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The Specials (top left, with Jerry Dammers seated middle) released ‘Gangsters’ (bottom left) in 1979, when it hit number 6 in the charts, reviving the form pioneered by Laurel Aitken nearly two decades earlier

epitornise the music. But it was just too rhythmically simple and much too energetic for the ultra-hot summer of 1966 and. despite the wildest drum rolls in the histon of drum rolls. the music began to slow down to become the funkier. sexier rock steady.

Although ska eventually mutated into reggae. given a gap of

twenty years we were able to revive it in the [.‘K. where it came as a relief from the deliberately white trash thrash of punk. Although different from pure Jamaican music. The Specials and other Z-Tone bands were able to introduce something a bit more funky and racially integrated. and keep things moving on -— hopefully with some of the energy and rebellious spirit of the original. Strangely enough. alter another twenty years. the kids finally discovered ska in the USA.

Dr No’s, Scotland’s leading and quite possibly only ska club, has carved a tidy niche for itself in the capital’s club scene since launching at the Bongo Club in June 1999. DJs Tam and Mary Doll provide the best in original Jamaican

ska, blue beat and rock steady while local bands such as Bombskare, The Amphetameanies and Big Hand are now using the club night as a base to promote the live ska scene in Scotland. Dr No’s at the Bongo Club, Fri 2 Nov.

Ska instructor

He’s the only Jamaican singer to have hits in the R&B, ska, rock steady and reggae eras. And 40 years after his first hit, LAUREL AITKEN is Still cutting it live. Words: Catherine Bromley

o you think people will come up there to see me‘." coyly asks the 74-

year-old. Leicester-based Laurel Aitken. lf bed asde me whether I thought people would crawl naked across hot huming coals to see him. I would have given a resounding ‘yes'. It seems hardly necessary to respond. to answer that people would do whatever they could to see El Cubano. the Boss Skinhead. the man commonly referred to as the Godfather of Ska performing live on stage in Edinburgh.

Born in Cuba in 1927. Laurel Aitken moved with his family to Jamaica in 1938. By the age of fifteen he had won his first singing competition and. following a short stint working for the Jamaican Tourist Board welcoming visitors to the island with his Calypso band. Aitken started recording ska. Not only was he one of the first artists to fuse Calypso and American boogie-woogie to create ska. but Aitken was the first Jamaican artist to get a number one record in the Jamaican Broadcasting Company‘s pop charts. at table previously dominated by American music. with his l959 double A-side hit ‘Little Sheila‘/‘Boogie In My Bones’.

Moving to England in l‘)(r(). Aitken found and cornered Emile Shallett. the sole proprietor of Melodisc Records. a label that was


‘Everyone called me

Godfather in eighteen years ago.‘

I" e . up was a band before the name’

making in o n c y from bootlegging Jamaican music by artists including Laurel Aitken. The two soon settled their differences and the legendary Blue Beat label was born. ‘Mary Lee' was the first song laid down specifically for Blue Beat and Aitken would go on to record seventeen singles for the label at a time when the early mod scene in the UK was latching onto Jamaican ska and blues.

‘I never made money out of this; never.‘ he says. ‘I just make a small living out of the things I love. In my early days in Jamaica and even in England as well. I was ripped off with bad contracts.‘ Despite Aitken’s long battle to make money from his art. with songs such as ‘Skinhead’. ‘Rudy Got Married‘ and ‘Bartender‘. he's established himself as the only Jamaican singer to have hits in the R&B. ska. rock steady and reggae eras. Taken up by 2-Tone in the late 70s as the elder statesman of ska. Aitken has since capitalised on the role. performing all across Europe right up to the present day.

For the title of Godfather of Ska he has that seminal figure. the Trojan aka Gus Mayall. to thank. ‘I was playing at this club

London about

says Aitken. ‘There

mine and the Trojan was the MC and when it was my time. he said “1 now bring to you the Godfather of Ska" and I said “Oh. what‘s that‘.’". Two days after I see it in Melody Maker that I‘m the Godfather of Ska and sometimes I wanted to say. "Don‘t call me that". It‘s not that I don’t like it. ljust wasn‘t expecting it. Since that night. though. everyone called me the Godfather of Ska and I think I‘ve lived up to the name. Not financially but when I go on stage. I know I can do my stuff.‘

Laurel Aitken plays Dr No’s at The Liquid Room, Edinburgh, Sat 27 Oct.

‘Er‘ (iz‘f l NW. L’tii‘l THE L'ST 25