Sunday, September 18, 2022

40th Anniversary Reissue of The Selecter's "Celebrate the Bullet"/"The Lost Interview: Neol Davies of The Selecter"

The CD and LP of "Celebrate the Bullet" feature a TV displaying static, while a gloved hand adjusts one of the buttons.
It's a little late, but Chrysalis is finally releasing the 40th Anniversary of The Selecter's dark and superb 1981 sophomore album Celebrate the Bullet on November 11, 2022. The album is remastered from the original production tapes and being issued on heavyweight clear vinyl and in an expanded, triple-CD deluxe version, which features a 20-page booklet with notes from the band; the unreleased "Deepwater" single and its dub; the Celebrate the Bullet BBC sessions; and an unreleased live concert recorded at Birmingham's NEC in 1980. (Pre-orders can be made through Townsend Music in the UK and Amazon in the US.)

If you need a refresher on this album, you can read my appreciation of Celebrate the Bullet from this 2010 post.

Also, below is a chapter relating to Celebrate the Bullet excerpted from my 2020 book The Duff Guide to 2 Tone

"The Lost Interview: Neol Davies of The Selecter"

Back in 2015, I was planning to expand a post I had written several years earlier reappraising The Selecter's Celebrate the Bullet [which is included in The Duff Guide to 2 Tone] to book-length. Hoi Polloi skazine's John Vaccaro had been incredibly kind to send me several contemporary articles related to the album from Sounds, NME, and other British music publications from his extensive print archives for my research. I also managed to arrange a series of interviews with Selecter founder, guitarist, and primary songwriter Neol Davies, and intended to talk with other members of the band who had composed songs for the Celebrate the Bullet, including Pauline Black, Gaps Hendrickson, and Compton Amanor.

That summer, I spoke twice with Davies via Skype, but during each session, our video calls were plagued by technical issues: the audio would often go in and out and inevitably degrade to static. Davies was generous and gracious during our interviews—and quite eager to talk about an album that he clearly felt never received its due—but was increasingly frustrated and distracted by the audio problems. I digitally recorded both interviews, but much to my regret didn't have them transcribed at the time. I had planned to set up additional phone calls with Davies, but, unfortunately, didn't, due to demands of work and life.

While putting together The Duff Guide to 2 Tone, it struck me that excerpts from my interviews with Neol Davies would be perfect for this book, but I have been unable to locate the audio files, which I thought I had copied to an external hard drive. Unfortunately, the device I used to record the interviews died several years ago and was recycled. However, I do have the notes that I typed up after my conversation with Davies on 8/13/15, which are as follows.

The cover of Celebrate the Bullet, which was designed by Davies' late wife Jane Hughes and John "Teflon" Sims of Chrysalis' art department (who, along with David Storey, created much of 2 Tone's iconic imagery), featured a gloved hand of a person who couldn't be identified as a man or woman, or black or white—they represented everyone. The fuzzy TV screen on the UK version of the album was meant to convey that the music and message was not being broadcast or given airtime in the mainstream media, and also expressed a dread of nuclear annihilation (when all transmissions will cease). Davies commented that the band was "angry with the world."

Hughes also designed the new Selecter "dial" or "eyeball" logo (used on the paper label for the album and "Celebrate the Bullet" single). It was greatly influenced by Soviet constructivist artists and "fits nicely as a paper sleeve for a single or album—and allows for text, too." Davies noted that it was simple, but "not so easy to arrive at."

Davies stated that, in contrast to The Specials, which was "very much a dictatorship with Jerry in charge," The Selecter was a real democracy. Each member had an equal vote and they based all of their decisions on whichever options had the most support. The band voted down Davies on who should produce their debut album Too Much Pressure. Davies had wanted Roger Lomas, who had produced The Selecter's first few singles, including "The Selecter" and "On My Radio" b/w "Too Much Pressure." In the end, the band opted to go with Charley Anderson's friend Errol Ross, but Davies and others were very unhappy with the results. As a consequence, Lomas was recruited to produce "The Whisper" single and the Celebrate the Bullet album. (A few years prior to this interview, Davies thought he had tracked down the two-inch reel-to-reel tapes for Too Much Pressure with the idea of remixing the whole album for a re-release, but the boxes were empty.)

According to Davies, the track "Celebrate the Bullet" is "a direct descendent" of "The Selecter" instrumental. The song is about recognizing "the seduction of the power of holding a gun in your hand and being enthralled by the power of a gun—but also being very anti-gun." When I asked him about Chrysalis' reaction to the controversy surrounding the single [the BBC had quietly banned the track over misguided concerns that it encouraged gun violence; John Lennon had been murdered a few months earlier and an assassination attempt had been made on President Ronald Reagan around the time of the single's release], Davies noted that the label gave their "full support" to The Selecter.

Davies felt that the "Celebrate the Bullet" single "should have been our 'Ghost Town'"—The Selecter's #1 record. Like that Specials masterpiece, The Selecter's "art and music was in synch with real world events and the zeitgeist" of those turbulent times. Davies said that he found it "mystifying that an anti-gun and anti-violence record would be banned during a time when people were being assassinated."

(Written exclusively for this book on June 10, 2020.)

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Sunday, September 11, 2022

Duff Review: "Blue Beat Baby: The Untold Story of Brigitte"

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Blue Beat Baby: The Untold Story of Brigitte, a new 30-minute video documentary by Joanna Wallace, does an excellent job of piecing together the largely forgotten story of Brigitte Bond, who inadvertently inspired the design of The Beat girl. While the average ska fan knows 2 Tone's Walt Jabsco was created by Jerry Dammers (and refined with help from Horace Panter and John "Teflon" Sims) and based on a photo of Peter Tosh from his early Wailers' days, far fewer are aware of the origins and background of The Beat girl.

In Blue Beat Baby, Wallace explains that Brigitte Bond was a popular Soho burlesque performer who showed up to welcome Prince Buster at Heathrow Airport in 1964 during his first tour of the UK (to promote I Feel The Spirit). In the process, she was photographed and filmed dancing with Buster in the terminal (most likely a calculated move to help generate press for her then forthcoming single and supporting gigs). A little over a decade later, one of these photos was re-published in Melody Maker in the spring of 1979 (see it above), just as 2 Tone started to rule the airwaves and charts. Cartoonist/graphic artist Hunt Emerson, who was tasked by The Beat to quickly come up with their logo (and later designed the covers of the first two Beat albums), spied the photo of the beautiful and fashionably mod Bond dancing with Prince Buster and modeled his striking--and now iconic--Beat girl illustration on her. Notably, neither Hunt Emerson nor anyone in The Beat was cognizant of Bridget Bond's claim to fame. Emerson was drawn to her elegant sense of style and the wonderful motion of her hips, arms, and legs captured in that phenomenal photo.

Employing archival newspaper clips, strip joint advertisements, and TV news footage, Wallace fills in as many blanks in Bond's story as possible in this compelling documentary. Her professional life on stage, in the press, and on the screen is well-covered here, but little is known of Bond's origins or fate (the trail goes cold in Italy in 1976). However, Wallace highlights several fascinating aspects of Bond's life, such as her (so-so) 1964 ska single on Blue Beat; the episode where she hijacked Billy Graham's attempt to minister/preach to the sinful denizens of Soho, which garnered her worldwide press coverage; and the fact that she is/was a gorgeous, transgender woman (which, refreshingly, didn't seem to be that big of a scandal in the UK at the time--many of her strip club patrons and admirers had no complaints!).

Both The Beat's Dave Wakeling and Emerson observed that after The Beat girl began to be featured on gig posters and Beat merchandise, the band's previously male-dominated audiences were flooded with female Beat fans (and there were far fewer fights at shows). Many girls even began to copy The Beat girl's style of dress. So, a crucial part of Bond's legacy is that her image helped welcome/make space for girls and women in the 2 Tone scene. (Then, as now, representation matters.) Perhaps the most significant unanswered question in all of this is whether Bond is/was aware of her consequential and celebrated place in 2 Tone history.

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On a related note, ska author Heather Augustyn provided research assistance for this documentary and she wrote a chapter on Brigitte Bond in her forthcoming book Rude Girls: Women in 2 Tone and One Step Beyond.

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Thursday, September 8, 2022

Skavoovie & The Epitones Release Back Catalogue with Bonus Tracks!

Members of the band are dressed in suits and pork pie hats, and strike cool poses for the camera.
(by Steve Shafer)

If you missed Ken Partridge's recent profile of Skavoovie & The Epitones, stop and go read it now. It's the best piece ever written about the band (I should know--I used to read and compile all of Skavoovie & The Epitones' press clippings during my Moon days).

But the big news is that on September 14 Skavoovie & The Epitones are re-issuing their brilliant 1995 debut album Fat Footin' in the digital realm (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify) and are including two bonus tracks: a cover of The Skatalites classic “Beardman Ska” and an alternate version of their track “Riverboat" (both of which I think are from their 1996 Moon vinyl single).

Then in January 2023, they're releasing their sublime sophomore album Ripe (with bonus tracks), followed later in the year by a brand new compilation of live and rare cuts. And that's not all--there are plans in the works to press a 7" vinyl single featuring an unreleased live version of "Nut Monkey" b/w "9 Dragons." "Nut Monkey" cemented my love of Skavoovie & The Epitones--back in the day I was thrilled to feature this song on the first Skarmageddon comp I produced in 1994.

If you didn't know Skavoovie & The Epitones then, you need to know them now.

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(Also, subscribe to Partridge's Hell of a Hat substack feed for more long-reads about '90s era ska acts.)

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