They co-existed with the punks and the non-racist skins in harmony (somewhat). Drinking always played a big part in scuffles. The skins had more in common with the rude boys, tracing their true lineage back to the youth cult in England in the late '60s. Most bands had the word "ska" in their name too: Mephiskapheles, Skarmy of Darkness, Ska Trek, to name a few.
Then somewhere along the line the scene sort of just stopped.
The Specials, "Message To You Rudy," live on the BBC's The Old Grey Whistle Test
Fans got bored, grew out of the sound, or just plain gave it up it seems. Houston ska was vibrant as hell. The Suspects, Secret Agent 8, early Los Skarnales, Indestructible Huxtables played at places like the Abyss and Fitzgerald's during the salad days. Anyone remember the Oven across from Numbers?
This is all coming back to us now, thanks in part to the news that the Specials are reuniting, with the original lineup, for a European tour in the spring. Singer Neville Staple toured years back with a partial lineup and played some of the old songs, but nothing as expansive as this.
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The lone hold-out is keyboardist Jerry Dammers, who owns the rights to the band name. He seems to be on good terms with the other members, though, and is allowing them to use the moniker.
The Specials, with other bands like Madness, The Selecter and Bad Manners were on the forefront of the UK's 2-Tone explosion in the late '70s. Looking around the Interweb, we found this site that, from the looks of it, was a pretty strong compendium of all things ska in the late 20th century.
The Suspects, "Lost Along the Way," live at the Abyss, 1999
Most of these bands are but a memory now, but it's always fun to reminisce. Besides, we always have Tomas Escalante and the Suspects, not to mention Skarnales, popping up every now and then to sate us with a show. - Craig Hlavaty