Saturday, October 23, 2010

Duff Interview: Sean Flowerdew on the 2011 London International Ska Festival (Plus The Caroloregians Just Added to the Line-up)!

The Duff Guide to Ska is most grateful to Sean Flowerdew (Pama Intl, Rockers Revolt Records, The Loafers) for taking the time to do the following interview with us regarding the upcoming 2011 London International Ska Festival (LISF). At the time of this interview, he was in the midst of playing Pama Intl's last few shows (promoting their most recent album, Pama Intl meet Mad Professor-Rewired In Dub) before the band goes on extended hiatus--whilst simultaneously putting together the ska fest, and running his label (and you thought you had a lot on your plate!).

The Duff Guide to Ska: Why is this the most opportune time to re-launch the London International Ska Festival? What has happened on the ska scene (or in your life) to make this the right time to do it?

Sean Flowerdew: I'm not sure it's the most opportune time, but there certainly is a lot of interest. Obviously The Specials reforming, Madness releasing a fantastic new album, people like Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse championing the ska sounds, Soul Jazz reissuing Studio One comps with very nice packages over the last few years have all combined on a mainstream level to create more interest in ska. Soul Jazz particularly seemed it make it cool and hip again. And of course, there've been people working very hard on a grassroots level to keep things moving forward: Do The Dog (label and zine), The Brixton Hootananny (puts on free ska gigs every Friday to 400-500 people and has some bigger names on at low prices), Gaz's Rockin' Blues celebrating it's 30th anniversary (the longest running club night in London); plus loads of ska-inspired bands gigging: The Amphetameanies, Bombskare, Cartoon Violence, Dub Pistols, Babyhead, Jimmy The Squirrel, King Blues, Maroon Town, all the 2 Tone guys, Sidewalk Doctors, Intensified, Rasta4Eyes, Pama Intl, Splitters, Simmertones, Dirty Revolution...US touring bands like The Aggrolites, Slackers, Big D. And club nights/sound systems around the country like Pressure Drop, Funkdub, Reggae Train, Tighten Up Crew, Set The Tone, Downbeat Melody, Axis Sound System, Sounds & Pressure all regularly spinning ska sounds. I'm sure I've forgotten loads as well!

It's very healthy times for the ska scene again, but that wasn't the catalyst for me deciding to relaunch this though. All year I've been looking at my own work with Pama Intl and Rockers Revolt label and just trying to figure out what I want to be doing next year and further into the future. And for the first time in Pama Intl's 10 years...I didn't see anything, or rather I wasn't inspired to do anything. So, rather then do 100 Pama Intl shows throughout the year, I thought it be good to put all my energies into one event. I know the ska scene better than any other music scene, nostalgia's in fashion, so I thought I'd relaunch The London International Ska Festival. For once, my hunch that others would be interested certainly seems to be accurate, judging by the feedback.

DGTS: Apart from ska stars like The Specials and Madness appearing at mega music festivals in the UK like Glastonbury, have there been any large ska festivals there in recent years?

SF: One reason I'm putting this on is I don't believe there's been a ska festival in the UK that has done the genre justice, for years. I include some of my own nights when I say there's been a lot of sub-par promotions in the name of ska. The first ones I was involved with were very good. I programmed and promoted the first LISF at The Brixton Fridge, a 1,400 capacity venue in south London on 21st December 1988. We followed that up with nights at London's infamous, but sadly now demolished, Astoria Theatre. We got TV coverage for those events, mainstream press coverage, and nothing like that has happened on that level since. Except for The Specials and Madness reformations, which of course eclipsed what we did.

I truly believe the line-up we're putting together for next year and the attention to detail we're putting into every aspect of the event will set it on a world-class level, the likes of which the UK and abroad hasn't seen. A long-term goal is to establish the genre on a mainstream level across the world. High hopes, I know, but you've got to aim high, and there is the talent in the world of ska and all its offshoots to be able to do it.

DGTS: How many fans to you anticipate showing up for the entire three-day London International Ska Festival?

SF: It's actually four days long and the way it's selling, I can see all days will be sold out before Christmas! So, 1,100-1,400 people across the weekend. We're mainly only selling weekend tickets for all four days, but there will also be 200-300 day tickets issued. The venue is only 1,250 capacity, and I'll be allocating 150 tickets for radio, press, and promoters. One of the main goals of the fest is to establish it as an annual event akin to the Soho Jazz Festival or WOMAD. An event that is respected the world over. An event that sells out before any of the line up is announced. An event that showcases and shows off how far this amazing genre has traveled and how good it can be.

DGTS: Are you the sole person selecting the acts--and what are the criteria for a band to be selected? Were any of the bands that were suggested by fans (on sites like The Specials' Fan site) chosen to appear?

SF: Yes, I'm the sole person, although I have asked many people's opinions (DJs I respect, my brother [Do the Dog Music's Kevin Flowerdew], other bands) and put out on the Facebook page asking people who they'd like to see. It was great to see I was pretty much on the right track. Many of the bands people were asking to see we've got. We're also going to blow people away with some of the things we're managing to get together for this.

The basic criteria is I've got to like the band. They've got to have a story, be it a legendary one or a new band one. I've got to be able to sell them to the press and radio, and ultimately sell tickets off the back of their name. There is a huge financial risk to this. The bill currently stands at £100,000, so I need bands that will pull people.

DGTS: Your old band The Loafers are reuniting for the occasion. What's the biggest challenge to preparing for your performance?

SF: It's actually really nice to be doing a band for the shear enjoyment of it. Unlike the last 10 years with Pama Intl, there is no major challenge. We'll rehearse, Nas (drums) and Trev (bass) play regularly as Big Boss Man and The Bongolian, and Finny and I have of course been doing Pama Intl, so we should be able to knock it into shape. I suppose one challenge is The Loafers always got by on youthful enthusiasm, which I don't think any of us have now! It's 21 years since we played together!

DGTS: If The Loafers' appearance exceeds your expectations, is there the possibility of doing more reunion gigs?

SF: No, it's an exclusive for the festival. I wanted to have a few things happening at the LISF that won't happen anywhere else, and set it apart from what anyone else is doing. The Loafers is one of those exclusives. Another one is getting the original Hotknives line-up to reform for a one-off.

Continuing with The Loafers isn't something I'd want to pursue. And I'm sure the same can be said for other members in the band. We've all got big fish to fry.

DGTS: What are your favorite moments from the first London International Ska Festival that you organized back in 1988?

SF: Seeing a queue stretching up the road and out of sight before doors was pretty incredible. Having all my favourite bands under one roof was great...Hotknives, Potato 5, Capone & The Bullets, Laurel Aitken, Napoleon Solo were pick of the bunch for me. I had Gaz Mayall MCing the night and he brought Prince Buster down with him. I was 17 when I started putting it together, so it was a pretty incredible feeling to realise I'd managed to get it to work.

DGTS: When do you expect that the entire bill with be finalized (and are there any new additions to the festival that you'd like to announce here)?

SF: We go on general sale with tickets early November '10, and I'm hoping to have most of the line-up finalised by then. We nearly have all the bands agreed, we're just working through contracts and waiting to fill two of the headline slots. We have offers in with five great acts for the two places, so it'll be the first ones to decide get it. We'll definitely have it all set by December '10.

The latest additions to the festival are...the Grammy-nominated singer James Hunter, whose sound is more of a soul and R'n'B style, akin to the sounds the Jamaican originators were tuning into. He's amazing. Van Morrison describes James as "the best soul voice to come out of Britain," and there a lovely ska lilt to a lot of his music. We've also got The Caroloregians from Belgium. I love these guys. They've got a great raw skinhead reggae meets the Meters funk thing going on. More to be announced start of November!

[Below, please find a live video I shot of The Caroloregians performing The Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" and their own "Karlking City Boogaloo" at The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn, NY on 6/5/10.]


Joachim said...

Thanks for the great interview, to both of you. And thanks to Sean for bringing the London International Ska Festival back.

Steve from Moon said...


Thanks for your feedback! Indeed, all respect to Sean for mounting the LISF!