Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Blue Beat: Ten Picks

Blue Beat were Britain's premier ska label. Launched in 1960 with their first 45 by Laurel Aitken with the Boogie Cats by Emil Shalit as a subsidiary of his jazz/calypso label Melodisc. The label has gone on to become iconic especially due to it's links with ska.  As you will see in some of our 10 picks from the label that they issued a variety of genres in their brief 7 year existence before switching the bulk of their output to a new label, Fab in early 1967.

1. HOPETON LEWIS-"Sounds And Pressure" BB 372 1967
Though credited to "Buster All Stars" this version of "Sounds And Pressure" is in fact Hopeton Lewis singing. Prince Buster would cut a live version on his UK LP "On Tour" which would gain a 7" release in Jamaica on his Buster label that's more soul than ska. The Hopeton Lewis version here is driven by some cool barroom piano and a smooth, steady vocal delivery.


2. BASIL GABIDON-"Iverene" BB 111 1962
Basil Gabidon cut six 45's for the label, this was his third.  Following a boogie woogie shuffle with a ska back beat it resembles a Caribbean influenced Big Joe Turner meets Bobby "Blue" Bland to my ears. My favorite part is the wonky sax/trumpet solo's that follow the record to an unexpected close almost like they turned down the faders just as these guys were letting loose.


3. THE BLUES BUSTERS-"Tell Me Why" BB 102 1962
Duo Phillip James and Lloyd Campbell, known collectively as The Blues Busters cut quite a few innocuous mid tempo ska/r&b sides in the 60's.  They had three singles on Blue Beat, this in my opinion is the best, a decent mid tempo r&b shuffle that make me think they were the Sam & Dave of ska.


4. SYKO AND THE CARIBS-"Big Boy" BB 223 1964
Alleged to include Christine Keeler's brother in their line up Syko and the Caribs were a mixed race band who cut two 45's on Blue Beat. Like our entry below this 45 bears no resemblance to ska on one side and is instead a mid tempo rock n roll number led by some wonky sax on the other! "Big Boy" sounds suspiciously like "Humpty Dumpty" (see #10 below), not terribly rocking but interesting.  I would love to know more about the band if anyone knows anything.


5. THE TOMMY BURTON COMBO-"I'm Walkin" BB 237 1964
Though white British groups on Blue Beat are not totally unheard of here's one that wasn't the least bit connected to ska, at least on this roaring B-side to the tepid "Lavender Blue" (just a notch above the dreadful feux ska of the Migil Five on the stinky cheese factor). We profiled this raw cover of Fats Domino over here for more information.


6. DERRICK MORGAN-"Sunday Monday" BB 76 1962
One of the most prolific artists on Blue Beat Derrick Morgan cut an astounding 41 singles on the label. "Sunday Monday" takes the r&b boogie of Fats Domino with a ska back beat/shuffle to create a winning combination.


7. PRINCE BUSTER-"Judge Dread (Judge Four Hundred Years)" BB 387 1967
No Blue Beat list would be complete without at least one Prince Buster 45. "Judge Dread (Four Hundred Years)" was the first record of the "rude boy in court" genre of ska/reggae that saw (often humorous) verbal dialogue between a judge and an offender to a musical backing.  Buster made many more sequels and the template was copied by loads of other artists like Derrick Morgan.


8. MICKEY FINN & THE BLUE MEN-"Tom Hark" BB 203 1964
We profiled this 45 way back when here, it has recently come to light via "Ugly Things" magazine that the personnel on this 45 were not Mickey Finn and the Blue Men but session men (most likely including Alan Hawkshaw of The Mohawks fame on organ). To my knowledge this was the first of a few of the label's white British acts. Regardless of who it is it's an infectious little groover that's a wonderful ear worm.


9. OWEN GREY BUSTER'S GROUP-"Millie Girl" BB 91 1962
Owen Grey cut a staggering number of U.K. sides. 15 of these were on Blue Beat (whilst interspersed with titles on Island, Starlite, Chek etc). "Millie Girl" was presumably a tongue and cheek ska/boogie ballad for his sometime singing partner Millie Small with musical backing from Prince Buster's All Stars (or as the label credits them "Buster's Group").


Prior to The Skatalite's "Guns Of Navarone", Eric Morris ska reading of the nursery rhyme "Humpty Dumpty" was probably the most famous ska tune released in Britain in the 60's.  It was covered by Georgie Fame on his "Blue Beat" E.P. and The Yardbirds played a snippet of it in the middle of "Here Tis" on their debut LP "Five Live Yardbirds". It's simple and sweet and it's cheery disposition makes for an excellent party record, no matter what your age.


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