(By Steve Shafer)
Arthur Kay and The Originals Rare 'N' Tasty
(LP, Mad Butcher
/Black Butcher Classics
, 2016 re-issue--available in the US through Jump Up Records
): Back in 2008, MOJO Magazine dubbed Arthur Kay (nee Kitchener) as "the unsung hero of ska" and included one of his tracks in their Dawning of a New Era
compilation CD, alongside The Specials, Desmond Dekker, Toots and the Maytals, Rico, Bob Marley, Laurel Aitken, Dandy Livingstone, and others. But his inclusion with such illustrious company surely left many casual ska fans scratching their heads. While he had built a considerable following of die-hard ska fans during 2 Tone and the late 80s/early 90s British/Euro ska revival, Arthur Kay never quite achieved the level of popularity and recognition that was his due, despite being a UK ska pioneer who had been in the right place at the right time with great and undeniably catchy material.
A first-generation South London mod in 1965, Kay had played bass in The Next Collection, which performed a mix of Tamla and Stax soul covers as well as their own songs at venues like the famed Ram Jam Club (where they played a week after Jimi Hendrix's debut there). Like many other mods, Kay also had caught the ska bug via the Prince Buster singles that were seemingly ever-present on the sound systems of all the clubs he frequented that year. In a development that further galvanized Kay's interest in ska, The Next Collection had the great fortune to back the great JA ska trombonist Rico Rodriguez and jazz trumpeter Harry Beckett during their first-ever recording session. But by 1966, Kay had left the band to become a session bass player at Chalk Farm Recording Studios in Camden (owned by The Next Collection's manager Vic Keary and Blue Beat Records/Melodisc owner Emil Shalit), where Kay appeared on many reggae recordings released on Trojan Records.
Just before 2 Tone hit in 1979, when there was no galvanized ska scene in the UK to speak of, Kay released his "Ska Wars" b/w "Warska" single for a local indie Red Admiral Records, which seemed to anticipate the looming ska craze (though Kay's ska sound had little in common with what The Specials, Selecter, and Madness were about to unleash--it was more of a stripped-down, often minor-key affair, devoid of any punk rock influences or hint of its origins in rhythm and blues). With only limited radio play and no major label backing, all 10,000 copies of the single still managed to sell out quickly, yet it never charted. The even stronger follow-up 45 on Red Admiral "Play My Record" (by Arthur Kay and the Originals), about how radio playlists are largely pay-to-play and dominated by the deep-pocketed major labels, was released during the fever pitch of 2 Tone in 1980, but failed to attract any significant national attention (and a potentially momentous tour with The Bodysnatchers had to be turned down due to scheduling conflicts with various members of The Originals). Two other excellent singles--"No One But You" b/w "High Flyer" (by The Originals) and "Watching the Rich Kids" b/w "Doctor Bird" (by Arthur Kay and The Originators)--were recorded during the 2 Tone era, but not issued.
During the UK ska revival of the late 80s (which featured such extraordinary acts as the Potato 5, The Trojans, Laurel Aitken, Loafers, Bad Manners, Judge Dread, The Deltones, Maroon Town, The Hotknives, etc.), Skank Records
, as part of their Invisible Ska Years series
, collected all of Arthur Kay and The Originals' released and unreleased 2 Tone-era recordings and issued Rare 'N' Tasty
in 1988. At the time of its release, all of the 1979/1980 cuts on Rare and Tasty
were right in synch with the contemporary UK ska scene, which must have been particularly satisfying to Kay--even if he had been ignored by the music industry and press, the kids had paid attention. Arthur Kay and the Originals clearly had influenced many of the late 80s UK ska acts (all of which were all decidedly non-2 Tone in sound); you could hear it in The Loafers, The Hotknives, The Riffs, and others. Kay's music had helped spawn the next UK ska scene and, in doing so, revitalized his career.
Interest in the band surged after the release of the Skank comp and Arthur Kay's Originals went on to record and release three albums (Sparkes of Inspiration
in 1989, The Count of Clerkenwell
in 1995, and Live in Berlin
in 1996) with yet another iteration of the band (who also sometimes served as Judge Dread's
backing band until his death in 1998).
As I was writing this post, I remembered that the reviewers in George Marshall's amazing late 80s Scottish skazine Zoot! had been huge fans of Arthur Kay. So, I dug my treasured copies out of my closet and found the review of Rare 'N' Tasty
in Zoot! #9 (all of Zoot's reviews were always spot-on and brilliantly succinct). The rave write-up, which notes the injustice of Arthur Kay's exclusion from the history of UK ska/2 Tone, concludes with this line: "If I was a millionaire, I'd make sure everyone had a copy."
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