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From the Moshpit # 8: Ska Punk, Ska, and Grindcore

From the Moshpit # 8: Ska Punk, Ska, and Grindcore

by Joe Ambrose, Literary Editor (2005-2018)
first published: July, 2005

approximate reading time: minutes

By 1960 Derrick Morgan was the top dog. The first and only Jamaican artist to hold the top seven slots on their singles chart during the same week

Adequate Seven seem to be doing their highwire act without a safety net right now. They've parted company with their record label - the excellent punk-orientated Household Name - and their website is down. I went to see them play about ten minute's walk from my front door in The Garage, a classic small rock club with one of the worst dressing rooms in London.

What the venue lacks in backstage facilities, it makes up for in grungy ambience and intimacy. The band - white boys dressed in white like a junior cricket team - came on to a fevered welcome from young, maybe out of town, certainly suburban, fans. The politely spoken and well turned out crowd were 50/50 boys and girls. One blonde boy wore a white Nike t-shirt with the clothes corporation's logo emblazoned across the front in luxurious silver. Others wore Household Name t-shirts and the mohawks - drunk as skunks despite their underage status - were stripped to the waist.

Adequate Seven play a funky ska punk with considerable acumen and aplomb. I was particularly taken by a brass section which veered into jazziness without ever being grown-up or tedious. Ska punk, to work, needs good songwriting and Adequate Seven own a whole bunch of well honed tunes. This danceable contribution to teenage revolution is partially Welsh. That occupied country seems to be turning out good bands with notable ease right now.

Next day I was off in the sunny afternoon to Brixton's lovely boulevards and to Brockwell Park to see some punk-less ska played by old black guys at Lambeth Fair. The Fair - sponsored by Lambeth Council - has been taking place in the Park forever and was part of my annual routine when, back in the 90s, I lived in a squat on the adjacent Tulse Hill Estate. We usually managed to hustle ourselves out of our dope-induced stupor in time to catch the end of the event. Lambeth Council were our enemies, our personal downpressors, but at least they put on a free live show once a year.

This year the headline acts on the music stage were famous Jamaican DeeJay Denis Alcapone, Derrick Morgan the King of Ska, and ace dancehall riddim section Mafia and Fluxy.

Denis Alcapone - born Denis Smith so no wonder he adopted the more colourful moniker - is 60ish now but as mesmerising, a fascinating reminder of the DeeJay scene which laid down the foundations of Rap. Alcapone was joined on stage by Dave - from Dave and Ansel Collins (Double Barrel) - and by Winston Reedy. Starting off slow, he built himself up into a remorseless wave of wordplay, ideas, and jokes.

Derrick Morgan - now blind and recovering from a hip operation - used to be a real Johnny Too Bad. By 1960 he was the top dog, the first and only Jamaican artist to hold the top seven slots on their singles chart during the same week. He and Prince Buster became embroiled in a fierce musical feud which, in 1963, spilled over into street battles between their respective fans. The newly formed Jamaican government were forced to intervene, calling a cease-fire and bringing the two guys together for publicity shots.

Morgan had one of his biggest hits with a song called Housewives' Choice. If the behaviour and bawdy dancing of the stout Jamaican matrons in the Brixton crowd was anything to go by, this dapper looking blind man remains their vehement choice forty years later.

The acts were introduced by a stupid white bitch, probably on secondment from Lambeth Council's Library Department, who insisted on addressing the crowd (70% Caribbean, plus every dreadlocked patchouli-oiled white hash dealer in South London) in a condescendingly racist faux-Jamaican accent. She told the audience to "Give thanks" maybe thirty times, muttered "One love" like a religious mantra, and praised London's alleged multiculturalism.

As far as I can see, multiculturalism means white folks holding on to all the money and coloured folks getting to dress up in colourful costumes for the TV cameras once in a blue moon.

Then it was back across the city to Camden. Every town must have a place where phoney hippies meet and, in London, that place is Camden. I was going to Koko, a club known to generations of young folks recently washed up in town as the Camden Palace.

Now given a bit of a makeover and a new name, the venue was hosting a guitar-driven all dayer starring rock bands of various shapes, sizes, and tempos. I arrived just in time to catch the headliners, the mighty Napalm Death, founding fathers of grindcore.

I have a Brixton connection with Napalm Death too because I used to go see them back in my 90s squatting days when they were justly revered by dreadlocked German girls with their asses sticking out of ripped jeans, ideological anarchists putting together the nascent anti-globalisation movement, and the gang of Irish deviants from the norm with whom I hung out.

Time has not tamed them or diluted their power. Signed to Century Media who've just issued their potent album, The Code is Red Long Live The Code (special guest Jello Biafra), they're back in mainstream circulation.

A Portuguese punk in his early thirties told me that, when he was fifteen, he ran away from his Algarve home to see them play Lisbon. There were a lot of mohawked young men getting down to serious moshing of the dancing-but-brutal variety. Singer Mark Greenway ranted coherently against the Iraq war while Napalm Death proved all over again that they make more noise than most while pursuing serious art and keeping the flame of anarcho-punk alive. I'll catch them again when they support Agnostic Front in November.

Joe Ambrose
Literary Editor (2005-2018)

Joe Ambrose wrote 14 books, including Chelsea Hotel Manhattan and The Fenian Reader. Joe sadly passed away in 2018. Visit Joe's website which was completed just before his passing, for more info:
about Joe Ambrose »»



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