Category Archives: ska

Lucky Toppers – The Black Hats – Live Review – Staines Hobgoblin

Take three Elvis Costello types. Give them some twanging bass. Crank up the volume so loud it sends a thermic lance up your tender-loins.  Tighten up  the sounds with a heavy gauge torque-wrench. And you have yourselves ‘The Black Hats’. As dangerous as a night out in Hackney. Swift as a switchblade in steady hands. And as formidable as a home-made zip-gun. This band takes no prisoners in a bloody relentless surge for power.  

Oxford’s most articulate pop punksters played a successful show at the Staines Hobgoblin during the summer. They may look like yobs in “Proclaimers” specs or the remnants of a twisted “Freddy and the Dreamers” lookalikey party, but they play garrulously energetic punk at high pitch, high dose levels. And they sprinkle their sounds with seasonings of ska, dub and reggae. In this sense, they are our ‘most post’ protopunk pop-star popinjays. Increasingly recognized and well received throughout their home territory, they now seem to be branching out along the Thames Valley- and they are already creating quite a stir on radio. And they are just out of the studio, having recorded with Mercury-nominated producer Sam Williams (Supergrass, Plan B, The Go Team!)

A rattling & rolling gig at The Hob got all the good people in the audience moshing and prancing and, generally, yelling to the aggregate sounds. This band look like a bunch of rock-hard ‘leave-well-alone’ nut-case bruisers with psychopathic intent. But their songs and intelligent musicianship elevates them to a higher level. Yes, they may be a bunch of amoral, discontented antisocial misfits – wearing ‘Two Ronnies’ glasses -but they are also talented, effervescent with energy and almost academic in their production.

Their big number ‘Tunnels’ rushes & crashes-  it barely hangs onto the tracks- like some kind of out-of-control cattle car upon a flimsy trackway . Driven by a Liam Gallagher-style vocal from Nick Breakspear, the jaggedly highly-wrought guitar-work adds radiating spirals of sound to the bumpy rhythms laid down by Ian Budd on bass, and the generally rickety percussion from Mark Franklin on drums.

Other Black Hats numbers like ‘Magnets’ are creatures that can trace their lineage back to ‘The Jam’ and ‘The Cure’ via ‘Simple Minds’. Bippperty beats, slide around rhythms and cutie-pie slip ups, underpin the smiling yet ultra-cynical vocals and those acid laden vitriolic lyrics. Silvery guitars slice up the atmosphere and a catchy chorus adds to the joy of the frivolous, yet desirable, songs. Yes, indeed ‘We’re all magnets … don’t you know?”

And ‘Just Fall’ helps you feel your way along it’s twisting path with a reassuringly jammy sound. But the angular motifs and progressive bass notes create hazards and unseen footfalls in the dangerous architectural sub-terrain.  Two-for-one chug-a-chug chords get toes tapping. And echoing sweetly, lofty vocals from Nick remind me of Sting at his best (Reggatta de Blanc) and now, come to think of it, his reggae guitar tones also sound a lot like Andy Summers.

Crikey, there is a lot here to be thankful for here. The Black Hats are set to top-off and rise. This is spruced up defiant and infallible punk.

© Neil_Mach
September 2011



The SkaSouls live at the Riverside Club, Staines

Knees up, trumpets down, shades on – let’s skavoovie!

After their phenomenal success, playing the hottest gig of the year, at The Hobgoblin, Staines last week – the SkaSouls went on to sell out the Staines Riverside Club on 17th Feb as well ( A charity performance in aid of the Joshua Deller Appeal).  We went along to find out what all the fuss was about.

On the glittery stage were six venerable musicians who all share a wide ranging musical ability, and each possesses the kind of musical experience and prowess that other bands merely fantasize about. Playing in various bands on the local and National scene before embarking on this Ska-shaped project back in the Summer of last year, these boys have since enjoyed a growing popularity as this town’s favourite 2-tone party band. And they already possess an enviable reputation for playing those authentically sweet Jamaican-style grooves and sweaty urban ska standards that you and I loved in the 80s – with covers of all your favourite songs from bands like  ‘The Specials’,  ‘Bad Manners’ and ‘Madness’.

After a raucous start at this Riverside venue, the band thundered and roared into their set like a Louisiana rainstorm – stopping for nothing – as they pelted out hit after hit. A large space was kept free to dance, and by the second song the audience was already up and dancing to the vibes. This band is wild. Those skutter-bus salt-chip shavings of sound soon start to set your world on fire.

Early numbers included ‘My Girl Lollipop’ (attributed to ‘Bad Manners’) but originally a doo-wop number for The Cadillacs’s before becoming a phenomenal hit for ‘Millie Small’ back in 1964 (as My Boy Lollipop). This song came alive with groovy flares of trumpet from Nick and thumping bass from Huw. But during the set we were also delectably teased with some delightful surprises like Chuck Berry’s  “You Never Can Tell”  or  Dexys Midnight Runners tribute to ram-jam Soul-Man Geno Washington “Geno”, upon which lead vocalist Lee sounds like vintage David Essex (in a good way, I must emphasise.)

But it is on the big tribal classix like “Gangsters” that this band really thrives and the audience becomes visibly alive.

This is two-tone heaven as the twin horns ( Nick on Trumpet and Allan on Trombone) flame and rip into your soul, the chuttering guitars frizzle your senses, the walkabout bass-lines juggle your brain and the ka-ching percussion rattles your emotions. And even creepy sound effects for songs like “Ghost Town” sound as genuinely disturbing, gritty and as ghoulish as you would expect.

Then we shoed-off for a skank doing the “Pressure Drop” (The Trojan-shaped hit from  Toots and the Maytals). This song and others in the SkaSouls repertoire feature those great wallowing Belushi-sized vocals from Lee and some impressive backing vocals from the other band members. Plus lumbering great chunks of trumpet and trombone and golden nuggets of pound-for-pound bass. Then we enjoyed “The Guns of Navarone” which was originally performed by ‘The Skatalites’ and later covered by ‘The Specials’. This tune was a thumping great success from beginning to end. And the amazing lead guitar from Ben shines out on this and other songs.

After an interval, to catch our breaths, the band raced into those endearing and catchy ska-pop standards we all loved – “Baggy Trousers” (Madnesss) and Lee Thompson’s tribute to Prince Buster “The Prince” – from which “Madness” took their name. And the incredibly structured “Night Boat to Cairo” (this song used to be a bit of an anthem for Lee’s much-loved old party band – FoulPlay.)

And in the final flourish we also enjoyed a thriving “Shame & Scandal” that started life as a hit for Lance Percival (of all people) before becoming an early ska-hit for Peter Tosh with the Skatalites – before being ‘re-born’ by ‘Madness’ during the new wave of British ska. And, of-course, we had the classic and superbly syncopated song “Israelites” (1969 Desmond Dekker.)

It was just a case of getting your knees up, trumpets down, shades on and skiffling and skadoodling the night away. Sheer bliss!

This is Lee Ridley’s dream outfit of a band, the vision he had wanted to create for years, but who would have thought that it could ever percolate into something as refreshing and uplifting as this?  Welcome to the chapel of living rhythm and holy beat ‘cos these madcap skasters are here to jump-start your weekend.  Do not take your eyes off this band …. and catch ‘em live as soon as you possibly can.

© Neil_Mach
February 2011

This concert was a charity show for the Joshua Deller Appeal – the event raised over £1200 for little Joshclick here to donate too

Band Link:

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Sally’s Hat – The Hobgoblin, Staines 6th May

Like their heroes “The Clash” Sally’s Hat experiment  with reggae, ska, dub, funk, rap, dance and rockabilly – creating a smooth pot-roast of greasy sounds. The band were playing the circuit some 15 years ago but recently reformed for what was meant to be a one-off reunion gig at the Ram Jam club in Kingston – but they reportedly had such a great time that they decided to try their luck gigging for the twenty first century boys (and girls).

Lisa Dimond is the lead vocalist with those sparkling sweet yet rasping high-tones and soulful, bluesy lows. Paul Worsley and Robin Dimond play guitars.The local Staines musician-cum-all-round hero, Ravi K, plays the bass and the great jazz/session player Dan Allsopp is on drums.  We catch the band at The Hob, Staines.

The result is a warming stew of heated hot patootie, yet level-headed, pitch-perfect grooves. You have those Aretha sounding vocals sprawled amidst some reliable Tamla chops. You have Cuban stomping. You have Dave Clark Five-sounding back-beats with Dusty Springfield sounding lyrical notes. And you get goose bumps when that sweet, sweet sound of reggae music bleeds through the amplifiers. You even get caught out by the skanky vibes of the two-tone Lee “Scratch” Perry type steam reggae . All in all this band is a great treat for those who adore sensible crepe shoes, neat creases in their two-tonic strides and earnest vocals from a legendary singer whose delivery is as smooth as butter and who has a range as wide as that enjoyed by Clayton Moore  (with Tonto.)

The first song out of Sally’s magic Hat was a groovy funk number, the second was a twangy Johnny Cash sing along song and after an enduring Franklyn cover I realized I was looking for a bit more passion and delivery from the band. I realize that the outfit is taking those awkward steps from practice session and friendly jam into ‘full on’ public performance – so I am happy to give them the benefit of the buzz.  Sure, this material all sounds nice and serious in sessions and rehearsal – but the punters want a performance- and The Hat don’t quite have the fizz or the frizzle to percolate our expectations.

Never mind. It was all reliable and resilient stuff.  Yes, maybe sometimes the performance lacked urgency or emotional involvement. But I cannot wait to see how this project progresses and I, for one, am glad to see this band back ‘in play’.

© Neil_Mach
May 2010


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Imperial Leisure at The Boiler Room

It’s hard to take your eyes off of Denis Smith, the singer and Imperial Leisure frontman, as he flails around the stage like an out-of-control gyro-copter with his Sideshow Bob hair twisting in the spotlight. This band is just about the most exciting
thing to hit the leafy Guildford streets in weeks – nay months!   Imperial Leisure are wrecking our home and things ain’t gonna be the same no more!

The band is justly famous for their energetic live performances.  I even heard rumors that they play the ‘big uns’ with two bass guitars, three horns, two MCs and a cast of ten other musicians. When I recently saw ‘em playing live in Camden there was a squad of eleven up there on stage. But here in Surrey (The Boiler Room) we have the stripped down lite version of this excessive party band – just six gang members –  but wow they could brighten your day without even trying.  It was like setting a swarm of hot hornets free in a  candy shop. Enough energy, buzz and electricity in the air to keep your hands high and your tippy toes moving with a uniquely gnawing anticipation.

Imperial Leisure recreate all those best loved vintage sounds with their style, attitude and finesse but their music is also casually shaken up with large shots of hardcore rap and rock  to create a subtle beast whose flavours and aromas may be largely poppy 2-tone sounds like Madness, but almost always laced with the sour punch of something new wave – like Rage Against the Machine. Some of their more recent works sounds like the band is making (an unwelcome) foray into indie post-punk sound too – but the greater proportion of their output is still as two-tone ska as ever.

This skalextric sextet pumped out some of their old-time sounds like ‘The Art of Saying Nothing’ with unifying offbeat tempos and those skacore attributes or the crowd favourite ‘The Beast’ with its ridiculous intro and juicy walking bass lines. AJ on guitar is white-lightning fast and devilishly clever, Scott on drums is rapid-city and that bone has  treble-the-grunt  of any other I have  heard,  and adds grind and churn to each Imperial Leisure tune.

Itchy feet skedaddled and slam dunked around that wickedly small stage as the crowd scoobied to the beat in unison … Den implored the happy sweating crowd to hop, bound and jump.  And move they did. Because this music is designed to lift you up and keep your tinkle toes twinkling in the air. Superb songs like ‘The Landlord’s Daughter’ and ‘Man On The Street’ were decorated with notes of yearning might-  blast-notes from the achingly gurnish bug-eyed maestro on trombone and layers of velvety smooth chords were pumped and sifted through by Stu on keyboards.

The gig was as fast and as furious as a ferret on the run from Susan Boyles underwear draw … and was over all too quickly for the crowd who moaned and wailed as we sailed to the end.  Highlights were ‘Alperton’ and ‘The Landlord’s Daughter’ with those smooth interludes showered with invigorating bucketfuls of skantastic sounds.

Six pints of juice and pure energy, a curious cure for apathy. Man, you gotta have some of this!

© Neil_Mach
March 2010


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News From the Bridges – Nov 8th 2009

News From the Bridges – November 7th 2009

TrueBeat are looking for a new drummer!

Yes Truebeat are parting company with their old drummer (on good terms) because of commitment issues so the new guy must be dedicated and willing to go the whole hog. A car and the ability to do backing vocals are also very useful but not essential! Anyway, have a listen to  ‘em and see what you think; if you want an audition, get in touch at Catch these skasters in STAINES on Nov 26 2009  at The Hobgoblin   []

WAXHOUSE are going into the STAKEOUT STUDIOS Hampton next week to start recording an EP with Chris Coulter … we wish them a pile of luck  []

Melodramatic Surrey rockers ARCANE ROOTS have a new website they want you to visit : …. it is coming to life a bit more too with some live tracks and some demos up as well as a discography … but they would like to see more fans coming in tho! Click on, send ‘em messages, tell ‘em what you want and who you are!

Feltham eccentric yet sensible indie rockers “The Eccentric Sensibles
[]  will be  in the Studio next week to collaborate with artist Lori Sims (acoustic), on a blinding new song entitled  “Player” . . .

Indie poppers AUDIO VIDEO DISCO [] will be playing The Fighting Cocks Kingston-Upon-Thames Dec 5 2009  at 8:00P

Guildford’s Fab Four GETSETRADIO is coming to STAINES for all you lucky people – catch ‘em on Nov 15 2009  at 8:00P at OUR FAVOURITE STAINES venue The Hobgoblin w/ 8th Time Luckie []

Twickenham punksters ANONYMOUS TIP (who will be playing STAINES Nov 26 2009  at 8:00P The Hobgoblin W/ True Beat) have been getting some seriously strong support from radio and hot reviews from tastemakers Subba Cultcha and Music Week

WITHOUT THOUGHT are lined up for two sparkling Christmas Shows… the first is Dec 19 2009      8:00P at Guildford – The Boileroom **Christmas Party** w/ Polar + JB Conspiracy and the VERY NEXT DAY the band plays STAINES Dec 20 2009  8:00P at The Hobgoblin (w/ Purge & Polar) [ ]

After a gob-routing shockingly successful show at the BUCKLE UP Rock Goblin, STAINES hometown’s favourite pop act MISS PINK SHOES is back in TOWN playing THE HOB Dec 3 2009  7:00P so if you missed ‘em in November come back and support this LOCAL ACT this  December.[]

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Abstract Genius – Sticky Fungus, Staines 13 May


“Thankyou for not killing me”

Abstract Genius is a funk hip-hop hardcore ska band from Guildford. They don’t make it easy on themselves (Its A Long Way To The Top -If You Wanna Rock ‘N Roll) and mixing ska with hardcore was never gonna be easy … if you want hardcore then you won’t like the ska elements, and if you like ska you won’t like the hardcore elements…

Add to this the fact these lily-white kids are from the stockbroker belt of leafy Surrey and don’t possess enough angst in them to hurt a fly (let alone participate in a drive-by) and you cannot help but think that they will never be ‘Hurt So Bad’ to be able to authentically play ska-punk… there is a dawning  realisation that AG have  made a fair  few rods for their own corporate behind.

But the results are quite surprising … Abstract Genius took to the Sticky Fungus stage on a Wednesday night with a small crowd  (shall we say 40+) of devotees watching on – and stormed the place with their hip-hop vocals, high singing strings, mento semi-acoustic thrumming chords,  thumping bass play and squelchy sparkling sax.

Luke, on tenor and alto sax added tension and interest (not least by breaking a glass of Rosé – much to the overwhelming annoyance and personal displeasure of the SF soundman) and played the crowd with a practiced ease – deploying rapid-fire flowing patterns and progressively faster rap formations.

Combine this with Nick’s off beat chops, complete with the kind of singing lead breaks that threaten to singe the air and burn up the available oxygen (‘cos they are being played so high and electrically charged) and you have got one helluva hip-hop ska outfit. Mike’s offbeat lyrical percussion and Ben’s hard work and solid funkster bass-play all added up to a not to-be-missed adventure into sound and rhythm.

The breath control and vocal presence of the raps came across well, but in my opinion, some of the most delicate quality of Nick’s guitarwork was drowned out by crushing low bass distortion. When I was comparing what I heard live last night to the AG recordings (on their singularly good new album) I realised what I was missing. I also noticed that Mike’s backing vocals were almost incomprehensible- in fact Mike was so distant from the main band (being placed about 5 meters to the back of the stage) that he seemed to be almost a session player…. I recommend he gets moved forward in future gigs to get to participate more.

As well as the complete ‘Stand your Ground’ album (played over two halves) the band also proudly showed off their new song  ‘The Fine Line’ which demonstrated all that is good about this group – the rhyme schemes, gritty patterstyle blocks of percussion, loopy and sprightly guitar licks and a low thumping bass sound. And with a hard-core edge too!. Jolly good work.

With the alternating and entwining tempos, punk style choruses (plus angry shouts) a clean sax and a lead guitar sound that leans towards such ska punksters as Reel Big Fish etc. I really enjoyed this gig.  It was more skafull than the Bosstones and more slap-funky than early Incubus. Get the idea?  You should do… catch ‘em live soon or nag them for a copy of their album.

© Neil_Mach
May 2009


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