Sunday, December 26, 2010

Marco On The Bass Takes A Look Back At The Year In Ska 2010

While 2010 was a stressful year for most people (continued job losses, mounting unemployment rates, continued home foreclosures) it's going to be very hard to top when it comes to ska. There was an unbelievable cornucopia of 2-Tone era band reunions, tours, shows, books, media coverage and new albums and music to enjoy. In fact, the amount of ska related developments came so fast and furious at times, it was hard to keep up because there was so much to write about. So in that time honored tradition of looking back at the year that was, here is my top 10 Marco On The Bass ska highlights countdown of 2010 as well as my list of the best ska/reggae bands of the year.

10. 2-Tone Central Museum Launched
Long a dream of 2-Tone fans everywhere, Coventry music historian and music journalist Pete Chambers was instrumental in helping create and curate 2-Tone Central, a museum dedicated to the history of 2-Tone and its impact on the world of music. The museum is multi-faceted and includes exhibits, a cafe and a stage that will feature regular performances of ska and reggae. Opening night in Coventry this past October included members of The Specials, The Selecter and The Beat.  Have a look below:

9. Books, books and more books about ska!
Was it me or were there more and more books about ska and ska bands available to read in 2010? Some of my favorites included 'Ska: An Oral History' by Heather Augustyn and 'House Of Fun - The Story Of Madness' by John Read.  I was also a fan and regular reader of Horace Panter's blog 'Summer Fun With The Specials' posted on The Specials web site that chronicled the band's summer tour of European Festivals and picked up where Panter's excellent read 'Ska'd For Life' left off.   In this year of The Specials I also read Neville Staple's memoir 'Original Rude Boy: From Borstal To The Specials' which was his recollection of life growing up in Coventry and detailed the Black British experience and Paul 'Willo' Williams comprehensive history of the band 'You're Wondering Now: The Specials: From Conception To Reunion' which quickly became the bible for all fans of the band and provided an insiders view of the band's reunion in 2009.

8. The Selecter vs. The Selecter!?
2010 marked the 30th anniversary of the release of The Selecter's iconic 'Too Much Pressure' album. It also saw the emergence of two competing versions of the band led separately by vocalist Pauline Black on one side and lead guitarist Neol Davies on the other.  Though the reality of two version of The Selecter is intriguing, its a shame that the original members remain unable to patch up their differences and come together to properly honor their legacy.  I suppose two bands called The Selecter is better than the alternative....(watch video of each band below).

7. This Is England '86 TV Series
Shane Meadows' award winning 'This Is England' film about a band of young skinheads in the north of England, was turned into a successful 4-part TV series titled 'This Is England '86' on Channel 4 in the U.K in 2010. Picking up 3 years after the end of the film, the series was an immediate hit when it aired in September. Based on the popularity of the series and critical reviews, Channel 4 has just commissioned 'This Is England '90'. Watch the promo below.  The DVD for the series was just recently released on in the U.K.

6. 'Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone' Documentary Released
I don't even know what to say that hasn't already been said about Fishbone. They remain, hands down, one of the best live bands I have ever seen and one of the best American bands of all time.  I was lucky enough to be able to see a preview of the documentary when it was screened during the CMJ Music Marathon & Film Festival in New York City this past October and to interview the film makers who produced it.  The warts and all film traces the history of the band from their early days as high school friends who start a band, blow up big, attempt to conquer the musical world and then run into musical racism, fight with one another, lose members, replace members, continue to carry on and influence a generation of musicians and bands in the process. It's a must see. Watch a clip below:

5. UB40 'Signing Off' 30th Anniversary Tour
UB40 marked the 30th anniversary of the release of their first album 'Signing Off' with a U.K. tour where they performed the record in its entirety. I was lucky enough to catch the band during a short 2-week tour of the U.S. this past October where they previewed tracks from the album and was astounded at how great the band sounded. Heralded as a landmark when it was released in late August 1980, 'Signing Off' chronicled the times, and wider social and political issues, as well as the plight of inner cities like Birmingham throughout the UK during the early Thatcher years. The album went on to attain Platinum status after spending 71 weeks in the UK charts, peaking at number two, featuring hit singles 'King', 'Food For Thought' and 'I Think It’s Going to Rain Today'.

4. London International Ska Festival Announced for 2011
Though still a few months away, the announcement of the 2011 London International Ska Festival during the summer of 2010, immediately captured the attention and imagination of ska fans the world over.  The festival is the brainchild of Sean Flowerdew (who has performed with The Loafers, Special Beat and Pama International) and is a follow-up to the first London ska festival that he organized and promoted in 1988 at the Brixton Fridge.  The four day festival will take over the Clapham Grand Theatre in London from April 21st to 24th, 2011 and will feature a list of headliners that includes Ken Boothe, The English Beat featuring Dave Wakeling, Dave & Ansell Collins, Bob & Marcia, James Hunter, The Ska Flames and The Dub Pistols and many others.

3. American Ska/Reggae Bands Of The 80's Make A Comeback in 2010
2010 was also the year that a number of iconic American ska bands hit the comeback trail including my personal favorites Boston's Bim Skala Bim (who played a 4-date mini tour of New England in August and will be traveling to London for the London International Ska Festival in April),  Chicago's Heavy Manners who played shows around their hometown and released a series of never before heard tracks they recorded in the 80's with Peter Tosh.  Blue Riddim Band (American reggae pioneers from Kansas City) returned to action for the first time in 25 years in 2010 with a stirring collection of songs that honor the artists and songs that have influenced them throughout their nearly four decade career that includes a 1986 Grammy nomination for best reggae album. Finally, I'm happy to report that the surviving members of The X-Streams, an incredibly talented but overlooked 2-Tone era American ska band from Phoenix, Arizona, have finally made some amazing unreleased demo tracks they recorded in Los Angeles in 1980 with noted Warner Brothers producer Paul Wexler (son of Jerry Wexler) available for all to hear.

2. 'N.Y. Beat: Hit & Run' 25th Anniversary Reunion
One of the high points of the year was a reunion this past April to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the release of one of the very first American ska compilations. NY Beat: Hit and Run' was the very first compilation of U.S. ska ever. Released by Moon Records in 1985-86, it captures a snapshot in time of a vibrant New York ska scene that was notable for its musicianship but also its cultural diversity and its relative youth (average age 17-20 years old). While the music on the record is more influenced by the British 2-Tone movement than the later bands that would drive the third-wave revival, its a diverse mix of ska, reggae, pop, punk, funk, rock and soul. Artists include A-Kings, Beat Brigade, The Boilers, City Beat, Cryin' Out Loud, The Daybreakers, Floorkiss, The Press, The Scene, Second Step, The Toasters and Urban Blight. Amazingly, many of the musicians who started and played in these bands are still actively playing and performing.  The reunion came about as a result of profiles and interviews I posted during 2009 and 2010 about bands and musicians who were part of the 1980's NYC ska scene. As I met and spoke with more and more musicians who played in the bands featured on the N.Y. Beat! compilation, they were excited about the idea of coming together to celebrate the social and musical movement they collectively created.  It was a memorable night!

1. The Specials return to New York City For The First Time In 29 Years!
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 over 2 nights in April. The shows 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! Here's to hoping the band make it back to the Big Apple one last time now that they have announced their last this tour in 2011. Watch the band rip through 'It's Up To You' and 'Monkey Man' from the first New York Show:

Marco On The Bass: Best Bands/Music Of 2010

1. Madness - The Nutty Boys wrapped up 2010 with a sold out 'Do Not Adjust Your Nut' tour of the U.K. performing new songs that should feature on a new album they plan to release in 2011. You can download 13 free mp3's of tracks the band played on their most recent tour.

2. The Specials - Continued to hone their live show with a series of shows around the world in 2010.  Despite their on again, off again announcements that they would record new material (they won't be), the band may be one of the best live acts performing today. Check out the live DVD the band released of their 30th Anniversary tour available on

3. King Hammond - Released not one, but two CD's worth of some of the best ska/pop/skinhead reggae you will ever hear. Nick Welsh, who cut his teeth in Bad Manners and later The Selecter, may be one of best pure ska-pop songwriters you will ever hear.  Read the MOTB interview with the King himself.

4. Kid British - Raised their profile and positioned themselves as one of the U.K. up and coming ska-influenced bands with a support slot on UB40's 'Signing Off' U.K. tour and recorded a number of ska influenced covers of great tracks including Thin Lizzy's 'The Boys Are Back In Town' and New Order's 'Blue Monday'. 

5. The Caroloregians - Belgium's finest finally made it to the U.S. where they showed why they are one of the best ska bands recording and performing right now.  Check out video of their performance from the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn this past summer:

6. Green Room Rockers - Lafayette, Indiana's very own Green Room Rockers (GRR) have just released a new self-titled album and with it they are making their case to be one of the brightest American ska bands on the scene. The record, which is the follow-up to their 2007 debut 'Hoosier Homegrown' was produced by Dave Hillyard of The Slackers, which adds to its bona fides.

7. Mos Dub - Following hot on the heels of the fantastic and inventive 'MJ A Rocker' mix by The Drastics in the Summer of 2009, comes 'Mos Dub', a wildly creative and highly addictive mix of classic reggae tracks re-imagined by the remix artist Max Tannone. Where The Drastics recorded faithful rocksteady reggae studio versions of Michael Jackson's well known songs before dropping his original vocals on top, Tannone has matched the acapella vocals of hip-hop artist Mos Def to classic dub and roots reggae classics. The result may be one of the best reggae recordings of 2010. Read the MOTB with Tannone.

8. UB40 - Kept things interesting for their old and new fans alike by releasing 'Labour Of Love 4' and an amazing re-issue of 'Signing Off' to celebrate its 30th anniversary in the same calendar year.  The band undertook a tour of the U.S. followed by a sold out ''Signing Off'' tour of the U.K.  I saw the band play at BB King's in New York City in October and I am happy to report that their new lead singer Duncan Campbell is just as good, if not better than his brother Ali who he replaced in 2008.  Read an interview I did with band trumpet player Laurence Parry and watch video I recorded of the band performing 'Little By Little' from 'Signing Off':

9. The Forthrights - This 4-piece of early 20-somethings from Brooklyn, NY 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. Check out their video for 'Other People' below:

10. SupaJamma - Former Audioweb frontman Martin 'Sugar' Merchant has a new band that takes off where his original band left off mixing reggae with rock for something exciting and unique. Read my review with Merchant and check out video of his new band below:


Steve from Moon said...

Awesome year-end wrap up, Marc! Bravo!

simonbward said...

great stuff marco.lots to look forward to.keep up the great work you do on this blog.stay special.simon in coventry x