Trojan Presents: Mod Ska - 40 Original Ska Anthems

Blazing Fire - Derrick Morgan
When I Call Your Name - Stranger & Patsy
Suzie - Top Grant
Doctor Kitch - Lord Kitchener
Wayward African - The Afro Enchanters
Luck Will Come My Way - Winston Samuels
Big Bamboo - Lord Creator
I Shall Wear A Crown - The Richards Brothers
Miss Dreamer - Stranger Cole
My Boy Lollipop - Millie
What A Life! - Sugar & Dandy
Two For One - The Vagabonds
Show Me How (To Milk That Cow) - Tony Washington
Garden Of Love - Don Drummond & The Skatalites
Number One (aka Drive It Home) - Eric Morris
Kitch You're So Sweet - Lord Kitchener
Cork Foot - Baba Brooks & His Band
This Woman - Owen & Leon Silveras
Stagger Lee - Jackie Edwards
Two Roads - Roy & Yvonne
Sea Cruise - Jackie Edwards
But I Do (Honky Tonk Ska) - Tony Washington
Jo Ann - The Movers
Mount Zion - Desmond Dekker & The Aces
I'm In The Mood For Ska - Lord Tanamo
King Size Ska - Baba Brooks
Something You've Got - Alton Ellis & The Flames
Time Will Tell - Winston Samuels
Contact - Roy Richards
Ska-ing West - Sir Lord Comic & His Cowboys
Doreen - Ben Levy
Storm Warning - Lynn Taitt & The Boys
The Higher The Monkey Climbs - J. Hinds & The Dominoes
Faberge - Baba Brooks
Copasetic - The Rulers
Rudies All Around - Joe White
Rudy Girl - Sonny Burke
Cool Down Your Temper - Junior Smith
Do The Teasy - Joyce Bond
Let's Do Rock Steady - Dandy

The original Mod era encompassed the early days of London's influx of black migrants from the West Indies, which started in the 1950s following the initial arrival of the SS Empire Windrush from Jamaica in 1948. By the early '60s, the black presence was progressively impacting London's club life. The fact that Mods at that time were listening and dancing to black American music, attending shows and occasionally meeting visiting artists helped diffuse any inherited racism. It was a time of rudimentary racial labelling and we did not make a fine distinction between the black American artists we listened to and the West Indian descendants with whom we came into contact.

The young West Indians we met mostly were smartly dressed with interests in nightlife and dancing similar to our own. Ian Hebditch states, 'Mods were open-minded. Not narrow. There was a great degree of respect between the Mods and the West Indian community. I personally found that. Within the Mod movement I don't recollect any element of racism at all, and by racism I mean anti-black feeling'. So the racial profanities uttered in the movie 'Quadrophenia' don't ring true. For North London Mods, interaction between white and black youths was most noticeable at the club above the Manor House pub in Haringay where a handful of young black men would dance with their white girlfriends. While some white blokes may have felt resentment they didn't voice it and there was no overt friction; rather there was a rather grudging admiration at the way the West Indians handled their girls during their stylish 'hug-up' dances. Some Mods took this admiration to extremes. In 1964, nineteen year old London Mod, David Holburne stated, 'At the moment we're hero worshipping the Spades (blacks)... The more sophisticated teenagers can go to Spade clubs in the West End... We're going back to dancing close - because the Spades do it'.

Although some Mods' parents, even older brothers and sisters, might have been bigoted, as a group London Mods were not prejudiced and rarely discussed racial issues - so the statement by the 'Sceneman' that the Scene Club 'had a whites only policy' stopped me in my tracks. I don't believe this was the Scene's policy and it sounded strange to me, especially because, as time went by, I came to attend more and more black parties because they had better music and focused less on talking and more on dancing. Certainly Guy Stevens brought black entertainers such as Inez and Charlie Foxx to visit the club; in fact I got Charlie's autograph. I also remember a black guy who was there on a regular basis, he probably had custodial connections, because he had access to the stockroom that stored the stacked-up never-used chairs, where he would sneak birds in. But mostly it is true, black Americans and West Indians attended the Flamingo (and whites too) where Georgie Fame had a regular gig, while the Roaring Twenties on Carnaby Street was a predominantly black club that played Ska and, later, Reggae, although a few of us Ska-loving Mods used to be allowed in.

To stay ahead of the mainstream, the first-wave of Mods pursued different sounds, initially R&B and then moving onto Jamaican Ska. The spread of Caribbean music in 1960s Britain primarily featured Jamaicans, but it took a Calypsonian from Trinidad, Lord Kitchener, to get the ball rolling. He arrived on the Empire Windrush and built a large following among West Indians in the UK during the 1950s. his music spoke of home and the island life they missed. 'Dr Kitch' was one of his most popular songs and one that also appealed to the club-going Brits who were amused by the double entendre and sexual innuendo. in the early 1960s it was a favourite of John Gunnell who, along with his older brother Rik ran the Flamingo Club, and played the track at nearly every session. Music reporter, John Pidgeon, who described himself as a 'middle-class boy masquerading as a Mod, remembers Gunnell playing records between the band sets, and 'spicing his MCs patter with a crude parody of Jamaican patois, which nevertheless amuses, rather than offends the West Indians in the audience'. Sandra, one of the Scene Club's DJs, also regularly featured 'Dr Kitch' and consequently, other Kitchener songs became popular, while further Trinidadian artists had club hits with similarly sexually risqué numbers, notably Lord Creator and 'Big Bamboo'.

Ska emerged in Jamaica in the period leading up to Jamaican independence from Britain in 1962, with its bright vibrant sound reflecting the heady optimism of the time. Mods referred to Ska as Blue Beat, because that was the name of a record label on which much of it saw issue. The Blue Beat imprint, a subsidiary of Melodisc Records, was launched in 1960, a couple of years before Chris Blackwell's Island Records became established in the UK. At this time, Blackwell was making his name as a leading producer in Jamaica, and it was to be another two years before he relocated to London, bringing his main hit-maker, Wilfred Jackie Edwards to Britain in the process. Although an impressive Ska singer in his own right, as evidenced by 'Stagger Lee' and 'Sea Cruise', Edwards was also a very able songwriter, with his compositions, 'Keep On Running' and 'Somebody Help Me' taking Stevie Winwood and the Spencer Davis Group to the top of the British charts.

Meanwhile, the Island Records boss also had an exclusive contract with the company's Jamaican-based co-founder, Leslie Kong, resulting in a steady flow of hits from the likes of Desmond Dekker and Derrick Morgan, who teamed up with Patsy Todd to record their popular 45, 'Housewives Choice'.

Although Blackwell had launched Island in the UK with the aim to sell records to West Indian ex-pats, he soon found that British Mods also had an appetite for Blue Beat. On 15th February 1964, an article in the British music paper, Record Mirror entitled 'It's The Blue Beat Craze', defined Blue Beat as 'a strictly Jamaican sound with a pulsating on-beat played on stop chords throbbing mercilessly through the disc. Most of the songs are down-to-earth items that don't usually deal with love, and the tunes are strictly secondary to the beat'. The article further explained, 'The craze has been 'in' with the Mods since last summer (i.e. 1963) because of the marvellous dance beat and of course has been bought by the West Indians in Britain for many years now'. Dance is at the heart of Ska and its successor Rock Steady, and many songs such as Joyce Bond's 'Do The Teasy' overtly promote the dance's sexual aspects.

In 1964, Blue Beat music received a further significant boost when the Blackwell-produced 'My Boy Lollipop' became a substantial hit for Millie (Small), resulting in her appearance on a variety of popular TV shows, including the hugely popular and influential 'Ready Steady Go'.

We liked our Blue Beat raw and hard-edged. The Skatalites' instrumentals, featuring Don Drummond on trombone, were Mod hits and their 'Guns Of Navarone' was heard all over town. Prince Buster's 'Madness' was a big seller, as was Derrick Morgan's 'Blazing Fire', plus the instrumentals, 'Storm Warning' by Lynn Tait & The Comets and Baba Brooks' 'King Size Ska'. The title of 'I'm in The Mood For Ska' by Lord Tanamo sums up our partiality. As victims of an impoverished class system, inner city Mods identified with the inherent rebelliousness of Blue Beat wherein the 'rude boy' persona was a force to be reckoned with. 'Rudy Girl' by Sonny Burke reflects this situation, as does another early Rock Steady piece, 'Rudies All Around' by Joe White.

Mods came to assimilate West Indian 'rude boy' influences in music and in their dapper dress. Some wore Blue Beat hats, which were the small pork-pie trilbies with tiny brims favoured by West Indians. A city-slicker image was perpetuated in the rude boys' use of American slang, as evidenced by the catchy 'Copasetic' by the Rulers. Heralding the emerging Rastafarian movement, Ska adopted liberation influences including references to biblical bondage, such as in Desmond Dekker & The Aces' 1969 UK number one, 'Israelites'. The same act also highlighted the Rastafarian belief in the exodus of sufferers from Babylon (Western society) to their primary African home, as reflected in their 1965 hit 'Mount Zion'.

In another favourite, 'Ska-ing West', featuring spoken commentary by Sir Lord Comic & His Cowboys, 'West' had a special meaning for London Mods. To them, 'out or up' West didn't elicit thoughts of the American frontier, but rather the city's West End, which seemed just as wild, indicating all-niters and good boutiques. On Fridays or Saturdays, regular Mod clubs such as the Goldhawk or the Ricky Tick closed at 11.00pm. Mods would then head 'up west' to the Flamingo or The Scene Club to listen to Stranger Cole, Derrick Morgan, and tracks like the Skatalites' mellow 'Garden Of Love' - dancing and partying until daybreak. During all-night Blue Beat sessions, the relentless vamping on the offbeat was hypnotic and really drew you in. It's a high-energy music that puts you in a trance - good dube music and a vigorous work out!

The Ska dance was extremely dynamic and used a forward leaning position, almost a crouch, whereby the bent knees served as springs bobbing up and down, while the arms pump up and down in front alternately. A dancer would frequently move to another spot, using a little jump to make the transition, and face in another direction (or dancing partner) while continuing to dance. Around 1964, Tony Washington & The DC's released 'Show Me How (To Milk A Cow)'. resulting in a 'Milk The Cow' dance - a comedic variation of the regular Ska dance, whereby straightened arms pump up and down in front alternately, like milking a cow, in time to the Ska rhythm. Rumour has it that Tony Washington was in a relationship at the time with Sandra, one of the Scene Club DJs. Other novelty Ska by Tony Washington that became popular were 'Lavender Blue' and its flip, a version of Bill Doggett's R&B favourite, 'Honky Tonk' (strangely re-titled 'But I Do').

We danced to Blue Beat ay various clubs and locations, including La Discotheque on Wardour Street and elsewhere. The Roaring Twenties Club was run by Count Suckle who later opened the Q Club in Praed Street, Paddington, which I attended in the early 70s and which was noted for catering for black American servicemen stationed in the UK. At the Roaring Twenties, I witnessed something on more than one occasion that I never saw at the Q Club - a police raid. But such raids were conducted in a routine 'see-nothing do-nothing' manner, probably by pre-arrangement. The lights would come on and the hustlers would drop their joints and little stashes on the floor while the police did their rounds (mostly policewoman as I remember). The police neither searched nor arrested anyone and turned a blind eye to the little stashes scattered around, and when they left the hustlers simply picked them up.

There were 'Blue Beat' nights at both the marquee and Flamingo where the Duke Vin sound system played records (Vin also arrived in Britain on the Empire Windrush). There were also private 'Blues Parties' - rent-party bashes in a West Indian's home, where admission was usually free but drinks and food had to be purchased. John Waters recalled: 'Once inside, we were able to buy curried goat and rice and Red Stripe lager (all at a cost of course!). The organiser made a little money and these were great nights featuring some fabulous music. Blue Beat (Ska) was the order of the day'.

I loved Rock Steady, which emerged late in 1966, and included 'Let's Do Rock Steady' by Dandy (Livingstone) and other songs best heard blasting out from big speakers. While the Ska beat was densely packed, the Rock Steady rhythm was more spread out, leaving room for trickling bass patterns between the beats. The dance was also more intricate, involving the arms outstretched sideways and little rhythmical dips during the bass passages. Take the Tenners' 1967 Jamaican hit, 'Pressure And slide' for example: in addition to the sexual innuendo, I see it referring to the Rock steady dance: the 'pressure' being the small tight movements and the 'slide' referring to the periodic dips during the bass passages.

There was a small West Indian club in Camden Town we went to that was entered by a nondescript door in a wall that led to a basement in a row house. They tolerated us little white guys, essentially ignoring us, and there were a few white females, women rather than girls who were wooed to dance..the dancing, which was mostly 'hug-up' grinding variety, was of the best quality. Of course such dance movements can be inspired freeform, but for ordinary mortals, in order to fall in step with the girl with whom you were dancing you would do two bounces on one knee not too fast, synchronised with her in time to the music, and then two bounces on the other knee, and repeat. Properly, your left hand held her right hand and your right hand rested on her waist, but if she felt comfortable with your movements you could move closer and drape your right arm around her back. DJs would occasionally interject the music with grunts or nonsense syllables and other vocalisations, drawling encouragement in Jamaican patois: 'Yes!' 'Do it like that!' 'C'mon!' 'Hold your baby close!' etc.

Some Mod blokes gave their female counterparts short shrift and called their musical sensibility into question. For example, Mark Timlin, an early London Mod states: 'Geezers were the most important people. You wanted a girlfriend but at the same time you didn't want them hanging around because they didn't understand the music. They might pretend, but what would they know about 'Green Onions'? To counter this I can say that Mod girls really latched on to Blue Beat. Deejays on the scene were always very competitive and secretive, so would scratch out, or paste over, the 45rpm record labels, so concealing the identity of the song and performer. Nevertheless, a female friend of mine in Blackheath had the largest and greatest collection of Blue Beat 45s you could imagine, far outstripping the collections of any male I knew. by one means or another she'd discovered the mother lode.

1963 was a pivotal year for Mods; the Scene Club, 'Mod Central', opened in Soho in March, while by August, the TV show 'Ready Steady Go!' that highlighted Mod styles was being aired. In addition, on the music front an array of great Ska tracks was being released. '64 was similarly magnificent with the Mod v Rocker confrontations on the coast and the release of even more great 'Blue Beat' records, and as a result, 2013/14 is being celebrated as the original Mods' fiftieth anniversary.

Around 1979, a Mod revival sprang into being, due in part to the release of Franc Roddam's film of Pete Townshend's 'rock opera' 'Quadrophenia', and the concurrent publication of Richard Barnes' book 'Mods!'. the years also witnessed the emergence of 2Tone, which reintroduced Ska to the mainstream and brought black and whites together, the style proving popular among many Mod revivalists, Rudies and Skinheads. The initial Mod revival was periodically followed by other resurgences and today there are 21st Century Mod movements throughout Britain and well beyond.

We hope this collection of Ska tracks from the golden era of Ska from the early-to-mid sixties, not only brings back many happy memories to those who were there at the time, but also provides fresh enjoyment to those a little newer to the scene.

Robert Nicholls
Adapted from an article that first appeared on the Mod generation website.
All material © Trojan Records