Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Message To You Rudy!: Lynval Golding Of The Specials Shares A Video Update

Lynval Golding of The Specials has posted one of his periodic video messages for fans of the band.  He quickly touches on Neville Staple's absence on the upcoming U.S. tour, compliments band keyboardist Nik Torp (who played on Adele's song Skyfall) and hints about something special being unveiled during the upcoming tours.  What or who could it be?

P.S.: Who knew Lynval was a Chelsea fan?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Rare Live Footage Of Madness Pre-Cursor Band The Invaders From 1976-78!

Very rare, live footage of The Invaders, the pre-cursor band to Madness has recently come to light.  Suggs, Chris Foreman, Mike Barson and Lee Thompson along with original members Gary Dovey on drums and Gavin Rodgers on bass are all seen playing and dancing in the 46 second color clip.  Sadly the footage is silent, but the band appear to be performing at a house party since Barson is playing an upright piano. The footage is likely from sometime in 1976-78.

The Invaders (also known as The North London Invaders), was formed by Barson, Foreman, and Thompson in 1976. By 1978, the band had changed their name to Morris and the Minors and had added Suggs, Mark Bedford on bass, and Dan Woodgate on drums to the group. Later in 1978, they changed their name to Madness, in homage to one of their favorite Prince Buster songs.

Enjoy this amazing piece of musical history!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Pauline Black Of The Selecter Narrates The Story Of The Godmother Of Rock & Roll

In honor of Black History Month, PBS (the American equivalent of the BBC) tonight will air American Masters: Sister Rosetta Tharpe: The Godmother of Rock & Roll. If you have an interest or passion for music, you do not want to miss this program. Appropriately enough, the documentary is narrated by Pauline Black, lead singer for The Selecter, who is an influential musician in her own right.

Tharpe was one of the most influential gospel singers in America in the '30s and '40s, and she put her stamp on the blues and big band music as well. In the '50s, she was an enormous influence on many musicians who started playing what became rock and roll, including Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard. Her talent as a guitarist also impacted Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townshend and Eric Clapton. The special includes archival footage and interviews. Check out a preview below:

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Listen To The Original Demo For "Holiday Fortnight" From "More Specials"

With The Specials upcoming 2013 U.S. tour kicking off in less than a month in Chicago, fans are eagerly anticipating which songs they can expect to hear the band perform. While all the classics are likely to be in the set, the band have been including a few tracks from their second album, More Specials.  To that end, I wanted to share a bit of rare band history about a song from the album. 

Did you know that the instrumental track Holiday Fortnight (a unique rockabilly ska song with Mexican-style brass and a cracking solo from Rico Rodriguez) was originally titled Why Argue With Fate? The song was written by band guitarist Roddy Byers about a conversation he had with his Father when he was much younger about his poor school performance and his Father's belief that he would amount to nothing if he didn't apply himself.  

However, due to internal band politics at the time, the track was instead recorded as an instrumental and given a new title.  A few years ago Byers, stumbled upon a demo recording of the original track in his attic and he recently released it with the original guide vocals, which he had recorded for Terry Hall but that were never used. Have a listen to both tracks below.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Watch Rare 1984 Debut Performance Of Fine Young Cannibals On The Tube

The Tube was an innovative and cutting edge music television series, which ran for five seasons from 1982 to 1987 on Channel 4 in the U.K.. The show was presented live by hosts Jools Holland and Paula Yates, and was an incredibly important showcase for many emerging 80's bands.

I was lucky enough to see The Tube regularly while living in England in 1986 and I still get misty eyed at the mention of it.  It was responsible for introducing me to a slew of great bands.  Indeed, Bono of U2 called it ‘the best rock ‘n’ roll programme on TV.’ And it was. The Tube was a very important outlet for many performers, and provided a turning point in the careers of many of them.  Paul Young made his TV debut on the show in 1983. The following year, Madonna made her British TV debut on the show.

For Fine Young Cannibals performing live on The Tube in 1984 was instrumental for introducing the trio of Andy Cox and David Steele (ex-members of The Beat who had broken up in mid-1983) and their new singer Roland Gift (formerly of Hull ska band The Akrylykz) to the British music press and ultimately the U.K. music buying public. Up to that point the band had been turned down by every record label they had approached and their manager John Mostyn (who had previously managed the The Beat and who booked the first 2-Tone tour in 1979) had to use some old school bluff and bluster to get the band some much needed print and broadcast publicity. Watch Mostyn discuss his clever strategy in the video below.

The band's fortunes really took off after Mostyn booked them on The Tube for their debut television performance in late 1984. Check out this very rare and fantastic footage of the band performing Don't Ask Me To Choose, Johnny Come Home and Move To Work which all later appeared on their eponymous 1985 album. Its fascinating to watch the audience, who had never seen or heard of the band prior to their performance, warm to them as the set progresses. You can see a band and its career coming together before your eyes.

The buzz around the band grew to a fever pitch after a self produced video the band shot in a bare studio in Birmingham in late 1984 for Johnny Come Home began airing regularly on The Tube.   Fine Young Cannibals signed a deal with London Records a few short weeks later.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Vocalist for The Congos Lives In Babylon, Long Island!

The New York Times has an excellent profile on Watty Burnett, the baritone vocalist for The Congos, whose 1977 album Heart of the Congos is considered one of the greatest roots reggae albums of all time. It turns out that Burnett, who originally worked for producer Lee Perry as a session vocalist and musician at his Black Ark Studio along before joining Cedric Myton and Roydel (Ashanti Roy) Johnson to form The Congos, has lived quietly in Long Island, New York since 1980.  Read the article here.

The article contrasts Burnett's quiet life on Long Island (when not on tour with The Congos (who recorded a critically acclaimed new album Icon Give Thank in 2012), Burnett works as an electrician, records music on his own and occasionally performs with a local Long Island reggae outfit called Noah’s Arc) with his life as a vocalist for the world renowned vocal trio.
For a dreadlocked Rastafarian, Long Island took some getting used to. Mr. Burnett remembers a trip to Freeport from Manhattan on the Long Island Rail Road, accompanied by the bass player for the Congos, Tony Allen. 
“When we got to Queens, the conductor said, ‘This is Jamaica, last stop Babylon!’ ” he said. “We got really angry. We thought, ‘This guy’s messing with us!' "
Recorded over a span of three years, Heart Of The Congos features a who's who of musicians including Ernest Ranglin, Sly Dunbar, Mikey Boo, Boris Gardiner, Geoffrey Chung and Winston Brubeck who were members of The Upsetters band. ‘Fisherman’, the most famous song by The Congos and the opening track from Heart Of The Congos, is well known and loved enough to be considered an absolute classic within the relatively large field of vocal reggae.

An article from last summer in The Quietus plumbs the mysticism and allegories of the track:
Drop the needle onto ‘Fisherman’. The drums have all been bounced over to one channel on the TEAC, causing a wicked amount of degradation in the sound; the opening snare hits have been wrested of all harshness and clarity; then the reverb sees them crumble away into darkness. These are the abyssal depths of the track. Plumbing these waters are the basslines, one fuzzy and immersive, the other squelching and funky, carving out yet more three dimensional space (two different bass players were used on two separate days of recording - if this was an accident, it was a happy one). The delicately phased guitar lines sparkle above this, like sunlight on a calm sea surface, dappling the space below. The voices arrive staggered, creating further space, Watty’s rumbling bass and then Roy’s clear tenor. They may sing about the sea-bound man in the third person, but really it's The Congos themselves who are the fishermen, and the listeners the fish. They are, as the bible would tell you, the fishers of men. And this is evangelical, churchical music… just perhaps in more of a Rasta style than we had been previously used to. 
The song starts with an exhortation to a Rasta fisherman - who already has three children, with another on the way - to bring back enough food for his family, before making a direct comparison to the apostolic fishermen Simon (aka Peter), James and John who have countless hungry “children” to feed (“lots of hungry belly pickney ashore – millions of them”). The Congos, being based in a fishing port, are keen for people to realise that this is a parable, and throw a concrete suggestion into the lyrical mix: that the fisherman might actually provide for his family by going to see Quaju Peg, the collie man, for some of his fragrant produce to sell. The song ends with the Congos urging the fisherman to reach higher ground because rain is coming, perhaps the forewarning of an apocalyptic event comparable to The Flood – a theme which is returned to again and again later in the album. The lyrics plumb depths under their deceptively calm surface, just like the music.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Song That Put Reggae on The Map In The U.S Turns 40!

The Wall Street Journal has an excellent piece about the 40th anniversary of the release of the Harder They Come film and sound track, released in February, 1973.  The article includes an incredibly detailed interview about the song's development and its recording in Jamaica with Jimmy Cliff, who composed and sang the title song (and starred in the film), bassist Jackie Jackson, and guitarist Hux Brown who played on it. Read the interview here.

According to Cliff:
The first development of my song is actually in the movie—when the guitarist and I are rehearsing a song in the church. That's an early draft of "The Harder They Come." The rest of the music came fast. When I have a title, the rest always comes very fast. I'm quite good at melodies.
The lyrics came from my past. I grew up in the church and had always questioned what they were telling me. Like the promise of a pie in the sky when you die. The second verse about oppressors trying to keep me down kind of reflected my own life—coming out of the ghetto in Jamaica and fighting the system. I wanted the song to have a church feel and to reflect the environment I grew up in—the underdog fighting all kinds of trickery.
The release in the U.S. of 'The Harder They Come', (a movie that required subtitles so that American audiences could follow the dialogue) had an impact far beyond its modest take at the box office. While the film had a cultural impact and developed a strong cult following in the years following its release, it was the movie soundtrack which captured the hearts and minds of like minded people across the country introducing reggae to a wider American audience. In fact, the movie can be credited with giving rise to the first American reggae band -- The Shakers -- who were musical pioneers playing reggae when it was an odd, foreign sound to most Americans born and raised on rock and roll.

The soundtrack of 'The Harder They Come' captured reggae at the moment it entered its own golden age at the start of the 1970's -- with a variety of styles, rhythms and exotic lyrics. It included songs by Cliff, The Maytals, The Slickers and others -- soulful ballads, upbeat rockers and even songs that quoted scripture and preached peace. The film became a primer for Americans about reggae music and the Jamaican experience. According to an essay in The Criterion Collection, a film publication, 'The soundtrack of 'The Harder They Come' is something like the Sgt, Pepper’s of reggae—one of the hippest and most memorable collections of Jamaican music ever recorded."

Thursday, February 14, 2013

MOTB Review: King Django "Anywhere I Roam"

True to its title, the recently released 12 track King Django album, Anywhere I Roam, available on Stubborn Records, is a beautiful musical meditation through a variety of Jamaican musical genres (ska, early, roots and rub-a-dub reggae and roots rocksteady) on what it means to truly commit to life as a musician and an artist and the tensions (economic, romantic, familial) that choice can create. 

Recorded in various studios around the world with an international cast of collaborators -- Obi Fernandez, The Void Union, The Forthrights, The Scrucialists, Regatta 69, Pannonia Allstar Ska Orchestra (PASO), Mr T-Bone, The Soul Captives and Motha Nature --  the ten originals and two covers (a rollicking ska meets New Orleans blues reworking of The Clash's Career Opportunities with lyrics updated for the Great Recession of 2008 and a stirring Skatalites-like version of The Police's Every Breath You Take that finds the emotional pain in the track that Sting originally wrote as a bitter revenge tale) detail the ongoing conflict between the freedom of life on the road (sex, drugs and ska and reggae) and the tug of memories, family, home and lost love.

The freedom and liberties that an itinerant life provides form the backbone of many of the songs on the album. On the slack Hey Gyal, he duets on a tasty toast with Motha Nature about the joys of sex. He's in high spirits on the album's title track, on which he jauntily chats about his prowess on the mic and his joyful life as a musician backed by The Forthrights (Anywhere I roam, that’s where I make my home).  On One Finger Django grabs the DJ mic and backed by The Soul Syndicate, chats over a hypnotic Black Uhuru-style track warning: One finger chop off the next one. 

Conversely, Django acknowledges and accepts that the artists life can take a toll on a soul that yearns for love, home and the spiritual and emotional comforts that they can offer.  Backed by Switzerland's The Scrucialists on the gorgeous roots rockers Do You Really Love Me, he sings of the loneliness of the road: There’s people all around but I’m feeling so alone/ I’m counting the hours ‘til I can come home. The search for romantic love is balanced by the search for family in the emotionally moving Where Can I Go? Backed by PASO, Django recounts a walk around Budapest as he searches in vain for the ancestral home of his family members who perished during the Holocaust.  Django finds the emotional core of the album on Aiming, a bittersweet rocksteady track about the regret and morning after misery of a drunken night out.  Backed by The Void Union and joined by Obi Fernandez on vocals and harmonies he sings (Aiming/To drown all my sorrows).

With Anywhere I Roam,  King Django has demonstrated again that he is among the very best purveyors of ska and reggae working today. The fateful decision he made to pursue the artists life may at times be a hard road to travel, but the payoff musically is one that we are lucky to benefit from as listeners and lovers of Jamaican music.

Stream a preview of the entire album below.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Fishbone Members Make Cameo Appearances In 1985 Eurythmics Video

There is a great interview with Norwood Fisher, bassist of Fishbone in the New Miami Times that is essential reading for fans of the band. The story includes some great band anecdotes, including the fact that singer Angelo Moore and trumpeter/singer Dirty Walt made cameo appearances in the 1985 Eurythmics video Would I Lie To You. Look for Dirty Walt playing his pocket trumpet in the horn section and catch Angelo in a blink or you'll miss shot near the end of the video.

Fisher also shared that when he was 8 years old he traded a weight set he had gotten for Christmas to his cousin for a bass guitar, bass amp and record collection:
"My cousin came over and said, 'You ain't gon' lift them weights,'" Norwood remembers, snickering. "He said, 'I'll trade you my bass, my amp, and I'll throw in this collection of rock records I ain't gon' listen to no more.' And it had Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Mountain, Chicago, the first Funkadelic, and a bunch more.
"For a long time, I hadn't seen that cousin. But a couple years ago, we had Thanksgiving at his house, and he said, 'I guess you put that bass to good use.' And I was like, 'Thanks for giving me my life man. I love my life.'"

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Next Electric Avenue Show: The Reggay Lords and The Copacetics on Saturday, February 23, 2013

The next Electric Avenue show will kick off on Saturday, February 23, 2013 with a rare Manhattan appearance by The Reggay Lords (a who's who of Brooklyn ska and rocksteady musicians including  members of The Slackers, The Forthrights and The Hard Times, who don powdered wigs and 18th century style garb!) and the NYC debut of Providence, Rhode Island-based ska and reggae band The Copacetics. Doors are at 8:30 pm and the cover is a super low $5!

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

Since last fall, we've been undertaking this labor of love--doing it for free (the bands split 100% of the cover, nobody else takes a cut)--to support ska bands and their fans, and have some fun in the process. Electric Avenue shows already have featured some of the best acts on the ska scene, including King Django, The Snails, The Frightnrs, Destroy Babylon, Bigger Thomas, Beat Brigade, Doomsday!, Los Skarronerros, The Pandemics, The Scofflaws and The Bullbuckers. The Facebook Electric Avenue event page can be found here. And take a moment to "like" the Electric Avenue FB page, so you keep up on our shows.

So who are these Reggay Lords and what has moved them to mix among commoners like us?  I was given an audience with Lord Nugent who responded to my inquiry with the following answer: "We are Reggay Lords, we find little the need to explain ourselves. Tidy thineself and make ready for a Mighty Murderous Sound."

Upon further inquiry, I learned that the band includes:

Lord Point: Speaker of the House of Lords (The Facts, ex-Equilibrians, ex-Coldspot 8)
Time Lord: Dulcimer and choir
Barrister Lord Philip II: Snare, timpani, and choir (Coolie Ranx, Rudie Crew, ex-Stubborn All-Stars, ex-Radiation Kings)
Lord Nugent: Lute and percussion (The Slackers, The Facts)
Lord Oliver Marquis de Baptiste: Basso profundo
Lord Donnelly: Lead lute (The Hard Times)

In fact, The Reggay Lords was originally formed by Jah Point as Jah Love and The Valentinians -- a reggae cover band he put together to perform Lover's Rock songs.  Within the last two years, the band settled on a line-up, changed their name and started to write original songs. The band's debut album will be released digitally on Whatevski Records later this month.  Below, stream Only Money, from the forthcoming album and watch video of the band performing last summer at the Stubborn Records 20th Anniversary show at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn.

Grounded in Ska and Reggae, The Copacetics add healthy doses of Soul, R&B, Jazz, Pop, Doo Wop, and Calypso to their mix for a “dancing is mandatory” sound.  Below stream a few of their songs and watch them play live.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

2013 London International Ska Festival: March 28-31!

The London International Ska Festival is gearing up for Easter weekend (March 28-31, 2013), with 4 main events and a further 6 fringe events planned across legendary London venues, including cinema, DJ all-nighters, a record fair, a Thames boat cruise and exhibitions. Tickets to this once in a lifetime festival are still available here.

The festival is the brainchild of Sean Flowerdew (Special Beat, Pama International) who also helped organize the original festival 25 years ago at The Fridge in Brixton. Flowerdew has pulled out all the stops for the 2013 edition of the festival which will showcase all that ska music has to offer from its roots in rhythm and blues, mento and calypso, to the Jamaican originators, the progression through rocksteady and reggae, 2 Tone, ska-punk and right up-to-date with 21st century ska sounds with both day time and evening shows as well as DJ sets.

The headliners including a dazzling mix of icons, established acts and up and comers including Rico Rodriguez (who will perform the entire Man From Wareika album), a DJ set by Jerry Dammers, BB Seaton, Owen Gray and Vin Gordon on a Thames Cruise), Buster Shuffle, Pannonia Allstars Ska Orchestra, Mr. T Bone, Razika, a Trojan Explosion showcase, a Do The Dog showcase and a finale featuring Ken Boothe and a 2-Tone Disco featuring Rhoda Dakar.

Below is a full 4-day overview of the entire 2013 LISF schedule.


Evening show – 7pm-11pm
RICO RODRIGUEZ performing Man From Wareika
at The Jazz Cafe, Parkway, Camden, London NW1

Clubnight – 11pm-2am
at The Jazz Cafe, Parkway, Camden, London NW1


Daytime – Studio One Thames Cruise (12.30-4.30pm)
BB SEATON (The Gaylads/Bibby & The Astronauts)
OWEN GRAY (one of Studio One’s first artists)
DJ CHRIS PECKINGS (Peckings Studio1)
& more tba
onboard The Dixie Queen, Tower Hill, Thames.

Evening show – 7pm – 11pm
BOMBSKARE (Scotland)
RAZIKA (Norway)
at The Garage, Highbury Corner, London N5.

Clubnights – 11pm-4am
at The Garage, Highbury Corner, Islington
(opp. Highbury & Islington tube)


Evening show – 7pm-11pm
Trojan Explosion
FREDDIE NOTES (Trojan Rcds/Montego Bay)
THE UPSESSIONS (Netherlands)
& more tba
at The 100 Club, 100 Oxford St, London W1

All-nighter – 10pm-6am
Sponsored by Reggae Vinyl Heaven

- The Sound System Room
RAS DIGBY (Sir Jessus Sound)
JUMBO (Java Hi-Power)
- Room 2
at Islington Metal Works, Torrens St, Islington N1
(behind Angel tube station)


Daytime – Exhibition/record fair – midday – 5pm
Boss DJs, record fair, exhibitions, book signings
at Dingwalls, Camden Lock, Camden, London NW1

Daytime – 2pm-6pm
CARTOON VIOLENCE (offical album launch party)
ROBB BLAKE (from Whitmore)
at The Dublin Castle, Parkway, Camden, London NW1

Evening – 7pm-11pm
100 MEN starring Mik Whitnall
at Dingwalls, Camden Lock, London NW1

Closing party – 11pm-2am
THE 2 TONE DISCO – THE SOUNDS OF 79 club night
at Dingwalls, Camden Lock, London NW1

Friday, February 8, 2013

MOTB Review: The Selecter "String Theory"

It's been 2 years since 2-Tone legends The Selecter, led by original vocalists Pauline Black and Gaps Hendrickson, reunited to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their best-selling debut album Too Much Pressure.  During that time, Black (who secured the trademark to the band name in June 2011, while original guitarist Neol Davies and his band also perform the band's music under his name "Neol Davies AKA The Selecter") and Hendrickson have been very busy. They've toured the U.K., Europe and Australia with their band and released an album Made In Britain in 2011 that explored and trumpeted multiculturalism and included a striking cover of the Amy Winehouse classic Back To Black. Black also wrote and published her autobiography Black By Design in 2012 to much acclaim.

Historically, what always set The Selecter apart from other 2-Tone bands, was the pairing of Davies songs and guitar playing and Black's voice, stage energy and unique rude-girl style. Though Black and Hendrickson continue to anchor the bands' vocals, providing continuity to their storied 2-Tone past, on their new 10 track album, String Theory out later this month on Vocaphone Records (available on iTunes, Amazon and CDBaby), they have smartly surrounded themselves with a tight and talented group of musicians who honor the band's iconic 2-Tone sound.  Black and Hendrickson have used that musical foundation to write and record ten modern ska songs that are rooted in the band's legacy but that explore a new spin on 2-Tone's original ideals. Stream the album on the band's web site here.

Following in the tradition of The Selecter’s famed version of James Bond,  the band kick off String Theory with a 2-Tone version of The Avengers, over which Hendrickson re-tells the story of the much loved 60's TV anthem.  Then the album gets down to serious business. The opening chorus and hook of slow reggae burner Prince Among Men, make it clear that The Selecter are on a musical and political mission, as they pay respects to leaders who have worked to give a  voice to the dispossessed: "If a man has to die, make it for a good reason, not to cover up a lie, history is the killing season."  I was also especially struck by Flatworld, which sounds like a long-lost track from the band's underrated second album, Celebrate The Bullet.  It features a fresh, new wave meets reggae sound that laments how we both are connected and alienated from each other as we stare at our flat screens, Black croons "Cest La Vie/La Vie/La Vie."

While I could be wrong, I gather Doors Ever Open, ostensibly about a bad romantic break-up, may actually be about the band's split with Davies, as Black sings: ‘The candle lost its spark/Left me in the dark/Sitting in this draught/The doors ever open’.  The band explore ska/psychedelia on Postmodern with a knowing nod to The Specials "Stereotype" taking aim at an unnamed conservative (perhaps the current British PM?) who say what is politically expedient but who hold tight to their old, outdated belief systems that prevent progress.

While Davies will always remain the band's musical touchstone, guitarist Anthony Harty (who was recruited at the age of 16 by Paul Weller to join the original version of the Style Council in 1984 and later toured with Special Beat, Sting, Squeeze and recorded with Lee 'Scratch' Perry) shows some serious chops of his own throughout the album. Just check out his guitar flourishes on the 60's styled big band ska song Secret Love, the orchestral High Hair (a moving song about a woman's mid-life crisis) and particularly on the muscular and memorable London's Burning,  about the 2011 riots, and another song that harks back to the band's earlier lament Bristol and Miami about riots that decimated both those cities in the early 80's.

The album ends on an especially high note, with the single worthy 667 (Neighbour Of The Beast), which may be the best song on the album, and an instant classic.  It is an emotional, ska/soca duet between Black and Hendrickson about disappointment and regret, during which Black explains the universal meaning of the album title.  All in all, its a powerful end to a great collection of songs.

Many of the new songs beg to be played live and hopefully they will get a proper outing on the band's U.K. tour in March and U.S. tour in April that includes two performances at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival On April 13th and April 20th.

I highly recommend String Theory.  Its a testament to the power and ethos of 2-Tone music to make us dance and think at the same time.

Madness Album "Liberty Of Norton Folgate" Adapted Into BBC Radio Play

Madness’s excellent 2009 concept album, The Liberty Of Norton Folgate, about London's rich past as a melting pot of immigrant cultures, has inspired a new, one hour BBC Radio 4 play starring band members Suggs, Mike Barson and Chas Smash. The drama will be broadcast for the first time in the U.K. on Saturday, February 9th.

The radio play is based around Bangladeshi immigrant characters who have owned a cafe in London's Norton Folgate for thirty years. But now the local governing council have served a demolition order, and the developer of the site turns out to be the father of their son's girlfriend.

The play, which took over two years to develop, was written by Mark Davies Markham who has shared the back story about it on a blog post published on the BBC web site:
Suggs, of legendary ska popsters Madness, is married to a brilliant singer. She’s Bette Bright of Deaf School fame. I’m at a Deaf School reunion gig - I see Bette and seize the moment to thank her for letting me use two of her songs in a musical I had written for The Liverpool Everyman. Flattered, she invites me to have a lager shandy with her old man, Suggs. Hunched up tight in a cosy corner of The Hope Street Hotel I pitch an idea to the cheeky chap. "BBC Radio 4. A play created around a classic concept album. What do you reckon?" Madness in the Radio 4 studio   "Hang about," barked the bard of Camden Town. "I bet you been to Bowie for Ziggy Stardust?" Spooky and uncannily true. "And he turned you down?" "Er. Well, his management did." "Pink Floyd for Dark Side of the Moon?" The man has a crystal ball. Nay two. "And now you want Madness to let you loose with your grubby maulers on our classic, critically acclaimed, mega-selling The Liberty of Norton Folgate?" OK, make that three. One for luck. "Absolutely, old son..."
We discussed how this might work. I would not only need his approval but that of the rest of the band too. And, as luck would have it, The Liberty of Norton Folgate was the perfect concept album to go back with to my producer Jeremy Mortimer. The next stage was to find out what inspired the album. After conversations with Suggs and Carl Smith (aka Chas Smash) I found out.  At the heart of it are the positive elements of immigration to London’s Spitalfields. How generations of immigrants have contributed to the area to make it the vibrant, unique place that it undoubtedly is. 
The play airs at 2:30 CET time on Saturday February 9th in the U.K.  It can be streamed live outside the U.K. on the BBC's web player here.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

UB40 Drummer Jim Brown Explains The Horror Movie Link Behind Present Arms Track "Sardonicus"

Though many fans of UB40 consider their first album Signing Off to be their best, I have always believed that their follow-up recording, Present Arms is its equal, featuring two of the band's best songs -- One In Ten (which I have written about before) and Sardonicus.  The album remains a hallmark because it successfully combined the pure, technical characteristics of true Jamaican reggae with a British pop influence and topicality that captivated audiences when it was released in 1981.

As a bassist, I have always been impressed with UB40's rhythm section of drummer James Brown and bassist Earl Falconer.  Indeed, Brown's syncopated drumming has been the backbone of UB40’s sound since day one. Self taught like all his other band mates, his performance on the band's early recordings (before they embraced syths and drum machines) is quite remarkable.  Horace Panter of The Specials no less, has name checked Brown (along with John Bradbury of The Specials) in his memoir "Ska'd For Life" as one of the best white reggae drummers ever.

Though UB40 has always shared the song writing credits equally, its well known that Brown penned the lyrics to many of the band's best songs from their early albums including One In Ten and Sardonicus. In addition to his musicality, Brown has been described as the thinking man's musician and a talkative anarchist. He's always been the bands readiest and most radical commentator on social and political matters. He also has a very diverse knowledge and taste in movies which informed his song writing including the understated, yet powerful Sardonicus.

As quick background, risus sardonicus is a a medical condition featuring, sustained spasm of the facial muscles that appears to produce grinning. A case of risus sardonicus features in Sherlock Holmes story The Sign Of The Four, Batman (just take a look at the Joker's sardonic grin!) and the 1961 horror film "Mr Sardonicus" produced and directed by William Castle. It tells the story of Sardonicus, a man whose face becomes frozen in a horrifying grin while robbing his father's grave to obtain a winning lottery ticket.

According to Brown, a passionate film buff, the lyrics he wrote use the imagery from the film as a jab at then U.S. President Ronald Reagan ("Many men are fooled by his smile /His superficial grace his charm his style "):
"It was based on a little known cult movie called 'Mr Sardonicus'. It's about a man who has a hideous grin frozen on his face. At the time it was aimed at Ronald Reagan.  It was made by William Castle, a well known director of cheap, bizarre low budget 'shockers' in the fifties and sixties.  Usually starring Vincent Price. He was like a cross between Ed Wood and Roger Corman. Totally mental, but with a wicked sense of humor and good technique. He wasn't known for his subtlety. I suppose his most famous films are 'The House On Haunted Hill' and 'The Tingler'. For that movie they rigged the cinema seats to deliver an electric shock. That incident has become movie folklore."
The Reagan link was made subtly again via a movie title, when UB40 released a dub version of the album Present Arms In Dub (the very  first dub music album to hit the UK top 40) and Sardonicus was retitled Kings Row after the 1942 Reagan movie in which he plays the character, Drake McHugh, who has both legs amputated by a sadistic surgeon, played by James Coburn. When he comes to following the operation, Reagan's character screams, "Where's the rest of me?" Indeed...

Monday, February 4, 2013

Reggae Legend Jimmy Cliff Stars in Volkswagen Super Bowl Ads

In case you missed it (and I did!) below, are Volkswagen television ads staring reggae legend Jimmy Cliff singing a cover version of the Partridge Family theme song “Get Happy” that were produced to air during the  National Football League's Super Bowl last night.

The first ad, featured Cliff sourrounded by various YouTube celebrities known for their decidedly unhappy online tirades or breakdowns. The large group dances -- awkwardly at times -- while Cliff extols the virtues of being happy. Look closely and you'll see YouTube celebs like Angry Politician, Girl Who Loves Cats So Much She Cries and Base-Throwing Angry Baseball Manager.

The other ad, which aired during the broadcast of the Super Bowl game last night featured an American office worker speaking with a Jamaican accent, urging co-workers to be a bit more positive. The spot is backed by Cliff crooning the same "Get Happy" cover.  Reaction to the ad has been mixed with some including NBC’s “Today Show” calling it offensive.

Cliff responded to the controversy with the following statement on his Facebook page:
“I chose to record the song that’s part of the Volkswagen Super Bowl campaign because it has a great message and it is something that people can apply to everyday life. I have travelled around the world many times, met all types of people and played in front of millions throughout my career. I have personally seen the positive effects of reggae music and Jamaican culture. I am a proud Jamaican and stand by this campaign, I feel like people need to focus on peace and unity. Blessed love.”
Apparently the Jamaican government was also supportive of the spot.
“I think this is a very creative commercial which truly taps into the tremendous appeal that brand Jamaica and its hospitable people have globally,” Tourism Minister Wykeham McNeill has said in a statement.
Volkswagen has stood by the commercial. Since it was posted to YouTube on Jan. 27, the commercial has been viewed more than 7 million times.