Heather Augustyn, a professor at Purdue Northwest University, is one of the world’s foremost scholars on the Jamaican musical forms of bluebeat, reggae, ska, and the subsequent merger with the nascent punk scene in England that produced the 2 Tone movement (or second wave of ska). This is her eighth book on the topic and, judging from the enthusiasm she brought to this project, I doubt it will be her last. Like an earlier book of hers focused entirely on the women in Jamaican music, this volume centers itself entirely on the women in England’s 2 Tone scene, choosing to focus on people who are generally passed over when these histories are written.
Unlike the oral history format that is so popular today, where snippets of interviews are presented in a way that fashions a chronological narrative for many bands and individuals, this book is divided into chapters representing (in nearly all cases) one particular band, and then interviews with the women who played in said band, from formation until the end. This is both the book’s biggest strength and also its biggest weakness. Coming out the gate with a fantastic essay on the “Beat Girl,” the ’60s Trinidadian singer Brigitte Bond, her subsequent outing as trans, and attempts to live her life peacefully in Franco-controlled Spain, is a tough act to follow.
Then three of the next four chapters tell the stories of The Selecter, The Bodysnatchers, and The Specials, thus covering pretty much all the bands a casual ska or 2 Tone fan would know about. They’re excellently written, especially the way the Bodysnatchers’ individual stories are woven together into a concise narrative, but we’re not halfway through the book and everyone most music fans would have heard of have already been dispatched. What’s left are interviews with people in bands that never released anything but played shows, backup singers in one-off projects, people who quit after one single, and bands with only tangential ties to the scene, like Bananarama. It grows pretty tedious, but I don’t believe Augustyn wrote this to be read straight through. This is a document of a time and a place, aiming to tell all the women’s stories from this era and, if you approach it with that cultural anthropologist lens, then it’s definitely a triumph. –Justin Bookworm (Self-Published, Sally Brown Publishing, Chesterton, Indiana, [email protected])