Saturday, September 27, 2014

Life's Little Victories: Record Collecting Edition #3

Back in the early 80s, WLIR--the modern rock/new wave/post-punk station on Long Island that broadcast to the New York City metro area (and which brought a host of truly amazing and much needed music into my drab and unhappy adolescent life)--played a fair amount of angular, white-boy, post-punk funk from bands like APB, Gang of Four, Heaven 17, early Ministry, and many others dabbled in this style, from The Clash, the Talking Heads, to Duran Duran. And since new wave served as an umbrella for a host of non-pop-mainstream genres (and there was much more of a willingness for bands to venture into other genres then), I was exposed to--and loved--a lot of different types of music and bands.

Recently, several decades later, I found myself flipping through the bins at one of my favorite used record stores and came across The Higsons' "Run Me Down" 7" single on 2 Tone Records. I'd picked up their (non-ska) "Tear The Whole Thing Down" single a few months ago (their only other release on 2 Tone) and liked it enough--but not so much that it compelled me to immediately buy "Run Me Down" (it was in mint condition, but priced significantly higher than most of their other used singles--though not outrageously so). Plus, I'm not obsessed with acquiring every single 2 Tone release in all of their iterations...

However, later that day I looked up "Run Me Down" on YouTube and upon hearing it instantly recognized it as one of those post-punk funk songs that WLIR played the hell out of (though I never knew the name of the band that performed it, since the DJs didn't always announce the songs they played). It's track that I really liked then and one that now is very much a new wave classic (at least in the NYC area for a people of a certain age!). So, the next day, during my lunch break, I rushed over to the record shop and was relieved to find that no one had snapped it up (according to Discogs, the 7" single of this release is very hard to find, though the 12" version is still to be had).

"Run Me Down" is a brilliant rejection/put me out of my misery song--something I could relate to back then--but one with wry humor, a great groove, and you have to love the female backup singers' work here (listen to the song below)!

"You came around the corner in your big black car
and the lights danced on the windscreen
Blind behind your huge dark glasses
You slipped a smile that could have killed a cat

You said to me you should have run me down
I had to agree, I had to agree
'Cause we've been through hell to be standing here
On this dusty road with a burnt out future

It all began in that car of yours
It wasn't me you were making love to
You're squeezing me and still you smile
But a good assassination should be silent

I don't want you and you don't want me
So, why hang on to something that's dying?

I think it's sick the way you talk to your car
You won't ever talk to me
(You should have run me down)
The roads are littered with your accidents
Why won't you let me join them?
(You should have run me down)

I don't want you and you don't want me
So, why hang on to something, something that's dying?

(Come on boys, dump the car)
Set another round up on the bar
(Forget the past, forget the future)
Collapse into a drunken stupor

Run me down, you should have run me down
(You should have run me down)
Run me down, you should have run me down
(You should have run me down)
I wanna see it, I wanna hear it, I wanna live it!
(You should have run me down)
The feel of metal against my flesh
You should have run me down"

Thursday, September 18, 2014

NYC Fall 2014 Ska Calendar #17

The Bodysnatchers at the top of the heap!
Monday, September 22, 2014 @ 7:00 pm

The Far East w/Pears

The Grand Victory
245 Grand Street
Brooklyn, NY

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Saturday, September 20, 2014 @ 5:00 pm

Sweet Lucy, Fortunate Youth, Ease Up, Ground Swell, SensaMotion Band

Knitting Factory Brooklyn
361 Metropolitan Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$15 in advance/$17 day of show
All ages

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Monday, September 22, 2014 at 10:00 pm

Dub Champions Festival Opening Night w/Mad Professor and Francois K

18 Little West 12th Street
New York, NY
$10 in advance/$20 at the door

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014 @ 6:00 pm

Dub Champions Festival w/Lee Scratch Perry, Subatomic Sound System

Brooklyn Bowl
61 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY

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Friday, September 26, 2014 @ 9:00 pm

Dub Champions Festival w/Victor Rice (mixing Dub Side of the Moon), I Grade Dub, Tsunami Bass, Analog Players Society, Liondub, Jr. Volcano and more!

The Paper Box
17 Meadow Street
Brooklyn, NY
$17 in advance/$20 day of show

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Friday, September 26, 2014 @ 9:00 pm

Reggae in the Slope w/Brooklyn Attractors and Kevin Batchelor, and Channel One Sound featuring Crucial Selector Shalar

Under the Tea Lounge
837-839 Union Street
Brooklyn, NY

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Saturday, September 27, 2014 @ 8:00 pm

Outlaw Ritual, Radio Jarocho, Skarroneros, The Church Committee, and Consumata

Black Bear Bar
70 North 6th Street
Brooklyn, NY

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Monday, October 13, 2014 @ 8:30 pm

Hollie Cook, Rioux, Brittany Campbell

289 Kent Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$10 in advance/$12 day of show

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Tuesday, October 14th, 2014 @ 7:00 pm

Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra

Irving Plaza
17 Irving Place
Manhattan, NY

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Friday, October 24, 2014 @ 10:30 pm

The Scofflaws

Beau's Bar
54 Broadway
Greenlawn, NY

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

3rd Annual Devils Night w/Mephiskapheles, The Toasters, No Redeeming Social Value, and The Ladrones

Mercury Lounge
217 East Houston Street
Manhattan, NY
Tickets: $23.85 (through this link)

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Friday, December 5, 2014 @ 9:30 pm

Beat Brigade, Rude Boy George and special guest!

Otto's Shrunken Head
538 East 14th Street
Manhattan, NY
No cover/21+

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Friday, December 19, 2014

The Scofflaws

89 North
89 North Ocean Avenue
Patchogue, NY

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Saturday, December 20, 2014 @ 8:00 pm

The Slackers, Mephiskapheles
149 7th Street
The Bell House
Brooklyn, NY

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Life's Little Victories: Record Collecting Edition #2

After re-reading sections of Paul "Willo" Williams' essential "You're Wondering Now: The Specials from Conception to Reunion" this past August while on holiday, I came across a passage about Specials' drummer John Bradbury's short-lived label Race Records that he ran with Sean Carasov, who was the manager for the all female punk band the Mo-dettes, as well as a roadie and merch guy for The Specials. One of the acts on Race Records that caught my attention was The People, which featured ex-Selecter members Charlie Anderson and Desmond Brown, who had left The Selecter before the recording of Celebrate the Bullet (according to a 2009 interview with Marco on the Bass, Anderson "didn't think it was the right direction for the band"), as well as Chris Christie, who had been in the Coventry reggae band Hard Top 22 in 1977 with Anderson and Brown (along with several other members of The Selecter), and John Hobley from another Coventry band, God's Toys. The People's sole release was a 1981 single: "Musical Man" b/w "Sons and Daughters."

I was intrigued, so I looked up the A side "Musical Man" on YouTube and really liked its reggae/rock sound, which--ironically--wouldn't have been out of place on The Selecter's Celebrate the Bullet--compare the (slightly psychedelic) reggae of "Musical Man" with "Selling Out Your Future." So, I decided to try to track a copy of the single down on the internet. As luck would have it, I was able to purchase a near mint copy of the single for not too terrible a price and am psyched to have this somewhat rare release in my collection.

In addition to the fantastic songs, what makes The People's single particularly compelling is that it's clearly a 2 Tone affair (even if The People's sound isn't). Specials' engineer/producer Dave Jordan produced it (and according to Anderson, Lynval Golding was also involved, though he is uncredited on the release), John "Teflon" Sims designed the artwork (and the illustration on the back of The People's single--the A side is a tribute to Rico--is reprised and further developed for Rico and The Special AKA's "Jungle Music" single picture sleeve, which was issued in 1982), and it was released on Bradbury's imprint (he had set it up as a "musicians' label," according to Paul Williams, lending each band the money to record their music, recouping his loan on sales, and if the release went bust, he forgave the band's debt).

As previously mentioned, "Musical Man" was dedicated to Rico and his musical brilliance and perseverance:

"Musical man
Keeps on blowing down
Got to let it flow
All the time

Some will criticize him
Some will judge him bad
It's the music, the music, the music
Keeps him going

Breaking apart
Right from the start
What keeps him going
I don't know

Musical man
Musical man
Musical man
Keeps on blowing down
All the time"

"Sons and Daughters" is terrific, hard-hitting, socially conscious track (with a bass line reminiscent of The Police's "The Bed's Too Big Without You") and very much in the 2 Tone vein of speaking out about socio-economic and racial injustice:

"I think about my sons and daughters
I start to think about their future
Why they make it just hating
down here?

Some are at the bottom
and some are at the top
Beating the system
With a holy load of mockery

We love our sons and daughters
We're thinking about their future
We love our sons and daughters
And we're thinking about their future

My woman and I we quarrel
For reasons we know why
Weeks and weeks of misery
Can't live our lives on the dole

But we've got to carry on
Yes, we've got to laugh it off
We love our sons and daughters
And we're thinking about their future"

From the vantage point of several decades on, I find both of these track to be pretty great and am somewhat puzzled as to why this release didn't fare better. Certainly, fans of UB40 would have found much to like in The People's sound. But the close association with The Selecter and 2 Tone must have put fans of both off when they discovered that The People didn't deliver a Specials/Selecter-like ska sound. It's a shame that The People didn't forge on--despite the changing UK pop tastes at the beginning of the 1980s--they had a very good thing going...

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Ska Crowd Funding: Rhoda Dakar of The Bodysnatchers!

Rhoda Dakar demonstrating her moves.
Here's an interesting ska crowd funding project that we're planning to support! In recognition and celebration of The Bodysnatchers' 35th(!) anniversary (it's important to note that they were 2 Tone's only all-girl group), vocalist Rhoda Dakar is recording an album of unreleased and unheard Bodysnatchers material, most of which she wrote or co-wrote back in the day. (Dakar stresses that The Bodysnatchers are NOT reforming, this is her project in tribute to the band--think Rhoda Dakar sings The Bodysnatchers' unreleased songs.) If you're interested in funding this project, there are digital downloads, CDs, vinyl records, etc. available at various pledge levels--all the details are available on her PledgeMusic page.

Word from Sean Flowerdew via the Specials' fan site is that these songs will be recorded with a full band and produced in a manner that will attempt to be faithful to The Bodysnatchers' original sound. And when I checked in with Ms. Dakar, she confirmed with me that, indeed, the songs will be captured in the studio with a full band, but due to the tight deadline and availability of musicians she's asked to accompany her, she's understandably reluctant to announce who else may be involved in her project until the album is in the can.

Apart from two great singles ("Let's Do the Rocksteady" b/w "Ruder Than You"--which was co-written with Gaz Mayall before he became a Trojan--and "Easy Life" b/w "Too Experienced"), a track on the soundtrack to the 2 Tone film Dance Craze, and inclusion of these songs on various 2 Tone compilations, The Bodysnatchers didn't leave much recorded music behind after their break-up (of course, Rhoda went on to join The Special AKA, while other members went on to form the pop group the Belle Stars--and this band later begat the brilliant ska group The Deltones in the late 1980s). So, this is an amazing opportunity to see what might have been, had The Bodysnatchers soldiered on after the flame out of 2 Tone mania in the UK, instead of dissolving.

Also, if you're in the UK, Rhoda Dakar will be performing a one-off show of these songs at an "Invasion of The Bodysnatchers" gig at Camden Town’s legendary Jazz Cafe this coming Halloween.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Duff Review: Supertonic Sound Club Meet Dave Barker "Scheherazade" b/w "Little Boy"

AMTY Records
7" vinyl record/digital download

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Dublin-based ska/reggae crew Supertonic Sound Club return to the scene (they've been on hiatus since 2010) with a spectacular new single featuring skinhead reggae great Dave Barker (of Dave and Ansell Collins fame). "Scheherazade," a tribute to the mythical Persian queen and storyteller of "One Thousand and One Nights," is a great, propulsive, Middle-Eastern-influenced ska track that recounts the legend with Barker narrating the story with his spoken/sung vocal exhortations. (If you're not familiar with "One Thousand and One Nights" AKA "Arabian Nights," Scheherazade avoids being killed by Shahryar, Persian for king--who has been marrying a new virgin every day and consummating the marriage each night, but having them beheaded the next, since he was so profoundly hurt by his first wife who had been sexually unfaithful to him--by telling him a series of fantastically compelling stories each night, but stopping at dawn in the middle of each story with a cliffhanger, so that Shahryar would be compelled to spare Scheherazade's life in order for her to be able to finish the tale that evening; this is repeated night after night...)

"A king broken-hearted, in anger and pain
For the women he met before were slain
Then you came along
And helped to make things right
You turned his darkness into light

Truly, the king's delight
In one thousand and one nights
You made everything right
You made him laugh
And you made him live
Gave him all the love
You had to give

A human of substance
Truly a woman of class
Such a woman of grace
Who made the king forget the past

A woman so great
With so much love to give
Shared it all with the king
And truly, truly lived

Truly a woman of heart
And the king saw your beauty
Right from the start
You took him from death
And gave him life
Became his queen, his love, and, yes, his life"

"Little Boy" is a sweet ska ditty (though a Brill Building heart is beating somewhere within), with the fantastic Shelly Bukspan on vocals, about a troubled kid headed down the wrong path in life:

"Hey, little boy
Tough to break out of the scene
With no dad
With no dad and no dream

Always missing school
Struggling with all the rules
Hey, little boy
Just turn around

But you cannot say
What you wanted to say
And you struggle with it every day
Fighting his words, just to prove yourself
When the only one you hurt is yourself

Will you ever be at peace?
Can you find the release?
Little boy
Oh, little boy..."

Hey, little boy
You're not the same
Thinking outside the box, now
You don't play the game

Hey little boy,
No need to run
You will find your way, now
But tomorrow there'll be hell to pay"

The Supertonic Sound Club are clearly a gifted and thrillingly original band. Get this single and keep your eye on this band--you're going to want to hear what they do next!

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(Check out the terrific video for the Supertonic Sound Club's "Scheherazade" by Declan Moran--and learn how to pronounce her name while you're at it!)

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Duff Review: Spatial AKA Orchestra: "Ghost Planet" b/w "Free Nelson Mandela"

Ska Boots Series
7" single on purple or red vinyl

(Review by Steve Shafer)

If you've lost the thread on Jerry Dammers over the past few years (he refused to be part of the spectacular Specials reunion tours of 2010, 2013, and 2014, but has been regularly DJing at clubs in the UK and continues to be involved in anti-racism organizations and activities, like Love Music, Hate Racism), you may not be aware that he has a new-ish group, the Spatial AKA Orchestra, which Dammers formed in the mold of--and as a tribute to--the late cosmic/free-form jazz pioneer Sun Ra (read what I wrote about The Spatial AKA Orchestra a few years ago here).

While some may be puzzled by Dammers' latest musical incarnation, the evolution from the muzak/lounge-influenced ska of the More Specials album and Ghost Town EP to the mix of no wave jazz, soul, reggae, and world beat of The Special AKA's In the Studio to the cosmic jazz of the Spatial AKA Orchestra shouldn't be that unexpected or jarring (Dammers himself has been quoted as saying, "Ska to Ra is not such a big leap. The best instrumental ska consists basically of a sort of dreamy, spiritual jazz, over a street rhythm.”). The Spatial AKA Orchestra (a brilliant 25 piece band that counts amongst its members ska legend/Specials and Special AKA member Rico Rodriguez, Madness collaborator/member of 2 Tone act The Higsons and saxophonist Terry Edwards, poet Anthony Joseph, and a slew of top UK jazz performers) has been gigging somewhat regularly in the UK and Europe (they played in London this past July), but they haven't officially released any recordings to date (nor is there any information out there about plans to go into the studio from the elusive Mr. Dammers).

So, it looks like the unnamed people behind the Ska Boots series are filling what demand there may be for recorded music from The Spatial AKA Orchestra (as a former ska indie label guy and current member of a band I'm generally very reluctant to purchase bootlegs--bands should get paid for their music--but the obsessive music/vinyl fan in me sometimes overrides my ethical concerns). The Spatial AKA Orchestra's "Ghost Planet" b/w "Free Nelson Mandela" 7" single is derived from live TV performances of the band--"Ghost Planet" is from a 2010 "Later...with Jools Holland" show and "Free Nelson Mandela" comes from a Channel 4 BBC TV appearance.

The Spatial AKA Orchestra's "Ghost Planet" is an even angrier and more searing version of The Specials' extraordinary 1981 hit "Ghost Town" and its updated lyrics--as one of the members of The Specials' fan site so accurately and succinctly describes it--are "a damning summation of decline."

"Ghost Planet"

"This town is coming like a ghost town
All the buildings have been torn down
This place is coming like a drag place
A dead place
Wipe the smile from a child's face

This world is coming like a ghost planet
Man a feel like an ant on this here planet
If you treat man like mouse he will breed
Treat man like fly and he will swarm

This world is coming like a rubbish tip
It coming like a cesspit
That's feeding on its own vomit
Coming like a rubbish dump
In need of a stomach pump

This place is coming like a disgrace
A child's smile turned into a ghost place
This place was a back-stabbing, greedy, corrupt place
What, what is that, what is that sweet, sickly smell?
Is it heaven turned into hell?"

The reggae groove of the original has been worn down to a plodding (death) march to oblivion in this version, but it's as haunting and powerful as the original--maybe even more so, since humanity is still plagued by many of the same formidable problems we were facing back in 1981 and then some.

"Free Nelson Mandela" is a much happier affair--musically, not too dissimilar from the original--and presented as an instrumental, perhaps because the lyrics are no longer relevant, with Mandela long-ago freed (and now free of this mortal coil), and the South African apartheid system of governing peacefully dismantled years ago.

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Friday, September 5, 2014

Hopeton Lewis, Rocksteady Pioneer, RIP

The Jamaica Observer is reporting that rocksteady great Hopeton Lewis passed away at age 66 yesterday (9/4/14) at his home in Brooklyn, NY.

Lewis is credited with recording (backed by Lynn Taitt and the Jets) what many consider to be the first rocksteady cut, "Take It Easy," at Ken Khouri's Federal Records studio and released on Merritone in late 1966. This smash hit was quickly followed by an album of the same name issued in 1967, containing some of the rocksteady era's top tracks, including "Sounds and Pressure," "Rock Steady," "Music Got Soul," and (according to "Reggae: The Rough Guide"), the first 'herb' song ever recorded in Jamaica, "Cool Collie." (Island Records released many of these songs and more--including one of my faves, "Rock-a-shaka"--as singles in the UK in 1967--some of Lewis's songs were so popular with the late 60s mods and skinheads that Prince Buster covered two of Lewis' tracks--"Take It Easy" and "Sounds and Pressure" while on tour in England the same year and which were documented on the Blue Beat Prince Buster On Tour album.)

Lewis also won the 1970 Jamaica Song Festival with the Duke Reid-produced "Boom Shaka Lacka" (Treasure Isle) and scored another big seller in 1971 with "Grooving Out on Life" (Duke Records/Pama), backed by Byron Lee and the Dragonaires. Lewis continued his partnership with Byron Lee, releasing two albums, 1973's Grooving Out on Life (Dynamic Sounds/Trojan) and 1974's Dynamic Hopeton Lewis (Dynamic Sounds). However, according to "The Virgin Encyclopedia of Reggae," "the songs proved to be too lightweight for the reggae audience and he similarly failed to cross over into the mainstream."

In the 1980s, according to the Jamaica Observer, Lewis "turned his back on secular music" and became deeply involved in gospel music in New York City. According to his biography on his website, "in 1996, Lewis released his debut gospel CD, This is Gospel and he has since released twelve other gospel CDs." Lewis was founder and president of the Songs for 4Life Ministry, which is "a gospel music production, marketing, and promotions ministry." This ministry includes The Hopeton Lewis Caribbean Gospel Music Awards USA and the Caribbean Gospel Jubilee (CGJ) internet radio station.

Our sincere condolences go out to Hopeton Lewis' family, friends, and colleagues.

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Heather Augustyn has a nice tribute to Lewis on her Foundation SKA blog.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Rude Boy George in Fairfield, CT This Sunday (9/7/14) with U2Nation!

Friends in the NYC metro area, come see the band I'm in--Rude Boy George (we do ska covers of New Wave/post-punk hits)--play this Sunday night at the Fairfield Theatre Company in Fairfield, CT with U2 tribute act, U2Nation! New Yorkers can take MetroNorth, since the Fairfield station is right next door to the theater! We go on around 7:45 pm, but get there at 7:30! Hope to see some of you there!