For the uninitiated, what is ska music? Originating in Jamaica in the late 1950s, it was originally a combination of calypso beats native to the region combined with the rhythm and blues coming out of America.
Over the years, it has proved to be a highly malleable musical form, open to influence from everything to punk to classical music. It has also managed to avoid being oversold and commercialised into insignificance by mass media.
Tonight, with seventeen bands over three stages at The Espy, a party and a celebration of all things ska was held, with many punters travelling to deepest, darkest St Kilda from all over the country.
The party kicked off right in the front bar with Special Brew. Playing a more traditional, old school form of ska, they had the crowd jumping with some great tracks like “Word In A Box” and “Ska Beat”. Resistance (against dancing) was futile, as it was with many bands throughout the night.
Strangely Attractive put more of a punk spin on what they did, with a rather punchy version of the Jimmy Cliff track “The Harder They Come” really getting the crowd going, but one of the most pleasant surprises of the night was the brilliantly named Admiral Ackbar’s Dishonourable Discharge, playing in the Basement stage.
Imagine your lounge room with a couple of hundred of your closest mates and you’re about there with the vibe and atmosphere. The band had a crazy and chaotic groove going on, recalling the criminally underrated American band Fishbone. A real treat in a strong line-up.
Son Of Dad provided an enjoyable, if somewhat derivative, take on the classic ska sound and style, keeping that incredibly joyous and positive vibe with a highly responsive crowd going strong.
The Kingston Stompers, while playing some of the classics of the genre with a tangible passion, were somewhat loose and sloppy in the style, with a highly overbearing guitar sound and off-key vocals. File under: ‘needs work’.
One of the big surprises of the night were The Auskas, in what was only their third live show. Featuring members of legendary early 80s party band The Allnighters, they were a potent and exciting live proposition, doing some great original tracks and covers, including a sensational reading of the old 60s hit “No No No”.
The Resignators, with the main man behind Ska Nation, Francis Harrison, out front and centre, proceeded to get the boards jumping in the Front Bar. This was absolute foot-to-the-floor ska punk at its most enjoyable, with the crowd lappng up every minute.
Formed in 1981 in New York, The Toasters showed why they are considered one of the architects of the modern ska sound. With some great songs like “2 Tone Army” and “Don’t Let The Bastards Get You Down”, it was a wonderful experience to see them finally make it to Australia.
The best was definitely saved for last. The Melbourne Ska Orchestra, a 26 piece band directed by Nicky Bomba, proceeded to absolutely tear the roof off the Gershwin Room, with the highly excited crowd matching them every step of the way.
With a great selection of tracks spanning all corners of ska, including the gorgeous “Perfida”, first recorded n 1939, the utterly infectious and adorable “My Boy Lollipop”, a track that truly put ska on the map over fifty years ago, and the Madness classic “Night Boat To Cairo”, which had the crowd smiling like children and dancing for all they were worth, this was a truly stellar way to end the night.
A glorious celebration of a musical genre that still has a great deal to give the world, Ska Nation was a hugely enjoyable and fun night.
-Neil EvansWrite a Letter to the Editor