Thursday, March 31, 2011

Please Support The 'Legends Of Ska: House Of Joy' Documentary

I don't often use this blog as a soapbox but I do want to draw your attention to a creative endeavor that I believe is worth a few minutes of your time and perhaps a few of your hard earned dollars/pounds/euros. But first, please take a minute or two and watch this video.

'Legends Of Ska: House Of Joy' is a documentary film directed and produced by long-time ska and reggae DJ, promoter, lecturer and fan Brad Klein. Inspired by the Buena Vista Social Club and Ken Burn's Jazz series on American Public Television, Klein decided in 2002 to produce and film the largest vintage ska show ever, bringing together an unprecedented number of the original veterans of ska including Monty Alexander, Derrick Morgan, Stranger Cole, Prince Buster, Alton Ellis, Justin Hinds, Patsy Dodd, Owen Gray and more. Klein was fortunate to raise enough money to present the 'Legends of Ska' concerts in Toronto, Canada over a long weekend during the summer of 2002. The review in the Jamaica Gleaner was outstanding and the event was named '2002 Concert of the Year' by Now Toronto.

Klein initially thought reuniting the greatest collection of original Jamaican ska singers and musicians in one place was going to be the hardest part of the documentary process, but it turned out to be the easiest. Raising the money to complete this project through traditional means has not worked out which is why he has turned to Kickstarter for additional crowd-sourced funding.

Currently, all principal photography has been completed and the film is in post-production. Klein estimates he needs $50,000 to complete the project and so far he has raised close to $10,000 through Kickstarter. Note that ALL the money raised from Kickstarter will go directly towards completing the film. Klein's priority is to finish editing the film by late summer 2011, then hit the film festival circuit. The funding will also cover the sound mix, high definition transfers and marketing. Watch a trailer for the documentary:

I recently connected with Klein to find out more about his love of ska and the genesis of the 'Legends Of Ska' documentary project and how ska fans can finally help him finish the documentary. Read on...


What is your personal connection to ska?
I listened to 2-Tone 30 years ago, then REALLY got into original Jamaican ska 20 years ago, before hosting my own Ska radio program during the Third Wave.

Do you remember the very first time you heard ska? Do you remember the first record or live show you ever saw?
Urban Blight from NYC did a lot of ska tunes and I saw them many times at The Haunt in Ithaca. Bim Skala Bim, The Toasters and The Crazy 8s also came through town. Never forgot my first Fishbone show at First Avenue in Minneapolis. Total ENERGY!

What was the inspiration for the documentary?
Right after interviewing Derrick Morgan live on the radio (KUOM-AM) in late 2000, I wondered out loud when someone was going to make a film on the music we love. That was my "light bulb" moment and I have worked on the project ever since. That interview is available on the film web site

What was the response from many of the musicians who are featured in the documentary when you first approached them with the idea for the film?
"Ya mon. Set it up!"

What kind of input/feedback have you gotten from the ska community about the project?
They all say they like it and can't wait to see the finished film. Problem is, it has been extremely difficult to raise the funds needed to finish the film. That is why I am now turning to Kickstarter for crowd funding. I thought the film was going to be completed years ago. It has been a long time since the Legends of Ska concerts were held in Toronto during the summer of 2002, but I still get emails from people who were at the shows and that keeps me going forward.

There's a who's who of ska artists and musicians in the documentary. How hard or easy was it to get them all on board with the project? 
That was really fun. Digging around, calling people who might know this singer or a specific musician. This all happened before Facebook, so there were many dead ends. But it was a great feeling to get the right phone numbers for guys like Derrick Harriott or Lord Creator. The phone would be ringing and all of a sudden I would hear a distinct voice say "Hello," and I thought BINGO!

Its taken ten years to complete the film ahead of pre-production. For the uninitiated, can you explain a little bit about the process behind how a documentary film is produced and what keeps you busy during that time?
Most of the actual filming was completed years ago. Editing takes a long time and can drive you nuts, but that is where it all comes together. The constant hustling for financing is also a major hassle. A producer does 90 percent of everything for a film and 90 percent of that is raising the cash. It is exhausting.

Can you share any unusual or particularly memorable experiences from filming the documentary?
The Legends of Ska concerts took place over four magical days. Everybody made it to Canada happy and healthy, with everyone knowing that this was their official reunion party.

In your opinion, what is ska's enduring musical legacy?
Reggae would not have happened without Ska, and though it was originally a heavy mix of jazz and American R&B, the singers and musicians made it into their own distinct sound.

Tell me a bit about the Kickstarter project? What will the funding you still need go towards?
It costs real money to make a film and I have always used professionals every step of the way to ensure that the quality of the production is top notch. The money raised from the Kickstarter campaign will go towards final editing, the sound mix, HD blow ups, marketing & all sorts of other expenses which must be dealt with before the film can be released.

Klein has set a goal of having the film finished by August of 2012, which will also mark Jamaica's 50th anniversary as an independent nation. Please consider helping him get the film finished!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wolfgang Buld Captures 2-Tone & Reggae Explosion In Trilogy Of Early 80's Documentaries Featuring The Specials, The Selecter, Madness, Steel Pulse and Aswad

Wolfgang Buld’s trilogy of late 70's music documentaries 'Punk In London', 'Punk In England' and 'Reggae In A Babylon' have recently resurfaced on various websites for viewing in all their original DIY glory (though recently remastered and updated versions with lots of extra bonus material and footage are available for sale). As background, Buld was a film student in Munich in the late 70's when news of the UK punk scene reached Germany.  When the film school he was attending required some documentary features as part of his final course work, he set off to England in 1978 with a film crew in tow to see what was happening for himself. As it turns out, he was in the right place at the right time and in the matter of a few short years he had recorded footage for three distinct documentaries which are must see for any music fans of the era.

Of particular interest to MOTB readers will be the second and third installments of the series.  Filmed in 1980 'Punk In England' documents how the creative energy of 1976-77 era punk captured in the first film was inspiring bands to experiment with new sounds -- particularly ska and reggae.  The second installment is an important companion to 'Dance Craze' and 'Urgh! A Music War' showcasing The Specials performing 'Too Much Too Young', Guns Of Navarone' and 'Gangsters'.  It also includes some pretty incredible interview footage with The Selecter and recording the tracks 'Murder' and 'Too Much Pressure' in the studio. Buld also interviewed a rowdy Madness in a pub and filmed them playing ecstatic versions of 'One Step Beyond', 'The Prince', 'Swan Lake' (both highlighted by the Chas Smash 'nutty dance') and 'My Girl'.  The doc also features The Clash knocking out 'London Calling', 'Complete Control' and 'Police And Thieves' as well as The Jam, The Pretenders, Secret Affair and Ian Dury & The Blockheads all in their heyday.

This is a true 'punk' documentary and it has a 'you are here' look and feel. As such Buld provides no crawls to identify any band playing or to indicate who the talking heads might be (though fans of the era should have little trouble). Watch the entire doc below:

Buld's 'Reggae In A Babylon' provides a fantastic look at the birth of homegrown British reggae which was recently documented in the excellent 'Reggae Britania' series. Featuring performances by a very young Steel Pulse (circa 1978 without dreadlocks!), Jimmy LindsayAswad and the Lover's Rock teen trio 15-16-17, the third installment in the trilogy is a natural progression from the first two films given the social and musical impact reggae had on punk and 2-Tone. What's striking is the sense of purpose displayed by the members of Steel Pulse.  These are serious musicians making really good music. They talk about being held back by limiting factors like reluctant DJs and outlets for bands. The answer is a system of records and soundsystem parties (which Buld gets on film) that allowed UK reggae fans to gather and hear the new music being made on a more underground level. Watch the entire documentary below:

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Tide Is High: Blondie Cover The Paragons Rocksteady Classic And Hit #1

If memory serves, I first heard Blondie's reggae pop cover version of The Paragons rocksteady classic 'The Tide Is High' at a roller rink when it was released 30 years ago.  My friends and I went through a rollerskating phase. It was a way to try and meet girls, but it was also as close as we could get to a music club atmosphere. Though the rink DJ played a lot of late 70's rock, the play list was also chock full of early 80's new wave. I seem to remember 'The Tide Is High' getting an awful lot of airplay, particularly during the 'Ladies Skate' section of the night.  I've always been a fan of the Blondie version of the song and I've always particularly liked the slightly warped sound of the horns (to my ears anyway) which gives it the dusty feel of a wobbly old 45 without actually sounding consciously 'retro'. 

While Blondie has never been accused of being a bastion of artistic integrity, the band more or less managed to maintain their ideals, and like The Clash incorporated reggae and early hip-hop into their sound. Their song 'Rapture' made them one of the first bands to acknowledge New York's up-and-coming rap scene, which is an amazing feat when you consider it was released in 1981.  However before 'Rapture' there was 'The Tide Is High' which brought the sound of reggae to American radio airwaves again.  And like Paul Simon nearly ten years earlier with 'Mother And Child Reunion', Blondie's embrace of late 60's Jamaican rock steady took them to the top of the charts.

First a bit of history. The Paragons were one of Jamaica's first vocal groups and were heavily influenced by American soul music and the tight vocal harmonies of other Jamaican groups of the early 1960s. After shifting from their soulful sound and working with producer Duke Reid, they became one of the most popular rocksteady group in Jamaica. Originally composed of Garth Evans. Bob Andy, Junior Menz, and Leroy Stamp, the group really took off when they added John Holt. Holt has voiced and penned so many of Jamaica's rocksteady and reggae classics that in a way, he helped define the island's sound. In addition to penning 'The Tide Is High', Holt also wrote 'Wear You To The Ball' and may be best known for his cover of 'Stick By Me'. He later recorded a selection of cover songs titled '1,000 Volts Of Holt' like 'Help Me Make It Through The Night' which was a hit in the U.K. Below are videos of The Paragons original version of 'The Tide Is High' from 1967 and the version that U-Roy toasted over in the early 70's.

Deborah Harry and Chris Stein of Blondie expressed an early interest in reggae.  Their 'Eat To The Beat' album from 1978 marked the bands first foray into reggae, with ’Die Young, Stay Pretty’. The song almost sounds out of place on the rest of the album. In fact, according to the VH-1 'Behind The Music' program on the band, Blondie toyed with recording 'Heart Of Glass' in a reggae style (check out this earlier version of the song which includes hints of funk and reggae) but their producer Mike Chapman reportedly told them reggae didn't sell in America! Nevertheless, the bands interest in reggae and ska continued. According to an interview Harry did about the inspiration for recording 'The Tide Is High':
“It was through Chris that we came to do ‘Tide is High', notes Harry, “because he had been over to England in the early seventies and he’d come back with all these records. I think they were like Virgin compilations of reggae songs, and so I think that was when I heard ‘Tide is High’ and we decided to use that. But you know reggae was also getting some airplay on some of the radio stations in New York at that time so it wasn’t a totally inaccessible sound to us. But those records that Chris brought back really got us thinking about doing it for ourselves.”
Before embarking on recording the song on their own, rumor has it that Stein and Harry approached another band to record the track with them.  Stein revealed in a 2008 Mojo Magazine article that he and Harry, who were both fans of The Specials and 2-Tone ska, approached The Specials (who were their label mates at Chrysalis Records) to serve as the backing band for the track with Harry on vocals. The Specials apparently turned them down.  But imagine if they had taken them up on the offer? The Specials might have had a #1 hit in both the U.S. and the U.K!

The band recorded the song in Los Angeles and spent a considerable amount of time getting it just right. According to an article from Mix Magazine about the recording of 'The Tide Is High':
Part of the pre-production for 'The Tide Is High' included listening to a cassette of the original version, for reference and for inspiration. The Paragons' song, written by John Holt, is a straight reggae tune, with its syncopated, persistent groove and soulful harmonies. To make it their own, Blondie added a horn section, strings and more percussion, not to mention Harry's lively singing.
The horns were played by six members of  the Johnny Carson 'Tonight Show' band. Stein also stated that the song includes "eight tracks of drum sticks tapping on a piano bench."

The song was included on the 'Autoamerican' album and went Platinum, rising to Number 7 in the United States and Number 3 on the UK charts in early 1981. The song 'The Tide Is High' became one of two Number One hits off the album; the other was the 11-minute 'Rapture.' Below is the Blondie video. You gotta love the random 'Darth Vader' cameo which made the video one of the strangest ever made.

The band tried out the ska sound again in 1982 with the song 'Island Of Lost Souls' which made the Top 40 in the U.S. and #11 in the U.K.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Selecter Featuring Pauline Black and Gaps Hendrickson To Release New Single 'Big In The Body, Small In The Mind'

2-Tone fans everywhere have reason to celebrate!  Pauline Black and Gaps Hendrickson's version of The Selecter has just released a sneak preview video promoting the release of a brand new single 'Big In The Body, Small In The Mind' ( a cover of the Woody Guthrie song 'Fascists Bound To Lose') which will be released on May 30th, 2011. The song will be performed live for the first time during the band's headlining performance at the upcoming Strummercamp Festival 2011 on Sunday May 29th (the festival also features headlining shows by the UK Subs on Friday May 27th and Geno Washington & The Ram Jam Band on Saturday May 28th).  In addition to touring, the band are also slated to release a cover version of Amy Winehouse's 'Back To Black' (which rivals the original version in my book) later this summer and Black will also release her autobiography 'Black By Design' on August 4th (which is already available for pre-sale through

It will be just like 1981 again as The Specials and both versions of The Selecter (Neol Davies' version of The Selecter is also planning to tour) crisscross the U.K. and Europe this Summer and early Fall. Below are tour dates for the Black and Hendrickson's version of the band. Note the highlighted dates for single releases as well as Black's book launch.

Apr 17th Corn Exchange Ipswich, UK
Apr 30th Stortford Music Festival Bishop's Stortford,UK
May 1st Pure Sunderland,UK
May 6th De Boederij Zoetermeer, Holland
May 7th Mano Mundo Festival Antwerp, Belgium
May 8th Mama's Pride Festival Geleen, Holland
May 14th Southall Black Sisters Benefit(acoustic) Stoke Newington Town Hall
May 18th Circolo degli Artisti Rome, Italy
May 19th Officine Cantelmo Lecce, Italy
May 20th Velvet Rimini, Italy
May 21st Pieffe Factory Gorizia, Italy
May 28th Bristol Veg Fest Bristol, UK
May 29th Strummercamp 2011 Manchester Rugby Club
May 30th 'Big In The Body, Small In The Mind' Single release date
June 18th T.J's Leeds, UK
June 19th Willowman Festival Northallerton, UK
June 26th Genk On Stage Festival Genk, Belgium
July 1st Chichester Jazz Festival Chichester, UK
July 2nd Beat-Herder Festival Gisburn, Lancs
July 8th Grand Parade Skegness, UK
July 9th Rhythm Of The World Festival Hitchin, UK
July 16th Dour Festival Dour, Belgium
July 23rd Islington Academy London,UK
July 29th Klinkers Festival Bruges, Belgium
July 30th 'Back To Black' Single release date
July 31st Camp Bestival Dorset, UK
Aug 4th "Black By Design" book release date Serpent's Tail
Aug 14th Boomtown Fair Newbury, UK
Aug 20th TBC UK
Aug 22nd Edinburgh International Book Festival Edinburgh, UK
Sept 2nd Quarterhouse Folkestone, UK
Sept 3rd Enfield Town Show Enfield, UK
Oct 6-16th European Tour TBA Europe
Oct 22nd WAMA High Wycombe
Nov 4th Corn Exchange (with The Blockheads) Bedford, UK
Nov 18th Town Hall Birmingham, UK
Dec 17th SandBay Leisure Resort Kewstone, nr. Weston-Super-Mare

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Specials From The Inside: Interview with Paul 'Willo' Williams Author of "You're Wondering Now: The Specials From Conception To Reunion'

Everyone I have ever met who is a truly devoted and passionate fan of 2-Tone and ska tends to have followed a similar path. Like alien abductees, we all remember in great clarity and detail that singular moment when we heard The Specials first album for the very first time. And almost to a person, I have noted that the lightning bolt 'religious' experience of hearing that record has stayed with us and shaped our lives. For me it was when a friend at school played me The Specials first album in late 1979 (I sat opened mouth and was actually a bit afraid!).  I rushed out and bought my own copy and that started a regular routine every Friday after school when I haunted the local record store near my house. I pestered and annoyed the clerks there so much about The Specials that when they saw me coming they would suggest new records for me to buy. This was the start of my ska and 2-Tone education and it lead me to where I am today.

Paul "Willo' Williams is a fellow traveler and 2-Tone devotee. He is best known for writing the book 'You're Wondering Now - A History of The Specials: From Conception To Reunion' which was re-published and updated in 2009 in conjunction with the band's 30th reunion tour. Though we lived thousands of miles part, our love of 2-Tone and the impact it has had on us throughout our lives is striking (in fact one of my favorite parts of the book is a section titled 'A Testament Of Youth' where Williams collects the personal stories from a number of people including Damon Albarn, Tricky, Gary 'Mani' Mounfield, Jake Burns and others about why The Specials really were so special). Williams first exposure to The Specials sent him on a path that has included being an author, promoter, commentator and lifelong fan of 2-Tone, ska music and British skinhead subculture.

Williams love of ska and 2 Tone started in 1980, when at 13 years old he snuck out of his parents' home in York and travelled to nearby Bridlington, where he saw The Specials perform live. The event had a long-lasting and profound effect on him. In the 1990s, he created, wrote and distributed his own quarterly ska and 2 Tone fanzine 'Street Feeling' from his back room. In 1995, he wrote 'You're Wondering Now - A History of The Specials'. It received many favorable reviews, including three stars from "Q Magazine", and was used to compile the band history section on the official Specials website. The book is now a collectors' item. 'You're Wondering Now' was the first book to fully document The Specials history and it pays equal attention to the bands that followed their break up - Fun Boy Three, The Special AKA, JB's Allstars, The Colour Field, Vegas, and so on. The book also includes one of the most complete Specials discographies.

With The Specials 2011 tour scheduled to kick-off later this year, I thought it was high time I connected with Williams to get some answers that have been on many fans minds -- Is this really the last tour? Why didn't the band record an album of new material?  Will Jerry Dammers join the band for any shows? Will The Specials tour the U.S.?  In his role as co-administrator of The Specials fan web site, Williams has had a unique vantage point. He is in touch with members of the band and their management (he was standing off stage during the band's much heralded 2008 Bestival performance). He is also a fan of the band and serves as a conduit of information and news to the many thousands of fans around the world who visit the site for the latest news about the band and the tour. Williams was kind enough to share his story and his insiders perspective as The Specials prepare for what may be the very last tour of their reunion later this year. But first....

Would you like to win a FREE copy of 'You're Wondering Now - A History of The Specials: From Conception To Reunion'?  Read the whole interview as the clue to the answer to the question is contained somewhere in the interview.  More details on how to enter at the very bottom of the post.

Without further ado I present Paul 'Willo' Williams:

What has the reunion of The Specials meant to you personally and to a generation of fans (like me) who were just teens when the band emerged in 1979?
On a personal level, its something I thought I'd never ever see in my lifetime. About 7 years or so ago, I got my first inkling of the guys talking and meeting. I was like a kid in a candy store! It was on, it was off. Jerry was in, Jerry wasn't in.  it was a real roller coaster ride for a while. It was a case of just wait and see. Obviously Jerry not joining up took the shine off the matter at first, but I believe it took all 7 members to make the band what it was, so in the end 6 out of 7 was definitely going to do. Being at the concerts for the 2009 dates was unbelievable. The first date in Newcastle was the most emphatic and emotional gig Ive ever been to. Hearing 3,000 people singing in unison to 'Doesn't Make It Alright' - - you'd have to be dead not to be moved by it. The reunion from the very first tentative steps to now has been a joy for me. I think there have been thousands of people who never got see The Specials live originally and this reunion has given them that chance to get a taste of seeing these boys live. Its like a nuclear explosion going off 3 feet from your face! It has introduced so many younger people to the band which is definitely a good thing that will ensure the legacy continues over generations to come. Brilliant.

You've really helped to keep the flame for 2-Tone and The Specials burning for a long time through your fanzine 'Street Feeling'. Tell me a bit about how you got started with that and how difficult was it to publish and distribute in those pre-Internet days?
Ah yes, my other baby! As you say I've always followed and promoted 2-Tone and its members careers over the quiet years and when the ska-boom of the late 80s here in the UK kicked off, it never really went away and we had a really buzzing underground community with plenty of gigs of quality acts to go and see. Fanzines started to crop up but were primarily aimed at the current scene. I wanted to do one that incorporated that but also harked back and rekindled any interest in the 2-Tone bands. It was a fun thing to do, really good. It was time consuming- cutting out rub-on transfer letter titles and headers and cutting up old articles and pics and glueing them in but I loved it. The text was hand typed on an old electric typewriter. I also teased people into buying it by giving away free gifts with each quarterly publication. I had always continued to collect after 2-Tone originally died away so I had a few bootleg tapes and stuff. That helped boost the mag but I couldnt have anticipated its appeal. It went through the roof, gained a huge subscription list and went all over the world. I remember going to the local library at the start of Street Feeling and using the photocopier to print it! 10p a copy! It cost me a small fortune and the queues behind me were immense! I used to make bulk trips to the post office to send them off. The project got me in touch with like minded people, some of them who are still very good friends today. I received great reviews from other Zines and magazines like Record Collector and Scootering. They were good times! I did a website version some time ago but with all my other commitments on the scene I couldnt find time to update.

What inspired you to start writing 'You're Wondering Now' in 1995? Tell me about the research for writing the book? What was the bands impression of you and your plan to write a book?
What struck me was that around that mid 90s we had had books on many ska artists including Madness, Bad Manners but nothing about The Specials and I wanted to put that right in some way. At that time, George Marshall was championing the whole skinhead/punk/ska/reggae/oi scene with his fantastic ST Publishing group. George placed an advert in his Skinhead Times newspaper to say if anyone had an idea for a book then to get in touch with him as he has started publishing books with of course, his "Two Tone Story", the first definitive book to cover the label. I had always written short stories and stuff and had already handwritten a bit of text as a kid! So I contacted him about doing The Specials book and as he was a fan he took me up on it. He was such an inspiration because of his enthusiasm for the project. He gave me John Bradbury's phone number to get me up and running and I remember phoning Brad, all very nervous, and when he answered I spouted a load of undecipherable crap. I couldnt get my words out and he hung up on me! I had to phone him back! We got chatting and Brad seemed up for it so we arranged an interview in London. From there I met Specials former manager Rick Rogers, and he gave me other contact numbers for Roddy and Horace and it went from there. My research came from memory, old articles from music mags, old video footage I trailed through and the interviews I put together. They all seemed cool about the book, after all, it was putting the band back into the highlight at a very quiet time for them. As for their impressions of me, well, I dont know. I would like to think it was all cool.

Who was the real driving force behind the reunion at Bestival 2008? You were there to witness it as well. What was it like to see it all come to fruition? It must have been surreal?
The whole Bestival thing was really exciting. Just to know they were that close to performing again really sent the pulse racing.It was also a chaotic time for us at The Specials forum so it must have been a thousand times worse for the band! It was leaked on the forum that the band were the "surprise act" at Bestival, and the organisers were in touch to get the posts off ASAP! It really had to be kept under wraps because thats what the band and festival organisers wanted and therefore that was the way it had to be but it was THE best gig I've been to. Bar none. It was something I had hoped against hope might happen for so long! I recall getting onto the side of the stage just as 'Gangsters' kicked in and I looked about and I really couldn't take it all in. I was a grown man but what I saw really brought a tear to my eye. Emotional? Surreal? Nothing can describe that day. As for the driving force? I'd say Lynval. That man is a great human and really notched up the air miles trying to keep things on course. Henry Kissinger of the group I think they call him! (See video below that Williams shot from the side of the Bestival stage).

What is your take on Jerry Dammers? Do you think that he has any regrets about not playing any of the reunion shows (he watched from the crowd at Bestival)? Members of the band did say the door was always open for him right? Why do you think he's been so adamant about not participating?
Jerry is a legend and a genius. Sheer class. Without him, we wouldn't have 2-Tone. We nearly fell over when we bumped into him at the Bestival entrance! It must have been really odd for him to witness the Bestival gig. Ultimately I think that the band's approach. To play the music as it was. They gave the fans that nostalgic experience they wanted then could look at making some new creations after that. I personally don't think that changing the arrangements would have worked and possibly may have turned a few people off. But saying that, it may not have gone that way. I dont know. Yeah, I believe the door was left open to Jerry, but people will always read other things in to that no matter how stern the band are about that statement being true. I think some of the band would like to record with Jerry one more time maybe, but its really a private inter-band matter. I think Jerry is adamant about not participating because he has said his piece and is sticking to his guns. His real drive is for his work on his Spatial AKA Orchestra so obviously being the mover and shaker he is, he wants to move on musically and who can blame him? If you listen to 'More Specials' and then 'In The Studio', it is possible to maybe hear that the vision he has now of his Orchestra project grew from that base. I do however, feel that he must have a tinge of regret after the success of the reunion shows. It would be a normal emotion and reaction I think.

There were rumors following The Specials 2009 UK tour that the band would return to the studio and record new material. Ultimately that hasn't happened. Why?
Well, this would always be the toughie wouldnt it? People say a second album is "the difficult" album but to say that recording new material would be difficult is an understatement. Whatever the band were to do, it would have to be 150% perfect. No doubt at all. It would have to be a masterpiece because it would be tested against the first two Specials albums and also against Jerry Dammers' absence. A new album from these boys would take a very long time to produce. I dont think its something they could just return from out in the cold for 30 years and carry on where they left off and knock up in six months. If it happens then great. The music scene will be buzzing about it. If it doesn't arise then fair play to them. Its a huge undertaking even with superb songwriters in the outfit. One of the guys once said to me it was easy to write 30 years ago as they were angry young men but what would they write about now as largly contented adults? We wouldn't want a band like The Specials to record songs about paying your mortgage and going to buy a paper would we?

My impression is that the six members of the band who are part of the reunion seem mostly unified despite some grumblings from Roddy Byers on The Specials fan site. How did the band manage during their 2010 European festival tour?
I think in general they had a good time. If you read Horace Panter's diaries on The Specials website that pretty much says it all. They flew in. Performed and came home. A very quick and professional turnaround. They are six very different characters and thats what makes the band what it is and they all know this and its par for the course, part of being The Specials.

The 2011 tour dates do not include any American dates. How much of that has to do with issues related to Neville's U.S. visa?  Will we see the band visit here this summer or fall?
It does seem that Amercia has proved tough to organize this time but thats for the guys and management to deal with and not for me to comment on really. As for them playing the U.S.A. this year, I've learnt to think never say never about this bunch! Anything can happen.The reunion proved that. (NOTE: A member of the band did hint to me that there is a chance The Specials may play a show at the SummerStage in Central Park here in New York City later this summer to make up for the cancelled show last summer.  Stay tuned...)

The band have announced that this 2011 tour will be the end of the reunion. Do you think they have taken the reunion as far as they can? Is this really the end?
I don't want them to go down the route of many bands by over and over announcing "final" tours, or banging out a greatest hits tour every Christmas. There is a great deal of prestige connected with the band and I feel they have two routes forward. They either continue on and record, and that would be fantastic without a shadow of a doubt; or the only other option I see would be to take that final bow and say goodbye at the top of their game. Job done. People happy.  I would be the last person standing in the last venue clapping them off if they did. Its been a blast. We can all die happy. If it is the end, I hope the individual members can use their recent time in the spotlight to good use on new and current projects and that they remain in the public eye. (Watch a very recent video of guitarist Lynval Golding below who provide a bit of an update on the upcoming tour and name checks Williams.)

Has writing the book given you a different perspective on the band and its reunion?
Yes it has. Having had an insight into what has gone on behind the scenes has changed my perspective, but not in any negative way. They say dont get to know your idols because you will be disappointed, but this has certainly not been the case, and I hope I have formed some true friendships that will endure. Its a very complex band - not one for the faint hearted- and they deeply believe in the Specials legacy. Yes, there have been various incarnations of the group at times in different shapes and forms but when it all comes to a head, they do believe in the tunes and the messages they contain. The reunion was a long winding road full of one way streets and cul-de-sacs but they got to their destination eventually. The reaction on tour was phenomenal. The experiences have been out of this world. Life in The Specials can be fraught, but it is a wonderful thing that they are all part of and very proud of including Jerry. Without a doubt it has been one of the most successful and controversial reunions ever seen.  Its had everything! Its been worth burning that flame for all those years and Ill do it for another 30 years plus God willing. Good luck to em all!

You can purchase a copy of 'You're Wondering Now - The Specials: From Conception To Reunion' from Cherry Red Records and Amazon in the U.S. and Amazon in the U.K. To win a FREE copy of Williams book, have a listen to the song that Lynval is playing in the beginning of the video above and send me its title in an e-mail or post a comment (and include your e-mail address) below or on the MOTB Facebook page.  I'll pick one winner (who will need to cover the cost of postage) on April 1st.  GOOD LUCK!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Big Youth & Blue Riddim Band Set To Release Remix Of The Iconic 80's Track 'Nancy Reagan'

I could not be more excited to announce some big news! The legendary Big Youth (one of the original toasters and DJ's who ruled the early 70's reggae scene) has teamed up with leading American reggae band Blue Riddim Band to release a remix of the band's classic 80's reggae anthem 'Nancy Reagan'.  The song 'Nancy Reagan 2011 Remix - Voice Of The People' features Big Youth's classic DJ vocal stylings over the band's most well known rhythm. A limited edition 7' vinyl single will be released through Rougher Records as well as in digital format. The release date is set for May 3rd, 2011. Blue Riddim's latest album 'Tribute' has only been out a few short months, but has already made it  onto some 'Best Of 2010' lists including mine.

I connected with Blue Riddim Band bassist Todd 'Bebop' Burd who filled me on all the details. According to Burd, "Myself and my partner, Emily 'Goldie' Madison started Rougher Records last year. We released the latest Blue Riddim Band album 'Tribute' and also signed another Midwest reggae band RC Dub. Their album is due out this spring. Now we are releasing this single with Big Youth on the A side and a remastered version of the original 'Nancy Reagan' riddim on the B-side." Burd also mentioned that the band is working on a single with Bob Andy regarded as one of reggae's greatest song writers which is due out later this year.

Below is a short promo video of the single.

Blue Riddim Band hold a very special place in the history of American reggae music. This all-white band from Kansas City, Missouri have the distinction of being the very first American reggae band to be invited to play at Reggae Sunsplash. Their blazing set of ska and reggae covers and originals as dawn was rising over Jarrett Park on August 8, 1982 is legendary. They earned two encores from the crowd of 20,000 Jamaicans who were mesmerized by their 'blue eyed reggae.' Their Sunsplash performance was recorded for the LP 'Alive In Jamaica' released in 1984 which was nominated for a Grammy for best reggae album in 1985. The record's highlight is a blistering live version of 'Nancy Reagan'(see video below).

Nearly three decades later I'm amazed at how well "Nancy Reagan" has held up as an example of roots reggae from the golden era of rockers. The dub effects on the 12" single of "Nancy Reagan" were as mind blowing as anything being produced by King Tubby, Scratch Perry, or Mad Professor. Even now in the year 2011, the wry humor of "Nancy Reagan" rings true in our contemporary era of right wing greed and relentless hyper-capitalism. With brilliant lyrics including, "All my clothes are from the best designers/All my china is a perfect match', the song may be one of the most overlooked reggae rhythms ever recorded. The track was originally recorded at the Channel One studio in Jamaica in 1982 while the band was on the island to perform at Reggae Sunsplash and was released as an EP along with five other songs.

This is not the first time the song has been versioned.  In 1985 the 'Nancy Reagan' track inspired a young fan of the band living in California to use the track to create a protest song that would be critical of the ongoing Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union and his view that it was being perpetuated by Reagan. Calling in a few favors, he was able to land the help of reggae enthusiast David Lindley, who mixed the "Nancy Reagan Re-Election Remix" side, and of Ranking Roger of The English Beat and General Public , who featured on "America & Russia/Selective Service System" and a free-style toast over the basic 'Nancy Reagan' track. Read more about that story and have a listen to the Ranking Roger track below.

The song 'Nancy Reagan 2011 Remix - Voice Of The People' remix featuring Big Youth will be available from Rougher Records on May 3, 2011. Make sure to pick up a copy!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Dave Wakeling's Solo Album 'No Warning': A Cautionary Tale Of Record Company Greed

The kick-off of the London International Ska Festival in one month's time will give ska and reggae fans in the U.K. a chance to experience a resurgent Dave Wakeling, who will bring his version of The English Beat to the U.K. for a show at the Clapham Grand Theatre on Saturday April 23rd and then for a proverbial homecoming at 2-Tone Central in Coventry on Saturday April 30th.  U.K. ska fans are in for treat as Wakeling's band is road tested, tight and play with an energy and enthusiasm that should have fans remembering the good old days of 2-Tone.

Wakeling has been a busy man playing up to 140 shows a year for the last several years.  He has recently recorded and digitally released a single titled 'The Love You Give',  his first since the very last General Public album 'Rub It Better'.  The band has also been in the studio of late and is readying a new release sometime in 2011 or early 2012.  With all the touring and recording, its hard to believe that 2011 marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Wakeling's ill-fated solo album 'No Warning'.  What?  You weren't aware The Beat and General Public front man ever released a solo album?  The story behind the recording and release of 'No Warning' is a moral case study in how awful the music business can truly be.

I remember picking up the 7" single of 'She's Having A Baby' which was the title track from a John Hughes movie of the same name released in 1988.  While the single was a pleasant slice of late 80's literate pop with Wakeling's trademark witty lyrics (e.g., 'Mixed drinks and mixed emotions') the movie was a flop and the single never charted.  And then nothing.  Silence. Years passed. Then without warning 'No Warning' suddenly appeared on record store shelves in 1991 nearly three years after the release of the single.  As a long-time fan of The Beat and General Public, I eagerly bought the album and though it wasn't ska, there were a number of songs that I liked, particularly 'One + One + One' which could have been a General Public outtake.  Interestingly the album contained no liner notes and listed no musicians (we'll get back to that). As the AllMusic Guide review summed up:
"Wakeling's trademark, likable baritone is showcased here, as is his sweet lyrical ingenuity, but this album certainly doesn't hold up to the standard Wakeling set with either of his previous groups. Shortly after this ill-received effort, the British native would drop out of sight for a long period, living in California and pursuing his environmental interests."
And drop out he did, leaving the music behind for nearly five years to work for Greenpeace (read a recent interview Wakeling did where he credits Elvis Costello with admonishing him to get back to making music).  While all musicians and artists take time off (or should), its clear that something had happened and it turns out that the recording of 'No Warning' finally took its toll on Wakeling.

Wakeling shared all the dirty details of the skullduggery that doomed the recording of the album in a tell all interview with Popdose a few years ago.  Following the demise of General Public in the mid-80's, IRS Records and Miles Copeland offered Wakeling the chance to be 'Sting' by providing him with a bevy of studio musicians who would help him record a solo record. Wakeling met and rehearsed with musicians. A producer and studio was located and booked.  And then according to Wakeling:
"I went back to IRS, and we figured out our budget, and everything looked like it was all going to be happening, with Greg Ladanyi producing at George Massenburg’s studio, and everything was state of the art, with top-flight musicians. And I was really excited! And IRS, now with a few top-40 hits, had started to get involved in the movie business – which is often a mistake – and they’d sunk a load of money into some films, and the films weren’t doing anything, so they found themselves really short of cash. So they asked me to go back to Greg Ladanyi and these guys and see if they’d do the same record for less money. And I said, “Well, I don’t do this. You should talk them. I’m a singer.” And they said, “No, no, you go. You’ll get better out of them. You go ask them.” So I did. I was embarrassed, but I went and asked them, and they agreed. They said, yes, they’d do it on a lower budget. They’d have to cut some corners, we’d have to do some of the recording in the B-room rather than in the huge master suite, but it’d still be the same quality, so, yes, they’d do it."
Following several more instances where IRS and Copeland asked for additional budget cuts, Wakeling soon found himself writing and recording songs in a kitchen!
"So then I ended up with not enough budget to really make a record, and I’d wasted months languishing! And I’d written some songs with a guy named Mark Goldenberg, who had a great songwriting record, and I got on very well with him and written a couple of nice tunes. And with the money that was left, all that could be done was to program the songs up in his kitchen and try to overdub on top of it. But he wasn’t an accomplished programmer, and it didn’t quite work very well. And we struggled, and it was battling through a veil of tears. I was starting to feel as though IRS had promised me the earth and I’d come halfway ‘round the world and been given a bucket of dirt instead. Similar, but not quite the same thing! We got about halfway through it, and then I just gave up, frankly. 
And so understandably after unfulfilled promises and disappointment, Wakeling decided to quit the project only to find out several months later that the album was being released without his knowledge, input or permission!
"But about six, maybe nine months later, a friend of mine phoned me and said, “Oh, I hear you’ve got a new album coming out.” I said, “I certainly do not.” And he said, “Well, you certainly do, because I have a CEMA number for it right here!” The guy worked at CEMA, and he said, “I have a number for it. It’s in the pipeline. You have a record coming out called 'No Warning'. It comes out in a month!” And I went, “Oh, my God.” And it turned out that the half-finished tracks that IRS had got, they’d given them to another band, who owed them money, and said that if they finished this record off for them, they would forgive them their debt."
It turns out that Copeland hired a few songwriter producers to spice up the songs with a few guitar parts and solos, and then IRS released what was essentially unfinished demo tapes without ever notifying Wakeling.
"And they brought the record out, and I tried to stop it. I found a litigator in New York, because certainly what IRS were doing was a breach of every contract or clause ever, and it would’ve been preventable, but at some point, the litigator said, “Look, here’s your options. You can take on a megalomaniac millionaire in a New York court for the next two years, and you’ll win, but you’ll be broke for the rest of your life. Or you could just put your head under a rock and cry for three months, then it’ll all be over and we’ll get you off IRS Records, because what they’re doing is a total breach of contract as well as being totally disgraceful morally, and you’ll never have to deal with them again.” And, so, I thought about it for a minute, and I said, “Okay, pass the rock!” I had nothing to do with the record, I didn’t promote the record, I didn’t do any interviews about it. I just pretended it wasn’t happening. And at least I was off of IRS Records."
Wakeling has had the last laugh though he is still owed money by the label. IRS Records went belly up in 1996 long before the slow, sad decline of traditional record labels. Wakeling continues to tour and perform songs from The Beat and General Public's catalog (though don't expect to hear any songs from 'No Warning'!)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Gig Alert: Gowanus Reggae and Ska Society (G.R.A.S.S.) perform at Apple Store in New York City on March 22nd

Have you been thinking about picking up a new iPad or maybe just a new set of ear buds for your iPod but have been putting it off? Well tomorrow night may finally be the night to head over to the Apple Store on 103 Prince Street here in New York City to do a bit of shopping as the Gowanus Reggae and Ska Society (G.R.A.S.S.) celebrate the recent release of their album 'G.R.A.S. S. on Fire' with a special 'iTunes Presents' in-store performance.

With the release of 'G.R.A.S.S. On Fire', this collection of eleven intrepid musician dedicated to exploring the sounds of classic ska and reggae bring a jazz perspective to Marley's seminal 1973 release, 'Catch A Fire', instrumentally interpreting the seminal album's music so that it retains all of its original passion and sincerity.

G.R.A.S.S features some of the finest players from Brooklyn's vibrant musical community, creating music with the spontaneity of jazz and a deep reverence for Jamaican rhythm. The band is made up of an ever-evolving group of players, including bassist J.A.Granelli, Nate Shaw on keyboards, Mark Miller on trombone, saxophonists Michael Blake, Ohad Talmor, and Paul Carlon, David Barnes on harmonica, Russ Meissner on drums and guitarists Tony Romano, David Bailis, and Brad Shepik.

The goal of the Society, says Granelli, who is the son of legendary drummer Jerry Granelli, “is to bring as many interesting voices to the music as possible." Nate Shaw adds, “the band is made up of jazz musicians who all share the same profound respect for the music of Jamaica. The love runs deep." G.R.A.S.S. formed three years ago—born out of what the musicians called “big ass playdates," at which they would gather at Shaw's house, along with wives and kids, to jam and just hang out. The 'Society' came out of those gatherings, as the rhythm section began to regularly focus on dissecting specific reggae songs in what Granelli calls a 'free form school of rhythm.'

Showtime is 7 PM, and the Apple store in Soho in lower Manhattan is located on 103 Prince Street. Click here for more information about the show or call (212) 226-3126.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Mother and Child Reunion: Paul Simon Records With Jamaica's Best Studio Band

My earliest memories of music relate to hearing AM radio in my parents car and the first reggae song I ever heard on the radio (and later on their small hi-fi stereo) was most definitely 'Mother and Child Reunion' by Paul Simon which reached #4 in the U.S. pop charts in 1972 (it hit #5 in the U.K. charts).  The song (which still sounds timeless every time I play it) emerged from a series of recording sessions that Simon did with Jamaican studio musicians on a visit to Kingston in 1970.  It remains one of the very first songs by a white American musician to feature prominent elements of reggae (Johnny Nash had a hit ahead of Simon with 'Stir It Up' and later with 'I Can See Clearly Now' also recorded with Jamaican session musicians) and served as a template for future Simon recordings that used different musical genres (most notably South African music) for creative inspiration.

The popularity of the song is likely due in part to the contrast of its infectious upbeat sound featuring the distinctive stuttering lead guitar introduction, the backing vocals featuring Cissy Houston (mother of singer Whitney Houston) and the song title which is both intriguing and comforting despite the unnamed tragedy it relates. The song had quite an impact on American audiences in 1972 who were still quite unfamiliar with the sound of reggae and rocksteady though it didn't hurt that the song was the first single taken from Simon's very first solo album following his break from Art Garfunkel.

Here is video of Simon discussing the recording of the song in Jamaica and how he originally intended to record it as a ska song:

The song was recorded in Jamaica with Leslie Kong's Beverly Studio band known as The Dynamites who were led by guitarist Huks ("Hux") Brown.  The band included bass player Jackie Jackson; Winston Grennan on drums; Neville Hinds on organ; Denzil Laing on percussion; Bobby Ellis on trumpet; with Val Bennett and "Deadly" Headly Bennett on saxophones. The Dynamites recorded Desmond Dekker's 'Israelites', followed by Johnny Nash's 'Hold Me Tight', Dave & Ansel Collins' 'Double Barrell', and many classic tracks with Bob Marley and the Wailers. When Toots Hibbert of Toots & The Maytals was released from prison after serving two years for marijuana possession, the Maytals made Hux Brown & The Dynamites their backing band.

Simon's inspiration for the song's title was unusual one, as he explained in a 1972 Rolling Stone interview:
'Know where the words came from on that? You would never have guessed. I was eating in a Chinese restaurant downtown. There was a dish called "Mother and Child Reunion." It's chicken and eggs. And I said, "Oh, I love that title. I gotta use that one."
Simon did elaborate in that same interview on how he came to write 'Mother and Child Reunion':
"[L]ast summer we had a dog that was run over and killed, and we loved this dog. It was the first death I had ever experienced personally. Nobody in my family died that I felt that. But I felt this loss — one minute there, next minute gone, and then my first thought was, "Oh, man, what if that was [my wife] Peggy? What if somebody like that died? Death, what is it, I can't get it." And there were lyrics straight out forward like that. The chorus for "Mother and Child Reunion" — well, that's out of the title. Somehow there was a connection between this death and Peggy and it was like Heaven, I don't know what the connection was. Some emotional connection. It didn't matter to me what it was. I just knew it was there."

Given the reggae and rocksteady sound of the song, its no surprise that it inspired a number of early 70's Jamaican cover versions including a much faster version recorded by The Uniques (featuring members of The Pioneers) as well as a slightly slower and soulful version recorded by Horace Andy.

Friday, March 18, 2011

NYC SKA Live Compilation Celebrates 21st Anniversary!: American 'Dance Craze' Captures NYC Ska Circa 1990

Its hard to believe that the excellent, but sadly overlooked and long out-of-print NYC SKA LIVE compilation is 21 years old this month! The brainchild of The Toasters leader and Moon Records honcho Rob 'Bucket' Hingley the record was conceived as the American sequel to 'Dance Craze'. In fact, the show recorded at the Cat Club in New York City on March 26th, 1990 was supposed to be filmed by 'Dance Craze' director Joe Massot.

The dawn of 1990 saw the NYC ska scene at its peak. The Toasters had just released their third full length album 'This Gun For Hire' (and the first without co-front men Sean Dinsmore and Lionel Bernard who had left and signed a record deal as The Unity 2), and the New York Citizens had released their seminal 'Stranger Things Have Happened' EP.  The NYC SKA LIVE compilation and film was to be the icing on the cake capturing all the New York bands on the scene at the time -- The Toasters, The Scofflaws, The NY Citizens, Bigger Thomas, Skinnerbox, Skadanks and The Steadys.

What I remember about the whole experience was the tremendous amount of planning that went into the filming of the show and recording of the accompanying soundtrack. My Bigger Thomas band mates and I travelled from New Jersey to attended a meeting at Moon Records HQ in the East Village in New York, where the details about the filming of the show were discussed. We were also presented with waivers and release forms as well as contracts which we signed with a certain amount of excitement, Hingley explained that he and Massot had plans to distribute the film widely around the World and that with ska breaking out in the U.S., the finished movie was expected to be exhibited at film festivals and possibly have a theatrical release. We left the meeting expecting big things.

Sadly it didn't work out as planned. Unfortunately, due to reasons that were never fully explained to us, Massot pulled out of filming the show at the last moment, despite the fact that expensive lights, special room mics and a remote sound truck to record the show had all been procured. Nevertheless, Moon Records did mix and release the 14-track album later in 1990. Though the artwork for the record and cassette tape are pretty awful, the sounds captured on the vinyl and magnetic tape still sound pretty fresh (though my one complaint is the annoying crowd sounds that were dropped in during post-production).

I have mostly fond memories about the whole experience. Though we no longer had to deal with cameras in our faces on stage, there was still a very large crowd on hand (attracted by the chance to be in a movie). As the openers for the whole show, there was added pressure to come out blazing and we did our best performing 'Moving' and 'Ska In My Pocket', except our original guitar player Steve Parker had all sorts of technical problems with his amp and effects pedal during the recording. This required us to play the song 'Moving' twice. The technical problems continued during the second take, requiring Bucket to cut off the whole intro to the song from the actual finished recording. While we were disappointed that Joe Massot bailed, we were still excited as the new kids on the block (we had been together a mere 18 months at this point) to be included on the record (see picture above courtesy of Paul Gil of The New York Citizens: From left to right on stage Steve Parker (guitar), Roger Apollon (vocals), Jim Cooper (drums), Kevin Shields (trumpet), yours truly (bass).

Five years on from the release of the N.Y. Beat:Hit & Run compilation which captured the sound of mid-80's New York City ska, NYC SKA LIVE documents the evolution of the New York 80's ska scene 2-Tone sound to a post-2-Tone take with more of an emphasis on roots reggae, rocksteady and dancehall reggae. The Toasters and The New York Citizens remain holdovers from the mid-80's, but newer bands including my own, King Django's post-Boilers band Skinnerbox, The Steadys (who may be the best sounding band on the comp), Skadanks and Long Island's Scofflaws all offer their unique takes on American ska at the dawn of the 1990's.

Sadly NYC SKA LIVE remains out-of-print and its unlikely to be re-issued any time soon (though it is a personal goal of mine to do so!).  I just need to get permission from all the bands involved for it to be re-released. Wish me luck. In the meantime you can stream the Bigger Thomas songs from the album below.  Enjoy!

Bigger Thomas-Moving

Bigger Thomas-Ska In My Pocket

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Celebrating The Musical Life Of Smiley Culture & Questioning His Mysterious Death

Very sad news out of the U.K. earlier this week about the death of Smiley Culture while in police custody. The singer and MC, whose real name was David Emmanuel, died earlier this week from a stab wound sustained as officers raided his house to make an arrest.  An internal police watchdog group inquiry is underway. Sadly the man who had a hit with a song about being pulled over by the police has somehow died in their custody.

As the first British-born MC to have two pop hits with  'Police Officer' and 'Cockney Translation', in 1984 and 1985, he helped carry the 2-Tone flame by further bringing the Black British experience into black and white homes all across the U.K. Following an appearance on Top of the Pops, doors opened for Smiley. In 1986, he made a cameo appearance alongside Sade and David Bowie in Julien Temple's film Absolute Beginners and he earned himself a TV contract to make a show called Club Mix On Channel 4. Such was his influence in British culture, that its been rumored he may have been the inspiration for the new BBC childrens show character Rastamouse.   Smiley Culture's obituary in The Guardian explained the significance and impact of his songs on British pop music and culture.
"One of the first British MCs – performers providing their own raps – to take rhymes about the British black experience into the charts, he came up with lyrics such as "Police officer no give me producer", a ­reference to the police form to be produced when attending the station. It became a playground catchphrase and turned him into a household name. His infectious and comical mix of London street talk, tales about his life and reggae-pop rhythms paved the way for much of the lingo-heavy music popular today, particularly the Streets, Roots Manuva and Dizzee Rascal."
There was another great piece in The Guardian titled 'Smiley Culture Made Us Proud To Be Black and British' written by Dotun Adebayo following news of Smiley Culture's death which explained how his songs helped make Black British people feel proud about their heritage and how the humor in his songs helped bridge the gap between Blacks and Whites.
"Above all Smiley Culture made us laugh. Together. Because white guys could see the funny side of it, too. And in just the same way that 2-Tone made a lot of white guys realise that black guys were OK, Smiley Culture and Saxon Sound made a lot of black guys feel that white guys weren't too bad either."
While the inquiry into Smiley Culture's death is underway, there is much that needs to be explained about how a man in police custody allegedly 'stabbed himself'.   Lee Jasper a well known advocate for social justice in the U.K. and a leader in the Black British community has posted on his blog about the mysterious circumstances around Smiley Culture's death in police custody.  Its worth a read because it raises real important questions about police procedure (or lack of it) when conducting an investigation.

I discovered a great archive of music magazine articles written about Smiley when he first hit it big in the mid-80's. While we await the results of the police inquiry report, give a listen to Smiley Culture's two big hits.  May he rest in peace.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Gig Alert: Un-Official Reggae Party At The Lake In Bushwick, Brooklyn On Saturday March 19th

Nothing to do this weekend? Then join me and my Bigger Thomas band mates in heading over to The Lake in Bushwick, Brooklyn for the Un-Official Reggae Party this Saturday March 19th. The show is a slightly scaled down version of the Dirty Reggae Parties thrown regularly by the Brooklyn Rocksteady crew.  Its also a sending off party for the lovely and talented DJ Grace of Spades who is heading down to The Big Easy for a few months!

The show features a diverse line-up of Northeast ska and reggae bands including The Shifters from Washington DC who are a female-fronted 8-piece playing 60's inspired rocksteady and skinhead reggae, the old school 2-Tone ska of my band Bigger Thomas, Silver Dollar from New Brunswick NJ who combine ska, jazz, reggae, blues, rocksteady, funk and soul together and Princelionsound who performs as a Sound System styled DJ. And if that's not enough ska entertainment for you, the show features Rudies Don't Care with Jah Point and Tommi Infamous (ex-Bomb Town)  on the decks.

The shows at The Lake are unique and may come as close to the original blues dance environment of late night house parties or after-hours held all over London.  If you've never been, The Lake is a second floor loft space a few blocks from the subway, amidst several lonely (at least at night) blocks of warehouses and industrial shops--if you didn't know which metal door to open and stairs to climb, you'd probably never find this place (or suspect what the hell was going on inside!). My blogging pal Duff Guide To Ska sums up a show at The Lake quite nicely:
What's wild about this underground venue/arts space is that it looks and feels pretty much like the way it was at an illegal loft party/squat back in the 80s (but instead of Bushwick, it was Manhattan's East Village/Lower East Side)...and the mix of punks (yes, there were impressive mohawks), skins, and everyone else in black was pretty much the same then as now. The black box performance space (which could fit 150--maybe--was up front with a small stage, great sound system, dance floor, and two raised platforms lining part of the room for sitting or standing on. The remainder of the venue consisted of a long, wide hall (just past the kitchen, where they sold beer); a room for lounging in the back; and a door leading to some outdoor metal stairs down to the "backyard."
Here is video of a recent show from The Lake that includes Rudies Don't Care performing:

Not convinced yet? Give each band a listen below:

Here are all the details:
March 19, 2011
The Lake
258 Johnson Ave. (between Bushwick Pl. and White St.)
Brooklyn, NYC
Cost: $6

Take the L train to Montrose and walk on Bushwick Ave. until you hit Johnson Ave and make a left.

Take the J/M train to Flushing Ave. Walk on Flushing until you hit Bushwick Ave. turn left. Walk on Bushwick Ave. until Johnson and make a right.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Star Wars Goes Reggae!: Star Wars Film Inspires Rare Late 70's Reggae

The Star Wars movie saga has had such a significant impact on modern popular culture, that references to the main characters and themes of the films are casually made in many English-speaking countries with the assumption that others will understand the reference. This is also true of Jamaica where references to popular culture have always been a cornerstone of ska, rocksteady and reggae -- and Star Wars is no exception to that rule! In fact a reggae version of the 'Star Wars' theme recorded by Rico Rodriguez in 1977 may have been the first in a never ending line of Star Wars themed musical covers.

First a bit of history.  Because Jamaica didn't ratify the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works until 1994 copyright was not an issue and could not be enforced.  This led to the recording of a huge number of cover songs and reinterpretations. Many early 60's Jamaican artists recorded instrumental ska versions of popular American and British music, such as Beatles songs, Motown and Atlantic soul hits, movie theme songs, or surf rock instrumentals.  There is also long-standing musical tradition in Jamaica of using songs and music to comment on popular culture.  In fact many early ska and rocksteady songs have titles that reference current events of their place and time.  The Skatalites were well known for naming many of their early songs after news items.  For instance, 'Christine Keeler' (video below) is named after the woman at the center of 'The Profumo Affair', a nasty political scandal that damaged the British Government in 1962.   Other topical songs recorded by the band include 'Fidel Castro' and 'President Kennedy'. Ansell Collins also recorded 'Nuclear Weapon'.

Now back to our story.  The year was 1977 and the very first Star Wars film had just been released. In true Jamaican musical tradition, Rico Rodriguez graced 'The Federation' with a limited edition release of  'Ska Wars (Star Wars)", his ska/dub trombone take on the John William’s classic released by Island Records later that very same year. The song was recorded during the sessions for his iconic 'Man From Wareika' album. True to the film the song includes plenty of space-like dub sound effects. Coincidentally late 70's UK ska rockers Arthur Kay & The Originals also released a singled titled 'Ska Wars' in 1979, though it did not reference the movie or theme song.

With possibly one of the greatest album covers of all time, the ultra rare and mysterious 'Star Wars Dub' released in 1978 on the Burning Sounds label by producer Phil Pratt is a total fanboy masterpiece that combines two subjects that attract their fair share of obsessives: ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Dub reggae’! While original vinyl copies are eagerly sought after by Star Wars completists, the music on the album is among the best dub released in the late 70's. Pratt who was a sometime singer earned his reputation as a producer working with a number of notable singers including Horace Andy, Ken Boothe and John Holt.  Little is know about the 'Star Wars Dub' album though its possible it was recorded by The Revolutionaries  (featuring Sly & Robbie on drums and bass) who were the house band at Channel One Studios. Below are three tracks from the album.  Play them loud and may the force be with you!

Monday, March 14, 2011

'Jools in Jamaica': Squeeze Keyboardist Captures Reggae In Jamaica Circa 1984 For The Tube

Music shows in the U.K. have always been a world ahead, particularly when compared to late night talk shows here in the U.S. that feature live music. Not since the heyday of Don Kirshner's Rock Concert which aired in the U.S. in the 1970's and early 1980's has there been a television program dedicated solely to introducing and highlighting the latest in music (MTV no longer is a music network).  While its true that late night talk shows in the U.S. like Late Show with David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel and Conan have always featured musical guests, they are often reacting to prevailing musical trends while music shows in the U.K. have historically made an attempt to be purveyors of culture.

Witness The Tube, which along with the BBC's Old Grey Whistle Test, were U.K. television shows that helped to introduce and popularize hundreds of bands and musical performers who often became household names in the U.K. following their appearances.  The Tube was a Channel 4 music program that aired from 1982 to 1987 which showcased  contemporary bands and musical trends. Broadcast live from a studio in Newcastle and featuring live performances from four bands each show it was counterpoint to shows like Top Of The Pops and others with mimed performances.  Hosted by Jools Holland (fresh out of his first tenure with Squeeze) and Paula Yates among others, the show was edgy and controversial. Holland once used the phrase "be there or be ungroovy fuckers" during a live trailer for the show. The incident caused a scandal and the show was taken off air for three weeks as a result.

The show's format also included a 45 minute magazine segment and it was during the early years of the program in the early 80's that Holland was assigned to cover Jamaica’s burgeoning reggae music scene which was in the grips of dancehall frenzy with performers like Yellowman and Eek-A-Mouse at the top of their game and popularity. Holland arrived in Jamaica to much fanfare and proceeded to take viewers on a wild ride around the island meeting and interviewing Black Uhuru, Sly & Robbie, Dennis Brown and others. In fact his interview with Lee 'Scratch' Perry is one of the most famous the eccentric and brilliant producer has done.

Here is a link to watch the entire 30 minute 'Jools In Jamaica' program originally aired on The Tube in 1984 (UMG in their infinite record company wisdom will only allow it to be watched on YouTube!) .  Below is the clip of the Lee Perry interview from the show and my favorite response from Perry to Holland's question of who he likes: 'Truthful people whether they're fucking black, yellow, pink or white. Doesn't matter long as they're truthful"