❉ Look sharp, buster, and prepare to rewind with this cracking slab of ska during its UK revival.
“‘Staring At The Rude Boys: The British Ska Revival’ is no ordinary ska compilation. It is wide-ranging, contributions from local and national underground bands, alongside pop music gold and ska super-heroes. There are ska-only acts, and others who did a ska number as a one-off. It’s all here.”
The ska revival provided some of the most joyous and important times of our lives. Highly danceable music, catchy and for those taking it in, lyrical content full of social and personal commentary. It made a mark. The songs of The Specials had this quality in abundance, and their early 2 Tone labelmates Madness provided the music we grew up with.
Pressure Drop Records, a division of Cherry Red Records, have released Staring At The Rude Boys: The British Ska Revival (1979-1989), a three-disc, sixty-nine track collection of a decade of UK Ska. However, this is not merely a celebration of the ‘big five’ – The Specials, Madness, The Selector, Bad Manners and The Beat – and such is the depth of Staring At The Rude Boys there is no Gangsters or One Step Beyond. Indeed, disc one opens with two album tracks which make up the contributions of The Specials and Madness: Little Bitch and Bed And Breakfast Man, respectively. Two absolute belters from two essential debut long-players which played such a colossal role in the revival.
So, this is no ordinary ska compilation. It is wide-ranging, contributions from local and national underground bands, alongside pop music gold and ska super-heroes. There are ska-only acts, and others who did a ska number as a one-off. It’s all here.
Look sharp, buster, and prepare to rewind.
The Selector’s Too Much Pressure is a key album of the era and the first disc has the exhilarating Street Feeling. The Selector of course appeared on the first single release on 2 Tone, with The Specials. Bad Manners have one of their best numbers, Inner London Violence, included. One of the country’s finest, yet underrated, acts.
The Top Forty hits on disc one include Poison Ivy, by The Lambrettas. Pop gold with sinister overtones. The band had a short run of chart hits in 1980. Led by Rhoda Dakrar, The Bodysnatchers had a key role in the revival. Favourites of Radio One, their thumping up-tempo version of Dandy Livingston’s Let’s Do Rocksteady was a top ten hit and is on many ska compilations.
The Merton Parkas were a familiar name on the Mod-ska scene in 1979. The band’s line-up contained the Talbot brothers, Danny and Mick. The latter joined Dexys Midnight Runners and then formed The Style Council with Paul Weller. Give It To Ne Now was the band’s ska 45 offering, with a catchy chorus and blokey, warm vocals from Danny.
Future New Romantic and Goth stars feature in Liverpool’s Ded Byrds – their lively, singalong 45 Rich And Nasty was issued on Sire Records and featured drummer Jon Moss (Culture Club) and Wayne Hussey (The Mission). Graduate had future Tears For Fears’ Kurt Smith and Roland Orzabel in their ranks – Elvis Should Play Ska is also on disc one. It combines a glossy production with a new wave-ska crossover.
Some curious, but thoroughly excellent, covers are included. The Ballad Of Robin Hood was a highly individual one-off single by the Charlie Parkas in 1979. The Burtons’ version of McArthur Park is interesting. It appeared on an album by The Hybrid Kids called A Collection Of Classic Mutants – the work of Morgan Fisher, keyboardist with Mott The Hoople. A different moniker was taken for each song, for example ‘Punk and Porky’ do a version of The Pistols’ God Save The Lean/Pretty Bacon!
A real standout on disc one is Play My Record by Arthur Kay’s Originals. Kay also played bass on the lighting quick No One Like You, credited solely to The Originals, thus they appear twice, albeit under different names. The Gangsters;’ We Are The Gangsters keeps the energy up with its organ flick and finger poppin’, rude boy dialogue, police sirens and general naughtiness. And yes, you had to have the word ‘gangsters’ mentioned as much as possible in ska!
The instrumental Lofaska by The Reluctant Stereotypes is reason alone to get hold of this compilation, as is the disc closer – South Coast Rumble by the South Coast Ska Stars. Saxophone on this tune? Courtesy of Wes Magoogan, who blew to awesome effect on Hazel O’Connor’s Will You. Say no more.
The second disc introduces some Jamaican legends to the collection. Laurel Aitken, Rico (Rodriguez) and Desmond Dekker all recorded material with contemporary UK musicians at the time. Aitken teamed up with members of The Ruts on Big Fat Man, an original new work from 1980. Dekker enlisted the help of The Rumour for his do-over of his own Rude Boy Train. The dulcet, smooth, vocals work well, providing a break from the more boisterous British voices showcased.
If you have been paying attention you will have noticed only four of the ‘big five’ have been mentioned so far. The Beat complete the quintet on disc two. Not one of their chart hits but the anthemic protest Whine & Grime/Stand Down Margaret from I Just Can’t Stop It. A great inclusion, natch.
The Piranhas had a massive national hit with their version of Tom Hark, previously recorded by crack Jamaican session band The Dynamites. A tune as popular on football terraces as on the dance floor. Want another fun fact? ‘Course you do. Piranhas’ guitarist John Helmer co-wrote many a lyric for Marillion with new vocalist Steve Hogarth and appeared on stage at their 2019 convention.
The second disc features plenty of local heroes. Bands who on occasion provided support for bigger names, sometimes on an entire tour, sometimes when that act hit their town. The Rimshots heralded from the south-west and performed high profile local supports for The Beat and The Bodysnatchers. Their sound combined punky, new wave elements with a high tempo off-beat. Their 45 I Was Wrong is included.
Obscure punk and ska compilations have been well-raided. Brighton’s The Ammonites contribute the pacey Blue Lagoon, which appeared on the compilation Voltage 80 Vinyl Chapter. Dublin’s The Resistors shared an Irish compilation with an early U2 track, and the title track from their Jeanie EP (1980) is showcased. More a good pop rock track with ska elements, really.
An interesting contributor are Leamington‘s Machine. They had Silverton Hutchins on drums, originally with The Coventry Automatics – later The Specials. The edgy Character Change is from the Sent From Coventry compilation. The lovely reggae swoop on Sax Maniax’s Never Gonna Lose Me is a highlight, and the band reappear later as The Ska-Dows on disc three with Ska’d For Life. The latter is deliciously light on its feet.
Disc three kicks off with a true pop star, Kim Wilde. Kim had huge success in the early eighties with a series of pop classics, and the ska-tinged 2-6-5-8-0 works well as a track on her debut album. Someone else who enjoyed chart success but probably won’t be mentioned too often alongside Kim Wilde is the one and only Max Splodge. Splodgnessabounds had clocked up hits including the seminal Two Pints Of lager And A Packet Of Crisps, Please before his debut solo 45 – the bombastic Mouth And Trousers – was issued in 1982.
Bad Manners were having some enforced downtime in 1987 and Buster Bloodvessel’s side project, Buster’s Allstars, issued an album containing the brilliant Skinhead Love Affair. It really is one of the best ska 45s of the revival and is usually over-looked in favour of more famous songs of the 2 Tone heyday.
Familiar melodies are present with JJ Allstars version of the Dambuster’s March and Plastic Gangster (I Could Be So Good For You) by Plastic Gangsters. Gangsters again, eh? The latter drops into the theme from Minder at the end. The former features the multi-talented John Jacobs from The 4 Skins playing EVERY instrument. Wow.
Lots on disc three should have made it big. The Papers, with Reggae On The Radio, are such an example. As is the tremendous Dave And Mary by The Hotknives (‘Living on dreams and custard creams’ – genius). The Loafers were the young upstarts of the scene in the late 1980s, and their The Undertaker is included. Sean Flowerdew, the band’s organist, is an organiser of the famed London International Ska Festival. The Deltones’ Stay Where You Are and Maroon Town’s Pound To The Dollar, provide high spots from the late ‘80s ska surge.
Finally, being a Leicester lad, it’s great to see Ska-Boom included. They represent many of the local ska bands, insofar as they played countless gigs, were never a huge commercial success but brought joy to many with their packed live shows. You’d lose about a stone in sweat dancing at their gigs. An awesome act, as are all here including those not mentioned in this review. Their version of Bobby Aitken’s classic Rukumbine takes me right back.
Staring At The Rude Boys is a cracking slab of ska during its UK revival. The collection has been superbly compiled by Mark Brennan and his team, who take care to carry its feel at local level as well on the national and international stage. There is a nice unity is this collection, and it is an essential purchase for even the most seasoned aficionado.
❉ Staring At The Rude Boys: The British Ska Revival (1979-1989 (Pressure Drop PDROPCW28) released February 19, 2021. RRP £17.99. Click here to order directly from Cherry Red Records.
❉ Paul Matts is a writer from Leicester, England. His first novella, ‘Donny Jackal’, a kitchen-sink coming of age drama set in English punk rock suburbia in 1978, is out now both in paperback and as an E-book. His fiction has been featured in Punk Noir Magazine, Brit Grit Alley and Unlawful Acts. Paul also writes articles on music, in particular on the punk and new wave movement, and is a regular contributor for We Are Cult, Punkglobe, Razur Cuts and Something Else magazines. See https://paulmatts101.wordpress.com/ for more details, and to subscribe for updates.