Arthur Kay musician
The Originals Ska Band UK Ska Music Band
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Arthur Kay on 1969 scooter Arthur Kay the Godfather of Ska

Arthur Kay • The Skamadillos • The Originals - AK And The Band's History

Arthur Kay writes...
It all started for me in 1962. Their was Lenny and me, two kids on a street corner in London. It was one of those nights that you never forget, a time when teenagers in ballrooms all over the UK were dancing the Twist to Chubby Checker, Sam Cooke and Gary US Bonds. I felt really sharp in my blue Prince of Wales check suit and winkle-picker shoes. I remember seeing the film 'Twist Around the Clock', the same night I heard for the first time Dion sing 'The Wanderer' and discovered three things I wanted from life: An anthem, an ambition and Dion as a mentor.

Ken and Keiron
The Next Collection

By 1965 I had become a fully fledged South London mod complete with Lambretta and Hofner 'Paul McCartney' violin bass. I joined my first band 'The Next Collection'. We were a typical mod outfit playing Tamla and Stax soul plus a few original songs. Our first big gig was at the Ram Jam Club in Brixton, just one week after Jimi Hendrix performed there. A couple of weeks after we played the Ram Jam I was in a Streatham club, Prince Buster singles were being played by the DJ - it was my introduction to reggae/ska music. Soon the sound of Jamaican ska music was pumping out of every club in Brixton. Around this time my band were recording in a studio on south London's Old Kent Road. Our first session was for Decca Records with Harry Becket and trombone legend: Rico, now with Jools Holland's Rhythm n Blues Orchestra.

One year later our manager: Vic Keary, together with Bluebeat Records boss Emill Shallet founded Chalk Farm Recording Studios in Camden, London. It was here that the vast majority of Trojan reggae hits were recorded. I played on many a recording session with Vic and Emill for Trojan. At this time I quit The Next Collection in order to concentrate on song writing. In 1970 The Next Collection changed their name to 'Second Hand' and signed to Polydor, recording two albums: Chillum and Death May Be Your Santa Claus, both of which are now rare collectors albums.

10 years later I was living near Exmouth Market in Clerkenwell, right next to my favourite eel-pie-mash shop in London. Here I wrote songs that would later form a large proportion of the ' The Originals' repertoire. The big buzz in London at that time was a movie Pete Townsend was making about the sixties mod movement - Quadrophenia. I was recording in Islington near to a café called Alfredos which the film crew were using for shooting coffee bar scenes. Seeing all the Lambretta's and Vespa's lined up outside reminded me of my mod days in South London.

Chalk Farm Studios sound engineer Mike Craig relocated to Kent in 1975 and, together with local musician Chris Ashman, founded Europa Sound Studios, Folkestone in 1978. Mike invited me to record my song 'Ska Wars' in order to test out their new studio facility. The session featured drummer Steve Wyse whom I first met at Oakwood Studios three years earlier when he was in the prog-rock band Gizmo.

An acetate test pressing of Ska Wars was made which Chris and Mike took to a local disco in order to gauge people's reaction to the, then new, UK Ska music - It went down a storm. Chris Ashman organised an official release on Red Admiral Records of 10,000 pressings. Even with only limited radio play, the Ska Wars single sold out immediately, making Chris a very happy record company boss, but without the backing of a major label, went largely unnoticed by mainstream radio and TV stations and so never made the official music charts. It must be mentioned that the Ska music scene was yet to happen in this country.

Glastonbury - The OriginalsI now needed a full-time Ska band, so from 'The Pete Nu Jazz Trio' I recruited old friend Kieran O'Connor on drums and bassist Peter Scott, ex Northern Soul - Paul Mylnarz & George Sketcher on saxes alongside trombonist Frank Wildbore, the line up was completed with the Skanking Guitar of Bob Coltart. This was the line-up that featured on my second single 'Play My Record', a song about the way radio play-lists were (and still are) rigged by a few wealthy record labels. 'Play my Record' was released and we were ready to tour. Bob Coltart wanted musicians from his band 'Life and Soul' who both Bob and Paul Mylnarz played with. Our first performance at 'The Cabin' reggae club was a fantastic evening and created a real buzz. A second session followed at Europa Sound where we recorded two of Bob's songs: 'High Flyer' and 'No One But You'. We were hired to play with 'The Bodysnatchers' at Folkestone's Leas Cliff Hall with other gigs in the pipeline, but the musicians were contracted to other bands and couldn't commit to a new outfit. The tour was off before it had begun. It was time to form a permanent band. A new Ska band were advertising in the Melody Maker for a bass guitarist / singer, I suggested we joined forces. We called ourselves 'The Originator' and played a whole string of sell out gigs in London and the Southeast. The Originator recorded two songs 'Doctor Bird' and 'Watching The Rich Kids' but when we stopped gigging the band drifted apart, by this time I was back living in London.

I had moved nextdoor to my old drummer mate Kieran O'Connor in Lambeth. Playing with London's kings of New Orleans music: 'Diz and the Doormen' gave me enough money to pay the rent. Whilst with Diz I was introduced to piano-accordian wizard Geraint Watkins, together we formed a Cajun band: The Balham Alligators with Kieran on drums, Gary Rickards and Robin McKidd. The 'Alligators' were voted Top Pub-Rock Band in London and played the main stage at Glastonbury. Blues legend Doctor John saw us and was so impressed with our performance, he asked us to be his backing band, but with some serious family problems that needed sorting, I had to leave the 'Alligators' and head back to Kent.

It was now 1987 and new record company 'Link Music' (part of Castle Communications) asked if they could release an 'Originals' album. They released 'Rare 'n' Tasty'. In '88 Link released a second Originals album 'Sparkes of Inspiration'. Two years later we recorded a third studio CD album 'The Count of Clerkenwell' with my old mate, guitarist Bob Coltart. We flew to Berlin to play the European Ska festival in Berlin and performed alongside 'The Specials' and first lady of reggae: Dawn Penn. It was on that gig I finally found the combination I had been looking for all those years. Ska mixed with soul, a little bit of humour and the London street songs I had grown up with. The gig was recorded, and Tony Saunders at Step 1 Music thought the results so good, he released on CD 'Live In Berlin'. We returned to the studio to record three more tracks - a tribute to the music of Dion & The Belmonts 'The Last Of The One Named Singers', 'Back street Warrior' - a song about my boxing Grandfather, plus a song for the Free Tibet Campaign: 'Night train to Lhasa'.

The Originals were also Judge Dread's backing band and played on many of his studio recordings, including what was to be his last: 'Skinhead Moonstomp'. We were with Judge Dread on his last gig at the Penny Theatre in Canterbury where he died on stage from a heart attack.

Other casualties over the years include Kieran O'Connor and Bob Coltart. although they are no longer with us, their music, along with Judge Dread's, will always remain.

Arthur Kay 2009

 
Live reggae and ska band