fns caught up with founding members Stephen (vocallist) and Iain (bass) for our first double barrelled interview…
How was the year 2009 for aka-Ska?
Iain: 2009 was quiet, due to personnel changes; looking forward to more gigs in 2010 with Murdoch the new drummer. We’ll aim for a few gigs further afield in Scotland; going back to Inverness and playing a few festivals too would be good.
Stephen: Not as busy as 2008 due to us taking some time out at the start of the year due to our drummer Toby having a baby. Then we were on the lookout for a new drummer and waiting for him to catch up. Skalloween IV (at The Lemon Tree) was probably the best gig of the year… on the bill – Pama International from London who are on tour with The Specials and Famous Ape, local ska monkeys from Inverurie. A great night with loads of punters in fancy dress.
Tell us a bit of how the band formed, now waaay back in 2006?
Iain: Back in 2005 or so, stephen advertised for ska monkeys. Stephen, Julie & I are the only folks from that meeting who are still in the band. It took a long, fairly frustrating time to get the full band together, but we’ve been lucky in creating a 9-piece band (with 6 or so others who’ve contributed over the years) in which there’s a lot of friendship and no musical egos.
Stephen: The idea from the band came to me on New Years Eve 2004 in The Lemon Tree. I was back in Scotland for the festive period and went to see King Voodoo who were playing some rock and roll covers and the had the place bouncing. I thought that I could get a band together doing the same playing ska 2 tone songs. I put an advert in a local band website looking for like minded musicians and got no reply. I moved back to Scotland in the summer of 2005 and put another advert up and got a reply from 4 people, one of them being Iain our bass player. I was going to play guitar and sing although after our first jam I decided that I couldn’t play guitar and sing so opted for vocals only. We tried out a couple of guitarists but none of them worked out. Scott Semple one of our guitarists then joined the band and after a couple of practices we advertised for brass, Jayne, Dave and Pauline came for a try out and joined then Julie who had been learning to play the sax also joined the band. Pete our other guitarist joined a year later.
Being in a nine piece band must take some effort in getting everyone together for gigs and practicing? Does anyone live outside the Aberdeen area?
Iain: It’s incredibly hard to find time slots when we are all available for gigs, never mind for practices! Everyone is working, some of us are gigging with other bands and orchestras and have other activities and holidays etc. I have to use a spreadsheet to record everyone’s availability to arrange dates. Complex!
Scott, guitars & vox, lives in Edinburgh now, and has done for the last 15 months or so – he’s incredibly dedicated though, and is willing to drive up at weekends for practices, as well as working out his parts alone and via e-mail discussion with the other band members. He also designs some of the artwork – the SKAlloween designs are all his work.
Dave, trombone and Prince Nutty dancing, lives in Glasgow – again, he works with the other horn players via e-mail to arrange parts, and endures the tedious drive up and down the A90 to rehearse.
Pete, guitars and 80s styling, lived in Paris for one year and was one month on/off in Angola for 18months, so that also complicated things!
Somehow we manage it though.
Where was your first gig and how did it go?
First ever show was in Café Drummonds in March 2006. Pauline, trumpets, hadn’t joined yet (she was in the audience to see us) and Biz Morrison was drumming. We still hadn’t found our feet in terms of stage presence and confidence and execution of tunes, but there was a big, expectant crowd. It was the first gig I had played in years, and I remember being somewhat stage shy (OK, mildly terrified!) at the start. I think we started off that night with Bad Manners’ Echo 4-2 – an instrumental with stephen helping out on drums. Hmmm. Not sure what the crowd made of it. It went by in a flash, I think we were all quite excited and buzzing afterwards, but probably also aware that we needed to polish up.
That first show also helped us to see how many people were actually excited and interested in seeing a 2-tone covers/ska band. We’ve had may comments ever since that first gig from people who had forgotten how much they loved the genre – and how they went straight out and bought CDs/DVDs of Madness, Specials, Bad Manners etc. So we’ve put a few quid back into those artists pockets, and probably boosted Fred Perry sales along the way too….
And the highlights of the aka-SKA story so far?
Iain: Just being in a band with a good bunch of mates is an ongoing highlight. Getting together and travelling down for a soggy weekend in Dumfries to play Wickerman’s Scooter Tent was a lot of fun. Also over the last couple of years we’ve met lots of cool ska & 2-tone fans and scooterists etc who’ve got an amazing energy and passion for nights out skanking (and boozing too!).
Stephen: I would say being the main act at the Feugh Festival and playing the scooter tent at the Wickerman Festival on the Saturday night.
Ever thought of performing your own, original material?
Iain: We’ve discussed it. It’s not what we want to do.
Stephen: aye, no, aye, no, aye, no. sometimes maybe but no.
Ever get moaned at by those who `can’t stand covers bands`?
Iain: Not personally, though I could understand it. Most of us have been in bands over the years, writing original tunes and materials. For me now, it’s just about having a blast, playing some tunes for fun, and not having any illusions about it. However, as a band, we still work really really hard at getting the songs right, and re-arranging tunes – we don’t just trot out half hearted lazy versions, a lot of work goes into it. Some of the Madness tunes, especially those written by Barso, are bonkers!
Stephen: Not to our faces but i know that there are probably loads of people that do moan. My advice to them is save yourself some stress and stay at home. We don’t force anyone to come along to any of our gigs.
You’ve put the ska touch into a few songs now including Geno and Turning Japanese amongst others. Have there been any glorious failures of tracks you’ve tried to do but the ska sound just don’t `fit`?
Iain: Lots of them – we’ve tried all sorts of tunes suggested by friends or band members. We tried a Police song (I cannot even remember which one, maybe Walking on the Moon), it was awful. Tainted Love didn’t work; Beat songs have been patchy; Bodysnatchers tunes just haven’t worked either. On the plus side, The Special’s Man at C&A worked really well, and we were pretty dubious about trying it.
Stephen: We have tried lots of songs along the way. The biggest failure was Gloria Jones – Tainted Love. We were playing the Peterhead Scooter Rally and wanted to add some mod-northern soul to the set. There was a lot of work put into it by everyone but when it was all put together it sounded really bad. Luckily no one got to hear it except us. We have put a lot of work into a couple of Bodysnatchers songs but we can’t seem to make them work.
Your favourite local venues?
Iain: I really like Drummonds, cos the crowd are close in and it creates a good sweaty atmosphere.
Stephen: Cafe Drummond is the coolest venue in town, I miss the Capital and The Venue for live acts.
Any ambitions for the band?
Iain: Keep on playing, and keep the ticket prices low so that people have more beer money (and can spend their cash buying the original Specials & Madness tunes!!!).
Stephen: Just to keep on doing what we are doing, if people keep coming to see us we’ll keep playing.
What do we have to look forward to from aka-Ska for 2010?
Iain: Gigs further afield from Aberdeen – back to Inverness maybe, and some shows in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee would be good.
Stephen: Gigs in Dundee, Inverness and Edinburgh and hopefully a couple of festivals and more songs added to the set.
And finally, what’s your favourite flavour of crisps?
Iain: Roast Ox
Stephen: SKAmpi Fries (oh dear – ed)
You can find aka-SKA’s website here.
Thanks to Iain and Stephen from fns.