Whilst reveling in the audiovisual splendor of the remastered Dance Craze on Blu-ray, I found myself wonderstruck at all the raw young talent that emerged at the same time, in the same country, sharing a ska revival moment that lasted all too briefly. I’ve known this music since I was a wee teenager, but this gorgeous new Dance Craze breathes such relentless vitality into that roster of legendary performers that I’m just left in awe. All these legends on stage – these kids – are so f***ing great! How was that even possible?
And in the finest traditions of sports fans and comic book nerds, my mind turned to hypothetical crossover glories. What if you could assemble your own personal 2 Tone dream team? What if you could journey back to 1980 (the year of Dance Craze) to draft all your favorites from their youthful prime and put them together in a British ska supergroup? Who should be nominated to the Traveling Wilburys of 2 Tone? The Mount Rushmore of the rocksteady beat? One’s mind boggles at the hypothetical hard-skanking combos.
Thus, following carefully considered reflection (and limiting my inherent Madness bias to two slots only), I hereby present the lineup for my ultimate fantasy ska orchestra.
Suggs may be my #1 favorite member of Madness, but I honestly have to go with Terry on this one. He’s just the personification of the 2 Tone frontman, no question. Aloof but impassioned, angry but intellectual, low-key but electrifying. And I discovered Pauline Black and The Selecter by way of the Dance Craze soundtrack, which captured some of her finest vocals. Watching the new Blu-ray, I’m enthralled with her stage presence. In my imagined supergroup, sometimes Terry sings lead, sometimes Pauline sings lead, and on some tunes they duet.
Alternate draft pick: Suggs
With his fast-flowing rhymes drenched in vibrant Jamaican patois, Roger always made certain every gig was a jubilant party. I can’t put it any better than Jerry Dammers’ words of eulogy: “If one person had to be picked to epitomise everything that was good and positive about the British ska movement and its youthful spirit, I think it would have to be Roger.”
Alternate draft pick: Chas Smash
For starters, Monsieur Barso has to be the most recognizable keyboard player I know of. After just a couple of bars, you know it’s him. Mike has the skill to govern the whole structure of a song with his keys, while leaving his bandmates plenty of room to do their own thing. Whereas most British ska keyboardists focus on Hammond-style organ, Mike gives equal attention to piano well, which ties back more closely to the traditions of Jamaican ska.
Alternate draft pick: Jerry Dammers
In my appreciation of the recent deluxe edition of The Selecter’s Celebrate the Bullet, I came to the late realization that Neol is the best guitarist from the 2 Tone scene. Guitar is primarily a rhythm instrument in the milieu of ska, with the occasional blast of a Roddy Radiation or Chris Foreman solo. But Neol went further in painting layered epic six-string soundscapes like 2 Tone’s version of Jimmy Page or The Edge.
Alternate draft pick: Andy Cox
Just listen to any given track on The Specials’ self-titled debut. Lynval is the master of the distinctive ska upstroke on the offbeats. Always fast, clean and precise, driving forward in lockstep with the drums and bass. None better.
Alternate draft pick: Chris Foreman
In my book, the two most essential components of the nutty Madness sound are Barson on keyboards and Bedford on bass. Which is why I named them my two all-star delegates from Madness without hesitation. Bedders was already a virtuoso of smooth and slinky rock-jazz-ska basslines in 1980, when, lest we forget, he was but a tender 19 years old. Besides, the man has thoroughly proven himself as a team player in massive ska orchestras.
Alternate draft pick: David Steele
Following Brad’s untimely death in 2015, I started listening to his Specials recordings with renewed appreciation. His drumming didn’t necessarily call attention to itself, what with all the other sonic explosions the band put on stage, but man, did he work hard. Brad kept himself busy with all kinds of complex drum fills and cymbal work while pounding on the base pedal and snare. A real gem.
Alternate draft pick: Everett Morton
Jamaican-born Lionel Martin, the great Saxa, was the 2 Tone scene’s living link to the original ska scene, and already an elder statesman of 50 at the time of Dance Craze. The man put a depth of emotion into his lonesome tenor tones that you could feel in your very soul. Saxa’s solo on “Mirror in the Bathroom” is a masterclass.
Alternate draft pick: Lee Thompson
I mean, duh. Obviously.
Alternate draft pick: Gus “Hot Lips” Herman
So that’s my ska fantasy lineup, for what it’s worth. It’s a fun thought experiment, if nothing more. Who would you choose for yours? Could anyone’s all-star band have been the most potent colossus to play the skank chop riddim since the Skatalites, or would ideas and egos clash with no chemistry in a shambolic mess?
Of course, we’ll never know. Then again, with A.I. simulations progressing the way they are, maybe soon we’ll be able to punch some buttons and hear any musicians from recorded history “perform” any setlist at one’s whim. Until that day, here’s a little-remembered real-life ska supergroup that starred several of my draft picks: the 1985 famine benefit project called Starvation.