by MICHELE STERNBERG
Ska doesn’t stand for small kitchen appliances, or super kick ass.
For the uninitiated, ska is a type of music that originated in Jamaica in the late 1950s and is a blend of mento and calypso from the Caribbean and American jazz and rhythm and blues.
Seven decades later and a lot closer to home, the Sunny Coast Rude Boys are keeping the genre alive and as Covid restrictions have eased, they’ve returned to touring and playing to double-vaxxed crowds of ska fans.
Many of their followers are in their 60s because the Australian ska scene flourished in the mid-1980s, but there are also younger – and older – faces in the crowd.
Bass player Stephen Estella admits the first question from many Rude Boy virgins who experience the band for the first time is “what is ska?”.
“Most people aren’t aware that ska was a predecessor for reggae,” he says. “Caribbeans who listened to R&B and mento played their version of this music with brass military bands and it became ska and then reggae.
“It’s uplifting dance music and we defy you to not move when we are playing.
“I recall a gig on the Gold Coast where I was catching some cool air outside after a sweaty set. A woman came out and said ‘oh, it’s your fault my calves are burning, I can hardly walk’, hobbling up the street. ‘I’ll bring my girlfriends next time,’ she yelled back at me. It was a veiled compliment to what the Rude Boys do.
“It’s all about fun and dancing, even if you don’t know how to skank properly.’
For the uninitiated, skanking is the name of the dancing style attached to ska and it looks a lot like running on the spot.
In Australia, bands such as Strange Tenants, No Nonsense and the Allniters spearheaded the ska scene, and the Rude Boys have cemented their reputation with these big names.
Before Christmas they supported Strange Tenants and later this month will grace the stage with the Allniters.
“Our output as a ska outfit has led us to play with the likes of Nicky Bomba and the Melbourne Ska Orchestra, Pat Powell, Strange Tenants, Bad Manners and the Original Wailers,” Stephen says.
“We have played Woodford Folk Festival, Caloundra Music Festival and Blues on Broadbeach.
“Our unique blend of covers and originals keeps everyone dancing and singing along.”
You could say that it was in a moment of true creative inspiration between two musos and a leap of faith that the Rude Boys were born.
“In July 2013 Mick (Hughes) and I were sipping strong espressos at Kings Beach admiring the ocean view after a salty surf when Mick said ‘I’m thinking about starting a ska band’,” Stephen says.
“I agreed to play bass even though I did not know anything about ska music. ‘All right then, let’s do it!’ I said.”
Fast forward nine years and the Sunny Coast Rude Boys are still going strong.
From their humble beginnings playing gigs at the Shared in Yandina, they clawed a foothold on a non-existent Sunny Coast ska scene and secured a loyal fan following.
“At our first official gig we played reggae and ska covers supporting the Lyrical in November 2013 and have been joined by at least a dozen or more Coast musos since then,” Stephen says.
“Through Mick’s unique negotiation skills, we were soon playing big gigs in NSW, the Gold Coast, Brisbane and the Sunny Coast.”
The music is infectiously danceable with a big five-piece rhythm section behind Mick’s iconic voice, and an eclectic five-piece horn section that has Australian and UK pedigree through the Fun Addicts, Bad Manners and the Porkers. Fans invite their friends, who become fans themselves, and people travel hundreds of miles to see a Rude Boys show that is packed with on-stage (and sometimes off-stage) antics.
“Our fearless leader of the SS Rude Boys hails from Irish stock, as do I, but where his band Sasta is more ‘warrior celtic’, I come from jazz, rock and blues,” Stephen says.
“Strangely, our first real original composition, Way Down, is more reggae and steals from a pop-rap culture that neither of us had really considered as ‘ska’. Subsequent recordings have produced a more ‘ska-rified’ feel in Rude Style and later El Rollo.
“We’ve recorded covers of A Message to You Rudy, Paul Kelly’s Dumb Things and Midnight Oil’s Beds are Burning, which we recorded for a UK label that supports a charity for kids with cancer.”
There’s one Rude Girl in the line-up, Annie Jackson, who leads the horns with her vast experience and undaunted enthusiasm.
Stephen says that being the only female in the band, she has a lot to contend with when the boys misbehave. But when they’re all onstage it’s a solid, concerted effort to keep the music playing and the crowd dancing.
“We love to feed off the dance energy of our audience and that spurs us on as a band,” says trumpet player and part-time philosopher Steve Cotterell.
His mate Wayne Pryde likes to climb any speaker stacks he can find and blast his trombone into the space.
Their youngest member, Sam, who plays trumpet, literally stands out from the crowd. He’s well over six-foot-five and brandishes a bright blue mullet.
Mick, of course, leads from the front and directs proceedings, while the rhythm section of Govi (drums), Tony (guitar), Angus (keys) and Stephen (bass) keeps things nice and tight. The band have recently been blessed to have Big Phil Barnard join them on baritone sax.
With a return to live concerts recently, Stephen has put out a challenge to fans: “I dare you to outdance us at the next two gigs.”
The Sunny Coast Rude Boys play the Triffid in Brisbane on January 29 with the Allniters, and at Kings Beach Tavern on February 19.