Reasons To Be Fearful

Tone1Having been quiet on here for a good few months, I figured it fitting that I break my silence with the equally elusive Charles Bullen and his mysterious solo project under the name Lifetones.

For those who follow Skank Blog closely, or if you’re one of the lucky owners of our Spiky Dread LP, you’ll have heard Bullen aiding fellow South London experimentalists Family Fodder on “Bass Adds Bass”. And for those that don’t, you probably know him as one third of This Heat.

Tone2It’s odd that whilst This Heat’s output seems informed by dub’s deconstruction, it wasn’t until after they disbanded that Bullen went full skank with this self released six-tracker which sporadically changes hands for an arm and a leg.

Unlike much Skank Blog fodder, For A Reason is almost entirely a reggae record but in Bullen’s hands, reggae is merely a contorted backbone for his drone-like melodies and imploding lyrics, his shimmering production offsetting these dulcet dirges.

At times the album shifts in style, from the poly-rhythmic refrain of the title track, to the Berberesque “Travelling”, but there’s a reggae aesthetic simmering in the mix throughout. Even with album closer “Patience” sounding like it’s about to break into an Al Green foot tapper – the drums pushing against the bass line like a scruffy Al Jackson Jr – there’s an evergreen dub-melodica snaking it’s way around the beat and somehow tying it all together.

This might not be the easiest album to track down but it’s well worth the effort, and in the meantime, why not wet your whistle with the album opener..?

And if you’ve got a spare 45 minutes, here’s Bullen and his This Heat cohorts performing live in 1980.

(Wrongtom)

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An Improper Touch

Sada1Manufactured bands have nearly always received a hard press from the public at large, but here at SBB we have no such qualms, provided a band has that certain spark. And the oddball outfit in question today is a veritable catherine wheel…

Put together by the raffishly-named DJ Ralph ‘Von’ Richtoven, Saada Bonaire comprised a posse of prodigiously talented Bremen reggae musicians, members of the Kurdish communist party and two razor-jawed models whose vocal style resembled a Mogadon-tinged Marlene Dietrich.Sada2

Things got off to promising start in early 1982 when king spiky dread at the controls Dennis Bovell was enlisted to produce their first (and, it would transpire, last) single You Could Be More Than You Are later that year, though things swiftly unravelled following its completion.

A catalogue of financial faux pas resulted in their contract with EMI being ripped up before the single was even released, and that pretty much spelled the end for Saada Bonaire, despite the record becoming a hit in Greece upon its eventual release in 1984.

Sada3Almost thirty years later an album’s worth of material recorded during those tense times has finally been given a rightful airing, and lo and behold, the final track finds SB sprinkling their pop petri dish with some first class wonked-up reggae – a precarious concoction of Tom Tom Club, some Grace Jones, and a dollop of the original Grange Hill theme.

Absent is the icy baritone which drove their earlier material – the fabulous Your Touch delivered instead in a woozily childlike soprano whilst slightly atonal musicbox synths seem to swirl around the bewildered vocalist like cartoon tweety birds as she delivers a litany of disillusionment with a pop world that so let her down.

As with so many of the folks we feature, the odd skanky element did encroach upon other works in the Saada Bonaire filing cabinet, but not even Mr. Bovell himself took them this far into spiky dread country – have a listen for yourselves:

Doing the Larry Grayson skank:

And just cuz:

(Dread Zed)

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Coupla Stiff Ones

SLF1Following our last ‘reggae by punk-punks’ installment, it seems only fair that the boys from Ulster finally get a look-in at the grimy windows of Skank Towers.

This may be sacrilege to some, but I must confess that I’ve never really cared for Stiff Little Fingers all that much. Despite some undeniably infectious politically-charged anthems, SLF for me belong mainly to the school of punk for beer-bellied blokes to get misty-eyed about after a few Stellas at the local (I won’t say Harps of course), and I just can’t get that excited about ‘em.

SLF2Having recently revisited their stentorian third LP, Go For It, however, I have to admit that the lads certainly knew how to pen a rockin’ reggae punk tune, and this is what brings me here today.

Despite its title, the album’s opener Roots, Radicals, Rockers and Reggae stays very much within rock territory, and it isn’t until track 4 that the barrel-chested barrage abates a little and the dready fringe is approached.

An earnest hymn to internalised anger, The Only One evokes some of the reggae outings of The Clash and The Carpettes, though eschewing the subtleties of the former in favour of big guitar choruses and a galloping pace. The result is something altogether scrappier than SLF’s usual tight riffing, and The Only One is mighty appealing for it.

SLF3Safe As Houses, while returning to the sonic comfort of almost full-blown rock-punk form, still retains the awkwardly skanking naiveté of The Only One, though it’s a better song overall. Anthems are what SLF do best, and this is no exception.

Even more interesting is the track’s lyrical theme – a kick against the acceptance of domesticity which considers both male and female perspectives on an equal plain. Probably wouldn’t catch The Stranglers doing that…

(Dread Zed)

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