Thursday, December 31, 2009

Madness Tops "Best of 2009" Lists

Editor's note: I was pretty sick over the Christmas break and only now am beginning to feel somewhat like my old, healthy self. So, I'd like to offer my apologies for being absent for so long.

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Madness' extraordinary The Liberty of Norton Folgate was named one of the top albums of 2009 by both MOJO Magazine and All Music Guide. Of particular note, The Liberty of Norton Folgate was ranked #9 in MOJO's "The 50 Best Albums of 2009" article (in their January 2010 issue), which the editors declared was "possibly their finest" release ever. In addition, MOJO's editors highlighted "Dust Devil," one of TLNF's ska songs/singles, as the record's "standout track" (love that song, but "We Are London" is pretty incredible, too).

You might also be interested to know that in MOJO's ten best reggae reissues of 2009 category, Don Drummond's Memorial Album: Deluxe Edition (Trojan/Universal) was ranked at #6 and Laurel Aitken's Ska with Laurel (Cherry Red) was at #10 (I would have gone with either High Priest of Reggae or Laurel Aitken Says Fire--but I've always been a sucker for his skinhead reggae material: make sure to play "Reggae Prayer" for me when I eventually slip this mortal coil).

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn't point out that Pama International received a rave review (4 stars) from David Katz in MOJO for their latest, Pama Outernational....

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I haven't been feeling well enough to put much though into this yet, but which releases would make your list of top 5 or 10 best ska albums of 2009? Post 'em in the comments section!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Moon Ska Records in the Voice

Editor's note: Sorry not to have posted much has been killer...but I have some time off soon and will have lots of time to write! Apologies to all Duff Guide to Ska readers!

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A preview in the Village Voice for The Slackers' upcoming shows at The Knitting Factory Brooklyn has a surprising amount of coverage of their crappy relationship with Moon Records for something that went down ages ago. The piece also has elicited a rather angry retort from Slacker Dave Hillyard, who was so pissed off at how the band's sound was described that he needed to post his comment twice. (He also takes an unnecessary swipe at The Toasters--any excuse to lash out at Bucket over past grievances, I suppose.)

While I have to agree this may not be the most flattering article on the band (read it yourself and cringe--or maybe just check out the photo essay "Bathroom Portraits" on the sidebar--NSFW indeed--who knew this could be waiting for them...all I ever find in club crappers are overflowing toilets and piss-soaked floors), but one should always remember that all press (no matter how backhanded the compliments) is good press, kids...

Hell is being completely ignored.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Is Tiger Woods Ska?

With Tiger Woods in the news and all, we thought that this might be a good time to re-visit this excellent tune, which can be found on This is the Porkers, by our good friends (who else but) The Porkers...

Saturday, December 5, 2009

For that Ska Fan on Your Holiday Gift List!

It may be that it simply appeals to the ska collector in me, or that it possesses some irresistible techno-geek/cool factor, but the Madness Concert Stick (which comes pre-loaded your choice of one of a host of live recordings made at Madness concerts during 2009 and also functions as a 1GB flash drive) seems like a pretty cool Xmas or Hanukkah gift for that special rude boy or girl on your naughty but nice list.

Plus, I do know that the somewhat recent re-design of Madness' classic 'M' logo is pretty sweet-- and anything-Madness related just tends to be pretty incredible, just like the band themselves.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Chas Smash on Madness' Brilliant Year

As part of their year-end wrap-up for 2009, MOJO Magazine's website sports a short interview with Madness' Chas Smash in their "My Brilliant Year" feature.

Here's the money quote:
I quite frankly wish that they'd resolve their differences with Jerry [Dammers], and I recommend that Jerry just goes off and writes the fucking next Specials album and then says to them, 'Look, there it is.' With Jerry it always takes so long, but everything he works on sustains. The brass intro to Free Nelson Mandela - f*ck me, is that uplifting or what?
Madness' The Liberty of Norton Folgate is one of MOJO's top 50 albums of the year, by the way.

The Return of King Chango

Here's an interesting article from The Miami New Times on the return of King Chango. Originally based in NYC, this Latin ska/worldbeat act released two records on David Byrne's Luaka Bop label and made it big on the Latin alternative music scene before disbanding in 2003. A ska factoid that you may or may not know is that founder and lead singer Andrew "Blanquito Man" Blanco was one of Moon Records' freelance graphic designers in the mid 90s--before launching his band, he worked on the first Skarmageddon comp; The Toasters' Skaboom reissue, Dub 56, and Hard Band For Dead; The NY Citizens' The Truth About The NY Citizens; and the Latin Ska comps, among others.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Better Must Come

Despite the fact that there are so many compelling and gifted bands now active on the current US ska scene who are regularly playing out and releasing some excellent new music, ska is in trouble here in the States.

A majority of ska fans (and music fans in general) continue to acquire their music through illegal file sharing rather than by purchasing it, digitally downloaded or otherwise (old news, for sure, but absolutely worth repeating here, again and again). The fans who are inclined to go to shows and actually buy albums and merch have much less disposable income to spend, due to the crappy economy. And the independent ska labels, battered by quarter after quarter of poor sales--and who persevere despite their diminishing returns each year--continue to be increasingly weakened in their ability to finance much of anything beyond the very basics of printing up short runs of new releases to sell (forget about promotions to college/alternative radio, music press, and clubs; ad campaigns; tour support; music videos, etc.).

Ska bands all over the US are doing what they can to get by--local and regional gigs; releasing material via digital tracks on iTunes, CD-Rs, the occasional piece of vinyl or plant-manufactured CD, either self-financed or licensed to one of the indies--all of which is great, but probably won't lead to bigger things. It really makes one question whether or not the US ska scene will ever be in a position to rise beyond its present state.

Clearly, the scene is lacking an energized center, an organizing, hydra-headed entity with the cash, peoplepower, verve, and mad skills to produce, release, and distribute a steady stream of albums (digital or tangible); to put together larger package tours that are the bread and butter of both established acts and newcomers; and effectively promote everything to the core of fans and beyond in a manner that actually makes a profit (so both the bands and label peeps who do the work get paid) to keep it all functioning and moving forward. You know, a label like...Moon Records, which in a somewhat similar climate in the early 90s (bad economy; a fragmented, disorganized ska scene) was able to help successfully develop a nationwide syndicate of college radio stations, local newspapers and zines, and indie record shops to help promote and sell ska releases, as well as forge a coast-to-coast network of ska-friendly venues for the well-established bands to tour (and local acts to play).

But the Catch-22 of the matter is that the model of selling albums that worked well for decades is obviously no longer viable, since a generation of music fans have abandoned it for the '77 NYC blackout-like looting of the digital age. Where and how are the cash-deprived labels going to find the resources to invest in and promote new acts? The only bands that stand half-a-chance of earning a livelihood from their music are those who made their names in the pre-file sharing era (if The Specials come over to tour they will, no doubt, rake in the bucks--but a new release, however unlikely that is, would probably tank; and I'm really curious to see how the new Mighty Mighty Bosstones record will fare...). In this environment, the prospects for up-and-coming ska bands to take things to the next level are kind of bleak.

While no one that I've spoken with seems to have been able to formulate a reasonably viable solution to all this (and I have no radical new model to offer for successfully selling music in the digital era), let me offer this fairly simple suggestion--consider it a New Year's resolution for 2010: ska fans need to open their wallets if we want the scene to survive and thrive.

We need to change our ways.

I'm not admonishing anyone for past sins, real or imagined--and don't want to get into recriminations over this whole file sharing business. (Well, apart from the fact that it is illegal to do so, since it violates the bands' copyrights; denies musicians the opportunity to support themselves off their own blood, sweat, and tears; and is killing parts of the music industry that are worth salvaging, such as indie labels, record stores, local clubs, and your favorite ska band.)

If we want the ska scene to keep going, all of us who call ourselves fans need to collectively pay for it. In our capitalistic, free-market society, it's just how things work. So now is the time to turn off YouTube and get out to see a gig (and buy something from a band's merch table); yank out our iPod ear buds and wander into a record shop to pick up some releases (if one is left where you live!); and shun the file sharing sites in favor of ordering a CD, album, or download from Megalith, Jump Up, Stubborn, and Asian Man, or directly from your favorite ska band.

We've got to support (in every meaning of the word) ska bands and labels if we want them to keep on doing what we want them to do: make the music we love. The bills have to be paid to keep the scene going...or eventually the only thing left to do will be to decide who'll be the last one to turn out the lights after everything fades away.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Interview with Paul Gil of The NY Citizens and Legal Gender

Marco on the Bass has a terrific interview with Paul Gil, the original bassist for The NY Citizens (as well as for its previous incarnation as Legal Gender). It's a must read.

The Duff Guide to Ska has a particular interest in the NYCs (they were one of our favorite bands back in day--one of the best ska shows I've ever seen was The NY Citizens and The Scofflaws at The Pyramid in May 1989). We've done some documenting of this band on our own--read this, this, and this. Also check here, here, and there.

Late Breaking News: NYC Ska Splash This Saturday Night

I've actually been checking The Knitting Factory Brooklyn website over the past several days to see which bands will be featured at the next Ska Splash and there's been nada. Bupkus. I was beginning to think it wasn't going to happen (especially in light of the two Slackers' shows later this month at The Knit). So it's a pleasant surprise to receive late word courtesy of Stubborn Records of the line-up for this Saturday night's show:
Saturday, December 5, 2009
NYC Ska Splash Saturday
Silver Dollar (vintage ska outta Jersey)
The Have Nots (Boston ska-punk)
Predator Dub Assassins (Jersey rub-a-dub/reggae)
The Moderators (Wash, DC ska/jazz/reggae)
w/Selecter Jah Burns spinning all night long!

The Knitting Factory, 361 Metropolitan Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211
(347) 529-6696
@ 7:00 pm : $10 adv / $12 dos
All Ages to enter / 21+ to drink

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Stranger Things Have Happened

Just before the Thanksgiving break (and here I offer my apologies for not posting much last week--between getting together with extended family and painting our kitchen, I just didn't have the time or energy left over to write anything coherent or relevant), I went to a "publishing party" at my daughter's second grade classroom (where all the parents come to read their child's big writing project) wearing a Toasters "Night Train to Moscow" t-shirt. The assistant teacher, whom I really like and respect, comes up to me and says, "The Toasters--I used to see them all the time back when I as 13 and hanging out at The Wetlands every weekend." Despite feeling kind of old and awkward at this, I tell him that I used to work with the band at their label, etc. and had just seen Bucket a few weeks earlier, etc. at a gig in Brooklyn. Not sure if he was surprised or impressed by this (neither was intended), but what a weird connection--my ska past haunts me wherever I go!

Thanks to John at HP Skazine for the holiday illustration! The choice of food here might not really be Thanksgiving-y, but the sentiment sure is right. And continued respect to Mr. Doug Trendle for having the longest tongue in ska.

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Several Duff Guide readers have been kind enough to alert me that I'm on somebody's naughty list...(and here we are just a few weeks away from Xmas!):

The irony is that as I am a Verizon Wireless customer...have been for years.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Jerry Dammers In The Studio!

Well, not THAT In the Studio. Trojan Records reports that Jerry Dammers is working in the studio with the Trojan Sound System--we assume that he is producing some tracks.

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In related Trojan news, the label is preparing a Millie Small retrospective of her recordings for Island and Fontana Records:
Work on the eagerly anticipated ‘Best of Millie’ is nearing completion, with leading designer Tony Lyons putting the finishing touches to the CD artwork.

As previous announced, the collection is due out in mid-January and will feature 20 of the singer’s most sought after tracks from her 5 year spell with Island and Fontana Records in the mid-sixties.

The majority of the work featured appears on CD for the first time and is available on any format for thirty years or more. Highlights include her UK chart hits, ‘My Boy Lollipop’, ‘Sweet William’ and ‘Bloodshot Eyes’, while also of note are a wonderful version of ‘Hey Boy – Hey Girl’ featuring Jimmy Cliff, some sublime recordings arranged by Jamaican Jazz legend, Ernest Ranglin, and the previously unissued original backing track to the singer’s signature tune, replete with the original harmonica break, performed by British R&B hero, Jimmy Powell.

1. My Boy Lollipop
2. Tom Hark
3. Sweet William
4. Chilly Kisses
5. Ooh Ooh (aka Ooo-Ooo) – Jackie & Millie
6. Wings Of A Dove
7. Killer Joe
8. Be My Guest
9. Since I Met You Baby – Jackie & Millie
10. Don‘t You Know
11. My Street
12. You Better Forget
13. Pledging My Love – Jackie & Millie
14. Bloodshot Eyes
15. Sugar Dandy
16. What Am I Living For
17. Hey Boy, Hey Girl – Millie & Jimmy Cliff
18. I’m Blue – Spencer Davis Group, featuring Millie
19. Oh Henry
20. My Boy Lollipop (instrumental) – Ernest Ranglin & the Five Dimensions
Trojan is seeking hi-res scans of the 7" and LP paper labels and sleeves of these releases, plus any other Millie Small-related memorabilia from this period. Contact the label at if you have something relevant in your collection.

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Perhaps inspired by the 2 Tone label site article "Under the Covers" highlighting all of the 60s-era ska and rocksteady songs that the 2 Tone bands covered, Trojan is also releasing Ska Madness:
To mark the 30th anniversary of the birth of 2 Tone, Trojan, in association with Spectrum, are releasing a collection of records that inspired the bands that led the Ska Revival.

Due out in November and entitled Ska Madness, the CD has been compiled and annotated by honorary Special and former Bodysnatcher Rhoda ‘The Boiler’ Dakar and is to feature 22 original cuts of songs later revived by the Specials, the Selecter, Madness, the Beat, the Bodysnatchers and Bad Manners – making it by far the most authoritative collection of its kind.

The track-listing is as follows…

1. Rudy, A Message To You – Dandy Livingstone – The Specials covered this and took it into UK Top 10 in 1979.

2. Long Shot Kick De Bucket – The Pioneers – Regularly performed live the Specials featured this on their UK Number 1 ‘Too Much Too Young’ EP.

3. (People Get Ready) Let’s Do Rocksteady – Dandy – The Bodysnatchers broke into the UK Top 30 with a cover of this in 1980.

4. Jackpot – The Pioneers – A staple of the Beat’s live shows, a cover was included on their debut LP ‘I Just Can’t Stop It’.

5. Carry Go Bring Come – Justin Hinds & the Dominoes – The Selecter covered this for the flip of their excellent ‘Missing Words’ single.

6. Skinhead Moonstomp – Symarip – Another Specials cover from the ‘Too Much Too Young’ EP.

7. My Boy Lollipop (rhythm for My Collie) – Millie – A UK Top 10 hit for Bad Manners as ‘My Girl Lollipop’ UK.

8. Rough Rider – Lloydie & the Lowbites – Another live staple for the Beat and again featured on their debut LP.

9. Monkey Man – The Maytals – An early live favourite for the Specials, a version featured on their debut long play.

10. Liquidator – The Harry J. All Stars – Again the Specials included a live rendition of this on their 1980 ‘Too Much Too Young’ EP.

11. Too Experienced – Jackie Edwards – The Bodysnatchers covered this for their second 2 Tone single.

12. Enjoy Yourself – Guy Lombardo – The Specials featured a version of this on their second album ‘More Specials’.

13. 007 – Desmond Dekker & The Aces – A live version by the Bodysnatchers featured in the film 2 Tone movie ‘Dance Craze’.

14. Sea Cruise – Jackie Edwards – Reggae legend and honoury Special Rico covered this for his debut 2 Tone single. Never previously issued on CD!

15. Time Hard (aka Every Day) – The Pioneers – The Selecter’s debut album featured a version of this entitled ‘Everyday’.

16. Train To Skaville – The Ethiopians – The Selecter featured this on the flip of their UK top 40 single ‘The Whisper’.

17. Fattie Fattie – Clancy Eccles – Bad Manners featured a version of this on their ‘Ska ‘n’ B’ album.

18. Can’t Get Used To Losing You – Danny Ray – The Beat scored a UK Top 5 hit with this in 1983.

19. Elizabethan Reggae – Boris Gardiner – This featured on the ‘Party Party’ soundtrack and on Bad Manners’ ‘Rare & Fatty’ album.

20. That Man Is Forward (The Joker) – Duke Reid’s Group – Title track from Rico’s 2 Tone album.

21. Monkey Spanner – Dave & Ansel Collins – A live favourite of the Bodysnatchers.

22. Starvation – The Pioneers – A version of this became 2 Tone/reggae artists’ answer to the Band Aid charity single.
Interesting for what is left Prince Buster, Laurel Aitken, Skatalites, or Toots. Licensing issues or prohibitively high fees, perhaps?

Also, the Bad Manners Rare and Fatty album referenced above was released on Moon Ska as sort of a follow-up to their amazing Heavy Petting--a record that would have been a smash had Buster ever made it over to tour (we tried...I was on the phone a lot with his manager...he was supposed to headline the 2nd New England Ska Festival in 1998 and then tour about the States, but he pulled out in the 11th hour for health reasons?).

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

File Under: Everybody Goes Through a Ska Phase? Plus The Times Predicts the Imminent Rise of the Fourth Wave!

From a November 6th, 2009 New York Times interview ("Stirring Ska, Rock, R&B and Hip-Hop Into a Freak-Folk Stew") with major label "freak folker" darling Devendra Banhart by Jon Caramanica:
Q. Were you into skate videos at all back then [growing up in California in the 90s]?

A. Of course. That’s how I got into music. [The skateboarder] Steve Olson from [the company] Foundation had a David Bowie song from “Hunky Dory,” “Quicksand,” and in a Chocolate [Skateboards] video there was a Desmond Dekker song, “007 (Shantytown).” That started me on this whole rude-boy thing. I wore suits and just listened to Blue Beat, ska, mento, calypso, reggae. At 15 I discovered girls and ’90s ska. Reel Big Fish and masturbation. That’s the truth.

Q. We’re maybe a year or two away from a ska revival.

A. The fourth ska revival. I feel it coming for sure. The last song on our record is a ska song. Even my clothes. People might say it’s gay Orville Redenbacher, but no — ska revival.
That's your money quote right there, kids: Even my clothes. People might say it’s gay Orville Redenbacher, but no — ska revival.

Hell, even though The Times isn't known for monitoring the pulse of pop sub-cultures, they did get it right last time in '95--why not now?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Don't Stop Till You Get Enough Dirty Reggae

I forgot to mention that last weekend I saw a couple of copies of The Drastics' MJ a Rocker "bootleg" LP at Rock and Soul--an old skool shop near Madison Square Garden/Penn Station with electronics in the front and LPs, 12" singles, and DJ equipment in the back (they even have a couple of turntables set up so you can listen to the vinyl--loudly!). Rock and Soul mostly carries hip-hop, but there are some reggae and new wave (!) albums and singles to be found there. Having said that, this was one of the last places I expected to come across this LP.

MJ a Rocker was proudly displayed on the shelf with a slew of Michael Jackson vinyl...

New 33 1/3: One Step Beyond

My friend John at HP Skazine tipped me off that the 33 1/3 book series (published by Continuum Books), which features authors writing about specific rock and alternative albums, has recently released a volume on the recording of Madness' One Step Beyond by Terry Edwards, a musician and frequent Madness collaborator who was there 30 years ago...

While I'm waiting for my copy to arrive via Amazon, here's a review of the book that can be found at Popmatters.

I'll also be posting a short review of the expanded re-issue of One Step Beyond in the near future.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Extensive Interviews with The Specials on MOJO Website

The MOJO Magazine website has posted extensive interviews done by Danny Eccleston with each of The Specials (except Jerry Dammers). Read them here.

According to the interview with Sir Horace Gentleman, prospects for a U.S. tour and new material aren't that promising:
So after Christmas, are there any plans?
The plan is to leave England alone next year, unless something wonderful comes up. And I think there are loads of festivals in Europe. We could just work weekends. There was talk about going to America. Though our first attempt wasn't particularly successful - and the work the "Number 2s" did over there devalued our stock. But there's loads of places we could go. I understand South America is a burgeoning market. We spent the latter part of July in Australia and did three cities. It's amazing the amount of people who used to live in Coventry who now live in Australia, and they all came to the show. So I suppose we could go back there and play a few more cities.

Can you envisage any recording?
No, not at present. It's not a thing we've talked about. Give the people what they want, and people want to hear A Message to You, Rudy, Too Much Too Young and Rat Race.
Money quote #1:
Are you fed up of talking about him [Jerry Dammers]?
Terry Hall
: I understand why people ask about Jerry. I'm fascinated by Jerry and why he's not doing it, and I'm in the group! I can't get my head round it at all.
Money quote #2:
Lynval Golding: Jerry Dammers is an inspiration. He taught me to be strong and to never give in. Because Jerry never gives in. And that's why we had to do this without him.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Reggae Party Tonight in Alphabet City

Reggae Party at Otto's!
(538 East 14th Street, between Avenues A & B, NYC)
Thursday, November 12, 2009, 9:00 pm, 21+
DJ in the front, bands in the back, dancing all over.
No Cover!

The Line-up:
9:00 pm - Justin Rothberg Trio (guitarist for King Django, Equilibrians, and many others)
10:00 pm - The Hard Times
11:00 pm - The Equilibrians (Jah Point and his all star band)

Move Your Mule (ska/reggae party) after!

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Can't make it? On Saturday (11/14/09), head to Bushwick Music Studio (L train to Montrose, 55 Waterbury Street, Brooklyn) for Ryan Scroggins and the Trenchtown Texans, The Forthrights, The Hard Times, Vic Ruggiero, and The Above. Show starts at 8:00 pm; $8 gets you in the door; it's all ages; and PBR is a cheap $2.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Duff Gig Review: Across the Aisle, Tip the Van, Brunt of It, Beat Brigade, Bigger Thomas (11/7/09)

A decent-sized crowd converged on The Knitting Factory (Crookland) for the first of many Ska Splash Saturdays to come, which will be taking place the first Saturday of each month, from November onward.

This particular evening, New York's own Across the Aisle was first at bat and delivered a terrific set of their super-charged ska/pop-punk. ATA's songwriting is powerful and catchy (the past few mornings, I've woken up with one of their songs playing on a loop in my head); their performances were really tight (the interplay between lead vocalist Megg Howe and trumpeter/singer Jay Pintar was particularly good--and their relatively new guitarist Aaron Trigg gives them some extra crunch and bite when they rock out); and the band looked like they were having a blast on-stage. What's not to like? Their set included "Put Up Your Dukes," "Roots," "Better Off" (which I wished I had videotaped, as it's one of my favorite songs), "Total Stranger" (I should have taped this one, too, since it was stunning), "Everybody Lies," "Born Dirty," "Beer Song," and "Walk of Shame" (I shot video clips of the last two songs, which are posted below). The only downer was that they hit the stage early in the night and the room wasn't as full as it at should have been for a band this good. (The next time you can catch ATA in NYC is during Thanksgiving weekend--Saturday, November 28 at the Trash Bar in Williamsburg with Jersey's Hub City Stompers.)

Across the Aisle also has a brand new EP out (sort of a preview of their forthcoming debut album) recorded and produced by their drummer, Jonathan Vergara, titled "Change Nothing!" (to be reviewed soon by The Duff Guide to Ska). They were selling copies of the EP at their merch table, along with--and this is a nice touch--Kelly green ties complete with ATA badges in the center of each of them.

Even though they're from just one state over, I'm ashamed to admit that I was completely unfamiliar with Connecticut's Tip the Van (they've been around since 2002) and was both surprised/psyched to find that they are another female-fronted ska act (vocalists Nicole and Simone Olivia, and trombonist/keyboardist Stephanie Allen). Tip the Van pump out a mighty wall of ska-rock (though the video below is more on the ska side of things) that lives somewhere between Dance Hall Crashers and a band like Reel Big Fish (check out their latest EP, Passion, Love, and Pride on iTunes). Whether one prefers more post-2 Tone or vintage ska to the punk or rock spectrum of ska hypenates, there is no question that Tip the Van puts on a helluva good show.

Brunt of It cranked out punishing hardcore-ska turned up to 11 (thanks, Jay, for the extra set of earplugs!) with Glenn Beck look-alike singer Boofish riding atop the tsunami of noise. If you like hardcore, you'll dig this act. Apparently, Brunt of It spawned out of the ruins of Hoodlum Empire, which was a great, snotty Oakland, CA-based ska band in the 90s (I still have their 1994 CD, Looooking Goood!, which could be described as Fishbone's debut EP crossed with the white-boy rap/punk of the Beastie Boys' Cooky Puss or Licensed to Ill with songs worth tracking down like "Buried in Debt," "Charlie and Me," and "Drunk at Work").

I'm really embarrassed to admit that I missed (!?!) Beat Brigade's set, as I was in The Kontrol Room talking with King Django about the current, utterly crappy state of the indie/underground/ska music industry and what any possible way out to better days might be (neither of us had any great epiphanies--more on this in an upcoming post). And apologies to Bigger Thomas--we had to leave before they played. It was getting late, my friend and I had downed many cervezas, and we both had kids to deal with in the AM...

Earlier in the night, Knitting Factory VP Shay Vishawadia told me that he intends to arrange for several ska/reggae DJs to be on hand at each of the Ska Splash nights to spin some vinyl and help make them more of a regular event for the ska/rocksteady/reggae faithful to come to and hang out (as well as enjoy/check out all of the great ska bands that are currently on the scene...). Here's to hoping that Ska Splash develops into an even bigger ska happening each month--the bands and this club need and deserve your support!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

French MIS Madness 30th Anniversary Tribute CD Available Through Madshop!

The terrific 30 Years of Madness tribute album put together by the French MIS and released on Big 8 Records is now available through the official Madness website. While you are at the Madshop, you can also pick up the deluxe re-issue of One Step Beyond, the new Total Madness greatest hits comp, and the stunningly brilliant The Liberty of Norton Folgate.

Friday, November 6, 2009

More Specials in December MOJO Magazine

The December 2009 issue of MOJO Magazine (UK) has a fascinating article on the break-up of The Specials (when Fun Boy 3 split off in the 80s--check out the awesome photo of Terry, Lynval, and Neville in the NYC subway to the right); Terry Hall's terrible bouts of depression; and the drama surrounding the 30th anniversary reunion (Jerry doesn't come off to well in this recounting of it).

Make sure to pick up a copy of MOJO on a regular basis, as its probably one of the best music magazines left in the business.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Complete Control

Here are two kind of ska-related items from the All Music Guide News Roundup blog (via Rolling Stone):
The surviving members of Sublime — Eric Wilson and Bud Gaugh — have been ordered by a California court to stop using the band’s name. Wilson and Gaugh recently performed at the SmokeOut Festival with 21 year-old Rome Ramirez, who replaced the departed frontman Brad Nowell. According to festival footage, the group sounded a lot like Sublime. According to the judge’s ruling, however, Sublime ended with Nowell’s death 13 years ago.
In other legal news, No Doubt is suing Activision, maker of the popular videogame Band Hero. The reason? Gamers can use No Doubt’s avatars at any point during gameplay, regardless of the music being replicated onscreen. In a lawsuit filed today against Activision, No Doubt argues that such a breach of contract turns the band into “a virtual karaoke circus act.”
A few Duff Guide to Ska observations:

Everyone knows that Brad overdosed and is dead, so no one is going to be somehow tricked into thinking that they are buying a ticket to see the original and complete Sublime. If his band mates want to revive the name and music, his estate should loosen up and permit use of the Sublime name--but still earn a cut from all of the gigs, merchandise, etc. that is generated by the continuing Sublime members (and donate the proceeds to drug rehab groups, if they want some good to come out of this). Essentially, give the people what they want: nostalgia (it sells well).

In No Doubt's case--and I'm assuming that they are making a substantial amount of money by lending their avatars to Activision's game--the band covers other people's material (Talk Talk's "It's My Life," for example), so what is the big deal if their avatars do it? (Isn't this just kind of "extending the brand" with gamers and even kind of fun/humorous to have "Gwen Stefani" "sing" a Metallica or Bon Jovi track?) Yes, Activision absolutely should have been completely upfront about how they were going to use the band's images--common sense would dictate this--and No Doubt should be upset about that, but maybe they should have tried to just re-negotiate the deal (i.e.: demand even more money), but not make a huge, public stink about it that makes them appear to be a bit like spoiled rock stars (and I'm categorially not stating that they are...)? Fans love it when stars don't take themselves too seriously.

Money sure does ruin everything, don't it?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Duff Review: Various Artists - 30 Years of Madness

Various Artists
30 Years of Madness: A 30th Anniversary Madness Tribute
Big 8 Records

Conceived by Jerome Lanvin of Big 8 Records and executed by Jean-Pierre Boutellier and his fellow Madness fans in the French MIS (Madness Information Service) as a means to honor the Nutty Boys three decades after the release of their first single in 1979 ("The Prince" b/w "Madness," of course), 30 Years of Madness: A 30th Anniversary Madness Tribute is a terrific celebration of this ska/pop phenomenon. As with any tribute or cover album, the challenge is for the bands to negotiate the right balance between staying true to a song's essence (and not violating the listener's overall familiarity and affection for it), while bringing something new, worthwhile, and compelling to their interpretation. Overall, the majority of the 23 bands on 30 Years of Madness have been able to achieve this--the quality control is fairly high--giving Madness fans a lot to like here.

Even though the quotient of ska dropped significantly with each subsequent album after Madness' superb debut--and most of their hits were out-and-out pop songs--it is gratifying to discover how many of the acts on 30 Years of Madness have reverse-engineered the pop hits into ska tunes (see Gordon's "Michael Caine" or Desorden Publico's "It Must Be Love" among others). In doing so, it's like they've reclaimed Madness for the ska scene--which seems appropriate, since the ska faithful never deserted the band.

From this album, it's also clear that, despite Madness' determined Anglo-centrism (which never played well in the US, with the great exception, of course, of "Our House"), the group's influence extended far beyond the British Empire: on this comp, acts from non-English speaking world (Venezuela, Mexico, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Sweden, and the Czech Republic) vastly outnumber the few from the UK, US, and New Zealand (some of this may be due to the fact that the French MIS put this together; there are a ton of French acts represented; and a French label released it--and you know what? Vive le France, baby!).

Standout tracks on 30 Years of Madness include Steff Tej & Ejectes' "The Prince"; Inspector's rambunctious ska take on "Our House"; Indeed's gorgeously fragile "The Sun and the Rain," with its sweet female vocals; Desorden Publico's incredible Latin-goes-ska take on "It Must Be Love," turning a rather syrupy love song into a sexy romp; Statuto's Italian version of "Johnny the Horse"; Freddy Loco featuring Rocksteady Freddie from NY Ska Jazz Ensemble on a swinging vintage ska version of "The Return of The Los Palmas 7"; Gordon's urgently pleading "Michael Caine"; Cherry Boop & The Sound Makers' "Cardiac Arrest," whose female singer's seemingly helium-fueled voice is almost ethereal; and the simply awesome Lower East Side of Manhattan klezmer ska of "Nakht Shifi Ken Kayro," sung in Yiddish by King Django, but instantly recognizable as "Night Boat to Cairo."

There are a few covers that don't work as well as some of the aforementioned cuts, but when we are dealing with a catalogue as cherished as Madness', maybe it's just too hard to be objective when the originals are close to perfection and the versions seem just a bit off the mark (to me, you may love them--we're in very subjective territory here). And then there are some tracks that I wish had been covered here, like "Land of Hope and Glory" or "House of Fun" or "Driving in My Car." Yet these are mere quibbles with a tribute album that deserves a prominent place in the Madness-related canon.

Perhaps the critical comment that should carry the most weight regarding 30 Years of Madness is that, according to JP, Madness have heard this compilation and love it! Chris Foreman, Madness' guitarist, has told the French MIS that, "The tribute album is overall quite brilliant and very touching to me."

The Duff Guide to Ska Grade: A+ (for effort)/B+ (the results)

(30 Years of Madness is available through Amazon France, but should be for sale through Stubborn Records and the offical Madness website soon.)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Duff Gig Review: The Toasters, The Forthrights, Hey Stranger, and The Stress (10/30 at The Knitting Factory)

Despite my grousing about having to travel to Brooklyn to see this bill at the new Knitting Factory (I'm a spoiled Manhattanite), I found it, in all honesty, to be an easy trip: L train to the first stop in Brooklyn--Bedford Avenue--and then a two-minute walk to the club. The excellent new space is split between a large bar with plenty of booths and huge tilted windows that look out directly onto the dancefloor and stage (it resembles an oversized control booth in a recording studio--the bar is actually called The Kontrol Room--and when I ran into KF Vice Prez of East Coast Productions Shay Vishawadia, who was both The Skatalites' and Laurel Aitken's manager in a former life, he told me that the venue is purposefully set up in this manner, as The Knitting Factory operates several associated labels and they plan to offer the club as a place to cut albums) and a medium-sized performance space (through a good deal smaller than the first floor room of their old Manhattan joint). Also, the beer was reasonably priced for a club, which is always a welcome turn of events.

Just outside the club, a chalkboard sandwich sign listed the line-up for the night and times the bands were scheduled to play--and it was a nice surprise to find that The Stress had been added to the bill at the last minute, since I've been wanting to see them since I ran across their MySpace page a few weeks ago. (You can download their Muk! Muk! EP for free from Witty Banter Records--I tried to buy a hard copy of the EP, but the band forgot to bring them down from Rhode Island--d'oh!--so they gave me a free badge for my effort.) The Stress' sound is a cross between the soulful rocksteady stylings of The Bluebeats and the melodic, if quirky, ska of Easy Big Fella (both bands feature their keyboardist also as their singer). Wish I had videotaped a song or two of theirs to post here, like "What Cheer" or the tune that mentioned dropping bombs (any help here, Stress fans?) that's not on the EP. It was still pretty early when they hit the stage and since the room hadn't filled up yet, I felt a little self-conscious whipping out the time I won't be so bashful. The superb Toasters/Void Union drummer Jesse Hayes played with the band, giving the rhythm section an extra shot of power and precision. Great songwriting and spot-on performances here--making The Stress a band to make sure to keep on your radar.

Hey Stranger, decked out in pirate gear, rocked out with their ska-pop-punk sound (think 1996 or '97, if you lived through it) and threw plastic gold coins into the audience now and then (hopefully missing the fan in the full-body penguin costume, who danced the entire night and probably lost 10 lbs sweating in that suit). I was a bit disappointed that no one in the band made themselves up like Johnny Depp in the second "Pirates of the Caribbean" flick with all of those extra painted-on eyes...

This was the first time I've seen The Forthrights, who performed a great set of rocksteady tracks (see their video at the bottom of this post). At the show, I picked up a copy of their debut vinyl single (pressed in Jamaica, natch) on Stubborn Records (preview the cuts on their MySpace page) and their sound is very much what you would expect to be associated with Django's label. Very good stuff.

I caught about 35 minutes of The Toasters' set, but had to leave a bit early, as the MTA was doing track work on the L line after midnight (which would've made traveling back to Manhattan a nightmare). As always, The Toasters delivered the goods--top notch performances from an extraordinary catalogue of songs (I shot video clips of four songs from this set--"Shocker," "I'm Running Right Through the World," "Pirate Radio," and "Sitting on Top of the World"--which are posted below). Since the lot of the constantly touring musician is a rough one, the Toasters core of Buck, Jesse Hayes, and Andy Pearson (on bass) is usually augmented by a rotating crew of sidemen (the time out, the horn section was comprised of Sander Loog from Mr. Review and formerly of The Beatbusters on sax, and Cooper Barton on trombone), which ends up giving the band a bit of a different feel each time you see them. The Toasters' ex-keyboardist Dave Barry also joined the band (though Buck told me earlier in the night that he was only sitting in for this gig, not the rest of their tour or the Ska is Dead IV extravaganza--which is a shame, as the keys are such an integral part of their sound, and Dave is so damn good). The Toasters are going to be all over the East Coast, South, and Southwest this November, so make sure to catch them!

None of my usual ska gig mates were in town/able to come out and play, so it was extra nice to run into some familiar faces in the crowd (in addition to Buck and Shay), including Coolie Ranx, singer Megg Howe of Across the Aisle, and Nicole Lapusan (AKA punk rock singer/guitarist Miss Pie, who also used to be a big ska promoter and DJ on the "Ska's the Limit" radio show on KDHX in St. Louis back in the mid-90s and would play the hell out of all the Moon promos I sent her). All in all a really good night for ska music and people at The Knitting Factory Brooklyn...

Thursday, October 29, 2009

More Upcoming NYC Ska Shows in October and November

In addition to The Toasters/Forthrights/Hey Stranger gig this Friday night at The Knitting Factory, you can catch Dub is a Weapon on Halloween at Zebulon, as well as these shows the first weekend of November...

And then, of course, there is Skanksgiving II (surely Moon sponsored a few of these back at The Wetlands in the 90s?) at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ on Sunday, November 15. The bill features The Toasters, Mustard Plug, The Pilfers, Voodoo Glow Skulls, Deal's Gone Bad, Hub City Stompers, The Speakeasies, Avon Junkies, and Explosive Sheep. This is an all-ages show with doors opening at 2:30 pm.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sunday Papers, Part 2

The preview of The Toasters' 10/30 NYC gig at The Knitting Factory from the AV Club/New York City:
Though it goes through droughts of serious un-hipness, ska will never die: It’s just too fun and infectious to give up for good. (Plus, there are always fresh legions of impressionable high-school kids who don’t know how uncool this stuff is.) Hence the continuing success of The Toasters, one of the best ska acts to do right by the Jamaican style since the heady days of England’s Two-Tone scene. Staying true to the music’s all-inclusive spirit, the group plays the kind of ska that has been ripped into by countless punk acts over the years—but no amount of misrepresentation can mess up the infectious up-down skank that Toasters songs basically require.
Decent write-up--but some of the coolest people I've had the pleasure to know are into ska. Am I so out of it that the un-hip in my orbit just seem cool to me? Or is it that the alterna/indie-kids are just so damn snotty/greater than thou that they think their poop don't stank?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Duff Interview: Megg and Jay of Across the Aisle

According to us, "Across the Aisle crank out loads of hooky, tart, and rambunctious ska-punk-pop in the vein of such 90s acts as Dance Hall Crashers and Save Ferris, but with Mighty Mighty Bosstones Devil's Night Out-type muscle and bite" and are one of the really interesting players on the resurgent NYC ska scene. Currently, the band is in the midst of recording its second EP or first full-length--it all depends on how things work out--but Jay Pintar and Megg Howe were kind enough to take the time to reply to some questions from The Duff Guide to Ska...

Duff Guide to Ska: How is the recording of the new album going? Is the ATA sound changing dramatically from what was captured on The Mercy EP? Who is producing it and which studio are you using?

Jay Pintar (trumpet): Recording the new album has been a steady process. We've hit a few hangups...illness with the seasons changing, and it's always a challenge to coordinate six schedules. Still, what we have thus far is sounding really great, and we're crazy pumped for it.

The sound itself, I don't feel, has changed that much since we recorded Mercy. Some of the tunes we're recording we've been playing for a year or more, so they're pretty much second nature to us at this point. However, we've had Aaron, our new guitarist, since August, and it's been great to hear someone else's new take on material. He's definitely a rocker, he takes liberties that the others did not. He also built his own pedal board, so there are will be a lot more guitar effects on the new recording. Also, when we recorded Mercy in early '08, I was the only horn player at the time, so I recorded three-part horns. Jackie, our alto sax player, came along five months later. It's nice to be laying down tracks with her by my side.

This new recording, in light of these delightful economic times, will be self-produced and recorded in our drummer's home studio. JV [John Vergara], our drummer, has education and experience in audio engineering, and between the six of us, we acquired everything we need to rehearse and record without breaking the bank. We dig it.

Megg Howe (vocals): Recording is so much fun! I really enjoy the process, 'cause you can really appreciate everyone's "part" in each song. Sometimes you forget to really listen to what each instrument sounds like, so when it's stripped down by itself sometimes I say, "Oh, wow, yeah, that's what you're playing there?! It's so brilliant!" So we're all in this basement recording together, so it's funny when I start recording vocals and I take off my headphones--at least two members say they had no idea what I was saying before. It's important for everyone to really hear the lyrics--then they can put my understanding of the idea behind the song and they can feel it too.

DGTS: Will the album be self-released or have you been shopping it around to some labels?

JP: We'll definitely do some shopping. It really depends on whether we end up recording a full-length album or another EP.

MH: Yeah, hopefully it'll create a buzz and, you never know, it could be really beneficial to have some backing!

DGTS: How did the Checkerboard Kids show taping go? When will your episode be broadcast?

JP: The taping went really well! A couple of us were a little under the weather, but all things considered, it went really well. We also had a handful of fans and friends who made it out to the studio to support us! We really appreciated that.

Still no word on when it's going to air [update: it will be on 10/27/09 at midnight!], but there are a couple of video clips from it on YouTube. Here's one of the clips.

MH: Taping was a blast and Phil [Esquire] is adorable. But I was so, so sick, I was getting over a cold/sore throat and losing my voice earlier that week. So here and there you can hear my voice cracking, 'cause I was really pushing it. I was upset that I couldn't give it 100%.

DGTS: What does "Across the Aisle" refer to?

JP: Well, we really wanted "Color Me Badd" (that's with two Ds, now) but, it was already taken...

Seriously,'s a new take on the political expression. Ordinarily, it refers to the difference between Democrats and Republicans, in that they're so far removed from the other party's interests and ideals that they're almost literally "across the aisle" from one another...yadda yadda... We reinterpret it to mean, quite basically, diverse. When it comes to our backgrounds, ethnicites, orientations, genders, religions, and especially our musical interests and experiences, we're all over the map. So, although we're "across the aisle" from one another, we've come together to make our own music.

It's VERY important to note that when this description is spoken with inflection and told with the use of hand gestures, it doesn't come off the slightest bit pretentious. :-)

DGTS: And how/why did you decide on Kelly green for the band's look/image? (What's it all about?)

JP: I think it was back in summer '07. Megg, our then guitarist Joe, and I were all on the subway. The conversation pretty much broke down like this:

JAY: Megg, what color are your eyes?

MEGG: They're green.

JAY: Mine, too!

JOE: Woah, me too...

ALL Weird.

JAY: We need a band gimmick. Maybe we should all DRESS in green.

MEGG: I like KELLY green.

JAY: Me, too!

JOE: I'm WEARING kelly green!

JAY: Done.

I'm sure I paraphrased. Ultimately, it is, quite simply, a gimmick. Hopefully, we'll be remembered for our music, but if someone should say, "Oh yeah...aren't they that band with the green and stuff..." then we've done some good. And we started with the neckties just this year.

MH: Haha! Yeah, I forgot about that. Nice, Jay! That's totally 'howe' it went down! But seriously, everyone looks good in kelly green!

DGTS: I think I read that you and Megg both have backgrounds in the theater--how does this influence/affect your performing? Do you approach it from the perspective of playing out live or is it more about putting on a dramatic "show"?

JP: You read correctly, sir! Megg and I each have backgrounds in theatre. In fact, that's how we met. In spring of '06, we were in an original rock musical together. Long story short...the show was not the best, though we did get to revive it in concert form at CBGB's, shortly before it closed for good. Megg and I reconnected about a year later, and that's when the band really started to form. In terms of how it affects performing, I'd say we feed of one another's energy alot, and we're very comfortable onstage together. People often think we're a couple!

I don't think it's about putting on a "dramatic show" necessarily, at least not for me. Though it's an awful lot like being in a play, in that everyone has their role, you've rehearsed, and you try to find real moments. We've a few bits of choreography in several of the songs, and we do other other things like call and response and hand claps and whatnot, but they're mostly because we're a bit dorky and think it's fun, not because we want to be dramatic.

MH: Oh man, that musical was a nightmare, but a blessing because I met Jay. We stayed friends and eventually I convinced him to start ATA with me! I honestly can't imagine not having him as my side-kick on vocals, I truly don't feel like I'm the only lead vocalist. We're such a team, I always say we're a two person fronted band! We need him for sure--he's a better singer than me!

DGTS: Which are your favorite ska bands--and which ones have had the most influence on ATA?

JP: Favorites for four: The Specials, The Slackers, The Toasters, and Fishbone.

In terms of influence, I'm sure it's different for everyone in the band. I know Ashray, our bass player, is really into Rancid and Operation Ivy. For Jackie, it's Hall & Oates all the way (can you blame her?). For me, I listen for horn arrangements and vocal harmonies in any and all bands, not even necessarily of the ska variety. Oh, and I love Dance Hall fun.

MH: For me, since high school I got into No Doubt and just had to know who they all were influenced by and what they were listening to. I was so obsessed with their sound and this whole ska scene that I had never heard about. I found out they were friends with Fishbone. Oh, and I got into Spring Heeled Jack, so those three bands since 1995 have really meant a lot to me. I still listen to SHJ's Static World View! It's such a great album. Also it's come full circle, knowing that you worked at Moon Ska Records with them is so crazy to me, I'm just so honored that you're diggin ATA!! Without these three bands there probably wouldn't be an ATA!

DGTS: And who do you like playing with from the NYC ska scene? Is it my imagination, or are there starting to be a ton of ska bands around here again?

JP: NYC ska bands we've played with: The Bluebeats, Royal City Riot, Rudie Crew, Bigger Thomas, The Pilfers, The Toasters...

Yes! There are more popping up everyday. Some are not necessarily ska, but reggae and various sub-genres. Also, since we're not purely a ska band, the fact that we've punk and reggae elements opens us up to line-ups with other bands/artists outside the ska world, as well.

MH: We've also played with The Pilfers and New York Ska Jazz Ensemble. Although they're from Jersey, we've done a few shows with Hub City Stompers (and have upcoming shows with them).

DGTS: What are your thoughts on music file sharing?

JP: I'd be lying if I said I've never done it. In college, especially, everyone and their mother did it. Now that the shoe's on the other foot, I just will not do it. I don't condone it it any way. Bam.

MH: Yes, totally have done it, but I guess I'm on the fence. Now that I'm tryin' to make a living at it, of course I want to make some profit. But I also, at this point in the game, I just want more fans, ya know. I want to spread the ATA sound!! So, if kids hear ATA and want to share it with friends, I say the more the merrier. I want the world to have ATA!

DGTS: Any ATA plans for the coming months that you'd like to share with The Duff Guide to Ska readers?

JP: Two Brooklyn shows in November: Saturday, November 7th @ the new Knitting Factory and Saturday, November 28th @ Trash Bar. Keep checking our sites: MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and for all things ATA!

+ + + +

According to Phil Esquire, the ATA Checkerboard Kids episode will be airing on MNN Time Warner Cable Channel 34 in NYC at midnight on Tuesday, October 27th. This is viewable live around the world, streaming on

Thanks to Phil, here's an exclusive clip that won't appear on the episode:

And Phil really liked this one...

Friday, October 23, 2009

Bluebeat Lounge RIP/New Chris Murray Release

Even though The Duff Guide to Ska is somewhat New York City-centric, we're really sad to see Chris Murray's Bluebeat Lounge coming to an end--after seven years!--with the closing of The Knitting Factory Hollywood. The final show line-up looks amazing and it's sure to be a bittersweet experience for all.

Chris has performed an incredible service for all of the bands that have graced that stage, as well as all of the fans who have enjoyed the shows. At this point, there is no word as to whether or not the all ages Bluebeat Lounge will relocate to another venue--but knowing Chris' determination and resourcefulness, I'm sure whatever comes next will be spectacular. So, we're hoisting a Pacifico in Chris Murray's and the Bluebeat Lounge's honor...

+ + + +

Bands that are part of an underground music scene--such as ska--obviously need a musical home, so to speak, to find and cultivate their audiences; showcase new and burgeoning talent; hang out socializing, networking, and drinking; and generally keep the whole thing moving forward. While ska bands in NYC have been lucky enough to have a host of welcoming venues to play (Danceteria, Tramps, Peppermint Lounge, The Gas Station, The Ritz, and New Music Cafe to name just a few--all long shuttered), clubs like CBGBs (in the 80s), Wetlands (90s), and The Knitting Factory (2000s) were/are vital to the existence of the scene. And despite any shortcomings, these particular clubs--as well as the ones wherever you live that support ska--deserve mad props for letting the ska people in to do their thing on a regular basis.

+ + + +

While we're on the subject of Chris Murray, we should note that he has a new album out called Yard Sale on his Unstrictly Roots label. Yard Sale sports 20 tracks recorded during the 15 years transplanted Canadian Chris Murray has called the City of Angels his home and features collaborations with such ska stars as Lloyd Knibb, Lloyd Brevett and Cedric Brooks of The Skatalites, Brian Dixon and Jeff Roffredo of The Aggrolites, and Vic Ruggiero and Jay Nugent of The Slackers.

They Wouldn't Print It If It Wasn't True (Sunday Papers)

I don't think the old maxim that "all press is good press" applies to a hatchet job like this. I mean, why bother writing anything at all if you're going to be this hostile and ignorant?

The show "preview" opens on this "high":
Columbus brought smallpox to the New World. Enola Gay brought the A-bomb to Hiroshima. And The Toasters brought third wave ska to the United States.
And things only deteriorate from there...
In one of the great musical disasters of the 20th century, ska put trombones into the hands of jilted punks world wide. After a thriving first life in Jamaica and England as a legitimate musical art form, ska turned lemon when it hit the domestic shores, and became a fashion statement that, at the least, swapped grimy leathers out for a vest and fedora.

And tonight, The Toasters are playing the Triple Rock. Which means that attendees will do well to stretch out their skanking muscles which likely haven't been used in over a decade.

Yes, the Toasters spawned domestic popularity for a genre that would go on to give us the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Animal Chin, Skankin' Pickle, and numerous other musical unforgivables.

Hey, let's give credit where credit is due--they haven't given up, even if their peers and former fan base have. They kept right on skanking when the ska bubble burst somewhere near the late 90s. Kept right on tootling on the trumpet and trombone, being the rudest of all rude boys.

Well, perseverance is a virtue of its own, we suppose.
Really, who needs the "music press" when a) they don't really know anything about the past and present of the music/band/scene that they are smearing; and b) seem to be advocating that an entire genre of music--and the musicians playing it--piss off and die?

This guy's editor should have pulled the plug on this piece of crap.

+ + + +

In contrast, apart from this being a positive preview for The Toasters' gig in Milwaukee, it's obvious that this writer knows something about his subject.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Duff Review: Madness - Total Madness

Total Madness
Union Square Music Media

Sure, there have been a host of serviceable (Utter Madness) to great (Complete Madness) Madness compilations released over their 30 (!) year reign--so what makes Total Madness worth the blood, sweat, and tears of one's hard-fought earnings? For starters, Total Madness corrals all of the tracks that comprised their record-breaking run of twenty Top 20 singles, from 1979's "The Prince" to 1985's "Yesterday's Men," plus a few more key releases (though I would have swapped "NW5" for "Dust Devil" to represent The Liberty of Norton Folgate). It's almost unimaginable in this dark age of illegal music file sharing, but it serves as a testament to the band's great popularity: Madness sold a stunning 6 million singles in the 80s.

If you're a Nutty Boy newbie (or simply weren't paying enough attention back in the day) Total Madness is an extraordinary introduction to the band, capturing their early ska hits; their progression into Motown-music hall-Britpop territory; and eventual (though not permanent) shedding of their ska skin for pure pop perfection. For someone whose teen years coincided with the first half of the 80s, Madness' singles will always be linked to certain moments in time, but like all truly classic pop songs, they sound fresh and vital no matter what the context or when you hear them--they defy all transitory musical fads and escape being encased in the amber of memory and nostalgia.

Oddly enough, the tracks here are not presented in chronological order--the comp is bookended by two ska hits guaranteed to pack the dancefloor: "One Step Beyond" (1979) and "Night Boat to Cairo" (1980)--but what is most striking is how this manifests Madness' consistently strong songwriting and performances over the decades. If you didn't know anything about the band, you'd be hard-pressed to sort out which songs were recorded when (some of which, no doubt, is due to the aural sheen applied by their ace pop producers, Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley). It's also worth noting the melancholy tone and emotional depth of many of their hits (see "My Girl," "The Sun and the Rain," "Cardiac Arrest," "Grey Day," "Michael Caine," etc.), something surely lacking from today's Billboard pop charts.

To appeal to the die-hard Madness fans and completists, Total Madness also sports a DVD of all of their wacky Monty Python/Benny Hill/Mr. Bean-ish music videos (one for every song on the accompanying CD except for "Madness," which was never released as a single), which beats the crap quality of YouTube or your disintegrating VHS tapes hands down. While this DVD will not play in North American DVD players, it is viewable on your computer (I had no problem opening it up on my Mac...).

Union Square Music (via their Salvo label) is also reissuing an expanded version of Madness' debut album, One Step Beyond (to be followed, one assumes, by the remainder of their catalogue from the first half of the 80s). So while the hit singles are collected here for your listening pleasure, there's loads more Madness brilliance to be mined and treasured on their albums proper.

The Duff Guide to Ska Total Madness Grade: A

Friday, October 16, 2009

Devil's Night Out

Hoi Polloi Skazine has just posted the ultimate Halloween ska playlist (200+ tracks!). If I ran a radio station, this is what I would use for programming on All Hallow's Eve. Go eyeball it and see if John missed anything (and let him know)!

Also, don't forget to check out HP Skazine's October Ska Almanac.

John, are you predicting a lot of snow this winter? (Oops, wrong kind of almanac...)

Oh, by the way, the illustration to the right shows the disembodied head that comes to haunt you if you don't mend your illegal music file sharing ways, kids... Sweet dreams.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Welcome to the Antechamber of Ska: The Toasters Halloween Gig in NYC on 10/30

Tix are $12 in advance, $15 day of the show...

+ + + +

Looks like Shay is ramping up the ska content at The Knitting Factory again (god bless him)--the November 7th Skasplash will feature Bigger Thomas headlining, supported by a reformed Beat Brigade (!), Brunt of It, Tip the Van, and Across the Aisle.

Also, from November on, every first Saturday of each month at The Knit will be devoted to ska...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

New Romantics-1, 2 Tone-Zilch

We need to briefly revisit the recent Spin article on 2 Tone one more time. That was a shockingly good piece of music journalism--particularly for a relatively mainstream American music mag (gonna have to check it out more often when I'm at the magazine racks at Barnes & Noble).

Here's the money quote (from the eminently quotable Dave Wakeling, natch):
"Well, we were all destroyed by the New Romantics. All of a sudden our utilitarian gear looked plain next to these dandies. People wanted music as escapism again. There was a point where you'd have Elvis Costello, The Jam, and the Beat on Top of the Pops saying, 'Here's a brand new song about unemployment.'"
Ouch. Makes me want to burn my Human League LPs.

Also, any article that starts with a nod to one of my favorite ska-referencing scenes in moviedom--the part where the black punk in Sid and Nancy's circle shows up resplendent in his new tonic suit and pork pie and declares "I don't wanna be a punk anymore. I want to be a rude boy, like me dad"--is alright with me.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Duff Guide to Ska Interview: Bucket of The Toasters - Ska is Dead/Is Ska Dead?

Since The Toasters are soon heading Stateside for a string of dates (including a gig in NYC at the Knitting Factory on October 30) prior to co-headlining the Ska is Dead 4 Tour, we thought this might be a good time to catch up with Bucket, who just finished a tour of the UK...

The Duff Guide to Ska: How was the gig in Birmingham playing with Roddy Radiation and Neol Davies [Toasters' bassist Andy Pearson is friends with both]?

Bucket: Well, unfortunately Roddy had to bag because he had the flu, but playing with Neol was awesome! He jumped up in the encore to play Toasterized versions of "The Selecter" and "On My Radio." After the show, I asked him when the last time was that he played those tunes out live. 1994 was the answer--incredible! Great gig that night and maybe we will be able to feature Neol again on some gigs in 2010.

DGTS: The UK ska scene seems to be kickin’—with a lot of really politically active bands (Resolution 242, Dirty Revolution, etc.). Is this what you found on your recent UK tour?

Bucket: Well for sure there are a lot of bands and I'd include King Blues, Dub City Rockers, and the reformed King Prawn on that list. However, it appears to me that there isn't really the same kind of network that exists in the USA. There are some great spots to play and a lot of people into the music, both new fans and from the old school, but it appears to me that the scene could benefit if everybody pulled together in the same direction!

DGTS: Have you been able to/wanted to catch any of The Specials or Madness shows?

Bucket: No and yes. The Specials are making some waves and I hope that they can cross the Atlantic next year. I was surprised that there wasn't more buzz on the Madness record, but having it leaked to the P2P sites before the official release didn't help--there is so much goodwill out there for those two bands that I hope that it can lead to a general upsurge in the scene.

DGTS: What will The Toasters’ line-up be for the second half of the Ska is Dead Tour this fall?

Bucket: Myself; Andy Pearson (The Beat/Roddy Radiation) on bass; Jesse Hayes (Westbound Train/Void Union) on drums; Sander Loog (Rude Rich/Beatbusters) on sax; and Cooper Barton (newbie) on trombone. We have been working with Arjen, Remco and Dim from Rotterdam Ska Jazz in Europe.

DGTS: Why is there no NYC date on Ska is Dead 4? No room at the inn, so to speak?

Bucket: Apparently the date fell on the wrong weekend. Let's not forget that most of the decent clubs in NYC are now closed. So places like B.B. King's, Irving Plaza, etc. get to call the shots. It actually works out for me, as The Toasters get to play a smaller club night at the new Knitting Factory in Brooklyn, but SID got squeezed out.

DGTS: Is ska still dead in the US (to me it seems like it is doing pretty well as an underground scene—kind of like it was around ’92 or ’93)?

Bucket: Down, but not out. I'd say yours is a fairly accurate frame of reference, although I would certainly like to see more bands coming up through the ranks, as it were.

DGTS: Are there any plans to record a new Toasters album soon?

Bucket: Not soon. I am still of the mindset that resources are better spent developing the touring and that's why we are continuing to play all those places that other bands cannot reach! For example, the recording/pressing expenses for One More Bullet have still not been recouped. So that gives you an idea of how far the sales of recorded music have fallen. The piracy rate here in Spain, for example, is 97% and that gives you an idea of what we are up against. My view is that you have to allow individual releases as much breathing space as possible, and it's a mistake to crowd releases together. Bands that cannot get on the road are really looking down a dead end street these days. Having said that, we do have a couple new tunes that will be recorded soon as part of a vinyl project in the USA.

DGTS: The expanded/enhanced re-issues of The Toasters albums on Megalith continue…Hard Band for Dead is coming out as 2 Tone Army soon—are there unreleased tracks, remixes, etc. in The Toasters’ archives for New York Fever and Thrill Me Up?

Bucket: Yeah, that's already out in the UK. Jeremy [Patton] did a great job digging out the enhanced tracks and making new artwork. There are indeed unreleased tracks for New York Fever. As for Thrill Me Up, that had already been enhanced [and released on Moon in the 90s], so we will have to dig deeper into the archives for that release. We are putting those back catalogue, out-of-print, titles out at a rate of one or two per year, and eventually we will have everything repackaged at Megalith.

DGTS: The Toasters have been touring internationally since, what, 1989? Is there any place left on Earth that you haven’t played, but wanted to?

Bucket: Australia. We still need to find a bona fide promoter there.

DGTS: You were quoted recently as saying that you’d only stop touring if you didn’t find it “fun” anymore. What keeps you coming back for more? A general wanderlust? The emotional charge/reaction you get from playing before an audience? Free beer?

Bucket: Well, it's true to say that there aren't many jobs where you get paid to drink free beer. Fortunately, I have one of those! For me, ska music is always best sampled live. It's not possible to distill the essence of a live show into the studio, and that's why some of my favourite releases are live albums, despite the drop in sound quality. The audience is a huge, integral part of the music and so it's always a charge to go to somewhere exotic, like Colombia coming up, or Istanbul last year, and hear people tell me about how they have been waiting 20 years to see The Toasters. It's fans like that who keep this genre alive and so as long as they keep coming, then I'll keep playing. Besides, at this point, I am unemployable in any other sector and having a 9-5 would probably kill me...

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The Toasters' US Tour Dates Pre-Ska is Dead Tour

19th Norman, OK: The Deli
20th Tulsa, OK: The Marquee
21st Kansas City, MO: The Riot Room
22nd Minneapolis, MN: Triple Rock
23rd Milwaukee, WI: Miramar Theatre
24th Mt. Pleasant, MI: Rubbles
25th Morgantown, WV: 123 Pleasant St.
26th State College, PA: The Brewery
27th Wilkes-Barre, PA: Café Metropolis
28th New Haven, CT: Café Nine
29th Poughkeepsie, NY: The Loft at the Chance
30th Brooklyn, NY: The Knitting Factory
31st Syracuse, NY: Funk 'N Waffles

1st Lemoyne, PA: Championship Records
2nd Lousiville, KY: Skull Valley
3rd Springfield, IL: Black Sheep

For Ska is Dead 4 tour dates, click here.