Who Are Your Fantasy 2 Tone All Stars?

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.

Dance Craze DVD/Blu-ray and Deluxe Soundtrack in 2023

It’s a rude dream come true! The legendary 1981 concert film Dance Craze is set for release as a DVD/Blu-ray set on March 27, 2023. This cult classic vividly showcases “the best of British ska, LIVE!” in all its hyperactive glory – including The Specials, Madness, The Selecter, The Beat, Bad Manners and The Bodysnatchers.

Issued by the prestigious British Film Institute (BFI), the Dance Craze dual format set boasts a 4K restoration from original film materials, with new 5.1 surround and Dolby Atmos soundtracks co-supervised by Jerry Dammers plus the original mono. The release is further reported to include outtakes and other bonus materials to be announced.

As if that weren’t exciting enough (and it damned well is), there will be an accompanying Deluxe Edition of the Dance Craze soundtrack album as box sets of 3 LPs or 3 CDs, out on March 23, 2023. For the first time ever, these releases will include all 27 songs from the film, as well as the original 14-track compilation from 1981.

  1. The Specials: Nite Klub
  2. Madness: The Prince
  3. Bad Manners: Ne Ne Na Na Na Na Nu Nu
  4. The Bodysnatchers: 007
  5. The Selecter: Three Minute Hero
  6. The Beat: Ranking Full Stop
  7. The Beat: Big Shot
  8. The Specials: Concrete Jungle
  9. Madness: Swan Lake
  10. Madness: Razor Blade Alley
  11. The Selecter: Missing Words
  12. The Bodysnatchers: Let’s Do Rock Steady
  13. Bad Manners: Lip Up Fatty
  14. Madness: Madness
  15. The Specials: Too Much Too Young
  16. The Selecter: On My Radio
  17. The Bodysnatchers: Easy Life
  18. The Beat: Rough Rider
  19. The Specials: Man at C&A
  20. Bad Manners: Inner London Violence
  21. Madness: Night Boat to Cairo
  22. The Beat: Twist & Crawl
  23. Bad Manners: Woolly Bully
  24. The Selecter: Too Much Pressure
  25. The Beat: Mirror in the Bathroom
  26. Madness: One Step Beyond
  27. The Specials: Nite Klub (Reprise)

The Dance Craze film has long been notoriously “unreleased” and “unavailable” because of copyright and ownership disputes. Outside of rare screenings of well-preserved prints, most fans have seen it only via VHS bootlegs and hideous blurry YouTube uploads with muffled sound. Now that’s all about to change, and Stateside Madness is here for it! For those keeping score, this will mark the first time anything Madness-related is available on Blu-ray Disc. Welcome to high definition, lads! And finally we get to hear the film’s rollicking renditions of “Swan Lake” and “Madness” in crystal clear audio mixes. 

But will these holy grails be released in the U.S.? The deluxe soundtrack is coming from Chrysalis/2 Tone, whose recent reissues have seen widespread American release, so that should be no problem. The BFI DVD/Blu-ray, on the other hands, may have to be had as an import, unless some U.S. distributor like Eagle Rock or Rhino were to pick it up (pick it up, pick it up). Update: The official 2 Tone online store has the Dance Craze film and soundtrack box sets listed in U.S. dollars for overseas shipping (in numerous bundled configurations), so you can get ’em that way if they don’t turn up in our domestic retail channels.

While we wait for March to get here, take a look at my personal reflections on the classic soundtrack album, Dance Craze and My Higher Education.

Dance Craze and My Higher Education

The year 1986 was a tumultuous time of transition for all of us old-school Madness fans. And for myself even more so, since I was in my senior year of high school and facing big decisions about my future. It was a pivotal moment when I had more consequential matters to worry about than my favorite pop band breaking up. And yet somehow my pursuit of college admission got intermingled with my love of Madness, as I shall relate forthwith. 

During my junior year, I entered a short story in a scholarship competition called the North Carolina Writing Award. It was a lark and I expected nothing from it, but I ended up winning first place in the county. So I was invited to the state finals at Duke University, where I squared off against the other finalists in writing an extemporaneous essay in a big intimidating auditorium. I won second place in the state, which scored me major scholarship funds to put me through either UNC or Duke, and cemented my confidence in writing as the skill I wanted to build a career around. 

But that’s not why we’re here. The incident of musical interest took place on the night before the Duke finals. It was my first visit to Durham, which now has been my home for some 25+ years. That evening my Mom and I stopped at a big mall called South Square, long since demolished, and I browsed a Record Bar music store. In this prize wonderland I found a rare and amazing discovery: the Dance Craze soundtrack. I had read about the elusive 1981 concert film, but here was the music on vinyl LP in my hands for the first time. At the checkout I remember telling the cashier I was super impressed with Record Bar’s selection. I’m sure I sounded like a pimply little dork, but I meant it. I thought this city of Durham must be a happenin’ place. Maybe I did want to live there and go to Duke instead of Chapel Hill.

I spent that night in the hotel admiring the kick-ass album sleeve, glad of something to divert the stress of tomorrow morning’s writerly showdown. The triumvirate I knew as the giants of 2 Tone – Madness, The Specials and The (English) Beat – all together on one live album. It was a crossover team-up event like the Avengers of ska. I also knew Bad Manners, but I’d never heard The Selecter or The Bodysnatchers. How cool, how exciting!

Dance Craze was a real watershed in my development as a music fan. Most fans think of Dance Craze foremost in terms of the movie, but for me the soundtrack is forever more memorable and important. I’ve only seen the movie in crappy VHS bootlegs and on YouTube, since legal entanglements have prevented official home video releases. On the last night of a 2017 visit to London, I had a ticket to see a screening of a high-quality print at a club in Islington, with Rhoda Dakar doing a live set afterward. But I came down with pink eye on the trip and decided to stay in. Later came to find out the projector had broken and there was no show that night.

But anyway, what was so significant about the Dance Craze soundtrack? Unbelievably, it was the first opportunity I really got to hear how Madness sounded live. Think of that. Just as the band was packing it in, I finally learned how flippin’ amazing they were on stage, when it was too late for me to ever experience the nutty sound in person. (Or so it seemed.) But let’s set that thought aside for the moment, so I can first give the rest of the artists on the Dance Craze soundtrack their due.

The Specials dominate the album, taking the opening and closing tracks, and rightfully so given their status as the progenitors of 2 Tone. Terry Hall sings lead on “Concrete Jungle,” which songwriter Roddy Radiation sang on the album. I’d have to say Roddy sings it best with that rockabilly swagger, but Terry ain’t half bad. I first heard “Man At C&A” on Dance Craze, since I didn’t yet have More Specials at that point. I definitely prefer the live version without the Mickey Mouse voice. “Nite Klub” makes for a storming finale, with a merry Terry offering a more generous appraisal of the klub scene than usual: “All the girls are very nice and all the boys are pissed!” And his band introductions during the extended bridge have long been my mnemonic device for knowing my Specials members. “On drums, Brad! On bass guitar, Horace!”

The Beat is in fine form on their three tracks. My first album of theirs, the What Is Beat? compilation, contained bonus live versions of “Ranking Full Stop” and “Mirror in the Bathroom,” so I very much knew what to expect here. The band’s inclusion in Dance Craze left my younger self with the vague impression that The Beat had been on the legendary 2 Tone Tour, but of course they weren’t.

I was familiar with Bad Manners thanks to their minor novelty hit, “My Girl Lollipop.” The 1982 Forging Ahead is the only album I’ve ever had by Buster Bloodvessel and co., and only on a cassette I gave away long ago. It was interesting to find this “lesser” act elevated onto the same level as the big boys, and their “Inner London Violence” had a harder edge compared to their laddish goofball tunes I knew.

And then there’s the two girl-singer groups, The Selecter and The Bodysnatchers. Both of them blew me away. I pored over the little photos on the back of the album sleeve trying to figure out which one was Pauline Black and which one was Rhoda Dakar. For a while I guessed wrong and had them reversed. The Bodysnatchers made a huge impression in their one number, “Easy Life,” but it would be many years before I got access to any more of Rhoda’s music. I was more taken with The Selecter, especially Pauline’s shimmering vocals on “Missing Words” and the cute way she went “hey!” in the chorus of “Three Minute Hero.” After Dance Craze, I got my hands on Celebrate the Bullet and totally ate it up. I remember thinking it was like music from the future, despite the album being about six years old by then. My Stateside Madness cohort Poly Collins has proclaimed his longtime crush on Rhoda Dakar, but I’d have to say I’m a Pauline Black guy… even though Pauline shares the same name as my dear departed grandmother, which is kinda weird for one’s sexy pop idol.

And now back to the feature attraction of the Dance Craze soundtrack: Madness live. It seems hard to believe, but in those early years I had no exposure to what Madness really sounded like on stage. Like most U.S. fans, I lacked the means to attend their concerts, and TV appearances were nearly always mimed. Their live act, so renowned across the U.K., Europe and east Asia, had been systemically withheld from America. In 1984 Madness made a landmark live performance on Saturday Night Live, and as I detailed in my Where’s the Band? post, I found it lacking. I actually decided Madness must be a studio band not really suited for the stage, like Steely Dan or something. Boy howdy, did I have that wrong.

Listening to Dance Craze was the first time I ever got to hear a legitimate high-fidelity recording of Madness doing their thing wide-open. It was a revelation. Three top tracks from the One Step Beyond album that I so cherished, executed with dazzling energy and verve. Barson and Bedders dueling like fencing masters in the mind-blowing bridge of “Razor Blade Alley.” Chas screaming his head off in “One Step Beyond” (“Soul to soul, nation to nation! Madness is musical appreciation!”) as the band lays siege like an unstable nuclear reactor threatening to implode. Suggs making the most of “Night Boat to Cairo,” his one brief spotlight on the whole soundtrack, while Chris goes extra twangy, Woody goes extra bangy, and Thommo goes extra cranky. Every song a show-stopper.

When the Dance Craze soundtrack was first released on CD in 1990, it was a crushing disappointment to find the Madness tracks omitted because of legal issues. A first pressing with Madness included was immediately recalled, but a few copies that slipped out sold for astronomical prices on the collector market. When the three missing songs turned up on a 2009 anniversary deluxe CD of One Step Beyond, I tried to playlist them together with the rest of Dance Craze, but with the different sound mix and fade-outs, they would not blend seamlessly together. Ultimately this mess got resolved with the 2 Tone: The Albums box set in 2020, which includes the soundtrack in all its original unexpurgated glory at last.

I can’t overstate how much that Dance Craze album taught me. But not just the illumination of Madness’s full talents. Not just the introduction to The Selecter and Rhoda Dakar. Not just the beauty and harmony of these six quirky British bands all woven together at a singular moment in pop culture history. More than that, Dance Craze was a harbinger of the key role that live music was going to assume in my life going forward.

Back in 1986, live music was basically an abstract concept for me. The only shows I’d ever been to were country music stars like Alabama and the Statler Brothers. Late in my senior year I ventured to take a first “grown-up” night out with friends, going to see a local reggae band on an Asheville college campus. It was like touching a live electrical wire. I never knew music could have such visceral presence, hitting you in the chest and lighting up your whole nervous system. This was a whole new experience, and I liked it. A lot. I began to see that records and tapes were only like pictures of music, a second-hand accounting of music. As Mike Watt puts it, everything is either a gig or a flyer. Records are nothing but flyers to get people to the next gig. Live music is what matters.

I ended up choosing to attend UNC over Duke, thank goodness. My top extracurricular activity was seeing live music at Chapel Hill clubs and other area venues. Arguably that was more educational than all my English and sociology and poli-sci classes put together. In my freshman year alone, I got to see R.E.M., Echo and the Bunnymen, 10,000 Maniacs, Sting, U2, fIREHOSE, and many fine local bands like the Pressure Boys and Billy Warden and the Floatin’ Children. My college years fell within the dark hiatus without Madness, but there was no shortage of live music for me to absorb and savor and learn from.

Looking back, I consider the Dance Craze soundtrack to have been my first college course in both Madness and music in general. As Chas Smash aptly noted, “Madness is musical appreciation!” Everything before that was grade school, me with my little cassette tapes and pop music magazines. Many years later, following the band’s triumphant return, I would embark on my graduate studies by seeing Madness live for the first time at Madstock 2009. I think I finally earned my master’s degree at the Kenwood House Madness XL orchestral concert in 2019. 

And this Stateside Madness blog you’re reading right now? It’s my ongoing doctoral thesis.

More of Trull’s Mad Memories