As promised/threatened (delete as appropriate) I’m continuing on with the pledge to relaunch the Song of the Day feature, and today proves ska is universal.
From Yekaterinburg in Russia, Lollipop Lorry have worked their way to the top of the international ska scene over a twelve year period, getting kudos through a tour of Mexico this year, where the scene is at its apex.
It’s refreshingly fun and carefree sunshine music, as ska should be, and this tune is out today. If anyone could translate I might know the subject, but the amusing speed dating video suggests a frustrating man-hunt! You just have to pick one, Svetlana, we really are all that rubbish, (excluding myself obviously!)
They first caught my attention and affection three years ago when covering the Gaylettes’ rock steady classic, Silent River (Runs Deep) in which one third of Bob Marley’s backing singer trio, The I-Threes, Judy Mowatt takes the lead vocal. Judy’s range is such that this was no easy feat, which front lady Svetlana made a cracking job of, in a sultry and distinctly Russian tinge; I’m smitten, don’t tell the trouble and strife… long distance relationships never work out!
Top marks and a gold star for this album, released tomorrow, Friday 20th August; Bad Press, of which you’ll hear no such thing as bad press from me, and I’d be interested in how anyone could find an angle to do such. Yet if the title is subtle irony, more so is the band name, Captain Accident & The Disasters.
From the band name alone it’s understandable for one to perceive their output as comical or zany, but far from it. Here is some sublime, concentrated reggae and rock steady, bouncy and carefree, yes, but astutely written, covering some acute themes as well as the general tenet of rock steady; forlorn or unabridged romance. Neither am I willing to accept the talent here is any way an accident, and the band is anything but a disaster!
Twenty seconds into Bad Press is all you need to realise why David Rodigan speaks so highly of Cardiff’s Captain Accident & The Disasters, and they were invited back to tour with legends Toots & the Maytals after their 2016 UK tour, as the official full-tour support in 2017 and again in 2018. Which they did, and Captain Accident was asked to join the band onstage to perform Monkey Man on guitar. If it wasn’t for lockdown and the tragic passing of Toots Hibbert last year, they would have been on the European tour that year also.
Other than the wonderful sunshine reggae vibe, there’s not a great deal else going on in Bad Press, yet there’s no need to be. The band stick to the tried and tested formula, the mellow plod of traditional one-drop reggae, occasionally more steppers upbeat with only subtle ska or dub elements coming through. Note importantly, they do this with bells on. It doesn’t attempt to swerve off with experimentation. All tracks flow with precision and a highly polished sound produced with traditional instruments. At no time will Bad Press replicate a previous tune through dubplate principles, neither will a dancehall DJ toast over it, or a drum n bass riff be thrust unexpectedly at you; good, honest and exceptionally beautiful roots, rock reggae is what you get.
If themes reflect lovers rock or rock steady on occasion, it’s nicely done, and in others, where more sombre subject matter arises there’s no militancy, rather the longstanding carefree reggae ethos of not worrying, dancing reservations away, as every little thing will be alright. Neither does Rasta etiquettes or such biblical or cultural references come into play, making this reggae for the masses as well as aficionados. It’s just, ah, tingly, and apt for all!
Despite the band’s output, three previous albums being self-produced, their beguiling festival friendly sound has rocketed their success with a national fan-base growing by the day. I fully believe Bad Press will seal the deal.
Ten songs strong, I couldn’t pick a favourite. As I believe I said, it flows, blessing your ears with inspirational sound. In Redemption Song familiarities the content of the opening tune casts an eye on Armageddon, but pessimism doesn’t deject or depress you, and the title, “Not the End of the World,” says it all. The aforementioned carefree attitude carries over with the catchy “Best Shoes,” the upbeat melody cutting to plod as Captain Accident aptly quotes Marley, “when the music hits you, you feel no pain.”
And such is unswaying general premise throughout, returning to one-drop for the beautiful “Playing Field,” which truly showcases the writing skill on righteousness and equality. Swapping back to the common hopeless romantic theme, “Wings,” will melt you, like the referenced wings of Icarus. Followed by the most ska-ish, the buoyant “Miami Incorporating.”
There is nothing here to rightfully label this with bad press, perhaps the blithest tune being the “Dark n Stormy,” with a rum subject, there’s a real Caribbean feel, yet the most interestingly intertwined is the rock-inspired guitar previous song, “Puttin’ Up a Fight,” because it clarifies this “reggae for all,” notion I’ve attempted to convey. I hope this comes across, especially in these local parts where the genre is often misunderstood and misrepresented. If your knowledge of reggae doesn’t extend much past Bob Marley & The Wailers in their international prime, you will love this. Yet, for bods like me, a humongous enthusiast, it fills me with a glorious passion that the traditional aspects of reggae will never be lost in a sea of dancehall, reggaeton and dubstep.
Meaning to bring back this simple and quick feature for a while now, and what better opportunity than a new tune from Cardiff’s reggae virtuosoes Captain Accident and the Disasters?
Nice mellow rock steady number this one, with a sombre theme and contrasting clown in the video. Bring on those happy, happy clowns, for a band who supported Toots and the Maytals on their 2016 UK tour, who Toots Hibbert liked so much to invite them back to do the same for the follow two tours, it could only be more talent than “accident.”
And that’s my song of the day!! Very good, carry on…..
Rude girls grito! Far from home perhaps, but so, so worth mentioning for tropical vibes of rock steady and ska in a fashion proportionately you’ll find hard to come by around these parts, it’s my beloved all-girl-bar-one Mexican ska band, Girls Go Ska with a bran-new album Frente al Mar. Girls and ska, what’s not to like?!
From the off, the title track simply melts, mellowly, and builds in tempo, but is never overdramatic; “cool” is the operative word; fresco! If I’ve put them on a pedestal before, they’ve now put another couple of pedestals atop it. Often steady paced for the genre, it proves ska, while upbeat doesn’t have to be full of macho-bravura skinheads, or a frenzied rancour attack against dogmatic tyranny it’s often misperceived here through the eighties’ second-generation Two-Tone scene, and within the dominate contemporary ska-punk internationally. I’ve made this point in the past when penning a more general piece about ska and reggae in South America, in which Girls Go Ska were featured.
Frente al Mar is breezy, bright and fun, light-hearted and beguiling. It roots the genre to its original Jamaican ethos, as a carefree dance music. Though, there’s a large chunk of assumption with those observations, as my Spanish isn’t up to scratch, so my presumption rests on the design, the album name, which translates to the seaside, basically, and mood of the vocals; if they’re singing about anything other than romantic themes and enjoying oneself dancing on a tropical beach, like making political statement, it certainly doesn’t sound that way! You just have to enjoy the professionality and untroubled vibe this album breezes in your direction, it’s gorgeous, and it absolutely skanks!
Packaged femininely in loud pink and decorated with cute shōjo manga, rather than our typecast black and white chequered trade identity with Walt Jabsco splashed all over, Frente al Mar provides an alternative to norm, but is no way attributes the “fairer sex,” rather riot grrrl kick-ass in tenet, gender-neutral in sound. Not that punk comes into play; throughout it’s steadfast traditional ska sound, one should credit Studio One rather than Two-Tone, or even Reel Big Fish for, there’s also sprinklings of Latino sound traditional to Mexico, of ranchera, norteño and their contemporary offshoots, but are subtle and likely naturally occurring.
Imagine, if your English mind will adapt, Gloria Estefan performing ska, and you’re nearer to the mark than The Specials. But no, eight sublimely flowing tunes is what you get, a sun-kissed blessing on the ear, in the style of brass-based rock steady and good ol’ ska. While pukka boys, Death of Guitar Pop are currently returning the welcomed Nutty-Boys-esque frivolous and fairground ska home for lads, further afield, here comes the girls.
Meanwhile here in my hometown of Devizes, the newly opened rum bar, The Muck & Dundar has been a roaring success, proving a taste of the tropical is welcomed, ergo, taken out of its context and origins, Frente al Mar would make the perfect soundtrack to it. Me? I’m smitten, with a little crush!
As a nipper I’d spend days, entire school holidays, making mixtapes as if I worked for Now, That’s What I Call Music! In the era before hi-fi, I’d sit holding a microphone to the radio’s speaker, adventurously attempting to anticipate when Tony Blackburn was going to talk over the tune, and just when In the Air Tonight peaked with Phil’s crashing drums, my dad would shout up the stairs that my tea was ready; eternally caught on tape, at least until my Walkman screwed up the cassette.
Crude to look back, even when I advanced to tape-to-tape, I discovered if I pressed the pause button very slowly on the recording cassette deck, it would slide into the next song, and with a second of grinding squeal Howard Jones glided into Yazoo!! Always the DJ, just never with the tech! Rest assured; this doesn’t happen on this, our Various Artists compilation album, 4 Julia’s House. And oh, have I got some news about that?!
Huh? Yes, I have, and here it is….
We did it! Thanks once again to all our fabulous contributing artists, our third instalment of detailed sleeve notes will follow shortly, but for now, I couldn’t wait another day, therefore, I’ve released it half a day early, this afternoon!
Now all that needs to happen is to get promoting it, and you can help by sharing news of this on your social media pages, thank you. Bloggers and media please get in touch, and help me raise some funds for Julia’s House.
I’ve embedded a player, in which you should be able to get a full try before you buy, I believe you get three listens before it’ll default and tell you to buy it. I hope you enjoy, it has been a mission and half, but one I’d gladly do again.
Please note: there are many artists giving it, “oh no, I was going to send you a track!” Fear not, there is still time, as I’ll causally start collecting tunes for a volume 2, and when the time is ready and we have enough songs, we will do it. It might be for another charity, I’d personally like to do another raising funds for The Devizes & District Opportunity Centre, but that’s unconfirmed as of yet.
You know, sometimes I think I could raise more money with less effort by trekking down through the Market Place in a bath of cold baked beans, but I wanted to bring you a treasured item comprising of so many great artists we’ve featured, or will be featuring in the near future on Devizine. Never before has all these artists been on one huge album like this, and look, even if you don’t care for a particular tune, there’s 46 of them, check my maths as I pride myself on being exceptionally rubbish at it, but I make that 22p a track, and all for such a worthy cause!
“We are so grateful to Devizine and all of the local artists who are taking part in the charity album to raise funds for Julia’s House. We don’t receive any government funding for the care we give to families in Wiltshire, so the support we receive from our local community is so important.”
Claudia Hickin, Community Fundraiser at Julia’s House
No matter the subject, a lesson is only as interesting as the teacher teaching it. Johnny Ball did the impossible, he made maths fun! Likewise, but more modern, Terry Deary’s books and subsequent CBBC show, Horrible Histories made what’s often perceived as a dull subject by pupils, somehow entertaining, amusing even. If Deary was my history teacher, rather than a thick-rimmed speccy, bearded beatnik with leather elbow patches on his tweed jacket, well, I might just have taken heed of their wisdoms.
Equally, if you want to teach history to a bunch of scooterist skinheads, consider employing The Bakesys, for they are a skanking Horrible Histories, at least for this new album, released last Thursday called Sentences I’d Like to Hear the End of.
Something of an elusive band despite twenty years presence on the UK ska scene, the early stages of The Bakesys reflected heavily on punk inspirations, such as the Buzzcocks, crossed with later developments of a definite Two-Tone influence. Sentences I’d Like to Hear the End of takes it to whole other level. Akin to what On-U Sound did for dub in the nineties, sprinkling in a counter culture punk ethos, The Bakesys do for ska. It’s more upbeat than the usual plod of dub, but strewn with samples, heavy basslines, and drum machine loops, it has its elements.
From another angle though, as Dreadzone meld such influences into the electronic dance scene, there’s a contemporary sound, a mesh of offbeat influences with the Bakesys, more in line with the current ska scene. The flood of brass and chugging rhythms confirms its allegiance to authentic 1960’s Jamaican ska. What comes out the end is unique beguiling buoyancy, and it’s absolutely addictive.
Yet we’re only scraping the surface of why, the theme of the album is the kingpin here. Reflecting the era of its influences, subjects are historic affairs based in the sixties. The opening title track raps of Christine Keeler and the Profumo Affair. Get Your Moonboots on is on Apollo 11’s moon landing, and the third, most haunting tune, You are Leaving the American Sector takes newsreels of the Berlin Wall. One I’ve been playing endlessly the single of on my Friday night Boot Boy radio show.
Atomic Invasion explores the Cold War, yet, as with Keeler, this sublime set of songs often concentrates more on the personalities than facts of the events. The Space Race is up next, with a nod to Yuri Gagarin’s luminary. Then it’s the Cuban Missile Crisis with the numerous failed attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro, Cassius Clay’s rise to heavyweight champion of the world, and Robert F. Kennedy’s assignation.
Despite these often-dark subjects, it’s surprisingly upbeat, as if, like I said, The Bakeseys are the funky relief history teacher, and your class is about get moon stomping! The last three tracks offers dub versions of the most poignant tunes on offer here, yet the album as a complete concept is nothing short of brilliant.
The third CD album released on Bandcamp, and quite the best place to start if you’re unaware of them. Keyboardist Kevin Flowerdew, has self-published the ska scene’s definitive zine, Do The Dog Skazine for many decades, which has released this under its label namesake, Do the Dog Music, so he certainly knows what makes a great sound; which this does with bells on.
A new album released yesterday from Swindon’s premier reggae keyboardist and producer Erin Bardwell made me contemplate a section of Henri Charrière’s book Papillon. The autobiographical account of a fellow no prison or penal colony can seem to keep incarcerated. There’s a point where Papillon deliberately causes a disturbance in order to be put in solitary confinement. He claims he prefers it to the regular cells, because away from the other inmates, alone in pitch darkness he can reimagine, practically hallucinate and relive his better days.
For the concept of the album and accompanying film Get Organised is largely reminiscing and reflecting on his past. Possibly, I suspect, due to age becoming, the fact this marks a thirtieth anniversary of the formation of his heyday two-tone band, The Skanxters, but largely due to lockdown.
Myself, lockdown has been parttime. I’ve worked throughout, galivanting through the villages, meeting early morning risers, and it’s all been much the same as it ever was, just cannot nip t’ pub, or see family living out of the area. Which is frustrating at times, but I accept it’s not as bad as those shielding and self-isolating; that would’ve driven me insane my now. It’s common in isolation to consider one’s life and recollect, but Erin does it over a reggae beat; and I approve!
We’ve been here before; this is not Erin’s first reflection of lockdown. Pre-pandemic he directed a collective who were pushing new boundaries in rock steady. But April last year saw the solo release of Interval, a deeply personal reflection and mind-blowingly cavernous concept album, diving into the psyche and exploring past events; scarce formula for reggae.
Yet Erin’s style is such; relished in unconformity, individualism and freethinking, factors which make it so utterly unique it’s hard to compare. It’s this standout signature which Erin stamps on all projects, be them solo, as the Collective, or side projects such as the experimental dub of Subject A with Dean Sartain, or The Man on the Bridge project with ex-Hotknives Dave Clifton, which defines the very sound of reggae in Swindon and puts it on the skanking map. If there was a skanking map, which I wish there was!
Whereas Interval’s morose mood merged styles through experimentation, some often out of the confines of reggae, be they jazz, ambient and space rock, Get Organised will wash better with the matured skinheads, scooterists and Two-Tone aficionados, for it sits with more golden era reggae, particularly of the sixties Trojan “boss” reggae epoch. They tend to know what they like, and favour tradition over risky and radical progressions.
In this notion too it’s sprightlier and more optimistic than Interval, a result of vaccinations and this “roadmap” out of lockdown, perhaps; The Erin Bardwell Trio booked for a gig at Swindon’s Victoria on 1st July. Though at times there’s still the thoughtful prose Erin is fashioned for, reflecting the effect of lockdown. The lyrics of Eight O’clock, for example, which notes despite the usually lively nightlife at this time, the town is quiet.
They’re all sublimely crafted pieces, the title track’s mellow riff nods to Lee Scratch Perry’s middling Upsetters period with something akin to a tune like Dollar in the Teeth. And in that, we have to consider the great producers of rockers reggae for comparisons, rather than the artists. Aforementioned Perry, but of Niney the Observer, of Harry J too, and Get Organised subtly delves into dub, so I guess King Tubby also. Yet the opening tune reminded me of the earlier, legendary producer Duke Reid.
Erin has the proficiency to cherry-pick elements from reggae’s rich history, effectively merge them and retain this said signature style. The Savoy Ballroom has the expertise keys of Jackie Mittoo, with the vaudeville toytown sound of Madness. That said has opened another Pandora’s box, as Two-Tone also has a significant influence on Get Organised, naturally. The grand finale We Put on that Show is reflective of the era, along the lines of the steady plod of Do Nothing rather than the frenzied ska of Little Bitch, if we’re going to make a Specials contrast, which I think is apt.
Equally, you’re going to love this if, like me, you cite the debut album Signing Off, as UB40’s magnum opus rather than their following pop covers, or just if you’re looking for something different from the norm.
These recollections are visualised in a half-hour video, making it more poignant. It’s a scrapbook film, with homemade clips of The Skanxters setting up or driving to a gig, footage I’d expect to have been largely unseen until now. There’s also a montage of memoirs chronicling Erin’s career, as the camera pans across gig posters, bus tickets, vinyl and press cuttings. Though far from documentary, the sound plays out the album, the material an aid to the songs, and a fascinating art project to accompany it.
“A second solo album wasn’t really part of the plan,” Erin explains,“but with the current climate as it is, I still found myself coming up with music and songs. These tunes started following a theme, that led to a film idea, and the sounds and visuals grew together influencing each other.”
The point in the early nineties, when the Skanxters were the pride of Swindon’s two-tone scene is captured well, and while those on the circuit, or even living locally then, will love recognising the many memoirs, anyone into the scene at the time will thoroughly enjoy this outing. Overall, though, Erin continues to break boundaries, and this album is a blessing and pleasure to listen to, alone from its narrative and meaning, as all good reggae should.
Righty, a pop quiz question prior to today’s review, if you’re game? Look at the three people pictured below, which one of them influenced reggae music the most, A, B or C?
Answer: A. Did you guess right? Probably, because you know me well enough to know it was a trick question! C is Jamaican National team footballer, Allan “Skill” Cole, though as a close friend of Bob Marley he became the Wailers tour manager and was credited in co-writing some songs. And B is just Brad Pitt with a Bob Marley makeover for a biopic which has yet to see the light of day!
On the other hand, A is Sister of Mercy, Sister Mary Ignatius Davies, a teacher of Kingston’s vocational residential school, Alpha Cottage School, a school for “wayward boys.” A devotee of blues and jazz, she operated a sound system at the school and tutored many of Jamaica’s most influential musicians. As a musical mentor for graduates she dubbed “the old boys,” would later make up the backbone of The Skatalites, producer Coxsone Dodd’s inhouse band which shaped the very foundation of ska at Studio One.
Here is the unrivalled benchmark of Jamaican music, as well as a plethora of instrumental ska classics, just like Booker T & the MGs were the inhouse band of Stax, The Skatalites backed more memorable singles from too many singers to sensibly name here, yes, including Bob Marley.
To suggest a ska band isn’t as good as Studio One’s Skatalites is not an insult, rather a compliment to even be mentioned in the same sentence. It’d be the rock equivalent of saying that guitarist isn’t as good as Jimi Hendrix. For all intents and purposes, Cosmic Shuffling are not a new Skatalites, but to find anyone to come close nowadays, you need not look further than Switzerland; yeah, you read that right.
Ska in Switzerland usually abbreviates Square Kilometre Array, the forefront organisation of fundamental science, with a mahoosive universe-scoping telescope. Yet I’ve discovered some stars of my own, creating some sublime ska music. While Skaladdin are strictly ska-punk, and the amazing Sir Jay & The Skatanauts are majorly jazz-inspired, there is a scene blossoming. Geneva based combo Cosmic Shuffling are ones to watch. With a penchant and dedication to the authentic golden age of Jamaican sounds, Cosmic Shuffling deserve a comparison to Skatalites more than anyone else I could roll off, even to note, they’re Fruits Record’s inhouse band.
After a few scorching singles on Fruits Records, Cosmic Shuffling release an album, Magic Rocket Ship, tomorrow, 13th November. Nine tracks strong, this is mega-ska bliss. Without the usual ethos of speed being the essence, this lends perhaps closer to rock steady, but prevalent horns give it that initial changeover between styles, when ska was slowing, due to curfew in Jamaica and a particularly sweltering summer. Rock Steady may’ve been short-lived but was reggae’s blueprint, ska’s successor and arguably the most creative period of Jamaican recorded music history.
If you’ve even a slight fondness for traditional ska and reggae, I cannot recommend this enough. At one point I felt the English lyrics slightly quirky, with wonky connotations perhaps lost in translation, albeit with a tune stimulated from a Dr Seuss character, namely The Cat in the Hat, I guess seriousness is not on the agenda. Neither are vocals wholly on show here, but the “tightness” of the band, making the composition of every tune simply divine. I can’t fault it, only jump and twist to it like it was going out of fashion! Which, by the way, in my world, it never will.
Magic Rocket Ship is both a tribute to Jamaican music and a breakthrough into the innovative world of the sextet. Recorded in the aesthetics of sixties sound; ribbon microphones, magnetic tapes and analogue saturation, by extraordinary Spanish producer Roberto Sánchez, it’s a delight to listen to. From it’s opening vocal title track, which doubles up as an explanation to the band name, to the fantastic instrumental up-tempo finale Eastern Ska, every tune is a banger.
Perhaps with Anne Bonny as the most subject worthy, Short Break the most romantically inducing, and Night In Palermo being the most sublimely jazzy, it’s clear with Magic Rocket Ship vocalist Leo Mohr, with Loïc Moret on drums, backing vocals and percussion, Mathias Liengme on piano, organ, backing vocals, percussion, Basile Rickli on alto saxophone, backing vocals, Anthony Dietrich Buclin on trombone, backing vocals and bassist Primo Viviani. With guest guitarists Roberto Sánchez, Josu Santamaria and Tom Brunt, Gregor Vidic on tenor saxophone, William Jacquemet on trombone and trumpeters Thomas Florin, and Ludovic Lagana, Cosmic Shuffling have set a new benchmark, mimicking those legendary Skatalites, without the help of a nun. At least, I don’t believe there was a nun involved!
A superb new live album from Dublin’s finest ska-reggae outfit, The Bionic Rats….
There’s some wonky logic in the character Jimmy Rabbitte’s bemusing outburst in The Commitments film, “The Irish are the blacks of Europe. And Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland. And the Northside Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin. So, say it once and say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud!” Persecuted before the slave trade, there are some intelligible contrasts between the oppressed races.
Still, the thought of Dublin conjures rock legends to outsiders of every decade, be it from Thin Lizzy to Skid Row and U2 to The Script. Diverse as any city though, if you thought the idea of music of black origin was the stuff of films, think again.
Far from a retrospective regression going through the motions of a bygone Two-Tone era, The Bionic Rats are an exciting, energetic reggae and ska six-piece from Dublin with a building collection of original and stimulating material. Even their band name, I suspect, is taken from a Black Ark tune, Lee Scratch Perry’s renowned studio. Yesterday they released a dynamic album doing their thing where they do it best, on stage, in their home city.
In a conclusively roots reggae inspired track, Red Gold and Green, frontman, Del Bionic lays down a chorus not so far fled from the Commitments quote, “reggae is talking about the things I bear witness to, on and off the Liffey quays. I’m not Jamaican, Dublin born and bred, I don’t wanna be a natty dread,” Though a bulk of the material here is upbeat ska, if it relates to a modern ska era, it borrows extensively from Two-Tone, particularly for it’s no bullshit attitude and social commentary. A component definingly reggae, or correlated to any plight of poverty and societal righteousness in general. It rings out the enduring message, reggae is universal.
Reggae often takes on board regional folk roots, be it influenced by, or using traditional instruments of that area, the recent surge in Balkan ska for example. Yet, the only local element the Bionic Rats take is said Irish bitter repartee and attitude within their subject matter.
Their sound is beguiling and directed towards the very origins of Jamaican pop music, and skanks to any highest region! The very reason why they’re a force to be reckoned with, internationally, having shared the stage with their mentors, Madness, Bad Manners, Horace Andy, Israel Vibration, Johnny Clarke and their aforementioned namesake, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, also opening for Damien Dempsey and Imelda May. A hit with the crowds at the One Love Festival in Sussex, London International Ska Festival, they’ve made the frontpage of eminent Do The Dog Skazine, Doc Marten’s used their song Dear John for an online campaign and they continue to skank the crowd at Dublin’s longest running reggae night ‘The Sunday Skank’ in the Temple Bar.
Ironically the 2009 debut album was titled Return of The Bionic Rats, and since three more albums have followed. The good news is, wonderful as their studio albums are, we can all now pretend we’re in the crowd of a Sunday Skank with this beauty of a recorded live show, and boy, do they give it some.
The premise is simple, as it is with ska. Lyrics often minor compared to offbeats and horns. Subject matter slight; between girls, lust, dancing, record buying and being rude, the Rats offer sentiments on prejudges, tyranny and oppression, but seldom will romance be on the cards. You may not be enchanted by The Bionic Rats, who describe this release as “perfectly capturing The Bionic Rats in all their sloppy greatness,” but your waistline will get a darn good workout.
While we’re tempted by the simplicity of the upbeat ska sound in danceable tracks like Annie Oakes, the sweary Bad Garda and the particularly well grafted tale of obsessive record buying, Hooked on 45s, there’s roots, like aforementioned Red, Gold & Green, and rock steady numbers such as prejudice themed Dear John. There’s no end of expected banter and comical themes, such as the English Beat sounding Girl with Big Hands. Then there’s that contemporary third-gen fashioned ska-reggae but wrapped in a no-bars-held cussing, of which titles speak for themselves; Twisted Little Bitter Little Fuckers, for example.
Such is the expected acrimonious nature of an Irish ska band; lap it up, it’s refined rudeness. Done too, with experience, The Bionic Rats rose from the ashes of Dublin-based reggae band, King Sativa, who were active on the scene from 1998 until their breakup in 2005. Their guitarist Graham Birney, and drummer Anthony Kenny moved over to the Bionic Rats. Like them, or not, I’m convinced they probably don’t give a toss, but going on this superb live album, you certainly can’t ignore them.
Local reggae a rarity around these backwaters, but when it does rise you can trust Pop-A-Top Records is a watermark of quality. Since prolific Swindon Skanxter keyboardist, Erin Bardwell’s amazing solo album, Interval, he’s rubbed his unique style into a collaboration with Hotknives co-founder, Dave Clifton on this sublime project called The Man on the Bridge.
A double-A EP was out in April, followed this week by a six-track album A Million Miles. There are chilled echoes of rocksteady and traditional boss reggae blended with slight roots and dressed with a garnish of Bardwell’s inimitable take on the genre. Naturally, there’s a splinter of Two-Tone reggae too, which works on so many levels.
The Hotknives are best known for their live albums, but did release one studio album The Way Things Are. Formed in Horsham, back in 1982, they principally play ska. Guitarist Dave Clifton was among the original line-up. He left in 1993, but with a slimmer roster the band still perform today.
Opening tune to A Million Miles, Don’t Blame Me, is immediately likeable rocksteady, and wouldn’t look out of place on a classic Trojan Tighten Up compilation. Looking over the Land plods securely, resonances Erin’s band the Erin Bardwell Collective and is just simply beguiling.
Just Dreaming though dubs, is as at sounds, dreamy, using flute, by another ex-Hotknives, Paul Mumford of Too Many Crooks, it connotes that eastern dub vibe of Augustus Pablo. Yet with Believe we return to chugging boss, with sublime horns, also by Mumford, and Dave’s picking guitar riff. The guest vocal is a refreshing change, provided by Pat Powell of the Melbourne Ska Orchestra. Proof, as I’ve said, ska is an international thing, and the Melbourne Ska Orchestra are pushing boundaries on the other side of the world.
Title track, A Million Miles again deviates, fusing a slight English folk influence, it reflects memories and cites Dave and Ansell Collins and the O’Jays in a theme of a lost romance. Never Say Never raps up the journey you don’t want to end, with a plonking fairground twist; as if Madness worked with UB40. With Erin’s dream team, Drummer Pete O’Driscoll, Pete Fitzsimmons on bass, except Looking Over The Land where long term friend from The Skanxters, Vinny Hill features, we’re in capable hands, and this is a memorable collaboration producing a superb and varied mellow reggae vibe. You need this right now!
“The Truth is Hard to Find celebrates their unique but retrospective style with a passion for pop-reggae, an uplifting beat, chugging ska riff and beguiling two-tone vocal harmonies….”
Far from what the name suggests, and common generalisation of the genre, I found Northampton’s six-piece reggae/ska band, The Bighead, not in the slightest egotistical and very approachable! Thus, I’ll be spinning their tunes on Ska-ing West Country on Friday, and for the foreseeable future.
That said in this era where a plethora of bands like the Dualers and Death of Guitar Pop have breathed renewed energy and a fresh approach to the UK two-tone scene, which otherwise risked falling into a diehard cult of seniors on Lambrettas who spent their pension on a pair of cherry Doc Martins!
Though nothing with Bighead is as the frenzied ska blended with delinquent-filled punk of yore. They tend to flow maturely, with rocksteady and roots reggae, while attire the fashion akin to the two-tone era. I’ve no issue there, through the furious ska thrashings of The Specials, the downtempo Ghost Town is likely cited foremostly, and on the island of origination, the short rocksteady age between ska and reggae was undoubtedly the most creative musical period in Jamaican history.
Seems while previous decades hugged youth cultures which devoted to a sole variety of Jamaican music, newly formed bands, like Bighead in 2008 by Da Costa, follow a similar ethos as what we discussed when Trevor Evans’ Barbdwire came to Devizes Arts Festival. They select the benefits and choosiest elements of ska, rocksteady and all subgenres of reggae, and fuse them with sublime results.
There’s a plentiful gap to fill, and it’s all trilbies and shades for Bighead. Their May single, The Truth is Hard to Find celebrates their unique but retrospective style with a passion for pop-reggae, an uplifting beat, chugging ska riff and beguiling two-tone vocal harmonies, signifying an optimistic new era for the old genre. In contrast, the other two brilliant tunes Da Costa kindly emailed me, Step Up and Try Me Again, rely on roots reggae and doo-wop rocksteady respectively.
The Bighead are no strangers to the festival and club circuit, have headlined and supported original 2-Tone acts such as the Beat, The Selector, Bad Manners and a 2013 show with Madness. They’ve played over Europe and are regulars on the Berlin Reggae scene.
So, polish your boots, snap on your braces and follow Bighead; not that I should really be flattering a band who are already self-confessed big heads!
If I penned an all-purpose article a week or so ago, about ska in South America being as prospering now as it once was in England, I follow it up with this grand example….
Argentina’s Dancing Mood trumpeter and producer Hugo Lobo made history this week, releasing “Fire Fire,” a skanking upbeat cover of a Wailers rarity, by calling in international troops. Throughout this prolific career, Hugo endeavours to encourage legendarily collaborations, exalting the international genre and keeping the flame of Ska and Rocksteady alive.
Dancing Mood staggeringly sold over 200,000 albums. Hugo Lobo presented his debut solo album ‘Ska is the Way’ in 2017. This renowned trumpeter not only performed and produced for many of the south American ska and reggae bands I mentioned in my previous piece, but transcends to international acclaim, working with Rico Rodriguez, Janet Kay, The Skatalites, Doreen Shaffer, and Dennis Bovell. With Jerry Dammers, Hugo paid tribute to Rico Rodriguez in 2015 at the London International Ska Festival.
In a transcendental meeting, three generations of ska artists from the corners of the planet combined to recreate this 1968 musical nugget from the Wailers’ homemade label “Wail’n Soul’m,” where Peter Tosh leads. Jamaican-born British rhythm guitarist and vocalist Lynval Golding, of the Specials and who later founded the Fun Boy Three with Terry Hall and Neville Staple, is central to the single, yet he always is central to something ska! Lynval appeared on Glasto’s Pyramid Stage with Terry Hall backing Lily Allen, and the Park Stage where Blur frontman Damon Albarn and beatboxer Shlomo knocked out Dandy Livingstone’s “Message to You Rudy,” a popular cover for the Specials.
With a generation-spanning résumé, Lynval Golding continues with current group, Pama International, undoubtedly the UK’s most celebrated contemporary ska outfit who we were the first new band in thirty years to sign to Trojan Records. Yet through this huge portfolio, Hugo Lobo proudly announces his presentation is Lynval Golding’s first solo material.
If that’s not enough to whet your appetite, Hugo also called upon the current bassist of The Skatalites, Val Douglas to add to the enthralling sound. Check the bass on Bob Marley’s “Wake Up and Live” if you want a shining example of Val’s talent. Though Val is a multi-instrumentalist, arranger, composer and producer, working with just about any reggae legend you could name; Toots & The Maytals, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Ernest Ranglin, The Abyssinians, Delroy Wilson, Dennis Brown, Ken Boothe, Lloyd Charmers, as well as contemporary ska artists the New York Ska Jazz Ensemble.
All this considered, it could go one of two ways, overloaded with ego and fighting for centre stage as would many legends of other genres, or simply a sublime sound. Bear in mind this is SKA, collaborations are more frequent and common than rock and pop, and unlike the often-pugnacious insolence of ska bands, there’s never anything narcissistic about legendary collaborations. Glad to announce it’s the latter of the two ways, this sound leads the way. It holds all the catchiness we expect from ska, it heralds tradition but sounds fresh and innovative; the hallmark of the scene I love.
Discovering a thriving ska scene in South America is like England in 1979……
Studio 1’s architect, composer and guitarist, Ernest Ranglin proclaimed while the US R&B’s shuffle offbeat being replicated by Jamaicans in their early recording studios went “chink-ka,” their own crafted pop, ska, went “ka-chink.” Theorised this simple flip of shuffle took place during Duke Reid’s Prince Buster recording session mid-1959, added with Buster’s desire to include traditional Jamaican drumming, created the defining ska sound.
Coinciding with the island’s celebration of independence in 1962, the explosion of ska was eminent and two years later the sound found its way out of Jamaica, when Byron Lee & the Dragonaires, Prince Buster, Eric “Monty” Morris, and Jimmy Cliff played the New York World’s Fair. But if Jamaica’s government revelled in the glory of the creation of a homegrown pop, behind the scenes, Kingston’s downtown was using it as signature to a culture of hooliganism, known as The Rude Boys, and thwarted it. Through curfew and a particularly sweltering summer of 67, horns were lessened, tempo was mellowed and reggae’s blueprint, rock steady, had formed.
Forward wind fifty-five years and Jamaican ska pioneer, Stranger Cole launched album “More Life,” yet it’s released by Liquidator Music, a label dedicated to the classic Jamaican rhythms, but based in Madrid. Perhaps in similar light to Buster’s innovation, Jamaica doesn’t revel in retrospection and strives to progress; the last place in the world you’re likely to hear ska these days, is in Jamaica itself. Modern dancehall trends can be attributed closer to the folk music of mento.
But the design was set, and to satisfy the musical taste of Windrush immigrants in England, Bluebeat, and later, Trojan Records set to cheaply import the sounds of home. It was a combination of their offspring taking their records to parties, and the affordable price tag which appealed to the white kids in Britain. Thus, the second wave of ska spawned in the UK. By the late seventies the formation of Two-Tone records in Coventry saw English youths mimicking the sound.
Similarly, though, this has become today somewhat of a cult. Given the task of producing a radio show last year, for ska-based internet station, Boot Boy Radio, while aware of American dominated “third gen ska,” that there were few contemporary bands here, such as the Dualers, and Madness and The Specials still appeased the diehard fans, I never fathomed the spread of ska worldwide. The fact Liquidator Music is Spanish, it is clear, ska has a profound effect internationally, and in no place more than Latin America. Yet while England’s second wave is largely attributed to the worldwide distribution of ska, and waves the Union Jack patriotically at it, the sound of ska music spread to Jamaica’s neighbours significantly prior.
Caribbean islands created their own pop music. Barbados had spouge, cited as “Bajan ska,” despite a completely different rhythm section more attributed to calypso. Columbia likewise saw a surge in cumbia during the early sixties, a genre derived from cumbé; “a dance of African origin.”
In South America though, ska was fused with their own sounds of samba, and particularly upcoming rock ‘n’ roll inspired genres such as “iê-iê-iê,” via Brazilian musical television show, Jovem Guarda. Os Aaalucinantes’ 1964 album Festa Do Bolinha predates England’s embrace of ska, the same year, in fact, as Byron Lee & the Dragonaires, et all playing the New York World’s Fair. At this point in time, through Bluebeat, English youth were only just discovering a love for Jamaican music, and Lee Gopthal wouldn’t found Trojan Records for another four years. This mesh of fusions gave birth to a creative period in Brazil, vocal harmony groups like Renato E Seus Blue Caps, and The Fevers followed suit, blending US bubble-gum pop with jazzy offbeat rhythms. It did not borrow from England’s mods; it followed a similar pattern.
Similarly, in Venezuela, Las Cuatro Monedas introduced ska and reggae as early as 1963, with their debut album, “Las Cuatro Monedas a Go Go.” Through maestro arranger and composer, Hugo Blanco they won the 1969 Song Festival in Barcelona, and continued until 1981, when over here The Specials were only just releasing “Ghost Town.” Desorden Público is Venezuela’s most renowned ska band, formed in the eighties. When frontman Horacio Blanco was still at school, he wrote “Paralytic Politicians,” an angry, anti-Hugo Chavez anthem which his fans still yell for. Although Chavez died in 2013, his protégé Nicolas Maduro has descended the country into political and economic crisis; one example where South American ska is equally, if not more, dogmatically defending justice as Two-Tone here in the UK.
Chile trended towards cumbia through tropical orchestra Sonora Palacios in the sixties, therefore ska didn’t fully surface until the third-gen bands of the nineties. Even today though, Latin enthused bands such as Cholomandinga and reggae is favoured through bands like Gondwana. The modern melting pot is universal and extensive though, I’ve got a lovely cover of Ghost Town by Argentine cumbia band Fantasma, who cite themselves as being the first to develop a cumbia rap. And when upcoming, all-female Mexican ska band, Girls Go Ska sent me some tunes to play, a cover of the Jam’s David Watts was one of them.
All’s fair in love and war; undoubtedly the Two-Tone era of England has had a profound effect on the worldwide contemporary ska scene, so did their revolutionary principles. Peru commonly cites its scene commenced in the mid-eighties, when punk and second-gen underground rock bands emerged in Lima. Edwin Zcuela’s band, Zcuela Crrada differed by having a saxophonist, and adopted a sound which bordered ska. Azincope and Refugio were quick to follow, not to the taste of the rock-based crowd who classed it commercialised pop. Psicosis came about in 88, the band to initiate the term “ska band” in Peru, taking steps to eradicate the preconception. They won a recording contract through a radio contest, the jury expressed concern; the band were radicals within a pseudo-movement with libertarian ideas, and so the band refused to record.
With influences from the Basque ska-punk band, Kortatu, Breakfast continued the rebellious nature with ska in Peru, but discarded their discography. It will take us into the nineties to start to find orchestral flairs, when Carnaval Patetico and Barrio Pamara emerged, bringing with them the country’s belated by comparison, second wave. Odd to see how punk gave ska a leg-up in this legacy, but the melting pot is bottomless.
Where some bands, such as Swiss Sir Jay & The Skatanauts, favour pouring jazz into their style, akin to how the Skatalites formed the backbone of Studio 1 through attending Kingston’s Alpha Cottage School, others, such as the States bands like The Dance Hall Crashers prefer to fuse punk influences, Big Reel Fish takes Americana to ska, and one has to agree the tension of teenage anguish felt by eighties skinheads equalled that of latter punk-rock.
The rulebook is borderless and limitless, to the point there is no longer a rulebook, through an online generation one can teeter on the edge of this rabbit hole, or go diving deeper. If I said previously, Two-Tone is a cult in England, in South America ska is thriving. Some subgenres bear little relevance to the sounds and ethos of original Jamaican ska. Other than the usage of horns to sperate them from punk or rockabilly, off-shoots of skacore and skabilly tangent along their own path. Oi bands prime example, where a largely neo-Nazi tenet cannot possibly relate to an afro-Caribbean origin.
Again, the folk of a nation mergers with the sound, and there can create an interesting blend, such as the Balkan states, where the Antwerp Gipsy Ska Orchestra and Dubioza Kolekiv carve their own influences into ska. Which, in turn, has spurred a folk-ska scene in Bristol and the Southwest, bands like The Carny Villains, Mr Tea & The Minions and Mad Apple Circus, who add swing to the combination, and folk-rock bands such as The Boot Hill Allstars, confident to meld ska into the dynamic festival circuit. South America typifies this too.
Modern murga, a widespread musical theatre performed in Montevideo, Uruguay and Argentina hugs ska through carnival. Argentina’s scene is as widespread and varied as the UK or USA, in fact it was former Boot Boy presenter, Mariano Goldenstein, frontman of The Sombrero Club who led me to the rabbit hole. If the name of this Argentinean band signifies Mexican, one should note, The Sombrero Club was a Jamaican nightclub on the famous ‘Four Roads’ intersection of Molynes and Waltham Park Roads in St. Andrew.
Journalist Mel Cooke recalls in a 2005 article for the Jamaica Gleaner, “although it carried a Mexican name, the senors and senoritas who stepped inside the Sombrero nightclub did it in true Jamaican style. It was an audience that demanded a certain quality of entertainment and, in the height of the band era the cream of the cream played there. “It was one of the premier dance halls for bands, live music,” says Jasper Adams, a regular at The Sombrero. “If you capture the image of the dance hall in London at the time, you get an idea of what it was like.”
After the demise of the Bournmouthe in East Kingston, in a bygone era, The Sombrero was the place to catch ska legends, Toots and the Maytals, Tommy McCook and the Supersonics and Byron Lee and the Dragonaires. There could be no name more apt for Argentina’s Sombrero Club, for within a thriving scene which mimics England in the grip of Two-Tone, their proficient and authentic sound is akin to our Specials or Madness.
It is, however, through Marcos Mossi of the Buena Onda Reggae Club from Sao Paulo, perhaps a lesser known band outside Brazil, who have really spurred my interest in South American ska, through their sublime blend of mellowed jazz-ska and reggae, and through it I realise I’m still teetering on the edge of the rabbit hole. Aside the aforementioned bands, I’m only just discovering Brazil’s Firebug, Argentina’s Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, Los Calzones Rotos, Los Auténticos Decadentes, Karamelo Santo, Cienfuegos, Satellite Kingston, Dancing Mood, Staya Staya, Los Intocables, and Ska Beat City, Cultura Profética from Puerto Rico and Peru’s Vieja Skina. Pondering if the list will ever end.
One thing this highlights, while ska is international now, with vibrant scenes from Montreal to Melbourne, Latin America holds the key to a spirit akin to how it was when I opened my Christmas present in 1980 to find Madness long player, Absolutely.
Tune into my show on http://www.bootboyradio.co.uk – Friday nights from 10pm till Midnight GMT, where we play an international selection of ska, reggae, rock steady, soul and funk, RnB, shuffle and jazz, anything related which takes my fancy, actually!
Designing the posters for the Devizes Scooter Club came to the peak of absurdity with this one for the latest event on the 30th March, and I feel I may need tone down the experimentation a tad. Still, I think it stands out from the run-the-mill event poster; in the words of Mike the Cool Person, “I never stand on convention, it never stood on me.”
But I cannot deny, with a bombardment of highly anticipated local gigs this coming month, I’m looking forward to this one perhaps, the most. We’ve seen a few Northern Soul and Motown nights of recent from the Scooter Club, and while my eclectic taste appreciates these along with the plethora of other gigs lined up on my calendar, you still can’t, in my opinion, beat a bit of ska.
This will reflect well against the forthcoming Scooter Rally, as while a weekend-long event will provide scope for the club to parade all relevant genres, there’s a truckload of ska to be heard. Orange Street headlining will be one to watch, while Swindon’s The Tribe mesh ska with hip hop beats, and other local outfit The Erin Bardwell Collective will simmer in some rock steady. Essex’s finest, The Start are not averse to playing ska, and I’m sure, given the nature of the event that the Day Breakers will blast a two-tone classic or three. Of course, Bad Manners tribute Special Brew take as red.
Confident in the statement international third-gen ska is regenerating the old Two-Tone scene here in England, is evident in the success of groups like the Dualers. Call it cliché, say yeah, diehard skins don’t know when to give it up, but there’s something in that joyous offbeat which makes you want to jump and skank.
So put your braces together, your boots on your feet, and allow me to introduce this prodigious booking, Dorset’s eight-piece ska band, The Decatonics. It promises to be a blinding night at the Devizes Conservative Club. The band, formed in 2012 have indeed supported the aforementioned Dualers, along with The Skatelites, The Neville Staple Band and Bad Manners.
An established 8-piece female-fronted ska band, The Decatonics are constructed of bassist Rowan, two Steves, one on keys and the other on drums, an energetic backline and powerful horn section of Mike on tenor sax, Harry on trumpet and alto sax, and Ian on trombone. They’re fronted by two adept vocalists who compliment one another; Shaun, also on lead guitar and Sally, who I’ve been chatting with. I started by asking her how long they’d been together and if the members were the same original line-up.
“The bass and I, and the lead brass, are original, with our drummer being with us for five years,” she explained, “but as with any large band, changes are inevitable along the way.”
“Is it all covers, or have you any original songs recorded?” I asked Sally.
“We do just cover songs,” she sustained, “but try and give our own little flair, and being female-fronted we get to play a more diverse set than your standard ska covers band.” No issue there, in retrospective glory, cover songs make the night at the Scooter Club. Not forgoing, Sally mentioned that since 2017, The Decatonics have been part of a Specialised Project, recording tracks for a CD. I saw my opening, boasted of my newfound show on Boot Boy Radio and blagged two tunes to play on the show next week!
The first song a Trojan hit in the UK, Bob & Marica’s up-tempo Pied Piper, proves their ability to sprinkle a joyous contemporary ska riff to a boss reggae classic, but the second hoists up that skill, with a concentrated ska adaption of the Jam’s Standards.
The Decatonics draw influences from both original Jamaican ska, bluebeat, and its new-wave Two-Tone, but also from successors rock steady and reggae. They even accommodate soul in the melting pot, bringing a vibrant live show which has built up a great reputation with the entire mod/scooter scene rather than just ska aficionados. Do not expect third generation punk experimentation, but a suitable English ska sound popularised by Madness and The Beat.
With a strong following through regular pub and club gigs, and festivals such as the Big One Weekender Festival, Dorset Volksfest, The Dorset Steam Fair and Teddy Rocks under their belt, I’m certain they’ll transport their astounding party atmosphere to our already lively Devizes Scooter Club nights.
Tickets are a tenner, by messaging the Devizes Scooter Club Facebook page, from Vinyl Realm, Jefferson’s Café, or from the Devizes Cons Club direct. As usual there will be a raffle, and I believe it’s me warming up the crowd on the wheels of steel, like a musical fluffer; but don’t let that put you off! The club ascertain everyone is welcome, not just members. Think of this as an opportunity to taste what you might bear witness to at the forthcoming Rally in July, oh and to have a good knees-up too!