Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Duff Guide to Ska NYC Winter/Spring 2017 Ska Calendar #46

The one and only Lee "Scratch" Perry.
Saturday, April 15, 2017 @ 7:00 pm

New Kingston, Rude Boy George

Highline Ballroom
431 West 16th Street
New York, NY
$15

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Friday, April 21, 2017 @ 8:00 pm

DJ Gorilla presents The Last Ska Dance w/Beat Brigade, The Shipwrecks, Boomshot, The Damn Long Hairs, Changala Changala, plus DJ Miss Hap!

Don Pedro
90 Manhattan Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$10/21+

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Friday, April 21, 2017 @ 6:00 pm

100% Ska at Otto's Shrunken Head - Selections by DJ Ryan Midnight

Otto's Shrunken Head
538 East 14th Street (between Aves A and B)
New York, NY
No cover

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Saturday, April 29, 2017 @ 5:30 pm - 9:30 pm

ReadJunk 20th Anniversary Party w/Rude Boy George (two sets) and DJ Duff

Otto's Shrunken Head
538 East 14th Street (between Aves A and B)
New York, NY
No cover

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Saturday, April 29, 2017 @ 9:00 pm

The Ladrones Record Release Party w/The Applecores

Tobacco Road
355 West 41st Street
New York, NY

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Tuesday, May 9, 2017 @ 7:00 pm

Lee "Scratch" Perry, Subatomic Sound System

Le Poisson Rouge
158 Bleecker Street
New York, NY
$25 in advance/$30 day of show
18+

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Friday, May 12, 2017 @ 9:00 pm

Mephiskapheles, NYC Ska Orchestra

The Bell House
149 7th Street
Brooklyn, NY
$15/21+

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Friday, May 19, 2017 @ 8:00 pm

Askultura and The Ladrones

Tobacco Road
354 West 41st Street
New York, NY

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

J. Navarro and The Traitors

Cape House
2 Knickerbocker Avenue
Brooklyn, NY

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Friday, May 26, 2017 @ 7:00 pm

Monty Neysmith Montgomery of Symarip, The Bishops

Cape House
2 Knickerbocker Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$15/21+

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Saturday, June 3, 2017 @ 8:00 pm

Ska/Punky/Reggae Party II w/The Rudie Crew, The Omega Men, Super Hi-Fi, Necrotic Society, Skum City, Curb Ya Horse, plus DJ Gorilla

Pista bandas unidas oficial
96-11 Roosevelt Avenue
Queens, NY
All ages

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Friday, June 9, 2017 @ 7:00 pm

The Specials, The Far East

Brooklyn Steel
319 Frost Street
Brooklyn, NY
$50/16+

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Saturday, June 10, 2017 @ 9:00 pm (2 sets!)

Larry McDonald's 80th Birthday Party w/Dave Hillyard and the Rocksteady 7, plus DJ One Hundred Decibels
Hank's Saloon
46 Third Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$8

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Friday, June 23, 2017 @ 7:00 pm

The Slackers

Rocks Off Concert Cruise
The Liberty Belle
299 South Street
New York, NY
$30/21+

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Sunday, April 2, 2017

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: The Bakesys "Studio Selections 1991-1995," Flying Vipers "The Copper Tape," The Skatalites "Foundation Ska"

(Reviews by Steve Shafer)

The Bakesys Studio Selections 1991-1995 (CD, Do The Dog Music, 2017): Even though I was pretty well plugged into the international ska scene in the early 1990s (largely thanks to The Bakesys' keyboardist Kevin Flowerdew, who produced the wonderfully comprehensive Rude Skazine, which morphed into the current Do The Dog Skazine), I somehow missed the thread with The Bakesys--which I'm all the lesser for, since they recorded some truly excellent modern UK ska (a frenetic 2 Tone-power pop blend influenced by The Specials and The Jam, amongst others, and specifically made for maximum dancing), as captured on Studio Selections 1991-1995 (all of which holds up very well 25 or so years later). This release contains their debut album (key cuts: "Looking for Love," "Confused,""Days Gone By," "Life So Dub," and the int'l ska comp favorite "Animated Violence"), plus six sweet rare/unreleased songs/versions (highlights: "Sunnyside Up," "Looking for Version," "Without Warning," and "Days Gone Pop"). Don't be a dope like I was and miss out on The Bakesys' music this time 'round.

Flying Vipers The Copper Tape (cassette/digital download, Music A. D. D., 2017): This is the second release from Boston's mighty Flying Vipers, which is comprised of members of Destroy Babylon and Pressure Cooker, who specialize in '70s-sounding instrumental roots reggae and dub recorded on analog equipment that reminds this reviewer most strongly of Dennis Bovell's output (check out The Duff Guide to Ska's review of The Vipers' debut, The Green Tape). The Vipers create incredible, mesmerizing dub tracks that never quite deconstruct things to the point where the tune is entirely lost--melody is everything here (like on all Bovell productions). I love this whole tape (eight cuts on the cassette, seven on the download), but standout tracks for me include the sublimely ethereal "Smoke and Dagger" (paging Jackie Mittoo!), the Western reggae-ish "Heady Topper Headon" (of course, named after The Clash's phenomenal drummer), and the mysterious Lee Perry-like "Return of the Living Zero" (which rely on organ, melodica, and clavinet respectively to carry each song's tune). You may think me bold, but the Flying Vipers' Copper Tape is most likely the best new dub release you'll hear all year.

The Skatalites Foundation Ska (CD/LP, Studio One, 2017 reissue): This fantastic compilation of Skatalites tracks produced by Coxsone Dodd was originally released by Heartbeat Records in 1997, but has been out of print for some years now--so, this is a very welcome reissue (grab the heavyweight double LP while you can!). While it shouldn't be considered a definitive collection of their work (the in-demand and extraordinarily prolific Skatalites also recorded for Prince Buster, Vincent Chin, King Edwards, Duke Reid, Leslie Kong, Sonia Pottinger, and Justin Yap), Foundation Ska is essential for all fans of '60s ska and captures many of the group's greatest cuts, including "Ska La Parisienne," "Ball of Fire," "Dick Tracy," "Cleopatra," "Beardsman Ska," "Addis Ababa," "Nimble Foot Ska," "Killer Diller," and The Beatles' cover "I Should Have Known Better" AKA "Independence Day." (For what it's worth, I believe the best Skatalites comp--though again, not definitive--is the spectacular 1984 Top Deck release Scattered Lights, licensed by Alligator Records in the US, which helped introduce the band to a whole new generation of American ska fans and musicians in the mid-1980s!)

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Monday, March 27, 2017

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Monty Neysmith and The Bishops "Fung Shu" b/w "Skin Flint" 7"!

Label artwork by CHema Skandal, featuring a "Braces" and "Boots" sides. 
(Review by Steve Shafer)

Monty Neysmith and The Bishops "Fung Shu" b/w "Skin Flint" (7" red or blue vinyl single, Jump Up Records/Mad Butcher, 2017): The great Monty Neysmith, keyboardist/songwriter for one of the first skinhead reggae groups in the UK Symarip (which, of course, released the essential album Skinhead Moonstomp in 1969 on Trojan), has re-recorded two of his classic tunes with his current musical collaborators--Omaha, Nebraska's pride and joy, The Bishops (who backed Neysmith on his 2016 US tour and his "Jump" b/w "Laurels for Laurel" single, also for Jump Up). "Fung Shu" and "Skin Flint" are terrific cuts from Skinhead Moonstomp--"Fung Shu" (about a clown who lost his girlfriend and never smiled/opened his mouth unless he sang this nonsensical song) is given a more straight up reggae reading, while the keyboard heavy instrumental "Skin Flint" (co-written with Roy Ellis) retains its fantastic skinhead reggae flavor. Both are wonderful. As the small print around the edge of the paper label states, "Keep Skinhead music alive! Love music, hate racism."

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Word is that Neysmith and The Bishops have recorded a full album--Monty Neysmith meets The Bishops--which will be released this May at the Supernova International Ska Festival in Virginia.

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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Confirmed US and UK Record Store Day 2017 Ska and Reggae Releases


This year's Record Store Day is right around the corner (4/22/17), so the powers that be have finally revealed the official list of releases that will see light of day and, in some cases, may work their way into your record collection (and your hearts?).

Below, please find the official list of RSD 2017 ska and reggae releases for the US and UK that may be of interest to Duff Guide to Ska readers.

Happy hunting next week!

US Releases

Creation Rebel: Starship Africa 12" (On-U Sounds)
Ken Boothe, Dillinger, Leroy Smart, Delroy Wilson: White Man in Hammersmith Palais 7" -- Features one hit from each artist named-checked in The Clash's song of the same title. (Greensleeves)
Mad Professor: Mad Professor Meets Jah9  LP (Greensleeves)
Peter Tosh: Legalize It LP -- Pressed on red, yellow, green striped vinyl with scratch and sniff inner sleeve. (Brookvale Records)
U-Roy: Dread In A Babylon LP (Get on Down)
Various Artists: House of Joy 15 x 7" box set (Studio One)
Various Artists: Recutting The Crap LP (Crooked Beat Records)
Various Artists: Studio One in Hi Fi 5 x 7" box set (Soul Jazz)

UK Releases

The Congos: Heart of the Congos LP -- This version features the original mix. (VP Records)
Creation Rebel: Starship Africa 12" (On-U Sounds)
Georgie Fame: R and B at the Ricky Tick 65 LP (1960s Records)
Joe Higgs: "Invitation to Jamaica" 7" (Pressure Sounds)
Hopeton Lewis/Vin Gordon and The Supersonics: "There She Goes" b/w "Reggae Trombone" 7" -- Both tracks are unreleased. (Trojan)
Ken Boothe, Dillinger, Leroy Smart, Delroy Wilson: "White Man in Hammersmith Palais" 7" --Features one hit from each artist named-checked in The Clash's song of the same title.
(Greensleeves)
Madness: "Drip Fed Fred" b/w "Johnny the Horse" 7" (Salvo Music)
Mungo's Hi Fi featuring Johnny Clarke: "Rain Keeps Falling" 7" (Scotch Bonnet)
Revolutionaries: Green Bay Dub LP (Burning Sound)
Various Artists: House of Joy 15 x 7" box set (Studio One)
Various Artists: Tighten Up, Volume 2 Picture disc LP (Trojan Records)
Yabby You: Songs of Love and Unity 5 x 7" box set (Pressure Sounds)

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Let's Go Bowling's "Music To Bowl By" Revisited


Editor's note: With the recent release of Let's Go Bowling's Music to Bowl By on vinyl--for the first time ever--through Mike Park's Asian Man Records, we thought it would be a good time to revisit this essential American ska album.

Despite issuing some incredible releases in the late '80s--most notably The NY Citizens' On the Move and Ska Face: An All-American Ska Compilation (The Toasters' Skaboom! and Thrill Me Up were actually issued through Celluloid/Skaloid, since Moon was hard-pressed for cash)--by the end of the decade, Moon Records was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. A series of indie distributor failures--Greenworld, Rough Trade, and New World--condemned almost 75% of Moon's pressed product to America's landfills (and then Celluloid/Skaloid went out of business right after the release of Thrill Me Up, without paying The Toasters any royalties on either album--and Skaboom! had sold around 12K copies by that point).

Rob "Bucket" Hingley (The Toasters' founder/guitarist/songwriter and Moon label head) spent much of 1990 rebuilding Moon Records, which was beginning to find its footing and some financial stability again through a newly-struck distribution deal with IRD (later Relativity). The Toasters' This Gun for Hire became the band's first release on Moon and one of its best-sellers up to that time (another release that year was Dance Hall Crashers' debut album with the yellow cover and black Charlie Brown zig-zag stripe on cassette and LP--the vinyl was pressed in the UK as a Moon Release by Revolver and imported to USA for sale). With some money in the bank and the means to reliably deliver product to the record shops, the label was (finally!) well-positioned to move forward and promote ska bands beyond New York City's limits.

Buck also was serving as Moon's A and R person while on repeated tours of the US with The Toasters, which is how he first encountered Let's Go Bowling (LGB) in the flesh in 1990 (along with DHC and Hepcat, who released their debut on Moon in '93). Buck recently recounted for The Duff Guide to Ska, "I had met LGB at the Country Club in Reseda where they blew me away with their tremendous live show--they were among the more instrumentally proficient bands on the scene at that time. But what impressed me the most was their blend of Latino stylings, as exemplified by the stand out track 'Esta Noche,' where everybody sang in Spanish." Buck and LGB hit it off and a simple, one-page licensing deal was soon signed for their debut album to be released on Moon.

Let's Go Bowling already had contributed a track to Moon's 1988 comp Ska Face ("Bitch") from their demo cassette and released their classic debut single "Rude 69" b/w "Dance Some More" on their own Spare Records that same year (here's the Zoot Skazine review of it from issue 14: ""Rude 69' is a pleasantly familiar jaunt through Potato 5 country, a chugging instrumental harking back to the good old days of Sixties ska. The flip side, 'Dance Some More,' is must faster (too fast?) and you'd really need to be on something to keep up with it"). They even played CBGB's in November 1989, with The Steadys, The Toasters, and Potato 5; I found out about the show a few days after it happened--urgh!

By the time Music to Bowl By was ready to be put into production in 1991, IRD had "advised" Moon that they wanted all new releases to be issued on compact disc, as vinyl was falling out of favor with music consumers at the time (Buck states that LGB was "gutted" that an LP wasn't pressed up), so this album became Moon's first release on CD (to be almost immediately followed by fantastic debut albums from The Scofflaws and King Apparatus, also on CD). [Cassettes were still viable in the early '90s; many of the promo copies that I sent out for review at that time were on tape.]

By all measures, Music to Bowl By is Third Wave classic. LGB's sound is a supercharged modern take on traditional ska, with elements of jazz, swing, Latin--even some classical music via Carl Stalling--in its DNA. The songs are all top-notch (especially "Pin Stripe Suit," "Rude 69," "Dance Some More," "L.G.B.," and the phenomenal "Esta Noche") and the performances are all-out stellar. The only flaw is the somewhat anemic original recording; it would have been great if the album had been remixed and remastered for this reissue.

Soon after its release in October of 1991, Music to Bowl By was one of Moon's hottest-selling albums and became enormously influential on the then still nascent national US ska scene (just think of the slew of American ska bands who cropped up in the mid-'90s and could trace their modern trad sound back to Let's Go Bowling...).

Buck gets the final word here on LGB's Music to Bowl By: "I am thrilled to finally see this album on wax and it's a tribute to the longevity of the band and the durability of the tunes that this particular release can still be viable 30 years on."

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Sunday, March 19, 2017

“Hail! Hail! Rock ’n’ Roll": The Toasters' "Chuck Berry"

Upon hearing the news that the King of Rock 'n' Roll Chuck Berry had passed away, I almost immediately thought of The Toasters' tribute to him on their 1996 album, Hard Band for Dead. "Chuck Berry" was a fantastic tribute to this extraordinary musician and an acknowledgement of his great influence on the development of ska (the music is a cool mash-up of jump blues, '50s Berry rock, and early 1960s JA ska), in addition to being another of Bucket's ska history tracks (see "Ska Killers" or the Duke Vin homage "Shebeen"). A read through of the lyrics is definitely worthwhile (I particularly love the nod to Laurel Aitken and how his move to the UK to influence the ska scene there is depicted):

"Forty years ago there was a Jumpin' Jazz Jamaica scene
They could hear these tunes drifting down from New Orleans
They put the two together in a thing they called Ska
And sent it off to England in the back of Laurel Aiken's car

It was 1964 and the rhythm just wouldn't stop
People banging on the door to hear "My Boy Lollipop"
Then the 70's came and with it the 2 Tone scene
People shakin' their heads at the rudies on the record machine

Now the 90's are here with the new bands bringin' it to you
Skins and rudies--and even some punk rock, too!
But the boys are still playing and the music is coming out live!
Down at your jukebox, dancing on a Saturday night!

In their eyes where does Chuck Berry fit?
Well he influences the Ska, that's the long and the short of it
He played his guitar and they heard it on the radio
And the rest is history, just as everybody knows

Forty years ago there was a Jumpin' Jazz Jamaica scene
You can check them rudies dancing at the record machine
The style is timeless, with the Perry and Doc Marten boots
You can keep dancing, just as long as you remember your roots
You can keep rocking, just as long as you remember your roots
You can keep dancing, just as long as you remember your roots"

In fact, this track was issued by Moon Records as a clear vinyl single in advance of the Hard Band for Dead album as part of its limited edition singles series and the song was actually slated to be The Toasters'/Moon Records' first music video. I had already started shooting Super-8 footage for the "Chuck Berry" video when Bucket rang me up to let me know that he had another track that the band had just recorded that might be even better to do--that, of course, was "2-Tone Army." (It's a bit blurry, but the 45 that you see playing on the old dansette at the beginning and end of the "2-Tone Army" video is the "Chuck Berry" b/w "Maxwell Smart" single.)



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This king is dead--long live the king! Rest in peace, Mr. Berry.

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Monday, March 13, 2017

Rumored Record Store Day 2017 Ska and Reggae Releases

The beloved/despised Record Store Day will be upon us next month (April 22, 2017) and even though the official list of releases is not yet public, like all private-confidential-classified information, it has been leaked on the internet for all to see. Vinyl Factory (amongst others) has posted a list of anticipated releases and from it I've sorted the ska/reggae keepers from the dross (like--I kid you not--a 12" picture disc for Toto's "Africa" and Corey Feldman's "Go 4 It" swirl-colored vinyl single, featuring Snoop Dogg):

Creation RebelStarship Africa [LP] (limited to 1000, indie-retail exclusive) LP

Ken Boothe, Dillinger, Leroy Smart, Delroy WilsonWhite Man In Hammersmith Palais [7”] (wrapped in a two-sided replica promotional poster, limited to 1000, indie-retail exclusive) 7″

Mad Professor Meets Jah9Mad Professor Meets Jah9… In the Midst of the Storm [LP] (limited to 900, indie-retail exclusive) LP

Peter ToshLegalize It [LP] (POT-SCENTED! Jamaican Red/Yellow/Green-Striped Colored Remastered Vinyl, limited/numbered to 2500, indie-exclusive) LP

U-RoyDread In A Babylon [LP] (18” x 24” color poster, limited to 1000, indie-retail exclusive) LP

Various ArtistsRecutting The Crap Vol. 1 [LP] (Green or Black Vinyl, reinterpretations of The Clash ‘Cut The Crap,’ includes Joe Strummer interviews, download, indie-exclusive, limited to 1000) LP

Various ArtistsSoul Jazz Records Presents: Studio One Hi-Fi [5×7”] (limited to 500, indie-retail exclusive) 7″

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I'm sure most of these releases are UK-only, though I do know that Crooked Beat Records in DC area is releasing the Clash tribute (the Scotch Bonnets contributed a track, "Are You Red...Y"). I have no idea what the deal is with the White Man In Hammersmith Palais single is, though I strongly suspect that it is actually a Clash re-issue, since those are the reggae singers referenced in the song.

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Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Duff Guide to Ska NYC Winter/Spring 2017 Ska Calendar #45

Jackie Mittoo, The Keyboard King
Friday, March 17, 2017 @ 7:00 pm

St. Patrick's Day with The Pietasters

The Marlin Room @ Webster Hall
125 East 11th Street
New York, NY
$16/16+

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Saturday, March 18, 2017 @ 8:00 pm

Dave Hillyard and the Rocksteady 7 Plays the Tommy McCook Song Book

Hank's Saloon
46 Third Avenue (at Atlantic)
Brooklyn, NY
$8

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Saturday, March 18, 2017 @ 8:00 pm

Roots Jamboree w/The Far East, Top Shotta Band featuring Screechy Dan, Special Guest Willow Wilson, plus selections by JonnyGO Figure, Dub Star, and more!

Don Pedro
90 Manhattan Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$10/21+

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Sunday, March 19, 2017 @ 8:00 pm

NYC Ska Orchestra, Brooklyn Attractors, Selector Agent Jay

Brooklyn Bowl
61 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$10/21+

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Friday, March 24, 2017 @ 7:00 pm

Voodoo Glow Skulls, Hub City Stompers

Knitting Factory Brooklyn
361 Metropolitan Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$13 in advance/$15 day of show
All ages

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Friday, March 24, 2017 @ 7:00 pm

Fishbone

The Gramercy Theatre
127 East 23rd Street
New York, NY
$25/16+

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Horace Andy w/the R.P.M. Band w/JonnyGO Figure and Autarchii Howklear plus music by King Lion, Black Roots, King Adies, Supa Sound

Milk River Restaurant
960 Atlantic Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$10 before 8pm, $15 after/21+

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Friday, March 31, 2017 @ 8:00 pm

Los Fabulosos Cadillacs

The Theatre at Madison Square Garden
4 Penn Plaza
New York, NY
Tickets: $35-$95

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Saturday, April 15, 2017 @ 7:00 pm

New Kingston, Rude Boy George

Highline Ballroom
431 West 16th Street
New York, NY
$15

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Friday, April 21, 2017 @ 8:00 pm

DJ Gorilla presents The Last Ska Dance w/Beat Brigade, The Shipwrecks, Boomshot, The Damn Long Hairs, Changala Changala, plus DJ Miss Hap!

Don Pedro
90 Manhattan Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$10/21+

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Saturday, April 29, 2017 @ 5:30 pm - 9:30 pm

ReadJunk 20th Anniversary Party w/Rude Boy George (two sets) and DJ Duff

Otto's Shrunken Head
538 East 14th Street (between Aves A and B)
New York, NY
No cover

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Saturday, April 29, 2017 @ 9:00 pm

The Ladrones Record Release Party

Tobacco Road
355 West 41st Street
New York, NY

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Friday, May 12, 2017 @ 9:00 pm

Mephiskapheles, NYC Ska Orchestra

The Bell House
149 7th Street
Brooklyn, NY
$15/21+

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Friday, May 19, 2017 @ 8:00 pm

Askultura and The Ladrones

Tobacco Road
354 West 41st Street
New York, NY

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Thursday, May 25, 2017 @ 7:00 pm

Monty Neysmith Montgomery of Symarip, The Bishops

Cape House
2 Knickerbocker Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$15/21+

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Friday, June 9, 2017 @ 7:00 pm

The Specials, The Far East

Brooklyn Steel
319 Frost Street
Brooklyn, NY
$50/16+

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Friday, June 23, 2017 @ 7:00 pm

The Slackers

Rocks Off Concert Cruise
The Liberty Belle
299 South Street
New York, NY
$30/21+

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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Suggs Interviewed in MOJO Magazine!

There's a fantastic four-page interview with Madness' Suggs by Ian Harrison in the March 2017 issue of MOJO Magazine with The Kinks' Ray Davies on the cover. The occasion is to help promote Madness' excellent 11th album, Can't Touch Us Now (which The Duff Guide to Ska has reviewed, if you didn't know), but the interview is quite wide-ranging, covering much of the band's--and Suggs'--career.

Here are some choice bits:

Ian Harrison: "Presently, there was Britpop, an arguably Madness-indebted notion."

Suggs: "I was a bit sort of jealous to be honest. 'Cos I remember being around in Camden Town and seeing Oasis and Blur and Menswear and fucking whoever, and thinking, 'Why aren't we in this frame?' Obviously forgetting that we weren't 19 anymore. But I remember Ian Dury being a bit malevolent about us, that we were nicking his shtick. What you should be is flattered."

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Suggs: "With Morrissey, Clive [Langer] was producing him, and he wanted someone to be a bit Cockney and talk about Piccadilly. I think he wanted to meet me and Cathal [Smyth, Madness co-vocalist], especially. So we went up to sing some backing tracks and had a very bizarre weekend at this residential studio. Someone said, 'Oh Morrissey wants to have a word,' so I knock on the door and there's this tap-tap-tap. I open the door and he's walking round with sunglasses and a blind stick. Did he explain himself? Of course not. Never dull with Morrissey!"

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Ian Harrison: "But you are, in the lineage of The Kinks, the Small Faces and Ian Dury, avatars of British pop exceptionalism..."

Suggs: "Yeah--'quintessentially.' I don't mind that we sound like we're from London. I like how the Buena Vista Social Club sound like they come form Havana or Bob Marley sounds like he's from Jamaica. I think the fact that it wasn't intelligentsia-ised resonates with the general public, too--you were either jumping up and down and getting into it or you weren't. I was thinking of the under-cultures--the skinheads, the Mods, and the suedeheads, the Northern soul thing... even John Peel said he'd never heard reggae before the mid-'70s; he just thought it was for yobbos having punch-ups in discos. I felt part of that firmament. It might have had huge social importance, but that wasn't the point."

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In this issue, there's also a great review by David Katz of the reissue of Keith Hudson's Pick A Dub.

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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Rhoda Dakar "The Lotek Four, Volume 1"

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Rhoda Dakar The Lotek Four, Volume 1 (7" vinyl EP/CD EP, Pledge Music, 2016; available through Dakar's online shop): The latest release from Rhoda Dakar was inspired by a performance she gave with son Frenchie at his school of a version of Greenwich Village folk-rocker Fred Neil's 1967 anti-war/pro-environment/love song "Dolphins," with Frenchie on drums, his music teacher on piano, and Rhoda, of course, on vocals. (Apparently, Frenchie's first visit to a recording studio was with his mum when he was six months old, when Beth Orton and soul/jazz singer Terry Callier were recording "Dolphins" with Dr. Robert--of Blow Monkeys fame--producing; Dakar had appeared on several of Dr. Robert's solo albums in the '90s, around the same time Orton recorded "Dolphins" for her Best Bit EP.) That unadulterated joy of performing music for music's sake and pleasure of sharing both beloved old tracks, as well as amazing new ones, really comes through on The Lotek Four, Volume 1.

Fans expecting more tunes in the 2 Tone/Bodysnatchers mold should re-set their expectations (it has been decades since those heady days, right?). The EP is split between traditional ska/rocksteady tunes an side A (if you're using vinyl) and lush, moody, introspective '60s jazz on B (no doubt, due to the influence of her father, UK jazz musician André Dakar). All are stellar and performed expertly by Dakar and her wonderful collaborators: Louis Vause (piano) and Paul Tadman (bass) of Crunch aka the Nutty Boys and the Lee Thompson Ska Orchestra; Lenny Bignell (guitar) of Pama International and The Sidewalk Doctors; Mark Claydon (drums) from The Get Up--Frenchie sits behind the kit for "Dolphins," natch; and Terry Edwards (sax, flugel horn) of The Higsons and Madness.

The EP opens with the gorgeous, but bittersweet ska track "Fill the Emptiness (Lovers)" (if you buy the CD version, contains an equally stunning jazz version, "Fill the Emptiness (Reefa)"), written by Dakar, Vause, and Tadman about being emotionally rescued, but at great cost: "Kind words only leave your lips/And then you wrap me 'round your finger/You, darling, you/Fill the emptiness/Deep down inside." The group then covers Madness' "Tears You Can't Hide"--a real gem written by Cathal Smyth from their 1985 Mad Not Mad album that has a '60s Motown feel to it--smoothing out the original's odd reggae rhythm and giving it a rocksteady sheen ("Carry the world on your back/Heavy weights tearing you apart/Feel in a rage, can't speak up for yourself/All you're trying to do, it's no good anyway/Now I see tears you can't hide").

The lonely and detached nightclub narrator of "You Talking To Me?" (written by Dakar, Vause, and Tadman and sung in both English and French), whose credo is "an observer of souls," goes through the motions, but still hopes against all expectations to find real love: "The vicissitudes of urban life/Leave me cold, exhausted, tired of strife/The connect that makes it all worthwhile/Often absent, though I try to smile/The rough, the smooth, the twists, the turns/Oh the lessons we are here to learn/An epiphany, a flash of light/On occasions when we get it right." Before this recording, I wasn't familiar with Neil's (or Orton's cover of) "Dolphins," but am so glad that I am now. It's an extraordinary song of longing and sadness for what could be ("And sometimes I wonder/Do you ever think of me?") and Dakar's jazz version is beautifully haunting.

In sum, The Lotek Four, Volume 1 is a phenomenally good release, not to be missed. Here's hoping that the next batch from this lot comes very soon.

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