Thursday, April 15, 2010

Duff Interview: Mark Foggo

Editor's note: Despite being lesser-known in the US (a real shame, actually), Mark Foggo has been B-I-G on the Euro ska scene since the late 80s--revered for his manic (and sometimes maniacal) but always brilliant ska songs; larger-than-life loony persona; and incredible hi-energy live shows. As he prepares to tour this summer and fall in support of his excellent new album MAD (his billionth recording, which will be released on April 17--Record Store Day!--and soon to be reviewed on The Duff Guide to Ska), Mark Foggo was kind enough to take a few moments to answer our inquiries...

DGTS: I’ve been aware of your music since the late 80s (specifically, your track on the “Ska for Ska’s Sake” comp released on Skank Records in 1989), when I was discovering the many incredible British, German, and French ska bands active at that time through the Skank, Pork Pie, and Unicorn labels. Which were some of your favorite bands from that era, and how does the late 80s UK/Euro ska scene compare to today?

Mark Foggo: There were many great ska bands around in the 80s and many great festivals, mainly in the UK and Germany. The ska people used to turn out in huge numbers and we had a real lot of fun meeting and partying with them all. One of my favourite bands of the 80s were The Hotknives. The band was outstanding at that time and featured the main man, Gary Marshall. Sadly, these days the scene is not so big, but fortunately there are a few dedicated ska promoters who keep things moving. We notice there are more and more young kids coming to our shows these days, not particularly ska-looking kids, but maybe more skater. They love ska and we come across them all over Europe, so I reckon the future's bright.

DGTS: Did you grow up listening to ska? What record or experience made you a fan?

MF: I grew up listening to rhythm and blues. My favourite singer was Eric Burdon of The Animals. He had the best screaming soul voice I'd ever heard, and after I'd been to see him (in about 1964 ), I made up my mind what my future was going to be. I progressed from rhythm and blues to punk, and then in about 1979 I discovered ska. There were Specials, Beat, and Bad Manners around then and I loved it all. First, I played punk and ska, and a couple of years later I stopped with the punk in my gigs.

DGTS: What inspired you to form Mark Foggo and the Skasters?

MF: I moved to Holland in 1979, just at the time I got interested in ska. I spent a bit of time playing with different bands, but didn't like the music much, so then I decided to start my own. I brought two guys I'd been playing with in London over to Holland, and the rest I stole out of other bands. We began with the name "Mark Foggo and the Secret Meeting," and later when we released Ska Pig we changed it to "Mark Foggo's Skasters."

DGTS: You're from Liverpool originally--but your label is based in Belgium (and I assume you live there, too). I think I've always thought you were from the Netherlands. Is Foggo a British name or am I just being kind of ignorant in an ugly-American kind of way?

MF: Foggo is a Scottish name, but I'm English, born in Liverpool. Many people think I'm Dutch, but that's because I lived there for many years. I now live in Antwerp in Belgium, which in fact is only 100 miles down the road from Amsterdam in Holland. I'm also only 150 miles from the UK and 100 miles from Germany, so it's a good central place to be.

DGTS: Your songs are oftentimes about everyday experience written from a slightly off-kilter point-of-view (“Bumpy Airlines” and “Cybergirl” come to mind). You've cultivated this madman of ska persona--this, along with the diversity of musical styles that are incorporated in your ska sound, makes me think of Ian Dury. Are you the Ian Dury of ska (is this something you've aspired to)?

MF: There are a variety of musical styles in my songs and that is simply because I've experienced them at some time or other in my life. I was at school in Liverpool during the Beatlemania period (not having been a Beatle fan myself, of course). At much the same time, the Rollin' Stones were out and about, then, like I mentioned, The Animals, The Clash, The Jam, and many many more. All these bands must have had an influence on me in one way or another. And then Tamla Motown, and then the punk thing...and so on. I liked Ian Dury and his songs very much, but I wouldn't regard myself as being Dury-like. I have an active imagination and a cruel sense of humour, that's where the lyrics come from.

DGTS: What is the most unusual experience (good or bad) that you've had performing on stage?

MF: My favourite trick is to disappear from the stage and that's happened quite painfully a number of times. One night in Dublin, Ireland, I didn't notice a gap between the stage and the PA speakers, I fell down between them and nobody had any idea where I'd gone. I've done a lot of damage to my legs from similar falls (alcohol has a part to play), but I guess it's just an occupational hazard.

DGTS: I see from your schedule that you are playing many music festivals in Europe this summer. Which country generally gives you the best reception/reaction? Have you ever done/wanted to do shows in the US?

MF: Germany probably holds the most ska festivals and that's the country we play the most, but there are fantastic festivals all over Europe. Really, I like playing everywhere and I'd love the opportunity to play in the US. We've never found a promoter in the US to put something together for us, so if you're out there ...[Ed.-yes, please get in touch and bring Mark Foggo over!]

DGTS: Which Mark Foggo album is your favorite and why?

MF: My favourite album is always the last one, because the songs are the newest, but if I had to pick one I guess it would be Haircut. I made this album in a different way, working closely together with my good friend and, at that time, keyboard player Dominique Dubois. The songs were all fairly experimental at the time, but I really enjoyed making it.

DGTS: You've begun promoting your excellent new album MAD--so far, how has it been received by the fans?

MF: I'm writing this before the CD MAD is released, so we haven't had too much feedback on the CD as yet. The record company thinks it's great, so that's good and from the people who have heard it, mainly friends, the reaction, as you'd expect, is 100% positive. They wouldn't dare say otherwise.

DGTS: Radical developments in technology over the past decade have drastically altered how recorded music is marketed, distributed, and sold. Is your/your label's strategy to sell this record based on more traditional models or something new? Is the best way to promote a record still to get up on stage and play your songs before an audience?

MF: This CD is released by V2 Records and their strategy is to cover every aspect of it. It's released in the traditional CD format and distributed to shops, it's also made available to download on all the well-known sites, and hopefully we'll make it in vinyl at a later date. There is a single from the CD released and that's distributed to radio digitally, no actual single is pressed as yet. I definitely believe in doing the gigs and presenting the CD to people that way, that's what I live for.

DGTS: How do you feel about music file-sharing?

MF: No comment, it's up to you...

DGTS: Do you have time to follow/are you a fan of other current ska bands?

MF: I'm not a fan of any particular bands. I like many ska bands and play together with many of them, it's always great to hear what other ska people are doing.

DGTS: What is your impression of US ska bands? Do you ever have the opportunity to play with any of them when they tour in Europe?

MF: We did some gigs with Eastern Standard Time not long ago, really enjoyed that band and very nice ska guys. I did a guest spot with Buck and The Toasters the other night, that was fun. Great bunch of ska people, tight sound, always busy spreading the word of ska. I'm busy doing a couple of songs for a new CD with my friend Rob Hoskins and his Nashville ska band AKA Rudie at the moment. There'll be a single ("Shooters") released soon and it's an interesting combination of ska styles. Look out for that one.

DGTS: If you had to choose one album to introduce ska to someone who had no exposure to the music, which one would it be?

MF: I think I'd give them the best of Desmond Dekker, a superb example of great ska rhythms and top vocals. Catchy stuff, gets in your head and never comes out again. Shame he's gone.

DGTS: What's next for Mark Foggo?

MF: This summer, we'll be busy with gigs and festivals all around Europe, then we want to release a live DVD, then play in Japan again, and follow that up with a couple of tours in the US. That'll do for us this year!

Thanks for doing the interview, Mark!


johnnyreggae said...


Kames Jelly said...

I never give my seat up on trains either...

Steve from Moon said...

Not even for a pregnant lady?!

Good song, if not a weird message...nothing wrong with being a gentleman.