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.
Some days I just need to hear something bouncy, punchy and LOUD, and the third album from Scotland’s finest purveyors of all things Ska; Bombskare hit the nail squarely on the head earlier today with this; their third full length album! I first encountered Bombskare many moons ago when the Two Tony’s promoted some amazing Ska and Mod gigs in and around Newcastle and these chancers made three appearances with each selling out larger and larger venues, and burning their memory deep inside my brain and heart. Opening song See What You See is less of a Pop Song and more of a sensory onslaught (if played loud enough) and the beat just goes on and on until you can’t stop yourself dancing along (which is quite dangerous when driving a car btw). While most British Ska Bands only ever trace their roots back to Madness and The Specials; Bombskare probably have more in common with American bands like Aggrolites and Bim Skala Bim; infusing their very danceable melodies with a Punk influenced spine and Social Commentary to create a very distinctive way with their songs; with Sink or Swim and Punchline being perfect examples; and the hi-energy Cakegate not only has some tip-top observational lyrics; but is so very, very skankable too! While I know a lot of hard work would have gone into these songs in the studio; but for once in Skaville Bombskare appear to have captured that ‘live sound’ so few can ever achieve; making this sound a bit like a Live Album, but without the sloppy bits. Most of their peers have a couple of great songs in their locker; but even betting without their last two records they have great songs in abundance here; and the Ska/Mod radio stations will be falling over themselves to play Punchline, Keep Getting Up and the marvelous James Bond/Jason Bourne influenced title track A Million Ways To Die over the next few years. Choosing a Favourite Track hasn’t been easy; especially when the horn section manage to swing harder than Count Basie’s Orchestra, two songs stuck right out the first time I played this album last week; the rye look at ‘Celebrity Culture’ Wanna Be Famous which takes a surgeons skalpel to the hopes and desires of a generation who don’t want to work for a living, but ‘become famous’ instead. The other just summed up my own personal feelings this week; such is the mystical powers music can have; so Life In The Slow Lane will have a special place in this boy’s heart for a long, long time to come. Why it would be, I have no idea but Scotland has had a thriving Ska scene for as long as I can remember with one band only being better than another according to personal taste; and for me (don’t tell the ‘Meanies or the Cut Throat Razors!) Bombskare are my own personal #1 and A Million Ways To Die has just cemented that endorsement into my heart; and I can foresee all of these songs becoming fan favourites at gigs large and small all across the Summer.
Manchester’s Northern Quarter via Beale Street and Orange Street.
This album download arrived with a minimum of fuss and, it’s fair to say…… a minimal approach! Two photos, a link to a YouTube video and a Dropbox of the album…… no press release or any other info. I don’t want anyone else to do it this way; but I was intrigued enough to reply and ask for some more info. He’s from Manchester! That was about it. So; let the music do the talking I suppose. Ye-gads…. opening track Could Have Been is electrifying, and shows where Mat Walkgate is coming from…… a bit of Muddy, a dash of BB, a smidgen of Booker T and a whole dollop of Little Walter the way he tries to blow out the reeds of his harmonica; and the self-penned song ain’t too shabby either. While this all goes under the moniker of singer/harp blower Mat Walklate it’s very apparent guitarist extraordinaire Paolo Fuschi is a key player in proceedings too; supplying some excellent guitar riffs and solos throughout, as well as co-writing most of the good stuff. As per all the greats before him Mat manages to make ‘being miserable’ sound exciting on The Sun Never Shines, which not only showcases Walkgate’s harmonica playing but Tom Attah’s dexterity on the National Steel too and the painfully beautiful So Deep In Trouble, which both sizzle and shimmy just like you need to hear when you are feeling that way too. There’s only one ‘cover’ here and it’s a gloriously raw rendition of Rivers of Jordan that bleeds into People Get Ready which is just Walklate’s rough baritone and wailing harmonica; and even though he and his song were born and bred in Manchester; if you heard it by accident, you’d presume it could easily have been a field recording from a Baptist Church somewhere South of the Mason Dixon Line. For my Favourite Track here; I’m going for an instrumental, with a cheeky title but a track that deserves a much wider audience than it will probably ever receive…… Playing With Myself Boogie, which finds Walklate overdubbing a variety of harmonicas on three minutes of absolute Blues Heaven that just might resurrect the Soul of Little Walter. Now I’ve played this a couple of times, I love the fact that these guys ain’t no Retro/Covers band; they very much tread their very own, but being prepared to bravely turn left, right and proudly marching forward at the crossroads, introducing a a flute on Answer Your Phone, and giving Modest Man and Dubbed & Burning a bit of a Ska meets Egyptian Reggae feel; without ever sounding out of step with Walklate’s Blues and Soul spine.
The hardest working band in Skaland, Scotland’s Bombskare are about to release their fifth alum on March 1st 2019 and here’s an EXCLUSIVE first play of the Tip-Top single SLOW LANE; which serves as a charming little aperitif for the Skanking main course A MILLION WAYS TO DIE. Until then…… keep on Skanking!
This end of year Top 10 Albums malarkey is proving ever more difficult…….. so far we have posted 279 reviews covering Americana, Country, Alt. Country, Cow Punk, Soul, Blues, Rhythm & Blues, Rock, Blues Rock, singer-songwriters, Folk, Alt. Folk, Nu-Folk, Ska AND Reggae! Each individual album is here on it’s very own merits and we wrote about them because we liked ’em and passionately believed they needed to be heard around the world (speaking of which…….. we had visitors from 371 different countries during 2018!!! 371???? I didn’t know that there was that many!) At one stage the spreadsheet for my Top 10 featured over 50 titles; such has been the quality of releases in 2018; but after a lot of deliberation and heartache, here is my own personal Top 20 albums that were released this year and each ‘surprised or fascinated’ me when I first heard them……….. sorry if you aren’t included.
Kim Richey – Edgeland
Malcolm Holcombe – Come Hell or High Water
Big Boy Bloater – Pills
Stephen Fearing – The Secret of Climbing
Curse of Lono – As I Feel
Gem Andrews – North
Ruby Boots – Don’t Talk About It
Bennett Wilson Poole – Bennett Wilson Poole
Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite – No Mercy
Prosecco Socialist – Songs From Behind Bars
Kid Ramos – Old School
John Hiatt – Eclipse Sessions
Susie Vinnick – Shake The Love Around
Abe Partridge – Cotton Fields and Blood For Days
Dave Alvin & Jimmie Dale Gilmore – Downey to Lubbock
Skapones Skapones A Go-Go! (Single) Cosa Nostra Records
You know we like a bit of Ska here at RMHQ; especially of the 2 Tone persuasion so I can’t tell you how excited I was when this arrived in the E-Mail box earlier today! The Skapones are local lads to me; well….. Darlington is technically in the North East, but in the Deep South (…..hahaha) and have been regulars on the scooter and club scene for a couple of years now, and have re-mixed this track from their recent Cradle to the Grave album (*watch this space!) alongside the ultra-rare Live It Up! track as downloads ‘only’ for the Festive Party season. Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think!! Plus, the lads have been invited to play in NYC in 2019 and have opened a Crowdfunder page to help them get there……
A Top Quality Two Tone Tonic For Lovers and Dancers Alike.
On the day after I received this from Bon Viveur, man about town and editor of the influential Ska Fanzine DO THE DOG Kev Flowerdew, a mate called me to say he’d been to see two great bands the night before in town; and guess what……one of them was only bloody Cartoon Violence!
As is his won’t Kev told me bugger all about the band in his accompanying note, but their Facebook page lets us know that these Krazy Kids come from Welsh Wales, don’t appear to have surnames and have evolved from the amazing 3 Minute Warning and Smoke Like a Fish with a Toaster on drums. ….. but hey; it’s all about the music, isn’t it?
Yay Yay and thrice YAY! Opening track Insincere is a fabulous and frantic bittersweet love song, revolving around some mighty fine keyboard playing from Chuzz who also sings as if his life depends on it!
Quite an attention-grabbing start, it has to be said.
As I’m prone to do, a quick scan of the song titles showed what a wicked sense of humour the band have; with Social Animal being a bit of a rye look at the modern world and all its internet bound pitfalls; when just talking to each other is easier and cheaper. Much Ado About Nothing is even cooler than the title would suggest with Sash (a lady) sounding fabulouso as the band belt the living daylights out of their instruments in the background; and it has to be said; Cartoon Violence aren’t afraid of a melody or a catchy chorus too.
Somewhere in my collection I have a great version of a song called Black Sheep by one of the genres originators; but this song is their very own and Jason Childs strong songwriting proves that Ska can still punch a hole in your heart when it wants to; and he does it again with the fast and furious Out With The Old and Careful too…… don’t just dance…..LISTEN!
It’s actually a pleasant surprise these days to say that Cartoon Violence to some degree are re-treading the original Two Tone path, with nods to not just Jerry Dammers era Specials but also the Bodysnatchers and even Madness in the way they hide a kitchen sink opera behind a catchy tune; which brings me to the RMHQ Favourite Song here; Annie; which had it been released in 1980 would have been a Top 20 hit; but sadly this amazing song is destined never to be played on National Radio, which makes me very, very sad indeed.
There’s another song that could and should have also been a massive Hit and that’s the rip-roaring Serpico which had me not only skanking around the living–room but even shuffling in the driving seat of my car as it boomed from both stereos!
While I love most of the music I play and review, but nothing beats some quality up-tempo Ska as a way to shake the cobwebs off after a crap day at work and judging by this, their third album……. Cartoon Violence really are TOP QUALITY.
As is my won’t sadly; when Madness and The Specials were Top of the Pops I not only hoovered up everything I could that was even marginally 2 Tone; but immediately delved back into the Ska back catalogue and history books; and that is where I discovered The Skatalites and my life changed over night.
Hopefully if you are reading this you already know who these cats are and why they are so important; so I won’t bore you with a history lesson apart from saying this was first released in 1964 and because The Original Skatalites were an ever moving ensemble; vocal performances came from a vast array of young singers who went on to international success in their own rite. BTW original copies now change hands for inordinate amounts of money ….. but, onto the music!
The powerful and cinematic Freedom Sounds featuring Tommy McCook will blow your mind, as it did mine when I first heard it. You have to remember that when these tracks were first recorded the band were being influenced by American music; particularly Jazz and that’s the thread behind this luscious stomp with a wonderful saxophone leading proceedings.
That ‘Jazzy’ vibe pervades throughout; but we don’t have to wait very long for the Skatalites trademark ‘bounce’ to appear; with Roland Alphonso on Full Dread still sounding so very exciting over half a century later.
I only know two tracks from this collection, and when you hear You’re Wondering Now you know why it has subsequently become a staple of every Ska band over the last thirty odd years and the other being the red hot and skanking Lee Harvey Oswald who was obviously in the headlines when they were in the studio; hence the title.
Part history lesson and part groundbreaking benchmark; there are some amazing songs and tunes here with The Maytals and Heaven Declare showing us how Ska evolved out of Bluebeat and Jazz; and Ska Ba sounds just like it could be from half a dozen current American Ska bands I can think of……funny, that!
Listening 54 years after these songs were first recorded it’s fascinating to listen to the words in Brown Skin Gal and realise who so little has changed in this department across the world, and the way Delroy Wilson executes Sammy Dead is a forerunner for a whole host of songs in my collection.
In choosing a Favourite Song I could have been uber-cool and gone for Lee Perry singing Mother in Law; but no, I’m choosing Turn Your Lamp Down Low by Jackie Opel simply because when I played this album for the first time last week……I danced to it. I couldn’t help myself, first the hips then the feet and before I knew it I was Skanking in the kitchen, much to Mrs. Magpie’s amusement but when I pressed ‘repeat’ she joined in…..and that is what Ska Music was, is and always be about……dancing!
As it’s a major milestone for me on Friday April 20th I thought I’d do a sort of Top 10 of songs that have influenced me over that 60 years; or 55 years in musical terms!
As regular readers will know I have very eclectic taste which probably started in my childhood as the youngest of four brothers in the 1960’s.
My Mam loved Glenn Miller and the like and my Dad who had a good baritone voice, liked a good singer on the TV; but was very sceptical of modern ‘long haired’ music (cue Stereotype jokes).
Norman, my oldest brother was a Teddy Boy and played Elvis, Cliff and Marty Wilde 78’s whenever he was home from the Navy.
Brian was a bit of a Folkie who eventually introduced me to Blues Music via his massive record collection.
Melvyn was a Mod who loved the Who, Yardbirds and Small Faces then evolved into a Dylan fan and the Singer-songwriters of the 1970’s…..which was an open door for what was to come in my later life.
Me? Born in 58 I was a child of the 70’s starting with T Rex and Slade singles which begat ‘Big Boys Music’with the Faces, Rory Gallagher and the Rolling Stones (which was actually a thread for all three younger siblings).
When you get to #1 on Friday you will realise that there are well over 100 other songs that have influenced me at one time or another but these 10 really are cornerstones to what you read on the Rocking Magpie on a daily basis.
So; here goes with # 3
The Specials – Too Much Too Young.
WOW! As a teenager the cheap This is Reggae and Trojan VA albums were regulars at parties and Youth Club discos but nothing prepared me for the rawness and dancebility of the Specials……OI wore one copy of this EP out and had to buy a second.
OK Madness can sell out football stadiums and many of their peers were pretty much one or two hit wonders; but this song and each Specials LP has the staying power of a nitro powered Ford Escort. Loved it then and still love it in 2018 #Keep The Faith Brothers and Sisters.
Capone and the Bullets
THIS IS FUSION
A Cracking Album of Sparkling and Sparky Skatastic Songs From Scotland.
Where I live in NE England there are 3 or 4 Ska covers bands doing the rounds of the pubs and clubs to pretty much packed houses and a good night is had by all; but take away the Madness and Specials greatest hits alongside a couple of Bad Manners songs there ain’t much left; certainly nothing original.
Yet In Scotland there is and always has been a thriving scene with at any time 5 or 6 bands (with intertwining members) supplying their own original twist on all things Skatastic and not necessarily just the 2 Tone blend.
One of those bands is Capone and the Bullets and I can’t believe it was in 1998 that I bought their debut album on Jam Down Records from the Do The Dog website……20 years? Ye-Gads where does the time go?
With world domination looking ever more unlikely they split the following year; but due to popular demand they reformed in 2012 and have subsequently played numerous festival and Scooter Weekends to huge acclaim; and here have the ‘difficult follow-up album’.
To a Ska aficionado like myself opening track Freedom Train #1 is a really exciting instrumental that blows the speakers off their stands; very much in the style of originators like Harry J’s Allstars
and their ilk……a power-bass, swirling Hammond organ, sparky guitars and enough trumpets and trombones to bring down the Walls of Jericho…..what a start!
That Classic Ska sound prevails throughout the album; with ‘Fusion’ being a very apt description as there are definite elements of Soul, R&B throughout and even Power-Pop on Good Times and perhaps Hypocrite with both are as skankingly danceable as the rest.
Biff! Bop! Pow! Cruel To Be Kind and Love Story are the type of 100mph sing-along/dance-along songs that made The Specials famous and the stories interred inside both sets of lyrics are every bit as thought provoking and sharp as anything Coventry’s finest ever recorded too.
Then there is Detective, a deep Ska-Noir instrumental, and now that the tune exists we need someone like Ian Rankin to invent a Jamaican Detective who solves crimes in the hinterlands of Airdrie and Falkirk for this to be the theme tune. #Fact.
As I inferred earlier This Is Fusion is a perfect description of Capone and the Bullets ‘sound’ and nothing defines that better than our favourite song here, There’s a Light That Never Goes Out. Yes, that one …..the Smith’s classic and a long time favourite of me and my football buddies; but now Skanked Up and Slowed Down to become an edgy Ska love song; seriously it’s amazing, and if a band has the temerity to cover such a powerful song there’s no point in copying the original is it?
So, is the world finally ready for Capone And The Bullets? I certainly hope so as this is a cracking album of sparkling and sparky songs from a bunch of musicians who obviously love what they do….and you will too.