Sunday, April 21, 2019

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Dennis Bovell, Daytoner, JonnyGo Figure, Prince Fatty and Earl 16

(Reviews by Steve Shafer)

Even though I saw "Babylon" weeks ago at its ridiculously long-delayed US premiere at BAM (the film was originally released in the UK in 1980, but not shown in America, presumably because its black protagonists sometimes respond to racial oppression/abuse from white people/institutions with violence), images and scenes from the movie continue to haunt me. While its plot is fairly straightforward ("Babylon" follows a group of working class black friends/musicians who run a sound system and are subjected to racist abuse from just about everyone--bosses, neighbors, and the police), it has a stark realism to it--between being shot on location in run-down Brixton (often in difficult-to-film low-lighting conditions, but somehow always maintaining visual crispness and its warm and vivid color tones); the depiction of the ubiquitous societal/institutional racism freely expressed toward black Britons circa '79/'80; great, funny dialogue (with lots of Jamaican slang--which was subtitled); and the spot-on, relaxed performances by all involved, it could almost be a documentary. And, of course, the film's hard-to-find soundtrack is outstanding (with Yabby U, I-Roy, Cassandra, Aswad, Vin Gordon, Michael Rose, Dennis Bovell, and more; also, the film's protagonist Blue is played by Aswad's Brinsley Forde and a rival sound system DJ is Jah Shaka). Before I caught the film, I tracked down a German copy of Babylon in decent shape that wasn't too costly. Side two, in particular is stellar and happens to contain the two Aswad and three Dennis Bovell cuts. But the official Babylon OST (vinyl LP, Chrysalis Records, 1980) doesn't contain all of Bovell's music for the film. So, in conjunction with the US premiere/release of the movie, Dennis Bovell issued the nine-track digital album Babylon: The Original Score (Old School, 2019) containing the entire score he wrote and recorded for this soundtrack (including six songs that did not appear on the 1980 Chrysalis LP). It goes without saying that all of these tracks are excellent and heard in snippets in the film (Bovell is a master of catchy melody and mixes/shifts between musical genres with ease), but I'm particularly grateful to have the ska cut "Runnin' Away" (featured during the dance scene at Lovers' engagement party in the church hall and sounding like one of the '50s rock/rhythm and blues-influenced tracks Laurel Aitken would have released in the early '60s); the funky, strutting "School Skanking" (check out that harmonica!); and the righteous roots reggae of "Living in Babylon" (a clear-eyed recounting of the brutal challenges of being black and poor in racist Ingland). Needless to say, this album is essential and absolutely deserving of being issued on vinyl someday (please!).

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Daytoner's terrific versions of Marcia Griffiths' "Feel Like Jumping" and Phyllis Dillon's "Perfidia," which they've retitled "Perfidious" (7" vinyl single, Friday's Funky 45/Cabin Pressure, 2019); I found a copy at Rock and Soul in Manhattan) inject just the right amount of early '90s hip hop/De La Soul-like beats and samples so as to give these ska and rocksteady classics new life. And they're sure to draw new fans to the dance floor without alienating the ska faithful.

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Brooklyn-based reggae singer/DJ JonnyGo Figure (who's also a member of Megative and has collaborated with The Frightnrs and Full Watts Band) has released an excellent EP of early '80s sounding roots reggae and dancehall (that one could imagine being issued on Greensleeves, circa 1982) called Crucial Showcase (12" vinyl/digital, Bent Backs Records, 2019). On the Yellowman-ish "Vinyl Lover," JonnyGo Figure speaks to his real-life obsession with records and how that came to be ("Mi love vinyl and mi play it fe fun/Mi love vinyl and I never have a gun"). The rootsy "Natty Take Over" is about discovering and embracing Rastafarianism ("Mr. Babylon to move over/This a Natty Dreadlocks take over/When I was a boy they used to say I'd amount to nothing/But now I'm a man they're starting to see that I am something/Look out, look out, Natty taking over..."). He's ready to join with his peers to fighting for a more equal and just society in "Revolutionary Youth": "I tell ya, stand up! Stand up!/Strap up on de Armagideon boot/The time now, we have to recruit/Come on, we chant it, chant it/Come on and let we seek de truth/If you ready, let me see you salute/I'm a revolutionist...Time to start a revolution, boy/'Cause that's the only solution, boy." And knowledge of one's own mortality looms large in "Jam It Up"--there's an expiration date on all of us, so it's best to live a righteous life full of joy in His music: "One day I'll die, no matter what me say/You know, say papa Jah, he the only way I say, so/Come on let me play a Jah Jah music/Let me jam it up..." There's much to ponder while grooving to JonnyGo Figure's seriously good music.

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Released for Record Store Day 2019, Prince Fatty and Earl 16's "Be Thankful for What You've Got" b/w "Be Thankful Dub" (7" vinyl single, Evergreen Records, 2019) is a cover of William DeVaughn's 1974 smash soul hit, which was also covered by Bunny Clarke in 1974, Winston Curtis in 1984, Massive Attack in 1993, as well as sampled by numerous hip hop artists. The song's brilliant lyrics have been perennially popular for their depiction of aspirational cool in the face of deprivation (and, no doubt, for evoking a particular era--I remember seeing this exact model of Cadillac in the Bronx in the '70s):

Just be thankful for what you've got
You may not have a great big Cadillac
Diamond in the back, sunroof top
Diggin' the scene
With a gangsta lean
Gangsta whitewalls
TV antennas in the back

You may not have a car at all
But remember brothers and sisters
You can still stand tall

Just be thankful for what you've got

This spectacular version features a bright and brisk reggae beat (plus a few laser effects) that contrasts wonderfully with Earl 16's beautiful but bittersweet vocals about proudly hanging tough in tough times. The harmonizing on the chorus is incredible, lightly conveying the sadness/loss in all that could have been if things only worked out another way. Apparently, the reason Prince Fatty and Earl 16 decided to record it was because they discovered it was a favorite of both of theirs--and it shows in this gorgeously constructed track and its fantastic companion dub.

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Saturday, April 13, 2019

Duff Review: Various Artists "Max's SKAnsas City"

Jungle Records/Max's Kansas City Records
Clear vinyl LP
2019

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Like CBGBs, Max's Kansas City--which was located at Park Avenue South between 17th and 18th Streets in Manhattan--was one of the key NYC venues that lent crucial support to the nascent mid-to-late '70s punk scene that spawned The Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie, the Heartbreakers, Television, the Patti Smith Group, Suicide, and many more. From the mid-'60s through the early '70s, Max's had been the hip nightspot for artists (Robert Rauschenberg, Larry Rivers, Roy Lichtenstein, Dan Flavin, Richard Serra, Robert Mapplethorpe, and many more), writers (William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Patti Smith, Germaine Greer, etc.), Andy Warhol and anyone in his orbit (including The Velvet Underground), and musicians who liked to hang out and perform there--particularly those from the glam rock scene (Marc Bolan, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, the New York Dolls, Wayne County, and others). Notably, Bob Marley and the Wailers opened for Bruce Springsteen in 1973! However, by the end of 1974, the club had lost its cachet and closed. A renovated Max's Kansas City re-opened in 1975, with Peter Crowley, who had been poached from CBs, hired to book acts. Crowley continued to showcase the aforementioned punk bands that he featured at Hilly's club (Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie, et al), as well as other acts like The B-52s, Devo, The Damned, The Runaways, Misfits, Cramps, even Sid Vicious, before it all ended badly for him and Nancy.

According to the terrific liner notes to Max's SKAnsas City by Marc Wasserman (Marco on the Bass blog, Ska Boom: An Oral History of the Birth of American Ska and Reggae), Crowley became a huge reggae fan after seeing the movie The Harder They Come and started booking a regular Sunday reggae night that attracted a solid following of mostly new wave fans. In 1978, he encountered The Terrorists, a ska/reggae band comprised of white, suburban kids from New Jersey who so impressed Crowley that they become a mainstay at Max's. Dro, The Terrorists' drummer, happened to be friends with Roland Alphonso's son Noel and met The Skatalite during one of Noel's band's rehearsals. Alphonso had suffered a stroke a few years previously, so hadn't been playing his sax, but later on Dro caught a recovered Alphonso performing onstage with his son's band Jah Malla (and no one in the crowd recognized who he was except for Dro) and asked him if he'd like to play with The Terrorists at Max's Kansas City.

In the spring of 1979, The Terrorists opened for Alphonso and backed him during his set. It all goes down so well that Crowley asked them if they'd like to record two 12" EPs (one for The Terrorists, the other Roland Alphonso backed by The Terrorists) for the Max's Kansas City record label. With Crowley producing, Alphonso with The Terrorists record five of The Skatalite's well-known originals and then The Terrorists record seven tracks, one original and several judicious covers.

By 1980, The Offs, who performed an almost unclassifiable mix of punk, ska/reggae, and no wave jazz and had released two singles in 1978, had begun splitting their time between their home-base of San Francisco and Soho in Manhattan. Of course, they performed at Max's Kansas City (Crowley was friends with The Offs' guitarist) and were invited by Crowley to record four tracks--two for a Max's Kansas City single and the others to be released by the band.

Later that year, Max's Kansas City Records released The Offs' "You Fascinate Me" b/w "My World" and Terrorists' "Riis Park" b/w "Justice" singles, but the label soon goes under--leaving the Alphonso and other Terrorist tracks on the shelf, unreleased. (The Terrorists go on to release a terrific 12" single in 1981 with Lee "Scratch" Perry: "Love Is Better Now" b/w "Guerrilla Priest"; and by 1983, The Offs have recorded their extraordinary debut album First Record, which is released the following year--read The Duff Guide to Ska review of it here).

Max's SKAnsas City collects all of the Roland Alphonso, Terrorist, and Offs recordings for the label (some never before released, like all of The Terrorists' covers, The Offs' "Easier Said Than Done," and a few of the Roland Alphonso tracks--several other Alphonso tracks here were also released on ROIR's Terrorist compilation Forces 1977-1982 in 2001). But it also provides the listener with a fascinating glimpse into the mini-ska/reggae scene in New York City that had developed organically with the same 1960s ska influences and roughly along the same time line as those in London, Coventry, and Birmingham (though those 2 Tone bands would have a much more significant impact).

The Alphonso/Terrorist tracks on Max's SKAnsas City are particularly striking--and one could credibly claim that they're amongst some of the best recordings of these tunes. Alphonso is in really fine form here, playing spritely riffs as he improvises on classic Skatalites tracks like "Sax Skandal" (AKA "Christine Keeler"), "Tear Up," "Musical Resurrection," and "Four Corners." Without any competing horns, it's a wonderful showcase of his considerable talents. The Terrorists' masterful backing is tight and lively (the rhythm section is amazing); they had the chops and then some! For someone who typically worked with punk bands, Crowley's production gives these recordings a wonderful warmth and immediacy; had these recordings not been shelved, I suspect he would have been much sought out by other ska and reggae acts.

The Terrorists on their own (with punk singer John Collins on vocals) preferred their recordings to a bit rougher and their ska-reggae sound/attitude adjusted slightly for the punk/new wave times. This comp features their great original track "Riis Park" (about the infamous and unsanctioned nude beach there) and excellent versions of The Tennors' "Pressure and Slide," Delroy Wilson's "I Want Justice," Hopeton Lewis' "Take It Easy," a haunting take of Junior Byles' "Fade Away, " as well as some ska covers of rhythm and blues hits, like Allen Toussaint's "Working in a Coalmine," and Roy Head's "Treat Her Right."

Of all the bands on the comp, The Offs receive relative short shrift here, due to how this all played out back in 1980. This early ska/funk version of "You Fascinate Me" (about watching young street hustlers ply their trade) pales in contrast with the second take of this cut on First Record, which is more ragged and demented and just plain better. "My World" is a solid punky ska cut, though the demo-sounding "Easier Said Than Done" would have been amazing in a more finished form. (According to the liner notes, Crowley and The Offs were pilloried by punks for making the band sound over-produced on their Max's Kansas City single--though Crowley said he faithfully captured the sound of the band as they were on stage.)

By the early 1980s, both The Offs and Terrorists had disbanded (The Offs' singer Don Vinyl overdosed in 1983), though Roland Alphonso would reunite occasionally with The Skatalites for the first half of the 1980s (like for the 1983 Reggae Sunsplash). A second generation of Big Apple ska bands would soon crop up--though these were primarily influenced by 2 Tone, not by what had come before on the NYC scene. UK ex-pat Rob "Bucket" Hingley formed The Toasters in 1981 and in the following years the NYC public high schools yielded a slew of dynamic new ska bands, including Beat Brigade, Urban Blight, the Second Step, City Beat, the A-Kings, and others. A more permanent reunion for Alphonso and his fellow Skatalites would come after Cedric "King" Bravo (another JA ex-pat, sometime record producer, Canal Street ska and reggae record vendor--where he first encounters The Toasters' Unity 2--and Skatalites associate) brought The Skatalites' Lloyd Knibb and Ken Stewart to see The Toasters play at CBGBs in 1986, which convinced them that it was viable to begin touring and recording again (and The Skatalites, of course, went on to have great success on the road and in the studio throughout the 1990s and 2000s).

Anyone interested in the origins and development of the U.S. ska scene will find Max's SKAnsas City to be an invaluable and essential part of their record collection.

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Sunday, April 7, 2019

Duff Review: UB40 "For the Many"

Shoestring Productions/Absolute/
Universal/Sony
CD/2xCD/LP
2019

(Review by Steve Shafer)

"Whatever Happened to UB40?" is one of the song names on UB40's stellar new album For the Many that immediately jumps out when you scan the album's tracklist--and for a band that's achieved such incredible success, only to go through what seemed like an ugly, slow-motion slide into oblivion, it's a vital question for the band to address. For those only casually following all the drama, a quick recap of the last decade's worth of messy band history is in order. Prior to the recording and release of their TwentyFourSeven album in 2008, singer Ali Campbell and keyboardist Mickey Virtue split with the band (toaster Astro joined them later), amidst accusations of all sorts of business/financial mismanagement (though for a period before to his departure, Ali apparently had convinced the band's financial manager to pay him more than the rest of the band, despite the band's long-standing agreement that they were all to be paid equally; when this came to light, Ali left UB40).

Unfortunately, there were some very real and dire money issues at UB40's label and management firm DEP International that were exacerbated by the band split and subsequent loss of income. Several, but not all, of the remaining members of UB40 were declared bankrupt in 2011 after DEP International failed; as a result, much of their back catalogue was sold off to pay off taxes owed to the government; notably, it was revealed a year later that Ali Campbell also had been declared bankrupt by the courts (an embarrassing revelation, as he had been pointing to his former bandmates' bankruptcy as proof of his wisdom to leave the band).

More recently, there have been two versions of the band touring and releasing more Labor of Love-type cover albums (which has led to lawsuits over who has rights to the band name). I've seen each permutation of UB40 and while both were quite good live, I was a bit disappointed that UB40 featuring Ali, Mickey, and Astro focused almost exclusively on their pop hit covers, while UB40 (with brother Duncan Campbell more than ably taking on vocals) performed a mix of their own fantastic songs along with some of their famous covers--and I much preferred the latter.

Fans who have been longing for more than "Red Red Wine" and "Cherry Oh Baby"-like mining of reggae's incredible canon--not that I'm knocking them, Labor of Love was my intro to the band back in 1983--(or their recent album of reggae country covers, Getting Over the Storm) will be thrilled to find that UB40's For the Many consists of almost exclusively new original material--all of it terrific--and is fully on par with their classic early-to-mid 1980s albums like Signing Off, Present Arms, and Rat in the Kitchen. The title of the album acknowledges their support of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party, whose tag line is "For the many, not the few" (and brings to my mind Jamaica's motto of inclusion and solidarity: "Out of many, one people."), while the album artwork by saxophonist Brian Travers is a skyline full of Grenfell Towers, both in tribute to the 72 poor and non-white lives lost in that horrific fire and as criticism of conservative policies of "austerity, outsourcing, and deregulation" that have neglected the safety and essential needs of Britain's less well-off citizens in order to further reward corporations and the rich. All of this signals that UB40 have found their democratic socialist-leaning political voice again--and they deliver a set of powerful and pointed songs about inequality--whether it be class, racial, or economic--that hit all of their targets. In all, this is an effective bid for reclaiming their relevance, converting new fans, and is a real gift to the faithful who have stuck with UB40 through thick and thin.

The thread that runs through much of the album is how human and systemic greed corrupts, perverts, and destroys everything: Communities, nations, our shared notion of what is means to be a good and successful person, even the band itself (more on that later). The wonderfully laid-back "Gravy Train" is a dynamite update/response of sorts to Ken Boothe's hymn of deliverance, "Train Is Coming"--but this one is going pass the vast majority of people by, as it's about the yawning divide of income inequality and the rigged political and economic system the keeps on funneling wealth and opportunity to the rich at the expense of everyone else.

Another day, another dollar
Feels like every day's the same
And I've given it the best years of my life
For someone else to ride on that Gravy Train
And I say

Here comes the Gravy Train
You can hear that whistle blowing 'round the bend
You can hear the sound of laughing
As the Gravy Train is passing
But that Gravy Train, it won't be stopping here

They say we're all in this together
But it gets harder every day
And if I work for a hundred years or more
I still won't get my seat on that Gravy Train...

....Rich man living in his castle
Poor man begging at his gate
If we can only get up
And stand up for our rights
We can send them all to hell on that Gravy Train


In a similar vein, "I'm Alright Jack" is delivered from the point of view of a politician who's using their position as a public servant to gleefully line their own pockets, while knowingly forsaking the people they're supposed to help and represent.

Don't you give me your hard luck story
I don't care now you voted for me
I know austerity's breaking your back
But, I'm alright, Jack

Don't complain that there's no state housing
I've bought mine made a profit of thousands
There's not many left, but I can't help that
But, I'm alright, Jack


There's even commentary on how in our rapacious capitalist system someone who works hard, stays out of debt (earning a poor credit score in the process!), and doesn't exploit others is considered a "Poor Fool":

He's worked for minimum wage
Even survived the dole
But he doesn't owe a penny
To a living soul
Poor Fool

He doesn't drive a big car
Or wear designer clothes
He tries hard to save a little
But a little soon goes
Poor Fool

Any millionaire would tell him
He should forget his foolish pride
And take the whole world for a ride
But he's a fool (Poor fool)
He's a fool (Poor fool)


The flip side of having political systems focused enriching the already rich, connected, and powerful is that much is left unresolved in the world. In "All We Do Is Cry," our extraordinary technology connects and makes us witness to daily injustice and suffering worldwide, but there's little political will or courage to resolve some or all of it (since conflict elsewhere often serves nation's strategic interests and the arms manufacturers and exporters are making too much cash in the process; there's no money for them in peace).

We see mothers cry
As their children die
On our TV sets
While we sit and vent
But nothing gets done
As they pass one by one
All they do is die


During the sax solo there are vocalizations that sound like a muezzin's call to prayer, suggesting that this song may be about the war in Syria and all of the never-ending wars in the Middle East in general.

And, of course, the band is concerned with events across the pond--the United States' narcissistic, self-dealing, money grubbing, white supremacist, chaos president, who is called out in "Bulldozer":

Trumpy Trumpy said
Your head must a full up a bumpy
Him dome must crack cause him so crazy
Ya Twittering daily like a baby

Him bring in the Muslim ban what dastardly plan
What a vindictive old racist man
But him plan did back fire Ninth Circuit judges called him a liar
Him is a man who love to play with da fire
But too much brimstone gone haywire
Him and rocket boy coming like pariahs...


Speaking of pariahs, the dancehall-ish "What Happened to UB40?" answers that question in the form of a brutal, stinging recounting of what they see as the avarice and hubris behind Ali, Mikey, and Astro's split with/betrayal of the rest of the band.

Say what happened to UB40 now?
Some of them think dem bigger than Bob Marley, whoa!
Who's who in a the party now
Gould's lurking in the corner now

Some of dem flimsy, some of dem shallow, want dem money in a wheelbarrow
Dem mind is weak, dem mind it narrow, little after dat them get para
Three Yoko Ono's so craving, want new house new car and tings
Spangles and bangles and diamond rings, you can hear them coming dem a j'lingaling...

...One man try fe go solo, like the explorer Marco Polo
The attendance weak, de attendance low
Him have fe stop cause him woulda bruk fe sure...
Your best friend could be your worst enemy, him a backbiter turn spy turn thief
Him pride broke down, say him a creep creep
Oh gosh me bredrin you done know we have fe weep...


Suffice to say, this is a UB40 album proper, so there's also a great batch of mid-tempo love songs on For the Many, including "The Keeper" ("I will lift your spirit, whenever you are blue/I will be your constant, when no one else is true/I will always be the friend you need to get you through/And you will be the keeper of my heart), "Moonlight Lover" (a great Duke Reid track first recorded by Joya Landis that may have versioned a fair amount of the Jiving Juniors' doo wop single of the same name), and the emotionally shattered protagonist of "You Haven't Called."

Amazingly, this year marks UB40's 41st anniversary; For the Many is their 19th studio album; and the much of the founding core of the band is still together after all this time and tribulation: Robin Campbell (co-vocals/guitar), Brian Travers (saxophone/keyboards), Jimmy Brown (drums), Earl Falconer (bass/keyboards/vocals), and Norman Hassan (percussion/vocals)--augmented by long-time members Duncan Campbell (vocals), Martin Meredith (saxophone), Laurence Parry (trumpet) and Tony Mullings (keyboards). Plus, many of their guest toasters are repeat collaborators: both Pablo Rider (on "I’m Alright Jack") and Slinger (on "Gravy Train) appeared on the 1985 album Baggariddim, and Hunterz (on "All We Do Is Cry") previously co-wrote and sang on UB40’s single "Reasons" from 2005's Who You Fighting For?

UB40 is touring the UK this April and then hitting various spots in Europe in May and June. Then, in July and August, they'll be playing in venues across the US and Canada this July and August. It's been almost a decade since they've last been in North America and who knows when they'll make it back. So, you might want to make a point to see them, particularly since they'll be performing tracks from such a superb and compelling album.

+ + + +

[Notes: There is deluxe, double CD version of For the Many that includes an entire album of dubs, which we've ordered, but didn't receive in time for this review. Also, UB40 saxophonist Brian Travers recently was diagnosed with a brain tumor and will not be participating on the current tour (we wish him a speedy treatment and full recovery).]

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Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Duff Guide to Ska Spring/Summer 2019 NYC Ska Calendar #3

In the foreground, Dave Wakeling plays guitar and sings into a microphone, while a shirtless Ranking Roger holds a mic and dances next to him.
Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger of The Beat
(with David Steele and Blockhead in the background).
Saturday, April 13, 2019 @ 6:00 pm

Less Than Jake, MEST, Punchline

Rocks Off Concert Cruise
The Liberty Belle Riverboat
Boards Pier 36, 299 South Street
New York, NY
$39.99 in advance/$45 day of show
21+

+ + + +

Sunday, April 14, 2019 @ 6:00 pm

Less Than Jake, MEST, Punchline

Rocks Off Concert Cruise
The Liberty Belle Riverboat
Boards Pier 36, 299 South Street
New York, NY
$39.99 in advance/$45 day of show
21+

+ + + +

Sunday, April 14, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

NYC Ska Orchestra, Jah People

Brooklyn Bowl
61 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$10/21+

+ + + +

Saturday, April 20, 2019 @ 6:00 pm

The Annual 420 Reggae Fiesta on the River
Dub is A Weapon, Crazy Baldhead Dub Apparatus, and more!

Rocks Off Concert Cruise
The Liberty Belle Riverboat
Boards Pier 36, 299 South Street
New York, NY
$35 in advance/$40 day of show
21+

+ + + +

Saturday, April 20, 2019 @ 6:00 pm

420 Celebration w/Cannabis Cub Band, H.R., Dog, Rude Boy George

Sony Hall
235 West 46th Street
New York, NY
$20

+ + + +

Friday, May 10, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

Mephiskapheles, The Press, The Take, Sewer Skrewer, Gilipollas

The Kingsland Bar and Grill
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$15 in advance/$20 day of show
16+

+ + + +

Friday, May 17, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

Slackfest: The Slackers play Big Tunes (potential set list includes "Married Girl," "Sarah," "Rude and Reckless," and more; go vote www.theslackers.com/polls) with The Hempsteadys, The Fad, DJ Rata

The Kingsland Bar and Grill
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$20 in advance/$25 day of show (3-day passes available)
16+

+ + + +

Saturday, May 18, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

Slackfest: The Slackers play Love and War (potential set list includes "Red Light," "Feed My Girl," "International War Criminal," and more; Go vote www.theslackers.com/polls) with Westbound Train, The Scotch Bonnets, DJ Miss Haps

The Kingsland Bar and Grill
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$20 in advance/$25 day of show (3-day passes available)
16+

+ + + +

Sunday, May 19, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

Slackfest: The Slackers play Deep Cuts (potential set list includes "Stars," "Sing Your Song," "Contemplation," and more; go vote www.theslackers.com/polls) with The Far East, Ensemble Calaveras, DJ One Hundred Decibels

The Kingsland Bar and Grill
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$18 in advance/$22 day of show (3-day passes available)
16+

+ + + +

Friday, May 31, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

Subway to Skaville Presents: The Pandemics, Sgt. Scagnetti, The Twilights, Fink's Constant w/DJ Ryan Midnight

Otto's Shrunken Head
538 East 14th Street (between Avenues A and B)
New York, NY
No cover (but bring cash for tip bucket!)/21+

+ + + +

Saturday, June 8, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

The Bluebeats

Hank's Saloon
345 Adams Street
Brooklyn, NY
$10/21+

+ + + +

Saturday, June 8, 2019 @ 6:00 pm

The Pietasters

Rock Off Concert Cruise
Aboard The Lucille
Boards at 23rd Street and the FDR Drive
Manhattan
$37.50 in advance/$40 day of show
21+

+ + + +

Friday, June 14, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

The Specials

Brooklyn Steel
319 Frost Street
Brooklyn, NY
$45 in advance/$50 day of show
16+

+ + + +

Tuesday, June 18 and Wednesday, June 19, 2019 @ 6:30 pm

Toots and the Maytals w/Selectress Iriela

Brooklyn Bowl
61 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$36-$129
21+

+ + + +

Friday, July 19, 2019 @ 6:00 pm

Radicsfest #2 (In memory of Roy Radics of The Rudie Crew; a portion of the proceeds of the show will go to Roy's family.) w/Pilfers, Mephskapheles, Spring Heeled Jack, Hub City Stompers, Rude Boy George, Sgt. Scag.

Gramercy Theater
127 East 23rd Street
New York, NY
$25/16+

+ + + +

Saturday, July 27, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

Long Beach Dub Allstars, The Aggrolites, Mike Pinto

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

+ + + +

Friday, August 2, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

The Prizefighters

The Kingsland Bar and Grill
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
16+

+ + + +

Friday, August 16, 2019 @ 6:00 pm

The Slackers

Rocks Off Concert Cruise
The Liberty Belle Riverboat
Boards Pier 36, 299 South Street
New York, NY
$35 in advance/$40 day of show
21+

+ + + +

Wednesday, August 28, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

NY Ska Jazz Ensemble

Iridium Jazz Club
1650 Broadway
New York, NY
$25/all ages

+ + + +

Friday, August 30, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

The Skapones (UK)

The Kingsland Bar and Grill
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
16+

+ + + +

Saturday, September 21, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

Lee Scratch Perry and Subatomic Sound System, The Far East, DJ 2Melo

Industry City Courtyard 1/2
(Food Hall Entrance)
238 36th Street,
Brooklyn, NY
$25 in advance/$32 day of show
21+

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Thursday, March 28, 2019

In Memory of Ranking Roger of The Beat

A young Ranking Roger from The Beat smiles widely as he walks down the center of a street in Birmingham. Short row houses are on either side of him and his bandmate Saxa is in the background.
Photo: Adrian Boot (from "The Beat: Twist and Crawl" book by Malu Halasa;
note Saxa in the background!)
(By Steve Shafer)

This past January, during an extraordinary videotaped chat titled "Wha'ppen" with music journalist and author Daniel Rachel where Ranking Roger talked so candidly about his strokes, discovery and removal of two brain tumors, immunotherapy treatment for lung cancer, and the prospect of facing his own mortality, one could see in his eyes how understandably shaken he was by the whole experience--but his words, voice, and facial expression conveyed nothing but hope for his recovery, a desire to perform again for the 2 Tone 40th anniversary celebrations even in limited physical health ("I know I can sing!"), and deep gratitude for his many fans' expressions of support. And as clearly dire as his situation was, one absolutely believed that if anyone could beat cancer, it would be Ranking Roger.

So, the news that Roger passed away on March 26 at the painfully young age of 56 was profoundly unfathomable. How could someone bursting with so much love, joy, and life NOT be alive anymore?

The (English) Beat, along with Echo and the Bunnymen, were the soundtrack to my high school years--always on heavy rotation in my Walkman, on my stereo (WLIR loved its Special Beat Service--though my friends and I had many debates over which of The Beat's three albums was the best), and when I could commandeer it, the family car. As they were for many people, those particular years were tough ones. I didn't fit in at all at my school (I was a middle class suburban kid lost in a sea of incredibly wealthy kids from Park and Fifth Avenues) and absolutely dreaded practically every minute spent there. I also was probably dealing with some depression, too. But the music I so zealously loved validated (important for the teenage psyche!) and expressed whatever I was feeling--whether up ("Best Friend") or down ("Save It For Later"), pining away ("Hands Off, She's Mine"), or political ("Stand Down Margaret")--and lent me the strength to keep getting out of bed everyday just to take it on the chin.

It's always a shock to the system when someone so closely associated with your youth dies. Even though we know better, they're frozen in time in our minds; we've aged, part of them hasn't (so it breaks our hearts when reality intrudes). Back in the day, probably a lot of Gen X Beat fans like me felt what may have been an unconsciously close connection to Ranking Roger. After all, he was still a teenager (16 years old!) when he joined The Beat in 1978 and was only a few years older than me and many of my peers by the time we came to know him (whereas the rest of the band seemed like they were solidly adult men, even if they were only in their early 20s--with the exception of middle-aged Saxa!).

I only had the pleasure of catching Ranking Roger live in performance a few times. The first was when General Public played The Ritz in NYC in December 1984. Roger's hair was dyed in alternating blond and brown stripes (like it was on the cover of ...All the Rage) and he was amazing to watch--he was in constant motion on stage, covered in sweat, and clearly enjoying every second he sang for and interacted with the audience. (I missed seeing him with The Beat--I found out about their Special Beat Service related show at Rosalind in Manhattan the day after it happened and felt like an idiot for weeks afterwards.) And I caught him a few times with the wonderful Special Beat in the early 1990s, too.

My well-worn Beat cassettes from the early 1980s.
Last fall, Ranking Roger's version of The Beat was scheduled to co-headline a tour of the West Coast with Pauline Black and Gaps Hendrickson's Selecter and I had big hopes that a few East Coast dates might be added, as The Selecter has done extremely well the last few times they've been in NYC, and it had been ages since Roger last played here. Sadly, it was cancelled when Rogers' health issues began to manifest themselves. But I never imagined that he wouldn't recover and eventually find his way over here again.

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In Malu Halasa's 1981 band bio "The Beat: Twist and Crawl," the reader is introduced to Ranking Roger as someone, "who talked like a Rasta but had anarchy symbols all over his leather trousers and jacket. His hair, short braids on top, was dyed bright red and ginger. Aside from being one of Birmingham's few black punks, Ranking had charisma. During a Damned show at Barbarella's (Brum's only punk hangout), the audience, a rough mix of punks and skinheads, started chanting NF slogans. Roger, who had been toasting in various pubs around town, highjacked the DJ mike and began singing in rhythmic Jamaican style "Fuck-off, Fuck-off De Na-tion-al Front! "Fuck-off, Fuck-off De Na-tion-al Front!" Soon the entire audience was chanting along with him. He had earned his nickname from some sweet, white girl at school whom he loved dearly, but who had refused his advances, calling him "Ranking" instead. Ranking Roger was too crazy to be anybody's boyfriend."

According to Halasa, 16 year-old drummer Roger Charlery--a first generation black Briton whose parents had immigrated to the UK from the Caribbean island of St. Lucia--first encountered the fledgling Beat (Dave Wakeling on rhythm guitar and vocals, Andy Cox on lead guitar, David Steele on bass, and Everett Morton on drums) in 1978 when they were slated to open for Roger's punk band The Dum Dum Boys at a Birmingham pub called The Matador. It was The Beat's debut live performance. This connection led Dave Wakeling to invite Roger to see The Beat during their Tuesday nights residency at another pub, the Mercat. Roger (who had toasted with UB40, the reggae band Eclipse, and a reggae punk band called the Visitors) was soon on stage toasting during The Beat's reggae tracks and the band soon invited him to stay with them for their entire sets. By the end of the residency, he was a full-time member of the band and could crash at Dave Wakeling's flat whenever he needed to.

Over the summer of 1979, which began with The Specials releasing their self-produced debut single "Gangsters" with The Selecter's "The Selecter" on the flip side, The Beat got their first of several lucky breaks, a gig at Ashton University with Radio One's John Peel as DJ. Halsa recounts that Peel was so blown away by the band that he ended up swapping his payment of £360 for their £80 (he felt they worked harder than he did for it) and talked up the The Beat on his next radio show. Then, an opening slot for The Selecter led to a supporting space on the bill for their short UK tour. And this led them into The Specials' orbit; Jerry Dammers approached The Beat after their London show to offer them a deal to do a single on 2 Tone. As they prepared to record their debut single "Tears of a Clown" (backed with "Ranking Full Stop"), The Beat decided the song needed a sax to complete its sound; Everett Morton knew of an old Jamaican musician who had played with Prince Buster, Laurel Aitken, Desmond Dekker, and supposedly The Beatles, and Saxa (born Lionel Augustus Martin) soon completed the The Beat's line-up. That fall 2 Tone exploded (The Specials, Madness, Selecter, and Beat singles topped the charts and all appeared on Top of the Pops)--and the rest is well-trod history.

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In his brilliant and essential oral history "Walls Come Tumbling Down: The Music and Politics of Rock Against Racism, 2 Tone, and Red Wedge," Daniel Rachel, who had completed working with Ranking Roger on his forthcoming autobiography "I Just Can't Stop It: My Life in The Beat" prior to his death, The Selecter's manager Juliet De Valero Wills recalled that "The Beat was more of a natural fit to 2 Tone [than fellow Brummies UB40]...They had that black-white thing and the look--it was a no-brainer--and Roger jumping around all over the place. He looked amazing and absolutely summed up the youthful energy of 2 Tone. He always had a smile on his face."

Roger also is quoted by Rachel summing up The Beat's driving mission: "The Beat was definitely a political band but we have long songs and a commercial side too. It was a balance. It was politics at home: meaning politics with your woman, or whoever is governing your country, and world politics. And it was our experiences. We saw racism; we wrote about it. We saw unemployment; we wrote about it. We saw war; we wrote about it. We were singing about realities, like punk and the reggae acts from the past. We just updated it to what was happening to us. Like 'Doors of Your Heart,' Stick him a room and turn off the light/Bet you couldn't tell if he was black or white? The philosophy behind Beat lyrics was throwing questions. Give them a story and let them decide for themselves. The spirit was promoting peace, love, and unity."

And that was Roger's guiding principle throughout his whole life: "I said a love and unity/The only way!" (from "Whine and Grine/Stand Down Margaret").

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When Ranking Roger sang together with Dave Wakeling, it was as if they were twin baritones--two halves of the same fantastic, resonant voice. During some songs, you couldn't tell where Dave ended and Roger began. But only Roger could toast (so incredibly well and effortlessly) and it gave The Beat an edge and appeal that the other 2 Tone era acts couldn't really touch. Go back, pull out all your old Beat albums and singles, and marvel at him on "Psychedelic Rockers," "Pato and Roger A Go Talk," "Doors of Your Heart," "French Toast (Soleil Trop Chaud)," or whatever your favorite tracks are.

Roger's most recent album with his version of The Beat, Public Confidential (read our review of it below), was finished prior to his illness and it serves as an extraordinary parting gift to his fans. If you haven't heard it, get it.

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Towards the end of the "Whap'pen" video with Daniel Rachel, Roger talked about his life's work: "Every time the gig is finished or nearly finished, I just see pure smiling faces. So, I know I'm doing the right thing, the righteous thing...It's the most brilliant job anyone could have had is being an entertainer. You can be in front of all of those people and you can move them and make them all happy. That's the most joyous thing that I could have done."

Roger's life was so well lived. May we all be so lucky. Long may his spirit and music live in our hearts and minds.

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Below, please find Ranking Roger-related Duff Guide to Ska reviews and write-ups:

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Duff Guide to Ska Spring/Summer 2019 NYC Ska Calendar #2

This is a film still from the movie "Babylon." Jah Shaka and the actors portraying Beefy and Lover are in a crown at a sound clash.
Jah Shaka, Beefy, and Lover in the 1980 film "Babylon."
Thursday, March 21, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

Bumpin' Uglies, Rude Boy George, Uncle Jerome

Knitting Factory Brooklyn
361 Metropolitan Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$10 in advance/$12 day of show
All ages

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Saturday, March 23, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

David Hillyard and The Rocksteady 7, DJ 100dbs

Hank's Saloon
345 Adams Street
Brooklyn, NY
$8 in advance/$10 day of show
21+

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Saturday, April 13, 2019 @ 6:00 pm

Less Than Jake, MEST, Punchline

Rocks Off Concert Cruise
The Liberty Belle Riverboat
Boards Pier 36, 299 South Street
New York, NY
$39.99 in advance/$45 day of show
21+

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Sunday, April 14, 2019 @ 6:00 pm

Less Than Jake, MEST, Punchline

Rocks Off Concert Cruise
The Liberty Belle Riverboat
Boards Pier 36, 299 South Street
New York, NY
$39.99 in advance/$45 day of show
21+

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Sunday, April 14, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

NYC Ska Orchestra, Jah People

Brooklyn Bowl
61 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$10/21+

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Saturday, April 20, 2019 @ 6:00 pm

The Annual 420 Reggae Fiesta on the River
Dub is A Weapon, Crazy Baldhead Dub Apparatus, and more!

Rocks Off Concert Cruise
The Liberty Belle Riverboat
Boards Pier 36, 299 South Street
New York, NY
$35 in advance/$40 day of show
21+

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Saturday, April 20, 2019 @ 6:00 pm

420 Celebration w/Cannabis Cub Band, H.R., Dog, Rude Boy George

Sony Hall
235 West 46th Street
New York, NY
$20

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Friday, May 10, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

Mephiskapheles, The Press, The Take, Sewer Skrewer, Gilipollas

The Kingsland Bar and Grill
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$15 in advance/$20 day of show
16+

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Friday, May 17, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

Slackfest: The Slackers play Big Tunes (potential set list includes "Married Girl," "Sarah," "Rude and Reckless," and more; go vote www.theslackers.com/polls) with The Hempsteadys, The Fad, DJ Rata

The Kingsland Bar and Grill
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$20 in advance/$25 day of show (3-day passes available)
16+

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Saturday, May 18, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

Slackfest: The Slackers play Love and War (potential set list includes "Red Light," "Feed My Girl," "International War Criminal," and more; Go vote www.theslackers.com/polls) with Westbound Train, The Scotch Bonnets, DJ Miss Haps

The Kingsland Bar and Grill
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$20 in advance/$25 day of show (3-day passes available)
16+

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Sunday, May 19, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

Slackfest: The Slackers play Deep Cuts (potential set list includes "Stars," "Sing Your Song," "Contemplation," and more; go vote www.theslackers.com/polls) with The Far East, Ensemble Calaveras, DJ One Hundred Decibels

The Kingsland Bar and Grill
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$18 in advance/$22 day of show (3-day passes available)
16+

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Friday, May 31, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

Subway to Skaville Presents: The Pandemics, Sgt. Scagnetti, The Twilights, Fink's Constant w/DJ Ryan Midnight

Otto's Shrunken Head
538 East 14th Street (between Avenues A and B)
New York, NY
No cover (but bring cash for tip bucket!)/21+

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Friday, June 14, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

The Specials

Brooklyn Steel
319 Frost Street
Brooklyn, NY
$45 in advance/$50 day of show
16+

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Tuesday, June 18 and Wednesday, June 19, 2019 @ 6:30 pm

Toots and the Maytals w/Selectress Iriela

Brooklyn Bowl
61 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$36-$129
21+

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Friday, July 19, 2019 @ 6:00 pm

Radicsfest #2 (In memory of Roy Radics of The Rudie Crew; a portion of the proceeds of the show will go to Roy's family.) w/Pilfers, Mephskapheles, Spring Heeled Jack, Hub City Stompers, Rude Boy George, Sgt. Scag.

Gramercy Theater
127 East 23rd Street
New York, NY
$25/16+

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Saturday, July 27, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

Long Beach Dub Allstars, The Aggrolites, Mike Pinto

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

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Friday, August 2, 2019 @ 7:00 pm

The Prizefighters

The Kingsland Bar and Grill
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
16+

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Friday, August 16, 2019 @ 6:00 pm

The Slackers

Rocks Off Concert Cruise
The Liberty Belle Riverboat
Boards Pier 36, 299 South Street
New York, NY
$35 in advance/$40 day of show
21+

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Wednesday, August 28, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

NY Ska Jazz Ensemble

Iridium Jazz Club
1650 Broadway
New York, NY
$25/all ages

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Friday, August 30, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

The Skapones (UK)

The Kingsland Bar and Grill
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
16+

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Friday, March 15, 2019

Duff Review: Zara McFarlane with Dennis Bovell "East of the River Nile" 12" EP!

Brownswood Recordings
12" vinyl EP/digital
2019

(Review by Steve Shafer)

While reggae/dub musician and producer extraordinaire Dennis Bovell's profile may not be as high as it was in the '70s and '80s when he was working with artists like Linton Kwesi Johnson, Matumbi, Rico, The Slits, Madness, The Pop Group, Janet Kay, Orange Juice, his own productions (as Blackbeard or under his given name), and countless others, he's been steadily performing and producing in the many years since (Boy George, Viv Albertine, Joss Stone, Alpha Blondy, and more), consistently releasing amazing productions for the enjoyment of those in the know who haven't lost his thread (read a few of our recent reviews here, here, here, here, and here). This new collaboration with British-Jamaican singer Zara McFarlane, who's known for blending and being incredibly proficient in both the reggae and jazz genres (check out her soul-jazz and reggae versions of Nora Dean's "Peace Begins Within"), is a brilliant take on Augustus Pablo's classic instrumental "East of the River Nile."

On this EP, which consists of two versions of the vocal cut with two dubs (the alternate dub is wonderfully percussion-driven), McFarlane sings vocalise (nonsensical vowel sounds) and improvises on Pablo's melodica line, while her ace band (Nathaniel Cross on trombone and arrangements, Moses Boyd on drums, Jay Darwish on bass, Ashley Henry on keys, Junior Alli-Balogun on percussion, and Binker Golding on tenor sax) captures the "Far East" roots reggae sound and tension of the original exceedingly well. Bovell mixed all the tracks and created the shimmering and mesmerizing dubs--expansive aural landscapes full of heat and mirages. All in all, it's an impressive release that fans of Pablo's music will very much want to hear and own.

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Sunday, March 10, 2019

The Specials' Feature (Plus More Ska!) in the March 2019 Issue of Mojo!

In the March 2019 issue of Mojo, there's a really excellent feature titled "Friendly Fiyah" by Keith Cameron on the history of The Specials, the making of their new album Encore and the reaction to it (Terry Hall: "People come to see us. And people have said they'd like to hear new material. Well, hello. Here's some new material. You'll probably hear it and say, 'I'd rather hear the old stuff,' but you asked for it!"), and trying to pin down why Jerry Dammers never joined the 2008 reunion of the band.

As a Specials' fan, it's depressing (but, of course, not surprising)
to read the author's summation of the situation:

"Whichever side of the fence you're on, this sorry mess ultimately comes down to the severed alliance between Jerry Dammers, the guy who mostly wrote The Specials' songs, and Terry Hall, the guy who mostly sang them."

Lois Wilson's sidebar interviews ("2 Tone Tales") with other 2 Tone-era musicians on their lasting impressions of that movement are a great read, too:

Pauline Black: "As a band, or a band like The Selecter, you put out a consistent social/political message, certainly a message of progressiveness, of standing for anti-racism and anti-sexism, and the songs reflected that, what it was like to grow up on the streets for black people at that time, how we dealt with the things we faced and if you wanted to make common currency with white people, that was only going to happen through music and I think that is the legacy, really, of 2 Tone."

Rhoda Dakar: "Initially, 2 Tone was just a label to us [The Bodysnatchers], we signed because we wanted to be part of the 2 Tone tour. But it became much more. Punk had started to break down the barrier between fan and audience, with 2 Tone, the barrier completely came down and a movement was formed around us, by the fans taking was 2 Tone said, its anti-racist stance, and interpreting it and backfilling the story. Perhaps that's the legacy, the fans, how fundamentally there were/are affected by the message and then spreading it."

Dave Wakeling: "[The Beat]...wanted to have fun with a social/political discourse and when you have people of a different color wearing the same fashions at the weekend and dancing together to the same music, it is a little bit harder to start a race war on the Monday...I had hoped that the 2 Tone bands themselves could have set a better example--playing an anniversary tour together, but perhaps it's the nature of the rock industry/UK that it's very hard for most of them to work with each other. Me and [Ranking] Roger have been notorious for our spats but I wanted to do a few shows together. It's hard to preach peace, love and unity if you can't play together and in that kernel is the challenge and disappointment of 2 Tone, but you battle on in your life as best you can."

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This issue also contains reviews of The Specials' Encore, the Rudies All Around, Volume 1 compilation, UB40's new For the Many album, and The Trojans' Top Hits collection.

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Friday, March 8, 2019

US Theatrical Premiere of "Babylon" at Brooklyn Academy of Music, March 7-14, 2019!

Released in 1980 and celebrated as a British entry into the specialized genre of reggae music/culture films (joining, of course, Jamaican movies "The Harder They Come" from 1972 and "Rockers" from 1978) but never shown before in the US (see below for why), "Babylon" finally has its American premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, from March 7 through 14, 2019.

BAM's promotional copy about "Babylon" provides all the reasons why you need to see this film:

"Banned from the New York Film Festival for “being too controversial, and likely to incite racial tension” (Vivien Goldman, Time Out) and never released in the US, Franco Rosso’s incendiary 1980 film follows a young dancehall DJ (Brinsley Forde, frontman of landmark British reggae group Aswad) in Thatcher-era South London as he pursues his musical ambitions while battling fiercely against the racism and xenophobia of employers, neighbors, police, and the National Front. Written by Martin Stellman (Quadrophenia) with beautiful, smoky cinematography by two-time Oscar winner Chris Menges (The Killing Fields), Babylon is fearless and unsentimental, tempered by the hazy bliss of the dancehall and set to a blistering reggae, dub, and lovers rock soundtrack anchored by Dennis Bovell."

A few of the screenings have Q and As with Brinsley Forde and Dennis Bovell (tonight's session after the 7:30 screening with punk journalist and NYU professor Vivien Goldman is sold out, but tomorrow's with Carter Van Pelt of WKCR and Coney Island Reggae on the Boardwalk still has tix).

The New York Times reviewed "Babylon" in today's print edition and Brinsley Forde and Dennis Bovell were interviewed on WNYC (which can be listened to here).

While copies of the film's 1980 soundtrack can still be found on the web, Dennis Bovell recently released his original score for "Babylon" as a digital album (which contains music not included on the original soundtrack LP).

After its NYC screenings, "Babylon" will play various art house theaters in major metropolitan areas across the US from March through June (check out the full list of showings here).

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Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Duff Review: David Storey "80s Iconic Music Posters" Booklet!

This book cover features Blondie's Debbie Harry leaning back with her hands behind her head and her eyes closed. She looks like she's dreaming.(Review by Steve Shafer)

As any 2 Tone fan who's an obsessive reader of album credits knows, artist and graphic designer David Storey had a key role (along with Jerry Dammers and John "Teflon" Sims) in creating much of that label's classic cover artwork, including The Selecter's debut album, The Specials' Ghost Town EP, The Special AKA's In the Studio LP and "Nelson Mandela" single, and Rico's Jama Rico. After graduating from Hornsey School of Art in the late '70s, Storey joined Chrysalis Records as an art director just in time to have a significant hand in designing the stunning, enduring, and highly influential visuals that accompanied--and helped define--the extraordinary music released on the 2 Tone label.

Recently, Storey recreated many of the promotional posters he originally designed for the 2 Tone releases and other Chrysalis artists (Fun Boy Three's "Our Lips Are Sealed" single, Blondie's "Atomic" and "Rapture" 45s, and records from The Housemartins, Iggy Pop, The Lightning Seeds, Icehouse, and others) as a series of incredibly gorgeous limited edition fine art prints (I have my eye on the "Nelson Mandela" and Rico Jama prints--and the the "Starvation" charity single poster is positively haunting in what it represents). He's also collected all of these prints in a smart and affordable booklet titled "80s Iconic Music Posters," which features an appendix with Storey's recollections about each poster (what inspired it, who was involved in its creation; his stories regarding the "Nelson Mandela" and Rico Jama designs are fantastic!), as well as a reprinted, in-depth, must-read article from the March 20, 1980 issue of Sounds regarding how the cover art for The Selecter's debut album came to be.

Many of the original posters are long gone (I do happen to have a copy of the This Are 2 Tone poster that was included in the first pressings of the UK version of the album!), lost to time; from being taped on and torn off bedroom and dorm walls too many times; or from the general abuse of one's things that comes along with just being young (I still wish I had my Keith Haring "Free South Africa" and Echo and the Bunnymen Heaven Up Here posters from the '80s). But this book and these prints give one a second chance at having a piece of these iconic images and they're a perfect gift for any 2 Tone fan you know.

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Monday, March 4, 2019

Record Store Day 2019 (US) Update: The Skatalites' "Greetings From Skamania" on LP for the First Time!

When the list of 2019 Record Store Day releases came out late last week, I was surprised not to see anything from Jump Up Records on the list, particularly in light of their incredible reissue (with Shanachie) of The Skatalites' Hi Bop Ska for RSD 2018.

So, I reached out to Jump Up's Chuck Wren to see what was going on and he let me know that due to some sort of clerical error between his distributor and the RSD folks, Jump Up/Shanachie's reissue of The Skatalites' 1996 album Greetings From Skamania was not included on this year's RSD list--but it should be in record stores on Record Store Day this April 13, 2019.

Here's the promo copy of the record from Jump Up:

"First time on vinyl for Jamaican ska originators' 1996 masterpiece, green vinyl with poster insert exclusive for Record Store Day. On this set original '60s players are still going strong -- lead by the saxophone trio of Tommy McCook, Roland Alphonso, and Lester Sterling, drummer Lloyd Knibbs, bassist Lloyd Brevett, and vocalist Doreen Shaffer. Produced by Joe Ferry and band leader Tommy McCook."

As you can see from the promotional image, there is some concern that stores may not be aware that this LP is available, so get in touch with your local shop to make sure they'll be stocking it!

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Thursday, February 28, 2019

Record Store Day 2019 (UK): Ska and Reggae Releases from Dillinger, Heptones, Madness, Mikey Dread, Prince Fatty, The Specials, Joe Strummer, The Trojans, and more!

Of course, the list of UK 2019 Record Store Day ska and reggae releases is VASTLY superior to what is on offer in the States. If you're a Yank, read 'em and weep, 'cause if you want any of these, they're going to be hard to track down and pricey as hell to ship to America...

Alpha and Omega Dubplate Selection Volume 1 LP (Mania Dub)
Alpha and Omega Dubplate Selection Volume 2 LP (Mania Dub)
Cornell Campbell Greenwich Farm Sessions LP (Jamaican Recordings)
Desmond Dekker Pretty Africa LP (Trojan)
Dillinger CB200 LP (Get on Down)
Freddy McKay "Another Weekend" 12" (Greensleeves)
Heptones Swing Low LP + 12" (Burning Sound)
Lee "Scratch" Perry Back to the Ark 4 x LP (Upsetter Records)
Lee "Scratch" Perry "Big Ben Rock" 7" (Where It's At Is Where You Are)
Johnny Osbourne "Nightfall" 7" (VP Records/17 North Parade)
Madness "One Step Beyond" "Nutty Dance" Shaped Picture Disc 7" (BMG)
Mikey Dread Roots and Culture 10" EP (Music on Vinyl)
Mighty Diamonds Thugs in the Street LP (Diggers Factory)
Prince Fatty featuring Earl 16 "Be Thankful for What You Got" 7" (Evergreen Recordings)
Roots Radics Dub the Planet LP (Soundsystem)
Roots Radics 12 Inches of Dub LP (VP Records/17 North Parade)
The Specials "10 Commandments" featuring Saffiyah Khan b/w "You're Wondering Now" featuring Amy Winehouse 7" (Island)
Joe Strummer The Rockfield Studio Tracks ("Forbidden City (Demo)" b/w "The Cool Impossible") 12" (Ignition)
The Trojans Top Hits LP (Gaz's Rockin' Records)
V/A Max's SKAnsas City (Roland Alphonso, The Offs, The Terrorists; liner notes by Marco on the Bass) LP (Jungle)
V/A Roots from the Yard 7" box set (VP Records/17 North Parade)
V/A Studio One Showcase 7" box set (Soul Jazz)
V/A This Is Ska! (Live recording of JA artist showcase at 1964 World's Fair) LP (1960s Records)

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Record Store Day 2019 (USA): Ska and Reggae Releases from Lee "Scratch" Perry, The Pietasters, The Specials w/Saffiyah Khan and Amy Winehouse, Joe Strummer, and more!

Lent is almost here, which means that Record Store Day isn't far behind it (for the record, it falls on April 13, 2019)!

The list of 2019 RSD releases has been unveiled and we've sorted through it all to highlight some of the key ska and reggae records that you might want to keep your eye out for that day.

Of particular note, The Specials are participating in RSD again this year with a double A sided 7" consisting of "10 Commandments" featuring Saffiyah Khan from their new album Encore backed with a live version of "You're Wondering Now" featuring the late Amy Winehouse (which has been floating around as a boot since 2009).

Here are several of the US RSD 2019 ska and reggae releases of interest:

Desmond Dekker Pretty Africa LP (Trojan)
Dillinger CB200 LP (Get on Down)
Heptones Swing Low LP + 12" (Burning Sound)
Lee "Scratch" Perry Back to the Ark 4 x LP (Upsetter Records)
Lee "Scratch" Perry Rootz Reggae Dub 2 x LP (Megawave)
The Pietasters Willis LP (Epitaph/Slugtone)
Roots Radics Dub the Planet LP (Soundsystem)
Roots Radics 12 Inches of Dub LP (VP Records/17 North Parade)
The Skatalites Greetings From Skamania LP (Jump Up/Shanachie)
The Specials "10 Commandments" featuring Saffiyah Khan b/w "You're Wondering Now" featuring Amy Winehouse 7" (Island)
Joe Strummer The Rockfield Studio Tracks ("Forbidden City (Demo)" b/w "The Cool Impossible") 12" (Ignition)
V/A Roots from the Yard 7" box set (VP Records/17 North Parade)
V/A Studio One Showcase 7" box set (Soul Jazz)

Happy hunting!

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Sunday, February 24, 2019

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Flying Vipers "Nervous Breakdub"!

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Flying Vipers Nervous Breakdub (digital, Music ADD Records, 2018): Twin brothers Marc and John Beaudette from the mighty Boston reggae/punk/rock band Destroy Babylon are the driving force behind the fantastic dub and roots reggae act Flying Vipers (we've previously reviewed their Green TapeCopper Tape, and Johnny Clarke Meets Flying Vipers single--all are great). Their latest effort is an incredible dub version of Black Flag's debut Nervous Breakdown EP, released 40 years ago this month. Flying Vipers' version of this punk/proto-hardcore classic conveys the original's edge and general unhinged-ness as one extended dub cut covering all five-plus minutes of Black Flag's short, sharp, shocks of fury ("Nervous Breakdown," "Fix Me," "I've Had It," and "Wasted"), using only drums, bass, melodica, effects, and the space between. Their take on Raymond Pettibone's sleeve artwork is pretty cool, too. If you like Black Flag and dub (and even if you just like dub), you'll get a big kick out of this.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: The Captivators, Do the Dog Skazine, The Frightnrs, King Kong 4, and Well Charged!

(Reviews by Steve Shafer)

The Captivators Need a Lift? (digital EP, self-released, 2018): While I'm not sure how lead track "Ass, Gas or Grass" from Washington DC's Captivators' debut EP comports with these Me Too times, it is pretty smart-ass and funny (it's based on an old bumper sticker that you'd used to see back in the '70s and '80s when hitchhiking was a pretty common thing: "Ass, Gas or Grass: Nobody Rides for Free"--which pretty much sums up the American ethos). And it gives you the correct first impression that The Captivators are all about being completely entertaining while having a blast--which they definitely do on this release (the band is Alex Daniels on drums, Bill Wade on vocals and t-bone, Charles Freedman on bass, Dan Hauser on guitar, Jaime Soto on sax, and Mark Allred on trumpet and keys). The recording itself is a serviceable DIY effort (made in a band member's basement), but the songs and performances are definitely there (their sound, attitude, and vision lurks somewhere between The Scofflaws and Gangster Fun). Key tracks include "Piltdown Man" (about a 1912 paleoanthropological hoax--someone claimed they found the "missing link": "The Piltdown Man/Was such a scam/Skull of a man/Jaw of orangutan/It makes me sad to hear that gadgeteer/Could gain such fame from such a claim/The crowd he'd awed with his defraud/That charlatan Charles Dawson"), "Poor Jimmy" (about an innocent kid chewed up by one of America's foreign interventions: "He had to see things he never should have seen/He had to do things he never should have done/And at the tender age of 19/They were through with Jimmy when the war was won"), and "The Inbetweeners" (a nod to those kids not cool enough to be cool, but not nerdy/freakish enough to be outcasts). After hearing this EP, you'll be jonesing to see them live.

Do the Dog Skazine (Printed skazine, monthly, Do the Dog Music): This longest running skazine continues to be the best and most comprehensive source for info about the global ska scene. Nobody does it better. It's only available via subscription (you receive printed issues in the mail!), but worth every penny.

The Frightnrs "Never Answer" b/w "Questions" (7" black or color vinyl single, Daptone Records, 2019): These two tracks from The Frightnrs' stellar, digital-only 12/21/12 EP (which we reviewed here) have finally made their way to vinyl. The Lovers Rock-ish/Sugar Minott tribute "Never Answer" is about the tension in a relationship that arises when others try to sow the seeds of mistrust in order to destroy it (the solution: ignore the haters and focus on what you've got). The flip side is a fantastic dub version by Victor Axelrod (cheekily titled "Questions"). This single is yet another testament to late singer Dan Klein's considerable talents--and reminds one how much he is missed on the scene.

King Kong 4 Songs for Olly (digital EP, self-released, 2018): The four cuts on this EP were originally written by Mitch Girio for his friend Oliver Will in the German trad ska/calypso/mento band The Loveboats, but they broke up soon after Girio demoed them back in 2011. Fortunately for us, Girio revisited and refashioned these winning tracks for his own incredible King Kong 4 (Brendon Bauer on bass, Andrew McMullen on drums, and Ronald Poon on organ). Given their genesis, these songs skew a little more toward trad ska than their typical late '70s Elvis Costello/Joe Jackson/2 Tone sound (which is in no way a drawback). Like most of Girio's compositions, these are fully realized, universally relatable, everyday dramas--someone desperate for the Friday five o'clock whistle to sound (but they're dreaming of leaving for good: "I've been here all week/I can't take one more/I'm itching to leave/I'm scratching at the door"); lying in bed after an evening of drinking and assessing/regretting all the dumb things said and done ("Drink In Your Head"); being in love with someone who's just plain mean to you ("Grenadine," which thematically seems so calypso); and repeatedly finding someone cheating on you, even after you keep forgiving them ("Taking Back the Ring"). This is yet another dynamite King Kong 4 release in an ever-growing string of them. Highly recommended.

Well Charged Lift Up Sessions EP (CD EP/digital, self-released, 2018): First off, you need to know that this debut release from Charleston, SC's Well Charged contains some seriously good vintage ska, rocksteady, and reggae (founding members Vasily Punsalan on bass and John Picard on drums did a long stint backing John Brown's Body's singer Kevin Kinsella and it shows; they recruited David Hillis on organ, Andrew Link on lead vocals and guitar, and NYC transplant Megg Howe on backing vocals; Agent Jay of The Slackers, mixed, dubbed, and mastered this EP). The two keyboard-focused instrumentals remind one of Jackie Mittoo Evening Time-era tracks, while two of the rocksteady vocal cuts sound like songs Phyllis Dillon would have covered. "A Dozen Roses" and its melancholy version "Red Roses" are about falling in and out of love--check out these lyrics from the latter: "Fall in love, you can, fall in love/Just look out the stem has thorns/If she's really lovely, find it necessary/Check out her head for horns." Make sure to keep your eye on this band.

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