Did you know Boston, MA has ska musicians?
That's right! And very talented ones at that. Who are they? We had the pleasure of talking to Bob Beaumont, vocalist for Boston's very own Guns Of Navarone.
He was nice enough to tell us about the ska scene where they're from and about his band.
Please tell us about the band and the music you play.
Guns of Navarone is a band that plays classic ska and reggae music. I hesitate to call ourselves a cover band because I usually consider a cover band to be one that plays popular music. Although we play songs written and recorded by other artists the songs we play are largely unknown to the audiences we play for.
More specifically we play old songs from the Skatalites, Laurel Aitken, Justin Hinds and the Dominoes, Derrick Morgan, Desmond Dekker. We also play some current music in traditional style by bands such as Dave Hillyard, the Slackers and the Aggrolites. We play songs in the traditional ska style and the reggae we play is more and more going the direction of 1968-69 reggae.
The reggae style we are playing more of is a pre-Rastafarian influenced more up-tempo style. After the ska music of the mid 1960’s there was of course the slower rock steady but there was also this early reggae which we find much more energetic and highly danceable. This is the style which Trojan Records imported from Jamaica to England at the end of the 1960’s.
We have been artistically satisfied with playing songs which have been written and recorded by others. Quite frankly if a song has maintained its relevance and interest for 40 years, then it is food enough for us. I don’t understand why a band that plays “originals” would be perceived as more relevant and more interesting. I hear “original” songs every day that I find uninventive and boring. As in the tradition of Jazz, Blues, and Folk playing songs handed down generation to generation and country to country, I see ska and reggae to be no different.
However, in recent times we have been considering writing “originals” because we have concerns that being considered a cover band may in fact be limiting our opportunities. To me it’s rather silly. I mean, is “Wet Dream” by Max Romeo an original when “Hold Your Jack” by Derrick Morgan was written and recorded first? So that brings up the question of what is an original. What is a version? What is a cover song? Who is the inventor of a recycled chord progression?
What is the music scene like where your from?
The music scene where we are from is somewhat complex. I, Bob Beaumont am from Worcester, MA which is about 1 hour drive to Boston, MA. The first incarnation of the Guns of Navarone was based largely in the Worcester area. Then 5 out of 8 people left the band. Then the 5 members who replaced them are all from the Boston area. So now, I consider us a Boston based band. The music scene in Boston is really big. There are lots of bands, lots of clubs, and lots of competition. We have found it relatively difficult to break into the Boston scene due to the high volume of competition. So what it means to us is we need to compete harder. We need to promote more, play better, be more entertaining, which lends itself to my philosophy as a band leader which is to “work hard always”.
The Boston Shows we have played have been met with great enthusiasm from the audiences. The bands we play with also have given us great support and encouragement. We are truly grateful for the opportunities we have been given.
However, to describe the scene honestly it must be said that as a band “off the street” it can be difficult to get gigs. We are now looking into Booking agents to help facilitate entry into some of the venues which as of yet have been unwilling to even return our calls or emails.
Worcester on the other hand has been very kind to us. All the clubs want us, and the people give us lots of love and appreciation. However, since I am a Worcester native, I have many contacts and music venue relations.
Although the 2nd biggest city in all of New England, there is far less competition in Worcester than in Boston.
What made you want to play Ska music?
The reason I wanted to start a ska band probably goes back to some of the exposure I got to ska music through growing up with punk and hardcore. I spent about 15 years in and out of hardcore and punk bands. None of the bands I was in ever amounted to much. Some people I was in bands with went onto fairly successful bands such as BANE and ISIS. As a punk, I was exposed to the Slackers, Hepcat, the Skatalites, through the Give ‘Em the boot compilations on Hellcat Records. These bands with their traditional ska sound, was very appealing to me. From these bands and the ska and reggae covers songs performed by the Clash, I was entered to the work of Jamaican music which I still find to be seemingly endless in its expanse. One band leads me to the next and the next and so on.
Some of my other early ska and reggae exposure would be the Harder They Come soundtrack which of course includes Toots and the Maytal’s Pressure Drop which to me was an incredibly moving and exciting song. In my late teen years I was also a fan of Bob Marley and I had the Songs of Freedom box set. This box set was important to me because it was four cds which were chronological. I was then able to hear the early years of the Wailers and the Studio One ska songs. These ska songs were very appealing to me, much more than the later Rastafarian influenced Reggae.
These songs were reminiscent of the American Motown songs which I had grown up listening to and loved so much. But they had this exuberant rhythm which possessed an energy which appealed to my punk music sensibilities.
Although I was exposed to bands like the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, I never really liked that style of ska. I felt no connection to the rock-ska of the 1990’s and although I appreciated bands like Operation Ivy I never really liked punk-ska generally either. And of the Two Tone ska the only songs I seemed to like were the covers of traditional Ska such as Monkey Man by Toots and the Maytals, or Message to You Rudy by Dandy Livingstone. The Slackers for me seemed to be the perfect Ska band. They were traditional, they were non-religious, (i.e. Non Rasta), they were Northeast American guys like me who I could identify with and they were extremely talented but yet still fun. The Slackers through interviews and things I would hear them say at their shows turned me onto to the Skatalites, The Upsetters, Prince Buster, and Trojan Records. To me they are the most influential band in that they opened up a whole world of music. They also showed me that Jamaican music can be played by Americans without having to pretend to be something they are not.
Can you tell us about the band? The musicians seem to be pretty diverse. What kind of background to you all come from?
It’s true that the musicians in the Guns of Navarone are diverse. We have some which are either graduates or current students of Berklee School of Music. We have members which have deep jazz roots. We have songs with deep funk roots and deep roots in Zydeco and a variety of other influences.
We do have a member which allows me to do some name dropping. Our keyboard player Mike Hartford was the drummer for some accomplished Boston Ska bands such as Steady Earnest and Dion Knibb and the Aggravators. He was in these bands with Ken Stewart of the Skatalites and also Dion Knibb who is the son of Lloyd Knibb the legendary drummer of the Skatalites. He also has recorded with Doreen Schafer of the Skatalites. Another Boston Ska band Mike has played with is Beat Soup which also has Glen Pine of the Slackers as a past member, although they were not in the band at the same time. Mike is a true veteran of ska music and has seen the different waves of ska come and go. We are very fortunate to have him as part of our group to ride this 4th wave of Ska with us.