The best ska bands old and new join together in a mass love-in for music and a fight against racism
Racism, eh? It’s rubbish. Just ask Hard-Fi. After coming within a whisker of winning the Mercury Prize, and with two dates at the roomy Astoria in December already sold out, there’s really no reason for them to be playing this fun-sized former fleapit tonight. Except this evening’s gig is part of the Love Music Hate Racism series – so following the free show in Trafalgar Square before the election in May and Saturday on the Leftfield Stage at Glastonbury with Kano, Babyshambles and The Others, LMHR have gathered together the best ska bands old and new in a celebration of Britain’s multi-cultural diversity. And stuff.
Although the much-heralded summer of ska, um, never actually materialised, tonight makes a late bid to turn the month into the September of skank: veteran two-tone band The Beat are supporting, while Jerry Dammers and Neville Staple from Hard-Fi heroes The Specials are DJing.
“Unite against fascism” flags flop around the walls and the compere uses phrases like, “Black and white – together we’re dynamite.” There can be little doubt that we haven’t accidentally wandered into a Love Racism Hate Music gig by mistake.
Taking to the stage with an intro of, “Fuck the Nazis, fuck the BNP, our new heroes… Hard-Fi,” lead singer Richard Archer doesn’t want to hang around. It’s bang into business as a frantic ‘Middle Eastern Holiday’ leads into ‘Gotta Reason’ and ‘Unnecessary Trouble’ with hardly time to breathe. Clad in combat jackets, Hard-Fi are loud, brash, and confident – and rightly so. Only two years ago, the singer was in going-nowhere indie band Contempo. Then, thanks to an album recorded for £300 in an old taxi office in Staines, Hard-Fi have been a near-permanent fixture in the Top 10. And Richard has become a Smash Hits pin-up. “We are Hard-Fi! We love music, we hate racism!” yells Richard Archer, just to remind everyone that it’s not parsnips we’re supposed to be hating.
“This one’s for anybody who’s been totally skint without even a pot to piss in,” says Richard, launching into a glorious ‘Cash Machine’ and an aggressive ‘Hard To Beat’ with every single member of the crowd joining in on guest vocals.
It’s been a long, late night with a small Hard-Fi to random ska ratio (The Fi are only onstage for about 45 minutes), but it’s been worth it. For encores, there’s Hard-Fi’s now trademark precision-perfect rendition of The Strangler’s ‘Peaches’ with the presumed extra racial message: yes folks, it doesn’t matter what colour your bottom is – all bottoms are nice.
New Hard-Fi single ‘Living For The Weekend’ suggests that with weekday nights this good, you really don’t have to wait for Friday. And – as predicted – to finish it’s The Specials’ ‘Ghost Town’ with an unsurprising guest turn from Dammers and Staple – the elder ska statesman handing over the torch to the new breed who take it up with gusto.