Friday, April 20, 2012
The passing of Dick Clark just two months after the death of Don Cornelius in February, is the end of an era in American music history and another reminder of the inevitable passing of time. Both Soul Train and American Bandstand were integral parts of my musical education and I looked forward to them both equally. Soul Train taught me so much about music and Black American culture and the Soul Train line taught me if you were a good dancer you could meet more girls! American Bandstand allowed me to see many of the bands I was passionately dedicated to, perform live in front of my own eyes. And so on many Saturday mornings during the early 1980's my burgeoning music fandom was rewarded by Clark who booked most of what we now lovingly call 80's new wave, including A Flock Of Seagulls, Squeeze, Haircut 100, Simple Minds, The Go-Go's, ABC, Adam & The Ants and of course, The English Beat.
The English Beat appeared on American Bandstand twice in the span of just seven months, which is testament to their growing popularity here in the U.S. and their appearance at both US Festivals. In fact, they were the only band to be invited to play both the 1982 and 1983 US Festival's. The two invitations are a testament to the hard work they put into breaking the U.S. The release of 'Special Beat Service" in the US in 1982 had solidified them as a "new wave" band rather than a ska band and that helped to expand their audience here.
The band first appeared on the show on September 18, 1982 performing "Save it for Later" and "Sugar and Stress", from Special Beat Service. Amazingly, they shared billing that day with Australia`s Men At Work. The band were at the height of their game during this time and from what I remember, the American!Bandstand performances were equally impressive. I immediately purchased "Special Beat Service" soon afterwards.
The band was back again on April 23, 1983 when they performed "I Confess"" & ""Save It for Later." Sadly, the would break up a mere two months later. Though their performances are not currently available, you can watch the legendary Clark interacting with the band during his charming 2-minute interviews.
Dave Wakeling shared the following about Clark on the band's Facebook page: "dick clark was charming, learned all our names in advance and came in the dressing room to thank us all individually for being on his show. being on american bandstand was a feather in my cap. thanks dick clark for your kind ways, and RIP x"
Saturday, April 14, 2012
Madness finally made it back to the U.S.! The band's first show in many years, made an impression on crowds gathered at the first weekend of Coachella, as they performed a set of their must loved classics. Though I wished I could be there in person, I enjoyed the band's set (as well as Jimmy Cliff and Tim Armstrong and The Artic Monkey's) live on the Coachella YouTube feed, which shows every band performing at the festival in real time, live.
In case you missed last night's set, the band are back at Coachella again next weekend and play a week's worth of shows across the West Coast this week. Check out the band performing a blistering set finale of "Night Boat To Cairo" below:
Friday, April 13, 2012
Rolling Stone magazine is reporting that The English Beat will finally release a career-spanning five-disc box set to be titled The English Beat: The Complete Beat on July 10th. The set contains previously unreleased extras, including a rare version of "Save It for Later" the band recorded for a Peel Session as well as the magnificent "Which Side of the Bed," (which is one of my favorite songs by the band and one that guitarist Dave Wakeling calls an "ironic celebration of the battle of the sexes." The track was only released as the B-side to the another rare song "Hit It" which was released as a single in the U.K. in 1981 and has been previously unavailable in the U.S. You can stream both versions of the songs from RollingStone.com. Watch a video of the song below:
Back in 1983, as the band was focused on breaking their 'Special Beat Service' LP in the U.S. (and were in the process of breaking up themselves), they returned to the U.K. to record a session for the Kid Jensen radio show on BBC 1. Rumor has it that the band recorded up to 4 new and never released songs during the session, including a lovely cover of Cole Porter's 'Night & Day'. As the band disintegrated and reformed as General Public and Fine Young Cannibals in 1984, the tracks recorded for those sessions were lost to the annals of time.
Though the tracks have remained elusive and hidden away, their existence has never been in doubt. In fact as far back as 1999, Dave Wakeling was quoted in a Rolling Stone story about the possible release of a greatest hits retrospective that would include rare tracks. "I'm told the labs in England had found some live tapes and maybe we'll put some of that on it," he says. "Somebody said there was an idea that they'd found a couple of tracks on the master reels that we'd never finished. Ah, 'contains previously released tracks.' It's probably because they were s---." Here's to hoping that some, if not all of these songs, end up in this box set!
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Well not exactly (but it was close as we could get to a reunion of one the most popular ska bands to ever come out of New York City). Last night at the Underground Lounge on Manhattan's Upper West Side, members of the original band calling themselves "Doomsday: The Ultimate Mephiskapheles Tribute Show" played an acoustic ska show.
The sound of Mephiskapheles was unprecedented -- even today there really is nothing that compares to their unique take on ska. Along with The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Mephiskapheles was the look and sound of 90's American ska. Eschewing the 2-Tone foundation of 80's ska, the original band line-up (Brendog Tween, Mikal Reich, Brian Martin, Alexander McCabe, Nubian Nightmare, Rick Sanford, Osho Endo, Dave Doris, Gina Latessa, Mike Berger and Vattel Cherry) took a devil worship concept and built it on top of traditional ska with liberal doses of punk, jazz, oi, alternative rock and metal. Visually the band's image and look were just as startling (it certainly didn't hurt that a few band members worked for a cutting edge New York ad agency), featuring a singer with the voice of a death metal screamer, trained jazz horn players and a motley crew of punk rockers who quickly took the 90's New York and American ska scenes by storm. (Read more about the band in an interview I did with Tween last year).
So, without further ado, enjoy the band's popular song"Saba." And leave it to Brendog to sum up the reunion and the inevitable passing of time: "Ten years ago you guys would have been kicking the shit out of each other. Now you all have iPhones."
Monday, April 9, 2012
While much of the mainstream success that The Clash and The Police enjoyed was based on their rock and punk fueled reggae hybrids, both bands took great pains to bring reggae bands and performers on tour with them in order to pay back the musical favor. Indeed, both bands, looking to capitalize on the popularity of reggae in the early 80's brought Black Uhuru, the "it band" of the moment, on back-to-back U.S. tours with them in 1982 (check out the picture above of the band performing "So Lonely" with The Police). They were on a roll at the time, having released the widely acclaimed Red in 1981, one of that year’s best albums and their finest moment. Whether the realized or not, Black Uhuru exposed many young, impressionable American teens (like me) to a whole new world. I was changed forever by seeing them live.
And so, 30 years ago this month, I was one of the lucky, young concertgoers inside the old Brendan Byrne Arena, whose mind was blown by the deep bass and drum riddims of one of the best reggae bands of all time. Brendan Byrne Arena (now the Izod Center) is a concrete fortress-like coliseum situated on the side of the New Jersey Turnpike. It has always been a bit of an eyesore and it 1982, was as an unlikely place to hear the militant steppers reggae of Black Uhuru, then at the top of their game. Yet there they were, front and center, deep in the belly of "Babylon's" belly. The irony still amazes me.
With Black Uhuru opening the show for The Police, this was one of the very best and most complimentary double bills I have ever seen. From what I remember, a good portion of the Police's predominantly white audience didn't quite know how to take the dreads onstage belting out their provocative anthems. Fortified by the indomitable Sly Dunbar on drums, Robbie Shakespeare on bass, and the classy rhythm guitar of Mikey Chung, Black Uhuru's trio of Michael Rose, Puma Jones and Ducky Simpson churned out a collection of fierce roots rockers. Unfortunately, the crowd's perplexity kept them slightly apart from the action. However, by the set's end, Black Uhuru had made its impression.
According to a review of the April 1982 show:
It was the biggest place Black Uhuru had ever played in, though not the biggest number of people. The vast majority of the audience were still in their cars driving towards the gig when Black Uhuru took the stage, at the dot of 7.30pm. The Police, they knew, wouldn't be on till 9.30pm.Though no recordings of Black Uhuru's early 80's U.S, tours are available, check out the band's live headlining gig from Essen, Germany right before their U.S. tour to experience their amazing energy, musicianship and hypnotic live show.
So Black Uhuru sang to those who were there, and worked their magic well. Michael Rose danced around the way he does, an inspired shaman, full of grace. Puma danced around the way she does, an elegant, sturdy, strong woman. Duckie stood glowering the way he does, a tight-lipped, almost silent partner. They look bright and beautiful, draped in colours that could carry over distance.
The guitars rang out, a clear compelling sound, and the keyboards played inventive flourishes all over the melodies, and it was sweet music. At the end Sly and Robbie did their dub outro - dubwise at the Meadowlands! - and the audience applauded. Not thunderously, not enough to get them an encore, but they didn't just run off to get another hotdog. This was by no means a small victory.
1. Shine Eye Gal
2. Plastic Smile
3. Puff She Puff
4. I Love King Selassie
6. Youth Of Eglington
7. Chill Out
10. World is Africa
11. Sponji Reggae
13. Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner
Saturday, April 7, 2012
The reggae icon is the subject of a new documentary, "Marley," from Oscar-winning director Kevin Macdonald ("The Last King of Scotland"). The film, which features interviews with Marley's surviving family members and reggae contemporaries like Bunny Wailer and Junior Marvin, premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival (reviews here and here) and the SXSW Film Festival. It will be released theatrically and through video on demand on April 20, a date whose coded significance will resonate with those who understand its significance.
While there have been other Marley documentaries, this one in particular seems to have captured the imagination of fans and the attention of mainstream media (the venerable New York Times had a decent piece that included quotes from the Macdonald, as well as Marley's family members.)
I've always had an ambivalent relationship with Marley. I discovered his music as a young teen and listened to the Exodus album obsessively. Like many college-aged music fans of the early 80's, a poster of Marley held a place of significance on my dorm room wall. I hoped his visage would convey my belief in the power of music to right social injustice and to mark me as someone whose interest in music extended far beyond Madonna, Michael Jackson and MTV. To me, he was on par with The Clash and The Specials in their unflinching willingness to point out the hypocrisy of those in power who turned a blind eye to the chaos ranging around them. For that, I always give Marley credit for turning me into a "soul rebel."
However, Marley soon became a brand name celebrity on par with Michael Jackson in terms of recognition, mass appeal, and merchandising. This rampant commercialism contrasted with the essence of his music and the way he lived his life that always left a bad taste in my mouth. As I moved on to 2-Tone and punk and reggae, I left Marley and his music behind.
That said, he remains an icon to me and his contribution to the birth of ska and reggae in the late 60's (which is often overlooked) as well as his work with American soul artists Johnny Nash (see my post about their unique relationship) was a key to its growth. I'm happy that this documentary has the blessings of his entire family (which is no small feat).
If you live in New York, BrooklynVegan is presenting a FREE advanced screening of the film at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn on Thursday, 4/12, at 7pm (first come, first served). Seats are put out in the main/back room of the club where a screen comes down over the stage, and the sound booms out of their concert-ready system. See you there!
Check out the official trailer below.
Check out an interview with Macdonald and his son Ziggy Marley from the SXSW festival.
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
The Equators Reunite For 30th Anniversary!: 2-Tone Era Band To Perform During London International Ska Festival
Ska fans rejoice! News out of the U.K. is that The Equators, the 2-Tone era ska band from Birmingham who were signed to Stiff Records and released the criminally overlooked cult album 'Hot' (produced by Rumours keyboardist Bob Andrews) in 1981, will perform during the closing night of the London International Ska Festival 2012 on Sunday May 6th! The band reformed late last year and have begun playing shows again. If you haven't bought a ticket yet, then this should inspire you!
The Equators were way ahead of their time. I remember borrowing a copy of 'Hot' from Steve Parker, the original guitar player of Bigger Thomas when we first met. He told me that he wanted our band to sound like the songs on this record. I remember listening to the album and wondering why I had never heard of the band or why they weren't more popular. The album captured an effervescent and upbeat 2-Tone ska and reggae sound that included rock and new wave as best represented by songs like 'Age Of Five" and their own fantastic cover of The Equals 'Baby Come Back' which should have been a massive hit. Have a listen:
Formed in 1977 by the brothers Bailey (Donald, Leo & Rocky), the offspring of Jamaican immigrants to England, The Equators were discovered by Stiff Records’ President, David Robinson, performing with another Birmingham band, The Beat (which shared The Equators’ Management team). Robinson, ecstatically impressed with the raw energy of their concert performance & the soulful innovation of their ska-pop-reggae sound, moved to sign the band to the famous Stiff Records label (home of Madness & Elvis Costello).
Stiff Records released their album during 2-Tone mania and it should have had the same level of success as The Specials, The Beat and The Selecter. In my mind they suffered from I call "Fishbone Syndrome". That is that they were an amazing band that was doing something way ahead of its time and that didn't fit preconceived notions of what black or white music should sound like. Instead it was a melting pot of different musical sounds performed by an all black band and it seemed to throw a lot of people off. That, and Stiff totally mismarketed The Equators as a reggae band when they should have been marketed as a ska band. Oh well...
Here is video of the band performing 'Mr Copper' from 'Hot" this past December during their first reunion show at the Hare & Hound in Birmingham (which is famous as the first pub where UB40 and other Midlands-based bands performed).
Below is video of the band's recent winter rehearsals performing 'I Get My Kicks' and "Break My Heart':
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
I (along with many of you kind readers) worship at the Church of 2-Tone and the sound and look of the musical movement have defined me as a musician, fan, DJ and a blogger. As such, the 1981 classic film "Dance Craze" has served as a constant refuge for me throughout my life. Though I was the perfect age to experience 2-Tone live in the late 70's and early 80's, sadly I lived on the wrong continent! Years later, when I was finally able to afford an incredibly overpriced VHS copy of the film, I splurged. It was everything I hoped and dreamed it would be. The tape still occupies a place of honor on a book shelf at home.
Amazingly, the film has still not received a proper re-issue on DVD or Blu-Ray (nor does it appear that this will happen anytime soon). However, the full 85-minute version of the film — featuring classic performances from 2 Tone-era acts The Specials, Madness, Bad Manners, The Beat, The Selecter and more — has recently surfaced on YouTube!
If you haven’t seen it, check it out below and play it loud!
Like jazz music, much of ska and reggae music is based on the idea of standards. That is, songs that are musical compositions which are an important part of the musical repertoire of ska and reggae musicians, in that they are widely known, performed, and recorded, and widely known by listeners. Indeed, much of the basis of what we know as modern reggae is based on riddim tracks written during the 60's and 70's.
Not all ska and reggae standards were written by ska and reggae composers. Some of the most well known come from Jamaica's neighbor and musical cousin Trinidad -- birthplace of calypso. And one in particular has a musical pedigree and history that deserves to be told more fully.
I remember hearing a 2-Tone styled version of 'Shame And Scandal' performed live by New York's Mephiskapheles sometime in very early 1990's. At the time, I thought it was one of their originals and I was mightily impressed. Only later did I learn that the song was a 60's ska cover. Even then, the subject matter and word play remained unique. For the uninitiated:
"The story follows a young Trinidadian man in search of a wife. In each of the verses, the young man asks his father for permission to marry a different woman, only to be told he can't marry the girl as "The girl is your sister but your mamma don't know". However, the tables are turned during the last verse, where the young man's mother tells him that "Your daddy ain't your daddy, but your daddy don't know", clearing the path for him to marry any of the girls."The genesis of "Shame & Scandal" as we know it today is actually based on a nascent version originally written and performed by noted calypso singer Sir Lancelot (Lancelot Victor Edward Pinard). As a young man in the late 1930's, Sir Lancelot was sent by his upper class family in Trinidad to New York to study medicine. He became a singer instead and was well known throughout the city often selling out performances. As a result, he was disowned by his family, which felt that his calypso singing had shamed them. In response he wrote the song that would eventually become "Shame & Scandal"
Due to his growing popularity, Sir Lancelot was cast in the fantastic 1943 film noir movie "I Walked with a Zombie" where his haunting rendition of the song, then titled "Fort Holland Calypso Song," captured the imagination of American movie going audiences. The song was the first calypso song to feature in an American film and Sir Lancelot became one of the very first Black actors to have a prominent role in a film. Watch a clip below:
Due to the impact the song had as a result of its use in the film, another Trinidadian calypso singer, Lord Melody had a hit in the early 1960's with his own version of the song titled "Wau Wau (Shame and Scandal in the Family)". This version used the same chorus as the original Sir Lancelot song, but with many new verses that we recognize today.
Lord Melody's version brought the song to the U.K. In 1965, British comedy actor Lance Percival reached No.37 in the UK charts with the original title.
Percival's version made it to Jamaica where it was picked up and versioned by musicians across the island. That same year, a ska cover version was recorded by The Wailers (with Peter Tosh on vocals), backed by the Skatalites and released on the Studio One label. And so, the song that travelled from Trinidad to New York to London, finally made a homecoming in Jamaica.
It was at this point that the song became a ska standard (most recently covered by Madness). Its story of extramarital affairs gone awry is one that still resonates in modern life.
Monday, April 2, 2012
I'm excited to report that The Black Seeds, one of reggae music's best kept secrets, is bringing their antipodean reggae sounds to North America this month and will play songs from their eighth studio album 'Dust And Dirt." The band's many albums have been on heavy rotation on my iPod for a number of years and they are among the best purveyors of modern reggae. Indeed, I would venture to say that the band has picked up the mantle that UB40 dropped many years ago -- intelligent, pop-driven, politically conscious music that keeps you thinking and your feet moving.
Just who are The Black Seeds you ask? The 8-piece band from Wellington, New Zealand produce a unique, boundary-crossing fusion of dub, funk, afrobeat and soul, that is anchored by a backbone of vintage reggae. The band's Kiwi roots also lend the music a laid back vibe that includes a particular environmental/green consciousness which is no surprise given they are from New Zealand.
That said, the band has been mostly unknown in North America, but that is beginning to change as they tour here more frequently, including dates across the U.S. and Canada that kicks off this month. The band recorded and produced 'Dust And Dirt' themselves, and will release it on Easy Star label here in the U.S. on April 9th.
Still need a bit more convincing? Give a listen to a few of their best songs including 'The Answer', 'Sometimes Enough' and 'Little Atoms'. The band have also released the first single from 'Dust And Dirt' titled 'Pippy Pip'. The band is also free streaming the new album on their web site. All you need to do is share an email address to hear it.
Below are the band's U.S. tour dates (I'll see you at the show in Brooklyn!)
Thu 04/05/12 Los Angeles, CA
Fri 04/06/12 San Diego, CA
Sat 04/07/12 Santa Barbara, CA
Sun 04/08/12 San Francisco, CA
Tue 04/10/12 Victoria, BC
Wed 04/11/12 Vancouver, BC
Thu 04/12/12 Seattle, WA
Fri 04/13/12 Denver, CO
Sat 04/14/12 Boulder, CO
Sun 04/15/12 Brooklyn, NY
Tue 04/17/12 Ithaca, NY