Monday, November 29, 2010

Unsung Bands Of The 2-Tone Era - Guns For Hire: From Imaginary Band To The Real Thing

The story of the band Guns For Hire is probably one of the best (and least well known) of the entire 2-Tone ska era. Its a story that has all the ingredients of a Hollywood movie script and one where fact is most definitely stranger than fiction. As 2-Tone took-off, London became a hot bed of A&R men knocking each other over to jump on the ska bandwagon. As The Specials, Madness, The Beat, The Selecter and Bad Manners started placing songs high into the pop charts, the competition among record companies to sign their own ska band became intense. So intense in fact, that a band like Guns For Hire who started out as a prank hatched in a London pub could go from joke concept to real band in just a few short months.

Guns For Hire were a group of friends (Vaughn Tolouse, Tony Lordan and Gary Crowley) who were fans of the music scene exploding all over London in 1979. In the anything goes/DIY energy of the time, they decided to form a band of their own. They agreed on the name Guns For Hire (taken from the Prince Buster song). With the name settled they should have been finding musical instruments and learning how to play them! Instead, the friends decided to put that step on hold and put their time and resources into making up a large batch of Guns For Hire buttons and stickers. In the matter of a few weeks the stickers and buttons started turning up all over London. And then, something strange started to happen.

According to the band's history posted on their MySpace page, "One night at a gig in Aylesbury, a punter came up to one of the (nonexistent) Guns and gestured admiringly at his GFH badge. The punter then continued to extol the virtues of Guns For Hire, who, he claimed, he had seen play live only the night before! This called for some positive action. Gary Crowley relayed the story to his boss, Clive Banks, promoter for Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello. After much badgering by Gary, Banks agreed to stump up the cash for the Guns to record a demo. Only one problem with this rock 'n' roll swindle: unlike the Sex Pistols, Guns For Hire couldn't play a note between them, even if they had existed! At the news of this upcoming recording session, Vaughn and Tony decided to take on the Guns mantle, while Gary was to be the band's manager. Deciding that having a couple of people involved who could 'play' would be a good idea, Vaughn and Tony enlisted the services of Mike Herbage, a friend of Tony's (who had met, each under the misapprehension that the other wanted to start a fight!) and one John Hasler, original drummer with Madness. Suddenly things were moving."

After a few quick rehearsals, the band entered the studio for the first time to record a demo, which wasn't great sounding but did generate enough interest from Terry Hall, lead singer of The Specials, to fund a further demo. With 2-Tone in full effect and the whole endeavor a bit of 'piss-take', the Guns decided to jump on the 2-Tone sound. As such, Herbage and Toulouse came up with a punk infused ska song called 'I'm Gonna Rough My Girlfriends Boyfriend Up Tonight'. And that's where things start to get really interesting. According to the band's history on their MySpace page: 'The stickers were still getting stuck and 2,000 badges had now been sold. Guns For Hire hadn't even played in public. Polydor Records offered to put the group into the studio to record. Swindle? You better believe it. The demo of 'Boyfriend' and a punkabilly version of the Banshees' 'Staircase Mystery' were enough for Korova Records to offer a one-off single deal. The Guns now had two songs to their name. Zig Zag Magazine printed a full-page article about the group in their 100th edition in late 1979. Malcolm McLaren would have been proud of this one!"

'My Girlfriends Boyfriend' was recorded at a dingy recording studio in Camden Town and released in early 1980. Elvis Costello sang its praises and the U.K. music press gave the track decent reviews. Now, however, people began clamoring for the band to play live. What to do? Considering the band only had two songs to their name they had no wish to play live. It was all one big joke and that's how they wanted it to stay. They had made a single and that's as far as it was going to go. After much back and forth, they were talked into playing a show and made their live debut in August 1980 at The Rock Garden in London's Covent Garden. The NME reviewed the gig and actually liked the show. According to the band's history, 'This was now getting ridiculous. A matter of months before, the group was a nonexistent joke and now they had released a record, had been made offers by major record labels, and a gig that the group themselves described as 'a drunken bloody mess' had gotten a decent review in the most prestigious music weekly in the country! After several more live shows around London, Guns For Hire sat themselves down and decided what to do next. The joke had been played out and a laugh had by all concerned. It was a case of enough is enough or to take it all a stage further. John Hasler decided to call it a day. The rest decided to continue but felt that the joke had gone on long enough.'

A name change was called for. After suggestions varying from The Discords to The Signet Committee, the name Department S was decided upon (taken from the TV detective spoof of the same name).

Below is a download link to the long out-of-print version of the 7" single released in 1980 on Korova Records. The former band members have given their permission to share the songs. Thanks to Tone and Wave blog for the link.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Madness 'Do Not Adjust Your Nut' Tour Update: Two New Songs Performed & FREE Live Song Download

I was able to gather a few choice updates from the kick-off of the Madness 'Do Not Adjust Your Nut' tour in Blackpool on Friday night from the good people at Madness-Central (your one stop shop for all things Madness). Apparently, true to their word, the band performed two new songs, including 'Blue and Black' (composed by Mike Barson) and 'Big Time Sister' (words by Lee Thompson and music by Chris Foreman). It's been said they're both bouncy numbers. As such I was able to get my hands on a video of the band performing an untitled new song just last week during rehearsals for the tour. Its hard to tell if this song is either of the new songs performed, but I would say this one is pretty bouncy. Have a look and listen:

The band also performed their classic 'Driving In My Car' in Blackpool last night which apparently has not been a staple of the set list recently. You can watch and listen to it below courtesy of guitarist Chris 'Chrissy Boy' Foreman's ax cam (which is a Flip Video he attaches to the fret board of his guitar.)

To celebrate the kick-off of the tour last night in Blackpool, the band is sharing a souvenir of their live performance of 'Lovestruck' available as a free MP3 download. All you need to do is provide your e-mail address. Go here to grab the song.

More updates and free songs as the tour goes on.

Ken Boothe 'Mr Rocksteady' Added To The Bill Of The London International Ska Festival

The line-up for the London International Ska Festival continues to delight and amaze! Today it was announced that the incomparable 'Mr Rocksteady' Ken Boothe has been added to bill for the 4-day festival that will take place at The Clapham Grand Theatre in London next April 21st-24th. Boothe is the first of several original Jamaican ska artists who has been announced and he joins a list of headliners that includes The English Beat featuring Dave Wakeling, James Hunter, The Ska Flames and The Dub Pistols.

Best known for his No.1 UK hit 'Everything I Own', Boothe started his musical career by winning a singing competition at the age of 8. His debut recording came in the ska-era when he teamed up with Winston 'Stranger' Cole in the duo Stranger And Ken, releasing classic cuts including 'World's Fair', 'Hush' and 'Artibella', before moving onto Clement Dodd’s Studio One label. A series of classic cuts followed including 'The Train Is Coming' (on which he was backed by Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer & BB Seaton of The Gaylads) and 'Moving Away'. In 1967 he toured the UK for the first time with fellow rocksteady legend Alton Ellis. The tour was hugely successful, with Boothe being promoted as "Mr.Rock Steady". The title was also used for his debut album the following year, which contained the unlikely but huge selling rocksteady version of 'Puppet On A String'. In 1974 Boothe teamed up with producer Lloyd Charmers, a pairing that spawned his two biggest UK hits including 'Everything I Own' (Which topped the charts for 4 weeks) and the follow-up 'Crying Over You' which reached number 11.

Here is Boothe performing 'Everything I Own' from 1974:

With the addition of Boothe, the festival now boasts a truly International line-up that highlights among the best of all three generations and waves of ska as well as some of the best ska and reggae DJ's from around the World. Tickets are now on sale at

April 21st -April 24th
The Clapham Grand Theatre, London

THE LOAFERS* (one off reformation)
HOTKNIVES* (original line up)

Confirmed DJ line up

Friday, November 26, 2010

Madness 'Do Not Adjust Your Nut' UK Tour Kicks Off: Celebrate With FREE 4-Track MP3 Download

Happy Black Friday to all MOTB readers! Here in the U.S., my fellow citizens have embarked on the search for the perfect discount on the official start of the holiday shopping season. Happily, for those of you in the U.K., today is also the start of the long awaited Madness 'Do Not Adjust Your Nut' tour which begins in Blackpool (the Las Vegas of the U.K.!).

Madness have reportedly returned to the studio to record songs for an album that will be released some time in 2011 and its being rumored that some of these new tracks may get their first public airings during these shows. It also been reported that the band have been reviewing a trove of unreleased tracks from recent times and beyond, which suggests a number of previously recorded, but never released songs may also finally see the light of day.

Many of the shows on the ‘Do Not Adjust Your Nut‘ UK tour (which feature ex-Beautiful South singer Paul Heaton as support) are now sold out. However there’s still tickets left for some dates, including the Glasgow, Newcastle, Leicester, Leeds and Birmingham Matinee shows and the big Earls Court show in London on December 17th. Tickets are available -- HERE.

Tickets sold out where you live in the U.K.? Don't live in the U.K.? Well the band has you in their thoughts as they hit the road. In order to celebrate the start of the U.K. tour they are giving away a FREE 4-track MP3 download. All you need to do to get this early holiday gift is submit your e-mail address to the good people at the Madness Web site and the tracks are yours for the taking. The songs which were all recorded live during the band's tour last December include:

‘NW5′ – Swindon 07.12.09
‘It Must Be Love’ – Newcastle Matinee 12.12.09
‘House Of Fun’ – Southend 05.12.09
‘Night Boat To Cairo’ – Glasgow 12.12.09

Click here to go directly to the link to download the tracks. Enjoy!

U.K. tour dates below. Enjoy the show!


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Reggae Hits NYC? - The Hard Times & The Forthrights Spotlight 'Dirty Reggae' Sound

These are interesting times to be a fan of American ska music. During the late nineties and early 2000's, the more traditional sounds of ska, reggae, rocksteady and 2-Tone were overwhelmed by a surfeit of generic ska-punk bands who took the 'skank' rhythm and horn melodies of the genre while seemingly ignoring its essence and soul (brilliantly satirized by the Hub City Stompers with their cutting song 'Ska Train To Dorkville'). In contrast, there has been a growing movement of bands that are eschewing the sounds of ska-punk, instead combining 60's soul, ska and rocksteady into what can loosely be called 'dirty reggae'. In New York where I live, two bands -- The Hard Times and The Forthrights -- have emerged and are making waves by performing their own soulful and danceable versions of dirty reggae.

What is dirty reggae you ask? As Steve Shafer of the Duff Guide To Ska defines it: The dirty reggae sound is classic skinhead skank reggae mixing an equal love for Jamaican rhythms and American roots and rock sounds from 60s surf and soul to 70s funk and grit. The popularity of the sound in the U.S. can be attributed to the ongoing efforts of established American bands like The Slackers, The Aggrolites (who coined the term as title of one of their albums), Hep Cat and others who have stuck to their guns by playing songs that honor the traditional Trojan Records, Treasure Isle and Studio One sounds of Jamaica as a foundation but also incorporate soul, jazz, funk and 60's root rock influences into the mix. Their steadfastness seems to be influencing a whole new generation of younger bands and musicians including The Green Room Rockers and The Drastics who have also embraced the sound.

The Hard Times were founded in 2009 by drummer Bob Timm, and feature a winning lineup of old and new faces from the NYC ska scene. Timm is a veteran of the 90s NYC ska scene (The DeFactos, Orange Street) and blazed a trail as a writer/musician (that I have followed) by covering ska music for from 1997 to 2005. The band favor Upsetters-inspired rhythms that merge early reggae and soul with organ and guitar to create incredibly danceable skinhead reggae-like instrumentals with splashes of samba and salsa. The band has quickly earned a reputation as an in demand backing band supporting ex-Toasters/Pilfers front man Coolie Ranx and The Slackers' singer Vic Ruggiero and are quickly becoming a draw wherever they play around the New York City-area. Having aligned themselves with The Slackers, they seem poised to tap into that band's fervent following while also playing shows with a diverse variety of bands around the New York ska scene. Check out video below of the band playing 'Forward March' and backing Vic Ruggiero on a proto-Slackers tune called 'Tarantula'.

The Forthrights are a 4-piece of early 20-somethings who have quickly become a force to be reckoned with on the American ska scene. They seem committed to making music a career having embarked on a number of long tours (supporting Vic Ruggiero and Chris Murray) around the U.S. where they have built up their live chops and a growing national fan base. The band has wisely worked with both King Django and members of The Slackers in the studio and have clearly soaked up the lessons these talented musicians and producers have shared with them. As such their initial output of vintage soul-inspired rocksteady is truly outstanding showing signs of song writing maturity that put some older and more established bands to shame (have a look/listen below to 'Other People' which they recorded with King Django and of the band backing Vic Ruggiero on 'Policeman'). I have very high hopes for them and expect they will very quickly establish themselves as one of the leading American purveyors of ska and reggae music.

Both The Hard Times and The Forthrights have brand new material out now. The Hard Times have just released a 3-song EP titled 'Two Bucks for Bob' which was mixed by Jayson Nugent, guitarist of The Slackers and is available as a digital download for just $3 from Whatevski Records based in Brooklyn, NY, and best know as the channel for The Slackers' live show CDs and side projects. Versions of all three songs can be streamed on the Whatevski Records Web site.

The Forthrights are part of the Ska Is Dead' 7" project, which is a joint effort from Asbestos Records, Underground Communique Records, and to issue a series of 6 split 7” vinyl singles. Available by subscription only, the series features established, and up and coming acts including Reel Big Fish, Mustard Plug, Big D & the Kids Table, The Slackers and others. The band is also putting the finishing touches on their debut album due out in early 2011. More information is available at The Forthrights Facebook page.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Marco On The Bass Giveaway: Get a FREE COPY of 'Ska: An Oral History' by Heather Augustyn

If you still haven't entered the FREE GIVEAWAY for the must have ska book of 2010 -- 'Ska: An Oral History' written by Heather Augustyn, you still have one more week to do so.

Augustyn has collected the personal stories and oral histories of over 30 different Jamaican, English, and American ska musicians including never-before heard words from such greats as The Skatalites’ Doreen Shaffer, Roland Alphonso, Lloyd Brevett, Lloyd Knibb, and Lester Sterling; Derrick Morgan and Patsy (Millicent Todd); Lyn Taitt; Laurel Aitken; Toots Hibbert; Millie Small; Alex Hughes (Judge Dread); The Specials’ Roddy Byers (Roddy Radiation); The Beat’s Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger; Lee "Kix" Thompson from Madness; The Selecter’s Pauline Black; and Buster Bloodvessel of Bad Manners. I reviewed a copy of the book back in October (read the review here) and conducted an interview with Augustyn back in May (read the interview here). Need more convincing? Have a look at some of the reviews the book is garnering across the ska and reggae blogosphere including: Trojan Records and The Jamaican Gleaner.

So how can YOU get a copy of 'Ska: An Oral History' by Heather Augustyn for free? The book give away is open to MOTB blog readers who sign-up to join the blog e-mail distribution list between today November 23rd and next Tuesday November 30th (think of this as a membership drive - one that will keep you up-to-date on the types of information and news you are used to reading on the blog as well as special offers). Just send an e-mail with the subject line 'Ska Book' to to enter. I will randomly select one winner to receive the book and one runner-up who will receive a free copy of the new Bigger Thomas CD 'Steal My Sound' featuring 10 2-Tone inspired ska and reggae songs and art-work designed by original 2-Tone and Chrysalis Records artist John 'Teflon' Sims. The winner of the MOTB book giveaway will be drawn on November 30th 2010. Good luck and start sending in those e-mails!

If you are interested in buying 'Ska: An Oral History', its available for sale on Click below:

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Specials Announce 2011 Tour Dates of Europe and U.K.

Great news for fans of The Specials! The band today announced 23 tour dates throughout Europe and the UK that are slated to kick-off next September in Amsterdam. According to The Specials Facebook page the tickets for announced dates are expected to officially go on sale at 9am on Friday December 3rd, 2010.

Last week singer Terry Hall confirmed the tour during an interview and stated that the band would be playing their two albums 'The Specials' and 'More Specials' back-to-back. Hall also said the tour would start in July giving some hope to fans in the U.S. that the band would finally embark on a full-fledged, coast-to-coast U.S tour.

At the moment there are no U.S. tour dates confirmed or announced. This past summer the band cancelled a free show scheduled in New York's Central Park due to visa issues. According to sources inside the band, the problem is that the U.S. government won't issue one of the band members a visa to enter the country. The band's first performance in the U.S. in 29 years was on the Jimmy Fallon Late Night TV show back in April. However toaster/singer Neville Staple was notably absent. The band later cancelled other U.S. shows leading some to speculate that Staple was the focus of the visa related issues.

Heather Augustyn's recently published book 'Ska: An Oral History' confirms that Staple is the focus of the visa issue. The except below is taken from her book. "In the U.S. on April 8, 1998, while on tour to promote 'Guilty 'Til Proved Innocent' at the Metro in Chicago, Staple was arrested for battery against another band's lead singer who, according to Robert Preston (lead singer of The Cupcakes) told Staple where to put his equipment and Staple argued with him over it. Staple then hit Preston over the head with a bar stool sending him to the hospital. According to some reports, Preston called Staple a racial epithet. But rather than explain the alleged racist comment to a judge, Staple chose not to show up for his court appearance and has never returned to Chicago because their is a warrant out for his arrest. Even though he continued to live in California for a number of years after the arrest, today, back in England, he has been denied a visa to the U.S. unless he goes back to Chicago to settle the warrant.'

Unless The Specials management is able to settle the visa issue, fans in the U.S. may sadly miss out again on seeing the band. Here's to hoping the visa issue is sorted out and the band does make it to these shores in 2011!

Below are the band's announced tour dates:

2011 European dates:
15 Sept - AMSTERDAM, Paradiso
16 Sept - COPENHAGEN, Vega
18 Sept - STOCKHOLM, Circus
19 Sept - BERLIN, Astra
21 Sept - MUNICH, Backstage
22 Sept - MILAN, Alcatraz
24 Sept - COLOGNE, E Werk
25 Sept - HAMBURG, Grosse Freiheit
27 Sept - PARIS, Olympia
28 Sept - BRUSSELS, Ancienne Belgique

2011 UK dates:
11 Oct - WOLVERHAMPTON, Civic Hall
12 Oct - WOLVERHAMPTON, Civic Hall
14 Oct - MANCHESTER, Apollo
16 Oct - HULL, Arena
21 Oct - NOTTINGHAM, Arena
23 Oct - PLYMOUTH, Pavilions
24 Oct - CHELTENHAM, Racecourse
25 Oct - BRIGHTON, Centre
27 Oct - BOURNEMOUTH, International Centre
28 Oct - CARDIFF, International Arena
29 Oct - COVENTRY, Ricoh Arena
03 Nov - LONDON, Alexandra Palace

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Interview With Hepcat Drummer Greg Narvas About His 'I Was a Teenage Filipino Skinhead' Comic Series

How and why do we fall in love with ska? For some its a short fleeting affair. For others it becomes a lifetime love that can transform and change who we are. Its a question I have considered for some time and its one that I try and explore each time I sit down to write this blog. I heard ska music for the first time when I was 14 years old (The Specials first album - which both frightened and enthralled me) and it was love at first listen. I loved the sound, the look and the energy of 2-Tone and it changed my life.

Growing up in New Jersey I was drawn into the New York Ska scene of the mid-80's which coalesced around Sunday all-age matinee shows at CBGB's and The Continental featuring The Toasters, Second Step, The Boilers, Urban Blight and The New York Citizens. But I soon learned that there was plenty more ska being made outside my cocooned New York ska world. It was then that I discovered The Untouchables -- who seemed to embody what an American version of 2-Tone should look and sound like and I fell even harder. Later I found out that The Untouchables were part of something much bigger going on in Los Angeles and Orange County (including Fishbone). It was a ska music scene that included hundreds and hundreds of nattily dressed kids on scooters who lived and breathed the mod and 2-Tone lifestyle, while I was still struggling to find a real pork-pie hat, Fred Perry shirt and creepers.

Greg Narvas, the drummer for iconic Los Angeles-based ska band Hepcat (see videos of him performing drums with the band over the course of his career here, here and here), lived the Los Angeles ska experience I wished for and he has a completely unique perspective on the ska and mod sub-culture that took root there in the 80's. He grew up inside it, first as a fan, and then later as a musician, and that insight has allowed him to put his considerable artistic talents to work in creating his fantastic autobiographical comic series 'I Was A Teenage Filipino Skinhead'.

The son of Filipino immigrants who settled in Los Angeles, Narvas was drawn into the Los Angeles ska scene of the mid 8o's, where he quickly found a home with a diverse legion of other mods, skins and rude boys who shared his passion for ska and reggae music, fashion and skinhead culture. Narvas details his journey of transformation and identity from 'new wave trendy' to booted and suited skinhead. Each issue of the 10 issue comic series, which is illustrated and written by Narvas, tells his personal story through the humorous adventures he and his tight knit crew of friends encountered attending ska shows, getting into fights, riding scooters, and shopping for records and clothes. Its a must read for ska fans everywhere and has garnered glowing reviews which you can read here and here.

The rise of a ska in Los Angeles is a uniquely American music story. It was a segregated city, where school busing in the late 70's and early 80's was necessary to ensure racial integration and where people were separated from one another by race, class and highways. Kevin Long, the original singer of The Untouchables has noted in his essay, 'Epicenter of a Scene' which chronicles the Los Angeles mod and ska scene, "Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this scene -- more than the music and bands it spawned – was the emergence of an amazingly broad diversity of youth, arguably unlike any other music scene L.A. had witnessed before." It is this youth sub-culture turned social phenomena that Narvas recounts with such loving detail.

In part one of a two part interview, Narvas explains his transformation from California surf kid into a 2-Tone loving rude boy and skinhead and the experiences he had in the Los Angeles ska and mod scene of the 80's that form the basis for his amazing autobiographical comic series.

What was it like growing up in Los Angeles in the early 80's?

The early ‘80s was a great coming of age for me. It all started with my family’s move to Westchester, CA (a small community just north of LAX) in late ’79. I was 9 years old. Westchester was this clean, sparkling dreamland of a neighborhood—a stark contrast to the gritty, crime-ridden East Culver City which I had come from. In Culver City, I couldn’t even ride my bike around the block without fear of it being snatched by cholos. In Westchester, I could ride off into the sunshine all day with my parents’ only concern that I was home by dark.

Westchester was a surfer neighborhood, with the beach only a mile or so away. All my friends either surfed, boogie-boarded or body surfed. We all donned total Cali surfwear: Op (Ocean Pacific) shorts, Lightning Bolt shirts and checkered Vans. --I latched onto the body surfing thing and was crisp as a burnt biscuit every summer. There seemed to be only two things that really mattered: 1) That you wore real Vans slip-ons and not knock-offs, and 2) You listened to KMET, KLOS or The Mighty 690 (the top radio stations of the day).

My first exposure to any subculture was in the 5th grade, when I had a classmate whose older sister was punk. In complete contrast to the sun burnt, bleach-blonde sandy-skinned society, she was as pale as a dove, rail thin with sunken eyes which glared behind black eyeshadow. I went to their house once, to find her drawing a pair of hands on a t-shirt—one slashing the other one’s wrist with a razor blade. The only ink colors were black and red for the blood. It was such an unsettling image in my new found happy home—and I was intrigued instantly. My curiosity was further piqued by her Sex Pistols album, which to me was in complete, crushing defiance to the 5th-Grade taboo to mention 'sex.'

I think from then on, I was interested in things and people that broke the mold. Yet, as a kid on the brink of my teen years in a brand new neighborhood, I had to choose whether to fit in or be outcast. So I chose to fit in.

Most people I've spoken to who are into ska remember the exact moment when they fell in love with it. How did it happen for you?

My comic, “I Was A Teenage Filipino Skinhead,” starts with the landmark moment of my first Rude Boy sighting in 1983, on the P.E. field in Orville Wright Junior High School. It’s an indelible memory to this day—in the middle of a hot summer day, this guy strolled by donning a black trench coat, skinny tie, black slacks and loafers, with the stingiest brim and meanest wraparound shades I’d ever seen. Then on the back of his trench coat was this huge hot-pink-and-white checkered patch with the iconic 'Ska Joe' figure in the middle. On either side of him was the word “SKA.” I immediately thought that SKA was some kind of secret society (well, in a way, as I discovered years later, it was). Either way, I was totally intrigued by the rude boy, perhaps because he represented the same type of rebelliousness as my friend’s punk sister had—being different yet unflinching to society’s judgment.

So in my case, I actually fell in love with the fashion first before I even knew what the music was—but I knew that that’s what I wanted to be: a Rudie.

What was your first ska album you bought?

On my first trip to Melrose Avenue, as part of my initiation into the scene, I went to Vinyl Fetish to buy some ska tapes. I only had about 5-6 bucks on me, so I had to choose just one album. I had The Specials in one hand and the Dance Craze soundtrack in the other. I figured if I was going to get into Ska, I needed to be familiar with as many bands as possible. So I chose the Dance Craze soundtrack. One of the best decisions I’d ever made.

How did you go from being introduced to ska music to getting fully into seeing shows, buying records and becoming part of the LA ska scene? Was it a fast transition?

The transition was nearly immediate, after running into my cousin Rob who was a Rude Boy in ’85—at the precise time when I was tired of being “trendy” like all my friends were. I knew I wanted to hang with him and his crew from that point on, escaping every element of the mainstream world that I could.

I will admit that I hesitated at first, wondering if I’d lose all my friends if I started dressing differently and listening to different music. There were absolutely no subcultures in my high school at the time, except for a handful of punks. Finally at one point I said “Screw it,” not caring if anyone had anything to say about what I’d become.

Back then, Melrose Avenue was the place to get everything one needed to be in the scene. Shops like Cowboys and Poodles, ACE and Aardvark’s Odd Ark carried all the threads, Poseur carried shoes, patches and buttons, and shops like Bleeker Bob’s and Vinyl Fetish had all the records and tapes. It was a one-stop shop, pretty much.

So Rob took me there one weekend, and the following Monday I went to school in a whole new wardrobe. I figured I may as well go out with a bang, so I chose to wear the same black trenchcoat with the huge “ska joe” patch on the back…just like the rudie I’d seen years before. Yes, on a hot day at that. Everyone thought I was crazy. But it felt great.

I’m really lucky that Rob got me into it, ‘coz I learned right away the dos and don’ts of the scene, fashion-wise, and he pointed me in the right direction music-wise too. I’d say within months I already had tunnel vision—only caring about what the scene had to offer.

You moved pretty quickly from being a rude boy to a mod to a skinhead? What was it about skinhead culture that appealed to you? How did this decision (which you explore in your comic book series 'I Was A Teenage Filipino Skinhead") go over with your family and friends?

My first and foremost love was always ska, and my original intent was to be a Rudie. The mod scene, however, appealed to me more through the fashion aspect, and Quadrophenia (the ultimate mod-recruiting movie) made it an irresistible choice for someone like me who was seeking an exciting subculture. And knowing that the mods and rudies shared the same ground made it an easier transition as well. So before I knew it, I was donning a parka (on hot days) and strutting to soul on the dance floor.

However, I quickly learned that the 'modern' mod scene was nowhere near as exciting as its original ’60s English ancestor, at least not in L.A. Sure, the fashion was there, so was the music and scooters…but the mods tended to be really reserved and even conceited at times. In addition, There were no rival rumbles as in Quadrophenia; instead, there was only the occasional jeer from punks who dumbly recited The Exploited’s 'Fuck A Mod' lyrics, or trendy jock know-nothings who called us “nerds on mopeds.” And whenever the opportunity arose, the mods I’d be with backed down from the confrontations. It just didn’t make sense.

Meanwhile, my love for ska simply could not subside, and it would surface at the dance clubs, when my feet would be itching to skank when the DJ would put on 2-Tone. But there were hard lines back then—though the mods and rudies shared the floor, ska was reserved for the rudies, and mods only danced to soul. It was an unwritten rule, as fundamental as the fashion aspect, in which mods never sported ska patches on their parkas and rudies never wore mod buttons on their bombers—part of what made each mod and rudie “real.” So I was stuck in a sticky situation…more or less a rudie trapped inside a mod’s body, I suppose. Being that my cousin Rob was increasingly becoming a ska connoisseur didn’t help either, as we began to spend every weekend shopping at exclusive small record stores who stocked the latest releases in the genre.

One must keep in mind that around ’86-‘87, there were only those two groups to define the divide: mods & rudies. Skinheads, though seen as the 'harder cousins' of the mods, were still largely reflective of modern Oi! bands and even punk influences, and even if they liked ska, they never advertised it aside from maybe skanking with the rudies every once in a great while.

So how did I make the conversion? There are three landmark things that happened that eventually caused me to don the Docs, and this happened in mid-’87:

1. Hearing Roland Alphonso & The Soul Brothers’ Phoenix City, which I fell in love with immediately and made me instantly realize that 2-Tone ska actually wasn’t the original ska, and…
2. Discovering Nick Knight’s Skinhead book, that made the story clear that original skinheads started in ‘60s/’70s England and dressed as sharp as the mods did…
3. And the discovery of Symarip’s Skinhead Moonstomp album, which ultimately made us realize that the early Jamaican music pretty much belonged to this original clan.

The 'Skinhead' book and Symarip album discovery was reinforced by an appearance of a handful (almost literally) of a new breed of skinheads on the scene who didn’t dress like the typical Oi! skinhead, but instead, nearly matched the images we’d seen in the Skins book. Instead of the typical Fred Perry/braces/bomber jacket/18-20 hole Doc deal, these skins dressed in plaid or checkered long-sleeve shirts, jeans and short Docs (8-10 holes tops). In place of the typical shaven head, they wore their hair slightly longer (though still a buzz), using perhaps a #4-#2 clipper guard at most, but never clean shaven. This was accented by a shaven “part” on one side, and finished with long sideburns, or heavy “chops” which were sideburns that flared out toward the mouth and chin.

This distinct look was equally characteristic by them being the only ones who danced to the old ska which we’d discovered, and then even more enthusiastically to the obscure, gummy and bouncy old music which we later learned to be called Skinhead Reggae…the same reggae which we’d heard on the Symarip album.

The skinhead stomp on the dance floor was carefully measured to the music; a skanking bout, surely, but not as gleeful, fast and frantic as the Rudies’ hop-along to the 2-Tone hits. We soon learned that this curious few were known as 'traditional' skinheads—skins who chose to follow along the lines of the original aesthetic and musical tastes of the original ‘60s skins of England.

As they stomped I saw the things that appealed to me most—a true dedication and love for the music, meticulous attention to detail in the fashion, and a somber seriousness in the entire entity—almost identical to the mod thing but with a tougher appearance. And it seemed to be just what I needed.

Rob, who surely felt the same attraction, had converted almost overnight. He had the easy way in, since he’d already been a Rudie from the start. As a Mod, I certainly had more changes to make.

First off, I knew I had to get my own Docs—which were a dead ringer for all non-Mods (Mods never wore them). Everything else fell into place almost naturally. The cool thing about these skinheads was that they weren’t a complete departure from the mod scene—since they evolved from mods, there was still that same visual aesthetic, except for the hair and footwear. The only real departure was the music—skinhead reggae was something that truly defined the traditional skinhead culture, and nobody else’s.

As soon as I settled in, I couldn’t have been more happy and comfortable. Rob and I both hit the streets and the dance floors as proud traditional skinheads—ambassadors of a small, emerging new scene, who stomped on the floors to the curiosity of the Mods & Rudies, who often looked on with some puzzlement to this new, but indeed old, music that began to blare from the speakers every once in a while. At the same time, coincidentally, Trojan Records began to release album after album of early reggae and ska reissues, which fed our growing love for the genre.

For a while everything was perfect. We’d established ourselves as a truly unique identity and had made the impact, and the best part was that we were so few in numbers. It couldn’t have felt better than to be part of a small, exclusive bunch, who only made their presence known upon the needle’s drop on an early reggae tune.

Yet unfortunately, at the same time, a brewing storm appeared on the horizon, as the emergence of a “neo-nazi” skinhead culture began to make itself known, mostly to the media, who couldn’t wait to grab hold of this new 'terrible' sensation (like they always do).

When I was a mod, and even a skinhead, nobody from my 'normal' circle of friends really cared; not even my family and relatives, who had maybe initially wondered why I wasn’t like everyone else, but accepted the fact that I wasn’t a total outcast and an outright rebel. But as soon as Oprah Winfrey and Geraldo Rivera showcased these 'Nazi' skinheads on their talk shows, everything went down the drain. Suddenly everyone 'knew' what I was according to the definition of 'skinhead' on TV.
The New York and LA ska scenes of the mid to late 80's were really the epicenters of American ska. Can you describe the LA scene as you remember it?

As I describe in my comic, one outstanding aspect of the scene, from what I remember, was the real dedication within the subcultures. Mods were really mods, rudies were rudies and skins were skins. There was no “sitting on the fence” or “sort-of” anything. The worst thing anyone could be considered (or called, rather) was a poseur—someone who claimed to be something but didn’t get all the details right. I think the mid- to late-‘80s was a time when subcultures really went out of their way to set themselves apart from the “trendies.” It was the greatest feeling to be in the scene, and to be around others who cared as deeply about the music, fashion and culture as we did. Although there were some rivalries and scuffles here and there, overall it was a proud and tight community.

We were lucky to have places to congregate and shop for our music and clothes—especially Melrose Avenue, which was heaven sent for all the subcultures back then. And there was no shortage of clubs and shows either, and it seemed like all the clubs and gigs were all ages! I don’t ever remember being carded for anything, and I was dancing and drinking every weekend ‘til the wee hours of the morning at the golden age of 15.

Fashion was such a huge part of the ska scene here in NYC in the 80's. Can you describe the importance of fashion in the LA scene and how hard it was to find the right gear?

Hahah…as I said before, image was everything in the L.A. scene. Some of the unwritten, but serious rules from what I recall:

• Mods would not wear docs (boots), although 'Monkey Boots' were fair play.
Ska patches or buttons on mod parkas were a no-no.
• Mod patches or buttons on rudie apparel (i.e., flight jackets) were a no-no.
• Skins wouldn’t be caught dead sporting any mod patches or symbols on anything they wore, although some did wear some ska stuff (hence the term “2-Tone skinhead”).
• The premium mod parka of choice was the M-1951, M-51 or M-65 fishtail (isn’t it always?)
• Any kind of “trendy” footwear was avoided at all costs. At the bare minimum, one would wear 'Winos' for casual wear. Then when the Adidas Samba trainers finally arrived (whew!), people wore those for sneakers.
Fred Perry shirts and jackets were fair game, if not a requisite, for everybody. That was probably the only piece of apparel that the mods, rudies and skins had in common…the glue!

The traditionalist skinheads tried even harder to separate themselves from the Oi! and “2-Tone” skinheads, through a few basic rituals:

Fred Perry's were ok, but the preferred top was a button-up long sleeve with the sleeves rolled up, in a solid or check pattern. Authentic Ben Sherman's, the ultimate trad top, were ultra-rare and nearly impossible to get unless one knew someone in England, or knew someone who was crossing the pond and could get one for them.
Flight jackets, the stereotypical coat of the contemporary skins, were a no-no. The jacket of choice was a Levi’s denim sheepskin coat, which pretty much became the beacon of the traditional skins—you could spot one from a mile away. Harringtons were also a great asset, if you could get your hands on one.
• Boots were never higher than 10-hole. The preferred height was 8-hole Docs. When Doc Martens released the Highlander soles, those were highly sought after since they most closely resembled the boots on the Symarip album cover.
• Unlike most mods, rudies and skins, the traditionalists didn’t wear any buttons or patches advertising their taste in music and/or bands. The true test was in the clothes, not the pins.
• Traditionalists never shaved their head completely bald; the preferred look was a #2-#4 guard (I wore a #4) with long sideburns or “chops.”

It’s both a comedy and a tragedy to see how instantly available everything is these days, in the information age. I see Fred Perry's and Ben Sherman's nowadays which I could only dream of having back in my day; the same goes with 'Crombies' and 'Donkey Jackets' which were prized possessions of the original skinheads of ’69…kids sport those things like nothing nowadays, while they were impossible to find 25 years ago (hence the affinity for the Levi’s sheepskin jackets, which were the next best thing).

When did you decide to become a drummer? Did you play the drums before you were into ska?

I’ve always been attracted to rhythms for as long as I can remember. I was tapping out rhythms on practically any surface imaginable as early as the 4th Grade (1980), which drove my classmates and my teacher absolutely nuts. It got so bad, actually, that my teacher called my parents in for a conference to discuss this “nervous habit” that I had. So for awhile I had to restrain myself from drumming in class. It wasn’t until years later (about ’84 I think) that I finally got my first drum set to scratch my itch.

I had a neighbor my age who was really into classic rock and heavy metal. He played guitar. When he found out I played drums he flipped. “Dood! You wanna jam??!” So then began a series of jams in his garage, mostly doing tunes like Roy Orbison’s 'Pretty Woman' and Sex Pistol’s 'Anarchy in the UK'.

When I got into the scene a couple of years later, bands like The Selecter really turned me on to ska drumming. I first started drumming to 'On My Radio' (which was, and still is, my favorite song by them), then I got into 'James Bond', which was a very unusual song to me as it was the only one in which the snare (rim click) and kick were played in unison on the 2's and 4's.

After getting into early ska and reggae, one of my favorite songs was The Maytals’ Broadway Jungle, which I listened to with my ear literally against the speaker of my Yorx stereo system, trying to figure out what kind of drumbeat was being played. It was so minimal, but the groove was ridiculously heavy. At first I thought he was playing just the rim click, then I realized it was simply a variation of the 'James Bond' type of playing, where the kick was hit in unison. It was a landmark discovery for me, and from that point on, I was hooked.

Part two of the interview will focus on Narvas's experiences playing drums with Oi band Lion's Pride and the early days of Hepcat.

Below are links to where you can purchase copies of The Untouchables 'Wild Child' album and copies of Hepcat's 'Right On Time', 'Out Of Nowhere' and 'Scientific' albums:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Don't Read That, Read This! - 'House Of Fun: The Story Of Madness' Arrives At MOTB Household!

At last! 'House Of Fun: The Story Of Madness' (all 502 blessed and joyful pages of it!) arrived via Royal Mail from the U.K. at my humble abode here in the Big Apple today. I've already dug in to the tome and hope to have a review up in the next few weeks (given the book weighs close to 3 pounds it may take a bit longer give or take a few long subway rides where I may make some headway).

The book received a 4-star lead review in the latest issue of MOJO, so its almost hard to believe its taken until now for a proper bio on the band to be produced. According to several U.K.-based reviews, 'House Of Fun' is actually the first official, band-approved Madness biography ever. Several similar books have been started, deleted or abandoned over the years and, by the author John Reed's own admission, this one too was delayed by as much as a year (no shock really, given the seven strong personalities within the group. It’s a miracle they ever managed to reach a consensus to approve publication of the book!). The book covers the band from their roots in North London through their rise as part of 2-Tone and their fall and disintegration in the late 80s and subsequent rise again via the Madstock festivals and new recordings. The book is authenticated by candid interviews Reed conducted with those who've worked with Madness over the years.

If you are a Madness fan, this is your new bible! So open up those wallets and purses and shell out for a copy. If you've already read the book, then share your thoughts with a comment! The good news for Madness fans in the U.S. is that the book is now available for sale from in the U.S. Click the link below:

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Marco On The Bass Giveaway: Get a FREE COPY of 'Ska: An Oral History' by Heather Augustyn

It's that time of year and I am in a giving mood! As a way of thanking all the readers who have visited the MOTB blog over the last 11 months, I'm planning to do a few periodic giveaways between now and the end of the year. If it proves popular, I will look to make giveaways a more regular feature of the blog in 2011.

Up for grabs is a free copy of the must have ska book of 2010 -- 'Ska: An Oral History' written by Heather Augustyn. The book features the personal stories and oral histories of over 30 different Jamaican, English, and American ska musicians including never-before heard words from such greats as The Skatalites’ Doreen Shaffer, Roland Alphonso, Lloyd Brevett, Lloyd Knibb, and Lester Sterling; Derrick Morgan and Patsy (Millicent Todd); Lyn Taitt; Laurel Aitken; Toots Hibbert; Millie Small; Alex Hughes (Judge Dread); The Specials’ Roddy Byers (Roddy Radiation); The Beat’s Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger; Lee "Kix" Thompson from Madness; The Selecter’s Pauline Black; and Buster Bloodvessel of Bad Manners. I reviewed a copy of the book back in October (read the review here) and conducted an interview with Augustyn back in May (read the interview here). Need more convincing? Have a look at some of the reviews the book is garnering across the ska and reggae blogosphere including: Trojan Records and The Jamaican Gleaner.

So how can YOU get a copy of 'Ska: An Oral History' by Heather Augustyn for free? The book give away is open to MOTB blog readers who sign-up to join the blog e-mail distribution list between today November 16th and Tuesday November 30th (think of this as a membership drive - one that will keep you up-to-date on the types of information and news you are used to reading on the blog as well as special offers). Just send an e-mail with the subject line 'Ska Book' to to enter. I will randomly select one winner to receive the book and one runner-up who will receive a free copy of the new Bigger Thomas CD 'Steal My Sound' featuring 10 2-Tone inspired ska and reggae songs and art-work designed by original 2-Tone and Chrysalis Records artist John 'Teflon' Sims. The winner of the MOTB book giveaway will be drawn on November 30th 2010. Good luck and start sending in those e-mails!

If you are interested in buying the book, it is available for sale on Click below:

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Finley Quaye Makes A Reggae Comeback with 'Tape Loops' Series

Whatever happened to Finley Quaye? It's a question that fans of this talented, but enigmatic artist have asked for several years. The Edinburgh born singer of Scottish and Ghanaian parents who won the 1997 Mobo Award for best reggae act and the 1998 BRIT Award for Best British Male Solo Artist for his sublime mix of reggae, soul and electronica on 'Maverick A Strike' has seemingly struggled to match the impact he made with his debut in the mid 1990's. Upon its release in 1997, he enjoyed critical acclaim for his take on modern reggae and for his effortless singing on songs like 'Ultra Stimulation' and 'Sunday Shining' and 'It's Great When We're Together' that brought comparisons to both Al Green and Bob Marley and which likely created unrealistic expectations among critics and fans alike.

The pressure and attention took its toll and Quaye began to make news for the wrong reasons – drink, drugs and rehab. Looking for a change, he moved from London to Berlin where he got his head straight, sorted out his act and plotted his return. Though he's had his share of personal ups and downs since, he has continued to release music and tour and remains a talent who should not be written off (read a review of a live show he played in Manchester in October and another from Ireland earlier this year). While he's had trouble crossing over from the U.K. to the U.S. market, he did cause a stir here with the song 'Dice' (a collaboration with William Orbit and Beth Orton) that featured prominently in the U.S. television series 'The O.C.' in 2004.

I am pleased to report that Quaye has recently re-embraced his penchant for reggae with a number of compelling releases. In 2009 he digitally released the excellent 4-track 'Pound For Pound' EP and its dub version 'Sound For Sound'. Earlier this year he hooked up with the house producers from Jalapeno Records, a U.K. dance music collective, who had him sing on a series of heavy bass driven classic reggae and dub tracks. Titled 'Tape Loops, Vol. 1' and 'Tape Loops, Vol. 2' for their use of analog tapes and tape loop samples, the songs are available on vinyl and mp3 and have been receiving positive reviews and airplay. Have a listen below to 'Street People' from 'Pound For Pound' and 'Never Do That' from Volume 1 and a remix of 'Milk & Honey' from Volume 2 that are featured on the Tape Loops collaborations. The songs suggest a return to form for Quaye who also has plans to record a new album.

Here is a link to listen to and purchase songs from 'Pound For Pound' on

Quaye has tour dates in the U.K. and Ireland in November and December including stops in Manchester, Dublin and London. More information on tickets is available here.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Terry Hall Confirms The Specials Will Tour In 2011: Band Will Perform 'The Specials' and 'More Specials' Albums Back-To-Back Live

During an in-person interview yesterday in front of a live audience of 3,000 in Manchester, England with journalist and legendary Ha├žienda DJ Dave Haslam, Terry Hall confirmed that The Specials are planning to undertake a lengthy tour in 2011 that will have them playing their two albums 'The Specials' and 'More Specials'. According to those in the audience, Hall said the tour would start in July and that the format would be for the band to play both albums back to back.

The good news is that fans will finally be able to hear tracks like 'I Can't Stand It', 'Do Nothing' and 'Pearl's Cafe' live. Sadly Hall did not mention any news of the band moving forward with new recordings and suggested that the band may call it quits after the end of the tour (which makes perfect sense if they don't plan to record any new material). Read a first-hand account of the interview here and watch an excerpt of the 90 minute interview below where Hall discusses his approach to songwriting.

Fans in the U.K. who want to celebrate the news of the 2011 tour may want to head down to Brighton next Friday November 19th, where Hall is booked to do one his legendary DJ sets at the Concorde 2. Hall's DJ sets are quite eclectic and he mixes various genres of music ranging from reggae to ska, old pop and R&B and lots of Bowie. Don't be surprised if he brings his son Felix along to spin a few tracks. The younger Hall is an up and coming reggae DJ based in London. Tickets are available for £10.00 and can be purchased online.

Below are links to where you can buy copies of 'The Specials' and 'More Specials' albums: