First things first, I guess that I need to explain the title of this column. I’m fairly certain that everyone reading this will know about the excellent book In Defence Of Ska by Aaron Carnes. In the book Aaron sets out to stand up for ska and explain that the genre is actually really good despite it often being seen as uncool by music folk in all areas of the industry. If you haven’t read the book yet I thoroughly recommend it. The book also has an accompanying podcast where Aaron is joined by Adam Davis of Link 80 and Omnigone and a special guest each episode which is well worth a listen.
This column isn’t about defending the good name of ska and trying to convince you that it’s cool. It’s about the idea that it’s ‘back’. I’m disputing this because, for me and a loyal, dedicated and fan base in the UK, it never went away!
My first introduction to the UK’s DIY ska punk scene was through [Spunge]. I’ve said so many times that it’s now boring, but the Cheltenham based four (five at the time) piece were my gateway band into ska and punk rock music. I discovered them around 2002, which was around the time that their third album The Story So Far was released. This introduced me to loads of UK bands who, throughout the late 90s and early 2000s, toured relentlessly to packed crowds every night of the week. Along with [Spunge], there were bands such as Capdown, Lightyear, King Prawn, Farse, No Comply, Adequate 7, Whitmore, Ye Wiles, Jesse James, Howards Alias and The Filaments. How’s that for a walk down memory lane? You had labels such as Household Name, Golf Records, Moon Ska Europe and Deck Cheese putting out incredible albums on a regular basis.
These bands then influenced the next generation of UK ska bands. As we moved towards the mid 2000s to 2010 bands such as Sonic Boom Six, Random Hand, Mouthwash, Grown At Home and The JB Conspiracy were popping up and carrying on the scene that the bands before them had built.
At this point the big wave of ska in the USA had well and truly ended but the popularity of the likes of Less Than Jake, Goldfinger and Reel Big Fish remained. Whenever those bands would tour the UK they would play to thousands of people every night. In 2007, Less Than Jake had a six night residency at the Astoria in London where they played all six of their albums to packed crowds. The UK still loved ska punk.
Around this time TNSRecords in Manchester were releasing music from the likes of Faintest Idea, Rising Strike, Beat The Red Light, Harijan, John Player Specials, Stand Out Riot and Sense Of Urgency. The ska punk scene was absolutely thriving in the North of England. Down South bands such as ClayPigeon, The Skints, Anti-Vigilante, Tyrannosaurus Alan, New Town Kings, Imperial Leisure and The JunK were always on at The Camden Underworld and drawing impressive crowds. Let’s also not forget Dirty Revolution from Wales and The Hostiles from Glasgow as well. There were small ska scenes all over the UK and it was still a great time.
There does come a time in scene cycles where the crowds begin to change. The older members of the crowds begin to settle down and find themselves with responsibilities that mean that they can’t get to as many gigs as they used to. This cycle obviously applies to the people in bands as well, responsibilities and life get in the way and playing shows all over the country begins to take a back seat. This did mean that the amount of shows began to dwindle but this gave opportunity for the next wave of bands to come along…
Yes, here is the bit about our best friends in Be Sharp Promotions. After putting on ska shows around Kent and South London since 2009, in 2012 they found a home at the New Cross Inn. Since then the pub/venue has become synonymous with ska punk. Bands such as Call Me Malcolm, Popes Of Chillitown, Tree House Fire, Captain Accident & The Disasters, The Bar Stool Preachers, King Punch, Just Say Nay, Millie Manders And The Shut Up and The Pisdicables have all made names for themselves at Be Sharp shows. Word has spread far and wide about the great things that Be Sharp and NXI are doing for the ska scene and legends such as Random Hand, Lightyear, King Prawn and The JB Conspiracy have regularly taken to the stage to sold out crowds. They’ve also managed to attract international acts such as Big D & The Kids Table, Jaya The Cat, The Toasters, Dave Hillyard & The Rocksteady Seven and, the big one, GOLDFINGER!
So, in conclusion, ska punk never went away in the UK and continues to go from strength to strength. More and more bands are coming out and releasing fantastic albums. The scene remains as supportive as ever, you will often see members of different bands deputising in other bands or just joining for guest spots. Ska punk shows remain big sellers. At multi-genre festivals the ska bands always get massive receptions. Thinking of Call Me Malcolm’s amazing Gorilla set and Manchester Punk Festival still puts a smile on my face.
The ties between the UK and American ska scene remains strong as well. Call Me Malcolm released their latest album Me Myself And Something Else with the help of Wiretap Records. Pook, formerly of Beat The Red Light and current member of Redeemon and The Filaments, recently started his own label/distro named Pookout Records to help UK ska fans get hold of new American bands’ releases without having to pay a fortune in shipping. Pookout Records regularly sells out of their Bad Time Records releases very quickly and they are also working on releasing music from some exciting new UK bands. Paul of Be Sharp recently started his own booking company with fellow NXI promoter Eddie name ACA Booking and have linked up with Bad Time to help those bands come to the UK to play gigs. This is a great opportunity for the bond to grow even stronger and hopefully open doors for UK bands to go to the USA and showcase just how good our scene is.