March 12, 2008

A message to you, rude boy

My buddy and fellow discerning musicologist the Brew City Brawler this morning links to a live version of Concrete Jungle by The Specials, one of my favorite bands.

The Specials were the best of a number of British Ska outfits that flourished in the early 80s. They put out two excellent albums, a self-titled debut followed by More Specials, and a bunch of singles before splitting up and pursuing a number of individual projects.

The Specials, which is one of the greatest party records ever made, was produced by Elvis Costello, production which, according to one of the band members, consisted mostly of EC's laying under the mixing board with a bottle of vodka.* (EC will be back in Milwaukee this summer opening for The Police, which is a bit surprising because he once opined that Sting should be beaten about the head and shoulders for 'singing with that ridiculous fake Jamaican accent.')

All of which reminds me of my own Specials story. Several years ago when I was in London I learned that another of my musical heroes, the legendary and reclusive Mancunian "punk poet" John Cooper Clarke, was appearing at a pub in Camden Town. Clarke was opening for a band I'd never heard of, but was advertised as comprised of former members of The Specials and their erstwhile 2 Tone label mates Madness and The Selecter.

I was in the neighborhood already so I headed to the pub early with a few newspapers and found a comfortable spot at a picnic table outside the establishment. In due course a bunch of people came along and asked me whether anyone else was sitting at the table. Nope, I said, help yourself, which they did, and proceeded to animated conversation.

I don't normally eavesdrop, but it soon became apparent that these folks were the headliner that evening. A bit later, I found myself in the men's loo having a slash beside one of them, and I asked him which of the 2 Tone bands he was previously a part of. Turns out he was John Bradbury, The Specials' drummer. One of the most — if not the most — distinctive features of The Specials' first record is the drumming; just the sound of the snare drum is fabulous.

"Holy shit," I said, "You're the guy who played drums on Monkey Man? That is one of the finest performances evar!" So we all ended up having a hell of a time back at the picnic table, involving numerous pints of lager, bitter, and Guinness, and packets of crisps. Eventually they invited me inside for their sound check, where I insisted on more high end for the snare drum. We got it down perfect.

After all that was done, who should amble past my table but John Cooper Clarke. He's easy to spot because he's a little guy with a hairdo about seven feet in circumference. "Johnny Clarke!" He sits down and we shoot the breeze for about an hour, him amazed (and flattered) that here's this character from across the pond that can recite The Ghost of Al Capone in its entirety.
Paralysed in precious stone
Canonized - I stand alone
In the clouds of paradise - my home
A million orchids deck the throne
Of the man who numbered Al Capone
The man who numbered all his bones
He even came back to continue the conversation after performing his hilarious and ingenious schtick, but the said conviviality was soon interrupted — enhanced, in Clarke's case, as it turns out — by a slightly inebriated and obviously enamored young woman, who helped herself to a seat on Mr. Clarke's lap. They disappeared together shortly thereafter, Clarke waving a bemused farewell to me.

In short, a splendid time was had by all.

* On further reflection, I believe this may have actually been Shane McGowan's characterization of EC's labors pursuant to the production of The Pogues' second record, Rum, Sodomy & The Lash.

3 comments:

Other Side said...

What a life. Reminds me of a night outside Zurich, doing the twist on a dance floor with my Swiss girlfriend, Nicole, and about twenty other youngsters while a local band covered the Beatles, none too well.

The quality of the music didn't matter. It's still a magical memory 25 years later.

John Foust said...

Did McGowan mention whether he was under the table with EC?

And EC and the Police are appearing where this summer?

Closest I get to a story is a friend who made it into the dressing rooms at Merlyn's in Madison decades ago and saw Sting walking around in his undies.

illusory tenant said...

Marcus Amphitheater, 7/25.