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!