#064

Style II: dancing with the Rude  Boys,

searching for the Young Soul Rebels

Dramático de Cascais, a 4 de Maio do ano de 1980 já lá tinha estado no concerto de Joe Jackson. Mas foi dois Domingos depois, no concerto de Lene Lovich realizado a 18 que conheci o Manuel Tavares e o Bruno Biel. Conversa-puxa-conversa disseram-me para aparecer em Lisboa, no Jamaica. Na altura era na dita do Estoril que eu “saía da linha”. Eu, o João Vaz, a Helena Cristina e mais uns quantos tresloucados que saltavam do Centro 12 para a SMUP, para o 2001 and back again…

Um dia decidi que estava farto de tanto “fazer a Marginal” que resolvi ir até Lisboa. Cheguei ao Jamaica, não conhecia ninguém, fui até ao bar buscar uma bebida. De repente começou a tocar qualquer coisa dos Madness ou dos Specials, a memória é boa mas não assim tão boa. Fui a correr para a pista, a preparar-me para o skanking que aí vinha… quando do outro lado da pista surgiam o Manuel e o Bruno a fazerem os mesmos movimentos. Escusado será dizer que nunca mais voltei a “saír fora” sem que fosse dentro de Lisboa.

O Ska que dançava na altura é caracterizado por uma linha de baixo “ambulante” acentuada com ritmos off beat, normalmente provocados pelas guitarras. Foi desenvolvido na Jamaica na década de 60, quando Stranger Cole, Prince Buster, Clement “Coxsone” Dodd e Duke Reid formaram sistemas de som para tocar rhythm and blues americanos, começando a gravar as suas próprias canções na necessidade de precisarem de conteúdos para alimentar esses sound systems.

Uma das teorias sobre a génese do ska é que foi inventado por Prince Buster durante a sessão de gravação inaugural da sua nova label Wild Bells, operação financiada por Duke Reid que assim poderia publicar metade das músicas. A viola enfatizando a segunda e a quarta batidas do compasso, a bateria retirada dos estilo de percussão tradicional jamaicano com Prince Buster basicamente a inverter a batida da R&B e acentuando as batidas estranhas com a ajuda da guitarra. Buster um dia citou explicitamente a canção Later for the Gator de Willis Jackson como estando na origem do estilo.

Historicamente distingue-se em três eras: a cena jamaicana original dos anos 60; o “renascimento” no 2 Tone no final dos anos 1970 no UK, que fundia os ritmos e melodias do ska jamaicano com um tempo mais rápido e a atitude mais imediatista do punk; e uma terceira vaga, que envolve bandas dos quatro cantos do mundo, do final dos anos 80 até à passagem do milénio. Decidi só ter um clássico do primeiro período, Midnight Ska pela Reggie Msomi’s Hollywood Jazz Band, formada em 1962 em Joanesburgo por este escriba de muitos sucessos africanos da altura, inclusive temas para Miriam Makeba.

Como o que vivi foi a segunda vaga, iniciada no final dos 70s na área de Coventry e chamada de 2 Tone por causa da editora fundada por Jerry Dammers dos Specials, é mais sobre esse período que me debrucei. Em comparação com o estilo original agora o andamento era mais rápido, a instrumentação mais completa e a hegemonia do punk conferia-lhe um edge mais pesado. Não foi por acaso que rapidamente se tornou popular entre os mods britânicos e muitos skinheads. Numa época em que era alta a tensão racial em Inglaterra houve muitas canções aqui escolhidas que aumentaram a consciência sobre as questões de racismo e igualdade. A maioria das bandas desta fase tinha lineups multirraciais, The Selecter, The Beat e os meus favoritos The Specials.

Nascidos como The Coventry Automatics, passando pela sigla The Special A.K.A. até acabarem com o nome pelo qual ficaram conhecidos, The Specials fizeram canções nessa época que ressoaram entre os jovens brancos de classe trabalhadora e os imigrantes das West Indies que vivenciaram as lutas abordadas em algumas das suas letras. Ao contrário dos Madness (que só passaram pela Sire e pela 2 Tone por uns 7” até assinarem pela Stiff e popularizarem o som do ska por todo o lado), os Specials eram mesmo “especiais”, com sete singles editados entre 79 e 81, dois deles que chegaram a numero 1 dos tops.

No entanto quando Ghost Town chegou ao UK#1, a 11 de Julho de 1981, já a banda se havia desmembrado. Este single não está aqui incluído porque preferi Friday Night, Saturday Morning, desse mesmo vinil. Acabo com essa mas começo com Vote For Me do disco Encore que marcou em 2019 o regresso de Terry Hall à sua posição original de vocalista. Ainda pelo meio decidi escolher o tema Monkey Man, também da sua autoria, em versão gravada por Amy Winehouse no non-official Ska EP de 2008.

Desta segunda vaga (não sei, acho que este monicker tem hoje em dia conotações idiotas) escolhi ampla representação, algumas retiradas a prensagens espanholas, os Graduate com Elvis Should Play Ska, uma homenagem a Elvis Costello e que na edição espanhola se podia ler “Elvis Cantaría Ska” ou ainda  o clássico Poison Ivy dos Lambrettas com a bela inscrição-tradução de “Hiedra Venenosa”. Aqui incluído também estão Mouth And Trousers dos Splodge e Inner London Violence dos Bad Manners, dois brilhantes temas de bandas Oi.

Mas muito mais porque nessa passagem dos 70 para os 80 os sons jamaicanos espraiavam-se por todo o lado. Os Police, os Clash, Joe Jackson, tantos artistas da altura incorporavam esse tipo de sonoridades nos seus projectos. Ian Dury & The Blockheads que tocaram no Dramático a 20 de Setembro de 1981, aqui escolhidos com o tema Lullaby for Francies que encerra o maravilhoso Do It Yourself. Meu Deus, o que eu adoro esse album. There There My Dear dos Dexys Midnight Runners de Kevin Rowland que logo a seguir iria virar-se para um som mais folky e é por isso que os juntei umbilicalmente aos Forest Hill Billies com Forest Hill Ska, um tema que desenhava já a blueprint para esse tipo de junções sonoras.

Mas o interessante do que foi sendo produzido na altura era a sensação de urgência nitidamente espelhada na musica que iamos ouvindo. Give It To Me Now dos Merton Parkas dos irmãos Danny e Mick Talbot, este último que passou ainda pelos Dexys Midnight Runners e pelos Bureau antes de começar a desenhar os Style Council com Paul Weller. Ou Stay Where You Are, John Peel no Observer datado de 4 de maio de 1986 descrevia que era fã dos Deltones: “From the moment they struck up I was a fan. Since a typically untidy adolescence, I have suspected that women know something we men do not, that they can have an understanding and co-operative spirit that combative men can rarely, if ever, match. I’m limping through minefields here, I know, but I cannot imagine 11 men playing together on stage with the sense of community radiated by the Deltones.” Um mês depois a banda estava a fazer uma Peel Session mas só dois anos depois seria editado o seu único album, Nana Choc Choc In Paris. 

Uma terceira onda pode não ter causado tanta impressão mas deixou-nos algumas pérolas internacionais aqui colectadas: de Espanha Solo Vivir dos Skalariak, banda formada em Navarra pelos manos bascos Juantxo e Peio Skalari; da Bélgica os Skarbone 14 com La Loi du Ballon; de Wiesloch, na província de Baden-Württemberg na Alemanha, os The Busters e Zu Spät; de Itália os Matrioska com Scusacara; do Japão a fantástica Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra de quem escolhi 美しく燃える森 (traduz-se como bela floresta em chamas); da União Soviética os Spitfire com uma versão do In Bloom dos Nirvana, editado no seu primeiro LP Night Hunting, datado de 1996. Ou ainda Don’t Wanna Know dos The Pietasters, Hard, Hard Thing de King Django ou Ska’d For Life dos The Ska-Dows, tudo norte americanos que nos anos 90 foram mantendo bem acesa a chama do Ska.

Posso muito bem nunca mais ter ouvido Ska mas esta viagem pela memória de outros tempos trouxe-me a vantagem de uma perspectiva distanciada e que honestamente me deixa compreender o fascínio sentido na altura.

Que o fim de semana seja de muito pulo num rico bailarico.

#staysafe #musicfortheweekend

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Dramático de Cascais 1980, I had already been there on May 4th at a Joe Jackson concert. But it was two Sundays later, at the Lene Lovich gig held on the 18th, that I met Manuel Tavares and Bruno Biel. After a big conversation they told me to show up in Lisbon, at the Jamaica bar. Around this time, it was in Estoril that I “got out of line”. Me, João Vaz, Helena Cristina and a few more spirituous people with who I’d jump from Centro 12 to SMUP, to 2001 and back again, bending the weekend from Thursday to Sunday.

One day, deciding I was fed up of “being and doing the Marginal”, I went to Lisbon. I arrived in Jamaica, didn’t know anyone so I went to the bar to get a drink. Suddenly it started playing something from Madness or by The Specials, memory serves me well but not that precisely. I went running to the dance floor, preparing myself for all that skanking coming my way… when, from the other side of the room, Manuel and Bruno appeared making the same moves. It goes without saying that I never went back to “going out” without it being in Lisbon.

The Ska that I danced at the time is characterized by a “ambulatory” bass line accented with off beat rhythms, usually provoked by guitars. It was developed in Jamaica in the 1960s, when Stranger Cole, Prince Buster, Clement “Coxsone” Dodd and Duke Reid formed sound systems to play American rhythm and blues, starting to record their own songs in need of content to feed said sound systems.

One of the theories about the genesis of ska is that it was invented by Prince Buster during the inaugural recording session of his new label Wild Bells, an operation financed by Duke Reid that would then publish half of the songs. The viola emphasising the second and fourth beats of the measure, the drums taken out of any traditional Jamaican percussion style with Prince Buster basically reversing the R&B beat and accentuating the awkward beats with the help of the guitar. Buster once explicitly cited Willis Jackson’s song Later for the Gator as being at the origin of the style.

Historically it has been distinguished into three eras: the original Jamaican scene from the 1960s; the “rebirth” in the 2 Tone of the late 1970s in the UK, which fused the rhythms and melodies of Jamaican ska with a faster tempo and a more immediate punk attitude; and a third wave, involving bands from all four corners of the world, raging from the late 1980s to the turn of the millennium. I decided to have only one classic from the first period, Midnight Ska by Reggie Msomi’s Hollywood Jazz Band, formed in 1962 in Johannesburg by this scribe of many African popular tunes of that time, including hits for Miriam Makeba.

As what I experienced first hand was the second wave, which started in the late 70s in the Coventry area and was called 2 Tone because of the record label founded by Jerry Dammers of the Specials, my focus is more around this period. Compared to the original style, the tempo was now faster, the instrumentation more complete and punk’s hegemony gave it a somewhat heavier edge. It was not by accident that it quickly became popular with British mods and many skinheads. At a time when racial tension was high in England there were many songs chosen here that raised awareness about issues of racism and equality. Most of the bands at this stage had multiracial lineups, The Selecter, The Beat and my favorites, The Specials.

Born as The Coventry Automatics, passing through the acronym The Special A.K.A. until they ended with the band name by which they became known, The Specials made songs that resonated with white working class young people as well as immigrants from the West Indies who experienced the struggles addressed in some of their lyrics. Unlike Madness (who only went through Sire and 2 Tone for a couple of 7″ until they signed on to Stiff and popularized their ska sound worldwide), the Specials were really “special”, with seven singles published between 79 and 81 , two of them reaching the top of the charts.

However when Ghost Town arrived at UK#1 on July 11 of 1981, the band had already disbanded. This single is not included here because I preferred Friday Night, Saturday Morning, from that same vinyl. I finish with that one but start with Vote For Me from the Encore album, which marked Terry Hall’s return to his original vocalist position in 2019. Also around the middle I decided to drop Monkey Man, also written by them, in a cover version recorded by Amy Winehouse in the non-official Ska EP of 2008.

From this second wave (I don’t know, I think this monicker nowadays has sad and silly connotations) I chose wide representation, some taken from Spanish pressings, Graduate declaring Elvis Should Play Ska, a tribute to Elvis Costello and that in the Spanish edition is subtitled as “Elvis Cantaría Ska” or even the Lambretta’s classic Poison Ivy with the corny inscription-translation of “Hiedra Venenosa”. Also included are Mouth And Trousers by Splodge and Inner London Violence by Bad Manners, two brilliant themes from Oi bands.

But even more so because in this passage from the 70s to the 80s, Jamaican sounds spread everywhere. The Police, The Clash, Joe Jackson, so many artists at the time incorporated that kind of sounds into their projects. Ian Dury & The Blockheads who played Dramático on September 20, 1981, here played with Lullaby for Francies, theme that closes the wonderful Do It Yourself LP. My God, what I love about this album. There There My Dear by Kevin Rowland’s Dexys Midnight Runners, who would soon turn to a more folky sound and that’s why I umbilically joined them to Forest Hill Billies with Forest Hill Ska, a song that already drew the blueprint for this type of sonic junctions.

But the interesting thing about what was being produced at the time was the sense of urgency clearly reflected in the music we were listening to. Give It To Me Now by the Merton Parkas of brothers Danny and Mick Talbot, the latter also passed through the Dexys Midnight Runners and the Bureau before starting to design The Style Council with Paul Weller. Or Stay Where You Are, John Peel in the Observer dated May 4, 1986 described that he was a fan of the Deltones: “From the moment they struck up I was a fan. Since a typically untidy adolescence, I have suspected that women know something we men do not, that they can have an understanding and co-operative spirit that combative men can rarely, if ever, match. I’m limping through minefields here, I know, but I cannot imagine 11 men playing together on stage with the sense of community radiated by the Deltones.” A month later the band was doing a Peel Session but only two years later their only album, Nana Choc Choc In Paris, would be released.

A third wave didn’t cause such big impression, but it left us some international gems collected here: from Spain Solo Vivir by Skalariak, a band formed in Navarre by Basque brothers Juantxo and Peio Skalari; from Belgium Skarbone 14 with La Loi du Ballon; from Wiesloch, in the province of Baden-Württemberg in Germany, The Busters and Zu Spät; from Italy Matrioska with Scusacara; from Japan the fantastic Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra in a choice of 美しく燃える森 (translates to beautiful burning forest); from the Soviet Union the Spitfires with a version of Nirvana’s In Bloom, released on their first LP Night Hunting, dated 1996. Or Don’t Wanna Know by The Pietasters, Hard, Hard Thing by King Django or Ska’d For Life by The Ska-Dows, all North Americans acts who in the 90’s kept the Ska flame very much alive.

I may very well never have listened to Ska again but this journey through the memory of other times brought me the advantage of a distanced perspective that honestly lets me understand the fascination felt at the time.

Jumping up, down, back and forth, may the weekend be skank-filled.

#staysafe #musicfortheweekend

The Specials – Vote For Me

Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra – 美しく燃える森

Reggie Msomi’s Hollywood Jazz Band – Midnight Ska

The Lambrettas – Poison Ivy

Laurel Aitken & The Potato 5 – Mad About You

Bad Manners – Inner London Violence

The Selecter – Three Minute Hero

Ska Boom – Rukumbine

Maroon Town – Pound To The Dollar

The Merton Parkas – Give It To Me Now

Go Jimmy Go – Don’t Stop Everything (Dancehall Version)

The Loafers – The Undertaker

Bodysnatchers – Let’s Do Rock Steady

The Charlie Parkas – Ballad Of Robin Hood

Skarbone 14 – La Loi du Ballon

Graduate – Elvis Should Play Ska

The Lemons – My Favourite Band

The Skavengers – Party Girls

Forest Hill Billies – Forest Hill Ska

Dexys Midnight Runners – There There My Dear

Amy Winehouse – Monkey Man

King Hammond – King Hammond Shuffle

Skalariak – Solo Vivir

The Ska-Dows – Ska’d For Life

The Odds – Dread In My Bed

Splodge – Mouth And Trousers

Tich Turner’s Escalator – Are You Wiv

The Gangsters – We Are The Gangsters

King Django – Hard, Hard Thing

The Busters – Zu Spät

The Deltones – Stay Where You Are

The Pietasters – Don’t Wanna Know

The Ammonites – Blue Lagoon

Matrioska – Scusacara

The AK Band – Pink Slippers

The RB’s – Explain

Spitfire – In Bloom

The Toasters – Night Train To Moscow

Ian Dury & The Blockheads – Lullaby for Francies

The Specials – Friday Night, Saturday Morning

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