The late 70s in the UK were a time of musical turbulence, as the young bands of the era rebelled against the excesses of the prog rock, disco, and other forms that had come to exemplify the decade. The result was a very distinctive version of punk, which while it shared much in common with its American counterparts such as The Ramones and The Stooges, had a sound that was very much its own. At the same time, labels like 2 Tone were fronting a new second wave of ska and rocksteady, which fused these sounds with punk. While many bands of the period have long since disappeared, recent years have seen a renewed interest in this music which has resulted in a number of reunions. Last Saturday, four of the best of these reunited bands – ska legends The Beat and The Selecter, and punk legends Buzzcocks and Stiff Little Fingers – came together for a co-headlining show at The Forum Hertfordsire in Hatfield, England, just north of London. The show – which was originally scheduled to happen outdoors, but got moved inside due to the threat of thunderstorms – was utterly packed with fans, many of whom had been there the first time around.
Few bands exemplify the second-wave British ska movement as well as The Beat (known in the US as The English Beat), whose three original albums brought the sound to the mainstream. After a brief reunion, The Beat split into two in the early 2000s, with Ranking Roger’s version of the band (The Beat feat. Ranking Roger) touring primarily in the UK, and Dave Wakeling’s version (The English Beat) touring primarily in the US. While many fans may wish that the two would play together again, both bands have proven highly successful both at recreating the sound which The Beat became famous for, and at keeping their audiences dancing. Roger’s band released a new album, Bounce, in 2016, and the band played several songs from it, including “Side to Side,” “Avoid the Obvious,” “My Dream,” and “Fire Burn.” But they also dove deep into the back catalog, playing not only the hits like “Hands Off… She’s Mine,” “Mirror in the Bathroom,: and their cover of “Tears of a Clown,” but also album tracks including “Click Click” and “Ranking Full Stop.”
Buzzocks, on the other hand, took a different tactic. While the band has released six albums now since their reunion in 1989, their set at this show was based almost entirely around their early albums and singles. The only newer song to make an appearance was “Sick City Sometimes” from 2003’s Buzzcocks. Starting the set off with “Boredom” from their 1977 debut EP Spiral Scratch, the band played a blazing set that showed that age couldn’t hold them back. Founding members and guitarists Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle traded off on riffs and lead vocals, with songs including “Fast Cars,” “Orgasm Addict,” “Why She’s a Girl From the Chain Store,” “You Say You Don’t Love Me,” and “Ever Fallen In Love.” Managing to play 17 songs in their 50-minute set, the band has lost none of their energy.
Northern Irish punks Stiff Little Fingers took a similar tactic, playing one track (“My Dark Places”) from 2014’s No Going Back, but then drawing the rest of their set from their first three albums. Singer Jake Burns has been the one constant in the group throughout their history, but bassist Ali McMordie rejoined the band in 2007. Burns led the band through a roaring set including “Wasted Life,” Nobody’s Hero,” “Barbed Wire Love,” “Suspect Device,” and of course their best known track, “Alternative Ulster.” They also gave a nod to their ska connections with a cover of The Specials’ “Doesn’t Make It Alright.”
2 Tone ska artists The Selecter closed out the night. With singers Pauline Black and Arthur “Gaps” Hedrickson taking center stage, the band played a mix of old and new tracks. From their 2017 album Daylight, they played the title song and “Remember Me,” and from their 2015 album Subculture they played "Breakdown," while their set also featured classics including “Missing Words, “Danger,” “Train to Skaville,” and “James Bond.”