I could chew your ears off about why I adore jazz; the intricate patterns, the varied styles. I could lecture hours on rock; its everchanging trends, the power and emotion, connotations and evocative song writing. But I can wrap up why I love ska most in a nutshell; it’s the offbeat, that little bounce which forces you to your feet. It really is that simple, but its simplicity is its niche.
Knockout, the forthcoming album by Ya Freshness and the Big Boss Band exemplifies that simplicity, for it doesn’t come across in riddles, it doesn’t attempt to shove a philosophy down your throat, neither does it push boundaries and experiment with the genre, hardly. This album just does what the performer and band clearly relish; it blasts fun-loving, unadulterated ska, boss reggae and a sprinkling of rock steady at you with sublime panache and jollity.
In that respect, the name Ya Freshness is the only conundrum, as freshness implies something new and modern, whereas the fashion here is strictly retrospective, but once the tempi sets in, who cares? Akin to the Opel Fruit challenge, I bet you can’t put this album on your player without dancing!
For me there’s nothing here to dislike; Ya Freshness puts Bristol on the ska map, if there is a ska map. From humble beginnings in Kingston, through to migrant Jamaicans influencing British youth of the sixties and seventies, its third generation’s map is global. There’s a few adroit nods to these developments in Knockout, but mostly it relates to traditional ska and English two-tone. Take the brisk track “Back in Town,” for example, which claims, “rude-boys are back in town, all you gotta do is put your ska-head on.” I’d like to tell Ya Freshness, that’s the head I’ve used as standard since ‘79, the others collect dust on a shelf!
Momentarily cast aside ska orchestras in Toyoko and Melbourne, the budding ska scene in Montreal, also pause considering ska is the root of reggae, and through this its humongous influence on pop, because through the development of Jamaica’s musical export, and despite its persuasions to progress melodiously, nothing beats a good old knees-up to the original ingredients of brass, up-tempo rhythms and choo-choo vocals; Knockout does this, with bells on.
Vocally Ya Freshness has a relaxed chatty style, with excitement in his voice indicating he’s undoubtedly in his comfort zone. There’s a colossal eighteen tunes on offer, traditionally averaged at three minutes a piece. Rare for its tracks, the opening tune is rock steady, aptly titled thus.
The subsequent two tunes pure boss reggae, but its at the fourth tune where diversity sways; Rebell Yell thrashes a distinctly punk intro and swiftly switches to ska. There follows perhaps the most interesting tune; Ridim Fire is the exception to the aforementioned nonexperimental rule, it offers a governmental satirical stab, “they never tell you the truth anyway,” notes Johnny Rotten’s warning of Jimmy Saville, and to add to its anarchistic overtones, Ya Freshness virtually impersonates the Sex Pistol.
Regime annotations end there though, and it’s back on with the fun. Ska Mouth is marvellously upbeat, making the perfect advertisement for the Great Yarmouth Ska Festival, introducing a cameo by Neville Staple indeed twitches your finger to “buy your ticket online.” Legendary trombonist Rico Rodriguez is also featured on this musical marathon.
No Skylarking continues the upbeat ska trend, probably my fav if I was forced to pick, it has echoes of both The Specials’ Gangsters and appropriately, Horace Andy’s Skylarking. Who Goes There rings justifiable self-praise, and Reggae Skins returns to boss reggae with a super homage to the skinheads.
Welcome to my Ska World, does what it says on the tin, and four ska tunes play this marvellous album out, including with YaYaYa, a comical nod to European’s positive reactions to his music and finally Skin Deep, another nod to bluebeat, two-tone scooter culture, The Beat in particular and it polishes this ska holiday off agreeably.
31st of March sees the album launched at the Two-Tone Yard in Coventry and it’s due to be released shortly afterwards. The Crowdfunding campaign is still underway, so check them out and like the Ya Freshness Facebook page for more info. Ya Freshness is produced on Strictly Rockers Records, click here for info.