Who’s that all a-dressed up in black ‘n’ white? Who’s a-gonna shake their bum tonight? Well, fork me for a priestess, it’s the Ska Vengers! My old mum loves them ‘cos they keep their hair tidy and their socks clean; me, I love ’em because I’m just a right-thinking guy. I couldn’t say no to that great, groovy riot (legs!) if I tried.
Patty & the Emblems
If you’ve run out of Stax and Atlantic and, oh dark days, Motown records to listen to, then this’ll be a treat: NJ’s favourite complete unknowns, Patty & the Emblems might’ve scraped the US top forty just the once, and that almost half a century ago, but it isn’t without reason that they went on to become northern soul staples (which, I suppose, is hardly saying much, but still.) Their big – or as big as they ever got – single was Mixed Up, Shook Up Girl, which is nice enough, but it gets better. Patty Russell is a singer of Martha Reeves’ formidable calibre, the songs themselves are fine examples of sixties’ R&B, more to the pop end of the spectrum than the blues (i.e. more Motown than Stax), and the arrangements feature crisp grooves, horns and strings in equal measure, marvellous tenor backing vocals from the Emblems, and bassplaying of a kind which would later resurface in England in the hands of soul-worshippers like Bruce Thomas.
The Ska Vengers put on India’s best stage show. To look at, they’re part-cabaret, part-mod and part-2-tone, an extravagant blast that’s as much melody and groove as it is pure clever theatre. Nominally they’re a ska band, but their reach far exceeds such genre pigeonholing: they draw from a larger, more urban, more colourful gene pool. In spirit, they are a product of modern, self-aware pop, though they’re not above kicking up a plain and simple racket for the benefit of pub drunks; they do, among other things, recooked R&B and soul standards to rattling, hyperactive drums and bass, with two full-time singers, a thrust-and-duck brass section, and an all-purpose melody-and-harmonies department consisting of a guitar-player and a keyboardist who wear hats, handle the backing vocals, and fiddle with bits of percussion.
They’re also, in the scheme of things, quite well-known, which means they get to play festivals, have the glossies occasionally running a feature, and it’s not just their drinking buddies who follow their page on Facebook.
Their first record – due out soon – is, thus, a case of an established live act taking to the studios. The interesting thing, of course, is to see how much of that exciting, extroverted stage routine survives the constraints of the LP.
It was only later, after my head had finally been brought back down to earth by the combined forces of professional jealousy and nitpicking music-critic pettiness, that I began to latch on to the idea that the Ska Vengers were not in fact the best band in the world. This took up the better part of a working week, a week I spent in the throes of ill-suppressed excitement at having realised that what I’d attended hadn’t just been a great evening out, it had actually been proof of something, as if, winding up on a new planet and believing it to be barren, I had instead, to my breathless surprise, stumbled upon intelligent life. Continue reading