While Macka B helps to keep your roots reggae diet in check, we thought we’d provide you with five staple ska riddims, to ensure your five-a-day coverage in the rocksteady department! Thankfully, two acts heading to Band on the Wall in December have riddims-a-plenty to choose from; Neville Staple, with his Specials backstory and solo rudeboy antics, plus the mighty Baked a la Ska with their deep arsenal of ska classics dating back to the very origins of the sound. So without further ado, here are five killer instrumentals that have shaped the ska sound, to warm you up for a chilly December packed with skankin’ live music!
Return of Judge Roughneck aka. The ‘Al Capone’ riddim
Return of Judge Roughneck gets Neville Staple’s latest studio record off on the right foot, with an instantly recognisable keys riff and horn line drawing you in. The riddim from which they derive is Prince Buster’s Al Capone, a 1964 cut with cutting edge use of car break squeele and a chunky horn section to boot. It was from that record that The Specials developed their Gangsters riddim, making Staple’s latest revision of the riddim a clever and career-honouring move!
Lord Tanamo – In the mood for Ska
This love-centric ska cut has a timeless feel, courtesy of the lyrics crafted by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields, plus it holds a special place in the heart of Baked a la Ska’s Robin Sunflower. Twenty years ago his girlfriend (now wife) asked him to cover the song and it’s also one by which he remembers a close friend from the old days, jamming at Band on the Wall and around Hulme. Recorded in Jamaica in the mid-sixties; The Skatalites lay down the riddim and founding member Roland Alphonso takes a beautiful saxophone solo.
Rolando “Phoenix City” Al – Phoenix City
Having just mentioned him, we thought we’d go for it again! After the disbandment of The Skatalites, Roland Alphonso (under his new guise of Rolando Al), Jackie Mittoo and Johnny “Dizzie” Moore formed The Soul Brothers, wasting little time in laying down the jammin’ instrumental Phoenix City. Lloyd Knibbs’ drumming on the track is exemplary and the cut has since been covered by groundbreaking skinhead group Simaryp, Judge Dread and even Mongo Santamaria, who gave the riddim a latin flavour.
The Jamaicans – Baba Boom riddim
“It’s time to rocksteady, it’s baba boom time!”… we hear on the vocalised original of this feel-good, midtempo tune, later recut by Jackie Mittoo. The Pinchers and Congo Natty spun a dancehall and DnB track from Baba Boom respectively, but the definitive Jamaicans rhythm is the one which defines an era, given that it contains the riff also heard on Train to Skaville, a classic piece of ska horn work!
The Real Rock riddim
“Probably the most used riddim in reggae” according to RateYourMusic, but one with an influence stretching even further than its reworks! You can trace a line from Coxsone Dodd & Sound Dimension’s original cut to the Termites Rub Up Push Up, which reworks its rhythm, then leap back a few years to Justin Hines & The Dominoes’ earlier track of the same name to find its vocal inspiration, before arriving in the present day with Neville Staple’s Rub Up Push Up! As in the science world, all things are relative in ska!