According to Horace Panther, the beauty of 2Tone and ska music was always its ability to tell honest tales about British culture in the early 1980s. Removed from the polished shine of, say, Bucks Fizz or Wham! 2Tone presented the reality of debauched nights out, youth unemployment, racial tension and teenage pregnancies. This, ironically, was not the land of make-believe.
But being a mirror of your own reality wasn’t all the beauty Ska gave its listeners. It also gave them euphonic, relentless, dance grooves which sound-tracked late nights and helped people forget their troubles. Ska was, in all intents, music to dance to whilst reminding you to forget about the reasons you were in the club in the first place.
The political and musical legacy of 2Tone has lived on since the heights of the early 80s, yet seldom of it’s ring-leaders have been able to reach both it’s narrative and musical peaks. And as much fun as it seems on the live circuit, I’m not sure I’d have fancied being a Skapone in the past twelve months with their big ideas, big sound and big belief in the importance of 2Tone. Just how do you recreate your esteemed live sound in the studio, and where do you find today’s Jerry Dammers wordsmith?
Cradle to Grave, a debut album, proves that ska is still alive and that excellence is still achievable. It also proves that there is still a huge need in British Culture for ska with its rude boy, good-time, deep reggae grooves and cut-the-crap, straight talking to those who would do us harm.
From the very word go (‘The Rolling years’) ’Cradle’ takes us on an autobiographical journey, pressing hard on the heartstrings. Part Dammers at his most sentimental, and part joyful at a life well lived, this is an album which is equally as anxious about the present as it is hopeful for the future.
Moments of anger (‘Benefit Street’ and ‘My lady’) sit against moments of joy (‘Redhead girl’, ‘Skapones a go go’) on an album created by a band confident not to live out other peoples fantasies but to try their own thing. Containing a few ‘God save the queen’ moments, and putting two fingers up to those making fun of the working class and their struggle to find an identity, ‘Cradle’ proves that 2 tone lives on both in it’s political and musical legacy.