Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Madness and Blur Share the Love in the UK

Sigh. It sure would have been nice to be there.
Madness, Blur Wow Glastonbury Crowd

GLASTONBURY, England, June 29 (UPI) -- Fans acclaimed British bands Madness and Blur the stars of this year's Glastonbury music festival, observers say.

The 100,000 people who packed the festival grounds at Worthy Farm Sunday afternoon broke into a mass "Two-Tone" shuffle when the ska/pop band Madness played their 1981 hit "It Must Be Love" and saxophone player Lee Thompson took off into the air as he did in the band's video, The Times of London reported.

Damon Albarn and the rest of Blur made a similar impression on the massive crowd, the newspaper said, with fans -- some dressed as the milk cartons from the band's 1999 video for "Coffee and TV" -- joyously shouted "yes!" as Albarn and the band broke into "Girls and Boys."

The Times said Blur's highlight was a seven-minute rendition of their song "Tender," as well as guest appearance by actor Phil Daniels, who came onstage for a performance of "Parklife."

Madness Make Glastonbury Return
Ska heroes return to Worthy Farm

Posted by Robin Murray Mon, 29/06/2009

Legendary British ska icons Madness have played a spectacular set at Glastonbury, marking their long awaited return to the festival.

Formed in the late 70s, Madness took ska and gave it a cheeky twist. In love with the sounds of Jamaica, the band were inspired by punk and soon gathered a rabid following. Releasing their debut single through Two Tone, the band soon came to dominate the charts.

Scoring hit after hit, Madness were the most successful act on the British singles chart throughout the 80s. Gaining a massive fan base, the nutty boys blended ska infected pop with lyrics that spoke of everyday life.

The band last performed at Glastonbury in 1986. Since that time the Berlin Wall has fallen, Apartheid has ended and The Specials have reformed meaning that the group were overdue a return visit.

Madness played a secret show in Glastonbury's now dis-continued Lost Vagueness area back in 2007, but this time were given an official place on the bill.

Playing a series of classic hits, the group also unveiled a clutch of tracks from their recently released album 'The Liberty Of Norton Folgate' as well as covering Max Romeo's reggae classic 'I Chase The Devil'.

Madness ended their set with a run through of some of their biggest hits, sending the crowd assembled around the Pyramid Stage into overdrive. Beginning with their number one hit 'House Of Fun' the band played a series of skanking hits.

Well known for their inventive videos, Madness saxophone player Lee Thompson was hung aloft during 'Baggy Trousers' recreating his role in the original promo. However the crowd held back their biggest reception for the 1981 classic 'It Must Be Love' which sparked a huge singalong.

Madness played:

'One Step Beyond'
'The Prince'
'My Girl'
'Dust Devil'
'The Sun And The Rain'
'I Chase The Devil'
'Clerkenwell Polka'
'Bed And Breakfast Man'
'Shut Up'
'Forever Young'
'House Of Fun'
'Wings Of A Dove'
'Baggy Trousers'
'Our House'
'It Must Be Love'
'Night Boat To Cairo'

Monday, June 22, 2009

Prince Buster Hits Brighton!

From Pitchfork:
August 28-31, the English seaside town Brighton, the site of the great mod/rocker rumble from Quadrophenia, will play host to the hopefully relatively peaceful Beachdown Festival. Grace Jones, Super Furry Animals, Saint Etienne, Grandmaster Flash, Prince Buster and the Delroy Williams Junction Band, the Fall, and Ida Maria will all take part. Lord willing, Sting won't show up looking to bust heads.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Madness' The Liberty of Norton Folgate Review from the All Music Guide

Here is yet another great review of Madness' new album by the All Music Guide's chief reviewer, Stephen Thomas Erlewine (whose reviews I almost always agree with...):
Madness never disappeared but they faded away, spending years playing summer festivals and other oldies venues befitting an act specializing in nostalgia — an impression that 2005's covers album, The Dangerman Sessions, did nothing to assuage. All this makes The Liberty of Norton Folgate, the band's first album of original material in ten years, and their first in more than a quarter-century, to feel fully realized, even surprising. The element of surprise is not in the music, which is firmly within the 2-Tone tradition they laid down in the early '80s — and indeed, is produced by their longtime collaborators Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley — but rather that they've found a way to deepen their nutty sound, to offer nothing less than a mature, middle-aged spin on Presents the Rise & Fall. Like that 1982 new wave classic, The Liberty of Norton Folgate is about London and steeped in classic British pop, using the Kinks as ground zero for a series of wry, keenly observed pop songs about the people and places in London Town. Madness never try to update their sound — they never dabble in electronica or ragga — instead they dig deeper, finding new musical wrinkles within tightly written three-minute pop tunes and stretching out on the astonishing title street that concludes the record. While Madness may be trading on the sound that brought them to the top of the charts, it never sounds like a vain, desperate stab at reviving their youth; they play and write as the middle-aged men they are, finding sustenance within the music of their youth, then adapting it to their lives now, finding as much mirth as melancholy in what they see. Also befitting a middle-aged Madness, The Liberty is an album of craft — so much so that the album has no such stand-out hit single as "Our House," but then again, those were different times — but the true testament to the value of that craft is that The Liberty of Norton Folgate is as rich and rewarding in its deluxe double-disc incarnation as it is in its simpler, single-disc set, something that speaks volumes to the extent of the band's unexpected revitalization here.
Yep Roc has changed the release date of the US version of Liberty to August 18.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Duff Review: Captain Black No Stars versus Rasta4eyes--Boss Sounds of the Boom & Bust

Do the Dog Music

While the concept of the split EP isn't executed as elegantly as it once was in the pre-digital age (i.e.: a slab of vinyl that features one band on side 'A', then you flip over the record to hear tracks from the other one), it's still a nifty way to release material from new, untested ska bands (and massive props go to Kevin Flowerdew and Do the Dog Music for so strongly supporting the exploding UK ska scene). On Captain Black No Stars versus Rasta4eyes' "Boss Sounds of the Boom & Bust," which features four cuts from each, both bands are more than deserving of this showcase (and of your hard-won cash), though Captain Black No Stars edges out Rasta4eyes in this reggae/ska sound clash (and there's the downside of the split EP: one of the bands may outshine the other). Having said that, I eagerly look forward to hearing new material in the future from both acts...

With a singer that sounds like Mick Jones, Captain Black No Stars' style of punky dirty reggae reminds one a bit of The Clash's excellent forays into Jamaican music on London Calling and Sandinista. The great "Rivers of Blood," which versions Toots and the Maytal's "54-46 (Was My Number)," isn't as apocalyptic as its title suggests--it's about the boneheaded lawlessness in the singer's neighborhood (and government's inability to do anything about it) keeping him housebound--literally locked in like a prisoner, get it? "The Lighter Song" laments the fact that people aren't really free to do what they want in public, including smoke, drink, and enjoy a joint. "As Zac Says" is a cool, mid-tempo skank that seems to be warning everyone to be skeptical and aware of the hidden agendas behind the carefully controlled images and messages that pour out of our televisions and movie screens daily (can someone please post this band's lyrics on the net--I can't make all of their words out and think they have loads of relevant things to say). "Dub MPLA (Revolution Party)" is stellar cover of Tapper Zukie's classic track.

Rasta4eyes also turn in a good to great set of horn-filled, post-2 Tone ska with songs about seeking enlightenment ("Oscar & Arthur"); dealing with the never-ending cycles of crappy jobs and unemployment (the cutting "Good Old Rock N Roll"); the singer's over-the-top obsession with, and difficulties in, tracking down, buying, smoking, and--in an ideal world--growing pot ("The Herb"). The stand-out track is "Never Will I Pay" with its catchy keyboard and horn hooks, though the song is joyously defiant about not paying a dealer for pot or the government for taxes owed (even if it cuts into his dole payments). While the music on this track is top-notch, it may not be in your best interest to take its message to heart.

Both Captain Black No Stars and Rasta4eyes are proof positive that exciting things are happening on the UK ska scene--though based on the dark tenor of all of these songs, I can't say the same for the state of Her Majesty's nation.

Captain Black No Stars' Duff Guide to Ska grade: B+
Rasta4eyes' Duff Guide to Ska grade: B/B+

Specials (Minus One) to Tour US?

According to a recent interview with Roddy Radiation done by Glen Smyth of Dizzybeat, The Specials may do some gigs in the US by the end of this year...

Glen Smyth: I notice a New Zealand date has been added to your tour. Does this suggest other parts of the world can expect a visit from The Specials? I know the Yanks are hoping they get a visit.

Roddy Radiation: There are a few places in the world we haven't played! New Zealand will be interesting. America is calling and we may try to fit a few dates in at the end of the year if we are still standing!
Smyth also asks about the lack of new songs in the current Specials set list:
GS: Madness has had some recent success with the release of new material. Are there any plans for The Specials to do some new songs?
RR: I have plenty of new songs and I know some of the other guys have too, but we will have to do some demos and discuss what is right for the band next year, which could be problematic.
I wonder how this will work out without Dammers involved...

+ + + +

In addition to some UK dates in November, the band is doing four dates in Australia at the end of July and one in New Zealand in August:

Saturday, July 25 @ Splendour in the Grass - Byron Bay

Monday, July 27 @ The Enmore Theatre - Sydney

Tuesday, July 28 @ The Enmore Theatre – Sydney

Thursday, July 30 @ The Palace Theatre – Melbourne

Saturday, August 1 @ The Logan Campbell Centre - Auckland

Neville Staples JA Arrest Fiasco Follow-up

From today's Coventry Telegraph (UK):

The Specials' Neville Staple in Jamaica drugs quiz
Jun 19 2009
By Helen Thomas

THE Specials singer Neville Staple was left stranded in Jamaica after being searched for drugs by customs officers and missing his plane.

The 54-year-old, on a week-long break on the Caribbean island, was due to return on Monday for a couple of reunion concerts.

But just as he was about to board the plane at Jamaica’s Sangster International Airport, in Montego Bay, he was taken away by officers.

They searched his bags and questioned him but found no evidence of any illegal substances.

By the time they had finished, Staple had missed his plane back to Britain and has had to miss a couple of performances with the band.

Speaking to the Coventry Telegraph from his home in Jamaica, Staple said: “It was all a big misunderstanding. I’ve been doing a lot of travelling and have been going backwards and forwards to Jamaica since my mum died in December.

"I never have a lot of baggage because I have things over here and I must have been red flagged or something.

“I got to the airport late and I was saying things like ‘come on’ to try and speed things up so I could get on my plane and I think I attracted their attention.

“They’ve seen me travelling through customs quite often and I think they got suspicious.

"When I went through security I was taken aside to a small room.

"They had me there for a while and searched through my bags but obviously I didn’t have any drugs. I wasn’t arrested.”

After he missed his plane he returned to his home in Christiana to wait for the next flight home tomorrow.

Staple said: “I have my own house here so I’m staying here. I came over to put a new roof on it. I’d only come out here for a week.

“One of the customs guys was from England and he knew who I was and knew The Specials.

"I was really annoyed to miss the plane because I’ve missed a couple of shows.”

Staple was born in Jamaica but moved to the UK as a small child.

He joined The Specials in 1977 and is known for his vocal style, known as toasting.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Specials' Neville Staple Reportedly Arrested, Strip Searched in JA

According to the Original Rude Boy blog (which is devoted to the musician and his new autobiography of the same title) and the Coventry City FC website, Specials' singer Neville Staple was arrested at Montego Bay airport in Jamaica earlier this week, then strip searched and x-rayed (presumably the authorities were searching for drugs). The police found nothing on (or in!) him, so no charges were filed. Staple is stuck in JA until Saturday and has missed several gigs with the Neville Staple Band as a result of this incident...

At the moment, there doesn't seem to be any additional info about this on-line. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

I Love Vinyl

I was at J&R Music World in Lower Manhattan yesterday--I haven't had the chance to stop by there in months--and was surprised by how much their new vinyl section has expanded (if you have the time, they also have dozens of crates with used and cut-out LPs). The new LP bins are so tightly packed that you can barely flip through the records. While rummaging through the stacks, I discovered that Capitol/EMI has just reissued the debut Specials record on 180 gram vinyl (for $19.99...a little steep, if you ask me--most LPs there cost $14.99-$16.99). Nitpickers take note, the sleeve features the UK artwork, but the US track listing (i.e.: "Gangsters" is included here). I didn't buy it, since I already have a few copies of this LP (US and UK versions from way back), but then again, if I spot it for less somewhere else...

J&R also has a great selection of reggae and ska CDs upstairs--I spotted the new Laurel Aitken reissues of Says Fire and Ska with Laurel, both of which I am going to review soon, and picked up a copy of RiceRokit's Hang Loose for $9.99 as a gift for my son's piano teacher, since he likes Sublime. I also saw Prince Buster's King of Ska and Sings His Hit Song Ten Commandments and they carry all of the Pressure Sounds, Blood and Fire, and Megalith releases. Their reggae LP selection is minimal, though. You'll do much, much better at Jammyland, where ever it ends up (I just found out that their 3rd Street shop closed last year--thanks, Jon--their website states that they will reopen somewhere else soon).

BTW, J&R is the last large record store left in Manhattan (the Union Square Virgin Records just closed last week) and it is independently owned, to boot!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Jerry Dammers' Spatial AKA Orchestra

It's safe to say that even if The Specials had flamed out after their debut album, Jerry Dammers would have been canonized by the music industry and press for his extraordinary accomplishments with the band (both sound and vision) and the 2 Tone label. But after the enormous success of The Specials, which made it challenging to live up to everyone's stratospheric expectations for whatever the band did next and difficult for The Specials' music to evolve organically, Jerry's bull-headed determination to fulfill his artistic vision mostly frustrated his collaborators and sometimes baffled The Specials' fans--yet his results were (and still are) oftentimes brilliant.

The muzak-influenced More Specials, a radical tinkering with their enormously popular sound, but one that is not without its own highlights ("Do Nothing," "Stereotype"), ultimately led the band to record the extraordinary "Ghost Town" EP, the pinnacle of their short career (with its bleak songs about racial violence, unemployment, and hopelessness that all too accurately reflected the terrible times in Britain).

After The Specials imploded during the recording of "Ghost Town" (and the release of the truly harrowing date-rape single "The Boiler," which Jerry acknowledged was meant to be only listened to only once), it took Jerry, Brad, Rhoda Dakar, Dick Cuthell, and a rotating cast of musicians under The Special A.K.A. banner three, difficult years for In the Studio to gestate to maturity--and it wasn't even a ska album! But it was extraordinarily unique (a challenging mix of jazz, reggae, and soul that grew on you and didn't sound like anything else that was unleashed on the pop charts in 1984), claustrophobic (especially the jab at "Housebound" Terry Hall), outraged (see "War Crimes"), uncompromising (see "Racist Friend"), and yielded what may be the catchiest protest song ever, the euphoric hit "Nelson Mandela" (the one moment of pure joy on an album that often found the world to be an ugly, petty, unjust place).

A couple of decades later, we jump light years ahead--courtesy of Sun Ra--from The Special A.K.A. to The Spatial AKA Orchestra, the free-form jazz dub group the Dammers now leads (after far too many years out of the limelight, apart from DJ-ing in clubs and working for various causes). Below, you'll find an interesting review of one of The Spatial AKA's recent gigs from The Independent, and underneath that, a few viddys of the band in action.

While I'm very much intrigued with what Jerry's got going on here with The Spatial AKA Orchestra, I'm sorely disappointed by what might have been had the rest of The Specials agreed to re-interpret their hits for the present day (instead of solely meticulously recreating the sounds of yesteryear, note for note) and take the band, its music, and ska to the next step in its evolution. Thirty years out, the ska faithful deserve better.

Here's the money quote from the article:
Part of the justification surrounding Dammers' ban from the Specials reunion includes the fans' belief that he has sold out on his punk credentials. True, in playing a 15-minute-long free-jazz version of the Batman theme, Dammers has entirely broken the golden rule of his generation. But the simple fact that he has dared to do so is considerably more punk rock than the irrelevant nostalgia-fest the rest of The Specials will be laying on this summer.
The Independent
March 12, 2009
Jerry Dammers' Spatial AKA Orchestra, Barbican Theatre, London
By Reviewed by John Matthew Hall

Economic uncertainty, racial tension, a looming Tory government; not much has changed since the heady summer of 1979, when The Specials (then known as The Special AKA) first bounded out of Coventry.

The band's debut single, "Gangsters" – 169 seconds of ska-punk vitriol aimed at a failing fat-cat establishment that, quite frankly, could have been written about Fred the Shred and his band of bankers – rocketed to number six in the charts, a perfect soundtrack to Britain's growing social unease. Perhaps that's why six former members of The Specials decided to re-form this summer – to cash in on the nation's contemporary discontent.

However, Jerry Dammers' invitation to the party was swiftly revoked after he voiced his intention to rework some of the old classics, meaning that on their 30th-anniversary reunion tour, The Specials will be without the man who wrote most of the songs and hand-picked each band member.

Still, perhaps it's for the best, because while the other members of The Specials have been supping pints at ska and scooter festivals since the bulk of the band's demise in 1981, Jerry Dammers has been experimenting with jazz and afrofuturism.

His Spatial AKA Orchestra (geddit?) were initially formed as a kind of tribute to the cosmic free-jazz pioneer Sun Ra, whose space-themed big-band music fills much of tonight's set.

Coming on stage dressed like Ancient Egyptian wizards, the 18 members that make up the orchestra look like something out of Bill Bailey's darkest nightmare. Among their ranks are Mercury Prize nominees Denys Baptiste and Zoe Rahman, on saxophone and piano respectively, BBC Jazz Award winner Finn Peters on flute, and 1960s free-jazz icon Larry Stabbins, again playing sax.

After a spoken-word introduction from the Trinidadian poet Anthony Joseph, the orchestra erupts into a wonderful, swirling wall of sound. Rather than simply recreate the music of Sun Ra on songs such as "It's after the End of the World", Dammers and his band completely reimagine them.

The wonderfully thick, wet bass lines invoke King Tubby's sound system far more than a smoky Chicago jazz dive while, from behind his giant bank of keyboards, Jerry Dammers unleashes contemporary drum & bass loops to conflict with the frantic horn and woodwind sections.

Tonight is a tribute not just to Sun Ra but also to his peers and influences. Martin Denny's exotic "Jungle Madness" gets a solid turning-out, while Alice Coltrane's dark and pounding "Battle at Armageddon" provides the night's most memorable moment, when Patrick Illingworth performs a truly breathtaking three-minute drum solo.

Part of the justification surrounding Dammers' ban from the Specials reunion includes the fans' belief that he has sold out on his punk credentials. True, in playing a 15-minute-long free-jazz version of the Batman theme, Dammers has entirely broken the golden rule of his generation. But the simple fact that he has dared to do so is considerably more punk rock than the irrelevant nostalgia-fest the rest of The Specials will be laying on this summer. Jerry Dammers as a cosmic free-jazz progressive? How times change.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Ska Merch

Where do you pick up your ska merchandise these days? I'm looking for some t-shirts featuring ska greats like Laurel Aitken and Prince Buster (my Lonsdale-style Laurel Aitken t-shirt from the 90s finally disintegrated a few years ago and I already have the Stubborn Prince Buster shirt), as well as those that feature some of the original ska and reggae labels (see the awesome Crab Records logo at right with the Bim & Clover track title, which I'm thinking about purchasing). I've found a few sites in the UK, but with the dollar still pretty weak against the pound, it's a pricey proposition.

Anybody have any good suggestions?

Free Kid British Mixtape Download

In exchange for your e-mail address (people always want something from you, right?), you can download a free mixtape of Kid British's It Was This or Football (which will be released on July 13th in the UK and includes the first half of their upcoming debut album, plus some bonus cuts, like the excellent "Part Time Job/Shirt and Tie").

Go to I Am Kid British to begin downloading the mixtape now.

While they don't have any songs on the US version of iTunes yet, it's worth tracking down their "Elizabeth" 7" single, as well as the "Leave London" 10" EP--check on www.gemm.com to find UK mail-order shops where you can buy 'em!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Yet More NYC Summer Ska Gigs!

Jake, the guitarist from Across the Aisle dropped me a line about this show they're playing on Monday, June 15th along with The Duppies (traditional ska band now on tour of the Northeast from Florida), King Django (ska/reggae master), The Forthrights (NYC trad ska), and Royal City Riot (a trad ska-soul band from Long Island). Six clams gets you in the door, and there is all the PBR you can chug from 8:00-9:00 pm (provided you are of age). The Trash Bar is in Williamsburg, at 256 Grand, betweeen Roebling and Driggs.

+ + + +

I also want to remind everyone of The Bluebeats' FREE gig this Saturday night at 10:00 pm sharp at Shrine aka Black United Fun Plaza (2271 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, aka 7th Avenue, between 133rd and 134th). I'm hoping to sneak out of a party I'm invited to in order to catch them! (FYI, The Duppies are playing here the night before.)

Here are several more chances to catch The Bluebeats in action this summer...

Friday, June 19 @ 10:00 pm: Two Boots, 514 2nd Street (7th and 8th Avenues), Park Slope, Brooklyn

Friday, July 17: Beau's Bar in Greenlaw, NY

Friday, July 24: Knitting Factory, 74 Leonard Street, Manhattan

+ + + +

Lastly, while I'm not a big RBF fan, they are touring this summer with Dave Wakeling's English Beat and will be in NYC at the Nokia Theatre on July 9 (other US dates may be found here--of note, Hepcat will be performing at their Milwaukee gig on July 5).

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

History Book: Max Romeo's Slack "Wet Dream"

While I'm not big on the over-the-top misogyny of the slack records that came out of the ska/rocksteady era (I rarely listen to Prince Buster's Big 5 or Wreck a Pum Pum, etc.), they have their place in the evolution of the music and I can deal with them on this level. Max Romeo's 1968 hit "Wet Dream" (which used the instrumental tracks to Derrick Morgan's "Hold You Jack") helped popularize "rude reggae" or slack records, which Romeo specialized in over the next few years (later giving improbable UK skinhead reggae superstar Judge Dread an amazing career).

By the early 70s, Romeo had mostly ditched the naughty ditties, as he had found religion and his political voice, which led to extraordinary collaborations with producers Clive Hunt, Geoffrey Chung, Phil Pratt, and others on Revelation Time (the Blood and Fire re-issue, titled Open the Iron Gate, is essential) and Lee Perry on War Ina Babylon.

All of this background info on Max Romeo leads to an interesting article on the making of "Wet Dream" from the Jamaica Gleaner that my Google Alerts uncovered recently:

STORY OF THE SONG; Max Romeo has Fertile 'Wet Dream'
Sunday, June 7, 2009
Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer

In 1968, Max Romeo was bored. So he wrote Wet Dream and had a jolly fantasy ride to the top 10 of the British charts, meeting some skinhead 'mates' along the way.

"Obviously in the music business from time to time people try to find new ideas," Romeo told The Sunday Gleaner, describing the 1960s as "disciplined and righteous".

"As a youth in those days it can get boring. Is boredom spark that whole era."

That 'whole era' was the 'slack' songs that followed, as Wet Dream found fertile ground, Romeo naming Prince Buster among the performers who followed in the same trend. But Wet Dream almost did not get off the ground.

Romeo told The Sunday Gleaner that the rhythm the song was done on was originally done at Duke Reid's Treasure Isle studio for Derrick Morgan to sing Hol' The Jack Me Tie The Jinny. Among the musicians who played on the song were Gladstone Anderson (piano), Jackie Jackson (bass), Horsemouth Wallace (drums) and 'Dougie' on guitar.

"Fool Fool Artiste"

When producer Bunny Lee decided to record Romeo's Wet Dream, they went to Coxsone Dodd's Studio One on Brentford Road (now Studio One Boulevard). Dodd was around the mixing board and when Romeo started to sing he stopped the tape.

"Bunny Lee, where you get them fool fool artiste and fool fool lyrics?" Dodd demanded. "I not going to be a part of this!"

Lee was insistent, telling Dodd that he had paid for the studio time and no one could tell him what he was supposed to do. When Dodd abandoned the mixing board, Lee turned to then apprentice engineer Errol Thompson, who was in the studio, and demanded "Come een prento!"

And so Romeo sang:

"Every night me go to bed me have wet dream

Lie dung gal mek me push it up, push it up, lie dung.

"You in your small corner, I stand in mine

Throw all the punch you want to, I can take them all"

Banning Wet Dream from airplay in Jamaica was not an issue, as it was never released in the land of wood and water. It was released in England and after being played twice by the BBC it was promptly banned. However, in a mere two rotations, Romeo says, "It was established in the people's mind. It was the skinheads who love it."

It hit the British charts and stayed there for 26 weeks, moving from number 30 to the top spot and then back down the charts. When it got to number two and seemed poised to claim the top spot, The Beatles' Get Back debuted at number one.

And it was in England, at a school in Gilford, that Max Romeo first performed Wet Dream to an audience of "skinheads and white kids" who were all excited. On the streets in Gilford, while passing a pub, a white man said, "How are you doing, Mr Blacks?", to which Romeo replied, "Alright Mr Whites." The man spat on him and the skinheads Romeo was walking with beat him up.

When Romeo sang at the Royal Albert Hall in 1969 he was told not to do Wet Dream, as the royal family was there. But when he had finished his performance, there were calls from the royal box for Wet Dream. "So I had to perform it," Romeo said.

Not bad for a song that was almost not recorded.
I'm assuming that it was Prince Charles yelling for "Wet Dream," based on his tawdry phone conversations with Camilla Parker Bowles that found the light of day a few years ago (I'm not going to link to them as his sex fantasies are simultaneously pedestrian and revolting).

By the way, Bad Manners have a great version of "Wet Dream" on their underrated 1993 Fat Sound covers album...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Will Ska Rise Again (Reconsidered)

So (music) history repeats itself endlessly. Just as the 2 Tone acts covered and borrowed extensively from Prince Buster, Laurel Aitken, and their ska, rocksteady, and skinhead reggae contemporaries, Kid British generously sample Madness' "Our House" on "Our House is Dadless" (see the video, listen to the tune below) to great effect. They lure you in with the warm familiarity of Madness' 1982 global pop hit, but then grab you by the collar with their extraordinarily catchy take on lower-middle-working class life in the early 21st century UK. Before you scoff and accuse them of greedily exploiting Madness' pop success for their own purposes, remember that in JA this is called versioning--putting your own, improved spin on an established hit tune--and it's part and parcel of a long and grand ska/reggae tradition that makes up the extraordinarily rich and deep ska/rocksteady/reggae/dub back catalogue that we love and celebrate, right?

Sure, this ain't exactly a ska tune--both "House" versions are pop songs that are lodged in a continuous loop in my head--but Kid British, like Madness, is a pop band at the core that incorporates a lot of ska into their mix (check out "Elizabeth" on their MySpace page). And this is what it will take (along with Kid British's major label backing--Mercury Records--otherwise known as big money, which no ska band in the US currently has in their favor) for ska to have a chance at rising again.

For a brief shining moment, the 2 Tone acts--which we third and fourth wavers revere as authentic standard bearers of ska-- were genuine pop stars in the UK (top of the charts, Top of the Pops), without compromising their sound and vision. For ska to rise again in such a meteoric fashion (with all of the socio-political and pop cultural stars aligned just so) may take a true miracle or spectacular sequence of odd coincidences, but surely the key is to bring a pop sensibility to your songwriting (Bucket is a master of this--The Toasters' back catalogue is brimming with tunes that would have been alternative music hits in a more perfect universe), and capturing the essence of your generation's overarching experience. The Specials and The Beat in particular spoke to a majority of unemployed and disenfranchised working class black and white youth "left on the shelf" by Thatcher's England. Ska needs this kind of commonality, not exclusivity, to crawl out of obscurity again.

Lyrics for Kid British's "Our House is Dadless":

Well my house is a mad house/
We'll hardly sit down and watch TV cause we got things to do/
And I got things to do/
Mum talks calmly for a while and then starts shouting/
Clean up the kitchen/
I always say I'll do it later/
Or yeah in a minute/
My house is a hot spot/
Everyday of the week someone will be in my house who don’t live here/
The neighbours ain’t got a problem with us/
Yeah music plays in my house constantly/
Constant noise, but I wouldn’t have it any other way I love my house/
Total chaos, yeah its random/
Off key, different, no house is similar/
But for some reason it works/
My house is crazy you know


Our house, in the middle of our street/
Our house in the middle of our.../
Our house, in the middle of our street/
Something tells you that you’ve got to move away from it

You hold a better conversation/
When born in grimey locations/
And that’s where you'll find my crib/
In the same area where the alkies live/
So I love my street/
You get bare joke when the alkies beef/
And though outside may reek/
Not in my crib no potpourri/
And we've just added new bricks/
So every other house in the street looks shit/
Compared to ours/
But it's hard to get a decent kip when out comes the stars/
Because of all the beef in my avenue/
Neighbours fight so police in my avenue/
So you might catch me in my living room/
Up late writing to beats if I’m in the mood/
Or if not I'll be on the Playstation/
Or better still MSN conversations/
And every one of our houses are dadless/
So no wonder our houses are Madness


Sunday morning my day off/
I can smell that bacon cooking/
And mum's downstairs doing that weekly washing/
Singing along she's got that Motown rocking/
And I'm shouting out ‘mum turn it down'/
Cos i'm tryna sleep right now/
Argh, forget it I was getting up anyway/
Man I can't get a lie in any day/
So i'm downstairs arguing/
Mum chill out I won't have this in our house/
Ok, your house/
Then I had a little moan how the living room's freezing/
And then she starts screaming/
Mum I ain't being rude just turn up the heating/
She said 'move out if you ain't warm enough’/
Coincidently, suddenly I'm warming up!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

More NYC Summer Gigs

Following up on an earlier posting about NYC area ska/reggae gigs this summer, here are two more FREE, outdoor shows to add to your calendar...

Before they head off to the UK for the Glastonbury festival, catch the Easy Star All-Stars (featuring Buford O'Sullivan on t-bone--one of my favorite peeps in the music business, going all the way back to his days in The Scofflaws) at a free outdoor gig in Manhattan:

June 24: Stuyvesant Town Oval with special guest DJ Ticklah spinning tunes (Ticklah at 6:00 pm, Easy Star All-Stars at 7:00 pm.)

Haven't heard it yet, but the Easy Star All-Stars recently released their dub version of the Beatles' Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, titled Easy Star's Lonely Hearts Dub Band.

+ + + +

Also, Burning Spear is playing a free show as part of the Celebrate Brooklyn concert series on July 30 @ 7:30 pm at the Prospect Park Bandshell.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

June & July RiceRokit Gigs!

If you're a big a fan of RiceRokit (and if you're not, you should be) and living/visiting in the Southern California area, make sure to catch one--or all--of their June or July gigs! I haven't been fortunate enough yet to hear them live, but have been told many good things about them from those who have--and their brilliant debut CD, Hang Loose, is still in regular rotation in my in my world.

Jun 6 @ 8:00 pm: Summer Arts and Music Festival at Benbow Lake (Redway, CA)
Jun 7 @ 8:00 pm: The Caspar Inn (Caspar, CA)
Jun 12 @ 8:00 pm: 710 Beach Club with Split Finger (Pacific Beach, CA)
Jun 13 @ 8:00 pm: The Mint with Passafire (Los Angeles, CA)
Jun 27 @ 12:00 pm: Ska in the Park ’OH 9 with Voodoo Glow Skulls, Chase Long Beach, and more (Riverside, CA)
Jul 3 @ 8:00 pm: SOhO with The Upbeat (Santa Barbara, CA)
Jul 17 @ 8:00 pm: 710 Beach Club with Delta Nove (Pacific Beach, CA)