Skanking the Ska
Toby Jenkins | 27 February 2017
As a self-proclaimed music 'anorak', watching last year's festivities unfold became very much an exercise of reaffirming my personal music tastes. Whether that be through endless redraftings of how I would have had the soundtrack to the Olympic Closing Ceremony play out, or working on a selection of strongly-worded letters to anyone involved in making the bookings for the Queen's Jubilee concert.
 
 
However, there was one saving grace amongst all this. It quickly became apparent that the nation collectively had succumbed to a certain wave of nostalgia. Knowingly or not, Britons became reattached to one of my favourite chapters in British music: Second Wave Ska.
 
 
You may well have not realised this or, worse, have no idea what I mean by '2 Tone' or 'Ska'. So first, it's probably best to take a step back and get some definitions out the way. Ska first exploded - pulsating organs, thumping bass, 'chicka-chicka'-ing guitar and all - in Jamaica in the late 50s. As a genre, it was a melting pot of the best bits of everything from Jazz, to Blues, to Calypso; all of which came together to form one of the island's most danceable exports (this was all years before Reggae became Jamaica's go-to genre). Back in England, these releases fell into the hands of the early skinheads, with Prince Buster and Desmond Dekker records rapidly becoming essential listening for trend-conscious teenagers who had failed to be drawn in by the comparatively poncy psychedelia fad.
 
 
Then all was largely silent until the close of the 1970s when a certain Jerry Dammers cooked up the idea for his own record label that would deal exclusively in releasing a new wave of Ska music that would take the country (and even in some cases the charts) by storm. Groups from across the country discovered this last wave of Jamaican Ska and set about recreating it, albeit now infused with punk's energy and in-your-face agenda, with its cut-throat politics not prepared to suffer either Thatcherism or the urban undercurrents of racism gladly (after all, 2 Tone was also known for producing many bands with both black and white musicians). The record label, and its distinctive branding, offered these artists a sense of unity and collective purpose. 2 Tone's adopted insignia, Walt Jabasco - Ska's skanking black and white mascot - was on his way to becoming not only integral to the brand's instantly recognisable identity, but also a stamp of quality on releases by groups such as The Specials, The Beat, The Selecter and even early releases by Madness and Elvis Costello & the Attractions.
 
 
Jumping forward thirty-odd years, we'll return to the end of 2012. Madness truly went one step beyond any previous British bands' spectacles by belting out Our House on top of Buckingham Palace. The Specials enjoyed a career-defining set in the Olympic Closing Ceremony concert (once again, and seemingly for the last time, with their original line-up). Even Bad Manners' Special Brew, seemed pertinent in light of the government's discussion about a minimum per unit price for alcohol. Ska has always been a genre to offer a ray of hope in face of not so prosperous economic times, far from favourable Conservative governments and youthful discontent simmering just beneath the surface. This is why Ska matters now more than ever. It is a genre ripe for rediscovery and a social commentary with which we can today draw countless parallels.
 
 
2012 was the year 2 Tone snuck back onto the musical radar -- but let's make this year the one when we fully claim 2 Tone as our own.

James Routledge 2016