Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Vote for the 2013 Ska Album Of The Year

The online ska magazine Reggae Steady Ska has just opened voting for its incredibly comprehensive 2013 album of the year poll. The list includes nearly 90 ska, reggae and rocksteady albums released during the 2013 calendar year.  The list is mind boggling in its diversity and a wonderful sign that ska, reggae and rocksteady music remains vital and healthy around the globe.

Reggae Steady Ska has also created a companion YouTube playlist which features one song from each band that is nominated.   Its a great place to start if you haven't decided who to vote for or if you just want to enjoy a fantastic mix of music.

Here is how the voting works:

-- You can cast one vote a day while the poll is open
-- More poll categories will be added in the following days.
-- Next to the public voting a jury of ska musicians, bloggers and writers is also voting in a separate poll
-- The public voting runs from Tuesday, December 31, 2013 to Monday, January 6, 2014.

Click here to cast your vote!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Specialized Charitable Music Project Announces Specialized 3 In 2014 -- Mad Not Cancer!

There will be a Specialized 3! Paul Williams, the mastermind behind the first two Specialized albums -- featuring musical tributes to The Specials and The Beat and live concerts across the Globe which have raised over £40,000 for the Teenage Cancer Trust in the UK -- has announced that the next iteration of the project will focus on Madness!

In 2012, the project released its first album, the critically acclaimed “Specialized-A Modern take on Specials Classics” which included a double album's worth of tracks covering the back catalogue of The Specials. The project was so successful that in 2013 a second double album titled “Beat Teenage Cancer,” covering tracks of The Beat/English Beat was also launched to critical acclaim.

Both albums have been used as a showcase for unsigned modern bands influenced by the respective artists to pay their respect in the form of their own versions of the originals.  The project has also drawn the interest of a number of established 2 Tone stars, including Lee Thompson of Madness, Roland Gift of The Akrylykz/Fine Young Cannibals,  Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger of The Beat, Neol Davies of The Selecter and Rhoda Dakar of The Bodysnatchers/The Special A.K.A who have shared songs or participated.

The album “Mad Not Cancer” is destined for release in June 2014 featuring a wide variety of bands from the Philippines, France, Germany, Australia, US, UK, Spain and Argentina.   More details on the progress of the album as they become available in the new year.  In the meantime, check out the promo video for Specialized 3 below.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Behind The Scenes Of The Making Of Dance Craze: An Interview With Cinematographer Joe Dunton

I (along with many of you) worship at the Church of 2-Tone and its sound and look have defined me as a musician, fan, and blogger. As such, the 1981 music documentary, "Dance Craze" has served as a constant refuge for me throughout my life. Though I was the perfect age to experience 2-Tone live in the late 70's and early 80's, sadly I lived on the wrong continent! Years later, I splurged on an incredibly overpriced VHS copy of the film.  Despite the high price, it was everything I hoped and dreamed it would be. The tape still occupies a place of honor on a book shelf in my home.

Amazingly, the film has still not received a proper re-issue on DVD or Blu-Ray (nor does it appear that this will happen anytime soon). However, the full 85-minute version of the film — featuring classic performances from 2 Tone-era acts The Specials, Madness, Bad Manners, The Beat, The Selecter and more -- is available for viewing on YouTube, as are rare outtakes which were poorly marketed and packaged for sale as a VHS tape in the late 80's in the U.S. under the tittle "Ska Beatz."

Though may 2-Tone ska fans know the basics behind the film, what many have never heard, is the story about the actual filming of the documentary by the film's cinematographer. In a career spanning 40 years, Joe Dunton championed some of the film industry’s key developments including the development of film and video cameras and lenses that changed film making. Dunton, who is well regarded in the UK and US film industries as a camera and sound expert was awarded the M.B.E. (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in the 1998 Queen's New Year's Honours List for his services to the camera and film industry. He has been associated with some of the most well known directors including the late Stanley Kubrick and the late Oswald Morris. Dunton developed many cutting edge firsts during the making Dance Craze which are now taken for granted like having camera's on stage vs. in the audience. Dance Craze was also one of the first films recorded with Dolby sound.

Joe Dunton with Rhoda Dakar of The Bodysnatchers and Ranking Roger of The Beat

Dance Craze was directed by Joe Massot, who originally wanted to do a film about Madness, whom he met during their first US tour. At the urging of his son who was a ska fan, Massot later changed his plans to include the whole 2 Tone movement. He then tapped Dunton to help him.  The film which was shot in 1980 captured Madness, The Specials, The Selecter, The Bodysnatchers, The Beat and Bad Manners on tour throughout the UK and US.  A soundtrack album of the same name was released the same year (and reached #5 in the UK album charts), featuring fifteen songs from the film.

When 2-Tone was purchased by Chrysalis, a lot of people at the label were unhappy with the quality of the film, and the original film stock appears to have been “lost” in the transfer of property. While many of the artists are still active musically in one form or another, there has been no indication by anyone involved that there is any chance of this ever being re-released. Like Urgh!, this one will likely remain properly unreleased (though Dunton has hinted he is working on a re-issue and owns a master copy of a 70mm version)

According to a recent interview with Dunton, the film was conceived as it was being shot which adds to its immediacy and is part of the reason it still holds up to viewing nearly 35 years later.
"I then had the idea to make a film that was not “a third row film”, - not shot from the audience, from the third row; everyone shot concert films from the third row, and it does not mean anything, and because the bands were young bands I ended up being on stage with them and our first band – I think it was called “The Specials” or “Selecter” – I asked if I could come on stage and make the film; they had not made a film before so they were not really anti-me at all. I said if they did not like the film we need not use it; thus we did not draw up contracts – we just took a chance."
"After the first concert, we hired a cinema in Brighton (or Southampton) with no sound – and the band saw the film – and they sang along with the film because they knew the words – so we had sound as they sang along with it. They told their mates in the other bands of this whole 2 tone group and what we were doing. I got permission from all of them in the end."
According to Dunton, Massot encountered sone challenges while making the film that required Dunton's help in navigating.
Unfortunately, with Joe, he was a lovely man, but was American and when you come from Camden Town – our Cockney London - to have an American to deal with it was very difficult. So I was the communicator - basically because my camera was being directed by me – not someone telling me what to do. I was just feeling the way.
Despite the excitement that the film generated, Dunton was never paid for his work on the film.
We finished the film. I ended up with a contract that offered me 10% of the movie and then – as in those days - I got a telex from Chrysalis Records to say it was 1%. I told them they had left the “0” off: no, no, they said we have done a new deal – I still never got my wages then. But I had 30 people on the payroll editing the film so they really pushed me into saying let’s get on and finish the film. I still have not got my 1per cent! - it should be mounting up over 20 years! – (it would be good if you could put the word out!) – the director had a 10% too and he has now passed away, although his daughter could do with the money; there must be revenue from it.
Lucky for all of us, Dunton has been out and about attending screenings of Dance Craze in all its 70 mm glory. Below is a video from a 2011 event in the UK that featured Dunton speaking about the making of the film.

Here is a more recent Dance Craze event that Dunton attended in the US this past summer.

Below is the theatrical trailer that Dunton created and which has rarely been seen outside of the UK.

In case you've never seen it, here is the entire Dance Craze film:

Finally, here are rare outtakes from the film:

One of my goals for 2014 is to arrange a proper screening of the film here in New York.  Keep you eyes open for news about this in the new year.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Watch Rare Concert Footage Of The Fun Boy Three From 1983

Lately I've been spending a lot of time listening to 80's new wave as part of my new gig as the bass player for Rude Boy George -- a band that performs ska and reggae versions of classic songs from the era. As such, my experiences as a new wave meets ska musician have made me love and appreciate the Fun Boy Three even more. So, imagine my excitement at discovering an entire live show recorded during a concert in Cologne, West Germany in May of 1983 (right before the band broke up) that was aired on television in Japan.

Like most, I was shattered when The Specials broke-up in the early 80's. When I heard the first Fun Boy Three album "Fame" when it was released in 1981, I have to confess I was confused by it. It was a complete departure from The Specials 2-Tone sound and it quickly established the band as pop stars and household names across the U.K. The 11-track album had a distinct African influence that was heavy on drums, percussion and Jamaican-styled vocal harmonies.

Over time "Fame" grew on me and when their second and final album "Waiting" was released in 1983 I was a huge fan. Produced by David Byrne of Talking Heads, the collection was an amazing mix of pop, reggae and avant-rock with just a hint of all round weirdness. I never saw FB3, so imagine my excitement at discovering an entire live show recorded during a concert in Cologne, West Germany in May of 1983 (right before the band broke up) that was aired on television in Japan.

Aside from their off kilter yet accessible look and sound, Fun Boy Three were notable for having an entirely female backing band that included keyboardist/arranger Nicky Holland, trombonist Annie Whitehead, cellist Caroline Lavelle, original girl punker and drummer June Miles-Kingston (of The Mo-Dettes), and vocalist Ingrid Schroeder. Watch an interview of Terry Hall and Lynval Golding discussing the benefits of having an all woman band:

The full concert which features tracks from both their albums (as well as a version of The Specials "Gangsters") is broken up into five videos below, but is worth the time to watch and listen to one of the most unique and overlooked bands of the 80's.

1. Faith And Hope And Charity
2. The Pressure Of Life 3:03
3. The Telephone Always Rings 6:34
4. Farmyard Connection
5. The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum 2:26
6. Things We Do 6:11
7. Well Fancy That
8. Summertime 3:27
9. Alibi 6:20
10. Our Lips Are Sealed
11. The Tunnel Of Love 3:48
12. We Are Having All The Fun 7:16
13. Gangsters
14. The More I See The Less I Believe (incomplete) 4:14

Monday, December 16, 2013

Marco On The Bass & Bryan Adams Wish You A Reggae Christmas!

I strive to celebrate and venerate the best of ska and reggae music on this blog. The many artists who made the music a cultural phenomena are all heroes to me and many others. However, as ska and reggae music made its way into the charts of the U.K. (and the U.S, to a lesser extent) and its influence and popularity spread, many mainstream singers, bands and musical artists began including the rhythms and sound in their own songs. Some of these efforts were magnificent and some less so. Others were just plain terrible. I've previously trained the spotlight on some of the more dreadful attempts of what the Brits call 'Cod Reggae' (which is a term I have always loved).

So in the spirit of Christmas, I offer you "Reggae Christmas" a 1984 b-side by Bryan Adams which may be the best (or worst depending on your view) Christmas cod reggae song ever recorded. The video, which gives you a real sense of the early, anything goes days of 80's music, was recorded at the MTV studios in New York City.

What is there to love/hate about this song and video?  Let me count the ways. First, in case anybody was wondering what MTV was like in 1984, “Reggae Christmas” serves as a pretty good time capsule: All 5 original VJ's make cameos as does Pee-Wee Herman (in a Santa hat with dreadlocks).  Why Pee-Wee Herman you ask?  Lest we forget (or if you aren't a child of the 80's). Herman was on hot streak at the time due to his smash hit "Pee-Wee's Playhouse" TV show and "Pee- Wee's Big Adventure" movie.

Musically, you have to hand it to Adams for giving reggae a go. While the song is a rote version of reggae, his band seems to get it musically.  The bass and drums are locked in and the guitars are playing upstrokes in the right place. It was the early 80's after all and from what I have learned, the song gets an airing every year around this time, which I suppose is the goal of every artist who records a Christmas song -- to be remembered, even if for a few minutes. Plus how can you resist these insipid lyrics which read like they were written five minutes before the band recorded the song:
Christmas is nice in Germany
if you like being up to your knees in snow
it's just as cold up in Canada
we gotta find another place to go
So...so we're having a reggae Christmas - down in Jamaica
To those who argue that Bryan Adams is French-Canadian and in no way qualified or capable of attempting reggae, I would point out that his birth certificate does say that he was born in Kingston, albeit the one in Ontario.

A big hat tip to Chuck Wren of Jump Up Records  for alerting me to this fantastically terrible piece of reggae music.

Happy Holidays to all MOTB readers!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Marco On The Bass Reviews The Year In Ska 2013

I always enjoy year end wrap-ups, and 2013 was another banner year for ska music. There was an unbelievable cornucopia of local shows, national tours and festivals, books, new albums and music to enjoy. In fact, the amount of ska related developments came so fast and furious at times, it was hard to keep up because there was so much to digest and write about!

During 2013 my ska blogging comrade Steve Shafer (Duff Guide To Ska) and I continued to bring our blogs to life by hosting monthly Electric Avenue ska showcases in New York City.  We've been undertaking this labor of love since the summer of 2012 -- the bands split 100% of the cover, nobody else takes a cut -- to support ska bands and their fans, and have some fun in the process. These shows already have featured a who's who of American ska, including Chris Murray (Los Angeles), The Ladrones (Brooklyn/New Jersey), King Django (NJ), The Snails (Philadelphia), The Frightnrs (Brooklyn), Destroy Babylon (Massachusetts), Bigger Thomas (NY/NJ), Beat Brigade (NY), Doomsday! (NY), Los Skarronerros (Brooklyn), The Pandemics (Long Island), The Scofflaws (Long Island), The Bullbuckers (Wilmington, DE), The Reggay Lords (Brooklyn), The Copacetics (Providence, RI), The Rudie Crew (NY) and The Royal Swindle (New Haven, CT). This summer we were blessed to have Roddy Radiation and Lynval Golding of The Specials perform a solo show for us. We hope to see a few more new faces in 2014!

On a personal note, 2013 was an exciting one for me.  Between rehearsing, recording, learning and writing songs and writing this blog, the year seemed to fly by.  My band Bigger Thomas released a best of digital release titled "Ska In My Pocket: The Biggest & Bestest Of Bigger Thomas" to celebrate our 25th anniversary and we recorded and released a 2-song EP of new music titled "Under A Super Moon." We also recorded a version of The English Beat song "Sole Salvation" for the Specialized 2 Beat Teen Age Cancer compilation that was released in the UK to raise funds for the Teenage Cancer Trust.  The song was also included on a limited edition, red vinyl 45 as the flip side to Dave Wakeling's new recording of "Mirror In The Bathroom."

After many years of thinking and talking about merging my twin loves of ska and new wave, I helped to found a new band -- Rude Boy George, a collective of New York City ska musicians that includes members of my band Bigger Thomas, Across The Aisle, The Toasters and Funk Face. Our goal is to create ska, reggae and rocksteady versions of our beloved 80s New Wave songs. We are joined by Steve Shafer (Duff Guide To Ska) on vocals who shares my passion for ska and new wave. We debuted the band in April and then entered the studio with former English Beat bassist Wayne "Waylo" Lothian who produced and engineered 5 tracks that will be released as an EP in 2014.

Without further ado, here is what made 2013 for me...

My top 5 favorite ska releases in 2013

1. The Selecter - String Theory
Historically, what always set The Selecter apart from other 2-Tone bands, was the pairing of Neol Davies songs and guitar playing and Pauline Black's voice, stage energy and unique rude-girl style. Though Black and Gaps Hendrickson continue to anchor the bands' vocals, providing continuity to their storied 2-Tone past,they have smartly surrounded themselves with a tight and talented group of musicians who honor the band's iconic 2-Tone sound. Black and Hendrickson have used that musical foundation to write and record ten modern ska songs that are rooted in the band's legacy but that explore a new spin on 2-Tone's original ideals.

2. Specialized 2 Beat Teenage Cancer
While the first CD in this project celebrated the music of The Specials, this time out its The Beat with Specialized 2: Beat Teenage Cancer. The recording features 44 bands/artists covering The Beat's incredible catalogue of songs with all proceeds going to support the Teenage Cancer Trust in the U.K. Stand outs include Rhoda Dakar's torch song version of "Too Nice To Talk To," Ed Rome's fantastic 60's ska take of "I Confess,"Dubtonik (featuring Charley Anderson of The Selecter) Afro-pop meets reggae version of "Monkey Murder," and Buford O'Sullivan (ex-Scofflaws, The Toasters and Easy All-Stars) and Ruff Scott's reggae re-imagining of "Get-A-Job" called "Wah" that is a stinging indictment of the 1% who own 50% of the world's wealth. Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger also contribute new material and the album has an international flavor with bands from the UK, US, Australia and Czech Republic contributing songs.

3. King Django - Anywhere I Roam
True to its title, the 12 track King Django album, Anywhere I Roam, available on Stubborn Records, is a beautiful musical meditation through a variety of Jamaican musical genres (ska, early, roots and rub-a-dub reggae and roots rocksteady) on what it means to truly commit to life as a musician and an artist and the tensions (economic, romantic, familial) that choice can create. Recorded in various studios around the world with an international cast of collaborators -- Obi Fernandez, The Void Union, The Forthrights, The Scrucialists, Regatta 69, Pannonia Allstar Ska Orchestra (PASO), Mr T-Bone, The Soul Captives and Motha Nature -- the ten originals and two covers (a rollicking ska meets New Orleans blues reworking of The Clash's Career Opportunities with lyrics updated for the Great Recession of 2008 and a stirring Skatalites-like version of The Police's Every Breath You Take that finds the emotional pain in the track that Sting originally wrote as a bitter revenge tale) detail the ongoing conflict between the freedom of life on the road (sex, drugs and ska and reggae) and the tug of memories, family, home and lost love.

4. Paris DJs Soundsystem Presents: Outernational Ska & Reggae Dub Covers Mix
As the late, great John Peel once said, "I know loads of cover versions that are regarded as being better than the original." Its a sentiment that I ascribe to whole heartedly, and one that the always excellent Paris DJs collective has dedicated their time and passion to celebrating. For the last seven years Paris DJs have consistently distributed some of the very best musical podcasts anywhere in the world. As a 2013 New Year's present to all their listeners, they distributed their final, free podcast mix, featuring a diverse mix of ska and reggae covers of songs by Nirvana (Little Roy), Cher (Bang Bang Rock Steady), Nu Shooz (Analog Players Society), Diana Ross (Eva Smart), Jimmy Cliff (Madness) and Sceamin' Jay Hawkins (The Ska Vengers) among others. Go here to download the mix.

5. Phoenix City All-Stars - Skatisfaction
Phoenix City All-Stars released "Skatisfaction" a very enjoyable collection of Studio One meets Skatalites-style take on the Rolling Stones, including versions of "Satisfaction" featuring Trojan Records legend Freddie Notes, "Under My Thumb," "Play With Fire," "Paint It Black" and "Love In Vain." The band features members of UK bands including Pama International, Sidewalk Doctors, Intensifed, Dub Vendor All-stars, The Delegators, Big Boss Man/Bongolian, The Loafers, and Kasabian. "Skatisfaction" follows hot on the heels of "Two Tone Gone Ska," released by the band in the fall of 2012, which is a collection of mostly instrumental versions of classic 2 Tone tracks including "One Step Beyond", "Stereotype", "Tears of a Clown" and "The Prince," "The Selecter," "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down," "Ghost Town," and "Too Much Too Young dub."

Top 10 favorite live ska shows in 2013

Below is a list of my top 10 personal favorite ska shows that I saw, attended, organized or performed at during 2013.

1. Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra - 4/28/13 at Stage 48, NYC
A very rare U.S. appearance by TSPO (or Skapara as their devoted fans affectionately call them) did not disappoint!  The band were energized by an audience of passionate fans who danced all night to the band's ska meets jazz meets rock.  I can now check TSPO off my ska band bucket list!

2. The Specials - 7/17/13 at Pier 26, NYC
In what could be their very last performance in New York City, the reunited version of The Specials (minus Nevile Staple who announced he was leaving the band before the tour) blazed through their iconic set on a beautiful summer's evening on a pier on the Hudson River off Lower Manhattan (with the new Freedom Tower hovering in the background. A diverse crowd (including much of the New York ska scene who turned out) danced madly and sang along with Terry Hall at the top of their lungs for the duration of the show.

3. The Selecter - 9/20/13 at Grammercy Theatre, NYC
The Selecter featuring Pauline Black and Gaps Hendrickson dazzled a New York audience that warmly welcomed their high octane roller coaster ride of ska, pop, roots and punk. Black is a captivating performer; jumping around the stage relentlessly, aiming playful kicks at band members and blessed with a voice capable of making you grin like a fool one minute (the supremely giddy ska/punk anthem ‘Three Minute Hero’) and tear up the next (a startlingly poignant take on the break up song ‘Missing Words’).

4. Apple Stomp - 5/31/13 and 6/1/13 at Irving Plaza, NYC
Legions of ska fans from across the U.S. poured into New York to attend The Apple Stomp, a 2-day marathon romp through the music’s checkered past to watch 16 storied U.S. bands (including The Slackers, The Pilfers, Inspecter 7, Mephiskapheles and more) highlight the American version of 3rd Wave ska. I had a chance to experience the show from the stage (my band Bigger Thomas opened the show on Saturday night) and from the audience. The highlight was seeing The Slackers perform.

5. Roddy Radiation and Lynval Golding - 7/20/13 at Electric Avenue at Character's NYC, NYC
Something incredible and unique happened this past July --a few days after The Specials' gig at Pier 26. Roddy Radiation and Lynval Golding of The Specials performed several of the band's hits (two written by Roddy) with just their guitars in front of a small, but fanatic crowd at Electric Avenue. If you were there, then you saw something very special. If you missed it, then watch below.

6. New York Loves Brandt Abner Benefit Show - 11/25/13 at B.B. King's, NYC
Where The Apple Stomp was a celebration of 3rd Wave American ska from the 90's on, the New York Loves Brandt Abner Benefit demonstrated the tight knit elements of the New York Ska scene who care for their own. Abner (who was a founding member of NYC ska band Skinnerbox) tragically passed away from thymic cancer in September at age 43. In response (and in celebration of his life and music), the NYC ska scene rallied to organize a benefit show at BB King's. A who's who of NYC bands from the 80's and 90's perfomed, including Skadanks, Skinnerbox, Beat Brigade, Rudie Crew, Bigger Thomas, Mephiskapheles, Pilfers and more, raising more than $4,000 for Abner's family. It was an amazing experience and demonstrated the true meaning of thanksgiving and the power of community.

7. The Reggay Lords - 2/23/13 at Electric Avenue at Charcter's NYC, NYC
Don't let their Lord of The Manor costumes fool you. The Reggay Lords (a Brooklyn-based supergroup featuring members of The Forthrights, The Hard Times, The Rudie Crew, and The Slackers) who dress in 18th century garb with frilly shirts and powdered wigs are performing some of the best rocksteady and reggae music you will hear. Be sure to catch them in 2014!

8. The Scofflaws - 1/19/13 at Electric Avenue at Character's NYC, NYC
Those who attended The Scofflaws first Manahattn show in nearly 2 years were reminded why the band remain one of the touchstones of 80's and 90's American ska music. Band leader Sammy Brooks was the focal point of the night, dancing, moving, shouting - and at one point, calling ex-bandmate Buford O'Sullivan up -- for a great version of "These Boots Are Made For Walking."

9. Beat Brigade - 4/13/13 at Electric Avenue at Character's NYC, NYC
These long-time NYC ska stalwarts have returned to playing out live and have recorded a new album of songs that will see the light of the day in 2014. Between the superb Specials/Costello/Clash influenced original cuts and the incredible musicianship of the band, Beat Brigade are one of the most dynamic acts on the American ska scene. Their 80s NYC ska vibe still sounds unique and contemporary after nearly 30 years!

10. Rude Boy George - 11/16/13 at Electric Avenue at Character's NYC, NYC
For the purposes of full disclosure, I'm in Rude Boy George, so to avoid a complete conflict of interest, I'll just say that it was very gratifying to work out and perform a dark and Gothic reggae version of the Psychedelic Furs "Love My Way."

My Top 5 ska hopes and wishes for 2014

1. I continue to have very high hopes for the Electric Avenue ska and reggae shows I co-book and co-promote with Steve Shafer of Duff Guide To Ska. I think we are making progress on establishing a monthly destination in Manhattan/NYC for ska fans to come and check out the very best bands from all over the east coast of the U.S. and beyond.

2. My new band Rude Boy George will be celebrating our first year together in early 2014 and we are planning to release a 5-song EP of some of our favorite 80's new wave songs to mark the occasion. I hope we can play more live shows and that we record and release another EP of ska, reggae and rocksteady versions of 80's new wave.

3. Find the time to read a number of ska and reggae-related books including Suggs autobiography "That Close" and Heather Augustyn's biography, "Don Drummond: The Genius and Tragedy of the World's Greatest Trombonist."

4. I'm beyond excited to see "Riot On The Dancefloor: The City Gardens Documentary" that is due out in mid-2014.

5. Go see more shows. Listen to more music. Play more music. Write more songs.  Write more blog posts on MOTB. Meet more ska-loving people!

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Story Behind General Public's Other Much Darker Video For "Tenderness"

For anyone who came of age in the 80's, General Public's video for "Tenderness" was nearly ubiquitous. It featured smiling, happy children, interspersed with moody shots of Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger singing and dancing in front of swirling lights.  When paired with the songs upbeat sound, the video highlighted the brighter side of the lyrics more melancholy undertones. Otherwise, the video didn't stand out in a way from the many other pop and new wave videos of the era.

That said, if you really paid attention, the lyrics were deeper than they appeared.  According to Wakeling:

"There was a darker side to the song, because it came out in that period of AIDS, fear of AIDS. Nobody really knew much about it, and everybody was all of a sudden terrified to touch a door handle. Being a terrific hypochondriac, and everybody was always having colds on the road on tour, it's like any time anybody sneezed, I was like, could that be AIDS? So it was to do with that, but in sort of non-obvious way."

And to that end, there was another, much darker and more adult version of the video for "Tenderness" which was filmed in the U.K. (by the director of Bronski Beat's cutting edge video for "Small Town Boy") that never aired here in the U.S. The story behind the two very different videos is a classic case of American puritanical views on sex and a U.S. record company that was aiming to place the song at the top of the pop charts (it reached #27 in the Billboard Charts) with a video that would garner regular rotation on MTV. According to Wakeling:

We did two versions. We did one in England with Nicholas Roeg’s son, who’d just become a video director, and he’d just done a Bronski Beat video. I really enjoyed that video, and so our first one had this female lifeguard, and we’re all playing around in the swimming pool. I’d been a competition swimmer, so when they proposed a swimming pool, I said yes yes, thinking I could show off a bit. So the girl and I are supposed to be eyeing each other and then we end up in the shower, and she takes off her jacket and she’s actually a female bodybuilder with a crew cut. She tosses off her wig and embraces me, and that’s the end of the video. Everyone in England thought it was amazing. We brought it over to Miles Copeland and his crew and they said [in a barking tone] “No no no no no.” We said we didn’t have any money to re-shoot, but IRS Records came up with the money. They introduced us to [director] C.D. Taylor whom I like very much, and I think the theme of that video was that Roger and I were very attractive people at sunset. (laugh) We shot much of the performance on the A&M lot. C.D. Taylor found these eye drops that made blue eyes look even bluer with the right lens on. It ended up being my mom’s favorite video. I showed the two cuts to my mom, and she said, “ah, your eyes do look lovely in that one.” 

Check out the radically different UK version of the video for the song below. The risque visuals and storyline of a family man dealing with temptation and infidelity while on the road is far more compelling than most pop videos of the day and completely changes your view of the song forever. Too bad Miles Copeland was so shortsighted!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Antonee First Class of The English Beat Releases "Step On Through" Featuring Tappa Zukie & Militant Barry

If you have caught Dave Wakeling's version of The English Beat during any of his coast-to-coast U.S. tours over the last five years, then you have had the pleasure of enjoying the singing, toasting and stage moves of the band's resident toaster and MC, Antonee First Class.  He complements Wakeling's crooning with crisp toasts and shines on his own songs and freestyle chats. But what you may not know is that Antonee comes from reggae royalty, which he wisely taps on his brand new, irresistible single Step On Through (available on iTunes and Amazon.com).

Antonee (the son of 70's/80's reggae artist Militant Barry and the Godson of 70's reggae singer Tappa Zukie, who together recorded a number of important reggae tracks which which were popular in Jamaica and the U.K.) has updated the duo's 1977 track Living In The Ghetto by sampling the bass line and the chorus and adding his own take on 21st century ghetto life.  It's a song that harkens back to the golden age of 70's reggae with a traditional sound (produced by Antonee and ex-English Beat bassist Wayne Lothian) that is sorely lacking these days and that should appeal to both reggae heads and 2-Tone fans.

I spoke with Antonee, who shared that his father (who served as Tappa Zukie's UK manager before embarking on his own career as Militant Barry) were, along with Don Letts, responsible for helping to popularize reggae with punks, particularly John Lydon of The Sex Pistols (who was a huge reggae fan) and The Clash.  Zukie's MPLA was a favorite of Mick Jones.

"I learned all I know about reggae from my father and Tappa Zukie. I've had nuff sleepless nights as a kid in recording studios with these two, not to mention ghostwriting songs before I was even a teen. They are well affiliated with the punk rock scene of the 70s & 80s.  They use to take The Clash and The Sex Pistols to reggae dances in the UK.  U2 once opened for Tappa, whom my dad was road managing in Ireland before they were U2. My father was also Miles Copeland A&R for his record label.  I used to see Sting and The Police at Copeland's house as a kid before they went famous. They was actually learning the reggae through people like my Dad and Tappa. Dave Wakeling's favorite reggae artist and the first reggae record he ever bought was by Tappa Zukie, whom I lived with. My music history is longer than the average!"

So its no surprise that Antonee has connected with Dave Wakeling, who was a punk when he started The Beat in the U.K. in 1978.  The reggae-punk connection was particularly strong with Miltant Barry who recorded the song Pistol Boy, which was produced by Tappa Zukie and questioned whether or not Side Vicious really killed his girlfriend Nancy Spungen.

Read more about Antonee's life as a musician and his time running a reggae record store with his father in Pittsburgh here and listen to his toasting on my new band Rude Boy George's reggae version of The Romantics classic Talking In Your Sleep.