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Phoenix City All-Stars Present Two Tone Gone Ska

Phoenix City All-Stars Present Two Tone Gone Ska

Phoenix City All-Stars Present Two Tone Gone Ska

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The music that helped spawn a British phenomenon is repatriated to the young sounds of Jamaica.


At the end of 1979 the UK was swept by 2-Tone fever as bands like The Specials, Madness, The Selecter, The Beat and more got the country up and dancing to music based around the Ska and Rocksteady sounds of 1960’s Jamaican music. Indeed many of theses bands littered their sets with cover versions of hits of that time from artists such as Prince Buster, Toots & The Maytals, The Pioneers and Dandy Livingstone.

Phoenix Citty All Stars - Two Tone Gone SkaNow Sean Flowerdew, the man behind the London International Ska Festival, band Pama International and Cherry Red Records ska imprint Phoenix City has gathered together, with the aid of Lenny Bignell from the Sidewalk Doctors, a host of artists to form the Phoenix City All-stars who are celebrating this most iconic of British labels by taking some of 2-Tone's greatest songs and replanting them firmly in 1960's Jamaica.

The album kicks off with a cover of a cover as ‘One Step Beyond’ is stolen back from Madness and given a thunderous authentic ska workout in the style of the Skatalites, Lee Thompson’s singular wailing sax replaced by a trio of brass riding an encompassing swishing cymbal beat. Then without breaking stride it’s into The Specials ‘Stereotype’ with jazzy guitar and melodica taking turns to replace Terry Hall’s acid vocals. Neol Davies’ instrumental ‘The Selecter’, which appeared on the B-side of The Specials ‘Gangsters’ and was originally titled ‘The Kingston Affair’, receives similar treatment as does the seminal UK #1 form The Specials ‘Ghost Town’ as the bpm is upped on both giving them a more vibrant feel, though the subtle guitar work and horns still preserve some of that eerie feel.

The Beat’s debut and only 2-Tone released single, a cover of Smokey Robinson’s ‘Tears of a Clown’, is slowed down and stripped back to give it a Rocksteady feel with Dave Barker (the voice of Dave & Ansell Collins) applying sweet and soulful vocals. ‘The Prince’, Madness’ tribute to Prince Buster, sees the jerky edges of the original smoothed out into a more flowing and suitably Jackie Mitto styled, fairground organ led number.

Album closer ‘Too Much Too Dub’ finds The Specials ‘Too Much Too Young’, a song loosely based around Lloyd Charmers ‘Birth Control’ turned into another organ led cut this time with an early reggae vibe that is more in tune with the album version of the track as opposed to the live version that was the bands other UK #1.

Out of all this though the highlight for me is the reworking of Elvis Costello’s ‘I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down’. Costello was not a “ska artist” per se though he did produce The Specials debut L.P and some of his songs like ‘Watching The Detectives’ had obvious reggae influences. The song covered here and which was originally done by soul duo Sam and Dave, appeared with the afore mentioned title on an unreleased 2-Tone single that was given away free at gigs and so qualifies to be part this collection. The Allstars take this song and completely make it their own thanks to boss reggae styling and Dave Barker’s vocals making this a real heartfelt lament.

This album could so easily have fallen into the chessey trap, like so many other albums that try to take popular music and turn it into something different, but perhaps because this is taking the music back to where it once came and the obvious love and respect that all concerned have for it thankfully never befalls such a fate. The sound of the album is as close to the Studio One / Treasure Isle sounds as you are likely to get and even the simple yet effective battered looking cover smacks of nostalgia. This is not just an album for old 2-Tone “Rude Boys” but one that anyone with a love of early Jamaican music will find a delight as the music that helped spawn a British phenomenon is repatriated to the young sounds of Jamaica

Released on the 3rd September via Phoenix City / Cherry Red Records 'Two Tone Gone Ska' is available as CD, digital download and on strictly limited (only 250 numbered copies) vinyl album.

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