The Trojans Finally Release New Album After 15 Years
The Trojans are one of those bands that truly defy genre classification. They play Ska for sure and are known to helping launch the late 80’s/ early 90’s UK Ska explosion that saw bands such as Judge Dread, The Hot Knives, Potato 5, The Loafers, The Skadows take over the usic scene at that time. They also masterfully incorporate world music with Japanese and Celtic influences that only seem to bolster my enjoyment of the music. This influence comes from Gaz being the child of legendary bluesman John Mayall of Bluesbreakers fame and his over 30 years hosting the longest and most interesting London dance club Gaz’s Rockin’ Blues.
The band’s last album 1999’s Desiderata was their 12th studio collection since their debut A la Ska in 1987. It was another in a long line of albums dealing with the state of the world, and life in London in particular, not just musically but socially. I’ve loved every album they’ve ever released. Each is similar yet different enough to enjoy on it’s own. Smash It is like a well worn shoe. It just so easily slips on and makes me feel comfortable. So just who are The Trojans?
Gaz did an interview with the website Metroplis and had this to say about his latest musical gift to the world (my words not his):
I went back to the basics with this one,” he says of the disc. “There’s rocksteady, calypso, mento, and instruments like the bagpipes that you’d only hear with the Trojans. We take it back to the basic Trojans story, which is about a load of people coming together who represent the multiracial backbone of London. We started at a pivotal turning point in London society where that really began, around ’79-’80.”
If you still have never heard this amazing live collective (and I find that hard to believe!), then now is your chance! The following is part of the CDBaby listing for their newest album Smash It and I thought it pretty well summed up the multicultural band. It’s well worth the read to give you insight into the band throughout the years and how the latest album came together. The Trojans has been and is still one of my favorite bands ever. Gaz has been a true leader in taking the music global such as into Japan in the 80’s and has been instrumental in many releases such as the Ska Island disc which I think is still one of the best compilations of covers to ever come out. I’ll be posting a review and more info plus sound samples of the new release later but til then read on true believers!
I formed the band late in ’86, primarily as a vessel to voice my songs and musical ideals beyond my sound system and DJing. Straight off we began recording and within a few months released a couple of singles and Ala-Ska, our first LP featuring elements that would portray our distinguishable signature style. An Afro-Caribbean Celtic fusion, amalgamating Japanese, Russian and Gaelic music with Jamaican reggae, rocksteady and ska via Ladbroke Grove and Portobello Road.
Still based in the heart of Notting Hill carnival country The Trojans constantly evolved and reinvented themselves along the same consistent principles, continually performing live despite a long lapse in recording. We’d built up such a large repertoire that our set was still comfortable and exciting at three and a half hours. One carnival in the late 90’s, we played non-stop on a float for over ten hours. With the input of many new band members over the last fifteen years new tunes and ideas surfaced and came time to record a bunch of new material for posterity.
“Randy” Neil, a bookseller in Portobello Market, joined on bass to replace my brother Ben Mayall who’d emigrated to Italy. He in turn had replaced our original bassie “Big Arn” Andrew Crawford who committed suicide in ’92 after a bout of depression triggered by a romance with our female femme fatale singer of the day, Jennie Bellestar who performed with us in the early ‘90’s.
Charlie, nicknamed Nightdoctor after the name of his Grove based reggae band in the 70’s, joined soon after bookman. Prior to that for many years, Chris Compton was the main guitarist after Crispin Gill had married and moved to Ireland.
Drummer Rick Baxendale re-joined the band almost ten years ago. He’d briefly been our interim bassman immediately after Andrew died in the days before Lucky Pete had repatriated to Canada. Our original percussionist Mark Hamilton swapped his bongos for the full drum kit after Pete, before moving to Bristol. Mark still fills in for Rick on occasion while Jamaican octogenarian Tony, alias “Groker” remains our full time percussionist these last fifteen years. An unsung hero of Jamaican émigrés, having performed with a huge array of UK/Jamaican jazz, reggae and ska acts since his arrival in London in the early 60’s. An old contemporary pal of his, Rudy “Valentino” Jones, “the king of the tenor saxophone”, had introduced me to him in the late 80’s and it was inevitable then that he would join The Trojans.
The two tenors, Rudy and Colin, have both been in the band from the beginning, Colin from the inception and Rudy joining half way through our first recording sessions. Rudy, a true gentleman, has never missed a gig, claims to be 500 years old and considers life to be a bowl of cherries. He brings sunshine wherever he goes. Originally from British Guyana, he’s been playing jazz, rock’n’roll and ska here since moving to London in 1952. Colin, alias “Kid Rollins”, a superb and talented player is also adept on the penny whistle, hugely artistic and a great improviser.
Megumi emigrated from Japan, arriving in the UK just over fifteen years ago with her alto sax her only luggage. She quickly found her feet, guesting with The Trojans and soon establishing herself with south London ska band The Top Cats, then finding more fame with Ska Cubano who she regularly tours with today. She also performs with her own outfit, The Miss Megoo project while all the while playing alto with us. Her nine year old daughter has recently started singing with us in our last couple of Notting Hill Carnival appearances.
Top trumpeter Eddie “Tan Tan” Thornton from the Alpha Boys school of music in Kingston, Jamaica, created a sensation, wowing West End audiences in the late 50’s and early 60’s. He sat in with my father and Georgie Fame in the Flamingo Club days. In the 70’s he hooked up with trombone legend Vin Gordon to back a host of reggae stars such as Aswad. He’s been a feature of the Trojans for many years now, a fantastic character to have around, often having everyone in stitches, laughing with his earthy gruff Jamaican humor.
Vin Gordon, the man they call Don Drummond Junior, now residing in France is and old friend of Charlie’s from Nightdoctor days and any time when visiting England, he’ll team up with us. Everything he plays on seems to turn to gold, his work ethic is phenomenal and we were well blessed to have his magic touch on these sessions. He’s a great arranger and dancer and full of great stories of days travelling with the likes of Bob Marley and the Wailers. It seems like there isn’t anyone of repute he hasn’t worked with.
Antoin Ban O’Dochartaigh, our piper for over twenty years, won the all Ireland national bagpipe championship aged sixteen and was flown by the New York police force to the States for their St Patrick’s Day parade down 5th Avenue. After which he had a motorcycle escort to play on top of the World Trade Center. In recent years he’s taken up the banjo and songwriting. Still the number one piper in town, he’s featured to full effect here with his thirteen year old son Felim guesting on mandolin.
Benoît has added a touch of technical class with some fine French gypsy jive jazz when making guest appearances on lead guitar over the last ten years. More recently, his own band has occupied most of his time but nevertheless he made some fine contributions to this album.
We all seemed so young back in the eighties in our early days, Rudy being our one elder statesman. Now most of us are in our middle to later years but the music sounds as fresh as ever. We’ve gone through many changes and matured into the current line-up. A truly vintage Trojans, possibly the finest yet.
I’ve always encouraged up and coming young talent and trying out new fusions and creating new frontiers in ska and reggae wile still remaining true to the roots of the music.
So enter new blood Darren “Ace Face” Berry and Zoe Devlin. Zoe, though now in her twenties, actually first sang as a cameo guest singer when she was just fifteen. She was so promising and gifted that I predicted a bright career for her. I introduced her to Prince Buster who she recorded with and Alabama 3 who she toured with for a few years after leaving school. She now appears weekly, running her own night at her mother’s jazz club in Bankside, Southwark in Central London.
Ace Face, an excellent young player, proficient on many instruments, gives drum, singing and keyboard tuition by day and writing and performing by night as violinist with The Penguin Café Orchestra. He’s currently touring, singing and playing drums, with Johnny Borrell’s Razorlight spin-off Zazou. Recently he was the best man at my wedding and co-wrote some of the songs on this album.
Lastly, an old pal Nick Reynolds, mouth organist with Alabama 3, sat in on a few tracks. More used to country and blues, he gives a new twist to rocksteady and ska, particular on Zoe’s rendition of the classic Perfidia, which incidentally Vin Gordon suggested would suit the tune perfectly. Being that Vinnie was the original arranger and player on Phyllis Dillon’s iconic 1967 version we couldn’t agree more.
So here it is, the now sound of the contemporary new and improved Trojans, fast becoming UK’s Buena Vista Social Club of ska.
Totally with it, without losing an ounce of our original integrity. Great for dancing, great for listening, keeping the eternal flame burning bright, good for day or night and absolutely Smashing It!
Smash It is out now on CD/ Digital/LP formats.