Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Terry Hall & Jerry Dammers of The Specials Speak to BBC Radio About Making The Band's Classic Debut LP

Did Hell freeze over!  Below is a radio interview that Terry Hall and Jerry Dammers conducted with  Steve Lamacq of BBC6 about the making of the band's iconic first self-titled album.

Sadly, I'm unable to listen to the interview since I live outside the UK so I can't say if Hall and Dammers were interviewed together or separately (based on the photos I would venture to guess separately but anything is possible).  Hopefully some you living in the UK and EU will be able to enjoy this and one of you will send me a transcript!

UPDATE: I found this link to the interview which is accessible regardless of where you may live.  Scroll forward to the 2 hour mark to hear the interviews. The player below is for people living in the U.K.

Could This Be The Specials Most Dedicated Fan? -- Meet Robert Taylor

Officially, fandom is a term used to refer to a subculture composed of fans who share passionate feelings of sympathy and camaraderie with others who share a common interest. Fans typically are interested in even minor details of the object(s) of their interest and spend a significant portion of their time and energy involved with their interest, often as a part of a social network with particular practices that differentiates fans from those with only a casual interest.

While most bands have passionate fans, The Specials have particularly passionate fans (which I experienced first hand when I saw the band perform in New Yorrk last spring).  The band's reunion tour has given fans, who were often young adolescents and teens in the late 70's and early 80's, a chance to relive that initial excitement and energy again in their 30's and 40's. I know finally seeing the band live was a religious experience for me.

One of those fans is Robert Taylor of Belfast, Northern Ireland.  Robert, like many of us, has been a fan of The Specials since he first heard them as a precocious ten year old back in 1979.  Like many of us, he got hooked hearing 'Gangsters' on Top Of The Pops along with Madness The Selecter and The Beat.  Seeing the band for the first time at eleven in Belfast turned him into a life-long, 2-Tone ska loving skinhead. Like many of us, The Specials and their music mean a lot to him,

While many of us count ourselves as dedicated fans who know the arcane and intricate details of The Specials musical history and can quote the band's lyrics chapter and verse, I do believe Robert may be one of the band's most passionate fans.  Indeed, the band and their music have helped him through a number of life's challenges and to show his gratitude and dedication, he commissioned a full tattoo of a picture of the band across his entire back. The picture he selected came from the cover of Paul Williams' definitive history of the band -- 'You're Wondering Now - The Specials from Conception to Reunion'.

After hearing about The Specials gig in Belfast last weekend, I also heard rumors about Robert, who's tattooed devotion to the band caused a mini riot in the crowd, as hundreds of fans clamored to get a photo of his back.  Once I saw the tattoo I knew I needed to know more about the story behind it.  I was able to connect with Robert, who kindly shared his story and the events that led to his decision to tattoo the band on his back.  Read excerpts of our conversation below.
I had a Specials tattoo on my right shoulder of Walt Jabsco done when I was 17.  I had always wanted the picture of The Specials from the back cover of the first album done as a back piece. The thought of the pain and the cost did put some doubts in my head however.
I am a proud dad with two sons.  My eldest Robbie, is 11 years old and my youngest Joel is 6 years old. They are so into their ska music! Unfortunately my son Joel needed life saving heart surgery when he was four days old and has required further major open heart surgeries since.
2010 was quite a bad year.  Joel was in poor health. My mum moved into a care home with Alzheimer's and my dad had taken a stroke. I needed something to lift me and to focus on, other than the love of my family.  The Specials were something that meant so much to me and shaped my life from when I was 10 years old.  I had purchased Paul Williams book 'You're Wondering Now' and I got a signed picture with it. The photograph on the cover of the book looked amazing and after chatting to my wife, I decided to go for this design as a back piece.
I had done my homework on local tattooists and decided to go for a guy called Stuart Walker who had been an art student before going into tattooing. We chatted a few times over the design and on January 16th 2010, I spent my first 4 hours under the needle.  I had five  further four hour sittings and the tattoo was completed by March 12th 2010.  I didn't flinch at all and Stuart couldn't believe how I took the pain.  I used my son as inspiration and thought of the pain he went through before during and after his three surgeries.  
Each one of The Specials has seen my tattoo.  Terry Hall mentioned it on local radio last month and Roddy Byers has sent me messages on Facebook and The Specials website.
At the Specials gig last Saturday my back was photographed at least 500 times and the comments i got where truly amazing. I am arranging to meet up with The Band at the sound check at The Alexandra Palace show and have my back autographed by each one of the band.  The Stuart will ink each signature for me.
Thanks very much to Robert for sharing his story.  I'm looking to profile other fans of The Specials as they embark on their final tour.  If you or someone you know has a story to tell, let me know!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tony Beet Of The International Beat Releases New Acoustic Ska Single

The break-up of the original version of The Beat twenty-eight years ago this month in 1983 was a great loss at the time. The band was close to breaking big in the U.S. and had they stayed together probably could have approached The Police in terms of popularity. Instead various members went their separate ways and the musical world gained General Public and the Fine Young Cannibals. Often overlooked in the divorce of The Beat were saxophone player Saxa and drummer Everett Morton, who in my humble opinion were just as responsible for the unique sound of the band as any of the other members.

Enter Tony Beet who through a chance meeting with Saxa at a pub in Birmingham one night helped to launch the International Beat. The band was formed in 1990 by Beet along with ex-Beat members Everett Morton and Saxa and also featured Ranking Roger as a special guest at select shows. Beet, who was the the guitarist/vocalist and songwriter for the band was also able to recruit ex-Dexy's Midnight Runners/General Public piano player Mickey Billingham as well. They toured in the early 90's and also released a studio album called 'The Hitting Line' in 1991.

The International Beat - Danny Boy

The International Beat - Are You Ready?

I've always had a soft spot in my heart for The International Beat (probably because of the distinctive playing of Saxa and Moreton) and Beet's vocals and voice was very reminiscent of Dave Wakeling's. As such The International Beat certainly satisfied fans of The Beat who missed their unique sound. Tony's songs and the overall sound of the band helped to carry on the great legacy of The Beat while adding their own unique spin. In my mind, they were responsible for keeping the flame of ska and the spirit of The Beat alive as both Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger often joined the band for live shows before reforming General Public a second time in the mid-90's. Ranking Roger has said that a sold-out show he played with The International Beat at the Greek Theatre in LA in 1990 prompted him to launch Special Beat.

More recently Beet has focused his energies on writing ska/pop songs on his acoustic guitar and performs them with the Birmingham-based Acoustic Theatre which features acoustic guitar, melodica, organ, percussion and double bass.  To that end he has just released a new single titled 'Love & Unite' which fits nicely into the canon of International Beat songs, featuring a hint of The Beat, a bit of 2-Tone and rocksteady reggae. Watch a live performance of the song below.

The track is available for sale on iTunes in the U.K.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Pressure & Slide Riddim: One Of The Most Enduring Rhythms In Jamaican Music

Riddim is the Jamaican patois pronunciation of the English word 'rhythm,' but in Jamaican music refers to the instrumental accompaniment of a song. A rocksteady or reggae song consists of the riddim (the bass and drums) plus the 'voicing' (vocal part) sung by the performer. Riddims are such an important part of Jamaican music that hardcore fans can instantly identify the hundreds of riddims which are the DNA of reggae music.  While many songs may share the same riddim, each is truly unique based on the singer, the topic and additional instrumentation.

A given riddim, if popular, may be recorded and performed  in hundreds of songs and live performances. Some classic riddims, such as 'Cherry Oh Baby' and 'Real Rock' are essentially the accompaniment tracks to the original 1960s reggae songs (Cherry Oh Baby by Eric Donaldson and 'Rockfort Rock by Sound Dimension) with those names, that were popularized by successive performers and producers who knew they could have a hit on their hands if the record buying public was already familiar with the riddim.  As they say, 'Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery...'

According to 'Wake the Town and Tell the People: Dancehall Culture in Jamaica':
"Riddims are the primary musical building blocks of Jamaican popular songs.... At any given time, ten to fifteen riddims are widely used in dancehall recordings, but only two or three of these are the now ting (i.e., the latest riddims that everyone must record over if they want to get them played in the dance or on radio). In dancehall performing, those whose timing is right on top of the rhythm are said to be "riding di riddim".
One of the most enduring riddims in Jamaican music is the 'Pressure & Slide' riddim which was originally written and recorded in 1966 by Prince Buster on his rocksteady hit 'Shaking Up Orange Street' and was immediately covered at Studio One by The Tennors who re-titled in 'Pressure & Slide' giving the song structure its well known name. The riddim was famously covered by Sugar Minott on his critique of the Jamaican police on 'Oh Mr. DC" and later by Yelllowman.

Prince Buster - Shaking Up Orange Street (1966)

The Tennors - Pressure & Slide (1967)

Sugar Minott - Oh Mr DC (1978)

Yellowman - Two To Six Supermix (1982)

My first introduction to the 'Pressure & Slide Riddim' came courtesy of the dancehall meets lover's rock classic 'One Dance Won't Do' by Audrey Hall that was all over the radio in the U.K in the mid-80's when I was living there.   The song was a hit and the riddim roared back to life again. At last count  there have been recordings of more than a hundred songs using the Pressure And Slide riddim.

Audrey Hall - One Dance Won't Do (1986)

For those who are interested in exploring the 'Pressure & Slide' riddim further, I recommend checking out the compilation alum 'What One Riddim Can Do' on iTunes.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Rare Early 80's Footage of The Specials On BBC TV Show 'Look! Hear!'

In honor of The Specials first show of their very last reunion tour which kicks off at Belsonic in Belfast this weekend, I bring you rare television footage of the band performing three songs from January 1980 on Look! Hear!, a teen-orientated music show broadcast on BBC Midlands between 1977 -81.  Hosted by future punk pop star Toyah Wilcox, the show featured reports on what was hot in the worlds of entertainment and fashion and performances by influential bands -- including nearly every 2-Tone band.

So far only the episode featuring The Specials performing 3 songs ('Too Much Too Young', 'Rat Race' and 'Skinhead Moonstomp') is available for viewing, though I'm hopeful the recently discovered episodes featuring The Selecter (‘Three Minute Hero’, ‘Every Day’, ‘Too Much Pressure’), The Beat (‘Big Shot’, ‘Mirror in the Bathroom’; ‘Ranking Full Stop’), and The Swinging Cats (‘Never on a Sunday’, ‘Away’) will all come on line soon.

Without further ado, I transport you back to height of 2-Tone mania in the U.K. circa 1980.  Enjoy one of the best live television performances of The Specials I have ever seen.  Look for the band at the following times during the program:

09.00 Too Much Too Young
23.30 Rat Race
27.20 Skinhead Moonstomp

Friday, August 26, 2011

Vive Le Rock Cover On The Specials Claims 'New Album Exclusive'

The Specials grace the cover of the current Vive Le Rock magazine which claims "New Album Exclusive!" in big red type.  Though I have not been able to get my hands on a copy, from what I can gather, the 4-page feature includes interviews with the band about the Tories and about their experiences touring. There is a separate side-bar article where Jamie Jazz from ska/reggae/folk trio The King Blues interviews guitarist Roddy Radiation.

What's of most interest though is that nagging cover claim, which seems to be an on-again and off-again story/rumor that has chased the band since the reunion kicked off in 2009.   It tends to get the band's fans overheated and excited for a time (myself included) and then the band tend to put the rumor to rest.

In this case, it seems that the magazine has taken liberties with what band members may have said in the context of the interviews.  I imagine one or more of the band members mentioned they were writing songs (and given Roddy and Neville have their own band's that is a a true statement).  That tantalizig possibility of new songs makes great copy and helps to sell copies (though the band is about to sell out all the venues of their final European and UK tours so the publicity is just that -- publicity).  In this case the publicity would seem to benefit Vive Le Rock.

In response to the Vive Le Rock cover story claim, The Specials posted the following statement on their web site this week that would seem to put the magazine's hyped-up headline into perspective:
Re our current Specials cover feature, Vive Le Rock would like to point out that the band have not actually said they will release a new album together, they merely said that they are all writing songs, but whether it is suitable for the Specials or not is another matter. They said they have not made that decision yet. We perhaps got a little carried away, hoping for a new album. It does however, look to be their final tour, but as one door closes, another door opens. You have not heard the last of the Specials by any means. Its all in this month's Vive Le Rock magazine.
If anyone has a link or a scan of the story or can share more about the contents to the story I would love to see it.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Montreal Ska Festival Announces The Skatalites & The Toasters as Headliners

The third installment of the Montreal Ska Festival, which is quickly establishing itself as the premiere ska event in North America, will kick-off from October 13-15th with a diverse line-up of bands from across Canada, the U.S. and Europe. The festival will feature headlining sets from 60's Jamaican ska icons The Skatalites, and long-running New York ska warriors The Toasters who will be performing as part of their 30th anniversary tour celebrations.

Other acts set to perform include Mr T-Bone from Italy, Eastern Standard Time and Void Union from the U.S. and Danny Rebel & the KGB, The Hanger, and the Fabulous LoLo from Canada.

The shows are well planned, affordable and well attended and Montreal is easy to get to from anywhere across the northeast of the U.S. as well as Quebec and Ontario in Canada, which should motivate any of you ska fans still sitting on the fence about attending this three day affair a reason to attend.   In fact, my fellow ska blogger Steve Shafer (The Duff Guide To Ska) and I are trying to make it up to Montreal for this.  Hope to see a few of you there!

Below is a video recap of the 2010 festival.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Suggs confirms new Madness album for 2012: New songs return to ska and reggae roots

Madness frontman Suggs has confirmed the U.K. ska/pop insititution plan to release a new studio album in 2012! The new record will be the band’s first since 2009′s ‘The Liberty of Norton Folgate‘, which broke into the UK Top 5.

Speaking to Digital Spy, Suggs revealed that, despite a delay in completing the new album because the band were unhappy with the original finished product, the new songs have are still slated for release some time next year.
“It’ll definitely come out next year – hopefully we’ll finish it this year,” he said. “We were hoping to get it done but then we decided to postpone the whole thing because we weren’t completely satisfied with what we’ve done so far.”
“We’re working on it and I think it’s that thing, when you’re young you have all the time in the world. We don’t spend 24 hours a day working on music like we used to when we were younger, so you have to do it in batches – sporadic, intense.”
“Before ‘…Norton Folgate’ we made an album of covers (The Dangermen) and we were really trying to get back to the reggae, ska and dance roots of what we did when we first started.”
The band previewed new songs during their tour late in 2010 and there is much conjecture among fans if any of these songs will be included on the new disc. See videos below of 'Blue and Black', 'Big Time Sister' and 'I Got You/Kitchen Floor':

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Two Indie Films About Ska Titled 'Rude Boy" Seek Funding On KickStarter

Not one, but two indie films titled 'Rude Boy' that have ska at the core of their coming of age stories are seeking funding support via the crowd sourcing website Kickstarter.

'Rude Boy' is a musically-driven dramatic film portrayal of Winston Brown, a fictional character based on real life musicians like Bob Marley, Toots Hibbert, Prince Buster and others, who lives in early 60's Kingston, Jamaica and who helps to pioneer ska music into rocksteady and then reggae as he struggles for respect among the police, rude boys, Rastafarians, and dance hall DJs. The film is an independent production that reports it has firm commitments from Danny Glover to star and Mario Van Peebles to direct. The film's producers who cite the Brazilian film 'City Of God' as an inspiration and a blue print for their film, are seeking to raise an unprecedented $1 million dollars on KickStarter before the end of September. While the fundraising goal seems like an impossible long shot, I'll be watching this project closely as I think it has some promise if its done correctly. Watch the film trailer below and please consider supporting the project.

The other ska oriented film titled 'Rude Boy - The Movie' is also an indie driven drama, but takes place thousands of miles and years away from 1960's Kingston. Jamaica.  This film is set in Los Angeles circa 1984, as American ska was exploding and scooter riding mods and rudies, inspired by British 2-Tone, ruled the dancehalls and roadways of Southern California. Like the other film, 'Rude Boy - The Movie' also tells the coming of age story of Rudy, a Mexican-American teen who finds acceptance and trouble among a group of multi-cultural, ska music loving rude boys.

Most of the movie is being filmed on the streets of Anaheim, Buena Park and Fullerton, California. The director Gabriel Zavala Jr. has already invested 2 years of pre-production work into the film and is about to begin a 21 day shoot. To ensure an authentic early 80's feel for the film, Vespa scooters have been secured and dance rehearsals have gone on now for a year. Locations have been picked and music has been selected for a companion soundtrack. Additionally, a professional film crew is ready to get started once funding is secured.

Zavala is looking to raise the modest sum of $15,000 before September 17th. Money raised from the Kickstarter campaign will help pay for wardrobe and props, permits, insurance, location costs, crew, and gear rentals. Any money that exceeds the Kickstarter goal will go towards funding editing, promotion, festival and distribution costs. Watch the film trailer below and please consider supporting the project.  I have high hopes for this film and I'm excited by the promise of revisiting the ska crazy early 80's of Southern California. Also look for an interview with the director Gabriel Zavala here shortly.

Friday, August 19, 2011

'Urgh! A Music War' Celebrates 30th Anniversary: Film Features Best Of Early 80's U.K. Reggae

It was 30 years ago this month (August 26th, 1981 to be exact) that the 'soundtrack for Urgh! A Music War' was released.  Filmed in August and September of 1980 at a variety of venues across the U.S., U.K. and Europe, the soundtrack would soon became a staple in the record collections of most fans of what would be called 'New Wave' in the U.S. Truthfully, it was more accurately a diverse mix of rock, reggae, ska, pop and some of the most cutting edge alternative rock music of the era featuring The Police, XTC, The Go Go's, The Cramps, Oingo Boing, Gary Numan and others.  Released as a film in 1982, the film was a 'Woodstock' like experience for those of us who came of age during the 80's.  It certainly was for me and I still listen to many of the bands featured in the film and soundtrack.

The trailer for the film is below:

I distinctly remember the first time I saw the film in the mid-80's. My college had a free movie night every Friday in the student center. This was long before the advent of personal computers and long before VCR's were affordable enough for students have in their dorm rooms.  I actually enjoyed seeing these kinds of films in a communal atmosphere and this movie was an opportunity for me to finally see all the bands I was obsessed with (and that MTV would never show).  More importantly, the film contributed to my growing love of U.K. styled reggae and it confirmed for me that I needed to pick up an instrument and start a band.  It was a revelation to see all the bands in the film but for a budding ska and reggae bassist it was the promise of finally seeing The Police, UB40 amd The Members live that had such a profound impact on me.

While all the above bands satisfied me with their performances, one performance in particular stands out for me. There is a point in the film when Steel Pulse suddenly appear and kick right into "Ku Klux Klan" that crystallized my love of reggae and made them one of my reggae bands of choice. Its a theatrical performance punctuated by the appearance of one of the band members in a white Klan hood and gown that sent shivers down my spine. Coming out before The Specials released 'Ghost Town,' the song was meaningful to me and my friends as we attempted to make sense of the increasing racial and economic polarization of the Reagan years with economic recession marked by Klan and Nazi Party marches in places like Boston, North Carolina and Skokie, Illinois. As a budding musician, this song demonstrated the power of combining a political conscience with story telling that could entertain and educate. Its something I still believe and miss in most of current music today.

While 'Urgh! A Music War' was finally re-released by Warner Brothers two years ago, it was done so without input from any of the artists or with attempt to create a package that the film is due given its iconic status (rumor has it that each band recorded 3 songs for the film, so there is a tremendous amount of unreleased material).  In fact, Jim Skafish of the band Skafish who feature prominently in the film has posted a critique of the way the re-release was handled.  I can't disagree with any of his points.  While I would never suggested that fans of the film not purchase the re-issue, please do so with caution.  Nevertheless, the film and soundtrack is worth a listen again if you haven't heard it in a while.  Those of you who are new to it are in for treat.  Without further ado are a few of my favorite clips from the film.

Steel Pulse - Ku Klux Klan

UB40 - Madam Medusa (Did not appear on the movie soundtrack album)

The Members - Offshore Banking Business

The Police with Jools Holland, XTC, UB40 and others - So Lonely

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Fred Perry Announces Range Of Shirts To Celebrate The Specials 2011 European Tour

Attention fans of The Specials!  As the band's final tour draws closer, those of you looking for a special keepsake should be interested to learn that Fred Perry have launched a second limited edition shirt collection to mark the bands 2011 European tour.  The collection includes two Fred Perry polos (one in white and one in black) and a black polo t-shirt which has the band's European tour set list printed on the back (see above).

I have to confess, that in my humble opinion, the design and look of the 2011 shirts is far superior to the collection released in 2009 and though the band are not planning to cross the pond the play shows in the U.S. I may just have to throw financial caution to the wind and pick one of them up.

In separate Fred Perry ska fashion news, the company has announced that after much consideration and with the blessing of Amy Winehouse's family, they will continue to market the Amy Winehouse for Fred Perry line of clothes the singer had worked to design.  The company also announced that a percentage of sales from the collection will be donated to the Amy Winehouse Foundation.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Who Is Gary Tyler? - The Inspiration for 1980 UB40 Song 'Tyler' Remains Imprisoned For A Crime He Didn't Commit

The story of what happened to Gary Tyler nearly 37 years ago remains an ongoing American tragedy of epic proportions and a perversion of the American justice system.  Who is Gary Tyler you ask?  Tyler, an African-American from Louisiana, has been jailed since he was 16 years old for a 1974 murder that many believe he did not commit. An all-white jury convicted him based entirely on the statements of four witnesses who later recanted their testimony. In fact, Tyler's case has been taken up by Amnesty International as well as many others.  Sadly, he remains imprisoned long after many other death row inmates have been exonerated for the crimes they were falsely convicted of by racist and corrupt prosecutors.

I have UB40 to thank for raising my awareness about Tyler's plight when I was 15 years old (both Gil-Scott Heron and Chumbawumba have also recorded songs about Tyler).  Indeed, my introduction to UB40 (and part of the reason I remain a fan all these years later) is the impact that hearing 'Tyler' (the first song off the 'Signing Off' LP) had on me. The song opens with an eerie guitar reverb which gives way to a drum roll and then a solemn sax melody. Then, Ali Campbell tells Tyler's story and sings the chorus as a refrain that gives the song its heft and which makes it one of the most powerful political pop songs of all time:
Tyler is guilty the white judge has said so
What right do we have to say it`s not so
Tyler is guilty the white judge has said so
What right do we have to say it`s not so

While the UB40 song powerfully and passionately conveys the travesty that befell Tyler within the confines of a pop song, the details are even more harrowing.  Former New York Times columnist Bob Herbert (who has made freeing Tyler a mission) wrote about the ongoing situation in 2007.  An excerpt from the column is below:
Mr. Tyler, a sophomore at Destrehan High, was on a bus filled with black students that was attacked on Oct. 7, 1974, by a white mob enraged over school integration. A shot was fired and a 13-year-old white boy standing outside the bus collapsed, mortally wounded. Mr. Tyler was arrested on a charge of disturbing the peace after he talked back to a sheriff’s deputy.

Although the bus and its passengers were searched and no weapon was found, Mr. Tyler was taken into custody, savagely beaten and accused of committing the murder. A gun was found during a subsequent search of the bus and witnesses were rounded up to testify against Mr. Tyler. It turned out that the gun (which has since disappeared) had been stolen from a firing range used by officers of the sheriff’s department. All of the witnesses who fingered Mr. Tyler would eventually recant, saying they had been terrorized into testifying falsely by the authorities.

Mr. Tyler was represented at trial by a white sole practitioner who had never handled a murder case, much less a death penalty case. He kept his meetings with his client to a minimum and would later complain about the money he was paid.

The outcome was predictable. Mr. Tyler was convicted and sentenced to die in the electric chair by an all-white jury. At 17, he was the youngest prisoner on death row in the country. He almost certainly would have been executed if the U.S. Supreme Court had not ruled the Louisiana death penalty unconstitutional.
While the early and mid-70's reflect a time in American racial history that we would all like to forget, the truth is that the American justice system and State of Louisiana has continued to fail Tyler year after year.  An article from 2006 in the International Socialist Review took up the case and the ongoing issues which have conspired to keep Tyler in prison and after a through review can only conclude that Tyler is a political prisoner in a nation that has long disavowed such practices and condemns other nations for employing similar practices.
How is it possible that, given all the evidence of his innocence and the blatantly racist nature of his frame-up, Gary Tyler is still in prison? Gary's case takes us straight into the heart of darkness of the Louisiana criminal justice system. Powerful political forces have conspired to keep him behind bars. Both racism and political persecution have played their part. In 1990, the Louisiana attorney general argued against a pardon for Tyler, because he has “demanded that he be allowed to correspond with socialist and communist publications like the Socialist Worker.
Democracy Now has posted a transcript of an unaired interview that Tyler conducted several years ago.  Its definitely worth a read.  If you are interested in Tyler's case please visit Free Gary Tyler or please send an e-mail to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal asking him to re-consider Tyler's case and exonerate him.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Jimmy Cliff & Tim Armstrong of Rancid Collaborate On EP To Be Released In November

In a musical collaboration that makes perfects sense, Jimmy Cliff has teamed up with ska/reggae aficionado Tim Armstrong of Rancid (who cites Cliff as a major influence and inspiration) to write and record an album of ska and reggae songs.

In a detailed interview he conducted with Stereogum, Cliff said the duo (with Armstrong behind the production board), along with backing band The Engine Room, were still recording, with plans to release an EP this November and a full-length record early in 2012. Among the tracks slated to appear on the EP is a cover of The Clash’s 'Guns of Brixton', which is available for listening below.

Its fitting that Cliff is covering the song that Clash bassist Paul Simonon penned with a knowing nod to the classic reggae gangster film The Harder They Come that made Cliff an international star.  Its also telling that the song, which depicts feelings of discontent that were building in the U.K. in the early 80's due to heavy-handedness of the police (leading to the Brixton riots in 1981) was released the week riots once again exploded across London and other cities in the U.K.

Though Cliff has stayed true to the original spirit  of the song, he and Armstrong have wisely added an acoustic feel to the track giving it a more hopeful sound.

Guns Of Brixton by JimmyCliffMusic

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Largest U.K. Record/CD Distribution Warehouse Burned To The Ground In London Riots: Little Roy 'Battle For Seattle' LP Supply Destroyed

Among all the destruction and carnage left by the riots in London over the last three days, perhaps the most devastating for music lovers was the huge fire that destroyed a Sony warehouse primarily used by distribution company PIAS.

The BBC are reporting that the warehouse in North London was burned to the ground this morning during the third straight night of riots in the UK. The 200,000 square-foot center housed the entire inventory of PIAS UK, the primary distribution hub for more than 150 independent labels including: XL/Beggars, Warp, Rough Trade, Domino, 4AD, Sub Pop, Secretly Canadian, Jagjaguwar, Drag City, Thrill Jockey, FatCat, Kompakt, Mute, Ninja Tune, Vice, and Soul Jazz (click here for a full list of all the effected labels). While no injuries were reported in the blaze, all the warehouse inventory is feared lost.

Sadly this also includes all the stock of Little Roy's 'Nirvana reggae covers LP and CD Battle For Seattle' which was slated for an early September release.  Instead, Ark Records are urging fans to pre-order a digital version of the release through iTunes in the U.K.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Bim Skala Bim Perform Entire First Album Live!

For those unable to make it up to New England to enjoy the once-a-year Bim Skala Bim celebration reunion last weekend (myself included), below is video of the band's excellent performance of most of the songs from their first self titled album that was released 25 years ago in 1986.  The show featured all of the original members from the recording including original trombonist and vocalist John Ferry.

The original band line-up that recorded the first album included:

Dan Vitale: Lead Vocals
Lauren Fleischer: Lead Vocals
Jim Arhelger: Drums
John Cameron: Keyboard, Sax
Mark Ferranti: Bass
John Ferry: Trombone, Vocals
Jim Jones: Guitar

The same month that the album was recorded, Lauren left the band. Jackie Starr joined that December. Click here for a band history and chronology. Below are all the live performances of many of the songs from the the first album (which vocalist Dan Vitale said had not been played in 'quite a while') as well as songs featuring vocalist Jackie Star from 'Tuba City' and 'How's It Goin'. Enjoy!

The Key

Better Get Out

Diggin' A Hole

Jah Laundromat

Gopher Rodeo


Wise Up

Buster Bloodvessel of Bad Manners To Release 3-Song Ska EP To Support Injured UK Troops

Buster Bloodvessel of Bad Manners has teamed up with a group of musicians dubbed 'Buster's Ska Battalion' to release a 3-track ska EP titled 'Ska For Heroes' that is due out in the U.K. tomorrow via and iTunes. According to a story in The Daily Star in the U.K., all the proceeds raised from sales of the record will be split between charities working for ex-British servicemen - the Chelsea Pensioners, the Erksine Hospital and Help For Heroes.

The A side is a World War I song medley set to a ska arrangement including 'It's A Long Way To Tipperary' to 'Keep The Home Fires Burning' to 'Rule Britania'. The B-side will feature Jennie Bellestar of The Bellestars singing a new version of ‘Long Ska Summer.’ All tracks were recorded with backing from UK mod/ska/soul band The Coverup.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Pauline Black's Memoir 'Black By Design' On Bookstore Shelves Today!: Read An Excerpt From The Book

Pauline Black's much anticipated memoir 'Black By Design: A 2-Tone Memoir' is officially available on bookstore shelves throughout the U.K. today and for sale online from Amazon in the UK.

Of great interest to the multitudes of 2-Tone fans around the world it captures the birth of The Selecter and 2-Tone in Coventry, but its really more a tome about the search for identity.  The book pulls no punches when it comes to painting a picture of the trials and tribulations Black faced as the adopted bi-racial child of white parents living in the suburbs of London. More importantly, it examines issues of racial identity during a time that the U.K. was struggling to confront its own racism and the challenges of assimilating Black and Asian immigrants into British society and culture.

Black was interviewed this morning on the BBC about the release of her book. Watch the interview below:

To celebrate the release of the book, The Coventry Telegraph in the U.K. is re-printing excerpts from 'Black By Design' in its print and on-line editions over the next few days.  Below is an excerpt describing how Black developed her iconic look and her stage name.
UNDER Jane’s tutelage I started to frequent the second-hand shops that used to be opposite the arts faculty at Lanchester. Jane (the wife of the band leader of The Selecter, Neol Davies) had a good eye for stuff and I was happy to follow her direction.
We took the Rude Boy look that Peter Tosh had pioneered in his early ska days and feminized it. It was just a question of changing the proportion of the garments.
She picked out some beige Sta-Prest for me, which were probably from the previous ska era, circa late 60s. They stopped an inch shy of my shoes which I was told was ‘cool’. An orange slim-fit, boy’s Ben Sherman shirt was poked through the changing room’s curtains to cover the upper half of my body. Next she handed me a double-breasted jacket made of shiny grey material. It fitted perfectly. Job done. We sourced a pair of black penny loafers at Ravel. White socks took up the spatial slack between the trouser bottoms and my shoes. We decided that my Afro hair did not suit this new ensemble, so I pulled it up into a small top knot.
I felt curiously empowered when I tried the clothes on at home and surveyed the result in the bedroom mirror. The addition of a pair of fake Ray-Ban sunglasses, strictly for posing purposes, finished everything off very nicely.’
The photo shoot came next. The photographer was a local young man, John Coles, who hauled us off down under the flyover which crosses Pool Meadow roundabout.
It was a spooky twilight shoot and all the more effective for it. When it got too dark we ended up at Charley’s house, posing in his kitchen. I like these photos the best out of all the other obviously more expensive shoots we did later.
Paul Rambali, an NME journalist wanted to do the first in-depth interview with the now rapidly emerging Selecter… Suddenly I was scared. What was I going to do about my job? I was up for promotion soon to senior radiographer?...Charley said: “Why not change your name P?” (He always called me P)
The wonderful thing about free forming with words is that happy accidents occur. So when Charley lay on his back puffing out smoke rings… and said: “What have we got? Pauline… she’s black… Pauline’s black… black Pauline…’
“That’s it,” I shouted excitedly, “Pauline Black!”
My rebirth was complete – the Rude Girl I had invented had a new name. Pauline Black. Black by design!
For those of you living in the U.K., Black will be promoting the book at the Edinburgh Book Festival on August 22nd. Tickets to hear her speak are available for sale.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

By The Rivers Tapped To Play Support for The Specials U.K. Tour

Leicester, UK ska/reggae band By The Rivers have been tapped to play support for the upcoming farewell U.K. tour The Specials are gearing up to kick-off this Fall.The six piece band (who have an average age of 20) was founded in 2010 by Nile Barrow and Jordan Birtles who have known each other since birth and had been writing music together for years before deciding to form the band.

Their musical union follows in the footsteps of their fathers John Barrow and Gaz Birtles who made their mark as members of 1980s band The Swinging Laurels.  The connection to The Specials and ska goes back a ways as the Fathers were also members of early 80's Leicester ska band The Newmatics and later performed as session brass players for 2-Tone band The Apollonaires, as well as Musical Youth, Fun Boy Three and Team 23 (who were managed for a time by The Specials drummer John Bradbury).  The Swinging Laurels recorded several singles and albums and toured as support for Culture Club and Nik Lowe in the 80's.  The apple hasn't fallen far from the tree!

Check out a video of The Swinging Laurels below:

The story of how By The Rivers were selected to play support for The Specials entire UK tour this fall is one of that dreams are made of.  A support slot for Neville Staple's band led to the tour of a lifetime as the band related in an interview with
A SUPPORT slot during a gig in Derby earlier this year could prove to be the pivotal moment in the lives of six lads with a passion for reggae. By The Rivers were wrapping up for the night when singer guitarist Nile Barrow thrust a CD and his business card into the hand of the night's main attraction at The Venue. He was 2-Tone/ska favourite Neville Staple, from the Specials, and, like many would-be stars of the future, Nile knew it was a long-shot. The CD and the card could so easily have ended up being left in the dressing room amid the after-show partying. Instead, By The Rivers will be using dates like their performance of upbeat original roots reggae on the Y Not Festival's Quarry Stage on Saturday, August 6, as a warm up before they begin a 15-date UK tour with the re-formed Specials. To say the least, Nile and the rest of the group have been stunned by the support they have received. "Within days Neville was on the phone saying he loved the EP and would be playing it to the rest of the band," said Nile. "Shortly after that Lynval Golding, the Specials' rhythm guitarist was on the phone, too, saying he would help out in any way he could. "He was brilliant, really supportive and was adamant he was going to get us a slot as the support band, probably for one of the Midlands shows. "The next message we got was a text telling us we would be supporting them for the whole tour – it was incredible."
Below are highlights of the band performing recently at the 'T In The Park' concert in London:

Stream and purchase the band's self-titled EP below:

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Little Roy Announces September Release Date for Nirvana Reggae Covers LP 'Battle For Seattle'

Little Roy has announced that his much anticipated Nirvana reggae covers album 'Battle For Seattle' has been given a release date of September 5, 2011. The reggae artist, who has been producing music since the mid-60s, has recorded covers from across the grunge pioneers back catalogue, with 'Lithium', 'Come As You Are', 'Heart Shaped Box' and 'About A Girl' all part of the 10-track collection. The album is available for preview and pre-sale on iTunes.

'Battle For Seattle' is the brainchild of King Fatty (Mike Pelanconi) who leads a U.K.-based reggae collective behind some of the best reggae music recorded and released in the last five years (including Hollie Cook's Tropical Pop).  As a record producer, Pelanconi has worked with a diverse repertoire of artists and labels, but its reggae where he excels.  The 'Battle For Seattle' was recorded old-fashioned JA style, using tape and vintage analog equipment, and Prince Fatty tapped an who's who of reggae musicians including Horseman, Mafia, from Mafia & Fluxy, Bubblers (from the Ruff Cut band), erstwhile Wailers guitarist, Junior Marvin and George Dekker of The Pioneers.

The album has received the thumbs-up from the original Nirvana camp and from many of their friends, including the bands original agent Russell Warby who is releasing the album on his own label Ark Recordings. Also, photographer Charles Peterson, the man responsible for Nirvana's 'Bleach' album cover shot, who helped define the look of Sub-Pop and Seattle internationally, provided the front image for the album cover.

I have to admit that I am really looking forward to the release of this album and I am not alone. From what I can gather, there is great anticipation and excitement for the release of 'Battle For Seattle' in the blogosphere. A review in Sabotage Times called the unlikely pairing 'inspired':
As unions go, it’s an unlikely one – the tortured gut wrenched angst of rock’s most iconic modern day suicide and a veteran Jamaican recording artist who has crossed dub faders with reggae legends such as Prince Buster, Lee Perry and The Wailers. But Little Roy’s “Battle For Seattle”, ten Nirvana cover versions set to a sweet rocksteady beat, is an undeniable triumph. Why? Because, like most successful marriages, the most affecting aspects of each are thrown into sharp relief by the limitations of the other.
Little Roy's reimagining of Nirvana's 1990 single 'Sliver' and its accompanying B-side 'Dive' were released earlier this summer to great acclaim. Have a listen below:

Little Roy's version of Nirvana's 'Come As You Are' has just been distributed via YouTube and is out on September 12th as a 7" and as a download with b-side 'Stain':

Monday, August 1, 2011

Preview Tracks for The Selecter's New Album 'Made In Britain'

The Selecter (featuring Pauline Black and Gaps Hendrickson) have just posted preview tracks for their new studio album 'Made In Britain' which is out on September 1st.

The album features 10 tracks that mix ska, pop and reggae with lyrics that reflect the social and political issues confronting Britain’s new multicultural society in 2011. The album includes the first single,'Big In The Body-Small In The Mind' which was released on May 30th and reached No.1 in the Amazon hottest new reggae releases download chart. The song is a re-working of Woody Guthrie’s 'All You Fascists Bound To Lose', and helps to set the band's agenda, which notes that racism is still on the rise in Europe - a statement sadly vindicated by the horrific recent events in Norway.  The band has also recorded a ska cover of Amy Winehouse's 'Back To Black' as well as re-recording 'They Make Me Mad' from their very first album 'Too Much Pressure'.

The line-up of the band that recorded the album includes:

Lead Vox: Pauline Black
Lead Vox: Arthur “Gaps” Hendrickson
Drums: Winston Marche
Guitar: Anthony Harty
Keyboards: Greg Coulson
Bass: John Thompson
Horns: Neil Pyzer & Orlando LaRose

Below is a great live performance of the band performing 'Back To Black' at a show in London shortly after Winehouse passed away in late July.

Have a listen to a preview of all 10 tracks from 'Made In Britain' below:

'Made In Britain'-THE SELECTER by Selecter