Memoirs of a Ska Librarian (Magazine/biography)

Personally I’ve loved Ska music ever since ……… well, before I knew it was Ska music. What I now know to be Ska turned up every now and again on the radio in the late 1960’s and in the early 1970’s Desmond Dekker and Little Millie spring to mind and an LP called This is Ska (or Jamaican Ska?) bought in Woolworth’s was a staple at teenage parties alongside Tamla Motown LP’s too, of course.
Then; along came Madness, The Specials and The Beat!
It was these two bands that caught the attention of a young Kevin Flowerdew who would sit mesmerised alongside younger brother Sean every Thursday night watching Top of the Pops in the hope that their heroes would be on with their latest singles.
As Two-Tone etc. took over the UK the young Kevin went to weekly School Discos in his cherished red Harrington and skanked his young life away unaware how much this new music would take over his life.
Kevin came into my life about ten years ago with his fabulous Skazine Do The Dog, which points me towards tours and releases from across the world; and now about 40 years after sitting wide eyed watching TOTP he has pulled together his memories in a magazine format biography.
Much like my favourite ever biography, broadcaster Robert Elm’s look at his life via the clothes he wore at various times, Kevin chooses music.
The story begins with the records he bought, then the gigs he got to go to in London Town; and here he captures the thrills and excitement very articulately as the he feels like a young outsider from a dormitory town suddenly being thrown into a cauldron full of big inner-city skinheads!
It’s a fascinating and even ‘life changing’ time for many people; and I love the way Kevin tries to shoehorn in as many band names as possible; most who have come and gone without trace; but at the time were very nearly Pop Stars.
One such band is Flowedew’s very own Bakesy’s Midday Joggers (I wonder where that name came from!!) who still occasionally play and record now; but the memories of small-town gigs one day followed by huge festivals in Germany the next will resonate with musicians the world over.
Now with a Fanzine called Rude keeping him immersed in ‘the scene,’ like many aspiring musicians, the day job got in the way of world domination so the band disbanded in 1994,
Fanzines more or less started with Punk; so it was a natural progression for them to turn up within the Ska Scene; and the way Kev describes sending letters to bands and record labels for singles and albums to review, then waiting patiently for the post to sometimes deliver that request to his front door (sometimes not) and then typing everything on a typewriter, cutting and pasting onto A4 paper then photocopying into the wee small hours echoes my own experiences doing something similar with a football fanzine; and is a snapshot in time that will make many of my generation smile wistfully; but baffle anyone under 30.
Flowerdew’s story then jumps to the close of RUDE and the formation of Do The Dog, because he wanted to promote the new wave of British Ska bands …… but the immediate success in a news starved world meant it quickly became the World’s #1 Skazine (in my opinion at least).
Alongside Kevin’s 8 page Memoirs, are four copies of RUDE magazine with each detailing a year in the magazines’ history; and again the memories they bring up are often tear inducing but mostly it’s smiles all the way; and you will find yourself running backwards and forwards to your record collection to blow the dust off CD’s you ain’t played in years.
With each magazine coming in at 7 or 8 pages long, don’t think that this is a quick read at all…….. I’ve had to come back to bits n pieces three or four times to digest everything here; and I’m sure I’ve missed plenty of other bits out too; so it will be my reading on the train to London next week too.
My one criticism; and it’s a big one, is that the actual Memoirs of a Ska Librarian is far too short; and Kevin Flowerdew doesn’t give himself enough credit for his pivotal role in the UK Ska Scene over the last 30+ years; and he has only dipped his toes into his memory bank and a full 300 page biography would surely do him and the Ska justice they both deserve.

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