Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Duff Review: Moon "The Moon EP"

6-song CD

[Editor's note: To help tackle the rapidly growing pile of releases waiting to be reviewed at The Duff Guide to Ska HQ, we've enlisted our friend and ex-Moon Records colleague Adam Coozer of The Coozer Files, ReadJunk, READ Magazine, and the legendary and long-gone Long Island-based skazine Two Left Feet, to write up some of the ska and reggae CDs and digital files sent our way. Between work and family, it's oftentimes hard to find the time to sit down and give all of these albums a proper review, so I really appreciate Adam's help! Apologies to all bands who have been caught up in the backlog! From now on, I'll be attaching a byline to all reviews--but please assume that any review that doesn't have a name associated with it was written by me (and really, Adam and I have such different writing styles that it should be pretty evident who wrote what).]

(Reviewed by Adam Coozer)

I don’t have a press kit, so I don’t know if these Seattle-based youngsters named themselves after the seminal 80s and 90s label. From the lunar imagery on their album, I have a sinking feeling they just like the heavenly body and have never heard of our favorite third-wave record factory. Though I guess it would be audacious if intentional.

So, the good: Although youthful, Moon the band is happily entrenched in the 2 Tone sound. No scratchy punk-with-horns or dull high school jazz recital here--just the bouncy, dorky fun of Madness. (They even close the album with a note-for-note cover of “One Step Beyond.”) The drums and guitars steadily hold the 2 Tone-y upbeat and the bass playing is appropriately acrobatic.

The bad: The vocals are horrendously flat and off-key. They’re bearable when the vocal lines call for a low register, like on “What I Know” or are supported by catchy gang vocals like on “Runaway.” But on a ballad like “Karma,” where the vocals stay in a high range, every cracked note is a personal affront to music. I haven’t heard a voice crack so much since Phyllis Dillon’s version of “Close to You.”

Another issue is that the horn section seems awfully squeaky. Not that they’re flubbing notes, but the horns’ sound quality is almost kazoo-like. This might just be a result of the demo-y production, but some would argue that ska is doofy enough without toy instruments. Personally, I would not argue that. I love me some kazoos!

But these issues can make for a painful listen, especially with durations averaging 4 ½ minutes. On a side note, there is no reason for bouncy, 2 Tone-y songs to be this long. I don’t think The Specials ever had a song over 4 minutes, except for maybe "Free Nelson Mandela" and the extended remix of "Ghost Town." (But then again, those were their biggest hits, so what do I know?)

Point is, if Moon wants to be worthy of the name, they need to trim their tunes and consider instrumentals. I applaud their youth exuberance and appreciation for Madness, but this is a checkered album in both the ska and non-ska sense of the word.

Duff Guide to Ska Grade: C+

Thursday, August 25, 2011

NYC Gig Alert: Across the Aisle, Big Mandrake, Eskarioca, and Big Boss--This Saturday Night!

What: Dirty Reggae Party XI: The Lake Strikes Back

When: Saturday, August 27, 2011 at 9:00 pm

Who: Big Boss (Brooklyn Rub-a-dub)
Across the Aisle (NYC Ska)
Big Mandrake (Venezuelan Ska-punk)
Eskarioca (Latin Ska)

Plus: special guest selector Ticklah and the Crazy Baldhead crew!

Where: The Lake
258 Johnson Avenue (east of Bushwick Ave)
E. Williamsburg/Bushwick, Brooklyn

Take the L train to Montrose, walk on Bushwick until you hit Johnson Avenue and make a left (then look for metal door with 258 on it and walk up the stairs!).

The Damage: $6.00

It's fantastic to see shows starting up again at this amazing underground venue (check out this video I shot there of The Bluebeats performing "Pressure Drop" for a taste of what it's like!). There is no cooler venue in all of NYC. Also, make sure to pick up a copy of Across the Aisle's excellent new EP!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Babylon's Burning

It's never good sign when music or books are burned or banned by a government or mob of citizens, whether as a means of censorship (purging libraries of supposedly communist books during the Cold War 1950s), an act of cultural or political oppression (think of the Nazis burning thousands of "un-German" books, many by Jewish authors, in a twisted effort to "cleanse" their culture of anything that wasn't in line with their hideous ideology), or a quasi-racist "entertainment" stunt (see Disco Demolition Night). It's a societal barometer warning to anyone paying attention that things have gone completely rotten.

While the politicians and pundits brawl over assigning blame on the recent UK riots/social unrest (I happen to believe that it had a lot to do with Cameron's deep cuts to the social safety net--but other complicated and seemingly contradictory factors were in play, too), there is no denying that the extraordinary fury unleashed was the result of something terrible affecting major and disparate portions of British society.

Bucket of The Toasters happened to take the photo above of the smoke pouring out of the SONY warehouse in Enfield, North London from his tour van--he said it all reminded him of the Brixton and Toxteth riots in '78 and '79 and that its roots were the same: "conservative 'austerity' cuts on everything from benefits to youth centres and all social services on top of massive unemployment and deprivation on an epic scale; those kids have nothing to hold on to and all the pols can do is draft in more cops; no effort whatsoever to tackle the underlying problems of chronic unemployment, grinding poverty and alienation."

The burning of the SONY warehouse that contained over 3 million CDs and LPs from 150+ independent labels that were distributed by PIAS Group--reggae re-issue label Soul Jazz Records among them--was an event that stood out in stark contrast as it didn't seem like a re-run of the pitched running riots from the "Ghost Town" Thatcher years (and is probably why the SONY warehouse arson received an extraordinary amount of press coverage). Did one of the rioters see the SONY sign and think they were striking a blow against the corporate overlords or did they simply like to torch things? Was this the pop-culture equivalent of the local stores that the rioters looted and burned in their own neighborhoods? Was it just another expression of the pent-up No Future hopelessness, frustration, and ultimately self-destructive rage that consumes absolutely everything in its path? (Days later, The New York Times reported that three teens were arrested in connection with the fire, though no motive was reported in the Times or any other article I found on the web.)

This particular act of arson seemed particularly shocking and nihilistic to the ska musicians and fans that I'm connected with on Facebook. For so many of us, music gives our lives joy, meaning, purpose--even a way for some to eke out a living. (Songs, even whole albums, become life-long "friends," as King Hammond puts it in "Dave and Ansel.") Sure, maybe one could kind of understand looting a music depot in order to augment one's collection or to sell the CDs on the corner or through eBay. That would at least acknowledge that the music had value and significance. But the music meant nothing to the rioters. Everything was completely destroyed. To what end?

That's what's most disturbing about it all. Why?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

NYC Area Ska Gig Alert: Bigger Thomas and The English Beat at Quicksilver Pro New York (9/4/11)

What: Live Music at Quicksilver Pro New York 2011 (Surf, Skate, BMX, Moto, and Music Fest)

When: Sunday, September 4, 2011 @ 1:15 pm

Where: Long Beach, NY (Click on the link for directions--you can get there via public transportation, too.)

Who: Bigger Thomas @ 1:15 pm
The English Beat @ 2:15 pm
The Ettes @ 3:30 pm
Portugal, The Man @ 4:45 pm
Interpol @ 6:00 pm

Damage: None, it's FREE!

Other events that day: Men's Surf Competition (starting 8:00 am); Tony Hawk demo (4:00 pm); and Skate Demos and Signings with Rob Drydek, Danny Way, Colin McKay, Mikey Taylor, Nick Dompierre, Matt Miller, Davis Torgerson, Evan Smith, Felipe Gustavo, and Marquise Henry.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Duff Interview: Roddy "Radiation" Byers of The Skabilly Rebels & The Specials

Roddy "Radiation" Byers is well-known to generations of ska fans as the lead guitarist for The Specials who penned such classics as "Concrete Jungle," "Rat Race," and "Hey Little Rich Girl"--and helped create The Specials' groundbreaking 2 Tone sound with his rockabilly-influenced guitar riffs. In the years since The Specials dissolved, Roddy has been involved in The Specials MK2 in the 90s, as well as a series of rockabilly and ska-billy bands, including The Tearjerkers, The Bonediggers, and his current act, The Skabilly Rebels. (Any fans with turntables wanting to pick up The Skabilly Rebel's latest album "Blues Attack" should head over to Jump Up Records now--they're releasing the vinyl LP version on August 23, 2011.) The Duff Guide to Ska is delighted to present this interview with Roddy, which was conducted on 8/17/11. (Photo credits - top: Stu Rennie; other photos: Julian Hayr.)

The Duff Guide to Ska: For those not familiar with The Skabilly Rebels, how would you describe your sound? In particular, what aspect of your music holds the most appeal to ska fans?

Roddy Byers: Well as the label on the can says "Ska and Rockabilly" with a bit of punk and country, blues, etc.

DGTS: At your Skabilly gigs in the UK and Europe, do you have a good mix of ska and rockabilly fans or does it tend to favor one scene?

RB: It varies, depending on the country and the city, but we usually get a good cross section of skins, mods, punks, and rockers.

DGTS: Do you have any plans for The Skabilly Rebels to tour the US after The Specials’ European and UK dates this fall?

RB: Would love to get my band over the pond, but if that's not possible, I've recently been chatting to Slim Jim Phantom (The Stray Cats) about doing a Ska-Kats kinda thing hopefully next year.

DGTS: Why do you think so many of the ’77 British punk-era musicians (you and Joe Strummer, for instance) ended up exploring 1950s American rock and country music? The whole ethos of punk was to break from everything that came before it in order to create something new—the “No Elvis, Beatles or Rolling Stones” of The Clash’s “1977” manifesto (even if that didn’t end up happening). What’s the attraction?

RB: Well I know Joe and Mick of The Clash were big rock'n'roll fans, but back in the early punk days, we all pretended like we weren't!

But punk, like the early blues, hillbilly, and rock'n'roll, wasn't that far removed, it's all about energy and emotion.

DGTS: Both the ska and rockabilly scenes are often dismissed by critics as mere revivals—limited to hashing out old musical styles. What’s your take on this?

RB: Just about every pop/rock act you can mention started by playing music which had come before, then developed their own style using that influence as a basis to work from.

DGTS: You launched The Tearjerkers back when The Specials were on a break, just before the band broke up in 1981. The band you were in previous to the Coventry Automatics, The Wild Boys, was more into glam and proto-punk. So why were you eager to go in a rockabilly direction at that point? And how was the band received by Specials fans?

RB: I formed the Tearjerkers mainly because a lot of my songs were being rejected by The Specials' leader Jerry Dammers. He was moving in a very different direction from me, mixing jazz and cocktail lounge music, while I was writing tortured rock'n'roll songs.

The Wild Boys were influenced by my love of Iggy Pop and Bowie, Bolan and the New York Dolls. But all my music has always had that early Presley/Gene Vincent vibe going on.

Some Specials fans who are more broadminded seem to enjoy what I do and some who are just into the fashion of ska don't.

DGTS: Back in the early 80s, the popularity of ska and rockabilly in the UK crested about the same time (both scenes forced underground by the rise of the New Romantics)—but why do you think this took place? (In the US at that time, 2 Tone and bands like The Stray Cats and Polecats were considered to be part of New Wave and had stronger staying power.)

RB: I wanted The Stray Cats to support The Specials on our Seaside tour after seeing them at Gaz's Rockin' Blues club in Soho, London. We even had the tee-shirts printed, but as their first single broke big in England, they didn't need the support slot.

DGTS: Your rockabilly guitar licks helped create The Specials’ brilliant signature sound—though I read in Horace Panter’s autobiography that during the recording of The Specials’ debut record, producer Elvis Costello tried to sack you because he didn’t think it fit in with Jamaican ska (kind of ironic coming from a musician who has borrowed from and delved into so many other musical genres). In the years since, has he ever admitted to you how wrong he was?

RB: I just played the only way I knew how at the time on the early Specials recordings--mixing Duane Eddy with Johnny Thunders and the like.

Apparently Costello suggested The Specials fire me as he didn't hear the connection, but since then I've been called the godfather of ska-punk! But we weren't trying to revive 1960s ska, but take it somewhere else.

Elvis supported The Specials recently in Japan and he was very friendly. I commented on how well he looked, but I never mentioned the sacking business.

DGTS: Back in the 90s, Bucket from The Toasters wrote a song called “Chuck Berry,” which was essentially a history of ska that notes how significant and influential Berry’s early rock’n’roll had on the first Jamaican ska musicians (who heard his records via radio stations transmitting from New Orleans). How aware do you think most ska and early rock fans are of this connection?

RB: Chuck Berry has to be one of the greatest songsmiths in the history of popular music.

I've been told that in Jamaica they could pick up the Southern states on the radio and Fats Domino toured there several times, so there is a big connection which has been mostly overlooked.

DGTS: These days, it seems that a lot of people are crediting The Specials with having created the ska-punk genre that became popular in the 1990s. I have to cop to being a bit puzzled by this. I’ve always felt that The Specials captured the fury and energy of late 70s British punk in their attitude and super-charged performances, but that your guitar sound is much more Vince Taylor than Steve Jones or Joe Strummer. I’ve always though of ska-punk of having been more of a late 80s creation from pioneering bands like Operation Ivy, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and The NY Citizens who were heavily influenced by the US hardcore scene. What do you think?

RB: The Clash were an influence on The Specials and Joe Strummer gave us our first break when he asked us to support them on their 1978 U.K. tour.

Me and Terry [Hall] were some of the first punk rockers in Coventry and I traveled to most of the very early punk shows in London before I joined The Specials.

I'm not really up on the U.S. punk scene after 1980. My influences were more the late 70s NYC--The Ramones, Heartbreakers, etc.

DGTS: I’ve read that when you first played some of the Jamaican covers that became a part of The Specials’ set (like “Monkey Man”), you had never heard the originals. So you had no preconceived notions as to how they “should” sound and were freed up to interpret and play the songs in your own fashion. It seems like so much of went right for the band was just The Specials doing things the way they preferred to or simply knew how to do (in true DIY spirit, natch). In other words, the band wasn’t looking for fame—fame found you. Did it seem that way back then?

RB: I may have heard some, but I just played whatever came into my head. I suppose it was a punk D.I.Y. approach?

I think Jerry Dammers had a plan--record label, ska band, movement, but most of us were just out to have fun as you do when you're in your early twenties.

DGTS: Is there a remote chance that The Specials will come back to the US after their fall European and UK tour?

RB: I really don't know. I would love to, but it's not my shout, as we say in England.

DGTS: For the fans in Europe and the UK, what do The Specials have in store for them this time out?

RB: Well, we have included most of the second Specials album for this year's tour and there's a few surprises show-wise.

DGTS: Through all your years performing with The Specials, Tearjerkers, Bonediggers, and Skabilly Rebels, what have been your best and worst experiences up on stage?

RB: Ha, ha! Well, playing an outlaw biker club rally clubhouse tent with the Bonediggers, which was different! And I've played police station social clubs before too.

Life's always full of surprises!

DGTS: What are your thoughts about the UK riots? It seems that David Cameron’s austerity policies (echoing Margaret Thatcher’s) have created some of the frustration and circumstances that led to this social unrest.

RB: I'm not sure what to think. Is it politically motivated or just thugs grabbing what they can? One thing's for sure, things are very similar to 1980 when "Ghost Town" first came out as a single with unemployment and the youth them a getting angry.

DGTS: What are your plans for The Skabilly Rebels for the next year?

RB: Release another CD called Fallen Angel and maybe take the Skabs down under to Australia.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Duff Review: Los Bullets "Crystal Ball" b/w "Gunshot"

Steady Beat Recordings
Limited edition 7" vinyl

(Review by Steve Shafer)

For fans of early, or dirty, or skinhead reggae (whatever label works best for you), these are good times to revel in, my friends (if you aren't already up to speed with the scene, check out The Aggrolites, The Caroloregians, King Hammond, The Revivers, The Hard Times, The Crabs Corporation, and many more). For the latest proof of this phenomenon, I present Los Bullets' outstanding new single from Steady Beat Recordings (the third in Steady Beat's "Chronicles" series of limited edition vinyl singles; the first two were from Jamaica 69 and The Delirians).

"Crystal Ball" is the fierce, organ-powered supa-funky reggae instrumental version of their vocal cut "Crystal Necklace" from their debut player, Sweet Misery (and if you somehow missed that record, you really should drop everything and get your hands on a copy--to help motivate you, read The Duff Guide to Ska review of it here.) "Gunshot" (which incorporates the "lie down girl/push it up/push it up/lie down" riff from Max Romeo's "Wet Dream"--aka the rhythm track from Derrick Morgan's "Hold You Jack") won't have you ducking for cover, fearing for your life--but storming the 'floor, moving your booty and shuffling your feet. Nothing but deep reggay grooves and good vibes here.

Duff Guide to Ska Grade: A

+ + + +

While this is the vocal version of "Crystal Ball," it'll still give you an idea of the song, as well as the quality of the band...

Monday, August 15, 2011

NYC Ska/Reggae Gig Alert: Reggay Lords and Jammyland Band (plus Move Your Mule) Thursday Nite!

What: Reggay Lords (featuring members of The Slackers, Forthrights, Jah Point, etc.)
Jammyland Band featuring Milton Henry

(Followed by: Move Your Mule! Reggae, Ska, Soul Night)

When: Thursday, August 18, 2011

Where: Otto's Shrunken Head
538 East 14th Street (between Avenues A and B)
(Closest subway stop: L train @ First Avenue)

The Damage: Nothing! No cover. (Just be a sport and buy a drink or two and tip the bands!)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Duff Review: The Emotions "You Are the One" b/w Phil Pratt & the All Stars "Girls Like Dirt"

Trojan Records/Big Shot
7" heavyweight vinyl

(Review by Steve Shafer)

While Dance Crasher is somewhat skeptical of its accuracy, Trojan states that both sides of this superb re-issue are Ken Lack/Caltone productions--though all quibbling about the veracity of these claims will melt away when you have a chance to hear these gems for yourself. Both were probably recorded during the transitional summer of 1968, which seems about right, as The Emotions' "You Are the One" (can you hear Max Romeo in there?) is still rooted in rocksteady, while Phil Pratt's boastful "Girls Like Dirt" is already evolving toward the next Jamaican musical idiom: early/skinhead reggae.

Thematically, these cuts dovetail together nicely as character sketches of the two types of guys in the world. On "You Are the One," The Emotions sweetly declare their undying love ("You are the one for me/Yes, my love/No one in the world/Can ever change me/From loving you/I was born/Born to love you/Yes, my love"), while Phil Pratt doesn't even bother to even look back when his girl says it's over ("She can go her way and see me no more/Cause I've got girls like dirt"--translation: I don't care if you leave me, I've got girls galore who want me). Of the two songs, Pratt's bad boy act is more compelling both musically and lyrically--and is a revelation that I'll keep coming back to revisit.

The Duff Guide to Ska Grade: A

+ + + +

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Duff Interview: Pauline Black of The Selecter

The Duff Guide to Ska is thrilled to present the following interview with Pauline Black of The Selecter. Frequent readers of this blog know that the latest incarnation of the band with Pauline and Gaps Hendrickson in the lead have released two fantastic singles ("Big in the Body, Small in the Mind" and a cover of Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black"--which I've reviewed here and here) in advance of their new album, "Made in Britain," which comes out this September. In addition, Ms. Black has written her autobiography, "Black by Design," which is out now in the UK and will be available in the US soon.

Duff Guide to Ska: How did the reunion with Gaps Hendrickson come about--and what led you to bring back The Selecter now?

Pauline Black: In early 2010, a Belgian agent asked me if The Selecter would like to do the “Sinner’s Day Festival” in Hasselt, Belgium on October 31st. A few days later I was asked by a British promoter to do a Selecter show in London at the Bloomsbury Ballroom on November 13th. I thought it might be a good opportunity to try--once more--to ask the original members of The Selecter to do a couple of shows and then see where we went from there. The first person I approached was Gaps Hendrickson. He and I have always got along well and enjoy singing together. I had my own band at this time, the Pauline Black Band, and I had just finished recording a solo album, Pigment Of My Imagination, and had got a publishing deal for my book “Black By Design” with Serpent’s Tail, so I was circumspect about taking on extra work, but Gaps immediately said yes and I felt buoyed by his enthusiasm for the idea. We decided to wait a few months before we announced our intentions and hoped that once the shows were announced, that we might persuade Neol Davies and others to join us. Unfortunately, due to serendipity, or more likely “sod’s law,” the day our London show was announced (June 1st, 2010), Neol Davies also announced his intention to perform with a band under the name of The Selecter. I will not share what has happened privately between some original band members since then, but suffice to say that it would seem unlikely that there is any possibility of reconciliation in the near or long term future. Besides Gaps and I are very happy with our current Selecter band personnel and are looking to the future with new music, while also preserving the best of the past.

DGTS: The first single off The Selecter's upcoming album "Made in Britain" is a terrific ska version of Woody Guthrie's brilliant "All You Fascists." In terms of its lyrical content, it's definitely in line with 2 Tone's great legacy of promoting racial tolerance/harmony--yet it still seems like a bit of an unusual choice of cover (an American folk song from the 1940s) for a ska band. What's the story behind its selection?

PB: We like to occasionally “think outside the ska box.” I think we did a good job with the song “Big In the Body, Small In The Mind.” Fans enjoyed it and understood what we were trying to say with our choice of material. Considering what has just happened in Norway with the massacre of so many young people by a deranged fascist, I think the record was timely in pointing out that there is a big problem developing during these current economically challenging times--the rise of fascism in Europe and many parts of the world. Perhaps we had better all start thinking about what the hell we are going to do about it!

DGTS: I've read that one of the main points that people should take away from your new album is that multiculturalism is a vital part of British society. Recently, I came across a disturbing article in The New Yorker about the rise of the EDL (English Defense League)--which claims to be just against radical Islam, but seems like the same old bunch of BNP and NF-types dolled up in new clothing. Is your album, in part, a response to this new wave of bigotry? Is the album title Made in Britain more of an affirmation/declaration that British citizens come in all colors than pride in where the music's been made?

PB: Exactly. The title is an affirmation of multiculturalism. David Cameron, the current British Prime Minister, deemed the idea of multiculturalism dead in February on the very day that the odious EDL were marching in Luton. We thought he was wrong and misguided to announce such a notion, particularly on the day that he chose to make his thoughts public. Again, in the light of what has recently happened in Norway with Breivik’s alleged attempted affiliation to the EDL, I think our assertion was correct. Multiculturalism is alive and well and, we believe, the only way forward for the future prosperity of humankind. The Selecter is and always has been a multi-racial band--it has not always been easy to make it work, but it is still functioning after 31 years. This 2 Tone idea of striving for unity rather than divisiveness between cultures was made in Britain.

DGTS: "Made in Britain" was produced by Neil Pyzer--could you give us a little background on him--and how you came to work with him? Is Vocaphone Records his label?

PB: I first met Neil Pyzer on the "Just Soul" Tour 2007 that I performed on alongside Geno Washington and Eddie Floyd. After the tour finished, I worked with him on my solo album Pigment Of My Imagination and it was a no-brainer to work with him when it came time to record Made in Britain. He also blows a mean sax in the band.

DGTS: Could you talk a bit about the songwriting process for this record? The songs retain The Selecter sound, yet still seem quite contemporary...

PB: The original songs were written and recorded in April and May of 2011. Overdubs and mixing were completed during June and July. We wanted to incorporate the new into the old. For our live set, we took “They Make Me Mad” from the ‘Too Much Pressure’ album as a blueprint of how we wanted the album to sound. We wanted an urgency mixed with a big, bouncy sound--a tough brief--but all the songs have that contradictory approach and it works very well for The Selecter--edgy, but accessible; danceable, but thought-provoking. Neil Pyzer, as producer, has realized that dialectical approach beautifully.

DGTS: Are there any plans for The Selecter to tour the US and/or internationally in the coming year?

PB: We are always open to exploring new territories. If an agent approaches us with a planned tour, then we will always do our utmost to oblige. We want to get our music across to as wide an audience as possible.

DGTS: With the traditional major label "music industry" in complete shambles these days, what are some of the challenges you’re facing as you promote your new record? The internet has been such a double-edged sword--it has allowed bands to circumvent the music press/radio/MTV, etc. and directly connect with fans, but it has also decentralized and segmented everything to such a degree that it's very difficult to break through all the noise and competition (sometimes it seems like the only bands still making lots of money from tours and records are those that were superstars before the rise of the internet). And then there is all of the music file-sharing that has decimated the sales of recorded music...

PB: The biggest challenge is the same for all bands, marketing, letting people know that there is a record out there. Doesn’t matter if you have your own FB, Twitter account or website--what matters is if anybody else knows that you have it! These days marketing budgets have to be huge. We don’t have access to that kind of money, so we are at the mercy of the music industry, just like everybody else. File-sharing and illegal downloading just makes it harder to make a living out of recorded material. The resurgence in audience interest for live gigs has helped immensely in recent years and gives an outlet for bands to get their music across to both old and new audiences. We do everything in-house, recording, videos and marketing. It is The Selecter way of doing things.

DGTS: Which current ska bands are you following as a fan?

PB: Hugo Lobo’s Dancing Mood.

DGTS: Your forthcoming autobiography "Black by Design" recounts, in part, your growing up as a bi-racial child adopted by a white family. As an adoptee myself (who struggles with the lack of any biological family history--I have no familial backstory), I'm curious to know what your experience was in terms of not only dealing with questions about your familial identity, but also your racial identity in an overtly racist society? (I have always felt like a bit of an outsider within my extended adopted family, but didn't have another, larger societal issue to deal with in terms of my identity and status...) Did you find/feel acceptance as a part of the 2 Tone movement (or were you still a bit of an outsider as a female)?

PB: I’ve felt like an outsider all my life--neither my upbringing nor 2 Tone did much to put that right, but it forged a strength in me and gave me a platform with which to express my ideas and thoughts and feelings, which I carried with me when I chose to work in other areas of the entertainment industry. All I can say is that a notion of identity is paramount to everybody--without it we are not fully-functioning human beings. In my opinion, adoption is akin to legalized identity theft. Adoption may be a necessary evil, but more attention has to be paid to the child’s needs. Adopted children need their own familial back story, however awkward that may be for the adults involved in their lives--otherwise it is like having their soul removed.

DGTS: How can Selecter fans not able to get to your shows in the UK pick up vinyl copies of your single and LP?

Purchases can be made online at www.vocaphonemusic.com.

DGTS: Lastly, here's a chance to plug anything Selecter or Pauline Black-related that you'd like--what should fans be on the look out for in the coming months that we might not be aware of?

PB: My solo album Pigment Of My Imagination will be released later in the year--still deciding on a date. The Selecter may just release a ‘Christmas single’ for December 2011! We have started work on the next album already--to be released in 2012.

+ + + +

Much thanks to Pauline Black for taking the time to do this interview with The Duff Guide to Ska!

+ + + +

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Curse of The Selecter, Part 4

Editor's note: If you haven't read my previous entry about The Curse of the Selecter, you should begin there first.

4) The Curse of The Selecter lives on. With the rioting spreading to several cities across the UK--which were initially triggered by a police shooting of a black man during an arrest, but to some degree seem to be tapping into a great deal of frustration and desperation caused by David Cameron's austerity measures, which have greatly impacted poor communities--The Selecter's "My England" (from their forthcoming album, Made in Britain) immediately came to mind.

While this song certainly does NOT condone the rioting (nor do I, for what it's worth), it reminds us of how bad things are these days for the "have nots" in the UK--particularly for people of color. But it also reasserts the fact that Britain is a multicultural society (despite the BNP's efforts to deny it--and Pauline calls them out here) and that its citizens of color, who love their country despite its sometimes terrible treatment of them, deserve much better.

Upon first listening to "My England," you might describe it as this jaunty ska tune, but it's all the more jarring when you realize that things aren't as they seem and focus on Pauline bitterly singing the chorus: "Some things are too hard to forget." So much pain and damage have been inflicted that it's going to take a lot to ever set things right.

The lyrics to this song are absolutely worth reading, and a sound sample is provided as well below.

"My England"

Living on handouts
Nothing left to spend
Can't afford bricks and mortar
I can't pay the rent

Wrote out a CV
So many times
Nobody answers
It only joins the pile

Some things are too hard to forget
Some things are too hard to forget

Living in wastelands
Full of crack and guns
Take away the money
It's how things become

Some things are too hard to forget
Some things are too hard to forget

All the King's horses
All the King's men
Can't put it together, no
This is En-ga-land
This is En-ga-land
My En-ga-land
My En-ga-land

Some ride the dragon
Dressed in red, white, and true
They're fighting for England
But don't have a clue

She comes in colors
Colors everywhere
We're all in this together
So say it loud and clear

Some things are too hard to forget
Some things are too hard to forget

All the King's horses
All the King's men
Can't put it together
Now, this is En-ga-land
This is En-ga-land
My En-ga-land
Our En-ga-land

My England Edit by Selecter

Saturday, August 6, 2011

NYC Ska Gig Alert: King Django's Roots and Culture Band Tonite!

What: King Django's Roots and Culture Band

When: Saturday, August 6, 2011

Where: Fontana's Bar, 105 Eldridge St, Manhattan

The Line-Up:

10:00 pm: Yiddish Princess
9:00 pm: King Django's Roots & Culture
8:00 pm: Schmekel

The Damage: $8

Friday, August 5, 2011

NYC Ska Gig Alert: The Hard Times Tonight in Harlem!

What: The Hard Times in Harlem - Uptown Top Ranking

Who: The Hard Times (NYC ska and skinhead reggae)

When: Friday, August 5, 2011 at 10:00 pm

Where: The Shrine World Music Venue, 2271 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd (between 133rd and 134th Streets), Harlem, New York

The Copy: Two full sets of reggae from The Hard Times, with special guests Jack Wright, Maria Santiago, and and and...? Oldies, goodies, cool jams and big tunes!

The Damage: Free show, great venue, grab a subway uptown and show Harlem what it's about.

The Curse of The Selecter?

Like their fellow 2 Tone compatriots The Specials and The Beat, The Selecter have always had a knack for being in touch with the mood of the people and the temper of the times. So it should come as no surprise that The Selecter's astute observations of political machinations and human behavior should lead them to write and record many instantly relevant songs. But the dark side of this gift has been that several of these seemingly prescient tracks have come uncomfortably close to some very ugly real life events:

1) The first episode occurred back in 1981 with the release of the "Celebrate the Bullet" single (read The Duff Guide to Ska appraisal of the song and album of the same name here). While its lyrics do not explicitly refer to political assassination, a gunman's bullet gave it a tragic new context and meaning. "Celebrate the Bullet" was issued just before John Hinckley, Jr. shot President Reagan (and not for any political reason--in his mentally ill mind, he thought this would impress Jodie Foster, whom he was obsessed with; Hinckley identified with/imagined himself to be Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver...and Foster played the child prostitute in the film that Bickle saves), so the overly cautious BBC banned the song (they didn't want to appear to be condoning this act of violence) and it disappeared without charting.

However, if the powers that be at the BBC had actually listened to the lyrics, they would have discovered that Pauline Black urges those burning to avenge a death not to act on this impulse: "Put your finger on the trigger/But you don't have to pull it/'Cos you know it won't bring them/Back to you." "Celebrate the Bullet" is anti-revenge, anti-violence, and anti-gun. But the Beeb was more worried about offending the sensibilities of those who couldn't be bothered to examine the song beyond its bitterly ironic title. This setback, along with 2 Tone's flame-out, the fact that the Celebrate the Bullet album was comprised of mid-tempo ska and reggae (as opposed to the breakneck-speed ska of "Too Much Pressure" or "Three Minute Hero" that many expected of them), and that it reflected a very bleak worldview, doomed the album to the cut-out bins (even though it's a fantastic record that should be in every 2 Tone fan's collection). But this album perfectly captured the awful Cold War paranoia of the early eighties, when it really felt like everything was on the verge of disintegrating into chaos--and would all end in world-wide nuclear annihilation.

2) This past May, the latest incarnation of The Selecter headed by Pauline and Gaps Hendrickson released a fantastic bluebeat version of Woody Guthrie's anti-racist broadside "All You Fascists," which they retitled "Big in the Body, Small in the Mind" (read the Duff Guide to Ska review here), as the first single off their upcoming album, Made in Britain. This cover was a very conscious choice--as at it honors and re-affirms 2 Tone's message of racial harmony and serves as a defiant response to the terrible rise of anti-multiculturalism (in the guise of anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant political parties and hate groups) in the UK and Europe. As if on cue, in June the white, Christian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik horrifyingly guns down 68 liberal Norwegian teenagers (and detonates a Timothy McVeigh-like fertilizer bomb that kills 8 people in a government center in Oslo) in his "crusade" against multiculturalism and "Muslim domination" of the West (disturbingly, Breivik has been greatly influenced by professional Islamophobes in the US). While the band's timeliness in addressing the mainstreaming of anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and racist thought and policies is spot on, I doubt they ever could have imagined that all of this dumb hatred and fear would come to this.

3) Recorded months before Amy Winehouse's sad and lonely death--and, in addition to the fact that it's a brilliant song, probably chosen for its title that fits in kind of a synergistic way with Pauline's last name, the title of her new autobiography "Black by Design," and perhaps even pride in her skin color--The Selecter issued the excellent "Back to Black" cover (reviewed by the Duff Guide to Ska here) on July 23, 2011 as the flip side of the "Big in the Body, Small in the Mind" 7" vinyl single (though it has been for sale at Selecter gigs during the preceding weeks). In yet another horrible coincidence, this turns out to be the same day Winehouse is discovered dead in her bed (and it's sort of creepy/disturbing to note that this song is about a woman who believes she has nothing to live for after her boyfriend leaves her for a former girlfriend). So out of respect for Winehouse and not to appear to be ghoulishly capitalizing upon her death, The Selecter out-and-out suspend the planned digital release of "Back to Black," which was to take place on July 31, 2011, and distribute a press release expressing sympathy for Amy Winehouse's family, as well as the relatives of those killed in the terrorist attacks in Norway. (The track will eventually appear on CD and LP copies of The Selecter's Made in Britain, due out in September 2011.)

The Selecter were kind enough to send a few preview tracks off of their tremendous new album--several of which ("My England" and "The Time of Our Lives," in particular) offer more pointed social commentary for all of our consideration. I'll be writing about these soon--and am hoping that, in the meantime, the world doesn't feel the need to prove them right once again.

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Update: read part 4 of The Curse of The Selecter here!

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