The London Intl Ska Festival celebrates it's 25th anniversary with 50 acts across 12 events, all happening at famed and iconic London venues.
Events planned include a free launch party at the Victoria & Albert museum (Friday 22 March), Rico Rodriguez & Jerry Dammers (DJ set) at the Jazz Cafe (Thurs 28 March), Studio One Thames Cruise, Ken Boothe, Trojan Explosion starring Freedie Notes (Montego Bay) and much more.
Tickets available now from www.londoninternationalskafestival.co.uk/tickets
The organsier of the festival: Sean Flowerdew answered a few questions for me.
The Rebel: How many instruments can you play? Who taught you or encouraged you most?
"I learnt classical piano when I was young. I think the biggest encouragement was having two parents who supported me and bought me my first keyboards, came to gigs and drove us to rehearsals. Them and having a bunch of friends that had the same passion of wanting to be in a band from about the age of 12. We made our first album by the time we were 15/16. Keyboards is the only instrument I play, though I write for every instrument."
The Rebel: What was your introduction to Ska?
"I had a few introductions. My older brother Kev (Do The Dog skazine) had some singles by The Beat and Madness' One Step Beyond album. Fellow member of The Loafers Nasser Bouzida (now of Big Boss Man and The Bongolian) and his older brother had a load of 2 Tone releases as well. We were a little young for 2 Tone and only got to start going to shows around 84/85. By that time it was only Madness still going. So we'd go to see them and the likes of UB40. I remember seeing the Ghost Town video and thinking it was the coolest thing ever. Like many other from 2 Tone I discovered Prince Buster, Toots, The Pioneers and the world of Jamaican music."
The Rebel: Is running a festival stressful - how do you relax?
"It can be if you let it. It's an incredible amount of work, which takes up far to much time. Spending time with my kids and writing music help me to remember what's important though and nothing is worth stressing over. There's always a way to make things work."
The Rebel: Who is the nicest person you've become friends with?
Sean: "Lynval Golding has been a long time close friend. More recently Freddie Notes. I've been lucky to meet lots of nice people like Laurel Aitken, Horace Panter, Chrissy Boy and my old Loafers muckers who I'm very happy to say I still have friendships with that have lasted 35 years!"
The Rebel: What was the last great new band you heard?
"I'm listening to tons of soul at the moment but mainly old stuff. I really like Michael Kiwanuka and the Hold On single by Alabama Shakes is pretty cool. I mostly listen to old music and always try to discover something new to my ears. My favourite songs of the moment is You & Me by Penny & the Quarters from the 60s. Raw as hell, but beautiful. And Aretha Franklin's version of The Weight with Duane Allman.
As far as new ska and reggae acts go... well you just got to look at who I've booked for the ska festival.. Razika from Norway. Great to see them go in their national album charts at number 4 this week. The Sidewalk Doctors are working on a very cool sounding new record. The Upsessions from Holland. And really like Mr.T Bone & the Young Lions new single Then I Saw You. I also like what J.Bonner is doing in California with his Jani Disc label and productions. He used to be in The Aggrolites and plays sometimes now with Tim Armstrong from Rancid. Some of Tim's solo stuff I'm diggin as well."
The Rebel: Are you excited/nervous about the International ska festival, is it all going to plan?
"It's without doubt been the hardest year to put together. Lots of people moving the goal posts on me, but finally I think I've programmed the best festival yet. So I'm very excited. When Ken Boothe agreed to come back to the fest I was like a kid again."
The Rebel: Which acts are you most looking forward to hearing?
"All 50 of them!! It's going to be incredible. The opening night with Rico playing Man From Wareika is going to be historic. I've just confirmed Jerry Dammers to DJ the club night aftershow. Ken Boothe is one of the best singers I've ever heard and was sensational at 2011's festival, so can't wait to see him again. Our Studio One thames cruise is going to be totally unique, with BB Seaton from The Gaylads, Owen Gray and Vin Gordon. The boat is beautiful. A New Orleans style paddle steamer. They even open up Tower Bridge for us! Freddie Notes backed by The Upsessions will be something special at the 100 Club. The return of 100 Men with Mik Whitnall. He's been busy over the last few years working with Amy Whinehouse, Finlay Quaye and Babyshambles. Great to have him back with promise of new material. And of course Pama International's first London show in 2 years... with our new line up! There's so much going on... 12 events in all. Going to be an unforgettable event to celebrate our 25th anniversary!"
The Rebel: Horace Panter and Jerry Dammers have both said Rico is the best musician they have ever worked with. What is it about his playing that people respond to and respect?
"Rico is an incredible person and musician and richly deserves any and all praise. I think because he played on so many fantastic JA recordings, then came to UK and started working with the likes of Georgie Fame and then of course The Specials and now Jools Holland he's transcended the generations more then any other artist."
The Rebel:What's the state of play with your band Pama International? Are they back for good?
"From the start Pama International really was just a vehicle for my writing. We've had so many players over the first 10 years of the band come and go. It was a big collective style thing. It only stopped because I stopped. I needed a break and to work out where I was. So in the last couple of years I've relaunched the festival and written a bunch of songs. The first round of Pama always touched on a little bit of soul but this next album I wanted to be an out an out soul record and I'm very pleased to say I'm very happy with what's been done so far. The songs I was writing need a killer female voice, with undeniable soul power. After 2 years of searching and 2000+ auditioned I found her! Can't wait to release the first material!
The Rebel:Who would be the fantasy Ska line-up at a dream festival?
The original line up of the Skatalites (Jackie Mittoo, Don Drummond, Lloyd Knibbs and Brevett, Roland Alphonso, Tommy McCook, Lester Sterling, Cedric Brooks, Dizzy Moore, etc) backing Jackie Opel, Alton Ellis, Ken Boothe, The Wailing Wailers, Phyllis Dillon, Hugh Godfrey, Marcia Griffiths, Prince Buster, Toots & The Maytals and Ken Parker. Followed a Sound System sound clash with Coxsonne Dodd vs Duke Reid with King Stitt, URoy and IRoy.
Night two: A 2 Tone night with the original line ups of The Specials, Madness, The Beat, The Selecter and The Bodysnatchers.
Night three: I'd have a 80s night with Potato 5, Hotknives, The Deltones, The Loafers, Forest Hillbillies, The Untouchables, The Ska Flames and Bim Skala Bim.
Night four maybe bands that have done it for me in more recent years like Dead 60s, The Aggrolites, Hepcat, Stubborn All-stars...