Interview with Gus Berger

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Duke Vin and the Birth of SkaNiceUp talks to Gus Berger, the director of the film, ‘Duke Vin and the Birth of Ska’.

Please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your background. When and how did you get into film making?

I owned a record store in the Degraves Street Subway in Melbourne from 1995-2004. I specialised in vinyl records, so when all things went digital about ten years ago it become quite tough to stay in business.

When I closed the shop, I went to live in London and was naturally drawn to the independent record shops there, mainly the ones selling reggae and ska. At the same time of visiting all these shops, meeting the owners and buying lots of mainly 7″ records, I was working in small organisation that picked up documentary films and played them in local cinemas. This gave me lots of exposure to documentary films and I began seeing many different styles.

So when the idea came to make this film, I felt that I should just go ahead and start making it, even though I had no formal training. I borrowed a camera and went to a short course in film editing.

How did you come to hear about Duke Vin? What inspired you to make this film?

I had seen Duke Vin DJing at a long running R&B and ska club called Gaz’s Rockin Blues and also at the Nottinghill Carnival, where he would absolutely rock a massive crowd with all these classic old tunes. There was so little written about him and nothing on film, yet everyone agreed he was the original pioneer of Jamaican music in the UK, so I felt he would make a great subject for the film. Vinny wasnt getting any younger, so I felt I needed to talk to him and to film him playing his records – the largest collection of 7″ records in London, apparently!

How easy was it to find the right people to talk to in the UK to make the film happen? How did you start this process? Were people encouraging?

Because I already knew Gaz Mayall (who runs the club Gaz’s Rockin Blues) he put me in touch with Duke Vin. I went around to his house and explained the film I wanted to make and he was really supportive. He wanted to tell his story too. From there I met Count Suckle, who was one of the first (Jamaican)  DJs in the UK and the first Jamaican to start a club night, at that time playing only rhythm and blues and jazz. There were some people I approached to be in the film (like Prince Buster) whose middle man simply wanted too much money for an interview. But in the end, I spoke to all the people I really wanted to and who were integral to the story.

How has the film been received? Were the people involved in the making pleased with the end result?

The film has been really well received. I was so nervous before its first screening which was to an audience of about 500 people, of mainly Jamaicans and ageing mods! They gave the film a really warm reception and some of the people thanked me for making it and paying tribute to their music and their community. The main people in the film, Duke Vin, Count Suckle and Daddy Vego all loved the film and since they keep asking me for more copies, I guess they’re happy with it!

What were your impressions of the Ska/Revival scene in the UK?

The ska scene is great in the UK. I think because it has been around so long, it pops up in many different places. For example, there was a old pub near where I lived in Brixton that had a blues/ska night once a month which attracted a really mixed and up for it crowd and then there’s always ska being played at festivals. To be honest, I didn’t see many ‘new wave’ ska bands – I stuck to hearing the tunes being played by DJs.

Saying that, some of the best nights I had in London were seeing Desmond Decker, Toots and the Maytals and Madness. In small venues too like the famous 100 Club in Soho. And the record stores have so many rare records that you just never saw in Melbourne.

You are now based in Melbourne. Is there a Ska scene there and what is it like?

We have a couple of fantastic, subscriber based radio stations here called 3PBS and RRR. These stations have DJs like Derrick M, Jessie I and Mohair Slim playing reggae, R&B, ska, roots and everything in between every week. Then they play at pumping club nights like Soul Au GoGo. So that’s really important.

There are terrific ska bands in Melbourne such as The Moonhops, Strange Tenants and Melbourne Ska Orchestra. When the legendary Stranger Cole came out to Australia this year, many of the above mentioned bands and DJs played in support and they blew the roof off the Corner Hotel.

So, the scene is healthy and strong but I’m sure there are people who also love ska but go out more than I do these days who could reel off many more bands and DJs.

What projects are you working on right now? Do you have any further music-related projects coming up?

I’m making a documentary that involves a lot of shooting in Arnhem Land, a remote part of Australia’s Northern Territory. And I am in the early stages of researching a film on a Jamaican music legend – but can’t say too much at this stage!

Any last words for the massive?

As Duke Vin says in the film, ‘One more tune!’

More info:
Gusto Films

Venus Hi Fi

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