Saturday, October 25, 2008

BBC Arena Documentary From 1980: "Rudies Come Back Or The Rise And Rise Of 2-Tone"


Old and new fans of 2-Tone have spoken longingly of BBC Arena television documentary titled "Rudies Come Back Or The Rise And Rise Of 2-Tone" that aired during the height of 2 Tone. Arena is a British television documentary series, made and broadcast by the BBC. It has run since the October 1, 1975, and over five hundred episodes have been made.

The Arena program is an engaging and humorous profile of The Specials hosted by noted music journalist Adrian Thrills. It was filmed in 1979 and originally aired on the BBC on March 3rd, 1980. It may have been repeated a few times since, but it remains a holy grail of documentary footage of the The Specials and Coventry that captures them and 2-Tone at their peak. One of the highlights for me was seeing Neville in full judges robes on stage during "Stupid Marriage".

Until recently the 35 minute documentary had been very hard to find, but 3 excerpts of the program are now available for viewing on VBOX7, a Russian language version of YouTube. Enjoy!

The Specials on BBC Arena

Neville Staple In Dispute With Promoter Cancels UK Tour


As fans await word on when the reunited version of The Specials (minus Jerry Dammers) will perform again, there was excitement about a UK tour this December featuring Neville Staple's band along with Roddy Radiation's Skabilly Rebels and then Pauline Black of The Selecter. The hope was that these shows would satisfy demand for more shows by The Specials while they work out their next move. However a recent statement by Neville Staple on his MySpace page seems to suggest that this tour will not happen. It appears he had a falling out with the promoter who continued to advertise shows despite Neville informing him that he had pulled out.

You have to hand it to members of The Specials. They know how to keep fans engaged in their ongoing dramas and business disagreements.

Here is the statement which you can also read at Neville's My Space page

A PERSONAL STATEMENT FROM NEVILLE STAPLE

In reply to recent postings on the Specials website forum and and other websites regarding a U.K tour in December 2008, and for the avoidance of any doubt, I would like to confirm to everyone THIS TOUR IS NOT HAPPENING.

The tour promoter was Informed at the end of September that due to personal differences, I was unable to work with him and would not be doing the PROPOSED tour with my band.

He clearly has not listened, as he has for some reason, continued to advertise the tour now with Pauline Black instead of The Skabilly Rebels?

This is not the case, and I am not prepared to endorse these advertised shows as they have never been agreed by me personally.

I WILL NOT BE APPEARING WITH MY BAND AT ANY OF THE VENUES ON DATES ADVERTISED SO PLEASE DO NOT BUY TICKETS!!.

Refunds for tickets already bought are the responsibility of the ticket agencies once the promoter confirms to them that the shows will not take place.

The Promoter should not still be promoting or advertising these shows.

For correct details of my shows please refer to my Myspace www.myspace.com/nevillestaplefromthespecials and Skabilly Rebels shows www.myspace.com/skabillyrebels1


Thank you for your continued support.


Neville

While you are visiting Neville's page take a listen to two new songs he has posted "What Can I Do" and "Entrapment" which are quite good.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Beat Live on Rockpalast - July 23, 1980


I wrote about The Beat covering Laurel Aitken's song "Pussy Price" early in their career. A slightly re-worked version of the song (minus the naughty song content) became "Ranking Full Stop". The only known recorded version of their take on Aitken's song is from the band's appearance on Rockpalast which is a German music television show that broadcasts live on German television station Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR).

Here is video from the Rockpalast broadcast of the songs "Big Shot", "Can't Get Used To Losing You" and "Hands Off She's Mine".



Below is a download of the audio from the show including the Aitken cover.

Here is the tracklist:

Pussy Price (Laurel Aitken cover that became Ranking Full Stop)
Two Swords
Tears Of A Clown
Big Shot
Rough Rider
Best Friend
Can't Get Used To Losing You
Hands Off....She's Mine
Twist & Crawl
Noise In This World
Whine & Grine/Stand Down Margaret
Ranking Full Stop
Mirror In The Bathroom
Click Click
Jackpot

The Beat - Live On Rockpalast July 23, 1980

Sunday, October 19, 2008

English Beat Rarities - Version of "Which Side Of The Bed" Featuring Ranking Roger Chat


Fans of The Beat are always on the lookout for anything remotely new that they can add to the somewhat finite universe of recorded material that is available from the band. With only three albums and very few non-album tracks, its been, slim pickings for anything new. I recently discovered a track I had never heard before (and I'm an obsessive fan).

Back in 1981 the band released their eighth single, "Hit It". It was backed by "Which Side Of The Bed?". Neither track appeared on an album. This alone has made the single a popular collectors item. Indeed, I am not aware that the band ever performed the b-side of the single live, which is a shame as its an overlooked classic and a slice of vintage Wakeling reggae-pop. The single only reached the #70 spot on the U.K. singles chart (this was a portent of things to come for the band in the UK as they began to focus their attention on breaking in the U.S.).

Imagine my shock and surprise at hearing a completely alternative, dub remix version of "Which Side Of The Bed" re-titled "Cool Entertainer" that features Ranking Roger toasting joyously over the track. If you have any information about this track let me know. Otherwise enjoy the song which is part of the download below which also includes the 12" dub remix of "Pato & Roger Ago Talk".

Here is story from the NME in 1981 that sheds a bit more light on "Hit It" and "Cool Entertainer"


UPDATE: After doing a bit more digging I learned that "Cool Entertainer" is the b-side of the Go Feet Records release of the single "Ago Talk". Mystery solved. Regardless its not a track I had heard and I imagine many other fans of The Beat might have missed it.

Here is a live performance of the a-side "Hit It" from the Oxford Road Show in 1981:





Here is a video of the hard to find b-side "Which Side Of The Bed"





Below is a tracklist and download of a mix including hard to find b-sides by The Beat and all their permutations including General Public, Ranking Roger, Fine Young Cannibals and 2 Men a Drum Machine and a Trumpet. Enjoy.

Tracklist:
Pato & Roger Ago Talk (Tappy Lappy Dub Remix) - The Beat
Cool Entertainer (Dub Remix of "Which Side Of The Bed) - The Beat
Dishwasher (Longer) - General Public
Ever Fallen In Love (dub) - Fine Young Cannibals
Good Times and Bad (extended version) - 2 Men a Drum Machine and a Trumpet
Limited Balance (longer) - General Public
Make It Funky (extended version) - 2 Men a Drum Machine and a Trumpet
On My Conscience - Ranking Roger
So Excited (Alternative Mix) - Ranking Roger
Tired Of Getting Pushed Around (extended version) - 2 Men a Drum Machine and a Trumpet
Too Much Or Nothing (dance mix) - General Public

General Beat - Rarities & Remixes

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Potato 5 -Rare and Unreleased Tracks From Late 80's UK Trad Ska Band



The Potato 5 were, god bless them, one of the very few ska bands doing the rounds on the live UK and European circuit of the late 80's at a time when ska was no longer flavor of the month, and long after the demise of 2-Tone. In hindsight, the band did help to pave the way for the 3rd wave of Ska that began to emerge towards the mid 1990's in both the U.S. and around the world . They were well known for being a great band live and they helped to introduce old timers like Laurel Aitken and Floyd Lloyd to a younger audience.

Known primarily as one of the best live acts of the late 80's UK ska revival the band got its start in 1983 as a ska instrumental band in the vein of The Skatalites. The band teamed up with Jamaican singer Floyd Lloyd and later with the legendary Laurel Aitken and recorded their debut album in 1986 "Floyd Lloyd & The Potato 5 Meet Laurel Aitken". Their second album, True Fact saw the band experimenting with a mix of Ska and hip hop. In 1989 the band recruited Spider Johnson to sing and they embraced a classic skinhead reggae sound and released the excellent "Do The Jerk" single. The band called it a day after playing one final show at London's Town & Country on December 20th, 1989.

Below is the tracklist and download for a mix of unreleased and rare Potato 5 tracks:

Tracklist:

Reburial
Dial M For Murder
Things I Do
A.N.C.(unreleased)
Dead Boring (Dub)
Do The Jerk (7 inch)
Do the Jerk (Dance Hall Pressure Mix)
Reburial (Lightning Flash Mix)
Ska Danger (Dub)
Sahara (alternative version) featuring Laurel Aitken
Sweet Lady (unreleased) featuring Floyd Lloyd

Potato 5

Friday, October 17, 2008

Rhoda Dakar - The First Lady of 2-Tone Is Back With A UK Tour


Rhoda Dakar began her career as lead vocalist with The Bodysnatchers. Their first single, "Do Rocksteady", b/w "Ruder Than You," written by Rhoda and Gaz "Rockin Blues" Mayall, took them into the UK pop charts (#22 in 1980) and onto Top of the Pops. The Bodysnatchers only released one more single "Easy Life" b/w "Too Experienced" and contributed a live version of "Easy Life" for the the "Dance Craze" film soundtrack (the film about 2-Tone included the live tracks "007 (Shanty Town)" and "Let's Do The Rocksteady").

Rhoda also had a UK hit solo single on 2-Tone Records with "The Boiler" backed by the Special AKA, before becoming a full member of Special AKA and appearing on their album "In The Studio" and the history-changing single "Free Nelson Mandela".

Since then, Rhoda has worked with artists as varied as Apollo 440 and Dr Robert of the Blow Monkeys fame. However, for the last few years, she has revisited her 2-Tone roots, guesting with The Selecter and appearing on a 3 Men + Black acoustic 2-Tone tour with Dave Wakeling (The Beat) and Roddy Radiation (The Specials), as well as, Pauline Black and Nick Welsh of The Selecter. Recently she was very proud to have been asked by the legendary Trojan Records to write a foreword for the latest release in their Reggae Sisters series, entitled 'Let Me Tell You Boy'. Rhoda will also be featured on atleast one track of the new Madness album "The Liberty of Norton Folgate".

Rhoda's first solo album, 'Cleaning In Another Woman's Kitchen', was released in May 2007. The album has been recorded and written with Nick Welsh. Here is a video of Rhoda performing an acoustic ska version of The Bodysnatchers song "Easy Life" that was recorded in April of 2008 with Nick Welsh of Skaville UK:



Rhoda is touring the UK with Skaville UK which includes ex-members of Bad Manners. The tour dates are below:

Oct 28 2008
TUC - Congress House
London

Oct 31 2008
The White Hart (with Skaville UK)
Caldicot, Gwent

Nov 1 2008
Queen’s Hall (with Skaville UK)
Narbeth

Nov 8 2008
The Railway (with Skaville UK)
Burnham on Sea

Nov 9 2008
Speedfreaks Ball 4 (with Skaville UK)
Mablethorpe

Nov 14 2008
Charlie Browns (with Skaville UK)
Luton

Nov 15 2008
The Rifle Club (with Skaville UK)
Portsmouth

Nov 22 2008
Rio’s (with Skaville UK) & The Beat
Leeds

Below are downloads of 2 songs from Rhoda's solo LP "Cleaning In Another Woman's Kitchen"

Rhoda Dakar - Landlord
Rhoda Dakar - Money Worries

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Dance Brigade - New Ska Band Featuring Lee Thompson (Madness) & Jennie Mathias (The Belle Stars)


While we continue to wait patiently for the new Madness album "The Liberty of Norton Folgate" let me introduce you to The Dance Brigade, a new ska musical project featuring the combined talents of Madness sax player Lee "Kix" Thompson and Jennie Mathias who was the lead vocalist of The Belle Stars (formed by ex-members of The Bodysnatchers).

Their ska-based music is a hybrid of styles mixed in with technology and is very reminiscent of The Madness project with the songs dominated by sampled drum sounds. They recently performed live at the 100 Club in London and their live show featured computers and a live band (guitars, horns, keyboards) on stage. They were joined at their live show by Dave Barker (Dave and Ansell Collins) who has also recorded a track with them. Though I'm not a fan of the overly processed drum sample sounds on the recordings and feel the lack of a real drummer live hampers the overall sound and live groove, the songs are interesting and its great to see Lee and Jennie working together again as their paths crossed at Stiff Records many years ago.



The band line-up includes:
Lee Thompson (Saxophone, Vocals)
Jennie Bellestar (Lead Vocals)
Keith Finch (Production and programming)
Chico Chagas (Keyboards, Guitar, Accordian)
Chalky White (Trumpet)
Daniel Burdett (Guitar, Backing Vocals)
Debra Barker (Backing Vocals)

Here is a video of the song "Who's That Girl" filmed by Madness guitarist Chris "Chrissy Boy" Foreman on his cell phone at The Dance Brigade show at the 100 Club in London in September:


Monday, October 13, 2008

Interview with Charley "Red Dread" Anderson Bassist of The Selecter


I've been listening to The Selecter a lot recently. In particular their second album "Celebrate The Bullet" which eerily seems to be a commentary on current events here in the U.S. Interestingly, the history of The Selecter is a who's who of Coventry musicians who went on to start The Specials, The Selecter and many other 2-Tone era bands and small record labels which I have tried to write about and honor on this blog.

One of the most interesting things about the origins of The Selecter is that the core of the band all grew together playing in a variety of reggae and soul bands around Coventry. According to Neol Davies' web site, "the seeds of The Selecter were sown along time ago in the early 70's. silverton hutchinson, a childhood friend and later the original drummer for the automatics/specials, invited me to jam with some friends at the holyhead youth facilty in coventry city centre. this was a basement where you could set up amps and drums and then play as loud as you wanted til late. here I met the people who would turn out to be significant throughout my life, they were charles "aitch" bembridge (who played more bass and organ then) arthur "gaps" hendrickson who played guitar (see the picture below which includes future members of The Selecter performing as Chapter 5) desmond brown (the person who taught me how to really play the reggae chip) charley anderson (the dreadlocked bass man) and lynval golding (later to be the specials guitar player)." Members of the band played together in Chapter 5 (a Coventry reggae band) and The Transposed Men (the pre-cursor to The Selecter.)




One of the original members was bass player Charley Anderson. He was born in Negril, Jamaica, but moved to Coventry when he was 11 years old. It turns out his brother and Lynval Golding were best friends and often rehearsed downstairs in the Anderson garage. He gained his first stage and music experience by dee-jaying at sound systems in the Coventry area and then started a band with his brother and Golding. Though The Selecter’s success didn’t change his life financially, Charley has been quoted as saying “It was a great mental boost – like graduating with a triple Ph.D. on how to survive in music.” After touring with The Selecter, Charley focused on his own career. He started The People with his ex-Selecter bandmate Desmond Brown and he toured Ireland with The Century Steel Band, and later moved to Mombasa, Kenya where he formed The Vikings Band.

Here is a recent video interview with Charley that includes his memories of playing with The Selecter as well as an update on his current musical project and single "Ghetto Child":




You can learn more about Charley at his MySpace site.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Basement 5 - Innovative Late 70's Reggae/Punk Fusion Band Featuring Punk Legend Don Letts



Basement 5 were arguably the first black punk reggae band who are described by many artists who followed them as "hugely influential" and "groundbreaking". Mixing rock elements with reggae and dub they were one of the bands that broke down barriers and paved the way for black kids to play rock music. Starting out in London in 1978, the band were an innovative and highly original post-punk group who created a kind of politically charged, futurist, punk-fuelled dub. The lyrics were an attempt to reflect the situation of young people in Britain in the era of Thatcherism, high unemployment, strikes, racism, and working class poverty.

Originally assembled by former Roxy DJ and punk legend Don Letts with money from Island Records' chief Chris Blackwell, the band's personnel was Winston Fergus on vocals, former Roxy barman and friend Leo Williams on bass (who went on to play with Big Audio Dynamite and Mick Jones' current band Carbon/Silicon) and friends J.R. on guitar and Tony ('T') on drums.

By 1979 after a short vocal stint by Don Letts himself, Basement 5's lineup was solidified with Sex Pistols/Bob Marley photographer Dennis Morris as vocalist, Leo, J.R. and soon to follow, ex-101'ers and PIL drummer Richard Dudanski. In their short life, the band supported John Lydon's Public Image Limited (PIL) debut at London's Rainbow Theatre, performed a number of shows in Portugal and signed to Island Records. The result was the album "1965-1980" co-produced by the legendary Martin Hannet (Joy Division. Magazine). It became the first and only Basement 5 LP. Long out of print, it was eventually reissued as a partial album along with selected tracks from its original dub mini-LP partner 'Basement 5 In Dub'.

The album did not sell as well as expected and as with so many other bands before and after them they fell in pieces and were never to deliver a follow up. Basement 5 had broken up by the end of July 1981. Dennis Morris blames their lack of success firmly at the feet of Island who according to him were spending all of their energy on breaking U2. He goes further by saying that after playing together, Bono and the boys borrowed various elements from Basement 5 that helped to contribute to their success!

It is somewhat criminal that there is nothing freely available from the band, despite '1965-1980' being coupled with 'In Dub' for a partial CD reissue. So it's happy hunting on E-Bay where you can overpay for it or whatever...

Here are videos of "LastWhite Christmas" and "Riot" from their LP "1965-1980":








Below are downloads of their first single "Silicon Chip" b/w "Chip Butty".

Basement 5 - Silicon Chip

Basement 5 - Chip Butty

Jerry Dammers Speaks Out About The Specials Reunion Perfomance at Bestival


The November 2008 issue of Mojo Magazine includes a story titled "Partial AKA" that features a reaction quote from Jerry Dammers about The Specials reunion show that went ahead without him at Bestival in September. Amazingly, Jerry was at the show and watched the performance (I believe he was booked to do a DJ gig at the festival). Still, it is curious that he decided to watch rather than play. His reasons are summed up quite succinctly in his comment below.

"They did a fantastic job, but I think one of the reasons that I was excluded and didn't want to take part was because I had expressed the opinion that the real Specials would never do a gig where the real Specials fans couldn't even get in--Bestival was already sold out. I went, and it was very weird for me. Without my influence it felt like they were playing themselves a bit, it was too much of a 'fun' thing, a bit of a 'stars of the '80s' nostalgia vibe, not what a real reunion would have been at all. There was something missing, but unfortunately I'm the only person who really knows what that is. The subtleties in the music were a bit lost on them. "Doesn't Make It Alright" should have had the hairs on the back of your neck standing up, but compare it to the record and the heart and soul was a bit lacking. The best excuse for a reunion is if you can do some really good new music. The guy playing keyboards pulled his cap over his face so you couldn't see it wasn't me, which says it all."


Wow! Well without taking sides, Jerry's comments could give you a good sense why his bandmates may have decided to go ahead without him. With the 30th anniversary of The Specials and 2-Tone fast approaching lets hope Jerry is motivated to show up and fill in the missing "subtleties" rather than watch from the audience and critique. If you want to get a better sense of what hardcore fans of the band think take a trip over to The Specials web site where there is a lively debate taking place on their community forum page.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Exclusive: Interview with Stefan Tylunas of The Ammonites

I recently posted about The Ammonites and their role as one of the only pure 2-Tone styled ska bands to emerge from the vibrant late 70's/early 80's music scene in Brighton that was centered around venues like The Vault and The Alhambra. The Ammonites were a six-piece who were influenced by the sound of Trojan rocksteady. When they started their set was comprised of all cover songs including Clancy Eccles "Fatty Fatty" and Lee Perry's "Tighten Up" which you can hear and download from the previous post. Over time they developed a repertoire of originals including "Blue Lagoon" which, in my humble opinion is a lost gem of the 2-Tone era. I have always loved the Everly Brothers go ska sound of the song.

The band line-up consisted of: Colin Smith (bass), Stefan Tylunas (vox), Nick Stewart (guitar), Steve Kelly (sax), Mike Roberts (guitar), and Dave Doleval (drums). Though the were mostly limited to playing shows in the Brighton area, they did open for The Vandals and Toots & The Maytals and were such a local draw that they drew more fans for a show they played in Brighton the same night The Beat were booked to play.

Below is an interview I did with Stefan Tylunas who was the lead singer for the band. He shared his memories and experiences of playing with the band. He was also kind enough to share the picture above which includes from left to right: Steve Kelly, Stefan Tylunas and Nick Stewart.

Can you tell me about your introduction to music and ska music in particular?
I began playing guitar and vocals in bands with my mates at around the age of 15. It was only much later when I was about 19 that I was invited along to an audition for vocalist with the then embryonic Ammonites. I met Dave Dolezal (the bands 1st drummer and founding member) in a pub one Saturday evening in Brighton. He was a friend and he asked if I was interested in singing in a ska band the next day. At first I declined because I had arranged to play football the next day with some mates. However I was interested to know what a Ska band did? and eventually agreed to meet the next day. We were to meet in a large shed at the local dog stadium, where Nick and Colin where groundsman. It started off with the 4 of us and then we bought in Mike Roberts and Steve Kelly. That was the beginning of the ska sound for me.

How did The Ammonites get started? Did you know the other members of the band before you started the band?
I knew Dave and it was he, I believe that was into all things Ska and reggae and because he was good friends with Nick they got the idea for a band. Nick and Colin were work colleagues.

Was there a ska scene in Brighton when the band started? Who did you play shows with? Where did you play shows?
I believe we were the only Ska band in Brighton and possibly the South-East

Who was the main songwriter for the band and tell me how you approached the song writing process? Who's idea was it to cover the Clancy Eccles song "Fatty Fatty"?
I guess Fatty Fatty was just another Ska song, that was a possible, that would fit into the set. Like a lot of bands that start up we just played ‘cover’ material and built it up in such a way as to give the set cohesion and a variety. After a while of playing the set, Mike and Nick were writing independently of each other and presenting songs to us for a critique. They would be virtually finished, however they were generous writers and allowed us a say in the arrangements and the eventual song writing credit was given to the band.

What were your first live shows like and what was the UK ska scene of the late 70's and early 80's like? Did you play any shows with any of the 2-Tone bands? What about The Piranhas?
We initially began playing locally at a venue called the Alhambra. It was a pub which had a regular clientele and everybody and anybody would play there. You would ‘start-off’ as virtual unknowns, playing on a Monday and depending on your abilities to draw a crowd would progress to Fri/Sat evening (unless you caught the eye of a better band and was asked to be support). We eventually held a regular Friday night spot and we had a ball. The dance floor was always very busy. The Piranhas also played at the Alhambra, they were more of a punk thing and we never did any support for them.

Can you share any unusual stories about touring with the band or any shows that are particularly memorable?
I guess the most memorable gig for me was support for Toots and the Maytals at the ‘Brighton Centre’. It still is to this day a Conference Centre which is used by bands, corporations and political parties to stage events. The potential for a capacity of around 5000, it was the biggest venue I had experienced. I remember the massive stage and being able to dance and jump about without crashing into any of the band or the equipment, it was just great fun. I can’t remember meeting any of the Toots, probably to nervous to introduce myself, but I’ll never forget the smell coming from inside there dressing room.

Tell me about recording "Blue Lagoon" for the Vaultage 80" album. Did you record any other songs? Was there a plan to record an album?
Blue Lagoon was a song Mike had brought to the band. For all I can remember, it was recorded locally and the day I sang the vocal I had a cold. Apart from never liking my vocal, Nick and I always sounded well together. Steve’s sax is great (as was always the case) and Mikes guitar parts were always cleverly worked. We recorded "Big Eaters" and "Dressed to Kill" and that was all that I’m aware of.

How and why did the band come to an end?
I became disillusioned and tired with how we were being managed and left to return to college. The boys carried on for a while, but not sure for how long.

Are you still in touch with any of your old band mates?
No. However, we met a few years ago with the intention of reforming for a ‘Benefit’ but unfortunately nothing came from it. Shame.

Are you still active musically?
No, apart from singing in the bath!

Finally, what is your take on the current state of ska in the UK?
There has been a wave of revivalism here in the UK from 80’s bands. But nothing really happening mainstream and certainly not Ska. The BBC recently aired a show on the radio entitled ‘Too much to Young’ celebrating the ‘Two Tone Label’ established by Jerry Dammers and the bands associated with it. But apart from Suggs appearing on TV adverts here in the UK there isn’t any ‘scene’ to be talked of.

The Punk Brighton Web site has made a 15 song rehearsal tape the band recorded in 1980 available for free download. The link is below. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Ska Explosion @ The Astoria in London on March 23, 1989



On March 23, 1989 London's world famous Astoria played host to one of the biggest Ska festivals ever staged. The cream of late 80's contemporary British Ska were assembled alongside several veterans of the scene. Much more than a mere revival this was a celebration of the legacy of UK ska and reggae from the 60's through the early 80's.

The show was hosted by the legendary Judge Dread who also performed and according to those who were there the atmosphere was buoyant as one after another of late 80's UK ska bands hopped and bopped around the stage sending the crowd into a frenzy. In addition to Judge Dread, Laurel Aitken was also on hand to add a touch of authenticity to the proceedings with blistering renditions of Sally Brown and Skinhead that hearkened back to his heyday.

The bands included The Skadows (reunited specifically for the show), The Hotknives, The Deltones (formed by members of The Bodysnatchers in 1984), The Loafers (Specials drummer John Bradbury was an early advocate and produced many of their records and after Ska Explosion, Laurel Aitken tapped the Loafers for additional duties as a backing session band), The Potato 5 and Gaz Mayal's ground breaking Trojans who were all the leaders of a late 80's UK ska revival. There was great hope that the show would be a showcase for a new ska generation happy to embrace the music, though this resurgence was eclipsed by the rave scene and dance music that was coming out of Manchester with The Happy Mondays and Stone Roses.

Below is a list of the bands that performed and the songs they played:


The Skadows
Stir It Up
Low Rider

Judge Dread
Big Six

The Hot Knives
Crying
Don't Go Away
Driving Me Mad
Liquidator
Holsten Boys

Judge Dread
A Message to You Rudy

The Deltones
Don't Fall in Love
Lemon Squeezy
Saturday
Show Off
Secret Agent Man

Judge Dread
Big Seven Loafers
Undertaker
Too Late Rudy
It's So Easy
Everyday
Skankenstein

Laurel Aitken
Sally Brown
Skinhead

Potato 5
Original Style
Stop That Train
Western Special
The Jerk
Got to Go

Judge Dread
Up With the Cock

The Trojans
Trojans Are Coming
Maggie Meets Ska-Gil
Riding for a Fall
Rude Rude Rudy


Below is very rare live footage of The Skadows from the Ska Explosion festival:

The Skadows - Stir It Up




The Skadows - Low Rider




Here is Brighton ska band The Hotknives performing "Don't Go Away" at the Ska Explosion festival:




Here is Laurel Aitken with The Loafers performing "Sally Brown" and "Skinhead"

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A question for my readers - Please read and comment


I've needed to take some time off from the blog to attend to work, family and band. I plan to begin posting in earnest again shortly and have some great exclusive interviews for your reading pleasure.

In the meantime I need to ask for reader feedback. When I launched this blog my vision was to combine my love of ska and reggae with my own personal insights and relationships to make it a full multi-media experience. The idea was to allow readers to not only read about the bands and musicians who made 2-Tone ska and reggae what it is, but also to listen to and enjoy the music. However, I have been criticized for allowing visitors to this blog to download songs and albums (most, but not all that are out-of-print and unavailable) via links found on other blogs and Web sites that make it readily available. It's been suggested that adding links to these sites is akin to being an accessory to a crime and that I am abetting the act of stealing music.

While I wish to withhold a decision on what I plan to do with this blog moving forward, I want to hear from all of you about your thoughts on this issue. There are people who fervently believe (and have made their views about this blog very clear here and on other blogs) that illegal music downloading is stealing and is morally wrong. They feel that it takes money away from artists who deserve to be compensated for their recorded work. As a musician and songwriter I can empathize with this position. Along with my band mates, I have invested thousands of hard earned dollars from gigs in recording 4 albums worth of our own original music. We have paid for studio time, paid for engineering, paid for mastering, paid for graphic art work, paid for pre- and post-production and paid for shipping the CDs. Don't get me started about indie record labels and the terms of their deals. I acutely know what it feels like to be on the other side. I'm pretty sure all our albums are available for download somewhere on the Internet. I know most kids who like our band have shared our albums with each other via get file programs that permit them to access each other's hard drives and download the music files directly. There is little we as a band can do to stop this. Instead we have to take solace in the fact that they like our music and know the songs when they see us live. If they buy a t-shirt or a button then we make up the cost and pay for our gas money and save for the next recording. That's life as an indie band.

On the other hand, as a passionate fan and music consumer for nearly 30 years, I have supported the old and new music industry and bands with my love, attention and hard earned cash. I've paid top dollar to see thousands of live shows at clubs, arenas and stadiums and I have always made a point of also buying a t-shirt, poster or a tour program (this is what some of my best memories are made of). I have spent countless thousands and thousands of dollars on records, 45's, 12" singles, bootleg LPs, cassette tapes, CD's and MP3 downloads. I am old enough to remember when albums and CDs were priced at $19.99 a piece at Tower Records and I have bought far too many $30 and $4o imports and paid $50 for bootlegs at New York City records stores. I am an active iTunes user and have bought plenty of music from eMusic and Amazon. I support new models of distribution that make it easier for fans to access music that is affordable. All to often, music fans have paid far too much for music. Our passion was often taking advantage of to underwrite high music executive salaries, drug and alcohol fueled band riders and largess. Like the current banking crisis, the music industry binged itself to death. Then, when Shawn Fanning launched Napster the music industry went after its own consumers instead of adapting and providing them what they wanted.

So, I'm asking both my regular readers as well as those of you who come here solely to download what you think and what you would like to see happen. Let me hear what you think.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Laurel Aitken and The Unitone- The Godfather of Ska Recruits The Ruts To Cut 2-Tone Era Hit




One of the best things about 2-Tone was the way that it showed respect to the first wave of ska and reggae artists who helped to popularize the music in the UK. In fact, many of the original artists moved from Jamaica to the UK in order to enjoy the benefits of their growing popularity. One of those artists was Laurel Aitken AKA The Godfather of Ska.

Aitken moved to London in 1960 and recorded both in the UK and Jamaica throughout the 1960s. This cemented his position as one of ska's leading artists and gained a loyal following not only among the West Indian community, but also among mods, skinheads and other ska fans. He had hit records in the 1950s through to the 1970s on labels such as Blue Beat, Pama, Trojan, Rio, Dr. Bird, Nu-Beat, Ska-Beat, and Dice.

By the mid-1970s Aitken had moved to Leicester with his wife and settled into semi-retirement, but was soon to return to prominence as an icon of the 2Tone ska revival. Aitken, then in his 50s, found himself hailed as the elder statesman of ska. During the 2-Tone era, Aitken's career was rejuvenated and like other first wave artists (Prince Buster, Desmond Dekker) he aligned himself with 2-Tone, mod and punk bands to help increase his audience. He performed with The Beat and also toured with the mod band Secret Affair. One of the most interesting pairings of old and new blood was when punk/reggae band The Ruts backed Aitken on a single "Rudi Got Married" b/w "Honey Come Back To Me" that was released as Laurel Aitken and The Unitone (a play on 2-Tone) on Secret Affair's own I-Spy Records imprint. The single was released in May 1980 on I-Spy Records and stayed in the UK charts for 3 weeks peaking at #60. Aitken and The Ruts also recorded a session for John Peel's radio show in April 1980 that included "Jesse James" and "Big Fat Man".

Grover Records have released several volumes that chronicle Aitken's musical career. Volume five "Rudi Got Married" includes songs recorded in the '80s. A singer with incredible longevity, Aitken's style is low key - his voice never reaches any dizzying heights. The material here is some of his more popular work "Mad About You," "Sally Brown" and, includes his tracks with The Ruts "Rudi Got Married" and "Honey Come Back To Me".

Here is the tracklist and download:

Rudi Got Married
Honey Come Back To Me
Big Fat Man
It`s Too Late
Mad About You
Sahara
Skinhead
Hey Little Girl
Sally Brown
Je T`aimerai Toujours
Eh Mon Amour
Don`t Turn Your Back
I Love You, Yes I Do
Peggy Sue
Rude Boy Dream
Hitchhike
Ringo The Gringo
Skinhead (12" Edit


Laurel Aitken - Rudi Got Married

Friday, September 26, 2008

Shack Records - Neville Staple's Label Releases Single by Specials Roadies



In 1981, following in the footsteps of Specials drummer John Bradbury's Race Records, vocalist Neville Staple's and his then girlfriend Stella (from The Bodysnatchers) launched Shack Records. Their first signing was ska/reggae band 21 Guns and the single included the songs "Ambition Rock" b/w "21 Guns". The songs were also produced by Neville, and peaking at #46 on the UK Charts after 3 weeks.

The band, formed by ex-Specials roadies Trevor Evans (Keyboards) and Johnny Rex (Drums) and included Kevin Turner (Bass), Stuart (Guitar) and Gary 'Judge' Chambers (Vocals), had previously recorded a three song session for John Peel in early February 1981 based in their connection with Golding and The Specials. The session included the A and B side of the single as well as the song "Dark Night".

The band scored a support slot opening for Hazel O'Connor and their short set list included their three original songs plus 2 covers ("Too Hot" by The Specials and "Johnny Too Bad" later covered by UB40).

The single is difficult to find, but if I come across it I will post it here.

Judge Dread - Rude Father To All 2-Tone Ska Bands



Seven years before the world ever heard of The Specials, The Selecter or Madness, Judge Dread had put his first ska and reggae hit into the UK charts. Although often dismissed as a novelty act, Judge Dread was actually a groundbreaking artist. Not only did he put more reggae records onto the U.K. chart than anyone else, he was also the first white artist to actually have a reggae hit in Jamaica ("Big Six"). He also holds the record for having the most songs banned by the BBC, 11 in all, which is also the same number of singles he placed in the charts.

Alex Hughes (who took his recording name from one of the characters in a Prince Buster song) was a huge influence on 2-Tone era bands particularly Madness and Bad Manners. Indeed, it was Judge Dread who first recorded a cover of Prince Buster's "Al Capone" (later to be recorded as "Gangsters" by The Specials"), a version of Dandy Livingstone's "A Message To You (Rudy) and a ska take of "Swan Lake" long before Madness had a go of it. Judge Dread even wrote a song for Madness called "One Eye Lodger" which they turned down and he released as a B-side in 1981.

He had grown up in London alongside the first wave of immigrants from Jamaica. After leaving school, he lodged with a Jamaican family, and it was only a short step from there to a lifelong love affair with Jamaican music. His work as a bouncer led to work as a bodyguard (to the likes of The Rolling Stones) and as a debt collector for Commercial Entertainments (who used to arrange UK tours for Desmond Dekker, The Pioneers and the like) and Trojan Records. Little did he know that within a few short years, not only would he be sharing a stage with the likes of Bob Marley & The Wailers, but would become an even bigger star than the Jamaican artists he idolized.

Here are videos of some of Judge Dread's biggest hits including "Big Six" which cracked the UK Top 10 at #9 in 1972 (selling over 300,000 copies and spending six months on the chart, despite getting no radio airplay due to its lyrics) and "Je T'aime" (a cover of the original UK chart-topper by Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin) which hit #9 in the UK charts in 1975.









Below is a link to amazon.com where you can purchase a copy of 'Big Seven: The Best of Judge Dread':

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Love Madness? Love Their Music? Now You Can Dress Like Them Too!


As we all wait patiently for news on the release of the new Madness album "The Liberty of Norton Folgate" here is news every self-respecting nutty boy and rude boy will appreciate. Now, not only can you listen to your favorite Madness songs you can dress the part while doing so.

Let me introduce you to the fine gentlemen at Ace Face Clothing Company. These chaps have brought back the classic tonic suit and they are ready to put you in one. Not only that, they are the official tailor to Madness (see picture above) who will be wearing Ace Face suits during their December 2008 UK tour. They also outfit those 21st Century Rude Boys in the Dub Pistols.

As background, fashion drove the mod and 2-Tone scenes and though fashion trends changed rapidly, there were some common denominators: the tonic suit, traditionally three-buttoned; Harrington jackets, Sta-Press trousers and Levi jeans (brought onto the scene via cash-strapped Black American GI’s in West End clubs); mohair suits and Cuban-heeled shoes; quasi-military attire such as parka jackets, suede desert boots and RAF t-shirts; pork-pie hats from the West Indian rude boys; the essential American-style button-down shirts, which at its most pristine was Brooks Brothers, or Ben Sherman for best of the rest; splashes of colors everywhere, maybe white jeans, a pale yellow shirt; perhaps blue or stripped or chequered. Most importantly, was the attention to detail which changed often: maybe one week it would be a six-inch vent on the suit jacket, maybe next week eight-inches, maybe bowling shoes, or perhaps a feather in the cap. The variations in style were not noticeably to the ‘outsider’, but they mattered to the in-crowd.

Below is Suggs in an Ace Face Tonic suit:


Ace Face tonic suit colors include:
Ruby Blue - sublime claret with a blue shimmer
Midnight Gold - striking blue electrified with dark gold
Blue Jade - a mix of gold with blue to create a hue of green
Forest Claret - dark emerald green with an aubergine shimmer
Kingfisher -turquoise combined from blue & green
Bronze - dark brown hue with a bronze shimmer
Sapphire- rich dark blue blended with wine
Pale Moss- subtle shade of green combined with black

You can learn more about Stuart, Marc and Gary who run Ace Face at their MySpace Web site here.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Horace Ove - Black British Filmaker Documents Rise of Reggae In UK



Horace Ove deserves credit for the leading role he has taken in promoting the growth and popularity of reggae music as it travelled from the West Indies to the UK and then became a cultural phenomenon. Ove was born in Trinidad and emigrated to the UK to attend film school in the early 1960's. His 1971 documentary, "Reggae", was the first in depth film on reggae music to ever be produced. Filmed at Wembley Stadium during the 1970 Caribbean Music Festival, the film documented the first large reggae concert to ever be held in Britain (it drew an astonishing 14,000 people).

Unfortunately the documentary went almost unnoticed when it was first released. The film which also includes footage of the extreme poverty of the West Indies and the makes a case for reggae's radical roots. Interviews with disk jockey Mike Raven and producer Graham Goodall review the history and development of the music. But for fans, the highlights of the movie are the performances by The Pyramids (Symarip), The Pioneers, Millie Small, Toots & The Maytals, Bob Andy and Marcia and Desmond Dekker.

The film is currently out-of-print and unavailable though there are 3rd generation copies floating around. A few years ago there was some talk of a reissue but there have not been any updates. There are a few clips taken from the film available on YouTube and MySpace. I've attached them below.

Here is footage from "Reggae" featuring Toots & The Maytals performing "Monkey Man"




Here is footage from "Reggae" featuring Bob Andy & Marcia performing "Young Gifted & Black"




Here is a clip from "Reggae" that explains the white skinhead phenomenon over Symarip's "Skinhead Moonstomp"





You can read more about Horace Ove and his storied career here.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Pyramids = Symarip: Establish Skinhead Reggae in The UK and Influence A Generation


The Pyramids were formed in the mid-sixties by six young British-based musicians. The band were also known at various stages of their career as The Bees, The Pyramids, Seven Letters and Zubaba. In the mold of The Equals, they began their career as a straight "pop" group, consisting of founders Frank Pitter, Michael Thomas, Josh Roberts, Ray Knight, Monty Naismith and vocalist Roy Ellis and were signed to President Records.

In 1968, President bagged their first Number 1 with “Baby Come Back” by The Equals, featuring a teenage Eddy Grant on lead vocals. At the request of his label, Grant had also been working with the Pyramids, who had backed Prince Buster on a recent U.K. tour. Besides composing songs for the band (and one for Prince Buster himself, the rude classic "Rough Rider" which was later covered by The Beat), Grant also produced several tracks for The Pyramids in 1969 including the band's debut single and sole hit, "Train to Rainbow City" which appeared on their self-titled LP.

Here is a video of the song "Train To Rainbow City" written by Eddy Grant for The Pyramids:




According to sleeve notes from a best-of collection released by Trojan Records, The band’s relationship with President soured when their record ‘Mexican Moonlight’ was a hit in Germany, but the label neglected to tell them about it. As a result, the band decided to rename themselves so that they could record elsewhere without President Records knowledge. Organist Monty Neysmith came up with a plan: ‘I came up with the idea of turning Pyramids around and you leave out the ‘d’. So originally it was spelt Simaryp. I don’t know how it came to be spelt Symarip!’ So in 1969, safe in the knowledge that Presidnet Records would never unravel the secret of their true identity, Simaryp/Symarip prepared to record for their new label, Graeme Goodall’s Treasure Isle - whose chief label was ironically called Pyramid!

The band then recorded their first album as Symparip in 1970 and immediately became the face of "Skinhead Reggae" with songs like "Skinhead Girl", "Skinhead Jamboree" and "Skinhead Moonstomp", which is based on the Derrick Morgan song, "Moon Hop". According to Neysmith, the band noticed a new element coming to their live shows: Skinheads. ‘A lot of skinheads started coming to our shows, and Roy and I said, it would be good to write a song for skinheads. We remembered a song [‘I Thank You’ by Sam & Dave] where they said, ‘I want everybody to get on their feet, and this and that, and give me some of that old soul music’. I thought, let’s change the words and put, ‘I want all you skinheads to get on your feet, put your braces together and your boots on your feet, and give me some of that old moonstomping’.

In 1980, the album Skinhead Moonstomp was re-issued in the wake of the 2 Tone craze, hitting the UK pop charts for the first time and a whole new generation of fans were introduced to their sound. The Specials further expanded their name and popularity of Symarip by recording a live cover version of "Skinhead Moonstomp" as part of a medley of 60's reggae songs on the B-side of their "Specials Live EP" which hit number one in the UK charts.

Here is a brief video of Symarip performing in Horace Ove's documentary "Reggae" recorded at Wembley in 1970 before a crowd of 14,000. The tune is a Rupie Edwards tune called "Pop Hi". Don't miss Roy Ellis's back-flip at the start of the clip:




Amazingly Ellis and Neysmith have reformed the band and plan to perform around the UK in 2008-09. They will perform a show on Friday October 31st at The Hootananny in Brixton, London. You can get ticket information here. There must be something in the water in the UK that's causing all these bands to reform.

Here is the track list and a download to their 1969 LP "Skinhead Moonstomp" that was reissued in 1980 during the height of 2-Tone"

1-Skinhead Moonstop
2-Phoenix City
3-Skinhead Girl
4-Try Me Best
5-Skinhead Jamboree
6-Chicken Merry
7-These Boots Are Made For Stomping
8-Must Catch a Train
9-Skin Flint
10-Stay With Him
11-Fung Shu
12-You’re Mine
13-Bam Bam Baji
14-Hold Him Joe
15-Tomorrow at Sunrise
16-Parsons Corner
17-Redeem
18-La Bella Jig
19-Holidays By The Sea
20-Feel Allright

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Race Records - John Bradbury's Record Label Releases Single by Ex-Selecter Members



In many ways drummer John Bradbury was the glue that held 2-Tone together. It was his relationships with many Coventry-based musicians, both pre and post-2-Tone, that added to its history. He had a hand in helping to start both The Selecter and The Specials and he stuck with Jerry Dammers upon the break-up of the band to play drums for The Special AKA. He was also the leader and founder of the "JB Allstars" soul revue band, who's final single "Alphabet Army" was released as last ever official 2Tone record. Brad has since worked with The Special Beat, the reformed Selecter and ska punkers "Big 5". He also produced the album "High and Dry" in the 90s for UK Ska resurgence act "Maroon Town". Most recently he joined his Specials band mates for their first reunion performance at Bestival.

Born in Coventry, Bradbury attended Hull University. On his return home from school, the reggae and soul loving drummer took up with a number of bands including the "The Transposed Men" where he played with The Selecter's Neol Davies. Both he and Davies would ultimately be responsible for the track "Kingston Affair"which became the track we know as "The Selecter" by The Selecter (the group did not exist at that time) and found national release as the flip side of The Specials' debut 45 "Gangsters". After the original Coventry Automatics' drummer Silverton Hutchinson departed, Dammers called on Brad and The Specials were complete.

But the connections do not end there. Based on his experiences with 2-Tone, Bradbury decided to have a go at running his own record label. He launched the short-lived Race Records in February 1981 with a party at the Hope & Anchor where he introduced his first two signings: a ten-piece reggae band called Night Doctor and a smaller combo called Team 23. Night Doctor put out "Just Enough" b/w "Hit & Miss Affair".

Race Records two signings were quickly joined later by The People. In 1981, The Selecter made the dificult decision to leave 2-Tone to sign a separate deal with Chrysalis. As the dust was beginning to settle on the split from 2 Tone, keyboard player Desmond Brown decided he had had enough and quit the band. Taking stock of the situation the band made the decision that some sections of the band were not up to the job and bass player Charley Anderson was asked to leave. Harking back to their days in Coventry reggae band Hardtop-22 (with Neol Davies and Lynval Golding), Charley and Desmond went on to team up with original Specials drummer Silverton Hutchinson to form The People. Bradbury quickly signed the band who released a single "Musical Man" b/w "Sons & Daughters". The A-side an ode to Specials trombone player Rico Rodriguez. The label released one more non-ska/reggae song by The Lemons and then called it a day.

Here is video of the single "Musical Man" by The People:



Here is Race Records short discography:

RB001 Night Doctor (A) Just Enough (B) Hit & Miss Affair
RB DIS 001 (12") Night Doctor (A) Romancin (B) Menelik
RB 003 The People (A) Musical Man (B) Sons & Daughters
RB004 The Lemons (A) My favourite Band (B) English Summer

Here are downloads of Night Doctor's one single for the label:

Night Doctor - Just Enough
Night Doctor - Hits and Misses

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Bureau - 80's New Wave Soul Band Featuring Mick Talbot and Ex-Dexys Reform


There is another band reunion in the works that will probably not rival the interest and attention that The Specials have generated, but it is one that is just as worthy. I'm speaking of The Bureau who have reformed to play shows and have recorded a new album, their first in more than 25 years. And like The Specials they have a great story to tell though with a northern soul soundtrack rather than a ska one.

The Bureau were a new wave soul group formed in late 1980 in Birmingham when the original lineup of Dexys Midnight Runners split-up. Ex-Dexys members Pete Williams (bass), Geoff Blythe (tenor sax), Steve Spooner (alto sax), Stoker (drums), and Mick Talbot (keyboards) were joined by Paul Taylor (trombone), Rob Jones (guitar and trumpet), and Archie Brown (vocals) from a group called The Upset which had supported Dexys on tour.


The debut single "Only For Sheep" was a big hit in Australia, reaching #6, but failed to reach the British charts - as did the follow up single "Let Him Have It", inspired by the Derek Bentley / Christopher Craig case. An eponymously titled album was released in 1981, but only in Canada and Australia and the band members went their separate ways soon afterwards. Talbot went on to enjoy greater success with Paul Weller in The Style Council, Stoker joined Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger of The Beat (along with Mick Jones of The Clash and Horace Panter of The Specials) to start General Public, while Brown formed Flag with ex-Secret Affair guitarist Dave Cairns. Blythe teamed up with former colleague Big Jim Paterson in The TKO Horns.



According to a great fan web site about the band, The Bureau toured America with the Pretenders. Part way through this tour they discovered that the money had run out and they were virtually bankrupt. They had no money for food and were reduced to scavenging from the Pretenders. The tour also included the Stray Cats. The Bureau opened the show and waited for the Pretenders to take the stage then each night they raided the Pretenders dressing room in search of food and booze. One night they were caught by the Stray Cats leaving the Pretenders dressing room with their swag bags. The Strays were leaning against the wall of the corridor outside the dressing room, very probably preening their outstanding quiffs. 'Hey man,' said Brian Setzer, 'That's not cool,' and Archie snaps, 'Right, that's fucking it!' he dropped his bags of swag, 'All of you, outside now! I'll fucking have the lot of you out now!!' The Stray Cats declined the offer of a fight, seemingly Runaway Boys is more than just a song. The Bureau managed to make it home and survived by wheeling and dealing their way across America. Archie sold tour passes to get Mick Talbot a bottle of whiskey for his birthday. Mick was actually assaulted outside one gig and required stitches to his face. The sight Talbot's face was enough to scare away any more trouble. The Bureau versus The Pretenders Campaign of 1981 passed into rock legend.

Here is a video of the band performing "Only For Sheep"


Here is a live TV performance of "Got To Be Now" from 1981



In March 2005, WEA re-issued the long-lost album. There were two gigs, at the Glee Club in Birmingham and Borderline in London. Defying geography, let alone history, The Bureau started to work on new songs, with Geoff Blythe flying from New York, and music and musicians flitting between London, Birmingham and Newcastle. In 2008 a brand new album was born, wryly dubbed "...And Another Thing". The original band will perform 3 shows in the UK to celebrate the release of the new CD on October 6th, 2008. You can hear previews of the new songs on the bands MySpace site.

Friday October 3rd
The Sound Bar
205 Corporation Street
Birmingham
West Midlands

Wednesday October 8th
The Cluny
36 Lime Street
Ouseburne
Newcastle upon Tyne

Thursday October 9th
Jazz Café
5 Parkway
Camden Town
London

Here is a download of their first single "Only For Sheep"

The Bureau - Only For Sheep

TKO Horns: Providing Brass for the Cream of 80's UK Pop, Ska and Soul


The life of a horn player in the world of modern music is an interesting one. I can't think of many contemporary pop bands that feature a single horn player, let alone a horn section anymore. Personally, I've always played in a band that has featured a horn section. I can't imagine life without them, both on and off the stage.

During the boom in ska, reggae, soul and pop music in the UK in the late 70's and early 80's, horn players and horn sections were everywhere you looked. The Specials had Rico and Dick on trombone and flugel horn. Madness had Lee (Kix) Thompson on sax. The Beat had Saxa on sax. UB40 had Brian Travers on sax, Astro on trumpet and Norman Hassan on trombone. Outside of ska and reggae circles, bands like Dexy's Midnight Runners prominently featured a horn section as did Paul Young's soul band The Q-Tips and later The Bureau (featuring members of the original Dexy's Midnight Runners and Mick Talbot of The Merton Parkas). All is all it was a very horny time.

It must have been this proliferation of music with horns that led artists like Paul Weller of The Jam and Elvis Costello to add horn sections to their bands and recordings in the early 80's. The Jam famously included horns and a horn section of their final album "The Gift" most notably on the track "Precious". Costello went a step further. Having heard the horn players in both Dexy's and The Q-Tips were now available (Paul Young had embarked on a successful solo career) he contacted them and asked to add them to his live band and to the recording of his next LP "Punch The Clock".

I have to confess that despite the fact that Elvis Costello is on record saying he hates the "Punch The Clock" album, it is one of my favorite recording. The album is pop at its best: catchy melodies/lyrics, good grooves, upbeat tempos, and well constructed song forms. It's a fun album with substance--what all pop music should aspire to be and it has horns!

The story of the well-known "TKO Horns" who add the punch to "Let The All Talk" and "Everyday I Write The Book" among others is best told by one of the members of the section. Saxophone player Paul Speare was a member of both Dexy's and The Q-Tips when he was tapped along with Jim Patterson (trombone), Brian Maurice (alto sax) and Dave Plews (trumpet) to join Elvis Costello & The Attractions. He relates the fascinating and interesting story in great detail at his web site. It's a great read and I highly recommend it.

Among the highlights: Learning charts for new songs and playing them for the first time at the Royal Albert Hall in the span of 5 days as well as touring the US, UK and Europe, recording the "Punch The Clock" LP and meeting Yoko Ono.

Paul's destiny also intersected with that of 2-Tone and The Special AKA, as Costello recommended him to Jerry Dammers who asked him to perform the tin whistle melody that features in "Free Nelson Mandela". He also performed on the studio version of "Keep On Moving" by Madness and "Actions Speak Faster" by Difford and Tillbrook.

Here is a live video of "Jackie Wilson Said" by Dexy's featuring Paul on Saxophone:




Here is the "Let Them All Talk" video featuring Paul and the TKO Horns that he references on his web site:





Here is the "Free Nelson Mandela" video featuring the tin whistle melody that Paul played in the studio



Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Stiff Records Story As Narrated By Suggs of Madness


As 2-Tone Records and to a lesser extent Go-Feet Records (The Beats personal imprint) showed, it was independent labels that were driving the ska scene in the UK. However we would be remiss to overlook the incredible impact of Stiff Records had on UK music and culture.

When new wave hit in the '70s, independent labels like Stiff Records became a grass-roots alternative to the music establishment. Stiff Records which started in 1976 set itself apart with marketing and advertising that was provocative and witty. Stiff billed itself as "The World's Most Flexible Record Label". Other slogans were "We came. We saw. We left.", "If It Ain't Stiff, It Ain't Worth a Fuck", and "When You Kill Time, You Murder Success" (printed on promotional wall clocks). On the label of Stiff's sampler compilation Heroes & Cowards was printed: "In '78 everyone born in '45 will be 33-1/3". A very early Stiff sampler album, A Bunch of Stiff Records, introduced the slogan, "If they're dead, we'll sign them" and "Undertakers to the Industry".

Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Ian Dury, and Madness are just some of the eccentric greats who emerged via Stiff, but other lesser knowns, notably The Equators were key to the world of ska. What unified Stiff's musical menu — punk, R&B, pop, ska, soul, nonsense — was a rejection of standard rock & roll excess and the belief that money isn't the only reason to make records.

Leave it to the talented folks at BBC6 and Madness frontman Suggs to tell the story of the influential record label, home to artists ranging from Motorhead and The Damned to Kirsty Macoll. Amazingly Stiff Records still exists albeit in digital form alone and only after taking a nap from 1986 to 2006. You can visit the new Stiff Records site here.

Thanks to Judge Fredd for the heads up about this great piece of radio journalism.

Here are the downloads in four parts: