Monday, February 2, 2015

Introducing Ben LeRoux: "Fellowship Hall" EP Pays Respects To 2-Tone and Reggae

One month into 2015, I think I have discovered an artist who deserves a wider audience and one that many of us may be talking more about when we write out our Top 10 lists this coming December.

Meet Ben LeRoux, a San Juan, Puerto Rico-based musician and producer (by way of Bridgeport, CT) who has just released a stunning 4-song EP "Fellowship Hall."  The album, which is available for free on Bandcamp, is a terrific mix of Specials-styled 2-Tone ska (with strong hints of The Slackers and Tim Armstrong's ska projects) and old school 60's reggae instrumentals.

LeRoux, a self-admitted child of the 90's who listened to Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Soundgarden, later discovered ska and reggae, becoming a true convert and disciple.  His EP, which references the space in a church which is used for wedding receptions, family functions and community events, is the perfect metaphor for the music, which is devoted to, dedicated to and inspired by the sounds of artists that form the revered canon of ska and reggae. Even the artwork for the EP, is an homage to 2-Tone. Stream the entire EP below:

Before releasing his new EP, LeRoux has experimented with creating post-modern versions of 2-Tone era classics. Have a listen to his version of The Specials "I Can't Stand It" which contrasts the seething bitterness and bile in the lyrics with sweet synths and keys, as well as his quirky muzak/chip tune take on the Bad Manners gem "Lip Up Fatty."

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Seasons Greetings from Marco On The Bass!

Seasons Greetings! I want to thank everyone who visited my blog during 2014 and has supported what I do here, which is to share my love and passion for ska and reggae music. Though I haven't been as active as I would like, I have traded time behind the computer to start a new band -- Rude Boy George -- record a 9-song album called "Confessions" and launch a digital ska label called Trilby Records.

While I miss blogging about ska (and I intend to continue), it was time to put more energy into creating and playing music.  I hope to be more active in 2015.  At the very least, I will blog when I can and continue to share updates on my musical travels.

In the meantime, please enjoy Rude Boy George's ska version of the Wham! holiday classic "Last Christmas!" Here's wishing all of you a safe and happy holiday season and happy new year!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Rude Boy George Album Pre-Release: "Confessions" Features Ska & Reggae Versions of 80's New Wave

Hello everyone! I hope you have all been well! I've been away from blogging for some time, but with good reason -- I've been BUSY.  As some of you may know,  I started a new band called Rude Boy George nearly two years ago with a goal of performing and recording ska and reggae versions of 80's new wave.

I'm proud and excited to announce that the first Rude Boy George LP "Confessions" is finally finished.  My band mates and I are very proud of what we have created with our producer Wayne "Waylo" Lothian and can't wait for you to hear it! In fact, if you pre-order the 9-track album now from Bandcamp, you will receive an immediate download of our version of the Berlin classic "The Metro" and receive a link for the whole album when it is released on December 5, 2015.  Here is a video for the song:

Much like UB40's Labor Of Love series, "Confessions" is our way of paying tribute to the new wave artists and songs that meant the most to us when we were growing up. The nine new wave songs we picked to wrap up in a loving ska and reggae embrace were originally recorded between 1981 and 1983--a period that corresponds with the explosion of 2 Tone ska, reggae, and new wave on the radio, MTV and in 80s movies. Each song is a unique, three-minute confession of some kind--about relationships, love, or the meaning of life.

I've also been busy helping to launch Trilby Records, a new digital ska and reggae label, that will not only put out our music, but the music of our very talented friends and band mates. More on that soon.
In the meantime, check out our revamped website which features more information about the band.

Thanks for your support and now back to more regular blog posts about ska and reggae!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Beat - Peel Sessions

John Peel. His name alone conveys musical gravitas. Peel probably made more of a contribution to British music (and its effect on the rest of the world) in the last 50 years than anyone else. As a DJ on UK's Radio 1, he spoke to succeeding waves of kids and was responsible for breaking new bands such as Radiohead, The Undertones, The Clash, The Smiths, Pulp, T-Rex, New Order and many, many more. And after a lifetime of listening to more music than most of us could ever hope to do, Peel rated The Beat as one of his favorite bands of all time.

He first crossed paths with the band at a University gig in Birmingham where he was booked as a DJ. Supporting him was a local, unknown Birmingham band called The Beat. Peel was so blown away by the band that he swapped his £800 check with the band for their £80 check and invited them to come record a live radio session for his show. He then promoted them on his show regularly and helped to make them big in the UK and Europe. Peel's affection for the band was obvious as he invited them to record three sessions for his show.

Each session is a microcosm of the band during the three distinct phases they went through. The first session from November 1979, features songs from the first LP "I Just Can't Stop It" and is notable for the fact that it does not include Saxa, so "Tears Of A Clown", "Ranking Full Stop" and "Mirror In The Bathroom" sound closer to the way they did when the band first started performing. Ranking Roger's toasting is more prominent and punk edge more apparent. David Steele's bass lines still astound for their creativity.

The second session from September 3, 1980 demonstrates an amazing maturity and complexity in the songwriting from the session less than one year earlier. Both the non-album tracks "Too Nice To Talk To" and "Psychedelic Rockers" are real soundscapes that incorporate every influence the band could fit into one song (pop, reggae, calypso, Afro-beat). Saxa's playing on these two tracks is also some of the best I have heard. I was also struck by how much better the album tracks from the "Whappen" LP sounded, particularly "Monkey Murders".

The final session from March 1982, previewed songs from the "Special Beat Service" LP that was released later that year. The distinction between the pop and reggae numbers is clearer though the version of "Save It For Later" is sublime and "dirty" sounding, and is so much better than the recorded version we are all familar with. The reggae numbers are among the best by the band that I have heard.

As a huge fan of The Beat, its a real treat to listen to these sessions. Each one has something slightly different or unique about it that is distinct from the recorded versions you are used to hearing. First, there is a freshness that comes from the live recorded nature of the songs. Next, you can hear subtleties that you have never noticed before. A new guitar lick here or varied melody from Saxa on an extended solo. It puts their talent and songwriting on another level.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Impressions of the "Return Of The Rude Boy" Exhibit In London

What does it mean to be a Rude Boy in the 21st Century?  Is it a fashion statement?  Is it a musical statement?  Is it an attitude? Is it all of the above?

"Return Of The Rude Boy" attempts to answer these questions.  It is an immersive exhibition in London running through the end of August, that explores the style, swagger and significance of the 21st century Rude Boy. It features original photography, film, installations and live events.  Curated by photographer and filmmaker Dean Chalkley and creative director Harris Elliott, it celebrates the sharply dressed individuals who exemplify an important and rarely documented subculture. The exhibit has generated significant U.K. media interest, including coverage in The Guardian,  Channel 4, and GQ Magazine and many more.

That said, I wanted a first-hand impression of the exhibit, so I asked my good friend and Bigger Thomas/Rude Boy George band mate, Roger Apollon, who is in the U.K. on a family vacation, to visit the exhibit and share his impressions.  But first, you need to know that Roger is a Rude Boy.  He could have been included in this exhibition.  When I was looking to start a ska band back in the late 80's, I briefly saw Roger on a train platform decked out in sunglasses, a pork pie hat, a Specials t-shirt and brothel creepers.  I stood in shock.  Here was a real Rude Boy in New Brunswick, New Jersey! I lost sight of him when the train arrived and departed.  Later that summer he magically appeared on my apartment doorstep clutching a flyer I had posted looking for musicians to start a ska band. The rest is history.

Roger has his own Rude Boy style that is modern but also includes touches of old school Rude Boys.  He is never without his pork pie hat (he has summer and winter versions) and often wears suits.  More than that, he exudes a style that is effortlessly cool and confident.

After visiting the exhibit, Roger shared his thoughts and some incredible pictures.
Return Of The Rude Boy is a tight and precise exhibit that was an inspiration to Rude boys everywhere! As you walk in to the the austere setting of Somerset House, you are welcomed by a pulsing soundtrack of reggae and ska. The portraits are exquisite as each man and woman captured is not styled; they are in their natural and VERY cool state.

As I walked through, I was not only inspired but struck how "Rude Boy Culture" is not about style of clothes (although the clothes were extremely stylish), but more about the character of the individual. They are unique, confident and against the grain but not for the sake of being different.

To me, it felt like a sort of homecoming as I saw bits of my past, present and future reflected in these portraits. If you're in London before the end of the summer, check out this amazing (and FREE) exhibit!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Rare Live Footage of The Beat From The Capitol Theatre In September 1980

Over the past two years, the wonderfully amazing Music Vault has been remastering more than 13,000 concert videos, which they are now posting up on YouTube. The footage spans the last five decades and features performances by a wide array of legendary artists.

I recently came across footage of a fantastic live performance of The Beat from the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey from September, 1980.  The Capitol Theatre was built in 1926 as a vaudeville house, and later served as a movie theater. Promoter John Scher bought the property and converted it into a venue for rock concerts. Throughout the 1970s and into the mid-1980s, the 3,200 seat theatre was a popular stop on nearly every major rock artist's tour. The venue was known for its in house video system which resulted in a number of good quality, black and white video bootlegs.

The Beat were the support act for The Pretenders in what would be their very first tour of the U.S. during the fall of 1980. As such the band receive a muted response from fans of Chrissie Hynde and company who were likely perplexed by the punky reggae sounds of the multiracial septet from Birmingham. As a side note, I procured tickets to see this show without telling my parents who forbid me to attend on a school night when I let them know the day before the show. I was forced to sell the tickets at school to classmates who made sure to let me know what I had missed the next day!

The video is a must watch for anyone who missed the band in their prime. Shot from a variety of camera angles with remastered sound, the footage reveals The Beat at the height of their powers -- Psychedelic Rockers and Mirror In The Bathroom are both breathtaking.  Saxa in particular is a revelation as his melodic riffs and solos reach sublime heights.  Its also great to hear the keyboard work of Dave Blockhead whose playing was often overlooked in the band's records.

Here is the set list and set timing:
00:00 : Hands Off She's Mine
02:49 : Psychedelic Rockers
06:10 : Noise In This World
08:27 : Big Shot
11:29 : Tears Of A Clown
15:14: : Ranking Full Stop
18:00 : Mirror In The Bathroom
21:24 : Click Click

The Specials First Single "Gangsters" Was Released 35 years Ago Today!

The Specials first single, Gangsters, was released exactly 35 years ago on July 28, 1979! According to the excellent 2-Tone.Info:
Having been rejected by numerous record companies The Specials decided to release a self-financed single. If the legend is to be believed the single was recorded for a mere £700 financed by a ‘sort of’ local businessman by the name of ‘Jimbo’. It is said that a piano part on the track took up most of the studio time and as a result only one track, Gangsters, was recorded.

Needing a b-side the band turned to an instrumental track Noel Davis had recorded two years previously in 1977 with drummer John Bradbury and trombonist, Barry Jones. Originally titled ‘The Kingston Affair’ the track got a slight reworking and was re-titled The Selecter. The track also came complete with it's own unique catalogue number, which may seem unusual but was actually quite common with old ska and reggae singles.

The single was initially distributed via Rough Trade Records, who persuaded the band to produce 5,000 copies, twice what the band had originally intended. The single was issued in a plain white sleeve stamped by the band themselves with the words THE SPECIAL A.K.A 'Gangsters' Vs THE SELECTER. The band then signed to Chrysalis Records, who were more than happy to sign both The Specials and the 2 Tone label. Chrysalis pressed up more copies of the single in the now familiar 2 Tone sleeve resulting in a top 10 hit and the biggest selling independent single of the year.

Original Specials drummer Silverton Hutchinson had left the band just prior to the recording of Gangsters and was replaced by John Bradbury, and as a result Bradbury was the only person to play on both sides of the labels debut single.