Saturday, July 30, 2011

Doin' The Popcorn Ska - 7" Vinyl Bootleg Captures Early 60's Teen Ska/Doo-Wop Sound

While Jamaican ska was originally influenced by the sound of American R&B and jazz picked up in Kingston from radio broadcasts in New Orleans and Miami, the sound of early 60's ska also had an impact on American pop music of the same era.  Most of this can be traced directly back to Millie Small's smash 'My Boy Lollipop' which hit #2 in both the U.S. and U.K. and which introduced the ska rhythm to American ears for the first time. Small's version of 'My Boy Lollipop (which was originally written by American doo wop group The Cadillacs in the late 1950's) sold over six million records worldwide and helped to launch Island Records into mainstream popular music. It remains one of the best-selling reggae/ska hits of all time.

For a time, thanks to Small, the ska rhythm was all the rage with American musical producers who saw it as the latest fad to get American teens dancing and buying more records.  To that end, the people behind the Ska Boots series are about to release a four track EP 'Doin' The Popcorn Ska', which honors this uniquely teen/crooner style of ska-pop/doo-wop.  Surprisingly the 7" (which is available on vinyl from Piccadilly Records in the U.K.) features uniquely American artists -- Neil Sedaka, Annette Funicello and The Fleetwoods -- much better known for their 60's American vocal pop hits than for ska.

The A-side of the EP opens with Neil Sedaka's B-movie gem 'Do The Jellyfish', taken from the terrible 1964 B-movie horror flick 'Sting Of Death'.  Next up is Annette Funicello (from the Mickey Mouse Club) singing her original early 60's version teen-pop cut 'Jamaica Ska' (which she later reprised with backing from Fishbone for the 1987 teen flick 'Back To The Beach').  The B-side features The Fleetwoods' 'Ska Light Ska Bright', which is surprisingly good considering their white bread appeal, and the EP closes with Baby Earl & The Trini-Dads' ace 'Back Slop' which was the alias for soul group The Church Street Five and sax player Earl Swanson who backed Gray 'U.S.' Bonds and Jimmy Soul.  Its the pick of the litter, sounding like an early 60's outtake from The Skatalites.

Here are all four songs courtesy of YouTube:

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Unfinished Amy Winehouse Reggae Album Set for Post-humous Release

While Amy Winehouse will be best remembered for the two brilliant neo-soul albums she released -- 'Frank' and 'Back To Black' -- her love of ska and reggae ran deep as evidenced by the number of ska covers she recorded and her love for The Specials, who she famously guested with live a few years back. That love of Caribbean sounds (which featured on a number of ska b-sides pulled together for 'The Ska EP') apparently inspired Winehouse to record an album's worth of unreleased reggae tracks.

As far back as 2008, the The Mirror in the U.K. was reporting on Winehouse's trip to St. Lucia and Jamaica where she stayed at Bob Marley's estate and was reportedly working with his son Damein Marley on a set of dark, heavily reggae-flavored songs that were inspired by her failed marriage. Now The Telegraph in the U.K. is reporting Winehouse's unfinished final reggae record is likely to receive a posthumous release. According to the story:
Winehouse had spent the past two years working sporadically on a third album. Sources said that the songs were at demo stage but there was "a lot of material" available. Winehouse's parents, Mitch and Janis, will have the final say on its release and it is expected to outsell Back To Black's five million copies.
Industry experts described Winehouse as a true talent and said there would be huge demand for a posthumous album.
Winehouse was apparently shuttling between recording songs in line with her trademark soul sound with Back to Black producer Mark Ronson and more reggae-tinged material while she was in St. Lucia, (though her label, Island Records were reported to have rejected the reggae demos that Winehouse submitted).   Reports have varied significantly as to what stage the reggae album is in, and whether there is enough material for a full-length new album to be released posthumously. Winehouse protege Dionne Bromfield also claimed to have heard the final album.

No one from the label has confirmed the album’s completion or posted a release date, and there’s yet to be any music from it that’s seen the light of day, so it remains to be seen if the reggae songs will eventually be released as part of an actual album or as part of a larger greatest hits or other retrospective.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

In Rememberence Of Amy Winehouse

Like everyone else I heard the very sad news about the untimely passing of Amy Winehouse over the weekend.  My condolences and thoughts are with her family during this very difficult time.  She was a truly unique talent who I greatly admired and she will be deeply missed.

Its no secret that Winehouse had a thing for ska and for 2-Tone in particular and that made me love her even more. She covered The Specials live (quite memorably at the Glastonbury Festival back in 2008 urging them to re-form from the stage) and had members of the band join her on stage. Later, she joined the reunited line-up of The Specials live and you could tell she loved every minute of the experience.

Winehouse was such a ska fan that she confirmed to Rolling Stone back in 2008 that her planned follow-up to her break through 'Back To Black' would include a fair amount of ska.  Like her penchant and ease with soul and RnB which she wore like a second skin, ska seemed to come effortlessly to Winehouse. Sadly, that album or any of the ska songs she might have demoed or recorded is unlikely to see the light of day and that's a shame.

To pay homage to Winehouse and to her love of ska, I have posted some of her best live versions of her singing 2-Tone classics by The Specials below.  

Here she is performing 'Message To You Rudie' and 'You're Wondering Now' live from the Glastonbury Festival on June 29, 2008:

Her she is performing 'You're Wondering Now' live with The Specials:

Finally, for those of you who share my love of Winehouse's ska side, I'm reposting for download a very rare, limited edition, European fan club only 4-song 12" EP that includes her singing very faithful 2-Tone ska and reggae versions of The Specials' 'Monkey Man', 'Hey Little Rich Girl', 'You're Wondering Now' and a moving ska/reggae take on Sam Cooke's 'Cupid'.

Please play them loud and say a prayer for Amy's soul. Rest in peace Amy...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Win A FREE Copy Of America's 2-Tone Band The Crombies New 7" Single Courtesy Of Jump Up Records

Sadly, The Specials won't be making it back across the pond during their final farewell reunion tour of Europe and the U.K. this fall, but anyone who happens to live in the Midwest of the U.S. can enjoy the next best thing -- America's 2-Tone band The Crombies!

Combining their love of ska, reggae, punk, and rock, The Crombies may be the finest American 2-Tone All-Star tribute band I've ever seen or heard!  Founded by vocalist Mike Park (ex-Deal’s Gone Bad, Lord Mike’s Dirty Calypsonians) and Deal’s Gone Bad guitarist Dave Simon, the six-piece band perform fantastic, pitch perfect versions of songs by The Specials, Madness, Bad Manners, The Beat and more.

The Crombies have made such an impression on crowds around Chicago, that none other than super ska label Jump Up Records are about to release a 7" single by the band featuring a fantastic 2-Tone inspired cover version of Niney The Observer's reggae classic 'Blood & Fire' backed with 'Mad At The World'.  The song is a revelation taking the best of The Specials and The Selecter and mixing it with a hint of punk and reggae.

In order to celebrate the release of the single, Jump Up Records has kindly offered to give away 10 FREE copies of the single to Marco On The Bass blog readers living in the U.S. (sorry rest of the world!).  The first 10 people to send their snail mail address to with 'The Crombies' in the subject line of the e-mail will receive a free copy of the single in the mail courtesy of Jump Up Records. [NOTE: All 10 copies have now been spoken for!  Stay tuned for more cool giveaways in the future.]

And, if you live in Chicago, be sure to stop by The Late Bar this Friday July 22nd for a release party for The Crombies 7" hosted by DJ Chuck Wren, who will be spinning 2-Tone Dance Craze favorites plus hundreds of private press ska rarities on vinyl.

Cant' wait to get the vinyl?  Give a listen to a live version of The Crombies performing 'Blood & Fire' below as well as live versions of some of the other great 2-Tone tracks the band performs. Long live 2-Tone!

The Crombies perform 'Gangsters' by The Specials

The Crombies perform 'Night Boast To Cairo' by Madness

The Crombies perform 'Twist & Crawl' by The Beat

The Crombies perform 'Lorraine' by Bad Manners

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The London Internal Ska Festival 2012 Launches 'Ska Idol' Competition!

Today sees the launch of The London International Ska Festival 2012 Band Competition. One lucky ska band or solo artist, from anywhere in the world will be selected as the 'people's choice' to perform at next years festival. Looks like we have ourselves a little Ska Idol competition!

The 2011 festival was such a resounding success that festival organizer Sean Flowerdew has decided to make it an annual event. One of  Flowerdew's goals is to introduce new artists and he is enlisting the global ska community to help him choose one deserving act.

The band competition is open to any ska inspired band or solo artist from anywhere in the world. To enter, artists or bands just have to email their band name to with a weblink of their music (myspace/facebook/youtube/soundcloud). Flowerdew has asked that bands put '2012 Band Competition' in the subject line. All entries must be submitted by August 31, 2011.  Twenty bands will then be shortlisted and posted online for the public to vote for their favorite. Voting will take place between September 1, 2011 through November 30, 2011. The band with the most votes will win an opening slot at The London International Ska Festival 2012, with all travel/hotel expenses paid.

2012's line up promises 40 acts including Jamaican legends, an incredible 2 Tone Revue, plus acts from 15 countries. The first acts announced are: Neol Davies (The Selecter), Hotknives (original line up), Los Granadians (Spain), plus DJs Andy Smith, Count Skylarkin & Mark Barrett (Pressure Drop). A limited supply of earlybird/discounted tickets are available online now at

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Producer Dennis Bovell & Ex-Beta Band Vocalist Steve Mason Collaborate On Reggae/Dub Album

Former Beta Band front man Steve Mason has joined forces with respected reggae artist/producer and bassist Dennis Bovell for a dub reinterpretation of his debut solo album, 'Boys Outside', which was released last year. As such, the remix collaboration titled 'Ghosts Outside' takes Mason’s solo album and strips it down to its dub-reggae elements with surprising results. Mason’s haunting vocals are perfectly suited to a backdrop of stripped back dub beats and shimmering horns.

Bovell was a one time member of British reggae act Matumbi, finding success as a record producer working with a diverse group of artists including I-Roy, The Thompson Twins, Alpha Blondy, Bananarama, The Pop Group, Fela Kuti, The Slits, Orange Juice and Madness. He has collaborated with dub poet, Linton Kwesi Johnson for much of his working life. He would seem the perfect producer for a project like this.

Mason was vocalist with The Beta Band, who were a Scottish musical group who received much critical acclaim and achieved cult status amongst avid followers of the underground and experimental music scene. Their style was described as being 'folktronica', a blend of folk, electronic, rock, trip hop, and experimental jamming. Mason has acknowledged the influence of reggae and dub music on his song writing.

The pair have kindly share a copy of ‘Yesterday Dub’ ahead of the release of the album. Its a refreshingly old school reggae/dub track with throbbing bass, propulsive beats and brass trimmings. Throughout, Mason’s vocals are kept minimal; a sampled line here, an indecipherable, looped enunciation there. While the DNA of the original album comes, it still sounds miles away from the source material.

Ghosts Outside will be available digitally on July 26th and physically from August 2nd. Give 'Yesterday Dub' a listen below:

Steve Mason & Dennis Bovell - Yesterday Dub by DominoRecordCo

Monday, July 18, 2011

Introducing Razika: Norwegian Ska Quartet Channel 2-Tone Sound On Debut

While Norway may be best known musically for the sound of Black Metal, A-Ha and Roykspop, the sound of 2-Tone ska is alive and well thanks to the latest efforts of Razika, a quartet of 19-year-old girls from Bergen, Norway, who recently got the stamp of approval from The Guardian in the U.K. Described as "an exhilarating mix of ska, Riot Grrl, 60s girl groups, post-punk and upbeat, C86 pop that would make Phil Spector, The Specials and The Raincoats proud," the band are gearing up to release their debut album Program 91 which is out August 16 on indie label Smalltown Supersound.

The band are a group of childhood friends —Marie Amdam, Maria RĂ¥kil, Marie Moe and Embla Karidotter Dahleng— who started playing together at 14 (in fact their name is a code word they used to identify cute boys at school). As teenage girls playing music influenced by ska and punk, the obvious comparison is The Slits, but the comparison doesn't quite fit. Instead I would say they channel the energy and sound of The Bodysnatchers early 2-Tone sound mixed with a multitude of indie pop influences that span many musical generations.

They switch between English and Norwegian from song to song but that has no effect on the listener.  The guitars skank and chime away while the band explore the fine line between their own youthful exuberance and wistful nostalgia of their parents records and CDs which they obviously listened to with great care and passion.

Have a listen to three of the band's best songs including 'Nytt Paa Nytt" which lifts the introduction of 'Gangsters' to rapturous effect!

Taste My Dream by Razika

Nytt Paa Nytt by Razika

Vondt I Hjertet by Razika

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Bim Skala Bim To Perform A Series Of Summer Shows Across New England

Boston's Bim Skala Bim have announced a series of shows around New England in late July. These shows will be their first since they played the London International Ska Festival back in April and their first in the U.S. since four shows they played at the same venues last summer. Its been announced that these shows will feature all of the original members of the band plus a number of special guests.

Bim Skala Bim and The Toasters (from New York) both formed in the summer of 1983, apparently within about a month of each other and have the distinction (along with The Untouchables from Los Angeles and Heavy Manners from Chicago) of helping to create and build a thriving American ska scene in the 1980's. The band were influenced by the 2-Tone, as well as bands such as The Clash, UB40 and Bob Marley. They released several albums over the course of their career and they started their own record label to release music by other ska bands.

Here are a few videos of the band performing a few classics from a show in Boston in 1989 including ''Fathead, and 'Things You Do':

The August show dates include:

July 27: Newport Blues Cafe (Newport, Rhode Island)
July 29 Johnny D's (Sommerville, Massachusetts)
July 30: The Beachcomber (Wellfleet, Massachusetts)
July 31: The Beachcomber (Wellfleet, Massachusetts)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Interview With 'Riot On The Dancefloor' Director Steve Tozzi: Documenatry Tells The Story Of City Gardens & Randy Now

As a young suburban New Jersey ska aficionado in the early to mid 1980's, I had an ongoing love affair with a big ugly hulk of a building in a blighted area of Trenton, New Jersey known as City Gardens. While it was primarily known as a punk rock club, what I loved most about the place was the number of ska and reggae shows the club's promoter Randy Now booked. Randy was clearly a fan of the genre and he went out of his way to book the best local and regional ska bands from NYC, Boston and Philly including The Toasters, The NY Citizens, Bim Skala Bim and Scram. It was always easier to wait and see these bands when they came to Trenton then to trek into CBGB's or The Ritz in New York City.

I remember the first show I ever saw at the club (The Groceries, a local NJ band with a good following) when I was a high school senior. The club was in very run down part of Trenton and it was a dark, dirty and dingy place but I was always excited to go there. The car rides with my friends to and from the club were always memorable and the characters who ran the club (e.g., Randy) seemed larger than life to me as a 18 year old. Its fair to say that my experiences seeing a variety of diverse shows at City Gardens molded me into the music fan I am today.

Fast forward a few years.  My love and passion for ska led me to start my own band in New Brunswick, New Jersey while I was a student at Rutgers University. In fact, it was a chance meeting that singer Roger Apollon and I had with Steve Meicke (our original sax player) at a Ranking Roger show at City Gardens in August 1988 that took our band (then known as Panic!) from the planning stages to reality. Somehow Randy heard about us and the noise we were making and he offered us a show opening for Boston's Bim Skala Bim in March 1989. We must have made an impression on Randy, because he kept on booking us for the next 2 1/2 years until the original band split after a bittersweet gig opening for our musical heroes The Special Beat in September 1991.

Its safe to say that Randy Now played a huge role in helping us become the band we are nearly 20 years later. He acted as an unofficial booking manager (he booked us on our first tour as support for The Selecter in 1991), connection maker and guru to us and later as a good friend to me. Whenever we played there was a sizable crowd at the show (a mix of punks, dreads, mods, rockers, hippies and skinheads) and we took full advantage of the opportunity to bring our 2-Tone inspired mix of ska, reggae, punk and calypso to the diverse audiences who quickly warmed to us.   I think its fair to say that all the shows we played at City Gardens had a huge impact on us as a maturing band.  As we learned our craft and wrote better songs, the crowd responded and Randy would encourage us even more. The sheer variety of shows we played opening for bands as diverse as De La Soul, Burning Spear and Token Entry ensured we were seen and heard by many. In fact, people still come up and say that they remember seeing us at City Gardens back in the day.

Below is rare footage of us performing at City Gardens as support for Yellowman in late 1989:

When City Gardens closed in 1994 it was the end of an era in many ways, but the memories I had of seeing shows at the club and later playing shows there were forever burned into my memory.  The club was a powerful part of my youth and the people I met there and the musical experiences I had there are still a part of who I am today. It was a life changing experience for me and for many others.  City Gardens, like CBGBs or The Cavern Club changed people's lives and it deserved to be remembered in a way that honored its legacy.

Well, that has finally happened!  Recently I was interviewed about my City Gardens memories and experiences for a documentary that is being produced about City Gardens and Randy. 'Riot On The Dancefloor: The Story of Randy Now & City Gardens' by director Steve Tozzi (that's Tozzi below in a Panic! shirt watching us play at City Gardens back in 1989) will chronicle the club's key place in alternative music history as well as the invaluable role that Randy Now (whose day job was as a U.S. postman!) played in turning the club into a musical oasis in the middle of a ghetto.

Tozzi who saw shows at the club as a teen and young adult is the perfect person to helm this production.  An accomplished filmmaker who has worked on a number of other documentaries and films projects, he has smartly partnered with Ken Salerno, who acted as the unofficial house photographer for most of the shows at City Gardens and with Steve DeLodovico and Amy Wuelfing who are writing an oral history of the club titled 'No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes: How City Gardens Defined An Era' (read an interview I did about ska at City Gardens here).  Its a powerful quartet who have a vision for how to best tell the story of City Gardens and Ramdy Now and they are committed to seeing it through.

A six minute trailer for the film was just released on crowd sourcing web site last week.  Its am amazing short that delivers on the promise of what City Gardens and Randy meant to so many of us. Have a look at the trailer that was released just last week (and look for me near the end right after Robert Tierney the singer of The N.Y. Citizens):

Tozzi was kind enough to take time to answer some questions about the documentary and of his own City Gardens experiences:

What is your personal connection to City Gardens and Randy Now?
I went to the club to see the ska and hardcore shows Randy put on. But I also went to the old Ritz for the Rock Hotel shows. From the town I grew up–Old Bridge in NJ, CIty Gardens was almost as far of a drive as NYC was. SO I went to both locations. The one thing I do remember about Randy back then was that he greeted people at the door at times or would hand out those punk cards to people on the way out. He was the face of that place, someone you could talk, Places like the old Ritz had no one upfront it just felt like a business.

Do you remember the very first live show you saw at City Gardens? What was your favorite show?
The first show I saw at City Gardens was Fishbone I think, I remember it being just a mad house. The band was in the crowd as much as they were on stage. I remember Chris Dowd from Fishbone, jumping into the pit ever 3 min. My favorite show is a hard one... I would have to say Bad Brains/Leeway. I remember it was during the summer and it got so hot in there that the band had to take 4 intermissions. Literally the sheet rock walls were crumbling from the heat.

What was the inspiration for the documentary?
I was inspired to do the film in two different ways and at two different times. The first was from an excerpt that I read of Amy Wuelfing and Steven DiLodovico's book about the club. It told the story of when the Butthole Surfers came to City Gardens. I remember when I was reading it, that I was laughing uncontrollably. I just couldn't believe this had happened at the club.

The second was when I met Randy for breakfast to talk about the project for the first time. After talking to him about where he grew up, how the club started and what he was doing currently. I suddenly realized that this story was much bigger than the club and the bands that played there. This man was responsible for putting on shows for thousands of kids throughout the years, with everything stacked against him. He didn't own the place and didn't make a lot of money. They were constantly dealing with lawyers because of people getting injured during the rougher shows. It was a pretty hard buck to make...and on top of it all, most of the kids did not appreciate what he was doing for them. After learning these things I had a pretty clear picture about the type of film I was going to make.

What was Randy Now's response when you first approached him about the idea for the documentary?
He said, "Great, but realize I get this offer about three times a year. So if you are going to do it, DO IT!" He basically challenged me, so I said "Allright I will" and we started filming that day.

The City Garden fan base is quite loyal. What kind of input/feedback have you gotten from fans about the project?
People are pretty loyal about the club and its history. The majority of the people that have sent us comments have been very positive and supportive. But we do get the occasional "This is about NJ Hardcore right???? We owned that place." NJ hardcore did play a roll in City Gardens history, but it is one part of that history. To focus the film on one genre of music would do Randy and the club a disservice. Every type of band played there, from Bo Diddley to Gwar, The Toasters to NIN. There was also an entire dance night community there. Everything should be represented is some way.

There's a who's who of musicians in the documentary. How hard or easy was it to get them all on board with the project?
Most of the bands we have talked to remembered Randy and the club fondly. Once we told them that the film was centered around Randy, they were in, nothing else had to be said. Most people want to do the film, the only problem we have had, has been scheduling the interviews. But that would be a problem for any interview based documentary.

For the uninitiated, can you explain a little bit about the process behind how a documentary film is produced and what keeps you busy during that time?
We currently are in production, filming interviews and filming some of the bands playing live. I also film Randy on and off every two months or so. We are hoping to start editing the film in September/October. Our goal is that we will have a final cut minus any graphics and musical scoring by spring of next year.

Can you share any unusual or particularly memorable experiences from filming the documentary so far?
One memorable night was when Ken Salerno and I went to Pennsylvania to interview Tesco Vee from The Meatmen. The club was way up in northern PA–in the mountains. The place was an 80's looking biker bar a little rough around the edges but nothing out of the ordinary. We met up with Tesco and did the interview...he was great and then he said to come up close to the stage to film the band playing. I was shooting the film camera that night and Ken was shooting stills... the show went off without a hitch. As we were packing up to leave, Ken pulled me aside and said "Did, you see what was going on with the crowd?" I said "No, I had my eye in the camera's eye piece and was filming The Meatmen" Ken then said, "Wow, you missed it, that place was filled with a bunch of Nazi's, didn't you see Tesco telling them to fuck off?" "Yes, I remember him yelling at some people but I didn't realize why." Ken then proceeded to show me some of his photographs from the night. One punter had an SS baseball cap on and another had full sleeve tattoos filled with german soldiers, panzer tanks, swastika's and just a ton of hate tattooed on his body, after seeing that we quickly jumped in my car and raced out of there. It was really unsettling.

In your opinion, what is City Garden's enduring musical legacy?
That is a good question...I guess It was a place that defied the stereotypes, It wasn't situated in a thriving metropolis. It wasn't a beautiful place. But It had Randy and he loved to bring new music to people. So to me, the legacy of City Gardens is that it was a punk club that had heart and that heart was Randy.

When can fans expect to see the documentary?
The film is in production through 2012, but we hope to have a DVD out by the end of next year.

There is a Kickstarter campaign to raise funding. What will the money raised be used to pay for?
The money raised will pay for several production costs in making the film including, film storage, travel expenses, festival fees, a second camera, just a whole slew of things. If we raise the 60K we are trying for, we will then be able to purchase some of the more costly music tracks we have always wanted for the film's soundtrack.

Amazingly the documentary raised its initial goal of $20,000 via Kickstarter in just 4 days!  With more than a month of fundraising time left, please consider donating what you can.  Any additional monies that can raised will help the production immensely.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

UB40 for UB40? British Reggae Icons Face Possible Bankruptcy Proceedings

More bad news in the soap opera that has become British reggae band UB40.  News stories from across the U.K. are reporting that a judge in the U.K. has given tax officials permission to issue bankruptcy proceedings against five of the founding members of the band --  Brian Travers, Robin Campbell, James Brown, Norman Hassan and Terence Wilson (also known as Astro).  The band are reportedly set to appear in court to block attempts to declare bankruptcy against them.  The band has sold more than 70 million records worldwide and had more than 50 hit singles. The band split with original singer Ali Campbell in 2008 over what he called management issues related to finances.

Despite the band’s success, its record label DEP International ran into financial difficulties and shut down four years ago. An investigation was launched into the defunct label’s tax debt problems, and the five founding members are now facing claims relating to royalty payments on its back catalog, in a list that dates back more than 30 years.

According to an interview with The Birmingham Post, the band's saxophonist Brian Travers dismissed allegations that he and other members of the Birmingham band are personally facing bankruptcy. “It was only a statutory demand that we are defending, just business,” said the 52-year-old, who said he did not wish to comment further on the matter.

In an interview with The Birmingham Mail, former front man Ali Campbell stated the band blew cash on a lavish lifestyle and no longer receive royalties for their music. Campbell is quoted in the interview that he tried to warn his fellow band members that bankruptcy was on the cards before his acrimonious split with the group in 2008. “This is the very reason why I left the band,” he said. “This was my biggest fear when I was with them, that bankruptcy was going to happen and no one can say I didn’t warn them.”

Stay tuned...

Monday, July 11, 2011

Pauline Black Wins Trademark Battle For Ownership Of The Selecter Name

It’s official: according to posts on her official Myspace and Facebook sites, Pauline Black now owns The Selecter name. The trademark ownership decision now clears up any confusion among fans and promoters as to which ‘The Selecter’ (the Pauline Black version of the Neol Davies version) they are going to see – there is now only one The Selecter® and it belongs to Black.

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 Black on one side and lead guitarist Neol Davies on the other. Though the reality of two version of The Selecter has always been intriguing, its also been a crying shame that the original members have been unable to patch up whatever differences existed between them and come together to properly honor their legacy. With this decision, Davies, who has also been playing and performing under The Selecter band name will have to come up a new name for any of his future musical projects.

To celebrate, The Selecter have released the second single, a cover of the Amy Winehouse classic 'Back To Black' from their upcoming album 'Made In Britain'.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The History Behind Third World's '1865 (96 Degrees In The Shade)'

I have always had a soft spot in my heart for Third World and in particular for the beloved cult classic song '1865 (96 Degrees In The Shade) which is a dramatic and musically powerful retelling of the events of the October 1865 Morant Bay Rebellion, headed by Baptist deacon and preacher Paul Bogle who led an armed group against the British authorities in Jamaica with his attack against the town of Morant Bay.

The scene that the song dramatizes is such a central one in Jamaican history. The band identifies with Bogle, the main figure in the insurrection. Even though this is a song that looks at history, it achieves exactly what the best reggae songs do: it brings history home. The song is based on a historical fact, but it is never overt: at no point does it mention Bogle or Morant Bay. The year is the major clue to the poem’s meaning. The listener has to do some work.

Although the rebellion failed, as "1865 (96 Degrees in the Shade)" makes clear, Bogle's actions reverberated across Jamaican history, sparking further revolts until the island finally won independence. Bogle is considered one of Jamaica's greatest heroes and he is forever memorialized by the song which is among Third World's most popular..

Now for some important historical context. Slavery ended in Jamaica on August 1, 1834 with the passing of the British Emancipation Act, when exactly four years later former slaves became free to choose their employment and employer. On paper, former slaves gained the right to vote; however, most blacks remained desperately poor, and a high voting fee effectively excluded them from the franchise. During the elections of 1864, the ratio of black Jamaicans to white was 32 to 1, but out of a population of over 436,000, fewer than 2,000 were eligible to vote, nearly all of them white. According to a great post on 100 Songs From The Golden Age of Reggae:
George William Gordon (picture below) a wealthy bi-racial member of the Jamaican National Assembly, was the son of a black slave woman and a wealthy British plantation owner. Gordon's father, like many other British colonial elites lived most of the time in England also sired second surrogate families with native Jamaican women, unknown to their families back in Britain. Gordon was his father's common law heir under Jamaican law.
Gordon was considered a troublemaker by Edward Eyre, the newly appointed colonial governor of Jamaica because Gordon's high profile activities on behalf of disenfranchised newly freed slaves. Gordon had assisted a group of former slaves draw up and circulate a petition to Queen Victoria asking her to bequeath a small amount Crown owned land in the bush of St. Ann's Parish for the local landless farmer to cultivate as they could not find land for themselves. At least, the Queen's worthless land would produce some tax income for the Crown and provide a means of living to many wretchedly poor Jamaican citizens who had no other means of survival.
For the newly installed British colonial governor Eyre (picture above), it was unthinkable that a group of uppity "maroon negroes" would have the comeuppance to ask Queen Victoria's permission to cultivate a few hundred acres of the vacant undeveloped land in a remote colonial town 4,000 miles from Buckingham Palace. Eyre immediately regarded Gordon as a political enemy with a subversive agenda.
On October 7, 1865 a black man was put on trial and imprisoned for trespassing on a long-abandoned plantation, creating anger among black Jamaicans. The black man was nothing more than a squatter using part of the property of an abandoned plantation to plant a subsistence crop for his family's needs. When one member of a group of black protesters from the village of Stony Gut was arrested, the protesters became unruly and freed the accused man from prison.
Governor Eyres and the local constabulary suspected that Gordon and one of his proteges, Paul Bogle (picture above) a deacon at a local black Baptist church, were the key organizers of the protest and the subsequent prison break. Bogle soon learned that he and 27 of associates had warrants issued for their arrest for rioting, resisting arrest, and assaulting the police.
The historical record doesn't confirm whether either Gordon or Bogle were involved in any of the events up to that point but it's likely that Gordon wasn't involved and Bogle probably was. It's an undisputable fact that Bogle was firmly in command of a large contingency of protesters who marched on the Morant Bay courthouse, four days later.
When the group arrived at the Morant Bay court house, they were met by a small volunteer militia (ie.. vigilantes) who panicked and opened fire on the group, killing seven black protesters before retreating. The black protesters then rioted, killing 18 people (including white officials and militia) and taking control of the town. In the days that followed some 2,000 black rebels roamed the countryside, killing two white planters and forcing others to flee for their lives.
Eyre sent government troops to hunt down the poorly-armed rebels and bring Paul Bogle back to Morant Bay for trial. The troops were met with no organized resistance but killed blacks indiscriminately, many of whom had not been involved in the riot or rebellion: according to one soldier, "we slaughtered all before us… man or woman or child".
In the end, 439 black Jamaicans were killed directly by soldiers, and 354 more (including Bogle) were arrested and later executed, some without proper trials. Other punishments included flogging for over 600 men and women (including some pregnant women), and long prison sentences. Bogle was lynched and hung without a trial, moments after the British troops took him into custody. Gordon, who had little - if anything - to do with the rebellion was also arrested. Though he was arrested in Kingston, he was transferred by Eyre to Morant Bay, where he could be tried under martial law.
Ever the politician, Eyre saw a public hanging of Gordon as a high profile opportunity to assert his authority as the newly appointed governor of Jamaica. A kangaroo court convicted Gordon of sedition and treason in two days, but Gordon wasn't informed of his sentence until an hour before his hanging.
Gordon was paraded through the streets of Morant Bay and led to the his hanging by a contingency of 10,000 soldiers. And presiding over the surreal and carnivalesque events was none other than the portly Governor Eyre dressed like a British dandy attending a night at the opera.
People from all over the island attended the grotesque spectacle and the narrator of the story in the song, '96 Degrees in the Shade' is none other than the condemned man, George William Gordon. The lyrics to the song are very close to the same final words of Gordon as he stood before Eyre. Gordon even began his remarks with a polite remark about the stifling humidity of the October day.
Bogle's final defiant words to Governor Eyre as faithfully sung by Third World in the song were: "Today I stand here a victim but the truth is I'll never die."
96 degree in the shade,
real hot in the shade (repeat)

said it was 96 degrees in the shade
ten thousand soldiers on parade
taking i and i to meet a big fat boy
sent from overseas
the queen employ
Excellency before you i come
with my representation
you know where I’m coming from

you caught me on the loose
fighting to be free
now you show me a noose
on the cotton tree
entertainment for you
martyrdom for me

96 degrees in the shade
real hot in the shade

some may suffer and some may burn
but i know that one day my people will learn
as sure as the sun shines, way up in the sky
today i stand here a victim the truth is I'll never die

As sure as the Sun shine
Way up in the sky,
Today I stand here a victim -
The truth is I'll never die...

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Pauline Black's Memoir 'Black By Design' Now Available For Pre-Order: In Stores August 4th

Add Pauline Black to the illustrious list of 2-Tone era musicians (Horace Panter, Neville Staple) who are writing books about their personal and musical experiences. The singer, actress and TV presenter's memoir 'Black By Design: A 2-Tone Memoir'' is now available for pre-order from Amazon in the UK. It will be on book store shelves on August 4th.

While it will more than likely touch on Black's experiences with The Selecter, its sure to explore more personal issues related to Black's experiences as a mixed race child being adopted by a white family in a pre-multicultural Britain.  It will also examine issues of racial identity during a time that the U.K. was struggling with its own issues of racism and the challenges of assimilating Black and Asian immigrants into British society and culture. In that regard, it may touch on topics raised by Neville Staple in his memoir 'Original Rude Boy: From Borstal To The Specials' which was his recollection of life growing up in Coventry and detailed his Black British experience.

I asked Black about her book during an interview I conducted with her last summer. Here is what she shared with me about the process of writing her memoir and the difficult questions and topics related to race and identity that she explores:
I have been writing short stories and opinion pieces for BBC Radio 4 in the UK for years, since the early 90’s. I also wrote a novel in the mid 90’s “The Goldfinches” which picked up publishing interest, but then the recession hit and money was scarce and the interest evaporated. Therefore I did not approach my book as a novice. I knew that I wanted to write my own memoir. When a “ghost writer” is used it is usually obvious. The main difference between my first outing into the book world and now, is that I got a literary agent. Without a literary agent it is almost impossible these days for a writer to be taken seriously by publishers. Publishing interest in my memoir was there from the beginning, largely because I was the only female among the bands that did the legendary “2-tone tour” in 1979 and also because I have extended my repertoire over the past 30 years to include, acting, presenting, radio broadcasting & writing, while still remaining active as a musician throughout the 90’s and Noughties. Therefore my story covered a wider brief. I didn’t want my memoir to be just about the brief period of the 2-tone years. Fortunately my literary agent and publisher agreed with my approach. For the book to have been signed by influential, maverick publisher “Serpent’s Tail” is very much a dream come true. They have a great publishing history reflecting many of the books that have influenced me throughout my life, most notably many of the “Harlem Renaissance” writers like Langston Hughes and Nella Larsen.
Primarily, “Black By Design” is about my search for my cultural and racial heritage, which, I discovered, had surprisingly original beginnings. It vigorously discusses the twin evils of “racism” and “sexism”, which gave me the motivation to join a 2-tone band in 1979 and enter the ongoing musical polemic offered by that inclusion.
I wanted my book to be “ideas driven”, to ask some difficult questions about what it meant to grow up black in a predominantly racist Britain in the 50’s and 60’s and how being adopted into a white working class family influenced my decision to choose music as a career path. I didn’t want to write some dishonest potted history of my private life or just a scrupulously kept diary. Hopefully I have achieved my goal.
The few excerpts from 'Black By Design' that I have read suggest a book that is witty and eminently readable, but that pulls no punches when it comes to painting a picture of the trials and tribulations Black and other mixed race Britons faced as the adopted bi-racial child of a white family in the suburbs of London. For instance, here is Black's first memory:
“My earliest memory is of vomiting the breakfast contents of my stomach onto a pile of starched white sheets that my Mother had just finished ironing. I succeeded in Jackson Pollocking all of them. She was not amused, but then again it was her own fault: she shouldn’t have told me that I had been adopted.”
Black will be promoting the book at the Edinburgh Book Festival on August 22nd.  Tickets to hear her speak are available for sale.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Specials Ghost Town Hit The Top Of The Chart 30 Years Ago

It was 30 years ago this week that The Specials iconic 'Ghost Town' went to the top of the charts in the U.K.  Inspired by the sight of elderly women selling their possessions on the Glasgow streets. Jerry Dammers later said, "In Glasgow, there were these little old ladies on the streets selling all their household goods, their cups and saucers. It was unbelievable. It was clear that something was very, very wrong."  

By the time the Specials met in early 1981 to record Ghost Town, the band was in its death throes.  "Everybody was stood in different parts of this huge room with their equipment, no one talking," bassist Horace Panter remembers. "Jerry stormed out a couple of times virtually in tears and I went after him, 'Calm down, calm down.'" It was hell to be around." 

"People weren't cooperating," says Dammers. "Ghost Town wasn't a free-for-all jam session. Every little bit was worked out and composed, all the different parts, I'd been working on it for at least a year, trying out every conceivable chord. It was a combination of the first album and the second album, the complete history of the band gelled in one song. I can remember walking out of a rehearsal in total despair because Neville would not try the ideas. You know the brass bit is kind of jazzy, it has a dischord? I remember Lynval rushing into the control room while they were doing it going, 'No, no, no, it sounds wrong! Wrong! Wrong!' In the meantime, Roddy's trying to kick a hole through the wall from the control room to the studio room. It was only a little studio in Leamington and the engineer was going, 'If that doesn't stop, you're going to have to leave!' I was saying, 'No! No! This is the greatest record that's ever been made in the history of anything! You can't stop now!'" The song was the end of the road for the band as Terry Hall, Lynval Golding and Neville Staple quit the band following what should have been their crowning achievement on Top Of The Pops.

To mark the occasion, The Independent newspaper in the U.K. published a story yesterday that includes interviews with a who's who of band members, musicians, politicians and writers to help put the song into context. Here is a smattering of a few quotes including band members Dammers, Panter and John Rivers, the recording engineer for the 'Ghost Town' session:

Jerry Dammers: Former Specials keyboardist and writer of 'Ghost Town':
"There was a riot in Brixton about a year before the record came out. I was writing the song partly about that. Also, Britain was falling apart. The car industry was closing down in Coventry. We were touring, so we saw a lot of it. Liverpool and Glasgow were particularly bad. The overall sense I wanted to convey was impending doom. There were weird, diminished chords: certain members of the band resented the song and wanted the simple chords they were used to playing on the first album. It's hard to explain how powerful it sounded. We had almost been written off and then 'Ghost Town' came out of the blue."
Horace Panter: Bass player in the Specials:
"It was a reggae tune, but it had this kind of Middle Eastern melody on top of it. When it was released, Melody Maker thought it was great, but NME and Sounds thought it was not as good. It wasn't an instant hit – it was quite dark.
I'm thrilled that it was recorded in the small basement of a row of terrace houses in Leamington. It was around the time bands were going to Montserrat to record albums in 96-track studios. The Specials went to a little town in the Midlands and recorded on eight-track. The week after the song was released, there were riots and civil disobedience all over the country. It was a strange moment."
John Rivers: Recording engineer of 'Ghost Town':
"The recording of the three songs of the EP took about 10 days. I remember the producer, John Collins, making only one suggestion throughout the session, but he did do the mix, which is great. I had all the misery – there were problems with people being 'incapable'. I remember vividly that crazy vocal bit in the middle – when Jerry started humming that at us we thought he'd gone lunatic. But he was a determined man, and he was right. It's genius. And the flute part was recorded in the hall of my house. Horace [Panter], Brad [John Bradbury] and Lynval [Golding] were the greatest rhythm section I've worked with."
Below is the 'Ghost Town' video, a manic joyride in a Vauxhall Crest through post-apocalyptically empty London streets as well as the band's swan song performance on Top Of The Pops.