2 Tone is my music: Jamaican ska fused with British punk. Musical fashions come and go, but this is the music that I live or die by. This is the music, without which, life is simply not worth living. This is the music that sustains everyday activity, as well as inspiring me to greatness. This is the music that I try to persuade my son to listen to (and I have tickets to see Toots and the Maytals and The Specials, later this month).
The 2 Tone movement only shows one truly great saxophonist, and his name is Saxa. He died on 3 May 2017, at the age of 87.
I listened to jazz before I listened to 2 Tone. In my opinion, the greatest saxophonist of all time is not Charlie Parker. I completely get Charlie Parker’s innovation and genius, in much the same way, speaking as someone who plays the electric guitar, that I get Jimi Hendrix, even though he is not my favourite guitarist. The greatest saxophonist of all time, in my opinion, is Paul Desmond.
But Paul Desmond never played for a 2 Tone band. Saxa did. Saxa played in The Beat aka The English Beat, my favourite band of all time.
And Saxa’s out-and-out virtuosity bears comparison with any of the jazz greats. He just made the saxophone do what he wanted it to do, and his musicianship was borne out of ability to express, as well as technical skill.
If you had put Paul Desmond or Charlie Parker in a 2 Tone band from Birmingham, they would have struggled. Saxa’s playing sounds as natural as it sounds in keeping with the conflicted nature of the music. 2 Tone is rock music, not jazz. It is hard and jagged. The tracks are quite short. But Saxa found his own place, and made himself at home in it. His riffs were usually when I would move into the middle of the dance floor, but slow down and get some breath back. You could go from moving on every beat, to only moving on every other beat, or every fourth beat. That might give you enough time and energy to consider whether or not to kick the idiot who thought it was clever to stand stock still in the middle of the dance floor, for no apparent reason. [This blog does not condone violence.]
It isn’t music you just listen to: this is music that is poured into your bloodstream, like petrol into an engine. The engine doesn’t ‘like’ the fuel: it simply cannot function without it.
In my belief system, we don’t say that people have ‘passed away’, or gone to join some hypothetical something-or-other in the sky. Saxa has died. But we still have the example of his musicianship. We still have his music: that endures, and will continue to inspire and educate, as well as captivate and entertain.
“I said STOP!