|The Jellycats. Tight ska fronted by the alluring Emma May
know of the Liverpool Sound, of course, that “fab” Mersey Sound, spearheaded by
the Beatles. It re-wrote and re-booted pop in the early 1960s.
But can anyone remember
the Coventry Sound, which emerged in England in the late 1970s, at the tail end
ska was sent to Coventry
Spearheaded by two ska
bands from Coventry in central England, The Specials and The Selector, the 1970s
Coventry Sound attracted a second generation of such 1960s English sub-cultures
as rude boys, skinheads and mods. The rock press waxed on about Coventry
becoming the new Liverpool.
|The Specials in New York City in 1982
The Coventry Sound even
had its own record label: 2 Tone Records, set up by the Specials in 1979. The ska-inspired
music created by the Specials and label-mates including The Selector, and The
Beat from Birmingham, went on to produce a British cultural movement which,
too, became known as 2 Tone. Some devotees even sported pork pie hats, black
suits, white shirts, white socks, narrow black ties and black shoes, emulating
the famous 2 Tone Records logo.
The Blues Brothers wore
a similar two-tone get-up in their smash-hit movie that came out about a
|The 2 Tone look
later; but where the Blues Brothers loved blues and rhythm and blues (like most
of us, dear reader), the 2 Tone movement lived for ska, its foreunner, bluebeat,
and their derivatives, reggae and rocksteady.
first wave. R.I.P Count Suckle
2 Tone’s rhythms and
melodies echoed the earlier Jamaican ska that took off in London in the 1950s,
pioneered by such people as Kingston’s Count Suckle, who died only a few weeks
ago, aged 82. In the early 60s, Count Suckle was resident DJ at an
Afro-Caribbean club in London’s Carnaby Street. Such top English bands as the
Stones, Animals and Who were regulars, as were celebrities and leading UK politicians.
One of these was Britain’s Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, the guy
who shagged Christine Keeler,
|Count Suckle: just died aged 82. Rest In Peace.
resulting in a major Russian spy and sex affair
in 1963. Not keeping it in his pants saw the high-flying Profumo’s political
career shot down in flames and later spawned the movie, Scandal, and Andrew
Lloyd Webber’s recent West End musical that’s just folded, Stephen Ward. If
nothing else, this bit of irrelevant information demonstrates just how ska can
loosen the inhibitions of even the straightest-seeming people.
Count Suckle also once
recalled how he used to lend his records, mail-ordered from Tennessee, to the 17-year
old Mick Jagger. The Stones always looked “scruffy” the Count (real name Wilbert
second wave. The Coventry Sound becomes 2 Tone
The Coventry Sound that
emerged the following decade mixed ska with punk-like chords and political
lyrics, often promoting racial unity. In 1981, the Specials had 2 Tone’s
biggest hit, the
|Coventry’s The Selector with Pauline Black, centre
unemployment-themed “Ghost Town” in 1981. Ironically, this
coincided with major riots in cities like London, Bristol and Oxford. In all,
disaffected youths wrecked and set fire to 35 town centres around England that
Amidst the hubbub, the
sound generated in Coventry became known as 2 Tone, after the record label
rather than the city. Perhaps this was when London bands became involved
because 2 Tone will also be remembered as the label that launched Madness,
probably the most successful of all the genre’s bands. Madness today are
probably best known for “Our House” which reached No. 7 on the American charts
in 1982, a song they performed on the roof of Buckingham Palace to celebrate
the Queen’s diamond jubilee a couple of years ago.
third wave. Ska moves to California
In the 1990s, the ska
baton was passed to the USA where bands like California’s No Doubt, Reel Big
|Blink-182. Influenced the Jellycats, supported by the Jellycats
Fish, and Blink-182, and Less Than Jake from Florida, helped make ska one of
the most popular forms of alternative music in mid-90s America.
Since then, ska has faded
from the scene. But not in Essex, England, where in 2010, a group of young
musicians, influenced by all those iconic ska bands I’ve just mentioned, particularly
the more recent US ones, formed the Jellycats. Already, they’ve supported many
of their heroes including The Beat (English Beat in USA), Blink-182 and Bad
Manners with a support for Reel Big Fish coming up.
fourth wave. Can the Jellycats ride it?
The Jellycats certainly
have the armoury to help put ska in the mainstream once again.
Fronted by a particularly
photogenic little minx called Emma May, the Jellycats seem an accomplished
bunch of musicians who don’t take themselves too seriously. Song writing duties
are shared by guitarist Ollie Cooper and Emma May, whose expletive-ridden
lyrics are spat out in a cockney patois reminiscent of Steve Marriott on The
Small Faces’ “Lazy Sunday Afternoon”. (Essex is the last refuge for the old East End cockney dialect.) On drums is Ollie’s brother, Stu Cooper.
Alex Palach plays the Jellycats’ brass, so integral to ska, and on bass is Rob
The nature of ska means
it’s hard to tell the quality of Emma May’s voice; but she certainly has the
charisma, front and, not least, the allure to help this band succeed in a big
way. The camera absolutely loves this girl, and it would even more if she could stop
|The Jellycats’ Emma May in performance mode
pulling faces at it. The Jellycats need a Malcolm McLaren-style Svengali-figure to
promote them, just as McLaren promoted Bow Wow Wow through their own photogenic female singer, Annabella
Lwin. Annabella’s still remembered from Bow Wow Wow’s countless appearances during
MTV’s early days. Emma May can do the same for the Jellycats and if you’re feeling doubtful,
just take a look at this Jellycats clip:
Jellycats with TWAT
Twat, for those
interested, is a British equivalent of American blues’ jelly roll, a synonym
for female genitalia. Meaning dickhead,
twat possibly originates from the old Viking for slit. And if you want to
sample more of the Jellycats songs, check them out here:
So, can ska re-emerge
into the musical mainstream for a fourth time? Well, the Jellycats, I believe,
performed at Britain’s famous Isle of Wight Festival last weekend. While the
Kings of Leon
|The Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Put on a great show at the Isle of Wight
headlined Saturday, and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers topped
Sunday’s line-up, putting on a terrific show to close the festival, old ska
hands, The Specials and The Selector, were also performing. As one newspaper
review on the Specials’ IOW performance put it, “The old masters showed the
kids how to do it and got the kids skanking with their plucky politic ska”.
So there may just be a
market for ska once again. Over to you Emma May. It’s time to get that
Jellycats PR machine purring and the cameras clicking. Just stop pulling funny
faces. Show them how good you really look.