Monday, August 24, 2015

Duff Review: Julien Temple's Madness Film "The Liberty of Norton Folgate"

(Review by Steve Shafer)

As part of its "Sound and Vision 2015" series, the Film Society of Lincoln Center screened two ska-themed films on August 3, 2015: Brad Klein's "Legends of Ska: Cool and Copasetic" and Julien Temple's Madness concert film "The Liberty of Norton Folgate" (Temple, of course, is responsible for "The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle," "The Filth and the Fury," and "The Future is Unwritten," amongst other music-related movies.) While I wasn't able to to attend "Legends of Ska," I was lucky to have caught the amazing "The Liberty of Norton Folgate," which was shown later that evening. When I arrived in the theatre lobby, there was still a big crowd talking and taking pictures with reggae percussionist Larry McDonald (Carlos Malcolm, Toots and the Maytals, The Skatalites, Gil Scott-Heron, Peter Tosh) and reggae producer Clive Chin (Augustus Pablo, Lee Perry, Black Uhuru, Dennis Brown, Junior Byles)--and director Brad Klein was chatting up fans while signing "Legends of Ska" posters (after "Legends of Ska," there had been a Q and A session with Klein and McDonald).

Word of mouth, largely via a grassroots Facebook campaign of sorts amongst NYC ska fans, had effectively promoted "Legends of Ska" (it's how I learned of the screening). But there had been practically no publicity for either film in the local mainstream press--I accidentally discovered "The Liberty of Norton Folgate" screening on the FSLC website while looking for "Legends of Ska." (A quick Google search resulted in practically no listings in the local press for these films or this series.) There are probably thousands of Madness fans in the NYC metro area--but it appears that there was no significant effort to reach out to them. There were only six or seven people--including my son and me--in the theatre for "The Liberty of Norton Folgate." And that was a real shame; this excellent movie deserved a much bigger audience for what must have been its New York City (or even American?) premiere.

"The Liberty of Norton Folgate" captures Madness performing its phenomenal concept album of the same name at The Hackney Empire in 2009. It's kind of heady stuff, but it's vital to have an understanding of the album before delving in to the film. Here's what I wrote about the theme of The Liberty of Norton Folgate a few years ago for Ready Steady Ska:
"Just as New York City’s incredible diversity and social/political liberal traditions came about due to the fact that she was the point of entry for successive waves of immigrants for decades, the liberty that people enjoyed for centuries in Norton Folgate is due to the history of its unique geographical place. 
The Liberty of Norton Folgate is, as Suggs writes in his extensive liner notes for the album, "a travel song in one place…about one small area of London—gets the x-ray camera out and shoots down through the crust, past the bullets and bones, the clay pipes and stones to try and get to the soul of the place." It focuses on an area that sprang up outside the old London city walls (originally a garbage dump) in the 1100s that first served as a point of entry for immigrants and outsiders. It eventually developed into an unofficial town with its own laws and conventions apart from those of London proper. By the 1700s, London had encompassed Norton Folgate, but it remained independent of London (hence, "the liberty of"), run by a group of trustees, and was home to generations of immigrants, as well as a "refuge for actors, writers, thinkers, louts, lowlifes and libertines, outsiders and troublemakers all," in Suggs’ words. 
Norton Folgate was a place that fostered freedom, diversity, and tolerance despite—or more likely because—its reputation as a place of ill repute. It was society’s receptacle for outsiders. And at that point proper London society couldn’t be bothered with enforcing its conventions on Norton Folgate’s citizens. This is what fascinated Suggs and the band—that "certain areas seem to retain their distinct personality through centuries of time and the passing of generations’ different peoples.""
During the concert, to help provide both a taste of, and connection to, Norton Folgate's past (The Hackney Empire, a music hall theatre built in 1901, is located near Norton Folgate, which is now part of the Stepney neighborhood of London)--and to emphasize how a place's history influences the present day residents of the area--actors in 19th century garb were present throughout the theatre as Victorian-era music hall performers (the British equivalent of American vaudeville or burlesque performers). At first, they're heckling the band and audience between songs, but gradually they're integrated into Madness' performance, so that by the time Madness plays the song "The Liberty of Norton Folgate," one of them is playing the bass drum, many of them are dancing on stage with the band, etc. (It's important to note that throughout their career, Madness have incorporated elements of the British working class music hall into their songs and performances--and for this concert they're overtly displaying their connection to that tradition.)

In addition, Suggs and Carl (AKA Chas Smash, born Cathal Smyth) introduce each song through these strange, amusing, sometimes cryptic, and highly theatrical spoken-word bits (written by Smyth) that evoke the London of William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe, then Karl Marx and Jack the Ripper, and were shot in various spots in Norton Folgate at night (though this Yank would have preferred a more straight-up tour of the neighborhood and the significance of its history; I felt like I missed many of the things they alluded to). Indeed, there is a heavy emphasis on connecting everything to the neighborhood--some of the concert footage was projected on various structures near The Hackney Empire and footage of that was edited into the final film; it's as if they're suggesting that the music from this album, influenced by/celebrating the history of the neighborhood, is as a part of/integral to the neighborhood as the buildings themselves, the notes and lyrics housed within the grout that keeps the bricks from crumbling (and allowing present day residents to live/work in edifices built by and occupied by those from the past).

"The Liberty of Norton Folgate" opens with a wide shot of the inside of the theatre, just prior to the "Overture" that opens the album and concert. A woman sings the 1892 George and Thomas Le Brunn music hall tune "Oh, Mr. Porter" ("Oh! Mr. Porter, what shall I do?/I want to go to Birmingham/And they're taking me on to Crewe/Take me back to London, as quickly as you can/Oh! Mr. Porter, what a silly girl I am!") and as the camera pans up to the starry night-like ceiling, another declares (from one of my favorite Oscar Wilde quotes, brilliantly incorporated into The Pretenders' "Message of Love," where I first encountered it decades ago), "All of us are in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars" (this elicits the rude rebuke from another actor: "Speak for yourself, you stupid pissant!"). Chas Smash then appears to introduce the evening's proceedings, which he warns that some may find, "a flatulent piece of frivolity, while other may consider it with awe and reverence" and apologizes if "any pipette or syringe becomes lodged in your thigh." (He also asks the ladies not to spit.) Finally, he announces, "I give you, for the first time, in this time [pointing to the closed curtain obscuring Madness behind him and, presumably, the past], in your time [pointing to the audience, very much in the present--well, 2009], "The Liberty of Norton Folgate!" Strings, you fuckers!" And the "Overture for Norton Folgate" begins.

As a small orchestra plays the "Overture," we see a wood cut print of old London, and then cut away to a segment filmed one misty night where Suggs and Carl tell us, "You can walk the entire length of Norton Folgate in a matter of minutes. And beneath your feet, through the soil, lies old London. Bobbins and florins, boot soles, and bones, fragments of all kinds of crap. Bits of old bombs sent from Berlin. The past is very close in Norton Folgate--and always has been." After another spoken-word performance about the various denizens of the area, Chas and Suggs repeat their refrain, "We Are London"--which, of course, is the first song off the album. The curtain rises and Madness commence The Liberty of Norton Folgate, which time-travels, H.G. Welles "Time Machine"-style, between songs about the past and present lives of those in Norton Folgate.

Unlike other concert films, which tend to focus almost exclusively on the action on stage, Temple does his utmost to document as much of the night as possible. In addition to capturing Madness performing up close and personal, his cameras prowl through the audience in all sections of the theatre (as the fans revel in Madness' show--god, it looked like they were having an incredible time--and the theatrical performers do their thing), as well as outside the hall, all over Norton Folgate. At first, Temple's manic pace of jump cuts between all of the different footage is distracting and even a bit bewildering (What am I looking at now? I wasn't finished taking in that last bit...). But as the film unfolds, it grows on you--and you begin to appreciate Temple's ADHD approach to the concert and understand his desire to capture and cram in as much of the experience of the concert as possible, from all vantage points and points of view. There's no polite fourth wall here--and the border between past and present (Madness as music hall performers from Norton Folgate's yesteryear; the audience in the here and now) is blurred as much as our imaginations will permit.

Much to my embarrassment, I have to admit that I've never been able to see Madness live, but it seems to me that this film has to be a pretty good substitute for the real thing (I came out of the film exhilarated by the experience, as if I had seen them in person). Several of the songs that I hadn't paid much attention to on the album The Liberty of Norton Folgate ("NW5" and "Clerkenwell Polka," in particular) really connected with me in their live versions (as is so often the case) and it was fantastic to see/hear my favorite tracks from the album, too ("We Are London," "Dust Devil," "Idiot Child," "Forever Young," and "On the Town"--Rhoda Dakar makes a wonderful appearance on stage in the film to sing with Suggs for this song, as she does on the album).

As a concern film, "The Liberty of Norton Folgate" succeeds on every level. Madness are in top form, the songs are some of their best ever (this album is their masterpiece), and there's an immediacy about it all that coveys how fun and extraordinarily special it must have been to be in The Empire Hackney that evening. Yet, "The Liberty of Norton Folgate" is also an ambitious and profound piece of performance art--an examination of obscure footnote in London's history set to music containing a desperately relevant message that humanity still hasn't truly learned: real freedom can only be achieved through living in diverse communities and by fully embracing multiculturalism (see how the history and people of Norton Folgate made this possible...). It may mean living in the gutter (on an old garbage heap) on fringes of polite society, but you'll be afforded the liberty to look for, and perhaps find, your life's guiding star (and happiness).

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Below, you'll find an excerpt of the film from when it was broadcast on the BBC that best illustrates all that Madness are trying to achieve with this album and film, It's the magnificent, 10-minute "The Liberty of Norton Folgate"--hundreds of years of Norton Folgate's history recounted in what must be Madness' finest song.



"The Liberty of Norton Folgate" (McPherson/Barson/Smyth)

"This is the story of the Liberty Of Norton Folgate

A little bit of this, would you like a bit of that?

But in weather like this, you should wear a coat, a nice warm hat
A needle and thread the hand stitches of time
Battling Levinsky versus Jackie Burk
Bobbing and weaving, an invisible line

So step for step and both light on our feet
We’ll travel many along dim silent street

Would you like a bit of this, or a little bit of that? (Misses)
A little bit of what you like does you no harm, you know that
The perpetual steady echo of the passing beat
A continual dark river of people
In its transience and in its permanence
But, when the streetlamp fills the gutter with gold
So many priceless items bought and sold

So step for step and both light on our feet
We’ll travel many along dim silent street (together)

Once 'round Arnold Circus, and up through Petticoat Lane
Past the well of shadows, and once back round again
Arm in arm, with an abstracted air
To where the people stare
Out of the upstairs windows
Because we are living like kings
And these days will last forever

'Cos sailors from Africa, China and the archipelago of Malay
Jump ship ragged and penniless into Shadwells Tiger Bay
The Welsh and Irish wagtails, mothers of midnight
The music hall carousel enspilling out into bonfire light
Sending half crazed shadows, giants dancing up the brick wall
Of Mr Trumans beer factory, waving, bottles ten feet tall

Whether one calls it Spitalfields, Whitechapel, Tower Hamlets
Or Banglatown
We’re all dancing in the moonlight, we’re all
On borrowed ground

Oh, I’m just walking down to, I’m just floating down through
Won’t you come with me, to the Liberty of Norton Folgate
But wait!
What’s that?
Dan Leno
And the Limehouse golem

Purposefully walking nowhere, oh I’m happy just floating about
(Have a banana)
On a Sunday afternoon, the stallholders all call and shout
To no one in particular
Avoiding people you know, you’re just basking in you’re own company
The technicolour world’s going by, but you’re the lead in your own movie

'Cos in the Liberty of Norton Folgate
Walking wild and free, in your second hand coat
Happy just to float
In this little taste of liberty
A part of everything you see

They’re coming left and right
Trying to flog you stuff you don’t need or want
And a smiling chap takes your hand
And drags you in his uncle's restaurant
(ee-yar, ee-yar, ee-yar)

There’s a Chinese man trying hard to flog you moody DVDs
You know? You’ve seen the film, it’s black and white, it’s got no sound
And a man’s head pops up and down
Right across your widescreen TV
(Only a fiver)
(‘Ow much?)
(Alright, two for eight quid)
(Ee-yar, ee-yar, look, I’m givin’ it away)
(Givin’ it away!)

'Cos in the Liberty of Norton Folgate
Walking wild and free, in your second hand coat,
Happy just to float
In this little piece of liberty
You’re a part of everything you see

There’s the sturdy old fellows, pickpockets, dandy’s, extortioners
And night wanderers, the feeble, the ghastly, upon whom death
Had placed a very sure hand
Some in shreds and patches
Reeling inarticulate full of noisy and inordinate vivacity
That jars discordantly upon the ear
And gives an aching sensation to both pair of eyeballs
(Noisy and inordinate vivacity)

In the beginning was a fear of the immigrant
In the beginning was a fear of the immigrant
He’s made his way down to the dark riverside

In the beginning was a fear of the immigrant
In the beginning was a fear of the immigrant
He’s made his home there down by the dark riverside

He made his home there down by the riverside
They made their homes there down by the riverside
The city sprang up from the dark river Thames

They made their home there down by the riverside
They made their homes there down by the riverside
The city sprang up from the dark mud of the Thames
I’ll say it again

‘Cos in the Liberty of Norton Folgate
Walking wild and free
And in your second hand coat
Happy just to float
In this little taste of liberty
Cos you’re a part of everything you see
Yes, you’re a part of everything you see

With a little bit of this
And a little bit of that
A little bit of what you like does you no harm
And you know that"


Friday, August 14, 2015

The Duff Guide to Ska NYC Summer/Fall Ska Calendar #12

Feel better soon, Rico!
Sunday, August 16, 2015 @ 1:00 pm

Swing-A-Ling Backyard BBQ w/The Frightnrs

Pioneer Works
159 Pioneer Street
Brooklyn, NY
$5.00

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015 @ 7:00 pm

Vic Ruggiero, The Duppies, Reggay Lords, The Ladrones

The Grand Victory
245 Grand Street
Brooklyn, NY
$10/21+

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Friday, August 21, 2015 @ 6:00 pm

Rude Boy George

Toshi's Living Room and Penthouse
1141 Broadway (at 26th Street)
New York, NY
No cover!

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Friday, August 21, 2015 @ 7:00 pm

The Pietasters, Hub City Stompers

The Stanhope House
45 Main Street
Stanhope, NJ
$18

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Saturday, August 22, 2015 @ 1:00 pm (music from 2:00 pm to 9:00 pm)

Governors Island Seafood and Reggae Beach Party w/Badfish, Cannabis Cup Band, Gary Nesta Pine, Top Shotta Band featuring Screechy Dan, New Breed Brass Band, DJ Jah Culture

Governors Island
New York Harbor
Ferry from South Street
Tix: Music only are $40; music and food are $60.

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Saturday, August 22, 2015 @ 6:00 pm

The Pietasters, Gameday Regulars

Garcia's at The Capitol Theatre
145 Westchester Avenue
Port Chester, NY
$15/21+

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Sunday, August 23, 2015 @ 5:00 pm

The Pietasters, The Scofflaws, Flak Jacket, All New Episode, Crisis Crayons, The Shipwrecks

Even Flow Bar and Grill
150 East Main Street
Bay Shore, NY
$15

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Sunday, September 6, 2015 @ 6:00 pm

The Expanders, Tribal Seeds, Arise Roots

Brooklyn Bowl
61 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$17-$20/21+

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Friday, September 11, 2015 @ 7:30 pm

Mephiskapheles, Inspecter 7, and The Ladrones

Asbury Lanes
209 4th Avenue
Asbury Park, NJ
$15

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Sunday, September 20, 2015 @ 6:00 pm

Fishbone, Roots of Creation, Lions on the Moon

Brooklyn Bowl
61 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$17/21+

(Note there is an All Ages, daytime show earlier on 9/20 at Brooklyn Bowl with Fishbone! It's $8.00; doors open at 12:00 pm, show starts at 2:00 pm!)

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Saturday, October 24, 2015 @ 10:00 pm

Rude Boy George

Toshi's Living Room and Penthouse
1141 Broadway (at 26th Street)
New York, NY
No cover!

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Wednesday, October 28, 2015 @ 8:00 pm

UB40 featuring Ali Campbell, Astro, and Mickey Virtue, and Radio Riddler (backing UB40 and doing their own Purple Reggae set!)

Webster Hall
125 East 11th Street
Manhattan, NY
$35/18+

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Friday, October 30, 2015 @ 8:00 pm

Devil's Night with Mephiskapheles, Hub City Stompers, 45 Adaptors, Hymen Holocaust

Mercury Lounge
217 East Houston Street
New York, NY
$20 in advance/$25 day of show
21+

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Saturday, October 31, 2015 @ 7:00 pm

Halloween Party w/Rude Boy George

Toshi's Living Room and Penthouse
1141 Broadway (at 26th Street)
New York, NY
No cover!

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Saturday, October 31, 2015 @7:00 pm

Mephiskapheles

The Stanhope House
45 Main Street
Stanhope, NJ
$13/All Ages

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Friday, November, 13, 2015 @ 7:00 pm

Mustard Plug, Survay Says, Rude Boy George

Knitting Factory Brooklyn
361 Metropolitan Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$13 in advance/$15 day of show

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Thursday, November 19, 2015 @ 6:00 pm

Five Iron Frenzy, The Toasters, Survay Says

The Stanhope House
45 Main Street
Stanhope, NJ
$20/All Ages

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Friday, November 20, 2015 @ 7:00 pm

Five Iron Frenzy, The Toasters, Survay Says

Santos Party House
96 Lafayette Street
New York, NY
$20 in advance/$25 day of show
16+

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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Duff Review: The Frightnrs "Sharon" b/w "Admiration" 7" Single!

Mad Decent/The Full Hundred
7" single
2015

(Review by Steve Shafer)

What good times these are to be a Frightnrs' fan! First there was the June release of their sublime rocksteady cover of Etta James' "I'd Rather Go Blind" 7" single on Daptone label--and now the lucky amongst us have the new "Sharon" b/w "Admiration" single in our sweaty mitts. Even though The Frightnrs previously have released two really excellent digital EPs (The Frightnrs and 12/21/12), this single marks the first time original Frightnrs material has been released in a physical (and tangible via sweaty mitts) format. And what incredible original material it is!

The loping, hypnotic, rootsy reggae cut "Sharon" is a confused, angry, and intense plea to the woman of the title not to leave the singer:

"Oh, why you leave me, Sharon?
Why you riff and run off
and you leave me for some mystical man?
He won't love you like I can
Ain't nobody in this whole wide world
Who really all understands

How many times must I prove to you
That there is nothing I wouldn't do
After all that we have been through
Maybe, girl I thought that you knew..."

As always, The Frightnrs make the humiliating sting of abandonment and desperate fear of loneliness sound so good--the next time your girlfriend or boyfriend dumps you for no apparent (or good) reason, you're gonna want to pull this one out and play it over and over! Let the music absorb your pain (it's okay to wallow in self-pity for a little bit!).

The unfairly-accused narrator ("They're gonna punish me for something that I didn't do!")--more fool for a pretty face than anti-hero--of the spaghetti Western cut "Admiration" is determined to evade his pursuers, since capture will certainly subject him to vigilante justice: "I didn't know her before today/Now, I'll walk across the sand/and I'll sail across the sea/They've got their nooses ready/hanging underneath a tree/With their horses and their guns/they've got this man on the run/But what I have done remains a mystery to me." The precise and relentless beat of this track conveys the pressured urgency of continually pushing forward to stay free and, more importantly, alive--while a ringing, almost shimmering solo guitar line conveys his loneliness as he plods across a bleak, sun-baked landscape that stretches to the horizon and offers no sanctuary.

It's my impression that this single is a bit hard to come by (I bought one the day it became available on Ernie B's Reggae--but when I checked later that same day, it was no longer in stock; the only other site I know that is carrying it is in Europe--BuyReggae.com), but it is very much worth tracking down!


Friday, August 7, 2015

Duff Guide to Ska NYC Summer/Fall 2015 Ska Calendar #11

The Frightnrs
Sunday, August 16, 2015 @ 1:00 pm

Swing-A-Ling Backyard BBQ w/The Frightnrs

Pioneer Works
159 Pioneer Street
Brooklyn, NY
$5.00

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015 @ 7:00 pm

Vic Ruggiero, The Duppies, Reggay Lords, The Ladrones

The Grand Victory
245 Grand Street
Brooklyn, NY
$10/21+

+ + + +

Friday, August 21, 2015 @ 6:00 pm

Rude Boy George

Toshi's Living Room and Penthouse
1141 Broadway (at 26th Street)
New York, NY
No cover!

+ + + +

Saturday, August 22, 2015 @ 1:00 pm (music from 2:00 pm to 9:00 pm)

Governors Island Seafood and Reggae Beach Party w/Badfish, Cannabis Cup Band, Gary Nesta Pine, Top Shotta Band featuring Screechy Dan, New Breed Brass Band, DJ Jah Culture

Governors Island
New York Harbor
Ferry from South Street

Tix: Music only are $40; music and food are $60.

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Sunday, September 6, 2015 @ 6:00 pm

The Expanders, Tribal Seeds, Arise Roots

Brooklyn Bowl
61 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$17-$20/21+

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Friday, September 11, 2015 @ 7:30 pm

Mephiskapheles, Inspecter 7, and The Ladrones

Asbury Lanes
209 4th Avenue
Asbury Park, NJ
$15

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Sunday, September 20, 2015 @ 6:00 pm

Fishbone and special guests TBA

Brooklyn Bowl
61 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$17/21+

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Saturday, October 24, 2015 @ 10:00 pm

Rude Boy George

Toshi's Living Room and Penthouse
1141 Broadway (at 26th Street)
New York, NY
No cover!

+ + + +

Wednesday, October 28, 2015 @ 8:00 pm

UB40 featuring Ali Campbell, Astro, and Mickey Virtue

Webster Hall
125 East 11th Street
Manhattan, NY
$35/18+

+ + + +

Saturday, October 31, 2015 @ 7:00 pm

Halloween Party w/Rude Boy George

Toshi's Living Room and Penthouse
1141 Broadway (at 26th Street)
New York, NY
No cover!

+ + + +

Friday, November, 13, 2015 @ 7:00 pm

Mustard Plug, Survay Says, Rude Boy George


Knitting Factory Brooklyn
361 Metropolitan Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$13 in advance/$15 day of show

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Friday, November 2015 @ 7:00 pm

Five Iron Frenzy, The Toasters, Survay Says

Santos Party House
96 Lafayette Street
New York, NY
$20/16+

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(Bands: Want your ska shows posted here? Send your NYC area gig dates with all details to duffguidetoska@gmail.com!)

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Thursday, August 6, 2015

"I Don't Have a Say in the War Games That They Play"

The cover of Bonzo Goes to Washington's
"Five Minutes"
Today marks the 70th anniversary of the first use of an atomic weapon, when the U.S. detonated an atomic bomb over Hiroshima, Japan, killing 200,000 people--the vast majority of them civilians. (For a harrowing glimpse into what several of the survivors experienced on the ground, read John Hersey's extraordinary August 31, 1946 piece in The New Yorker here.) As a teenager in the Cold War 80s, I was haunted by the very real and terrifying prospect of dying in a nuclear exchange between America and the Soviet Union (movies like "The Day After" didn't help), particularly during the first years of Ronald Reagan's presidency, when he was very belligerent and aggressive towards the Russians, both in foreign/military policy and rhetoric.

I've written a bit about many of the 2 Tone ska bands' expression of fear of nuclear armageddon here on The Duff Guide to Ska before and, given today's terrible anniversary, think it appropriate to revisit this passage below from my review of Blue Riddim Band's re-issue of their "Nancy Reagan" single in 2011.

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"While we're on the subject of the Reagans and pop music, I can't help but mention the significant number of songs about the fear of nuclear war that were written during Ronald Reagan's presidency. Reagan's hard-line rhetoric and stance against the Soviets (several neo-cons in his administration--including Dick Cheney--who were disdainful of detente, increased defense spending to such a degree and implemented provocative polices that ended up re-igniting the arms race with the Soviets, since they were convinced that America was preparing for a nuclear first strike against them), his use of end-of-days evangelical language (Reagan told now-disgraced TV preacher Jim Bakker in 1980, "We may be the generation that sees Armageddon"), and itchy-trigger gunslinger image exacerbated Cold War relations between the nuclear superpowers to such a degree that millions of people throughout Western Europe and the U.S. (and one had to imagine the Soviet Union) were very worried that they might die in a nuclear war (I certainly was one of them).

Within this context, according to Dorian Lynskey's terrific book about popular protest music, "33 Revolutions Per Minute," an additional reason that bands like Frankie Goes to Hollywood and The Specials (as well as a slew of British New Wave acts) wrote about nuclear war was the May 1980 publication and distribution of the Home Office booklet (and release of accompanying short films) titled "Protect and Survive" (read a copy of the booklet here; see one of the films here), which grimly detailed the steps the public should take to attempt to survive a nuclear attack and (if they lived through the initial blast) the radioactive fallout afterward. Lynskey notes that even though "Protect and Survive" was "designed to reassure, it proceeded to scare the daylights out of anyone who read it." This and the very real placement of U.S. cruise missiles in the UK (as part of a NATO counter-move against a new medium-range Soviet nuclear missile) convinced many Britons that they would high on the list of targets should all-out war break out between the superpowers.

Some of the songs expressing the terrible nuclear war anxiety and dread of the early 1980s included: Frankie Goes to Hollywood's "Two Tribes," Time Zone's "World Destruction," The Fixx's "Red Skies" and "Stand or Fall," The English Beat's "Dream Home in NZ," "Two Swords," and "Psychedelic Rockers," U2's "Seconds," Fishbone's "Party at Ground Zero," XTC's "Living Through Another Cuba," The Selecter’s “Their Dream Goes On,” Nena's “99 Red Balloons,” The Toasters' "Radiation Skank," Prince's "1999," The Clash's “London Calling” and "Stop the World," Alphaville’s "Forever Young," Men at Work's “It’s a Mistake,” The Specials’ "Man at C and A," Elvis Costello's "Peace in Our Time," Billy Bragg's "Help Save the Youth of America," Depeche Mode's "Two Minute Warning," Ian Dury's "Ban the Bomb," The Police's "Walking in Your Footsteps," Aku Aku's "Ground Zero," and Bonzo Goes to Washington's “5 Minutes."

These anti-nuke songs helped a lot of people cope with the stress of living with the very real possibility of doomsday--and made you feel like you weren't the only freak up late at night wondering if a Soviet ICBM was going to erase all of your tomorrows in an instant. (Around this time, I remember going to an anti-nuke event at our church and actually being able to touch a ceramic roof tile from Hiroshima that had become so hot in that atomic blast that it had formed bubbles on its surface--which were frozen in time after it cooled. I also saw photos of people who had horrific radiation burns that kept me up late at night for years. It may seem far-fetched now, but back then a lot of us really did worry about dying in a nuclear holocaust; and we were under no illusions that "duck and cover" was going to save our asses.) It also made it seem like something could be done to take some small measure of control of a completely out-of-our-control situation ("Forever Young" lyric: "Heaven can wait/we're only watching the skies/Hoping for the best/but expecting the worst/Are you going to drop the bomb or not?"), as musicians banded together for concerts supporting the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and CND anti-nuke benefit albums like Life in the European Theatre (featuring tracks by The Clash, The Jam, The Beat, The Specials, Echo and the Bunnymen, XTC, and more). By giving voice to our collective fears and setting it to music you could dance to, these New Wave groups helped make it possible to live and even enjoy life at a time when world's leaders were unbelievably close (see Able Archer 83) to wiping us out forever."

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While the threat of nuclear war has greatly diminished since the end of the Cold War, there are approximately 10,000 nuclear weapons in various government's arsenals around the globe--and still very much to be worried about.

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Cherry Red/Phoenix City Records Picks Up "Rhoda Dakar Sings The Bodysnatchers" for November 2015 Release!

If you missed out on the PledgeMusic crowdfunding campaign for Rhoda Dakar Sings The Bodysnatchers, you now have a second chance to obtain what is an essential album for any self-respecting 2 Tone fan's collection! Cherry Red Records imprint Phoenix City Records is releasing the Rhoda Dakar Sings The Bodysnatchers CD on November 6, 2015--and the first 50 pre-orders will be signed by Rhoda Dakar.

As you probably already know, I'm crazy about this album (which features Ms. Dakar singing both previously recorded and unrecorded Bodysnatchers tunes and she's backed by two Specials, Lynval Golding on guitar and Horace Panter on bass; Sean Flowerdew of Pama Intl/Phoenix City All-stars on keys and co-producing; Mark Claydon of The Get Up on drums; Lenny Bignell of the Sidewalk Doctors and Phoenix City All-stars on guitar and co-producing; and Karl Wirrmann from Intensified on sax)--read my Duff Guide to Ska review of "Rhoda Sings The Bodysnatchers" album here. I strongly urge you buy it if you don't already have it!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Duff Gig Review: Oreskaband @ The Gramercy Theater (7/30/15)

Oreskaband are go!
(Review by Steve Shafer)

I knew next to nothing about Oreskaband when I walked into The Gramercy Theater last Thursday night, other than that they were an all-female ska band from Japan (their name in Japanese is all punk rock in it's succinctness: "we're a ska band"). I figured they had to be pretty damn good for someone to front the money to support their mini-tour of the USA (where, sadly ska shows are very much hit-or-miss affairs; indeed, where have all the rude boys/girls gone?)--plus, it's not that often that international ska bands come through New York City these days, so I felt it was important to show up and support the scene and give the local promoters a reason to continue booking touring ska acts...

Due to a family obligation earlier that evening, I missed a few of the opening bands (including the really terrific NYC ska-punk act The Ladrones--my good friend Adam reported that they were excellent, as I expected), but caught The Pandemics' great punk-ska set that had the close-to-capacity crowd primed for the headliners. And--wow--were Oreskaband ready to deliver one of the most enjoyable, high-energy, engaging, charming, and musically-tight sets I've seen in a long time!

They're a modern ska band, as advertised, but musically omnivorous and proficient, like Fishbone, playing pop, rock, punk, funk--even new wave(!), and adept at shifting styles on a dime, oftentimes within a single song (and sing in both English and Japanese). During their hour-plus show, they played several songs off their fantastic, new, five-track Carry On EP (which I bought at their merch table), including the Red Hot Chili Pepper-like "Carnival," "Brand New Day," "Getting Higher," and the anthemic and uplifting "Carry On!" ("You may be right, and may be wrong/We go smiling either way/Carry on, oh everyday!")--as well as some choice and very well-done covers: Toots Hibbert's "Monkey Man" (which they recorded with Rico Rodriguez for the Japa Rico compilation album in 2006) and "Pressure Drop," and Danny Flores' classic "Tequila."

At one point in their set, Oreskaband declared how happy they were to be back in America--and New York City in particular--they hadn't been here since 2008. A Google search later on revealed that Oreskaband had played the entire Vans Warped Tour in the USA that year and they must have won over legions of fans wherever they performed. (Here's hoping they come back to NYC soon!)

Oreskaband are phenomenal!  If you ever have the chance to see Oreskaband live, you must go! Life's too short not to have this much fun!

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The last time I attempted to tape some bands at the Gramercy, they temporarily confiscated my Flip video camera, so I don't have any live footage of Oreskaband to share. Instead, here's the music video for one of Oreskaband's new, straight-on ska tracks to give you a taste of the band...

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Ska Films at Lincoln Center: "Legends of Ska" and "The Liberty of Norton Folgate"!

This coming Monday night (8/3/15), there are two, very unusual opportunities to see ska-related films on the big screen at Lincoln Center. As part of their Sound + Vision 2015 movie series, the Lincoln Center Film Society is screening "Legends of Ska: Cool and Copacetic" by Brad Klein (with a Q and A session afterwards with the director and percussionist Larry McDonald) and Julien Temple's "The Liberty of Norton Folgate."

Here's the LCFS copy about the "Legends of Ska" documentary:
"Whereas second- or third-wave ska bands like The Specials or No Doubt maintain a degree of visibility through North American radio play, the Jamaican originators of the genre often get short shrift. Brad Klein sought to correct this imbalance. On July 12-13, 2002, Klein mounted two massive concerts in Toronto with early-’60s ska superstars like Prince Buster, Derrick Morgan, Stranger Cole, Alton Ellis, Millicent “Patsy” Todd, and the Skatalites. The concert was documented, and, over a decade, shaped into a concert film interspersed with funny and poignant interviews with band members. Also includes a hilarious cameo from Keith Richards!"
And here's "The Liberty of Norton Folgate" blurb:
"A concert film shot during a performance at London’s Hackney Empire, Temple’s inventive approach to Madness’ concept album of the same name connects the iconic ska band with their working-class British roots and a populist tradition of entertainment. The film weaves comical introductions to songs and a tour of various historically seedy London neighborhoods led by Madness’ Suggs and Carl into footage from the concert, whose audience is peppered with burlesque “types” who sometimes steal the show."
I can't make the "Legends of Ska" screening, but my son and I already have tickets to "The Liberty of Norton Folgate!" Read what I wrote a few years ago about Madness' phenomenally good and profound album at Reggae Steady Ska.

Here's a taste:
"While it seemed like their 2 Tone peers had run out of things to say, [on The Liberty of Norton Folgate] Madness were delivering the songs of great meaning that I had wanted from them in my youth—a concept album that promotes/embraces multiculturalism as the only path to real freedom, and the notion that the history of a place and its people has an extraordinary impact on making this possible."


Friday, July 24, 2015

Duff Guide to Ska NYC Summer 2015 Ska Calendar #10

Oreskaband from Japan
Thursday, July 30, 2015 @ 7:00 pm

Oreskaband, The Pandemics, The Ladrones, Go Big

Gramercy Theater
127 East 23rd Street
Manhattan
$25
All ages

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Saturday, August 1, 2015 @ 6:00 pm

The Slackers

Rocks Off Booze Cruise
The Nautical Empress
Board the boat at 299 South Street, Manhattan
$30/21+

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Monday, August 3, 2015 @ 6:30 pm

"Legends of Ska: Cool and Copasetic" Documentary

Film Society of Lincoln Center
165 West 65th Street
Manhattan, NY
$14

Q and A after the film with the director and percussionist Larry McDonald!

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Sunday, August 16, 2015 @ 1:00 pm

Swing-A-Ling Backyard BBQ w/The Frightnrs

Pioneer Works
159 Pioneer Street
Brooklyn, NY
$5.00

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Friday, August 21, 2015 @ 6:00 pm

Rude Boy George

Toshi's Living Room and Penthouse
1141 Broadway (at 26th Street)
New York, NY
No cover!

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Saturday, August 22, 2015 @ 1:00 pm (music from 2:00 pm to 9:00 pm)

Governors Island Seafood and Reggae Beach Party w/Badfish, Cannabis Cup Band, Gary Nesta Pine, Top Shotta Band featuring Screechy Dan, New Breed Brass Band, DJ Jah Culture

Governors Island
New York Harbor
Ferry from South Street

Tix: Music only are $40; music and food are $60.

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Sunday, September 6, 2015 @ 6:00 pm

The Expanders, Tribal Seeds, Arise Roots

Brooklyn Bowl
61 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$17-$20/21+

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Friday, September 11, 2015 @ 7:30 pm

Mephiskapheles, Inspecter 7, and The Ladrones

Asbury Lanes
209 4th Avenue
Asbury Park, NJ
$15

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Sunday, September 20, 2015 @ 6:00 pm

Fishbone and special guests TBA

Brooklyn Bowl
61 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$17/21+

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Saturday, October 24, 2015 @ 10:00 pm

Rude Boy George

Toshi's Living Room and Penthouse
1141 Broadway (at 26th Street)
New York, NY
No cover!

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Wednesday, October 28, 2015 @ 8:00 pm

UB40 featuring Ali Campbell, Astro, and Mickey Virtue

Webster Hall
125 East 11th Street
Manhattan, NY
$35/18+

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Saturday, October 31, 2015 @ 7:00 pm

Halloween Party w/Rude Boy George

Toshi's Living Room and Penthouse
1141 Broadway (at 26th Street)
New York, NY
No cover!
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(Bands: Want your ska shows posted here? Send your NYC area gig dates with all details to duffguidetoska@gmail.com!)

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Frightnrs on Mad Decent: Free Download and upcoming EP and 7"!

In what is a very significant development for a band from NYC's under-the-radar ska/reggae scene, Mad Decent--Diplo's label (Major Lazer, Santogold, Snoop Lion)--is releasing a digital EP and 7" from Queens, NY's very own Frightnrs in August 2015 (and this is in addition to the band's recent "I'd Rather Go Blind" single on Daptone)!

To help promote this release, you can hear/download The Frightnrs' "Admiration" (expertly produced by Victor "Ticklah" Axelrod), as well as a dubby EDM remix of the track by Toddla T and Cadenza, by checking out the Mad Decent Soundcloud page.

"Admiration" was originally released on The Frightnrs' fantastic 12/21/12 digital EP (read The Duff Guide to Ska review of it here). This is what I had to say about the track a while back:

"The unfairly-accused narrator (more fool for a pretty face than anti-hero) of the spaghetti Western cut "Admiration" ("They're gonna punish me for something that I didn't do!") is desperately determined to evade his pursuers, since capture will certainly subject him to vigilante justice: "I didn't know her before today/Now, I'll walk across the sand/and I'll sail across the sea/They've got their nooses ready/hanging underneath a tree/With their horses and their guns/they've got this man on the run/But what I have done remains a mystery to me." The precise and relentless beat of this track conveys the pressured urgency of continually pushing forward to stay free and, more importantly, alive--while a ringing, almost shimmering solo guitar line conveys his loneliness as he plods across a bleak, sun-baked landscape that stretches to the horizon and offers no sanctuary."

The Frightnrs are phenomenally good! Here's hoping that Mad Decent bring The Frightnrs the recognition and fans they deserve!

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Update 7/24/15: The title of The Frightnrs new six-track EP is Inna Lovers Quarrel and the iTunes pre-order is on now.

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