the details for the after party at Dusk Lounge), old and new fans alike related to me that the band were incredible. Its hard to describe the emotions people are feeling after waiting so long to see the band, but to a person everyone describes an undeniable energy and musicianship that is unsurpassed.

I think the band has some love for New York as well. Apparently Neville Staple was right inside the front door of Terminal 5 signing autographs and taking pictures with fans. Terry Hall felt comfortable enough to leave the stage during 'Nite Klub' to 'use the loo' letting the band vamp on the bluesy intro until he returned from doing his business. Finally, the horn section was said to have enjoyed a libation or two on their day off in the city on Monday.

And they do it again tonight!

Monday, April 19, 2010

This Art 2-Tone After Party Events in New York City A Go Despite Volcanic Ash

Despite the cancellation of tonight's show in Toronto, I have heard it from good sources close to the band that all systems are go for The Specials two shows in New York at Terminal 5 tomorrow and Wednesday. Tickets are still available for Tuesday's show.

We are still hosting 'This ART 2-Tone' after parties at Dusk Lounge in Chelsea following the shows each night in New York. Though the art work has been delayed at Heathrow Airport in London since last week because of ash from the Icelandic volcano, it could arrive in time for Wednesday night's after party if U.K. airspace opens. If it arrives in time, the art exhibit will showcase iconic album covers, newspaper and magazine ads, posters and other media that were designed by Chrysalis Records graphic artist John "Teflon" Sims when he worked with 2 Tone Records. Full-size prints of several of his original work for the label will be displayed and postcard-size versions of the more popular ones will be offered for sale--with a percentage of the proceeds being donated to ongoing Haitian Earthquake relief efforts. If the art does not make it in time, we will be exhibiting samples of the art on a video screen at the bar and we will try again in August when the band is slated to return for a North American tour.

Since Lynval Golding and Horace Panter are both prominently featured on the new Pama International album, the events will serve as listening parties for 'Pama Outernational' (arranged through Jason Lawless of the Lawless Street blog and Gabe Pressure of Dancing Mood and Musical Occupation). Pama Outernational is being released by Dancing Mood Media in the U.S. this April.

While there is a chance that members of The Specials and their entourage may stop by each night, the real reason for the parties is to give fans of the band and 2-Tone music a place to meet up after the shows to enjoy a drink, talk shop with other fans, hear a great mix of ska and reggae and take in the amazing diversity of John Sims 2-Tone design work that remains as vibrant and exciting today as it was 30 years ago. There is a Facebook page for the event if you want more information or want to interact with other fans who may be attending.

The Specials postpone show in Toronto for Monday April 19th - New show rescheduled for August

I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news for fans of The Specials hoping to see the band perform at the Sound Academy in Toronto tonight (Monday April 19th). According to news distributed by Against The Grain, a concert promotion company in Toronto, The SPECIALS first concert in Toronto in over 29 years originally scheduled for tomorrow (monday) has been POSTPONED until August 2010 due to an emergency medical ailment. There was no further elaboration on the medical ailment. During the first UK tour last spring, the band was forced to postpone a show when lead singer Terry Hall lost his voice. Singer Neville Staple missed the band's performance on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon last week and bassist Horace Panter has been recovering from a knee operation that has left him hobbling.

According to the communique, the shows at Terminal 5 in New York tomorrow and Wednesday are still on (though this still needs to be officially confirmed), and the Toronto show is already re-scheduled for the 4th week of August (when the band is also planning to perform a free show in New York's Central Park), suggesting a larger tour of North America is in the works for later this Summer. The date for the new Toronto show should be announced later this week and all original tickets will be honored for the August 2010 date.

By the way, the This Art 2-Tone after party events here in New York at Dusk Lounge are still a go for tomorrow and Wednesday night, though the art itself is stuck at Heathrow Airport in London because of the Icelandic volcano ash. Hopefully, like The Specials it will make it to New York safe and sound in time for the show tomorrow.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Who's Opening for The Specials in New York?: Felix Hall & Trevor Evans

One of the most common questions of late is 'Who is opening for The Specials?'. The answer is that if you’ve been lucky enough to secure tickets to see them live you’ll be treated to a killer opening DJ set courtesy of Felix Hall and Trevor Evans (see his star turn earlier this week subbing for Neville Staple on the Late Night With Jimmy Fallon Show below). Evans DJ'd for The Specials on their original tours in 1979 and 1980.

Felix is the son of Terry Hall, and along with Evans has been winding up fans of the band in the UK, New Zealand, Australia and Japan with their pre-gig mix of Dub, Punk and Ska sets. Now they are here to do the same in the U.S. Felix lives in London and he's been DJing strictly reggae for about 5 years with a concentration on roots music from the late 70s and early 80s.

Felix did a guest spot on East Village Radio on April 12th, and you can listen to and download his set. Click on the April 12th link to see the set the set list and give it a listen.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Specials In L.A.! - Sell out crowd greets the band with 30 years of pent up excitement (and aggression!)

Reports of the The Specials first live show in the U.S. featuring most of the original line-up are slowly filtering in. Rolling Stone Magazine had a thorough review of the show last night at Club Nokia. The other good news is that Neville Staple was back on stage after missing the band's performance on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon earlier in the week.

Based on the RS review, it sounds like the pent up wait and excitement at the band's return may have gotten the better of the crowd who true to their L.A. punk roots began pushing and shoving one another and stage diving to the annoyance of Terry Hall: By the fourth song, “Its Up To You,” the crowd had grown unruly in their excitement — a little too authentic to the spirit of the original punks. “If you spit anymore, I’ll dive down and break your head,” Hall exclaimed with brimming vitriol at the start of the fourth song, “Up To You”; the rough atmosphere continued, however, with fights breaking out sporadically and the stage repeatedly invaded by audience members. Then again, the hectic vibes radiating through the venue proved this was no mere nostalgia trip: it only reflected the continued significance of the music’s relentless riddims and inner-city tension.

Here is video of the band performing 'Monkey Man' from the show:

Here was the set list for the show. Nothing unexpected, but nice to see 'Friday Night, Saturday Morning' which is a favorite of mine.

“Do The Dog”
“(Dawning Of A) New Era”
“It’s Up To You”
“Monkey Man”
“Rat Race”
“Hey, Little Rich Girl”
“Blank Expression”
“Doesn’t Make It Alright”
“Stupid Marriage”
“Concrete Jungle”
“Friday Night, Saturday Morning”
“Stereotype/Stereotypes, Pt. 2″
“Man at C & A”
“A Message To You, Rudy”
“Do Nothing”
“Little Bitch”
“Nite Klub”
“Too Much Too Young”
“You’re Wondering Now”

“Ghost Town”
“Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think)”

More reviews and reports as they trickle in.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Specials Land in the USA! (without Neville Staple!)

After much anticipation The Specials have finally returned to the U.S.A. After a victory lap of a tour around the U.K. last fall, the band is back in the country that was their undoing nearly 30 years ago.

Below are videos of the band's two performances last night on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon that was taped in New York City. The band was in fine form (listen to Roddy's inspired leads and riffs on both songs) and performed 'Message To You Rudy' and 'Do The Dog'. And no, your eyes are not deceiving you. That is not Neville Staple but Trevor Evans (who is a childhood friend of Staple's and was one of the band's early roadies). Evans now tours with the band as a DJ with Terry Hall's son Felix and they spin reggae before the band plays. Apparently, Neville 'got sick' and was unable to make the trip to New York. Hopefully, whatever the issue he will be back on stage with the band when they play live on the Jimmy Kimmel Live show tonight and then play their first live gig in Los Angeles on Thursday night at Club Nokia.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Interview with Sean Flowerdew of Pama International: How The Special Beat Helped Break Ska In America

The full bloom of 2-Tone did not occur in the United States until more than 10 years after it had captured the attention and imagination of the United Kingdom in 1979. In an ironic twist, it was a band made up of assorted members of The Specials and The Beat who can and should be given credit for breaking ska in this country. Indeed, the 3rd wave of American ska bands (Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Save Ferris, Reel Big Fish) who were signed to major label deals and who garnered a significant amount of radio and MTV attention in the early and mid 1990's is due in large part to the influence of The Special Beat.

The band had come together quickly in 1990 and arrived in Atlanta for their first show in October of that year, steadily barnstorming their way across the country playing shows to sold out houses wherever they went. When they finally arrived in New York in December of that year, the city's legendary ska scene was ready to greet them like conquering heroes. In fact. the show remains one of the most memorable musical experiences of my life for one significant reason: My band had been picked to open the bill (which also included The Toasters). Not only did we have a dream gig playing a sold out show for a super group of our 2-Tone heroes but my band mate Roger Apollon and I were interviewed for a BBC television show who had trailed the band to New York to report on America's own 2-Tone ska revolution. As far as high points in my musical experience it doesn't get much better than that! (see the 'Rapido' BBC segment below).

While the earliest (and best) incarnation of The Special Beat was led by Ranking Roger and Neville Staple (along with very important support from Horace Panter on bass and John Bradbury on drums) it was a cadre of young musicians including Sean Flowerdew and Finny who had been recruited from the popular and recently broken-up band The Loafers who absorbed the experience and learned valuable lessons. Its no surprise that both of them now lead one of the best and brightest UK-based reggae bands currently writing and recording new reggae music that moves the sound and genre along.

Pama International's new album 'Outernational' (which features Lynval Golding and Horace Panter of The Specials) is being released in the U.S. (via Lawless Street Records) on Wednesday April 20th. The album is being promoted through a series of listening parties. The New York listening party will be part of the 'This Art 2-Tone' events/after parties each night following The Specials two shows at Terminal 5 on Tuesday April 20 and Wednesday April 21st. Below is a short promo for the new album.

I recently connected with Flowerdew who was kind enough to take the time to tell me about his musical upbringing as well sharing his own firsthand experience of touring with Special Beat and watching ska catch fire in the U.S. in the early 90's. For more information on Pama Internation or to buy their new album visit their Web site.

Where did you grow up in the UK?
I was born in Zimbabwe and came to England when I was 6, in 1976. I grew up and went to school in Newbury in Berkshire, which is an hour west of London.

What were some of your earliest musical influences? Has it been ska and reggae from the very beginning? Did you listen to any other kinds of music?
I've always listened to all kinds of music but of any consequence and from when I started taking music seriously I guess yes, it was ska, or more accurately 2 Tone that influenced me. Madness were always a huge influence. Them and the Dance Craze film and of course The Specials and The Beat. Through those, like many others I discovered Toots, Prince Buster, Harry J, The Pioneers and The Skatalites and then other Jamaican artists. I loved the compilations, Club Ska'67 and Reggae Chartbusters Vol.2. Around the same time I was listening to Booker T & The MGs. I remember taping a concert of theirs off the TV and watching it over and over, until my brother taped the FA Cup final over it. Other then that I was listening to stuff like Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Dexys, UB40 and The Jam.

When did you make the conscious decision to become a musician? If you weren't in Pama International what kind of work would you be doing?
From very young I wanted to be a musician. I met The Loafers drummer Nasser Bouzida (now in Big Boss Man and The Bongolian) when I was 8. He was always a brilliant drummer even that young. That pushed me to want to play in a band. Everything I've done since I started out, be it in The Loafers, Clubland, Special Beat, Skanga or Pama Intl or making fliers, promoting and running labels, I've learnt from and has led me to where I am today. Writing and recording my own music. That now manifests itself as Pama Intl. I don't see that I could be doing anything else.

Do you remember the first live concert you ever saw? The first record you ever bought? What sort of impact did they have on your musical development?
The first live concert I saw... I must of been 5 or 6 years old in Zimbabwe and it was the top pop band of the day there '4 Jacks & A Jill'... kind of Zimbabwe's equivalent to Abba, though I don't remember to much about it. I think I fell asleep. I remember my Mum took us to see Petula Clark because she thought it'd be educational. It was, but probably not for the reasons she expected it to be. The first gigs me and my two Loafers mates (Nasser and Johnny-guitar) went to see were Madness at a Artists Against Apartheid show at Brixton Acadamy and UB40 at Southampton Gaumont. We must of been 14.

The first record album I ever bought was the soundtrack to 'My Fair Lady' at a jumble sale for 2p. I must of been about 6 or 7. I didn't get into buying music till a few years later. The first single I bought was Sgt.Rock by XTC. The records had very little impact on me, although Nat King Cole's version of 'On The Streets Where You Live' from My Fair Lady is wonderful. The Madness and UB40 shows had a profound effect on me and really inspired me to want to play live.

Were you a mod, rocker, hippie or skinhead?
None. I was just a kid who loved the music. By the time we were setting up The Loafers, dress wise I leaned towards the 2 Tone rudeboy sort of look... ben shermans, loakes loafers, three button jacket, sta-press. But the music was far more important to me then any dress code. I did love the tribal environment that existed in the late 70's/early 80's in the UK, which hung about, to a lesser degree, right up until the whole rave thing. With Pama Intl now, I'm very proud we attract a very diverse audience.

I've heard many people describe hearing The Specials first record like being hit by a bolt of lightning. How did you first experience 2-Tone? Did you see all the 2-Tone bands live?
I was a little young for 2 Tone. My bother Kevin is 3 years older then me so he had bought Madness-One Step Beyond and a bunch of The Beat singles. And Nasser's brother was a skinhead and has all the 2 Tone releases. I did love The Specials first album (Stupid Marriage and Concrete Jungle being my favourites as a kid), but it was really Dance Craze, their singles (Ghost Town ep, Rat Race) and their second album that did it for me.... Man At C&A, Do Nothing, Hey Little Rich Girl... the very forward thinking Stereotypes and International Jetset... fantastic stuff. I didn't get to see any of the bands during the 2 Tone period but did get to see Madness before they split up.

You started The Loafers when you were quite young. How big an influence was 2-Tone on the formation of the band? What was it like to have John Bradbury produce your records? What was he like as a producer in the studio?
The Loafers first gig was in 1985/86. Four of us had been playing in the band together under different styles and names (The Jungle Burgers, The Man From Tneopoo) and really just learning how to play since 82/83. There were always originals in the set, and covers like Liquidator, Time Is Tight (Nasser told me he'd written it), Wipe Out (early on), Bed & Breakfast Man, Ranking Full Stop. 2 Tone was a huge influence on us.

I met Brad through Maroon Town. He'd produced their first ever 7" a cover of Prince Buster's City Riot. He was always our favourite drummer on 2 Tone. The fact that he hadn't produced anything of any note, except Sock It To Em JB on More Specials didn't bother us. We just couldn't believe we had The Specials drummer producing us. Pretty much he was just balancing but he did bring some sampling to the album and had some good ideas. We all wanted to impress, so it helped having him there. What didn't help was we recorded through the night to save money. Bit shortsighted. Our feeling about Brad was if he was in a band that great he'd make us sound great! It was a lot of fun working with him. Exciting times for sure. We were part of the spearhead of the UK ska scene. Things seemed to be on the verge of going really big and we had The Specials drummer producing us!

Can you share any memorable experiences of your time in The Loafers? What was it like to work with Laurel Aitken's as a young musician?
It was wonderful working with Laurel. I stayed in touch him with over the years, and proud to count him as a friend. We always had a laugh together. When we worked with him as The Loafers we were to young to appreciate what he was telling us or trying to show us. He wanted the songs to go on longer and be tighter and more solid, but The Loafers was all about enthusiasm and energy. I don't think we were capable then of playing how he wanted us to, but I do think we can all look back and understand it now. So, he did teach us, it just took awhile to sink in. I spoke with Laurel about working together again, much later on, but then he got ill. I wish he could of been on the Trojan album we recorded. He should of been.

We had some great times as The Loafers. Headlining The Astoria Theatre in London was a big highlight. As was getting to play alongside bands like Potato 5, Maroon Town, Hotknives, Desmond Dekker, Napolean Solo and of course Laurel. Playing in Paris (the only time I have, although Pama Intl have just been booked to do a show there on 18 June) was a great experience. As were doing our first TV appearances. Being written about by the biggest music and daily press. Getting to meet Brad and Lee from Madness. Playing at Gazs Rockin Blues, when it was still at Gossips in Dean Street, was wicked. I saw so many good bands down there... Ska Flames from Japan, Derrick Morgan, The Trojans, Maroon Town. It was incredibly exciting times, but ran it's course very quickly.

The Special Beat project came together quite quickly right? What was the timeline? Who was involved and what were the original plans for the band? Was the plan to focus exclusively on touring the U.S.?
Yeah, there is differing opinions on how it came together, but it was very quick. 6 weeks. Ranking Roger had done a big show with International Beat in California in 1989/90 I think and some shows with Lynval and Neville in 1988. So he always cites he got it together. I suppose to a certain extent he did.

From mine and Brad's perspective, I had introduced myself to Roger and started to try and do a bit of writing at his home studio in 1990. We did a couple of tracks, but never really furthered them. I'd remained friends with Brad since working on The Loafers album. On one occasion, drinking in the King of Corsica in Soho, the Loafers had split up and I suggested we should do a band together and should ask Roger to be involved. Brad said he'd ask Lynval and Neville. He went home and phoned Ian Copeland (brother of Miles who ran IRS Records and Stewart from The Police), who ran FBI booking agency. He'd previously been the agent for both The Specials and The Beat I believe. He loved the idea of members from The Specials and The Beat working together in one band. It was Ian who suggested the terrible 'Special Beat' name. 3 weeks later we were in rehearsals in Birmingham and 3 weeks after that (31 Oct 1990) we landed in Atlanta to start a highly successful 7 week tour. The original line up was Brad, Horace and Neville from The Specials, Ranking Roger from The Beat, Bobby Bird from Ranking Roger's solo band (and now Higher Intelligence Agency) and Finny and I from The Loafers. Horace left and Lynval joined in 92. On the first tour I had the awful task of having to do brass on the keyboards. Something I refused to do ever again. Thankfully on the second tour they got Chico and Graeme Hamilton (from Fine Young Cannibals) in as a brass section. Anthony Hearty joined in 91. He'd previously played in the Style Council and Wayne Lothian joined in 92. Wayne now lives in California and plays in Dave Wakeling's band. Dave would guest with SB whenever we hit California. We also had Rico and Saxa record with us.

I think the original plan was just to do the first US tour and see how it went. It was soon obvious that there was a lot of interest. There wasn't interest back in the UK though. Our first shows here got cancelled through lack of sales. I ended up promoting our first London gigs. Stateside was really where it was at and Japan. So the focus was on America for 3 years. We went to Japan twice as well.

I was only 19 and a bit naive. I had envisaged that we'd do new material and a few classics from the outset, and have a new band name, but for me 3 years on only having 2, sometimes 3 new songs and 2 new covers in the set I couldn't carry on with it. We were running out the same show with the same 'ad libs' between songs they had used back in 2 Tone days (and still use now!). It could of been brilliant and at times was, but there wasn't enough foresight or writing ability to take it forward. I see their still doing gigs as Special Beat now, but it's pretty much just a cash cow cabaret. Can't knock someone for wanting to work, but that's no reason to let standards drop. And that's certainly not how it started, well not for me anyway.

Its fair to say that Special Beat had a lot to do with launching ska in the U.S. What are some of your memories from the touring you did here in the U.S. in the early 90's with the band? Do any shows stand out?
Yes definitely. I think Special Beat weren't credited enough for it's part in building the popularity of the so called '3rd Wave' US ska movement. From 1990-92 Special Beat did 29 weeks touring USA at a very decent level. No Doubt supported us through the Midwest in 92 before they went global. We took the 2 Tone sounds to a massive audience. More so then another band at the time on the scene. More so then The Specials had originally done in America. We did 4 weeks with Steel Pulse playing to 5,000-10,000 a night. We opened for Sting for 5 weeks, playing places like Madison Square Gardens and Red Rocks and did some great shows in our own right. We definitely got a lot of new people tuning into ska. I left to record new music before the last US tour in 93 with Finny- lead singer, Lynval and Specials sound engineer Dave Jordan. Special Beat did one more US tour, with Skatalites, reformed Selecter and The Toasters, with SB being an inferior version to the original but still the main draw.

I absolutely loved touring America. I got to visit every state except Alaska and Hawaii. I got not only to meet but play in a band with people I had once idolized. I got to meet Albert Collins, Aaron Neville, Lloyd Knibbs, Andy Cox (Beat/FYC), Fishbone, Dream Warriors, Saxa and Everett Morton from The Beat, H from Selecter, Miles and Ian Copeland, Rico, and some of the UB40 guys. I got to play alongside; Was Not Was, Burning Spear, Lucky Dube, Sting, Steel Pulse and one of my favourite US bands Bim Skala Bim. And of course Bigger Thomas, at a very memorable NYC show. Playing Red Rocks and Madison Square Gardens was amazing. As were the Greek Theatres in LA and Berkeley. The opening shows with Sting were outside of Seattle over looking a canyon, with the sun setting as a backdrop. Absolutely breathtaking. We played some diversely wonderful venues like... the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco, the original 930 club in DC (complete with 100s of rats) and a place in Tijuana that was like something out of Mad Max. I always loved doing the Channel Club in Boston. The last night of the Steel Pulse tour I got to play 2 tracks on stage with them. Loads of great memories but all a bit jumbled up now! I think the show that stands out the most for me in my time with SB wasn't that big, but was our first London show at the T&C2. Only 500 people but it sold out and repeatedly gets cited to me by people who were there as the best live gig they've ever been to. The energy that night was insane.

Touring the world and getting paid for it was amazing and taught me a lot. I would of done it all for free, and they would of taken me up on that given the chance!

Why didn't Special Beat record and release any original music? It always seemed like the band had an amazing opportunity to use its popularity as a touring act to follow-up with songs that could have taken the band and ska to another level here in the U.S.
Special Beat recorded a bunch of original material. 7 original tracks in total; 'Rainy Days' (SB's best track) written by Roger and later released by the reformed General Public, 'What You Thinking' and the awful 'Better Must Come' were recorded in 1991 at UB40's DEP International studios. We also recorded 4 cover versions in that session (Hypocrite, a soul track called Breakout, Prince Busters Time Longer Than Rope and Bowie's Golden Years, which actually had something about it). At another session in 92 we recorded; 'Joy', 'Welcome To The Breadline'. 'What's The Meaning of Love' and one other that I can't remember the name of. That session was awful though. Extremely lacking in direction and not resembling SB live in any shape or form.

Miles Copeland (IRS) stuck us in the studio a couple of times, but the honest truth is there were no great writers in the band. Ranking Roger was probably the best, but he only had a couple of ideas that I thought were any good. Brad, Horace and Neville weren't writers. Horace is now writing some great instrumentals, but wasn't doing that back then. To be brutality honest the writing wasn't up to the standard of either The Beat or The Specials. Infact it was nowhere near it. The songs lacked direction or any cohesion, but none of that is suprising when you look at the line up of the band.

A couple of the tracks were released. A dreadful mix of Time Longer Then Rope, which featured both Rico and Saxa on the IRS The Beat Goes On compilation (the demo we'd done was much better) and Hypocrite on a comp I put together called The Shack. SB really was an amazing opportunity to launch new material, but was sadly totally squandered.

On your last two Pama International records you worked with John Collins (of 'Ghost Town' fame) as a co-producer. Did you use any of his production techniques (recording songs bit by bit vs having the band perform together)? Can you share any production tricks you've learned from working with him?
The last two albums I've recorded/arranged and then taken the finished takes and arrangements to John to balance, and add effects. Like me he loves the sounds of King Tubby, so it was an ideal match for those two records. John's got a wonderful ear for sound placement. True professional. And very easy to work with, but he didn't have any input to the recording of the album. I did all that. When it came to the final mixes we did it the way he likes to work at his house. Very old school/8 track/mono style. I've learnt a lot from John. He's a great producer.

What is the legacy of 2-Tone and how does Pama International carry on its tradition?
Wow, you saved the big question til last! I'm not hear to carry on 2 Tone's thing. They're all still around. They should be doing that into their 80's... hopefully longer. Sure, some of them are still gigging and playing the old songs, but for me it's only Madness (who were far bigger then 2 Tone anyway) and the newly reformed Specials that have done it/are doing it to a standard worthy of the names. I've never understood why the rest of the 2 Tone artists just stuck rigidly to the past. Playing the same songs over and over and over and letting quality control go out the window. It's just ever decreasing circles. Why did they stop writing classic songs? Am I being naive again? For me if you've done it once, you can do it again. It's sad to see people resting on past glories, especially 30 years on. Dave Steele and Andy Cox moved things forward superbly with Fine Young Cannibals. Fantastic band. Better than The Beat in my opinion. They didn't stay stuck in the past like almost everyone else did and as a result they wrote huge songs that outsold the whole of 2 Tone put together. Them and Madness are the exceptions, and wayback Fun Boy 3. Too many 2 Tone people just rested on their laurels though. I loved the bands and the label and still can't get my head around why those artists (apart from Madness) aren't sill putting out new music now.

There are some ideals that 2 Tone brought to the table that I still hold very dear, but if I was trying to emulate a label and keep it's tradition going it would have to be a label like Stax or Motown.

Monday, April 12, 2010

NY Beat! 25th Anniversary Reunion Kicks Off A Month Of Ska Celebrations in New York City

Many thanks to everyone who came out to the NY Beat 25th Anniversary Reunion this past Saturday night April 10th at Dusk Lounge in New York City. Frankly, when hatching the idea for this event with Sid Reitzfeld (A-Kings) and Steve Shafer (Moon Records/Dusk Guide To Ska) we had no idea what to expect or who might show up.

So at 8 PM Sid opened the doors and we watched and waited. Within a very short time there was a small crowd the grew bigger and bigger until at the height of the night there were close to 125 people mingling, talking, and grooving to the great ska and reggae sounds supplied by Steve. As the night quickly slipped by I found myself having one long, continuous conversation with a who's who of the NYC Ska scene from the 80's. It was an amazing night and helped to kick off what promises to be an exciting month of ska shows and events here in the Big Apple.

Members of most of the core bands who appeared on the NY Beat compilation were all in attendance including: A-Kings (the 3 members of the band had not been in the same room together in over 20 years), Beat Brigade (who recently reformed and will be playing the New York Ska Festival on April 23rd at BB King's), The Boilers (Olivier Rhee and John Patterson came out), The Press (lead singer Andre made an appearance), Second Step (who had 2 members -- Remi Leku and Ross Morgan -- who travelled from Florida and Boston respectively for the reunion), The Scene (Melanie Rock), Too True (King Django made his recorded debut on the track 'Free South Africa' before later joining The Boilers) and many friends and fans who came back to reminisce.

Below is a short photo montage from the reunion.

Sid Reitzfeld and Andy Atlas from The A-Kings (minus drummer Anthony Johnson)

Steve Shafer, Sid Reitzfeld and yours truly

Steve Shafer behind the wheels of steel

Remi Leku (The Second Step) and Melanie Rock (The Scene)

King Django from Too True and Olivier Rhee from The Boilers

Dave Barry (Second Step/Beat Brigade/The Toasters) and Carmelo DiBartolo of Beat Brigade

Remi Leku of The Second Step with Roger Apollon of Bigger Thomas

King Django from Too True with Ross Morgan of The Second Step

Jack Hoppenstand and Frank Usamanont of Beat Brigade

Many more pictures are up at the NY Beat Facebook page. Though the N.Y. Beat! compilation remains out-of-print, I am hopeful that with some luck and cooperation from the bands and songwriters we might finally be able to get a proper re-issue out. And if that day does arrive in the near future, then we will have a record release party to celebrate again!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

N.Y. Beat 25th Anniversary Celebration Kicks Off This Saturday April 10, 2010 In New York City

The reunion to celebrate the release of the iconic ska compilation N.Y. Beat!: Hit & Run is upon us. If you were in one of the bands, or went to ska shows at CBGB's, The Continental or Danceteria back in the 80's or are a fan of American ska, then you may want to to come by the Dusk Lounge in New York City this Saturday April 10, 2010 at 8 pm. The bar (which is owned by A-Kings/Thick As Thieves bass player Sid Reitzfeld) should be filled with members from almost all of the bands featured on the album. Fans, family and friends are all welcome to join the festivities as well. The night will feature Steve Shafer (The Duff Guide To Ska) spinning all three waves of ska, reggae and rocksteady as well as lots of old pictures from back in the day.

The reunion came about as a result of profiles and interviews I posted over the last year about bands and musicians who were an integral part of the 1980's NYC ska scene. As I met and spoke with more and more people 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.

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 (most band members average age was 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, Too True 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 (400+ and counting) and become a way for band members and fans to reconnect. There are also 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 this Saturday April 10th and want to celebrate with us, please come by Dusk Lounge. Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

What's It Like To Tour With The Specials? - Saxophonist Drew Stansall Provides An Insiders View

I can confirm that there may be no greater thrill as a musician than to meet and perform with your musical heroes. That experience can only be topped by the chance to join a tour with them and become part of their band. Drew Stansall, a talented and in-demand saxophone player grew up as a fan of The Specials in the Midlands of the UK in the late 70's and early 80's during the height of 2-Tone mania. Now, he is part of the excellent 3-piece brass section supporting the band during their 30th anniversary tours of the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Japan as well as the upcoming US tour which kicks off with an appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon on April 13th.

Stansall's musical pedigree is striking and he is a renowned musician in UK ska scene. Before landing a dream gig with The Specials, he played and recorded with a who's who of Jamaican ska pioneers: Prince Buster, Laurel Aitken, Alton Ellis, Derrick Morgan, Owen Gray, Rico Rodriguez and Symarip. For many years Drew has been at the forefront of the old school UK ska scene including many resident performances at the prestigious London venue 'Club Ska'.

With interest in The Specials US tour just starting to peak and with two shows in New York at Terminal 5 fast approaching, I wanted to provide readers a chance to learn more about Stansall, who is one of the very talented musicians who are part of the The Specials band. He also has a great perspective on ska music and the old school ska scene in the UK.

Where did you grow up in the UK?
Leicester Midlands UK

When did you first pick up the saxophone?
In 1995. I used to play guitar before that.

How were you first introduced to ska?
In 1979 when I first heard The Specials. I've always loved their vibe and sometime later I started to dig deeper into the history and birth of ska.

When did you first start performing ska music live?
In 1997 I joined a ska band called The Splitters.

How did you end up performing with the cream of the crop of Jamaican ska and rock steady artists like Prince Buster, Laurel Aitken, Alton Ellis, Derrick Morgan, Owen Gray, Rico Rodriguez and Symarip?
While playing with The Splitters around 1998 I ran into Laurel Aitken who also lived in Leicester. He was looking for a brass section. We started playing for him for many years and grew to be great friends right up till he died. Laurel's band at that time was called Freetown and they also used to back Derrick Morgan, Owen Gray, Rico and Alton Ellis so I was a part of that scene of musicians who used to play a residency at Club ska in London who used to book all the Jamaican artists. We ended up playing many gigs in London and Europe with these artists for around 5 years. Later I was asked if I would like to play tenor for Prince Buster (yes please!) and later still Symarip. The Prince Buster brass section are now The Specials brass section.

Can you share any memorable experiences of performing with these artists?
Far too much to share but each had their own way of doing things. But one thing they all have in common is a real love and passion for what they are doing and so did I.

Its quite an honor to be invited to tour with The Specials. How did you get involved with band?
Again one thing leads to another and so on but I knew Roddy (Byers) the guitar player for many years and Jon the trumpet player with the Specials Mk2. So with the 3 of us also playing with Prince Buster and knowing Roddy and Jon, this is how I joined the band.

What were the two UK tours like?
Amazing, emotional and scary! Especially the first few gigs the atmosphere was incredible, electric, the fans came in the thousands and they were emotionally charged up after waiting 30 years. It was an unbelievable experience, everybody including the original 6 were totally overwhelmed.

What kind of reaction did you get in Japan and Australia last summer?
The reaction was the same 'emotional charged' although I think more so in Japan than Australia and NZ

Can you share any unusual experiences from the tour so far?
Well none of it is what you would call normal. Its all very surreal at times especially rehearsals with The Specials after being a fan of them for so long. Now I'm used to it all and get on very well with everyone which is very nice - it feels like a big family now. There are a lot of people involved in The Specials not just the band and I feel I have made many friends

What is your favorite song to perform live with The Specials and why?
I have always loved 'Nite Klub' because its just a great song and a song that now takes me back to when I was a youth. The Specials lyrics relate to all parts of my life and to most peoples lives back then and still now. I also love playing 'Man at C&A' and 'Hey Little Rich Girl'.

What can American fans of the band expect from the upcoming shows? OOOOOOOOOOOOOOhhhhhhhhhhhhhh that would be telling. but trust me don't miss out - its going to make the hairs on the back of your head tingle, put tears in your eyes and you will be singing every word all night.

If the band records a new album do you expect to join them in the studio?
Yes. If they do, I would be very proud to be involved

Tell me about your own band El Pussycat who are at the forefront of the old school ska scene in the UK? What is the old school ska scene in the UK like these days and what is your take on the American ska scene?
I formed El Pussycat in 2001 to play ska the old school authentic Jamaican way and keep to that sound which we have been true to for all the years. There are usually 7 of us in the band including double bass, brass, keys, guitar. We play ska the way it used to be back in the 60's, when ska first came out it had a swing/RnR vibe to it and this is what we want to re-create. We have played many places including NYC please check out our MySpace site and see for yourself

I guess the old school UK scene and the US scene are pretty similar there are many great bands out there doing their thing for the love of it but to find it you gotta dig deep its all underground. Radio DJ's won't talk about it and you find a lot of people stumble across it and don't know what it is but they know its good music so will start to follow. Ska music is a sunny education given to the world by Jamaica. My favorite US bands are The Slackers, The Aggrolites, King Django, Jump with Joey, Dem Brooklyn Bums and Bigger Thomas of course!!

Stansall and other members of the band hope to attend the 'This Art 2-Tone' exhibition at Dusk Lounge in New York City following The Specials shows on Tuesday April 20th and Wednesday April 21st. If you are going to the show, be sure to come on by, say hello and buy him a pint!