Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Don't Knock The Baldhead! - Exclusive: Interview with Winston Blisset About His Days in UK Ska Pop Sensation Headline

One of the joys of writing this blog has been the opportunity to discover and pay respects to all the bands that contributed to the entire canon of 2-Tone era ska. One such band that caught my eye and ears was Headline. They were a 6-piece ska-pop band signed to Virgin Records who released several singles, including the catchy "Don't Knock The Baldhead/Highway Hassle" and a self-titled album in 1980. Based on their sound and their look, Headline quickly became UK media darlings, who were noteworthy for their sense of fun as well as their wild stage entrances. Here is a wonderful description of the band from a support slot they played with The Stranglers in July of 1980 that appears on, a great fan web site devoted to band:

IT’S JULY 1980 – and rammed at the Rainbow. Spirited, devoted black leather bomber jackets are rightly omnipresent and correct, ready for The Stranglers’ first night of the ‘Who Wants The World tour’. Nervy, expectant excitement is in the air: It’s just ten days from their release from French jail following the Nice University riot. A swirl of dope flits across the front of the audience. The house lights fade. Support band Headline step onstage, unknown, unloved - and face to face with the headliner’s audience; you can almost hear a smart silver tie-pin drop in the quiet hiatus. Suited and booted, Headline come on from the left side of the stage, strutting linear, like a black version of Madness in Nutty Boy fashion. Headline march, march, march, chanting a deep baritone mantra: ‘Don’t knock the Baldhead - Don’t knock the Baldhead! Boongy boong boongy woongy! Don’t knock the Baldhead!’ It’s an unforgettable entrance. They hit centre stage, and suddenly scram in all directions to grab guitars, microphones and drumsticks. Acappella out, in comes their schizoid mesh of pop-tinged Ska. Black suits, black ties, white shirts, skanking natty dread – five black baldheads and one white guy. Lean lead singer Michael holds onto the mic stand as bassist Winston bobs about, tugging at his black Music Man bass, with Kevin skanking on guitar and synth-player Richard leering at the mob, playing bubblegum synth riffs, with knees-ups and Ska ‘chikka-chiks’ a-plenty. The crowd’s earlier coolness thoroughly thaws as "Rudi Don’t Fear" and "Highway Hassle" fill the theatre with infectious, insistent Ska - followed by "Bald Head Revolution", and a return to their single, "Don’t Knock The Bald Head".

According to, Headline had its roots in a southeast London funk band called Raw Funk who were quite popular in the funk and soul clubs in that part of the city. Then one day as 2-Tone was taking the UK by storm, the band decided to switch from funk to ska. As the children of Jamaican-born parents, they had all grown up on ska. Within the space of just two hours they shaved off their big Afros and Headline was born. The band soon found some luck with the help of promoter Keith Altham’s publicist, Claudine. Her husband, musician Michael Riley had just left Steel Pulse and joined the band as their vocalist. The band's first gig was at the Nashville and they quickly booked support slots that got them positive vibes from the music press.

Even though they got the gigs, Headline never got that big break, like so many bands. By August, Riley and bassist Winston Blissett left the band in search of something more politically weighty and musically challenging. They formed Bumble and the Beez with John Martyn, with a gig at Hammersmith Palais supporting Siouxsie & The Banshees in 1981. After replacing the duo, Headline continued and follow-up with, the Folkes Brothers cover, 'Oh Carolina'. But the ska category was already ably filled with the likes of various 2-Toners and rudies, such as Madness, The Specials, The Selecter, Bad Manners and The Beat.

I was able to connect with Headline's bassist Winston Blissett, and he was kind enough to take time while on tour with The New Beautiful South to answer some interview questions for me. Blissett, who is also the bassist for Massive Attack, shared his experiences growing up in London, his musical education as a bass player and memories of what it was like for Headline to support The Stranglers on their 1980 'Who Want's The World' UK tour.

What was it like growing up in London in the 70's?
Lewisham & Deptford weren't as developed as today but we had fun as kids being able to play/hang out on the streets more than what you'd notice now with the today's youngsters. I spent some of my weekends, Fri & Sat nights going to Blues party's held in friends of friends homes. You got wind of a party & gate crashed. Sometimes it was an "edge" to get in (Edge = 50 pence). This became a First Later (1 pound)... inflation. Most of my partying was during my school days before going to college. Going to gigs was something I loved to do when I had enough money. I saw bands such as the Ohio Players, Fatback Band, Kool & The Gang, James Brown, Toots & the Maytals & other Reggae & Soul artists mainly. Later I spent most of my time being broke as a student so not too much partying & clubbing by then.

Politics... mum & dad were always moaning about the cost of living, taxes, rates etc, a bit like me moaning these days.... Ask my kids. The politics of the day was always something everyone complained about. In 1979, Mrs Thatchers party were voted in which gave us plenty more to moan about after a few months in power... a turning point in our history in my eyes anyway. Dad was a bus driver & mum worked part time in a Hospital so they were not in the high income bracket. Being a black kid was always an issue as racism was more upfront & in your face then so me & some of my friends always felt unwelcome as we were all seen as immigrants (I was born in Greenwich Hospital).

Choosing a musical direction was a challenge but being keen & determined at that age made you blind to most of the challenges. I remember there being more places for up coming musicians to jam at i.e. pubs & clubs & getting gigs seemed easier. Also getting to the gigs I remember being easier as fared weren't as expensive as they are today (relatively of course).

Did you grow up listening to ska and reggae music? Did you get caught up in punk?
I was brought up listening to Blue Beat, Ska & Reggae music (with only Jim Reeves on Sunday) & later discovered Funk & Soul music. I wasn't a Punk fan but during the late 70's & early 80's had much contact with that scene as "Rock Against Racism" kinda fused the two genres which was weird as the two groups seemed so far apart socially, but also I don't remember there being that much confrontation with the two groups as, I suppose, the Anti racism message united the two. That's my view which may be a bit romantic but that's how I recall it. Trouble came a bit later when Skinheads got involved... not saying it was perfect before....

When did you discover that you could play the bass?
At the age of about 14,15 a friend invited me to his Pentecostal Church where most of the kids could play an instrument or sing. I suppose a bit of peer pressure/pride made decide to take up an instrument, the bass, as it had less strings. Within a few months I felt this was a natural thing for me to do.

What kind of bands did you play in before Headline? How did 2-Tone effect your decision to start Headline?
My first band's were a local reggae group, Friction, a Calypso band and then onto a Funk band called Raw Funk Band. RFB gigged for a couple of years till we decided to disband then reform as Headline. We felt as we were all of Jamaican origin, we could blow all the other bands away by playing ska music which we grew up on. The band members were: Lascelles Forest - Guitar; Tony (Jegger) Read - Drums; Richard Read - Keyboards; Kevin - Guitar; Paul Pryce - Guitar; Mike Riley - Vox;Winston Blissett - Bass

How did you end up choosing to name the band Headline?
The name was chosen as we all shaved our heads & when lined up in some photo shoots it seemed like a good idea and also to make a statement to say "Don't Knock The Baldhead". "Bald Head" being a non Rastafarian in the Reggae community and we weren't Rastas.

How did you meet Michael Riley who had been in Steel Pulse?
Mike knew Raw Funk as he had business with the manager of RFB so we'd see him at the management office from time to time. Mike helped with the concept of Headline & later his wife, Claudine, gave valuable help with press exposure & advice on creating interest in the band.

As a predominantly black band playing ska/pop during the height of 2-Tone, what kind of reception did you get from audiences? How did skinheads respond to the band?
Everybody really loved the music, even the skinheads who hated the band at times due to the colour thing. Unfortunately on a couple of occasions, violence did break out as we were an obvious target for the racists, especially when we were the support act, but on the whole I remember a positive response.

Can you share any unusual stories about any shows that were particularly memorable? You opened for a variety of bands from The Stranglers to Killing Joke and Bad Manners?
Supporting the Stranglers was an honour even though it was a revival for their band, we'd all grown up with the music & knew some of the tunes. On one occasion, we were literally the support as the whole venue was shaking with the crowd going wild & us lot plus bouncers were keeping the PA stacks from falling over. People were passing out & carried backstage to be revived (Slapped around the face a few times with a christening of water). Great vibe though,,, health & safety would have went crazy ( I think that was at Birmingham Odeon, not a gig venue anymore.)

The Bad Manners tour was good fun as we often travelled together in our vehicles and had a few laughs at motor-way stops. Douggie, Bad Manners lead singer, definitely loved his grub as he'd demonstrate at these stops. Didn't he have the record for the most eaten Big Macs in one session in the UK ?

You were signed by Richard Branson to his Virgin Records label fairly quickly after starting the band. What was that like? Did he have big plans for the band?
It was quick compared to how long it usually takes. Virgin/Mr Branson was really committed as the response or feedback about the band was positive from all areas, gigs, press reviews etc. There was definitely a lot of commitment from Virgin as Mr Branson personally signed the band to the label.

What are your fondest memories of recording the 'Don't Knock The Baldhead" LP? Do you have a favorite song from the record?
We did have fun recording the album. Bob Seargent produced it. He was great to work with & produced a few other pop acts of the day. We did like to take the Mick out of him & I remember we mentioned him in Highway Hassle. Bob used me as a session musician on projects he was working on after Headline. I think "Highway Hassle" was my favorite but "Don't Knock The Bald Head" always if not equally was on par with 'Highway Hassle.'

You and the lead singer Michael Riley left the band shortly after the album came out in 1980. Why did you leave? Tell me about Bumble and The Beez?
Mike & I left due to creative & some personal differences but the band continued... not sure why it came to a halt later on. We formed Bumble & The Beez as a fusion project, mainly Reggae, Classical & Rock styles to try something different. We gained some interest from crowds & eventually got signed to EMI. Apart from Mike & myself, we had Dan Lee on Reggae guitar, Simon Walker on Violin & Keyboards & Nick Page on Rock/classical guitar. We started out with a drummer, Tony Hawkins, a good player but not quite the style we needed who later became a music journo. Apart from what we were playing, we gained some interest in the way we played. Even though we were looking for the right type of drummer, in the meantime Mike the lead singer, played bass drum & Cowbell which made an interesting sound with Violin doing Reggae chops, funky dub bass lines & no drummer.

We were blackmailed (In the nicest possible way) by Siouxsie from Siouxsie & the Banshees to play in this format as her support act at the Hammersmith Palais which was a great but nerve racking first gig. Things went on for a while but as with many bands we ended up going our separate ways but still remaining friends. Mike launched the Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra with some of the Bumble & The Beez tunes. Nick went on to form "The Rain Gods" then "Transglobal Underground" and then went on to form "The Temple Of Sound". He now works as a producer/ songwriter sometimes from the Real World studios & calls on Mike & me to help out on his music every now & then.

You've gone on to become a professional bass player and have recorded with Massive Attack, Robbie Williams and are currently touring with The New Beautiful South. How do you look back on your days in Headline?
We had some great times performing the Ska tunes as we had it in our blood, so to speak, & the punters knew it was authentic as the vibe was electric.... audiences always pick up on this & get a feeling of excitement from connecting with the band.... sounds corny but it is true. This does give me a feeling of regret that we didn't stick it out & work on the differences that divided the band. When I left, the other members continued after which I lost touch with them.

What do you think of the Bad Manners cover of 'Don't Knock The Baldhead"?
To be honest, I wasn't aware that Bad Manners had covered the tune. I listened to it on You Tube & looked on their web site but saw no mention of a credit to Headline for the composition of the track. Weird as it's done exactly as we performed it. It was great to hear them play it & play it so well.

You can catch Blissett live in action touring with The New Beautiful South who have two shows on Saturday May 30th at Britannia Stadium in Stoke-on-Trent and later that night in Sunderland at the Campus Academy. You can also see Blissett with Massive Attack, who have announced ten dates for their UK tour this fall. The tour will kick off with two nights at the O2 Academy in Brixton, London, on September 17 and 18.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Will Jerry Dammers Make An Appearance At The Specials Shows In London?

As The Specials reunion tour of sold out shows continues to barrel across the UK, the one member of the band who has not joined in sent fans into a flurry of speculation with a vaguely worded post on a Twitter account over the weekend.

Yes, Mr. Jerry Dammers (or someone who is acting on his behalf) has once again fueled rumor and conjecture, by suggesting that he may make an appearance at The Specials' Brixton Academy shows in London in early May. Dammers (or someone who is acting on his behalf) posted the following short message 'Reconcillation abound, see you at Brixton' on his Twitter account (have a look for yourself at the Twitter post)

Fans have exchanged both hopeful and disbelieving exchanges on the band's fan forum as well as a separate board started by Dammers supporters. The band have replaced Dammers with keyboardist Nik Torp who according to reports has filled his shoes admirably. Dammers was in the audience for the band's first reunion performance last summer at Bestival and it is not outside the realm of possibility that he could be planning to make an appearance (officially or unofficially) to mark the tour's arrival in London where he lives.

I'll continue to follow this as it develops and will post more in the next few days. In the meantime, here is a short montage of Jerry doing his DJ thing. Perhaps the band have invited him to DJ during the show? Time will tell.....

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Marco On The Bass Podcast Series: 2-Tone Era Peel Sessions Featuring The Selecter, The Beat, The Specials, Laurel Aitken & Unitone and Madness

This week's podcast changes things up a bit and pays homage to John Peel and the live sessions he recorded with the cream of the 2-Tone crop including The Specials, The Selecter, The Beat, Madness and Laurel Aitken & The Unitone (which was The Ruts in disguise)for his BBC radio show.

Before we get to the music, here is a video interview with Peel. His influence on the culture of the UK and the world can't be overstated. At BBC’s Radio 1, Peel helmed his own show from 1968 until his death in 2004, and first introduced UK listeners to reggae, punk, and hip-hop. T-Rex, David Bowie, the Faces, the Sex Pistols, Fairport Convention, Pink Floyd, the Clash, the Buzzcocks, the Cure, Joy Division, the Wedding Present, Def Leppard, Pulp, the Smiths, and the White Stripes have all credited Peel as a major boost to their careers. He championed thousands of bands, but also had much to do with bringing the sound of 2-Tone and reggae to the masses and for that he is owed and unmeasurable debt.

Here are highlights about the bands and performers in this week's podcast:

The Selecter recorded two Peel session. This is the first of the two and it features songs from their first album. It was recorded on October 9, 1979 at Maida Vale Studios and was produced by John Sparrow and engineered by Mike Robinson.

The Beat recorded three Peel sessions. He was a big fan of the band and trumpeted their music regularly on his show. The songs in this podcast were recorded September 3. 1980 at Maida Vale and featured tracks from their overlooked second album 'Whappen' including 'Psychedlic Rockers', 'Monkey Murders' and 'Walk Away' which are personal favorites of mine. The session was produced by Bob Sargeant (who worked with the band on all three of their albums) and was engineered by Mike Engles.

The Specials session was recorded on October 29, 1980 at the Maida Vale Studios and was produced by Bob Sargeant and engineered by Nick Gromm. I quite like this session because it features 3 songs that were not part of the band's regular set list including one their earliest sonngs 'Raquel' from their days as The Coventry Automatics as well as Rico's 'Sea Cruise'.

Laurel Aitken & The Unitone is one of my favorite Peel sessions. I love the unlikely pairing of Aitken with The Ruts. The session was recorded on April 28, 1980and was produced by Tony Wilson and engineer by Dave Dade

Surprisingly, Madness only recorded one session for John Peel on August 14, 1980 and it featured songs from their first Stiff Records release including 'Bed & Breakfast Man' and 'The Prince'. The Session was produced by Bon Sargeant and engineered by Mike Robinson.

Here is the podcast track list:

The Selecter - They Make Me Mad
The Beat - Psychedelic Rockers
The Specials - Raquel
Laurel Aitken & The Unintone - Rudi Got Married
Madness - Land Of Hope & Glory
The Selecter - Danger
The Beat - Monkey Murders
The Specials - Sea Cruise (with Rico Rodriguez)
Laurel Aitken & The Unitone - Big Fat Man
Madness - Bed & Breakfast Man
The Selecter - Carry Go Bring Come
The Beat - Walk Away
The Specials - Stereotype
Laurel Aitken & Unitone - Rock Me Baby/Caledonia
Madness - The Prince

Marco On The Bass Podcast #9

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Specials Launch 30th Anniversary UK Tour In Newcastle

The Specials played their first official show of their UK tour last night at the Newcastle Academy. The band opened with 'Do The Dog'. Highlights of the set included 'Little Bitch', 'Gangsters', a cracking version of 'Ghost Town', 'Doesn't Make It Alright' and the set closer 'Enjoy Yourself'.

UK newspaper reviews of the band's performance have all been very positive. The Guardian commenting the songs written 30 years ago were still relevant: "Picking any song at random from their glorious 1979-81 run of seven consecutive hit singles gives a running commentary on 2009 Britain, from binge drinking (Stereotype), teenage pregnancy (Too Much Too Young) to knife crime (Why?)." While The Shields Gazette put the acrimony over Jerry Dammer's decision not to participate in perspective: "Many of the headlines surrounding the tour have been about founder member Jerry Dammers' refusal to take part: well, it's his loss. This wasn't so much a reunion as a celebration of a band rightly regarded as one of the best and most influential British groups of all time. The Two Tone legends were so good, and so tight, it's hard to believe it's 28 years since the original line-up disintegrated in acrimony."

Here is the full set list from the show:

'Do The Dog'
'Dawning Of A New Era'
'It's Up To You'
'Rat Race'
'Monkey Man'
'Blank Expression'
'Too Hot'
'Doesn't Make It Alright'
'Concrete Jungle'
'Friday Night Saturday Morning'
'Man At C&A'
'A Message To You Rudy'
'Do Nothing'
'Hey Little Rich Girl'
'Nite Klub'
'You're Wondering Now'
'Ghost Town'
'Too Much Too Young'
'Skinhead Moonstomp'
'Enjoy Yourself'

Here is footage taken from a camera phone of the band's opening song 'Do The Dog' followed by 'Dawning Of A New Era'. It definitely has a 'you are there' vibe!:

Here is footage shot by Paul 'Willo' Williams of the band performing 'Too Hot':

Here is footage taken from a camera phone of the band ripping through 'Nite Klub'.

Here is footage (also taken from a camera phone) of the band performing 'Ghost Town'. The sound quality is poor, but you get a good sense of the show and the crowd.

The band also officially launched their web site yesterday to coincide with the kick-off of the tour (there are some pretty amazing tour t-shirts for sale on the site). You can still visit the ever vibrant and entertaining fan community site here to read about fan reaction to the show last night and throughout the tour.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Exclusive: Interview with JC Carroll of The Members on the Band's Early Embrace of Reggae & 2009 Reunion Tour of The UK

JC Carroll is best known as the guitarist and songwriter for The Members. Along with the band vocalist Nicky Tesco he formed a partnership repsonsible for a number of great songs that are part of the canon of UK punk. Carroll co-wrote punk classic 'Sound of the Suburbs' and reggae classic 'Offshore Banking Business' as well as early 80s MTV smash hit 'Working Girl'. He has variously worked with many luminaries in the punk scene, including Johnny Thunders, Glen Matlock, Dee Dee Ramone, Rat Scabies, Joe Strummer and Frank Tovey. For me though, he is a link between the liberating power of punk and the powerful storytelling inherent in reggae. Carroll and Tesco (who was a huge reggae fan) were able to mine both genres to write a number of great songs that deserved a wider audience.

Like The Clash, Stiff Little Fingers and The Ruts, The Members were one of the first UK guitar bands to assimilate reggae into their song writing and sound. Their first reggae-inluenced singles and albums were released in 1978 and 1979 and pre-date The Specials, Madness and The Police and other bands that went on to incorporate the sound successfully into their songs. In fact, Jerry Dammers was quoted as saying The Members were an influence on The Specials. Indeed, The Members incorporated reggae to a greater degree than even The Clash, who are often seen as the true punk/reggae pioneers.

Though they started life as a punk band, The Members pulled in influences across many music boundaries, particularly reggae. Neil Spencer wrote in the NME in 1978: “Of the many rock bands co-opting reggae into their act, few do so with as much love and style as the The Members.” The band's guitarist JC told NME’s Thrills, “My rhythm guitar playing is definitely reggae-based,” 'It's not the same as blasting an audience with full-on rock riffs. It gets them moving in a different way. But, having said that, we're trying to play reggae in our own style. We're not singing about Jah Love. We're singing about living in Britain.”

What made me a fan of the band as a young and impressionable suburban dwelling reggae and ska fanatic was The Members prophectic and iconic track 'Offshore Banking Business'. My introduction to the song came during a screening of 'Urgh - A Music War' while I was at University in the early 80's. My initial introduction to the band had been through their big U.S. hit 'Working Girl' which was a staple on MTV in 1982. Therefore I was unprepared for the brass and bass-driven skank of the song that featured singer Nicky Tesco toasting “a lesson in home economics.” The song was a searing condemnation of global financial corruption, based on Carroll's working experience of merchant banking. Bahrain and the Bahamas banned it, the latter’s parliament calling the band “hop heads singing horse manure.”

After The Members split, Carroll stayed active in music. Most recently he has been playing out with his own band called JC & The Disciples. Carroll recently played a short soloo tour of the US on his own in late 2008. The shows were his first in the US in 25 years. The journey back to the States has reinvigorated him and he and his bandmates in The Memebers have reformed for a series of their own reunion shows across the UK this Spring. While he was in New York City late last fall, Carroll conducted an interview with Rant & Rave TV which is a great prelude to my written interview with him below:

Carroll was kind enough to take time out from rehearsing The Members reunion tour which kicks off this weekend in Leamington Spa to answer my questions about growing up in the suburbs of London, his interest and passion for reggae music and his experiences playing in The Members.

What was it like growing up in the London suburbs? How did the experience of growing up in Camberley inform your world view and song writing? You worked in a bank right?
There was nothing to do no cinemas no nothing so all us young lads played guitars the whole time. I left school and got a job in the City of London in the Bond department of a big bank. A lot of my songs from this period were very autobiograpical. We wanted to get away from the idea that all punk banks were inner city kids. Actually a lot of really cool bands came from the burbs like The Banshees, The Jam, Tom Robinson Band and Sham 69.

Did you grow up listening to ska and reggae music? When did your interest in reggae music start?
Reggae and ska were very big in the early seventies amongst the skinheads. I wasn't a skinhead at the time but I dug the sound. A guy I worked at the bank with was a cool guy and a DJ. He said I should check out Bob Marley. I saw him the night he recorded 'No Woman No Cry' It blew me away. Then I was listening to the early toasting I Roy's "Welding" made a big impact on me then. I bought 'Screaming Target' by Big Youth....that was it, I was sold.

When did you pick up the guitar? When did you make the conscious decision to be a musician?
All the boys in the neighborhood played the guitar. My brothers, everybody.

What kind of bands did you play in before joining The Members?
I had a School Band that did Velvet Underground Covers and we all loved Bowie Ziggy Stardust Period... then I met a guy in the local pub called Graham Parker. I recorded some demos for him and he went off and became famous. He would help me later.

What did you learn from working with noted music producer Steve Lillywhite on the 'Sound Of The Suburbs' record? What are your fondest memories of recording the "Sound Of The Suburbs" LP? Do you have a favorite song from the record?
Steve Lillywhite was a tape operater or engineer when we met him he got us some free studio time... he learned the old school way of recording... secrets tips of a sealed Surrey brotherhood that I am not allowed to reveal under pain of death. He was just taking off as a producer then.... he worked as an engineer or tape op at Phonogram and Island Records. We recorded 'Suburbs' in two days then for some silly reason we re-recorded it for the album, a vastly inferior version. For many years the only version you could get on all the main Members compilations was that inferior version. The original seven inch mix was locked like the man in the iron mask in the basement of Abbey Road Studios.

The Members had a reputation as a great live band. Can you share any unusual stories about any live shows that were particularly memorable?
We did a lot of Shows and were still are a great live band.. we love to talk to the audience.... one time on the USA Tour I decided that it was getting a bit hot on stage so I used to go on stage dressed in a bath towel and a turban... the girls at the front spent all night trying to grab it off me...

The Members were noteworthy as one of the first British guitar bands to fully incorporate reggae into their music. What influenced this decision?
We were well ahead of our time... groups like The Police used to come and check out our chops. We were there very early and we sensed the punk had to slow down to survive. Check out 'Offshore Banking'. It was very early. but even our very first record for Stiff Records had a reggae B side (Rat Up a Drainpipe). Chris Payne wrote that and it was written in 1977 and recorded in '78. Its dirty reggae like... Judge Dread... like Max Romeo.

Your guitar playing and your guitar sound is very unique. You were quoted once as saying 'My rhythm guitar playing is definitely reggae-based', Tell me more about about this and your approach to using reggae to tell uniquely British stories.
The reggae vibe lends itself to didactic songwriting more... simple as that its better to tell stories to..... If you listen to some of the songs on my 'Rock Is In The Lapt0p' albums or 'New English Blues' albums, you will hear very english storytelling. I think its very important to sing about your surroundings and not pretend that you are living in some USA styled R & R theme park.

The song 'Offshore Banking Business" was amazingly prophetic. Tell me about the genesis of this song from the music to the lyrics. It was quite a detailed look at a financial practice very few people were aware of until very recently. What was it like to work with Rico Rodriguez who recorded a fantastic solo for the song?
I was sitting in the bank one day and I wrote the lyrics and I phoned Nick Tesco and he was incredibly supportive. He said we should record it. Everybody else was 'No man its commercial suicide they want another punk song!' Well Steve Lillywhite worked a lot at the old St Peters Square Island Studios. Lots of the old school reggae guys hung out there, it was his idea to have Rico play on the track. We were blown away to have him on the track. Chris was a big fan as he already had the 'Man From Warika' album. My (later) Canadian drummer (Lucky) Peter Lambert also played in Rico's band for a while. Anyway we recorded it at Island cause it was a reggae studio and they had this young engineer there called Paul "Groucho" Smykle. He mixed it with us as Lillywhite was already getting busy. He went on to do all the Black Uhuru stuff, back then he was a young buoy.

Here is a video of the band performing 'Offshore Banking Business' from the movie 'Urgh!':

Here is the 12" mix of 'Offshore Banking Business' featuring Rico Rodriguez on trombone that was mixed by noted reggae producer Paul Smykle:

Tell me about your musical journey after The Members split in 1983. You played a series of solo shows here in the US last fall right?
I gave up music for a while then I took up the accordian. I had a Balkan Band with Chris Payne for a while and played in a folk band called the Wise Monkeys(for ten years). The accordian started getting me lots of film work and I was running a clothing business and raising a family and I was too busy. I kept my hand in here and there doing odd jobs like musical director of Christmas Panto Shows. During this period I recorded with Johnny Thunders and a Guy called Frank Tovey (Both sadly dead). Then I had a Roads to Damascus moment. My mate Mark Mellor told be to buy an Apple Mac computer and start recording. He taught me how to use it and we started working on music for commercials. And then all these songs started falling out of my head onto the hard drive. Nick Cash started playing drums with me and we made 'The Rock is in the Lapt0p' and 'Modern Folk' albums. Then I began collabbing on the net with musicians all round the world and I made the 'Stangers and Fiction Album'(look it up on iTunes). Then I got back together with Nigel from The Members and he cut some tracks on 'New English Blues volume 1' (Volume 2 and three are in the works). I am very busy right now finishing off three albums and putting The Members back on the road. And yes hopefully, we will visit the States soon.

The Members have reformed and you are slated to play only your 3rd show in 25 years this weekend. What prompted the reunion, the recording of 'International Financial Crisis' and the upcoming UK Tour?
It was time to do it again. The World is in a mess we are here to save it. By the way I have a reggae tune that I am stuck on. Do any of your readers have any ideas for lyrics for this likkle riddim? Its called 'Leaving London' Its part of a project called King Dubby: (featuring Nigel Bennet of the Members).

Also if anybody wants to do a mashup dub of 'Offshore' there is a version here:

Oh, and here is another riddim here:

The touring band consists of JC, Chris Payne, Nigel Bennet, Phill Legg and Nick Cash. Nicky Tesco is unavailable to tour for health reasons but is involved with recording projects and will make guest appearances at the occasional show.


April 26th Leamington Spa, The Assembley
May 15th Harlow, Square Essex
May 16th Sheffield, Broadwalk
May 23rd Blackburn, North Bar
May 24th Crewe
May 29th Southampton, Talking Heads
May 30th Brighton, Engine Room
June 5th Swindon, 12 Bar June 6th Bournemouth,Key West.
June 12th London Underworld
June 13th Weston, Hobbits

More information is available at The Members web site.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Marco On The Bass Podcast Series: More Obscure UK Ska Gems Of The 2-Tone Era

The response to last week's podcast suggests that there are a lot of you out there who also enjoy obscure ska songs by UK bands from the 2-Tone era. As a follow-up here is one more podcast of those obscure gems.

This podcast includes more UK-based ska and reggae bands that you probably have not heard of before (Sax Maniax, Rimshots and The Plugs) as well as a few that made a dent but did not get the attention they deserved like The Ska-Dows. Of particular note are two bands The Mexicano and Graduate fronted by musicians who either previously had or went on to have significant careers.

Here are highlights about the bands and performers in this week's podcast:

The Ska-Dows - The Ska-Dows 'Skas on 45' is a very rare 7" that features the band performing a medley of early 2-Tone hits (a la the popular 'Stars on 45' track of the early 80's)including the The Specials version of "Monkey Man", The Beat's "Ranking Fullstop" and "One Step Beyond" and "Baggy Trousers" by Madness and more. This song is not available on The Ska-Dows anthology "Ska'd for Life."

Graduate - Graduate was not a ska band but they wrote one pretty good ska pop song. They released only one album in 1980 before breaking up and becoming a trivia question(the band featured Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith who went on to chart success with Tears For Fears). The single 'Elvis Should Play Ska' was in response to Elvis Costello complaining about how everybody seemed to be hopping on the ska bandwagon and nobody cared much for his sound at that time.

21 Guns - The band 21 Guns had connections to The Specials as their lead singer Gus Chambers had been the singer with the Coventry punk band Squad replacing Terry Hall when he left to join the Specials. By 1981 he was fronting 21 Guns who recorded the single 'Ambition Rock' for Neville Staples' label Shack Records.

The Mexicano - The Mexicano was actually Rudy Grant, younger brother of Eddy Grant. Grant's career as The Mexicano took off in 1977, when with the help of his brother, he recorded a tribute to the popular television series Starsky And Hutch, entitled "Move Up Starsky" ( which was a DJ version of Bob Marley's "I'm Still Waiting"). The single topped the UK reggae chart. By 1981 Mexicano's career changed direction when he decided to sing as Rudy Grant. He recorded reggae versions of John Lennon's "Woman" and Stevie Wonder's "Lately" for Ensign Records, which entered the UK pop chart. The success of the single led to a contract with Stiff Records, who released "Trial By Television" under his earlier name. While the single failed to generate interest, it is one of the most unusual and unique ska songs you will ever hear. It sounds like an Eddy Grant cast-off mixed with some Devo-like sound-effects.

Judge Dread - 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. The song 'Lovers Rock' is a classic example of his X-rated song style which resulted in him having the most songs banned by the BBC, 11 in all, which is also the same number of singles he placed in the charts.

The Gangsters - A band who fashioned themselves as a poor man's version of The Specials. They recorded a 7" single featuring a cover of 'Wooly Bully' of the A side Rare and this very catchy number 'We Are The Gangsters' on the B side.

Boss - Very little information actually exists about Boss other than the fact that they were The Gangsters (see above) with a different name. The song 'Rude Boys Are Back In Town' is a great slice of 2-Tone ska that was produced by Shel Talmy who was best known for his work with The Who and The Kinks.

The Rimshots - Bristol-based pop/reggae band. They released two singles one for Shoc-Wave and another on Spectro Records. Their song 'I Was Wrong' is an umemployed man's lament about the lack of opportunity in early 80's Bristol.

The Tigers - London-based band formed in the autumn of 1979 that released a collection of catchy pop/reggae/ska nuggets that would be fine-tuned into the album 'Savage Music'. With their second single, 'Kidding Stops', the music press took notice. In the 1979 pre-Christmas edition of the New Musical Express made it 'Record of the week'. The band signed to A&M Records and toured the U.S. during 1980 where the garnered good reviews but did not enjoy the success of The Police who they were most often compared to.

Sax Maniax - A side-band featuring all the members of The Ska-Dows minus their lead singer Tony Sibthorpe. The band supported The Ska-Dows at all their gigs and released the single 'Never Gonna Lose Me' on Chas Chandler's Cheapskate Records.

The Plugs - I can find very little information about this band who question the growth of mindless consumer culture brought on by indoor shopping centres in the UK (what we call a 'Mall' in the U.S.).

The Ska-Dows - Ska's on 45 (1981)
Graduate - Elvis Should Play Ska (1980)
21 Guns - Ambition Rock (1981)
The Mexicano - Trial By Television (1981)
Judge Dread - Lovers Rock (1979)
Gangster - We Are The Gangsters (1980)
Boss - Rude Boys Back In Town (1980)
Rimshots - I Was Wrong (1980)
Tigers - Kidding Stops (1979)
Sax Maniax - Never Gonna Lose Me (1980)
The Plugs - Indoor Shopping Centre (1980)

Marco On The Bass Podcast #8

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Exclusive: Roddy Byers of The Specials shares his thoughts as the band prepares to kick-off UK Tour

While fans of The Specials count down the days until the reunion tour kicks-off in Newcastle next Friday April 24th, the band members themselves are busy making last minute preparations before they head out on the road.

Roddy Byers took time out of getting ready for the tour to share his thoughts about the upcoming tour with me and to confirm that he will be singing lead on the band classic 'Concrete Jungle'. Below is a version of 'Concrete Jungle' recorded during band rehearsal sessions in early 2009. Roddy takes lead vocals as he did on the original recording and this recording provides a sneak peek of what to expect from the band live next week:

Roddy also shared that he is getting over a chest infection but that he is ready for the tour to start. When I asked him how he planned to spend the night before the opening show in Newcastle he said, "Day before is a rehearsal day- decent dinner, couple of beers and an early night if possible."

I'll be checking in with Roddy over the course of the UK tour to get his impressions and thoughts as the band mark their 30th anniversary. Check back for regular tour updates.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Madness Announce Madstock Date & Line-Up - Unveil Material From New Album During Australian Tour

In all the commotion and drama surrounding The Specials reunion tour of the UK, its important to note that Madness are already out on the road with many shows scheduled around the world this year (Hello Poland!) and they are busy promoting the release of their new album 'The Liberty of Norton Folgate' which is their first new music (if you don't count The Dangermen) in ten years. The band have also announced the final line-up for Madstock in Victoria Park this July.

The band are currently on tour in Australia playing their first shows there in more than 20 years. Reviews have been incredibly positive including this one from Aussie music Web site and from While the band are not the headliners on the festival shows they are playing in Australia, they are being received like headliners. The exciting news for fans is that the band are working in songs from the 'Norton Folgate' LP including the new single 'Dust Devil" as well as album tracks 'NW5', 'Forever Young' and 'Clerkenwell Polka'.

Here is the actual set-list from the V Festival show in Melbourne, Australia on March 31, 2009:

Below is video of the band performing the track 'Forever Young' from the Norton Folgate record at the V Festival in Melbourne on March 31st, 2009. Note the sub bass player for Mark Bedford.

Once they return from Down Under, the band will embark on a European Tour that culminates this summer with shows back in the UK at Glastonbury and finally at Madstock. The band have just announced the final line-up which includes The Pogues and U.S ska sensations The Aggrolites who made an impression on the band when they opened shows for The Dangerman tour of the U.S. a few years back. There is a rumor that either Jerry Dammers Spatial AKA Arkestra or The Specials may make a surprise appearance at Madstock, but neither Madness nor Dammers/The Specials has confirmed it. I hope they do as it would be the best way to celebrate 30 years of 2-Tone.

You can get tickets for Madstock online here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Liberty of Norton Folgate Film Starring Madness To Be Screened at London International Film Festival 2009

What a year 2009 is shaping up to be for fans of The Specials and Madness. As The Specials gear up for their UK tour which kicks off next week, Madness fans are just now receiving their copies of 'The Liberty Of Norton Folgate" box set in their mailboxes. Now news that Julien Temple’s film version of 'The Liberty Of Norton Folgate' is complete, and will be screened at the London Independent Film Festival on Friday April 17th. Muliti-award winning director Temple (Joe Strummer, The Filth and the Fury) is an icon of the British film making scene, and widely regarded as one of the world's foremost music documentary filmmakers.

The Liberty of Norton Folgate was shot with a minimal crew on a low budget. A true indie pic all the way. The screening of the film is from 9 to 10:15 pm after which Temple and members of Madness will be do a questions and answers session for one hour. If you live in London or will be in the city this Friday you can still buy tickets here.

According to the London International Film Festival Web site the movie was filmed in London's Hackney Empire and will tell tales of a city born in blood, mud and immigrant dreams. The inherent pop sensibility of Madness is woven through a sinuous journey of cultural reference and influence, to deliver a truly new chapter of pandemonium! Join artistes, musicians, orchestral ensembles, top hatted scoundrels, pearly kings & queens, ladies of the night and hundreds of dancing, skanking Londoners on a journey through Madness's musical past, present and future, culminating in a celebration of difference, of variety, and of the human spirit – a slice of urban magic.

Temple has also released a statement about the film: Madness are about to release a new album after 16 years, which consists of an interrelated, song cycle about London called 'The Liberty of Norton Folgate'. Although the songs are on one level about different areas of London, they focus musically on the waves of immigration to the city - Irish, Jewish, Caribbean, Asian etc and the musical legacy they have contributed to the city.

Although a concert film, it hopefully has more ambition than the genre usually allows. We mounted the concert at the Hackney Empire and tried to create a show with powerful connections to the grand Music Hall traditions of the place, reaching back to Marie Lloyd and Dan Leno, situating Madness where they belong, clearly within a uniquely English Popular Musical Culture with its roots in the Victorian period.

To achieve this, Music hall and old London Street characters were placed within the audience reacting to the show and at times, performing on stage with the band. Working with the East London artist collective Legun, we created complex projected images to accompany each song which reflect the evolving history of popular London culture. These played behind the band, commenting on and provoking questions about each song.

Weaving through the concert, Suggs and Carl, take us back in time to the London of Karl Marx and Jack the Ripper. Humourously introducing the subject of each song, they take us on a tour through the psycho geography of the Old East End, Spitalfields, Smithfield, Wapping, Bethnal Green, ending down on the beaches of the Thames beyond Tower Bridge.

Finally, once we had an edit of the concert we took the film out on to the streets at night and re-film edit, projected on walls, pavements, textures, bridges, alley ways, old cinemas, musical halls and pubs etc. As a result the concert reaches out into the city, allowing Madness to perform their songs about London's past on parts of the city which have survived into the present, to a passing flow of modern Londoners below.

If you happen to see the film, please share a review here.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Marco On The Bass Podcast Series: Obscure UK Ska Gems Of The 2-Tone Era

This week's podcast takes a slight turn to the more obscure 2-Tone era ska that was released in the UK during 1980-81 time frame when the sound was at its peak around the British Isles. I've gathered together songs from 11 bands and artists who were on the periphery of the 2-Tone mainstream. However, just because they were outside the mainstream and lacked radio play did not mean that they were not good songs. Its a shame that more of the songs in this week's mix didn't reach a wider audience. Better later than never.

This podcast includes UK ska and reggae bands that you probably have not heard of before (The Javelins, Errol Ross and The Details) as well as a few that made a dent but did not get the attention they deserved like The Equators, The Ammonites and The Akrylykz. Most of these bands did not garner any radio airplay and fewer headlined any big shows (short of Rico who was touring with The Specials and The Equators who toured with other Stiff Records bands).Of particular note are two bands fronted by women. Bette Bright (backed by the Madness production team) and The Belle Stars (featuring ex-members of The Bodysnatchers) definitely had the connections and the material to be bigger than they were. What's interesting about the group of bands highlighted in this mix are the links and associations that many of them have to established 2-Tone bands, songwriters or producers.

Here are highlights about the bands and performers in this week's podcast:

The Javelins - Not much is know about The Javelins. They were a UK-based ska band that was signed to Eddy Grant's Ice Records and only recorded one single, a cover version of Dandy Livingstone's 1967 ska song 'You're No Hustler'. It's clear that Grant produced the track as it includes his hallmark heavy electronic bass sound.

Errol Ross - An established Jamaican engineer and producer who moved to the UK in the 1970's. He was well known in 2-Tone circles for producing several tracks off The Selecter's first album. He also recorded a number of his own songs including this 2-Tone era rocker called 'Round In Circles' which has a great funky 2-Tone meets disco groove thanks to its bass line and hot horns.

The Details - One of the most obscure UK 2-Tone era bands. They recorded a cover of the Spencer Davis Band track which hit #1 in the UK charts in the late 60's (which ironically was written for Spencer Davis by ska and reggae musician Jackie Edwards). The song was recorded and promoted during the 1981 London Marathon, hence the song title.

The Equators - The most talented and most overlooked band of the entire 2-Tone era in the UK. A band that influenced any number of bands that followed in their wake including The Beat in the UK and The Untouchables in the U.S. Their brilliant cover version of Eddy Grant's original 'Baby Come Back' with The Equals connects the circle of great black pop music made by the Caribbean diaspora in the UK.

Rico - Rico's single 'Sea Cruise' for 2-Tone was one of the most accomplished releases on the label (though it did not chart) and The Specials frequently played it live and even recorded it for a John Peel Session. In keeping with the 2 Tone traditions of covers the title track was an old rock'n'roll vocal track by Huey Smith.

The Belle Stars - An all female British pop band founded in London in 1980 by former members of 2-Tone band The Bodysnatchers. The band's debut single for Stiff Records, 'Hiawatha/Big Blonde' was released in the late spring of 1981, produced by the Madness production team of Clive Langer & Alan Winstanley. The band promoted the single by playing support for The Beat and Madness. The A side 'Hiawatha' was a Bodysnatchers original and is very close to the version that The Bodysnatchers played live.

Arthur Kay & The Originals - Along with Judge Dread, Arthur Kay was one of the first musicians in the UK to embrace ska and reggae. A 60's era mod and scooterist he was attending gigs at London's Ram Jam club long before the ska revival and working as a session musician for Trojan Records. His single 'Play My Record' was released during the frenzy around the first 2-Tone records and never received its proper due. Kay still performs live in the U.K.

Bette Bright & The Illuminations - The single 'Hello, I am Your Heart' was Bette's only hit in the UK, recorded with a backing band that included Madness producer Clive Langer on rhythm guitar and future Lightning Seed Ian Broudie on guitar on this jaunty piece of ska-pop (which would be a great cover for Lily Allen to consider covering). Bette later married Suggs from Madness in 1982, and slipped quietly into pop history.

The Ammonites - Brighton's ska pop phenomenon who had the look and the sound to go much farther than they did. Along with The Piranhas they helped to establish ska in the famous seaside resort. Their cover of The Ethiopians 'Hong Kong Flu' is taken from a long lost rehearsal tape from 1980 that was recently unearthed.

AK Band - This is the AK Band's first recording from 1980. They were a British power pop trio who played 2Tone inspired ska with no horn section or keys that was reminiscent of The Police.

The Akrylykz - Hull's 2-Tone era band featuring future Fine Young Cannibal's singer Roland Gift on vocals and saxophone. The song 'Smart Boy' was the band's one single on Polydor in 1980 and the vinyl is inscribed with the words "Eat your heart out 2Tone"

Here is the track list for the podcast:

The Javelins - You're A Hustler (1980)
Errol Ross - Round In Circles (1980)
The Details - The London Marathon (Keep On Running) (1981)
The Equators - Baby Come Back (1981)
Rico - Sea Cruise (1980)
The Belle Stars - Hiawatha (1981)
Arthur Kay & The Originals - Play My Record (1980)
Bette Bright & The Illuminations - Hello I Am Your Heart (1980)
The Ammonites - Hong Kong Flu (1980)
AK Band - Pink Slippers (1980)
The Akrylykz - Smart Boy (1980)

Marco On The Bass Podcast #7

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Specials On Jools Holland Night #2 - Sparkling Versions of 'Man At C&A' and 'Little Bitch'

Night two of The Specials live performance on Jools Holland far surpassed the first night. Perhaps it was the choice of songs (a spine tingling version of 'Man At C&A' and a energized version of 'Little Bitch') or maybe it was the growing overall excitement that the reunion is a reality. Whatever it may be, the band is clearly ready to get on with the tour. Rumor has it the band will be recording and releasing a live album from the UK tour. If that's true it should be a great album.

It was good to see that the band decided to let Roddy, Horace and Lynval conduct the interview with Holland. They all have something to add and contribute to the band's legacy and I was getting concerned that all the media coverage was focusing on the Terry Hall vs. Jerry Dammers angle of the reunion to the detriment of engaging the other band members in their take on the reunion and the band's legacy. That said, Holland did raise the issue of Dammers absence with the band and related that he had heard from him. I thought the band managed the question as well as they could under the circumstances.

Have a look at the performance and the interview below.

Man At C&A

Interview with Jools Holland:

Little Bitch:

Thanks again to Mondo De Muebles blog for the MP3 links for performances of both songs from the show. The links are below:

The Specials - Jools Holland Live 11/4/09

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Specials Perform Live on British TV Providing Preview For 2009 UK Tour

The reunited version of The Specials finally unveiled themselves live on British TV on Tuesday night performing 'Gangsters' and 'Message To You Rudie' on Jools Holland Live on the BBC. The band, who were nicely suited and booted and featured a horn section and a look alike sub for Jerry Dammers, played faithful and understated versions of two of their classic songs. The band will appear on the show again tonight to perform 'Little Bitch' and 'Man At C&A' and will conduct an interview with Holland.

Fan reaction has been mostly positive, though a few have felt the performance was lacking the proper enthusiasm. To be fair to the band, this was only the 2nd time in 25 years that they had played live in front of a crowd and TV studios always lack the energy of a club atmosphere. Personally I was happy and relieved to finally see the band playing live after all the anticipation and the angst surrounding Jerry Dammers involvement in the reunion.

Here is video of the performance from Tuesday night. What do you think?

Many thanks to the Mondo De Muebles blog for the MP3 download link of the band's performance on Tuesday night's show below:

The Specials - Jools Holland Show 8/4/09

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Who is Mr Anonymous? -- Exclusive Interview With Jeep MacNichol

It's a long way from the jam band environs of Boulder Colorado to the reggae capital of Kingston, Jamaica, but Mr Anonymous (AKA Jeep MacNichol) has made the physical and musical journey to create and record the ultimate chill-vibe party albums with his reggae music heroes. His first self-titled CD called 'Mr Anonymous' was released in 2005. The second 'Mr Anonymous 2' makes its debut on April 19th.

MacNichol cut his musical chops as the drummer for The Samples in the 1990's when the band was at its peak and building a large and loyal audience from its regular slot on the HORDE tour and its sold out national tours across the U.S. (featuring an unknown opening act named the Dave Matthews Band). Though The Samples fell more squarely into the jam band scene of Phish, Blues Travellers and Dave Matthews Band, MacNichol brought a strong ska and reggae sensibility to the band that can be heard throughout their music.

After leaving The Samples in 1997, MacNichol recorded two solo records and toured the U.S. four times. His second solo record included Michael Rose of Black Uhuru on two tracks and this gave him the inspiration for his latest project. MacNichol tracked the first 'Mr Anonymous' album during a ten-week period in 2003 that involved three separate trips to Jamaica. Teaming up with music legends Sly and Robbie, Bounty Killer, Black Uhuru's Michael Rose and Dave Wakeling from The Beat, he created a unique blend of reggae, trip-hop and dub. He's now followed the first CD up with volume number two which fits nicely into the footsteps of its predecessor. It's an eclectic and creative endeavor that fuses reggae, dancehall, dub, hip-hop and electronica in unique and surprising ways.

Of particular interest to fans of The Beat, will be MacNichol's separate musical collaborations with Dave Wakeling, Ranking Roger and Ranking Jr. Indeed, the song 'Good Vibe' from the first recording sounds like a long-lost, unrecorded classic from The Beat with Wakeling and Michael Rose (from Black Uhuru taking Roger's role) riding an understated guitar and cowbell groove.

Here is video of 'Good Vibe' from the first Mr Anonymous LP:

MacNichol was kind enough to conduct an interview with me about his love of reggae and ska, the genesis of the Mr Anonymous project and whose a better toaster: Ranking Roger or his son Ranking Jr.?

What are you earliest memories related to reggae and ska music? What was the first ska or reggae record you ever bought?
I have a really specific answer to this question. My earliest memory of reggae music was watching Peter Tosh appear on Saturday Night Live with Mick Jagger performing the song "Walk And Don't Look Back". At the time, I was in 7th grade and really had never played a drumset...only bongos which I loved. I remember setting my Craig Cassette player next to the t.v. and taping the song. And then setting up a trashcan drumset in my room to try to play that beat.

Then the following summer, I went on a trip to Canada with my older cousin who brought a boombox and a bunch of reggae cassettes including Burning Spear, Steel Pulse, Bob Marley, etc...and I was HOOKED. I grew up in Toledo Ohio, and the music that I grooved on up to that point was all of the funk coming out of Detroit, Cleveland, and Dayton...bands like Zapp, Lakeside, Stevie Wonder, The Gap band, S.O.S Band, The Barkays, etc. When I got back from the trip, the first "Reggae" album I bought was "Rastaman Vibration" by Bob Marley. I used to STUDY every track on that album. For me the sound of the music was and is very visual, like elements in the jungle, and it really sunk deeply in my soul.

Were you a fan of the 2-Tone bands from the UK? Did they have an influence on your approach to playing the drums or your songwriting?
Yes I was a fan of the 2-Tone bands from the UK. I would have to say The English Beat was at the top of the list because of their reggae influence. The Beat's drummer Everett Moreton was a huge influence on my drumming because his style was and is utterly a mix of reggae meets punk energy. There is not another drummer on the planet who had that "Beat" groove with the 4 on the floor kick and sidestick hits...It is HIS signature style!!! AND musically and vocally the sound of Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger with their signature styles. There are NO other singers on the planet who sound like either one of them, both individually or together. For me the English Beat sound was a jungle meets punk meets carnival island vibe, all wrapped in one. The songs all had a great sense of pop and melody but were well disguised with punk intensity and energy.

The Samples had a reggae vibe on many of their songs. Was that a direct result of your interest in reggae music?
Absolutely. As far as drumming, my biggest influences were Stewart Copeland and Carleton Barrett (The Wailers) so anything I laid down was going to have a taste of that vibe for sure. The keyboardest (Al Laughlin) was also a huge contributor to the reggae element in The Samples. I would say I grooved off of his playing more than anything because he played keyboard like a percussionist and rocked the bubble. He had a sense of what NOT to play as much as what TO play, and his style was very percussive and visual which inspired me to augment those flavors.

What gave you the original inspiration to record the first Mr Anonymous CD? Did you already have connections in Jamaica? What were the first sessions like? Was it mostly improvised on the spot?
Well the first Mr. Anonymous album really FELL together in a lot of ways. I didn't really pre-plan the concept at the beginning like "here are a bunch of tunes that I'm going to take to Jamaica and get singers to perform on". It initially started out as another "Jeep" album. I had already recorded two heavier "Space Pop" albums after I left The Samples and toured the punk rock circuit under the name Jeep, and this was going to be a third Jeep album. But creatively, the songs I was writing for the album were more acoustic and melody oriented as well as the grooves more 'Dancehall' oriented. I had collaborated with Michael Rose from Black Uhuru on my previous Jeep album called "Cool And Easy", and I thought it would be fun to do another track with him. Also at the same time(I know this is confusing), I had just gotten off tour from the Jeep "Cool And Easy" tour and had done some shows with Dave Wakeling. I gave him a copy of "Cool And Easy" which he really liked and expressed that he would like to make some music put 2 and 2 together and made the song "Good Vibe" where Michael Rose sings the verse and Dave Wakeling sings the chorus.

From that point everything started to fall into place...Michael put me in touch with Cutty Ranks...Cutty put me in touch with Sly&Robbie...and everything snowballed from there. People started showing up at the studios down there and just introducing themselves and wanting to hear the tracks I had. The concept that I did stick with was capturing pure improv and free-form expression on the mic. When I was in Jamaica, most every singer hadn't heard the track beforehand and just freestyled whatever came to mind. For me that has been the MOST important aspect of the the "Mr. Anonymous" sound because I am a huge believer in capturing the essence of a first take(in the studio). I feel like the purest energy comes from rawness and improv. I think people in general can think and plan the "life" out of situations, and as an artist the first inspiration is always the best, even if it's rough or's real!!! I know there are plenty of musicians and bands like Metallica who will do 100 takes of one song to get the best one, and I honestly don't get's cool that it works for them but just not my vibe....I like roughness and mistakes and slop because that's what life is...not perfection.

You are following in the footsteps of other artists (Paul Simon, The Rolling Stones, The Clash) who looked to Jamaica and reggae for musical inspiration. How were you received in Jamaica?
I have been received really well in Jamaica, at least with the musicians and engineers in the studio. I think the thing musicians latch onto is that I'm not coming down with a bunch of "reggae" or "dancehall" grooves. They like the fact that I have a different sound with my songs and it is refreshing for them. I enjoy taking the skills that the Jamaican singers and DJ's have and throwing them into a different context...especially in a melodic sense because for me the melody is everything. There is always going to be somebody who lays down a FATTER groove or BIGGER bass...but the beauty in the melody of a song is what sticks with me, and the singers I have worked with seem to groove on that same vibe.

The dancehall beats and electronic vibe on the Mr Anonymous CDs is pretty far removed from where you started with The Samples. What has the reaction of hardcore Samples fans been to this project?
I have no idea really. I've heard from old fans who seem to dig what I'm doing, but I really don't know. I don't really keep up on the past I guess as far as old fans and new. The Samples was a great experience for me and a huge part of who I am today...but I really live my life in the moment and enjoy the experiences of today. I also try to stay true to myself first and foremost in terms of the music that I make. At the end of the day, I am the one who has to walk away saying "that track is slamming" regardless of fans liking it or not. Sometimes I feel like artists fall into the trap of trying to please their audience or make the next "hit". My vibe on art in general is that it is a snapshot of a time and sound in life, and it has to ultimately be "real" expression coming from me. If a million people like a song or just one person likes a song, it is still all good!

As a drummer, what's it been like to come out from behind the drum kit to sing, play guitar, bass and produce?
It has been AWESOME....not in the sense of being a "frontman" but more in a creative sense. I have always been a guitar and bass player even when I was in the Samples. It has been fun challenging myself when I was on the road as a singer and guitar player with the "Jeep" band, booking the tours on my own, coordinating press, musicians, rehearsals, etc...kind of like running my own mini label...I really enjoyed it...I guess I felt proud that I was able to pull it off.

As far as the Mr. Anonymous stuff, I am on top of the world, seriously!!! I couldn't feel more blessed than to be able to work with the amazing talents I have been able to link up with. It has been both humbling and empowering to just be in the scenarios I've created like sessions with Sly&Robbie and singers like Bounty Killer, Barrington Levy, and Ranking Roger.

Musically speaking, looking at the whole song as opposed to just the drum track has been great. There are some songs where the emphasis is on the rhythm track and some songs that lean more to the guitars to tell the story. I enjoy approaching each song as it's own album so to speak, kind of like a chef throwing in spices to make the best entree. I'll start with some rice and peas, add some Sky Juice (Black Uhuru percussionist) and a little Robbie Shakespeare, a tad bit of Bounty Killer, and some megaphone or robot voice to finish off the sauce...and the drum track as the final flavor...sometimes a thick slamming beat...sometimes a tasty percussive pulse...always as an augmentation on the song as a whole...but ultimately painting the overall picture. I guess my analogy would be that NOW I am like a painter having the full color spectrum as opposed to just one brush and one paint color to throw on canvas.

Tell me about the tracks you've recorded with Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger individually. How did they come about? As I was listening to the tracks it occurred to me that these songs gave a good sense what a 21st Century version of The Beat might have sounded like if the band stayed together.
Well of the tracks I did with Dave, I already mentioned the song "Good Vibe" in an earlier question. The other funny thing with that tune was that the melody I gave him to sing over the music reminded him of a Duran Duran track. The words "so many reasons why you wanna walk away" are in the exact same melodic riff as the verse in the song "Hungry Like The Wolf"...I'm not a Duran Duran fan but it was funny to have him call me out on it.

One of the other songs we did in that same session was over a different groove for Mr. Anonymous 1. I ended up using some of that session instead on a track on Mr. Anonymous 2 called "Rockin' She Rock" which also features a singer from Senegal named Boubacar Diabate. That track is the epitome of extreme on the new album and very movie soundtrackish. It is a combination of Electro meets Euro Dance and Robotic and very experimental as far as Mr.Anonymous tunes go. I really love the opening of the song with Dave's voice accapella on a beach in England. You can really hear the breaths and emotion in what he sings, and I felt like his voice needed to be showcased without any me a cool cool vibe!

The Ranking Roger tracks were done in Birmingham England and were honestly one of the best experiences of my life. Roger picked me up at my hotel on the first day and took me all over the place. We went to a car shop where his friend's car was being fixed. Then we swung by his old rehearsal spot from the 80's where he shared jam spaces with Sex Pistols, The Clash. Then we went to his place and met his son Murphy (AKA Ranking Jr), then off to his friend Sylvia's in Mosely where we had eggs, coffee, and a couple spliffs...then off to a coffee shop and music store to get his hard drive fixed...then off to a dub record shop where we chilled and listened to all sorts of dub records...then homemade Indian food back at Sylvia's and more grooving and chilling to some dub tracks...basically the whole vibe on that first day was getting to know each other and sussing out each other's vibe.

The next day we did the tracking at Sylvia's under the same circumstances...Nescafe, great food, and flow...I stood out in the backyard while he laid down the vocals at her kitchen table, and I listened to him and the birds outside and watched the rain come in. It was a huge experience for me in so many ways, and honestly I feel like Roger and I are close close friends on every level. We are planning on writing more tunes for sure and both share amazing similarities in music taste and vibe. It was like playing with G.I. Joe's with an old buddy from 3rd grade.

As far as the sound of the tracks being the potential future of The English Beat if they had stayed together?...who knows...maybe? What I can say is that I have huge huge respect for both Roger and Dave when they were in the Beat as well as separate artists. I can also say that I have total respect for moving on from a creative relationship that possibly runs its course. I know I left The Samples for that reason alone. I was burnt on the music and wanted to try something new, and I strongly felt that if I had stayed for other reasons, I would have been cheating myself and the fans and the other band members. I have no idea about the ins and outs of the breakup of The Beat, and it's none of my business anyway. Both Roger and Dave are top of the top in talent. I have been blessed to work with each and plan to continue for sure!

How does Ranking Jr. rate next to his father Ranking Roger as a toaster/chatter?
Ranking Jr. has some serious SKILLS...He is like a modern day Ranking Roger with a sound representative of the past and the present. I can here his influences coming from modern artists from Jamaica akin to Beenie Man, etc. as opposed to his father's influences like Dillinger, etc. His toasting delivery can be like machine gun fire with pin point clarity...and his singing voice has the softness and smoothness of his father's, with uncannily similar inflections. Rating him against his father is like rating Mohammed Ali with Roy Jones Jr. in the boxing the signature sound vs.the modern day version of the signature sound. Both are equally impressive in their own right and with a bloodline that rings true between both.

What was it like to have Sly and Robbie as a rhythm section on a song? What are they like to work with?
Sly and Robbie are awesome and very chill all the time. They were extremely personable and relaxed...very easy to chat and hang with....As a rhythm section, I only used them on one track on Mr. Anonymous 2. It was the song called "Breeze And River" that Ranking Roger ended up being the singer on. I tracked with them when they were out in Colorado on a tour a couple years ago. Before the session, we went to a grocery store to get wheat grass shots and juices for them. Sly and I chatted about the sounds he used on Black Uhuru's album "Sinsemilla", the syndrum parts he's famous for... Back at the studio, we laid down the groove in one take, and I played the guitar live with them which was great. At the beginning of the track, you can hear Sly doing the count off and telling Robbie that I am playing live which I decided to keep on the record. At the time I had no idea who was going to be the singer, but I had the music in my head, and I wanted a similar groove to Gregory Isaacs' song "Soon Forward". I also styled my guitar picking similar to the clavinet part on a song called "Big Brother" by Stevie Wonder. They were both really happy with the session and Sly was psyched on my drum kit which he used that day. He borrowed my hi hats that night for his show. They are both down to earth good friends for sure.

Any plans to perform any of these songs live or to tour?
Yes we are starting to perform live as we speak. Because of the nature of the albums with different singers on each track, we are presenting Mr. Anonymous as a live DUB show. In a sense it is like a DJ performance of a mixtape. My DJ and coproducer "21 Dread" basically lays down and dub's out the basic sessions on turntables and laptop. I play live drums and augment with some Robot vocal. It's been a great rebirth for me on the drums because playing live with a DJ requires a whole different approach. The HUGE backbeat and FAT BASS rhythms come from 21 dread...and my job as a drummer is to augment with polyrhthms and counter beats. Sonicly, I envision it simliarly to a drummer from Fela(Nigerian artist) or a jazz drummer like Art Blakey playing tribal beats and thinking almost symphonicly. I use sticks, brushes,mallets, and a lot of "staccato Ninja" stylings of psychadelic bossa nova meets Style Scott One drop definitely a trippy groove show.

Here is the video of 'Bring The Youth' from the first Mr Anonymous LP:

Here is video for the first single 'Discotheque from Mr Anonymous 2:

Here is the track listing for the Mr Anonymous 2 CD

1. Cool Vibe – Mega Banton and Jeep
2. One Pretty Woman – Ranking Jr.
3. Pinchers Version – Pinchers
4. Be Honest – Brando
5. Blaze Dub – Mega Banton
6. Discotheque – Afrobot & Jeep
7. Chi Widdley Bup – Ranking Roger
8. Senegal To Jupiter – Boubacar Diabate & Afrobot
9. Breeze And River – Sly & Robbie and Ranking Roger
10. Rockin She Rock – Dave Wakeling & Boubacar Diabat
11. Chi Widdley Bup (”4 on the floor” Remix) – Ranking Roger

You can learn more about the Mr Anonymous project and purchase CD's and other merchandise at the Mr Anonymous web site . You can hear more tracks from both records at the Mr Anonymous MySpace site.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Save It For Later - The Story Behind Pete Townshend's Cover of A Classic By The Beat

The Beat's third album 'Special Beat Service' remains the most ambitious and diverse of the three records they released between 1980 and 1982. While both 'I Just Can't Stop It' and 'Whappen' stayed true to the band's manifesto of mixing politics with punky reggae and world beat sounds, by early 1982 things were changing and they were moving into the realm of personal politics with their third record.

While their 2-Tone brethren were quickly falling by the wayside and imploding, The Beat (and to a certain extent Madness), seemed prepared for the change in listeners tastes. While there were certainly internal issues within The Beat and some resistance from certain band members about their new direction, the band embarked on a musical journey that left their frenetic punky reggae and tropical sounds behind to embrace guitar driven pop music. While there were still flourishes of ska, reggae and Caribbean sounds, they now added touches of color rather than dominating the sound.

While the band was struggling to gain traction with their new sound in the UK, it was a very different story in the U.S. where the singles from 'Special Beat Service' slotted in nicely between Joe Jackson's 'Night & Day' album and the upbeat, horn driven pop of Haircut 100's 'Pelican West'. The Beat were part of the UK 'new wave' invasion and they suddenly had songs in the Top 40 of the U.S. charts. Two songs in particular resonated with American audiences -- 'Save It For Later' and 'I Confess' -- though they could not have been farther afield from what audiences and critics had come to expect from them.

These were not ska songs by any stretch of the imagination, but they were brilliant pop songs and soon took on a life of their own that established the band in the U.S. The videos for both songs were played widely on MTV and they soon entered the American music consciousness. In particular the song 'Save It For Later' sounded unlike anything else on American radio or on MTV. It seemed to connect with listeners in a way that earlier songs by the band had not. The song sounded like the love child of The Byrds and The Velvet Underground and included double entendre and innuendo that was novel for a song on the pop charts.

Dave Wakeling was once asked about the meaning of the song 'Save It For Later'. He replied, "I wrote it when I was a teenager. I wrote it before The Beat started. And it was about turning from a teenager to someone in their 20s, and realizing that the effortless promise for your teenage years was not necessarily going to show that life was so simple as you started to grow up. So it was about being lost, about not really knowing your role in the world, trying to find your place in the world. So, you couldn't find your own way in the world, and you'd have all sorts of people telling you this, that, and the other, and advising you, and it didn't actually seem like they knew any better. So it was like keep your advice to yourself. Save it - for later."

Despite the critical acclaim, it was too little, too late for The Beat, who broke up in July 1983 following a successful appearance at that summer's US Festival and right before an invitation to support David Bowie on the second leg of his 'Serious Moonlight' tour. However, like any great song, 'Save It For Later' soon took on a life of its own separate from the band. It was in the hands of Pete Townshend, that the song seemed to meet its destiny. Indeed, Townshend seemed to be the right artist at the right time in his career to sing the song as it was written to be sung.

According to the blog Locust Street, Townshend's decision to pull the plug on the Who in 1982 seemed to liberate him for a time. His solo records already had been stronger than Who LPs for at least a decade, and right before releasing the damp squib which was the 'Who's It's Hard', Townshend put out the weirdest thing he'd ever done, an album called 'All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes', filled with desultory songs about failure and age, all with rambling, sometimes unmoored lyrics. The finest track was "Slit Skirts," about how the singer and his woman no longer felt they could go out in their leather. "Can't pretend that growing old never hurts."

A few years later, Townshend was on stage at a charity gig in Brixton, and performed "Save it For Later," a recent hit from The Beat. Townshend sheared the song down to its skeleton, hanging the lyric on one repeated guitar figure. Singing in a harrowed but calm voice, Townshend lingers on the lyric's odd phrases infusing the line "your legs give way/you hit the ground" with weary resignation, and taking the lyric's silly sex joke and turning it into a vulnerable plea.

The song soon became a regular staple of Townshend's live set and he later released both studio and live versions of his rendition (the song has also been covered by Pearl Jam and 90's alt-rockers Harvey Danger). Below are the studio and live versions of Townshend's version of the song:

Amazingly, Townshend had trouble learning the odd guitar tuning for the song and unexpectedly called Wakeling up on the phone to have him walk him through it. The story of that call and the songs odd tuning are related below by Dave Wakeling during a radio interview a few years ago:

Below is a link to where you can listen to and purchase a copy of Pete Townshend's 'White City' album which contains his amazing version of 'Save It For Later':