My name’s James, and I’m a music addict. I fell in love with live music growing up in rural Wiltshire, and Spankboy were my gateway drug.
Ska’s a hard scene to define. It has its own terminology, its own traditions and its own sub-genres which essentially require brass and bounciness. Ska punk is probably the best known, but aside from The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Reel Big Fish and (a band that would later become implanted permanently in my skull for at least five years) Less Than Jake, it’s not exactly flooding music’s consciousness. I’m not sure it ever was, unless you count the two-tone era of Madness and The Specials. To teenage me, though, my hometown of Salisbury seemed ska punk obsessed around the turn of the Millennium.
The subtly branded Spankboy (who later became The Solabeat Alliance before disappearing forever into obscurity) were our must-sees. Fronted by a dreadlocked hippie (called, brilliantly, Tim), they were often the star attraction at the local arts centre’s long-running post-Millennium gig series, the Millennium Bug Balls. Despite sounding like an event that might require formalwear, the Bug Balls featured metal bands dressed only in cling film, touring skate punks who’d spend half the night begging you to buy CDs so they could afford the petrol to get home, and support bands made up of the ‘cool’ kids from down the local grammar school.
Spankboy had three pieces of brass over a traditional rock band set up. They seemed to find the only legally-eligible person at each of their gigs to drink two litres of cider through a funnel on stage half way through their set. They were hooked up with essential genre-themed label Moon Ska, and had an album, which gave them an aura of respectability on a rural music scene. That album was ‘Adventures in Blue Flash’.
‘Adventures in Blues Flash’ is 23 minutes long and opens with an unidentified woman offering up a sultry-toned “I’ve been a very bad bad girl, please spank me”. I’d genuinely like to know where they found a willing volunteer. I suspect it was the internet.
With that gem out of the way, the musical content alternates between high-speed brass-led Nintendo-music-meets-jazz (the faster tracks) and tropical lyrically-nervous dating anthems. Its teenage appeal still takes me back: being too nervous to talk to girls and unrealistic dreams of what it might be like if you did. Opener Easy is unsubtle even so far as even teenage chat up lines go (“I know you’re free and I know you know how to please me” – went down a charm, no doubt), while stronger tracks Tongue Tied and Better Things serve up more realistic angles: too nervous, ‘indifferent’, all mouth no trousers.
The ‘chav’ angle takes me back, too. I’m over that teenage thing where wearing a tracksuit made you a scumbag these days, fortunately, but at the time I know XR3i (“why don’t you FOAD” – the Ford branding nicely dates the album) and Oi Trendy summed up our hormone-driven ‘us and them’ feelings. Looking back, I suspect our ‘rival’ groups simply liked dance music.
Hidden at track ten, 21 and a half minutes into the album, the closer is still a real gem. Like You is as close as Spankboy get to a rebel anthem; a call to arms to what they no doubt saw as the musical underground. It turns up the bass, throws in a few ‘woahs’ and rattles around slightly obnoxiously in the brain for a few hours afterwards. It is, in short, what a good heavy ska track should be. It’s not one of the tracks I remember.
At the time we didn’t drink our cider on stage. Instead we drank it in a quiet corner of the local parks, or leant against a wall furthest from security so that they “couldn’t see us” and would let us in. Spankboy disappeared, and until this week their album disappeared from my frontal lobe, too, but I still know the words to quite a few tracks. I can still picture them pulling scissor kicks through Judge’s Daughter and coming off stage in sweat-drenched Hawaiian shirts to be embraced by an equally sweat-dripping audience. I remember the state of my baggy clothes the next morning, and my mum’s cutesy attempt at relating to rock culture and our stage front ‘mushing’ (yes, that still makes me laugh).
‘Wyle Valley Super Ska’ featuring ‘Super Skankin’ Action Heroes’ got old, but in a way Spankboy live on in sound tracking a happy time. As a personal legacy, they also live on in those years I reviewed a hundred gigs, and the other ones I spent money on almost nothing else. I didn’t know them, but I don’t think they were bad boys. They certainly weren’t tropical, or even particularly great on their instruments, but they were our hometown heroes.
Throwback Tracks is a nostalgic and sometimes knowingly embarrassing blog project in which I re-explore the albums that fuelled my love of music.