Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Vote for the 2013 Ska Album Of The Year

The online ska magazine Reggae Steady Ska has just opened voting for its incredibly comprehensive 2013 album of the year poll. The list includes nearly 90 ska, reggae and rocksteady albums released during the 2013 calendar year.  The list is mind boggling in its diversity and a wonderful sign that ska, reggae and rocksteady music remains vital and healthy around the globe.

Reggae Steady Ska has also created a companion YouTube playlist which features one song from each band that is nominated.   Its a great place to start if you haven't decided who to vote for or if you just want to enjoy a fantastic mix of music.

Here is how the voting works:

-- You can cast one vote a day while the poll is open
-- More poll categories will be added in the following days.
-- Next to the public voting a jury of ska musicians, bloggers and writers is also voting in a separate poll
-- The public voting runs from Tuesday, December 31, 2013 to Monday, January 6, 2014.

Click here to cast your vote!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Specialized Charitable Music Project Announces Specialized 3 In 2014 -- Mad Not Cancer!

There will be a Specialized 3! Paul Williams, the mastermind behind the first two Specialized albums -- featuring musical tributes to The Specials and The Beat and live concerts across the Globe which have raised over £40,000 for the Teenage Cancer Trust in the UK -- has announced that the next iteration of the project will focus on Madness!

In 2012, the project released its first album, the critically acclaimed “Specialized-A Modern take on Specials Classics” which included a double album's worth of tracks covering the back catalogue of The Specials. The project was so successful that in 2013 a second double album titled “Beat Teenage Cancer,” covering tracks of The Beat/English Beat was also launched to critical acclaim.

Both albums have been used as a showcase for unsigned modern bands influenced by the respective artists to pay their respect in the form of their own versions of the originals.  The project has also drawn the interest of a number of established 2 Tone stars, including Lee Thompson of Madness, Roland Gift of The Akrylykz/Fine Young Cannibals,  Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger of The Beat, Neol Davies of The Selecter and Rhoda Dakar of The Bodysnatchers/The Special A.K.A who have shared songs or participated.

The album “Mad Not Cancer” is destined for release in June 2014 featuring a wide variety of bands from the Philippines, France, Germany, Australia, US, UK, Spain and Argentina.   More details on the progress of the album as they become available in the new year.  In the meantime, check out the promo video for Specialized 3 below.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Behind The Scenes Of The Making Of Dance Craze: An Interview With Cinematographer Joe Dunton

I (along with many of you) worship at the Church of 2-Tone and its sound and look have defined me as a musician, fan, and blogger. As such, the 1981 music documentary, "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, I splurged on an incredibly overpriced VHS copy of the film.  Despite the high price, it was everything I hoped and dreamed it would be. The tape still occupies a place of honor on a book shelf in my 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 -- is available for viewing on YouTube, as are rare outtakes which were poorly marketed and packaged for sale as a VHS tape in the late 80's in the U.S. under the tittle "Ska Beatz."

Though may 2-Tone ska fans know the basics behind the film, what many have never heard, is the story about the actual filming of the documentary by the film's cinematographer. In a career spanning 40 years, Joe Dunton championed some of the film industry’s key developments including the development of film and video cameras and lenses that changed film making. Dunton, who is well regarded in the UK and US film industries as a camera and sound expert was awarded the M.B.E. (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in the 1998 Queen's New Year's Honours List for his services to the camera and film industry. He has been associated with some of the most well known directors including the late Stanley Kubrick and the late Oswald Morris. Dunton developed many cutting edge firsts during the making Dance Craze which are now taken for granted like having camera's on stage vs. in the audience. Dance Craze was also one of the first films recorded with Dolby sound.

Joe Dunton with Rhoda Dakar of The Bodysnatchers and Ranking Roger of The Beat

Dance Craze was directed by Joe Massot, who originally wanted to do a film about Madness, whom he met during their first US tour. At the urging of his son who was a ska fan, Massot later changed his plans to include the whole 2 Tone movement. He then tapped Dunton to help him.  The film which was shot in 1980 captured Madness, The Specials, The Selecter, The Bodysnatchers, The Beat and Bad Manners on tour throughout the UK and US.  A soundtrack album of the same name was released the same year (and reached #5 in the UK album charts), featuring fifteen songs from the film.

When 2-Tone was purchased by Chrysalis, a lot of people at the label were unhappy with the quality of the film, and the original film stock appears to have been “lost” in the transfer of property. While many of the artists are still active musically in one form or another, there has been no indication by anyone involved that there is any chance of this ever being re-released. Like Urgh!, this one will likely remain properly unreleased (though Dunton has hinted he is working on a re-issue and owns a master copy of a 70mm version)

According to a recent interview with Dunton, the film was conceived as it was being shot which adds to its immediacy and is part of the reason it still holds up to viewing nearly 35 years later.
"I then had the idea to make a film that was not “a third row film”, - not shot from the audience, from the third row; everyone shot concert films from the third row, and it does not mean anything, and because the bands were young bands I ended up being on stage with them and our first band – I think it was called “The Specials” or “Selecter” – I asked if I could come on stage and make the film; they had not made a film before so they were not really anti-me at all. I said if they did not like the film we need not use it; thus we did not draw up contracts – we just took a chance."
"After the first concert, we hired a cinema in Brighton (or Southampton) with no sound – and the band saw the film – and they sang along with the film because they knew the words – so we had sound as they sang along with it. They told their mates in the other bands of this whole 2 tone group and what we were doing. I got permission from all of them in the end."
According to Dunton, Massot encountered sone challenges while making the film that required Dunton's help in navigating.
Unfortunately, with Joe, he was a lovely man, but was American and when you come from Camden Town – our Cockney London - to have an American to deal with it was very difficult. So I was the communicator - basically because my camera was being directed by me – not someone telling me what to do. I was just feeling the way.
Despite the excitement that the film generated, Dunton was never paid for his work on the film.
We finished the film. I ended up with a contract that offered me 10% of the movie and then – as in those days - I got a telex from Chrysalis Records to say it was 1%. I told them they had left the “0” off: no, no, they said we have done a new deal – I still never got my wages then. But I had 30 people on the payroll editing the film so they really pushed me into saying let’s get on and finish the film. I still have not got my 1per cent! - it should be mounting up over 20 years! – (it would be good if you could put the word out!) – the director had a 10% too and he has now passed away, although his daughter could do with the money; there must be revenue from it.
Lucky for all of us, Dunton has been out and about attending screenings of Dance Craze in all its 70 mm glory. Below is a video from a 2011 event in the UK that featured Dunton speaking about the making of the film.

Here is a more recent Dance Craze event that Dunton attended in the US this past summer.

Below is the theatrical trailer that Dunton created and which has rarely been seen outside of the UK.

In case you've never seen it, here is the entire Dance Craze film:

Finally, here are rare outtakes from the film:

One of my goals for 2014 is to arrange a proper screening of the film here in New York.  Keep you eyes open for news about this in the new year.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Watch Rare Concert Footage Of The Fun Boy Three From 1983

Lately I've been spending a lot of time listening to 80's new wave as part of my new gig as the bass player for Rude Boy George -- a band that performs ska and reggae versions of classic songs from the era. As such, my experiences as a new wave meets ska musician have made me love and appreciate the Fun Boy Three even more. So, imagine my excitement at discovering an entire live show recorded during a concert in Cologne, West Germany in May of 1983 (right before the band broke up) that was aired on television in Japan.

Like most, I was shattered when The Specials broke-up in the early 80's. When I heard the first Fun Boy Three album "Fame" when it was released in 1981, I have to confess I was confused by it. It was a complete departure from The Specials 2-Tone sound and it quickly established the band as pop stars and household names across the U.K. The 11-track album had a distinct African influence that was heavy on drums, percussion and Jamaican-styled vocal harmonies.

Over time "Fame" grew on me and when their second and final album "Waiting" was released in 1983 I was a huge fan. Produced by David Byrne of Talking Heads, the collection was an amazing mix of pop, reggae and avant-rock with just a hint of all round weirdness. I never saw FB3, so imagine my excitement at discovering an entire live show recorded during a concert in Cologne, West Germany in May of 1983 (right before the band broke up) that was aired on television in Japan.

Aside from their off kilter yet accessible look and sound, Fun Boy Three were notable for having an entirely female backing band that included keyboardist/arranger Nicky Holland, trombonist Annie Whitehead, cellist Caroline Lavelle, original girl punker and drummer June Miles-Kingston (of The Mo-Dettes), and vocalist Ingrid Schroeder. Watch an interview of Terry Hall and Lynval Golding discussing the benefits of having an all woman band:

The full concert which features tracks from both their albums (as well as a version of The Specials "Gangsters") is broken up into five videos below, but is worth the time to watch and listen to one of the most unique and overlooked bands of the 80's.

1. Faith And Hope And Charity
2. The Pressure Of Life 3:03
3. The Telephone Always Rings 6:34
4. Farmyard Connection
5. The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum 2:26
6. Things We Do 6:11
7. Well Fancy That
8. Summertime 3:27
9. Alibi 6:20
10. Our Lips Are Sealed
11. The Tunnel Of Love 3:48
12. We Are Having All The Fun 7:16
13. Gangsters
14. The More I See The Less I Believe (incomplete) 4:14

Monday, December 16, 2013

Marco On The Bass & Bryan Adams Wish You A Reggae Christmas!

I strive to celebrate and venerate the best of ska and reggae music on this blog. The many artists who made the music a cultural phenomena are all heroes to me and many others. However, as ska and reggae music made its way into the charts of the U.K. (and the U.S, to a lesser extent) and its influence and popularity spread, many mainstream singers, bands and musical artists began including the rhythms and sound in their own songs. Some of these efforts were magnificent and some less so. Others were just plain terrible. I've previously trained the spotlight on some of the more dreadful attempts of what the Brits call 'Cod Reggae' (which is a term I have always loved).

So in the spirit of Christmas, I offer you "Reggae Christmas" a 1984 b-side by Bryan Adams which may be the best (or worst depending on your view) Christmas cod reggae song ever recorded. The video, which gives you a real sense of the early, anything goes days of 80's music, was recorded at the MTV studios in New York City.

What is there to love/hate about this song and video?  Let me count the ways. First, in case anybody was wondering what MTV was like in 1984, “Reggae Christmas” serves as a pretty good time capsule: All 5 original VJ's make cameos as does Pee-Wee Herman (in a Santa hat with dreadlocks).  Why Pee-Wee Herman you ask?  Lest we forget (or if you aren't a child of the 80's). Herman was on hot streak at the time due to his smash hit "Pee-Wee's Playhouse" TV show and "Pee- Wee's Big Adventure" movie.

Musically, you have to hand it to Adams for giving reggae a go. While the song is a rote version of reggae, his band seems to get it musically.  The bass and drums are locked in and the guitars are playing upstrokes in the right place. It was the early 80's after all and from what I have learned, the song gets an airing every year around this time, which I suppose is the goal of every artist who records a Christmas song -- to be remembered, even if for a few minutes. Plus how can you resist these insipid lyrics which read like they were written five minutes before the band recorded the song:
Christmas is nice in Germany
if you like being up to your knees in snow
it's just as cold up in Canada
we gotta find another place to go
So...so we're having a reggae Christmas - down in Jamaica
To those who argue that Bryan Adams is French-Canadian and in no way qualified or capable of attempting reggae, I would point out that his birth certificate does say that he was born in Kingston, albeit the one in Ontario.

A big hat tip to Chuck Wren of Jump Up Records  for alerting me to this fantastically terrible piece of reggae music.

Happy Holidays to all MOTB readers!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Marco On The Bass Reviews The Year In Ska 2013

I always enjoy year end wrap-ups, and 2013 was another banner year for ska music. There was an unbelievable cornucopia of local shows, national tours and festivals, books, new albums and music to enjoy. In fact, the amount of ska related developments came so fast and furious at times, it was hard to keep up because there was so much to digest and write about!

During 2013 my ska blogging comrade Steve Shafer (Duff Guide To Ska) and I continued to bring our blogs to life by hosting monthly Electric Avenue ska showcases in New York City.  We've been undertaking this labor of love since the summer of 2012 -- the bands split 100% of the cover, nobody else takes a cut -- to support ska bands and their fans, and have some fun in the process. These shows already have featured a who's who of American ska, including Chris Murray (Los Angeles), The Ladrones (Brooklyn/New Jersey), King Django (NJ), The Snails (Philadelphia), The Frightnrs (Brooklyn), Destroy Babylon (Massachusetts), Bigger Thomas (NY/NJ), Beat Brigade (NY), Doomsday! (NY), Los Skarronerros (Brooklyn), The Pandemics (Long Island), The Scofflaws (Long Island), The Bullbuckers (Wilmington, DE), The Reggay Lords (Brooklyn), The Copacetics (Providence, RI), The Rudie Crew (NY) and The Royal Swindle (New Haven, CT). This summer we were blessed to have Roddy Radiation and Lynval Golding of The Specials perform a solo show for us. We hope to see a few more new faces in 2014!

On a personal note, 2013 was an exciting one for me.  Between rehearsing, recording, learning and writing songs and writing this blog, the year seemed to fly by.  My band Bigger Thomas released a best of digital release titled "Ska In My Pocket: The Biggest & Bestest Of Bigger Thomas" to celebrate our 25th anniversary and we recorded and released a 2-song EP of new music titled "Under A Super Moon." We also recorded a version of The English Beat song "Sole Salvation" for the Specialized 2 Beat Teen Age Cancer compilation that was released in the UK to raise funds for the Teenage Cancer Trust.  The song was also included on a limited edition, red vinyl 45 as the flip side to Dave Wakeling's new recording of "Mirror In The Bathroom."

After many years of thinking and talking about merging my twin loves of ska and new wave, I helped to found a new band -- Rude Boy George, a collective of New York City ska musicians that includes members of my band Bigger Thomas, Across The Aisle, The Toasters and Funk Face. Our goal is to create ska, reggae and rocksteady versions of our beloved 80s New Wave songs. We are joined by Steve Shafer (Duff Guide To Ska) on vocals who shares my passion for ska and new wave. We debuted the band in April and then entered the studio with former English Beat bassist Wayne "Waylo" Lothian who produced and engineered 5 tracks that will be released as an EP in 2014.

Without further ado, here is what made 2013 for me...

My top 5 favorite ska releases in 2013

1. The Selecter - String Theory
Historically, what always set The Selecter apart from other 2-Tone bands, was the pairing of Neol Davies songs and guitar playing and Pauline Black's voice, stage energy and unique rude-girl style. Though Black and Gaps Hendrickson continue to anchor the bands' vocals, providing continuity to their storied 2-Tone past,they have smartly surrounded themselves with a tight and talented group of musicians who honor the band's iconic 2-Tone sound. Black and Hendrickson have used that musical foundation to write and record ten modern ska songs that are rooted in the band's legacy but that explore a new spin on 2-Tone's original ideals.

2. Specialized 2 Beat Teenage Cancer
While the first CD in this project celebrated the music of The Specials, this time out its The Beat with Specialized 2: Beat Teenage Cancer. The recording features 44 bands/artists covering The Beat's incredible catalogue of songs with all proceeds going to support the Teenage Cancer Trust in the U.K. Stand outs include Rhoda Dakar's torch song version of "Too Nice To Talk To," Ed Rome's fantastic 60's ska take of "I Confess,"Dubtonik (featuring Charley Anderson of The Selecter) Afro-pop meets reggae version of "Monkey Murder," and Buford O'Sullivan (ex-Scofflaws, The Toasters and Easy All-Stars) and Ruff Scott's reggae re-imagining of "Get-A-Job" called "Wah" that is a stinging indictment of the 1% who own 50% of the world's wealth. Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger also contribute new material and the album has an international flavor with bands from the UK, US, Australia and Czech Republic contributing songs.

3. King Django - Anywhere I Roam
True to its title, the 12 track King Django album, Anywhere I Roam, available on Stubborn Records, is a beautiful musical meditation through a variety of Jamaican musical genres (ska, early, roots and rub-a-dub reggae and roots rocksteady) on what it means to truly commit to life as a musician and an artist and the tensions (economic, romantic, familial) that choice can create. Recorded in various studios around the world with an international cast of collaborators -- Obi Fernandez, The Void Union, The Forthrights, The Scrucialists, Regatta 69, Pannonia Allstar Ska Orchestra (PASO), Mr T-Bone, The Soul Captives and Motha Nature -- the ten originals and two covers (a rollicking ska meets New Orleans blues reworking of The Clash's Career Opportunities with lyrics updated for the Great Recession of 2008 and a stirring Skatalites-like version of The Police's Every Breath You Take that finds the emotional pain in the track that Sting originally wrote as a bitter revenge tale) detail the ongoing conflict between the freedom of life on the road (sex, drugs and ska and reggae) and the tug of memories, family, home and lost love.

4. Paris DJs Soundsystem Presents: Outernational Ska & Reggae Dub Covers Mix
As the late, great John Peel once said, "I know loads of cover versions that are regarded as being better than the original." Its a sentiment that I ascribe to whole heartedly, and one that the always excellent Paris DJs collective has dedicated their time and passion to celebrating. For the last seven years Paris DJs have consistently distributed some of the very best musical podcasts anywhere in the world. As a 2013 New Year's present to all their listeners, they distributed their final, free podcast mix, featuring a diverse mix of ska and reggae covers of songs by Nirvana (Little Roy), Cher (Bang Bang Rock Steady), Nu Shooz (Analog Players Society), Diana Ross (Eva Smart), Jimmy Cliff (Madness) and Sceamin' Jay Hawkins (The Ska Vengers) among others. Go here to download the mix.

5. Phoenix City All-Stars - Skatisfaction
Phoenix City All-Stars released "Skatisfaction" a very enjoyable collection of Studio One meets Skatalites-style take on the Rolling Stones, including versions of "Satisfaction" featuring Trojan Records legend Freddie Notes, "Under My Thumb," "Play With Fire," "Paint It Black" and "Love In Vain." The band features members of UK bands including Pama International, Sidewalk Doctors, Intensifed, Dub Vendor All-stars, The Delegators, Big Boss Man/Bongolian, The Loafers, and Kasabian. "Skatisfaction" follows hot on the heels of "Two Tone Gone Ska," released by the band in the fall of 2012, which is a collection of mostly instrumental versions of classic 2 Tone tracks including "One Step Beyond", "Stereotype", "Tears of a Clown" and "The Prince," "The Selecter," "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down," "Ghost Town," and "Too Much Too Young dub."

Top 10 favorite live ska shows in 2013

Below is a list of my top 10 personal favorite ska shows that I saw, attended, organized or performed at during 2013.

1. Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra - 4/28/13 at Stage 48, NYC
A very rare U.S. appearance by TSPO (or Skapara as their devoted fans affectionately call them) did not disappoint!  The band were energized by an audience of passionate fans who danced all night to the band's ska meets jazz meets rock.  I can now check TSPO off my ska band bucket list!

2. The Specials - 7/17/13 at Pier 26, NYC
In what could be their very last performance in New York City, the reunited version of The Specials (minus Nevile Staple who announced he was leaving the band before the tour) blazed through their iconic set on a beautiful summer's evening on a pier on the Hudson River off Lower Manhattan (with the new Freedom Tower hovering in the background. A diverse crowd (including much of the New York ska scene who turned out) danced madly and sang along with Terry Hall at the top of their lungs for the duration of the show.

3. The Selecter - 9/20/13 at Grammercy Theatre, NYC
The Selecter featuring Pauline Black and Gaps Hendrickson dazzled a New York audience that warmly welcomed their high octane roller coaster ride of ska, pop, roots and punk. Black is a captivating performer; jumping around the stage relentlessly, aiming playful kicks at band members and blessed with a voice capable of making you grin like a fool one minute (the supremely giddy ska/punk anthem ‘Three Minute Hero’) and tear up the next (a startlingly poignant take on the break up song ‘Missing Words’).

4. Apple Stomp - 5/31/13 and 6/1/13 at Irving Plaza, NYC
Legions of ska fans from across the U.S. poured into New York to attend The Apple Stomp, a 2-day marathon romp through the music’s checkered past to watch 16 storied U.S. bands (including The Slackers, The Pilfers, Inspecter 7, Mephiskapheles and more) highlight the American version of 3rd Wave ska. I had a chance to experience the show from the stage (my band Bigger Thomas opened the show on Saturday night) and from the audience. The highlight was seeing The Slackers perform.

5. Roddy Radiation and Lynval Golding - 7/20/13 at Electric Avenue at Character's NYC, NYC
Something incredible and unique happened this past July --a few days after The Specials' gig at Pier 26. Roddy Radiation and Lynval Golding of The Specials performed several of the band's hits (two written by Roddy) with just their guitars in front of a small, but fanatic crowd at Electric Avenue. If you were there, then you saw something very special. If you missed it, then watch below.

6. New York Loves Brandt Abner Benefit Show - 11/25/13 at B.B. King's, NYC
Where The Apple Stomp was a celebration of 3rd Wave American ska from the 90's on, the New York Loves Brandt Abner Benefit demonstrated the tight knit elements of the New York Ska scene who care for their own. Abner (who was a founding member of NYC ska band Skinnerbox) tragically passed away from thymic cancer in September at age 43. In response (and in celebration of his life and music), the NYC ska scene rallied to organize a benefit show at BB King's. A who's who of NYC bands from the 80's and 90's perfomed, including Skadanks, Skinnerbox, Beat Brigade, Rudie Crew, Bigger Thomas, Mephiskapheles, Pilfers and more, raising more than $4,000 for Abner's family. It was an amazing experience and demonstrated the true meaning of thanksgiving and the power of community.

7. The Reggay Lords - 2/23/13 at Electric Avenue at Charcter's NYC, NYC
Don't let their Lord of The Manor costumes fool you. The Reggay Lords (a Brooklyn-based supergroup featuring members of The Forthrights, The Hard Times, The Rudie Crew, and The Slackers) who dress in 18th century garb with frilly shirts and powdered wigs are performing some of the best rocksteady and reggae music you will hear. Be sure to catch them in 2014!

8. The Scofflaws - 1/19/13 at Electric Avenue at Character's NYC, NYC
Those who attended The Scofflaws first Manahattn show in nearly 2 years were reminded why the band remain one of the touchstones of 80's and 90's American ska music. Band leader Sammy Brooks was the focal point of the night, dancing, moving, shouting - and at one point, calling ex-bandmate Buford O'Sullivan up -- for a great version of "These Boots Are Made For Walking."

9. Beat Brigade - 4/13/13 at Electric Avenue at Character's NYC, NYC
These long-time NYC ska stalwarts have returned to playing out live and have recorded a new album of songs that will see the light of the day in 2014. Between the superb Specials/Costello/Clash influenced original cuts and the incredible musicianship of the band, Beat Brigade are one of the most dynamic acts on the American ska scene. Their 80s NYC ska vibe still sounds unique and contemporary after nearly 30 years!

10. Rude Boy George - 11/16/13 at Electric Avenue at Character's NYC, NYC
For the purposes of full disclosure, I'm in Rude Boy George, so to avoid a complete conflict of interest, I'll just say that it was very gratifying to work out and perform a dark and Gothic reggae version of the Psychedelic Furs "Love My Way."

My Top 5 ska hopes and wishes for 2014

1. I continue to have very high hopes for the Electric Avenue ska and reggae shows I co-book and co-promote with Steve Shafer of Duff Guide To Ska. I think we are making progress on establishing a monthly destination in Manhattan/NYC for ska fans to come and check out the very best bands from all over the east coast of the U.S. and beyond.

2. My new band Rude Boy George will be celebrating our first year together in early 2014 and we are planning to release a 5-song EP of some of our favorite 80's new wave songs to mark the occasion. I hope we can play more live shows and that we record and release another EP of ska, reggae and rocksteady versions of 80's new wave.

3. Find the time to read a number of ska and reggae-related books including Suggs autobiography "That Close" and Heather Augustyn's biography, "Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World's Greatest Trombonist."

4. I'm beyond excited to see "Riot On The Dancefloor: The City Gardens Documentary" that is due out in mid-2014.

5. Go see more shows. Listen to more music. Play more music. Write more songs.  Write more blog posts on MOTB. Meet more ska-loving people!

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Story Behind General Public's Other Much Darker Video For "Tenderness"

For anyone who came of age in the 80's, General Public's video for "Tenderness" was nearly ubiquitous. It featured smiling, happy children, interspersed with moody shots of Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger singing and dancing in front of swirling lights.  When paired with the songs upbeat sound, the video highlighted the brighter side of the lyrics more melancholy undertones. Otherwise, the video didn't stand out in a way from the many other pop and new wave videos of the era.

That said, if you really paid attention, the lyrics were deeper than they appeared.  According to Wakeling:

"There was a darker side to the song, because it came out in that period of AIDS, fear of AIDS. Nobody really knew much about it, and everybody was all of a sudden terrified to touch a door handle. Being a terrific hypochondriac, and everybody was always having colds on the road on tour, it's like any time anybody sneezed, I was like, could that be AIDS? So it was to do with that, but in sort of non-obvious way."

And to that end, there was another, much darker and more adult version of the video for "Tenderness" which was filmed in the U.K. (by the director of Bronski Beat's cutting edge video for "Small Town Boy") that never aired here in the U.S. The story behind the two very different videos is a classic case of American puritanical views on sex and a U.S. record company that was aiming to place the song at the top of the pop charts (it reached #27 in the Billboard Charts) with a video that would garner regular rotation on MTV. According to Wakeling:

We did two versions. We did one in England with Nicholas Roeg’s son, who’d just become a video director, and he’d just done a Bronski Beat video. I really enjoyed that video, and so our first one had this female lifeguard, and we’re all playing around in the swimming pool. I’d been a competition swimmer, so when they proposed a swimming pool, I said yes yes, thinking I could show off a bit. So the girl and I are supposed to be eyeing each other and then we end up in the shower, and she takes off her jacket and she’s actually a female bodybuilder with a crew cut. She tosses off her wig and embraces me, and that’s the end of the video. Everyone in England thought it was amazing. We brought it over to Miles Copeland and his crew and they said [in a barking tone] “No no no no no.” We said we didn’t have any money to re-shoot, but IRS Records came up with the money. They introduced us to [director] C.D. Taylor whom I like very much, and I think the theme of that video was that Roger and I were very attractive people at sunset. (laugh) We shot much of the performance on the A&M lot. C.D. Taylor found these eye drops that made blue eyes look even bluer with the right lens on. It ended up being my mom’s favorite video. I showed the two cuts to my mom, and she said, “ah, your eyes do look lovely in that one.” 

Check out the radically different UK version of the video for the song below. The risque visuals and storyline of a family man dealing with temptation and infidelity while on the road is far more compelling than most pop videos of the day and completely changes your view of the song forever. Too bad Miles Copeland was so shortsighted!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Antonee First Class of The English Beat Releases "Step On Through" Featuring Tappa Zukie & Militant Barry

If you have caught Dave Wakeling's version of The English Beat during any of his coast-to-coast U.S. tours over the last five years, then you have had the pleasure of enjoying the singing, toasting and stage moves of the band's resident toaster and MC, Antonee First Class.  He complements Wakeling's crooning with crisp toasts and shines on his own songs and freestyle chats. But what you may not know is that Antonee comes from reggae royalty, which he wisely taps on his brand new, irresistible single Step On Through (available on iTunes and Amazon.com).

Antonee (the son of 70's/80's reggae artist Militant Barry and the Godson of 70's reggae singer Tappa Zukie, who together recorded a number of important reggae tracks which which were popular in Jamaica and the U.K.) has updated the duo's 1977 track Living In The Ghetto by sampling the bass line and the chorus and adding his own take on 21st century ghetto life.  It's a song that harkens back to the golden age of 70's reggae with a traditional sound (produced by Antonee and ex-English Beat bassist Wayne Lothian) that is sorely lacking these days and that should appeal to both reggae heads and 2-Tone fans.

I spoke with Antonee, who shared that his father (who served as Tappa Zukie's UK manager before embarking on his own career as Militant Barry) were, along with Don Letts, responsible for helping to popularize reggae with punks, particularly John Lydon of The Sex Pistols (who was a huge reggae fan) and The Clash.  Zukie's MPLA was a favorite of Mick Jones.

"I learned all I know about reggae from my father and Tappa Zukie. I've had nuff sleepless nights as a kid in recording studios with these two, not to mention ghostwriting songs before I was even a teen. They are well affiliated with the punk rock scene of the 70s & 80s.  They use to take The Clash and The Sex Pistols to reggae dances in the UK.  U2 once opened for Tappa, whom my dad was road managing in Ireland before they were U2. My father was also Miles Copeland A&R for his record label.  I used to see Sting and The Police at Copeland's house as a kid before they went famous. They was actually learning the reggae through people like my Dad and Tappa. Dave Wakeling's favorite reggae artist and the first reggae record he ever bought was by Tappa Zukie, whom I lived with. My music history is longer than the average!"

So its no surprise that Antonee has connected with Dave Wakeling, who was a punk when he started The Beat in the U.K. in 1978.  The reggae-punk connection was particularly strong with Miltant Barry who recorded the song Pistol Boy, which was produced by Tappa Zukie and questioned whether or not Side Vicious really killed his girlfriend Nancy Spungen.

Read more about Antonee's life as a musician and his time running a reggae record store with his father in Pittsburgh here and listen to his toasting on my new band Rude Boy George's reggae version of The Romantics classic Talking In Your Sleep.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The New Specialized 7″ Series Featuring Music From Dave Wakeling, Ranking Roger & 2-Tone Stars Is Here!

The Specialized 2 - Beat Teenage Cancer 7" series is now available! The brainchild of Paul Williams, author of "You're Wondering Now The Specials from Conception to Reunion" and admin of The Specials fan website, the limited edition 7" series (in conjunction with Jump Up Records) is a follow-up to the recently released double CD collection Specialized 2 Beat Teenage Cancer which features 44 unique and diverse covers of The Beat's entire song catalog. Sales of the compilation and proceeds from 7"series are all slated for the Teenage Cancer Trust (TCT) in the U.K.

The Specialized project, was conceived by Williams in September 2011 after he watched a TV program about young people with cancer in the UK. At that point, The Specials had just played a prestigious gig at The Royal Albert Hall in aid of the TCT charity. This inspired Williams to come up with the idea of an album of cover versions of songs by The Specials recorded by modern day artists. Thus was born "Specialized- A Modern take on Specials Classics."

The 7" series has the full support of members of The Beat. Both Dave Wakeling (listen to an interview Wakeling did with the BBC about the project) and Ranking Roger have contributed singles in the series --Wakeling has re-recorded "Mirror In The Bathroom" and Ranking Roger appears with Hunt Emerson's band The Spritely Allstars (Emerson is the designer of the Beat girl logo) on the track "Two Swords (Majestic Mix)." They have been joined by other 2-Tone era stars including Neol Davies of The Selecter, Lee Thompson of Madness and Rhoda Dakar of The Bodysnatchers who have also contributed songs. The 7" series also includes my band Bigger Thomas who have contributed our version of "Sole Salvation" on the B-side of the re-recording of "Mirror In The Bathroom.

The entire Specialized 7" series includes:

#1: The English Beat “Mirror In The Bathroom” (new Dave Wakeling version!) b/w Bigger Thomas “Sole Salvation” 7″ (Red Vinyl)
#2: The Spritely All Stars featuring/Ranking Roger “Two Swords” (Majestic Mix) b/w Stiff Joints “Ackee 123″ 7″
#3: The Values featuring/Neol Davies “All Out To Get You” / Lee Thompson “Madness (Acoustically Speaking) b/w Nick Welsh featuring BJ Cole “Save It For Later” / Rhoda Dakar “Too Nice To Talk To”

U.S. residents can order the singles from Jump Up Records and U.K./Europe residents can order through Specialized.

The Next Electric Avenue Show: King Django, Rude Boy George and The Royal Swindle on Saturday, December 7, 2013

The final Electric Avenue show of 2013 will kick off next Saturday, December 7, 2013 at Characters NYC in the heart of midtown Manhattan with a headlining set by the one and only ska legend King Django, the 80's new wave meets ska, reggae and rocksteady of Rude Boy George and the 60's R&B ska of The Royal Swindle.  Selector Steve and The Fat Albert Soundsystem will spin an awesome mix of ska and New Wave! And its only $10 to get in! Doors are at 8 pm and the cover is a super low $10!

Check out videos of each band below including King Django performing "Anywhere I Roam",  Rude Boy George performing a Goth reggae version of "Love My Way" by Squeeze and The Royal Swindle performing "I Don't Need No Doctor."

Electric Avenue is a partnership between myself and my fellow New York City ska blogging pal Steve Shafer (Duff Guide To Ska who also happens to be a member of Rude Boy George). We have teamed up to present monthly ska and reggae shows at Characters NYC, a midtown Manhattan Irish pub (243 West 54th Street, between Broadway and 8th Avenue in Manhattan) with a big back room ideally suited for live music.

Since last fall, we've been undertaking this labor of love--doing it for free (the bands split 100% of the cover, nobody else takes a cut)--to support ska bands and their fans, and have some fun in the process. Electric Avenue shows already have featured some of the best acts on the Northeastern U.S. ska scene, including Chris Murray (Los Angeles), The Ladrones (Brooklyn/New Jersey), King Django (NJ), The Snails (Philadelphia), The Frightnrs (Brooklyn), Destroy Babylon (Massachusetts), Bigger Thomas (NY/NJ), Beat Brigade (NY), Doomsday! (NY), Los Skarronerros (Brooklyn), The Pandemics (Long Island), The Scofflaws (Long Island), The Bullbuckers (Wilmington, DE), The Reggay Lords (Brooklyn), The Copacetics (Providence, RI) and The Rudie Crew (NY) and The Royal Swindle (New Haven, CT). This summer we were blessed to have Roddy Radiation and Lynval Golding of The Specials perform a solo show for us.

The Facebook Electric Avenue event page can be found here. And take a moment to "like" the Electric Avenue FB page, so you keep up on our shows.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Thanksgiving Reflections On UB40

While visiting home for Thanksgiving this week, my mother handed me a box of old family photos to sort through.  As I was flipping through the pictures, I suddenly and unexpectedly came across this autographed A&M Records promo/press photo of UB40 from the early 1980's that I had completely forgotten about.  It seemed appropriate, given I considered the picture a prized possession and the band honorary family members during a very formative period of my life. I listened to their first 4 albums (Signing Off, Present Arms, UB44 and Labor Of Love) constantly and absorbed an education in British reggae music and concepts of social justice in songs like Tyler, Burden Of Shame, Present Arms, One In Ten, I Won't Close My Eyes and The Earth Dies Screaming that molded me in very important ways. I distinctly remember scrawling the lyrics to Madam Medusa on a desk in my University library as a small form of political protest during the South African Divestment protests of the mid-80's.

In light of the band's current situation, I wanted to share my personal story of meeting members of UB40 at an A&M Records press event for college DJ's  in NYC in 1984 or 1985 where I was given the press photo. Astro, Jim Brown, Robin Campbell and Norman Hassan greeted the 15 or so people in attendance, previewed their new album "Geoffrey Morgan," and then autographed press photos for everyone in the room.  Being in close proximity to the band and hearing new tracks like If It Happens Again and As Always You Were Wrong Again was energizing, and I remember feeling more excited than I ever had about any thing in my life up to that point.

After leaving the press event, I saw Astro and Robin Campbell outside the A&M Records offices.  They were admiring Rolex watches that were displayed in a high end jewelry store. As I debated approaching them to tell them how much I loved their music, Astro caught a glimpse of me, and recognizing me from the event, waved me over and asked which watch I thought he should buy! I pointed at one without thinking and he laughed saying I had good taste!  He then asked me my name and said he would put me on the guest list for the show at The Beacon Theatre later that night.  I couldn't believe it.  True to his word, my name was on the guest list. Its a day I will never forget.

And so, despite the band's current ups and downs and its latest trials and tribulations, I want to give thanks for UB40.   Fantastic music and a small act of kindness many years ago had such an important impact of me as a young man.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

UB40 Vocalist Astro Reunites With Ali Campbell

Days after announcing his split from UB40, vocalist Astro (Terence Wilson) has announced he will join the band's former lead vocalist Ali Campbell and keyboardist Mickey Virtue for a live show next Friday, December 6th at London's indigO2. Campbell and Virtue left UB40 in 2008.  Its unclear if this is a one-off show or if Astro plans to join Campbell and Virtue's version of UB40 on a full-time basis. Astro stated that his departure was due in part to unhappiness with band management and the new country-flavored album "Getting Over The Storm."

According to a report in Complete Music Update, Astro stated: “It’s going to be great working with Ali again after all this time. We started on a mission to promote reggae music and that mission is still ongoing. Onwards and upwards!” Campbell added: “We originally formed UB40 to promote reggae. It was never about promoting individual band members – it’s about the music and the fans. Nothing else matters. Welcome home Astro!”

UB40 drummer Jim Brown posted comments on the band's message board which provide more insight on the move. According to Brown:  "The band had a meeting with astro a couple of weeks ago because we had heard a few rumours that he had been in contact with Ali. Astro completely denied that he had seen Ali, he also gave us his word that he was totally committed to the bands up coming gigs. We also gave him extra money because he was having financial problems. He took the money and we haven't seen him since."

UB40 saxophonist Brian Travers also posted about the move on the band's message board:  "The 1st time I heard astro was unhappy was on the radio the day he left…he was 100% behind the project before that, he did loads of interviews enthusing about the album, he didn't contribute anything to it BUT then he was never a prolific writer and never wrote any music…his interview shocked the shit out of us….Anyway...y'gotta laugh…"  Travers added: "...what Jimmy didn't tell you was it was all the money we had available, leaving ourselves skint!"

Sunday, November 24, 2013

New York Loves Brandt Abner Ska/Reggae Benefit Show on 11/25/13 at B.B. King's in N.Y.C.

New York ska musician, vocalist, and songwriter Brandt Abner tragically passed away from thymic cancer on September 13, 2013 at age 43. In response (and in celebration of Brandt's life and music), the NYC ska scene is holding a massive benefit ska show with 100% of the proceeds going to support Brandt's family (his wife, whom he met while they were in high school, and his nine year-old daughter).  The show will feature reunions of key 80's and 90's NYC ska bands including Skinnerbox, Skadanks and Beat Brigade as well as performances by current NYC ska bands Mephiskapheles, Pilfers, Dub Is A Weapon, Bigger Thomas and The Rudie Crew.

Abner was a founding member of Skinnerbox and also worked with Jeff Baker/King Django for the Version City compilation and the Roots and Culture album, and played keys on some of the tracks for The Toasters' This Gun for Hire album. He was also the keyboardist for Japanese alt/rock band Cibo Matto who are performing.

Here is video of Abner performing "Promise" during the Subborn Records 20th Anniversary Party at the Knitting Factory Brooklyn in May 2012:

An established musician in his own right, here is Abner performing a beautiful version of his won song "Honestly."

The New York Loves Brandt! benefit show will take place at B.B. King's on 42nd Street in Manhattan tomorrow, Monday, November 25, 2013, starting at 5:30 pm and going all night long. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for kids 16 and under (advance adult tickets may be purchased here adn tickets are also available at the door).

This is going to be an extraordinary night of ska and reggae music--all of it in support of a worthy cause--so don't miss it if you are in the New York City area!

Set times for the show below:

5:45 PM
Cannabis Cup Band featuring Ras Droppa, Marcia Davis, Andrew McIntyre and friends and introducing -Sasha Abner- w/ special guest Jeremy Manasia

7:30 PM
Cibo Matto

7:50 PM
Dub Is A Weapon

8:10 PM
Beat Brigade

8:30 PM
Rudie Crew with special guest Rev Sinister (Inspecter 7) and Roger Apollon (Bigger Thomas)

8:55 PM
Bigger Thomas

9:20 PM
Skadanks featuring Rocker T, Jamalski, Yami Bolo and surprise guests!

9:50 PM

10:15 PM

10:40 PM
Netherlands w Timo Ellis

11:00 PM
Abner's Oeuvre featuring Malcolm Gold, James Yarish, Jon McCain & Cavass

11:30 PM

11:50 PM
Pilfers w/ Clark Gayton

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Beat vs Fun Boy Three!

I came across this fantastic photo of Dave Wakeling of The Beat and Terry Hall of Fun Boy Three battling for a loose soccer ball, while The Beat's guitarist Andy Cox looks on in front of what appears to be a large stadium crowd.  So just how did these 2-Tone alumni end up on a football pitch?

According to Wakeling, the photo was taken in 1982 at a charity five-a-side match held at West Bromich Albion's grounds The Hawthorne's near Birmingham, that featured popular bands from the Birmingham and Coventry area along with a few professional players. Wakeling added, "I just managed to pop the ball over Terry's desperate moccasin for one of my three stunning goals. The Beat are wearing West Brom away strip which includes a yellow and green striped shirt with green shorts." 

Hall is a well-known Manchester United fanatic (listen to the Fun Boy Three's "Were Having All The Fun" where Hall croons "I live in a flat, I like Manchester United..") while Wakeling is a noted Aston Villa supporter and Cox (who went on to form the Fine Young Cannibals) is a long-time West Bromwich Albion fan. Read an interview with Hall that appeared in the Manchester United fan magazine Red News and then read a story about how Hall nearly caused a riot in Leeds in 2009 when he taunted the crowd about his favorite team. Then check out Wakeling being interviewed about his favorite club:

Friday, November 22, 2013

UB40 Vocalist Astro Announces Split From Current Line-Up Ahead Of U.K. Tour

The trials and tribulations of UB40 continue.  Astro, the iconic frontman, toaster and sometime trumpet player released a statement today through a PR agency announcing his departure from the troubled band.

Astro (whose real name is Terence Wilson) broke the news to his bandmates earlier today, taking them by surprise. The group's best-known singer Ali Campbell left in 2008 along with keyboard player Mickey Virtue. Four of the remaining members including Astro were declared bankrupt two years ago. Astro alluded to the band's most recent album "Getting Over The Storm" as one of the deciding factors in his decision. The album which features reggae versions of well known country songs, has divided the band's fans. Listen to an interview Astro did with a local Birmingham radio station yesterday when he broke the news publicly. Apparently he let his bandmates know fifteen minutes before this interview:

Read the full statement below:

“After a well-documented turbulent few years I feel that it is time to draw a line in the sand and move on. Since Ali and Micky departed, the band has been like a rudderless ship with no clear direction, no action plan, we’ve merely muddled our way through on a wing and a prayer. There has been a serious lack of communication between the band and management.

“I want to play what our fans, who have been very vocal, want to hear, which is vibrant, fresh reggae music with passion. My heart just isn’t in the new album ‘Getting Over The Storm,’ where my contribution has been reduced to a backing vocalist which, as our fans know, is not my role in the group. I’m a front man, a lead vocalist.

“While it maybe true that there is a long relationship with reggae musicians and country music, that doesn’t mean that that’s what I want to play, far from it and it’s definitely not something I wish to be part of, subjecting our fans to what I consider to be substandard.

“I have been loyal to my brothers to the detriment of my own family. Now it is time for me to do the right thing by them and myself and bow out while I still have a chance to salvage something of my career.

“I may have lost all that I’ve worked for, for the past 30+ years but I cannot bear to see what we are offering to our loyal fans who have stood by us through thick and thin. I believe they deserve better than this and I am sorry but I cannot and will not lose my integrity as a respected reggae musician. Therefore I have no alternative but to part company with the band.

“I know it may seem sudden to all who know me but my mind is made up and will not change. I think it’s clear that I’ve had enough of being depressed, as I’m sure other members are, but the difference is I’m not prepared to continue to be miserable at home and work. So it’s with a heavy heart I say goodbye. It was (mostly) fun while it lasted.”

UB40 responded to the latest departure by saying Astro had let down fans by walking out on his upcoming touring commitments. In a statement the group said: "UB40 are shocked and saddened by not only Astro's decision to quit the band, but also his refusal to honour his touring commitments. We have several tours booked in the coming months, including our biggest UK tour for three years, and he has not only let us down but also our fans.  While we are naturally disappointed that Astro will not be with us at these shows, UB40 will continue and are looking forward to a positive 2014."

Rumors that Astro will be joining Ali Campbell and Mickey Virtue in Ali's band have already started with Campbell stating "Interesting" on his Facebook page with regard to the announcement.

The band's drummer Jim Brown has responded to Astro's departure with a number of posts on the UB40 fan forum, stating:

"Astro tried to hold the band to ransom. He told us we had to pay him more, or he would walk. Just like Ali did. And the bands response was the same. We don't respond we'll to being blackmailed. It's a shame, but what can we do ? No band member is more important than another. Problem is, when going gets tough, you can't predict how people will react. Some get stronger, others fall apart. People show their true selves when they are under stress. I'm very proud that the band are strong enough to respond the way they did to astro's blackmail. Trying to hold us to ransom is a mistake, as Ali and astro have discovered. In UB40 everyone is equal. This talk of "management" is just a red herring. After Ali left we changed management, but the band still makes all the decisions. It has nothing to do with managers, or musical direction. It's all about money. Trying to blackmail the band in to paying him more than anyone else was a mistake on astro's part. We regret that this has happened, but nothing has really changed. We've toured without astro several times in the past and the shows were still great. Life goes on."

Here's a reminder of the good old days. This song changed my life and remains a personal favorite and features an extended toast from Astro. Long live UB40...

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Jamaica World Music Festival in November 1982 features The Clash, The English Beat, Squeeze, Joe Jackson, Peter Tosh, B-52's, Black Uhuru and more!

Thirty plus years ago this month, the Jamaica World Music Festival kicked off what could arguably be called one of the most diverse and engaging line-up of ska, reggae, new wave and rock band and artists from the 70's and 80's to ever grace the stage together including The Clash, The English Beat, Joe Jackson, B-52's Squeeze, Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh, Black Uhuru, Toots & The Maytals along with the Grateful Dead, the Beach Boys, Rick James and many others.

Held at the Bob Marley Performing Center in Montego Bay (which according to those who attended was nothing more than an immense gravel parking lot with a stage at one end) over the Thanksgiving weekend of 1982, the festival was a commercial success that drew thousands of American reggae, rock and new wave fans, who travelled down to the tourist spot with peak audiences hitting nearly 50,000 for performances by Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight.

Despite the financial success, the festival never became the annual event it was hoped it would be, but luckily, most of the performances has become available online.  I've done my best to collect all of the ska, reggae and new wave performances, along with anecdotes on several of the performers. Hat tip to Dubwise Garage for posting all the sets.

The Clash were one of key festival draws and made a selection from their songs that contained their most specific Jamaican influences.  The band played on the second night of the festival and due to poor planning on the sets the bill ran into the wee hours of the night with the band hitting the stage around 4 am local time.  According to The Ballad of Joe Strummer by Chris Salewicz, the band's manager Bernie Rhodes said the band would pull out unless they were immediately given $200,000. The late start seemed to have muted the audience somewhat as Strummer implores the crowd to get with it on a number occasions with Strummer quipping "In these colder climes we have to play faster" and "If you don't like us I've got the Grateful Dead waiting in the wings and I'm going to bring them on. So you'd better shape up--now!"

Unfortunately, when Squeeze played the World Music Festival in Montego Bay on November 27, 1982,  the end was near for the band. Their album, Sweets From A Stanger, released earlier that year, was not well received and considered a disappointing follow up to 1981’s East Side Story. Even the popularity of the single Black Coffee in Bed couldn’t save the album or the group. The negative reaction to the record, coupled with the stress of touring and tensions between band members led to the breakup of the band in 1983, though Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford would continue to work together. Their performance at the festival is one of their last shows before the band came to an end, at least until they reformed in 1985!

The English Beat

Peter Tosh

Joe Jackson


Toots & The Maytals


Black Uhuru

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Next Electric Avenue Show: Chris Murray, The Ladrones and Rude Boy George on Saturday, November 16, 2013

The next Electric Avenue show will kick off on Saturday, November 16, 2013 at Characters NYC in the heart of midtown Manhattan with a rare east-coast, headlining set by international ska troubadour Chris Murray, New York-based ska/punk/Latin upstarts The Ladrones and Rude Boy George, which is a new musical project that I am part featuring members of my band Bigger Thomas, The Toasters and Across The Aisle, that performs ska, reggae and rocksteady versions of 80's new wave songs. Doors are at 9 pm and the cover is a super low $10!

Chris Murray is a unique force in today's music scene. Born in Toronto, he earned a strong reputation as a dynamic performer and gifted songwriter as leader of influential Canadian ska group King Apparatus. Upon the band's breakup, he relocated to Los Angeles, emerging as a solo artist with The 4-Track Adventures Of Venice Shoreline Chris, recorded in various locations on a portable 4-track cassette recorder. Entering LA's ultra-purist rock steady scene armed only with an acoustic guitar, Chris has become a leading figure in the world's foremost authentic Jamaican music community. As host of Bluebeat Lounge (2003-2009), a popular weekly concert series focusing on reggae and ska, Chris promoted more than 350 shows over seven years at Hollywood's Knitting Factory.  His musical journeys have taken him throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe, the UK, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and Indonesia.

Check out videos of each band below including Chris Murray performing "Ex-Darling," The Ladrones performing "Nada Pasa" and Rude Boy George performing a soulful rocksteady version of "Tempted" by Squeeze.

Electric Avenue is a partnership between myself and my fellow New York City ska blogging pal Steve Shafer (Duff Guide To Ska who also happens to be a member of Rude Boy George). We have teamed up to present monthly ska and reggae shows at Characters NYC, a midtown Manhattan Irish pub (243 West 54th Street, between Broadway and 8th Avenue in Manhattan) with a big back room ideally suited for live music.

Since last fall, we've been undertaking this labor of love--doing it for free (the bands split 100% of the cover, nobody else takes a cut)--to support ska bands and their fans, and have some fun in the process. Electric Avenue shows already have featured some of the best acts on the Northeastern U.S. ska scene, including King Django (NJ), The Snails (Philadelphia), The Frightnrs (Brooklyn), Destroy Babylon (Massachusetts), Bigger Thomas (NY/NJ), Beat Brigade (NY), Doomsday! (NY), Los Skarronerros (Brooklyn), The Pandemics (Long Island), The Scofflaws (Long Island), The Bullbuckers (Wilmington, DE), The Reggay Lords (Brooklyn), The Copacetics (Providence, RI) and The Rudie Crew (NY) and The Royal Swindle (New Haven, CT). This summer we were blessed to have Roddy Radiation and Lynval Golding of The Specials perform a solo show for us.

The Facebook Electric Avenue event page can be found here. And take a moment to "like" the Electric Avenue FB page, so you keep up on our shows.

Monday, October 28, 2013

MOTB Exclusive: Interview with Horace Panter of The Specials About His New Musical Project -- The Uptown Ska Collective

The Specials bassist Horace Panter has just announced plans to launch a brand new ska and reggae musical project he has christened The Uptown Ska Collective. According to Panter, “I have wanted to get a band like this together for years; the seductive quality of these rhythms is irresistible ... it is impossible to stay still while this music is playing.” Using the core of the additional musicians from The Specials (keyboards and horn section), he has put together the ultimate modern ska band.

The band will feature Panter on bass, with members of The Specials touring band -- Jon Read (trumpet), Tim Smart (trombone), Nikolaj Torp (keyboards), Drew Stansall (tenor saxophone) along with Dave Anderson of The Beautiful South (drums) and Tony Looby  (alto saxophone) and Stan Samuel (guitar) of The Pressure Tennants. According to Panter, most of the songs performed by the band will be ska/reggae instrumentals, though guest vocalists are expected to join.

“The guys I’m using are seasoned musicians; they all know one another so the musical rapport is amazing and, like me, they live and breathe this stuff,” said Panter. ‘This stuff’ is classic ska, based around the work of the legendary Skatalites out of Kingston Jamaica’s Alpha School. It also ventures into reggae, citing the majestic compositions of Rico Rodriguez, another Alpha alumni and original Specials stalwart. “I want to find a new audience for this music; to my mind it belongs on World Music stages on balmy sunny evenings. It’s the musical equivalent of sunshine, the sexiest music in the world!”

I recently connected with Panter who took time to answer a broad array of questions about his life in ska and the motivation behind his new band.

What are your earliest memories related to hearing 60’s ska and reggae music?
Being intimidated by hulking skinheads at local youth club discos when I was 16. They seemed to hate all the pop stuff, but danced very aggressively (I thought) when ‘The Liquidator’ or ‘Return of the Django’ was played!

Do you remember the first ska record you ever bought?
Intensified’ - a compilation LP purchased whilst in The Specials as an educational aid I suppose.

You write in your memoir "Ska'd For Life" that Lynval Golding gave you a reggae bass lesson when you first joined a nascent version of The Specials. What are your top 3 ska or reggae bass lines to perform?
I Shot the Sheriff’. That’s not a bass line, it’s a symphony! There was a track on one ‘I Roy’ album I used to play but I can’t for the life of me tell you what it’s called. Also, a lot of bass on Burning Spear’s ‘Marcus Garvey’ (Sly & Robbie plus the Barrett Brothers).

I've previously written about the story behind the recording of "Ghost Town." I'm particularly interested in the way the song was recorded in the studio with John Collins. Can you share a bit about the recording and production techniques that resulted in the very Sly and Robbie sound that you and John Bradbury were able to get?
‘Ghost Town’ was recorded in a tiny basement room on the studio drum kit on 8-track. The bass went into the board direct. I had an amp (my V4B and 8 x 10) in the room, but it was only used for monitoring. The ‘sound’ was achieved in the mixing process. John Collins reduced the whole thing to 2-tracks and mixed it in his living room in Tottenham, London, where he used to make his own dub material. I think a lot of ‘the sound’ came from that, rather than the recording process itself.

Can you tell me a bit about how you, John Bradbury and Nikolaj Torp connected with M.I.A. on a live performance of "It Takes A Muscle" on Later With Jools Holland a few years ago?
M.I.A. ... She was offered a Jools Holland spot and said she’d like to do it on the proviso that The Specials backed her. Lynval lives in Seattle, so he wasn’t available. It wasn’t a Roddy tune, so that left Brad and I. Initially, Brad was sceptical about doing it but I was very keen. I’d wanted Brand and I do do ‘rhythm section for hire’ for a while and this seemed a good way to start. Nikolaj was the obvious choice for keyboards and his talent for arranging was an asset to the session. It was a very ‘seat of your pants’ performance. Maya was very nervous; she doesn’t do ‘singing’ - she’s a rapper. I really enjoyed it.

What inspired you to found the Uptown Ska Collective? Between touring with The Specials and your work as an artist, how have you found the time for a new project?
I’ve always wanted to form a ‘traditional’ ska band. I had one in Coventry about ten years ago, while I was still teaching and we did a few gigs but it was difficult to get ten people to be in the same place at the same time, let alone do shows that paid anything like decent money. I originally asked Brad if he wanted to do it with me but he declined. Having played with Nikolaj, Tim (trombone), Jon (trumpet) and Drew (saxophone) for four years, we’d got to know one another pretty well and it was only a short step to getting the thing together. Strange, the older I get, the busier I seem to be!

Can you share a few songs from the band’s set list?
We’ll be doing mainly Skatalites stuff: ‘Confucius’, ‘Occupation’, ‘Storm Warning’; some keyboard stuff for Nikolaj to shine: Jackie Mittoo’s ‘Killer Diller’, plus some Rico tunes, for example ‘Africa’. We intend to have ‘guest vocalists’ as well. I’d like to do some tunes that haven’t had a ska treatment too. I’d like to find a new audience for this music. There are a lot of ‘world music’ stages at festivals in the UK and Europe. Since the tunnel under the English Channel has been built, it’s a lot easier to get to Europe!

Do you have any plans to tour beyond your debut show in London in November? If so, may I suggest a double bill featuring your band and Lee Thompson's Ska Orchestra!
The November show is basically to showcase the band and get a buzz going. We’ll then do a short tour of small UK venues in the Spring and a dozen or so festivals (The Specials notwithstanding) in the summer. The festival-goer is our target audience for this project. As far as Lee Thompson’s Ska Orchestra is concerned, fine! We’ll play with anyone - but they’d better watch out!

The Uptown Ska Collective will debut at the 229 Club in Great Portland Street, London, on November 29, 2013. This is a small venue so tickets will be limited. Thereafter, the band will announce tour dates.