Spring 1992. The father of a school friend took us to our first punk festival in a village lost in the Mauges, near Cholet, France. My 15 years’ old eyes and ears were just blown up as most of my then favourite bands played that night : Specimen, les Sheriff and les Satelittes. The merry mess, the urban tribes’ looks and attitudes, the crazy energy of the whole stuff… yeah, the punk virus achieved its infection on me that day.
There was also that headliner I didn’t know: the Selecter. Beside the Madness radio hits, I knew nothing about ska music. I was mesmerized by the first two songs, but my father’s friend put an end to that : "Time to leave, kids! Much to many skinheads all around here, it’s going to be hot, hot, hot !". Skinheads still had a bad reputation in the early 90’s and I then didn’t catch how such a lovely, festive music, moreover with black musicians, could be loved by such racist assholes. Of course, I knew nothing about the skinheads’ way of life and the Jamaican Rude Boys…
From then on, things moved on faster : new interest for the ska bands in my area (Ruda Salska, les Camélons), for Skarface and the NOCO compilations, till the dazzling sickness of all that mid 90’s festive ska wave ; discovery of the Bad bad Reggae 8°6 Crew LP – THE compulsory soundtrack of my Toulousan buddies’ friendship ! - quickly followed by all the Jamaican vocal groups, early ska, rock steady, skinhead reggae and 2-Tone waves ; dance on the vivid early noughties London sound systems ; and the final strike of the shiny Western Special during my 10 years’ stay in the dull city of Reims.
Need for a little sum up of my so-fascinating story with ska music ? Not my favourite stuff, but a quite faithful musical companion.
My Own Club - 12th of June - Le Théâtre du Grand Marché
So, I was pretty glad to find the Rocksteady Sporting Club band when I arrived on Reunion Island 10 years ago. A quite similar band to the beloved Western Special : moving girly crooners’ vocals that could easily heighten up into soul tones, an exhaustive brass section (trumpet, tenor and baryton saxophones, trombone), a counter-time guitarist with warm choirs, great organ’s riffs, a catchy punk bass on festive 2-Tone tunes and a cool rhythm on haunting rock steady songs, smart looking guys and girl... The perfect soundtrack for this Island in the Sun although Maloya and Sega have ever remained the classical ones in this area.
They self-released 3 vinyl singles between 2014 and 2016 (with the help of the local Maudit Tangue Rec.), which alternated rock steady, 2-Tone ska and even some dub incursions. A great mixture that could to be checked live : they showed up in many local pubs and festivals (they played an open-air show in St Paul with the Skatalites a few years ago, and yes, they overshadowed the Jamaican band!) and toured France in 2016. Many members were/are involved in local punk bands ( Kilkil, Circle A, Pluto Crevé…). Ska and punk, two side by side musical worlds...
They also set up two parallel projects to explore more deeply this wide universe : Holy Soul and My Own Club.
The female singer seemed to have worked a lot her soul intonations, she used (and abused?) them a lot in Holy Soul. The brass section has been shrinked, the ska sound is tougher, they achieved a nice dosage between ska, soul and rock. I recently checked the band during one of those sundays' sunset time gigs on the St Leu waterfront : a warm ambience in an paradise setting, lots of mixed people (creole rastas, rockers, hippies, drunkards, students, families and tourists), a nice food-court and a funny le Ska, c’est la fête ! aura. I didn’t deny myself this pleasant moment. The debut album should be in the air this month, I’ll check that very soon.
A rather more muffled atmosphere surrounded My Own Club shows : unplugged guitar and bass, a minimalist drumming set, a single muting trumpet for the brass and a clear female crooner vocal for some perfectly pure rock steady tunes. My favourite frame of the Rocksteady Sporting Club crew for sure !
They usually play really intimist shows in the St Denis tiny fish & chips bar/restaurant Le Saut de la Puce hold by a smart skinhead reggae bartender. A little infidelity to the bar that night as they were invited by the programmer of the Théâtre du Grand Marché for an early evening show: a tourists’ spare audience, polite applauses, very quiet atmosphere, it wasn’t their best gig. But the awesome tunes and the great acoustic quality were there and it was a nice a opportunity to let my children discover them live.
Two Tone Club - 30th of March - Le Palaxa - Saint Denis
The party had wrongly started for me that night. My girlfriend had reminded me she was going out to a schedulded theater play, a thing I had of course totally forgotten, and she had killed me with her definitive words : "ska is just a shitty music for all those happy, loving hippies with their so-cool-and-festive-skanting-all-together dance, etc.". Half a point for her. As the baby-sitter wasn’t available and that I had partied out a bit often lately, she get the full point : I stayed with the kids at home.
Some buddies of the neighbourhood came a bit later for a little Des Vosges whisky tasting that quickly turn into a drunkards’ meeting. I played the King Of Dancehall 7" for them and had a last check on what I was missing tonight. Damned ! So many years since the last listening! How good this tune was ! A shitty stuff ? No way ! My friends were fully hot for the gig, one of them called his wife for an improvised kids’ watching and 10 minutes later, we all arrived at the Palaxa. We had missed the first band, Holy Soul, on its first show with its new shrinked formation, but we were just in time to catch the first song of the Two Tone Club crew.
Awesome super-dancing 2-Tone tunes alongside with some more moving rock steady ones, fantastic deep voice of the black singer who was backed-up by clearer vocals of the side-singer, powerful brass section, adequate Hammond synthesizer, skinheads looking guys and smart traditional dressing... and the usual bunch of local pirates for the funny stomping and the yelling ambiance. Beside two songs with a Clash smell which weren’t my cup of tea, I lived the whole set intensely! And it wasn’t just a side-effect of the whisky.
Their 4th album was released last year, after a 9 years break, on the Montbéliard label Les Productions de l’Impossible. A french label that has both taken a high interest in the surf music since its early releases of the Wangs and the Hawaii Samurai and has ever supported its local rock'n'roll scene.
Back home after this festive night : the kids were asleep, everybody was happy, my girlfriend was cool and loving and I hadn’t seen a single hippy.