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The Australian ska scene has existed since the mid-1980s, when it started enjoying the same sort of interest as it did in the United Kingdom, following the success of UK 2 Tone bands such as The Specials, The Beat and Madness.
The first Australian ska band was Adelaide-based band The Jumpers, which formed in 1979. Other early Australian ska bands included Sydney bands Allniters, The Hangovers and Itchy Feet (led by vocalist Tim Freedman, who went on to form the commercially successful band The Whitlams) and Melbourne bands Strange Tenants, No Nonsense and Loonee Tunes. The Allniters, No Nonsense and Strange Tenants were the most high-profile Australian ska bands of this era. with the Allniters and No Nonsense both gaining Australian chart success.
The first Ska bands in Australia, included 'The Letters', formed in Melbourne in 1979, featuring founder member of 'Strange Tennants' John Holmes & Lee Hartneys father - and Melbourne band, 'Noisy Neighbours'. Both bands played in most main independent venues in Melbourne, and often together. Melbourne band No Nonsense emerged from an early ska band called 'Dicky Moron and the Rude Boys', that had a name change from 'Dicky Moron and the Four Skins', both bands were fronted by lead singer Richard Bruce. It is debated whether Strange Tenants formed first or No Nonsense but either way it seems there was only a couple of months between both bands forming in 1981. Loonee Tunes formed soon after in 1982. These three early Melbourne ska bands can still be found playing gigs.
In 1987, the Newcastle-based band The Pork Hunts appeared on the scene, soon changing their name to The Porkers. They spent more than 20 years touring and recording many albums, the most recent of which, This is The Porkers, was released in 2007.
More recent notable bands include: Mad Not Madness, Area 7, the Bedlam Beggars, Backy Skank, Los Capitanes, General Pants and the Privates, Sounds Like Chicken, The Seen, Loin Groin, Yeah Yeah, Just Kidding, Skamen, Trojan Horns, Blowhard, Dr. Raju, Addiction 64, Suspect 7, The Lyrical Madmen, Steel City Allstars, Bagster, The Mad Dash, Foghorn Leghorn, The Resignators, Rubix Cuba, Dr. Octopus, Son of Dad, CatchCry, Rad Rockets Are GO!, The Prophets of Impending Doom, The Accelerators, The My Tys and The Mouldy Lovers. Bands such as the Cat Empire have mixed ska with other genres such as Jazz and Calypso.
Melbourne Ska Scene
In November 1981, the Strange Tenants  played their first ever gig at the Lygon St Festival. Tours around Australia and support gigs with overseas touring bands like UB40, U2 and the Style Council helped broaden their appeal outside the ska scene. The main venues in the early 1980s Melbourne ska scene were the Aberdeen Hotel (an old hotel in Fitzroy later to be renamed the Loaded Dog), the Bat Cave (a small mod-oriented venue in Richmond), the Greyhound Hotel (Richmond) and The Chevron Hotel. A pivotal figure in the Melbourne ska scene was 'Aunty' Carol Baxter who, in the early days, managed both Strange Tenants and No Nonsense and booked and promoted all the bands at the Aberdeen Hotel. As the ska bands of the eighties were playing the style of UK bands The Specials, Madness and The Beat, a style known as Two Tone it was this brand of ska that was introduced to Australian audiences. Australian bands quickly developed strong followings that could support many ska bands with No Nonsense and Loonee Tunes often working five nights a week.
In the mid-1990s, the Melbourne ska scene was mostly dormant. The few gigs were from bands such as Loin Groin, Slyboots, Area 7 and Yeah Yeah. Ska had always attracted skinheads but by the mid 1990s an element of this sub culture's propensity to violence, resulting in fights and injuries caused crowd numbers to drop and many venues refusing to book ska bands. The Royal Artillery in North Melbourne and the Albert Park Hotel were a couple of venues that would not book ska bands. As a result, Yeah Yeah was forced to change its style in order to keep playing, which resulted in them playing a blend of ska and rockabilly. However, towards the end of the decade the momentum started to build on the back of the oi-punk resurgence. New bands started appearing, such as Oiska (another bio), Addiction 64, Shelflife, Ringleader, Cheese Excursion and Commissioner Gordon. The late 1990s also saw the creation of the Australian Ska Orchestra, an idea by Loin Groin's trumpeter Julian Millie. In 2003, The Melbourne Ska Orchestra, or the MSO was created, a collection of musicians from local ska bands and still operates in this way with Nicky Bomba now leading the band, which includes two original members from the Australian Ska Orchestra. The Melbourne Ska Orchestra was important to Melbourne ska audiences as this was the first band to introduce the earlier forms of ska by the likes of Don Drummond and the Skatalites, which was to make a lasting impression on audiences. Sydney band, Club Ska had exposed Melbourne audiences to the earlier form of ska in the late 1980s at the Armadale hotel, but there had been no Melbourne ska bands playing the earlier styles to continue the exposure. The late 1990s also saw the emergence of Area7, led by John Stevens, who had been lead singer of Yeah Yeah.
The momentum continued with additional bands springing up, like Hectic, Skazz, 99% Fat, Trojan Horns, Redsand Shuffle, Mr Coffee, User Friendly and The Incredible Dead Goons. Gigs were regular and well attended. Most of the musicians and audience were born from 1980–1985 and although the scene developed into a size which could exist in its own right, there was still crossover with the local punk scene. The most popular bands in this time were Commissioner Gordon, 99% Fat, Sounds Like Chicken and Area 7 (although by this stage Area 7 had become a "national band" with strong airplay on Triple M, so they were partly isolated from the "local scene").
On the first Thursday of every month, the "Ska Bar", ironically held at The Arthouse in North Melbourne, which is the Royal Artillery that had refused to book ska bands in the 1990s was held from 1999 to 2004. This became an institution and was the foundation for the scene, and its end in 2004 was reflective of a scene in decline. Every year, the Melbourne International Skafest was held at the Corner Hotel, an event which eventually morphed into the annual gig for the Melbourne Ska Orchestra with an international guest. Venues where ska gigs were commonly held were The Arthouse, The Tote, The Punters Club, The Corner Hotel, 9th Ward and The Evelyn. The scene was also supported by a weekly radio show called Skankin' Downunder on the community radio station called Plenty Valley FM.
Ska bands from interstate made appearances at local shows, including The Porkers (Newcastle), The Seen (Adelaide), The Lyrical Madmen (Sydney) and Wiseacre (Brisbane). Many international ska bands played shows in Melbourne during this era, such as The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Reel Big Fish (who have toured many times), Blukilla, Less Than Jake, Goldfinger, The Special Beat, The Skatellites and Bad Manners.
In 2003, at St Kilda’s Gershwin Room, the Melbourne Ska Orchestra re-emerged this time fronted by Nicky Bomba. The band has played at several major festivals including Bluesfest Byron Bay 2011, 2012, 2013. In 2014 the MSO toured the UK playing Glastonbury before touring Canada playing in Montreal
For a while, most of the ska shows featured bands playing a retro style (e.g. 2 Tone, 1980s). However, there are still some bands looking to develop a unique style. As of 2011, Melbourne bands known to still be active include The Ska Vendors, Loonee Tunes, The Kujo Kings, Johnny Longshot, Live@Subs, Area-7, The Resignators, The Bennies, Lee & The Hartneys, The Operators, Menage A Ska and Admiral Ackbars Dishonourable Discharge.
Around 2004 when many of the bands of the past 5 years began breaking up, it seemed the scene would continue to prosper due to the healthy number of new bands appearing- such as The Ska Vendors, The Knockabouts, Sounds Like Chicken, Payoff, The Beefeaters, The Moonhops, The Vaginals and The Resignators. However, audiences were shrinking so the scene went into decline, with gigs only held occasionally. Despite this trend, the annual Ska Nation weekend of events was started and Commissioner Gordon played annual re-union gigs.
Since its beginnings, Melbourne's ska scene has never really died and is once again experiencing a big resurgence. The Melbourne Ska Orchestra is bringing ska to a wider audience appearing on the ABC's television show Spicks and Specks and ABC radio. The MSO was also nominated in 2013 for two ARIA awards; engineer of the year and best blues and roots album.
In early 2012 while playing a Jamaican ska tune on his 3PBS radio show, Bluejuice, music historian, Mohair Slim received a phone call from Lowell Morris from Camberwell saying he had played drums on that track. This led to the discovery that Melbourne musicians Dennis Sindrey and Peter Stoddart, along with Lowell were part of the in-house band at Studio One playing as the Caribs where the first ska recordings were made. Australian ska history could now be tracked back to Jamaica to the development of ska. Following this discovery, in October 2013 Multicultural Arts Victoria organised Melbourne Festival's event Melbourne's Celebration of Ska held over two nights on the banks of the Yarra river. The bands playing were the Ska Vendors, Strange Tenants and the Caribs. The shows were called 10,30,50 in recognition of the bands' contribution to Melbourne ska: the Ska Vendors have been together for 10 years, Strange Tenants for 30 and the Caribs around for 50 years.
Currently Melbourne has many ska bands playing, including the original 80s bands, Strange Tenants, Loonee Tunes and No Nonsense who make sporadic appearances. Other ska bands currently playing include Shanty Town, Ska Vendors, the Melbourne Ska Orchestra, Menage a ska, Johnny Longshot, Judge Pino and the ruling Motions, the Melbourne City Ska Collective, Bustamento, Area7, and the Resignators
As well as Mohair's Bluejuice show on 3PBS, 88.3 Southern FM has a current all wave ska show on every Friday from 6pm till 7pm called 'Ska'd for life'.
- "SKA HISTORY: SKA FOR THE UNINITIATED < Music History – Southwest Ska & Scooter Club". http://www.freewebs.com/southwestscooters/historyofska.htm. Archived from the original on 2012-10-23. Retrieved 2010-09-07. External link in
- Australian Music Data Base
- "Strange Tenants band website". Retrieved 2013-01-28.
- "Inner City Sound". Retrieved 2013-01-28.
- "jplay". Retrieved 2013-01-28.
- "Friends of Melbourne City Ska Collective" https://www.facebook.com/groups/977398625625334/