Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Ska Dads

UK poet/comedian/DJ/cartoonist Phill Jupitus has a kind review of one of The Specials' live shows for the Times Online (which includes a strip he drew of his experience!). But his best observation is his bit about "ska dads," something that some of us of a certain age (early 40s) and circumstance (9-5 job, married with kids) are grappling with in the back of our heads every time we think of going to a show...
Live music performance has for years been where I have felt the happiest, a state that has existed over three decades of concert going. As we grow older, many of us crave the sweaty intimacy of live music. It is a direct conduit to our misspent pasts. Bands may come and bands may go, but live gigs remain unchanged. The toilets are still too crowded, the beer is still too expensive, the bouncers are still too facey and the music is still too loud. The only change is that the T-shirts appear to have got smaller. But we still love it.

So to the opening night of the Specials’ reunion tour in Newcastle. The venue is crammed with a new cultural sub-genre I am calling the Ska Dads — men who in the early Eighties would be found skanking at concerts by Madness, Bad Manners, the Beat, the Selecter, the Bodysnatchers or indeed the Specials themselves. These men have grown in girth and had children over the years. Children whom they want to infect with the same rhythms that transported them in their youth. In the Seventies and Eighties the only place you ever saw dads at gigs was outside, standing next to idling Volvo estates, waiting for their sweaty kids to emerge. Today it is customary to see smiling parents tapping their feet at the back of a gig while the kids all head for the mosh pit, if not to dance then certainly to escape the embarrassing taint of their mum and dad.

I myself tried to impose ska on my daughters while driving them to junior school. I would slip a carefully selected compilation disc into the dashboard CD player. As soon as the chant of Phoenix City by Roland Alphonso began, my tiny charges would roll their eyes and moan loudly: “Daaaaaaaad, we don’t like the ska! Put on some Spice Girls!” Matters intensified when I rashly took a box at the Albert Hall for one of the Teenage Cancer Trust gigs where Madness were headlining. My daughters responded to this sledgehammer attempt to impose my musical taste on them by falling asleep during House of Fun. True story.

Some of the Ska Dads have realised that when you do get fat and lose your hair then skinhead is a perfect default style. You just have to find enormous Fred Perrys and Ben Shermans, huge Levis Sta-Prest, tassled brogues and you are good to go. Fat, bald, eyeliner-wearing, middle-aged goths simply don’t work — they look too much like Patricia Routledge. Fat mods look simply awkward in suits, a bit like George Osborne. Fat punks resemble characters from a bad Two Ronnies sketch. But a fat skinhead works very nicely. However, some balding, morbidly obese middle-aged men try to pretend that they were always skinheads by watching This Is England and buying a Trojan box set. Even though the only gigs they actually saw in the early Eighties were the Thompson Twins and Billy Ocean. You know who you are.
Fortunately, I'm not fat enough (yet) to have to resort to taking on the look of the aging skin...(I write this having just run several miles at the gym--I swear!).

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