Books About Ska, Punk, & New Wave

I’ve had a varied taste in music throughout my life and as a result, I’ve read numerous books about youth cultures and underground music scenes. In this post, I have put together a selection of book recommendations about the ska, punk, new wave, and 2Tone eras. Many are available to read free on Kindle Unlimited.

Here are a few that I’ve enjoyed and I will keep adding to this post as I find more.

Read on for reviews of:

The Two Tone Story by George Marshall
Can I Say by Travis Barker (and Gavin Edwards)
33 Percent Rockstar by S C Sterling
Breaking Glass by Susan Hill
Tubeway Daze – The Untold Story of Tubeway Army by Paul Goodwin

Books about Ska, Punk & New Wave
(Including Kindle Unlimited)

The Two Tone Story by George Marshall

The Two Tone Story by George Marshall not only covers the height of 2Tone in 1979/1980, but the build-up and aftermath too. It is a comprehensive account full of interesting information, that is well written and enjoyable to read. I’d highly recommend this book to anyone who lived through 2 Tone of a youth cult during the 1980s.

I was immediately drawn into this book and transported to my own time of being in love with 2 Tone – the music, the style, the memories.

Marshall has an interesting tone of writing. The chapter titles and references to song lyrics will have you singing along in your head. I now know that “one art level” was more than a random made-up lyric.

It starts with the early musical career of  Jerry Dammers and what led him to begin the 2- Tone movement. It came from a fusion of all the youth cults such as punk, ska, reggae, mod, and soul.

There are lots of geeky backstories of how the bands formed and facts from along the way. There are references to the way music was shaped back then –  Sounds, Melody Maker, New Musical Express, John Peel, and the chart show Top of the Pops all played a big part.

Several London venues get a mention – The Hope and Anchor, Dublin Castle, Electric Ballroom, The Lyceum, even the Clarendon Ballroom (Klub Foot). All of these venues played a part in my gigging life in later years.

The Two Tone Story covers all the bands associated with the label and the 2-Tone scene, including The Specials, The Selecter, The Beat, Bad Manners, Bodysnatchers,  Dexys and UB40, even lesser know bands like The Swinging Cats

A really interesting and informative book.  Highly recommended.

Available on Kindle, Kindle Unlimited, and in paperback.

book cover of the two tone story with a picture of the two tone man black and white and white icon for a post about ska, punk and new wave books

Can I Say – Living Large, Cheating Death & Drums, Drums, Drums by Travis Barker (and Gavin Edwards)

I’ve been a fan of Blink 182’s music since the early days, and aware of The Transplants in the last few years, but that was as much as I knew about Travis Barker. I don’t follow the gossip rags and media newspapers, I just follow the music.

Up until recently, I’d never read a biography or autobiography, but after reading the Robbie Williams book Feel and an Elvis biography (yes varied musical tastes), I asked my reading friends for recommendations. I had a month’s Kindle Unlimited running and this came up as a suggestion.

“Can I Say” starts with Travis Barker’s early home life and follows his career and relationships right up to a few years back when the book was published in 2015.

Even before fame and money, he clearly had an addiction to girls and drugs, much like so many other stars you read about. Things start to go very wrong. He loses many people that he holds dear, and after some truly shocking events, he starts to hit that downward spiral.

It’s quite a story but it is so refreshing to read about people who turn their lives around. I admire anyone who can beat addiction.

The book is well written with lots of photos and quotes from exes, fellow musicians and management. He talks through his own complete discography at the end, and I was surprised at just how many artists he’s been involved with musically. A man with outstanding talent.

It’s a fascinating read published by Harper Collins.
Available on Kindle, Kindle Unlimited, and hard or softback book.

photo of a man with tattoos over his chest and neck with piercing blue eyes entitle can I say by Travis Barker for Books about ska, punk and new wave

33 Percent Rockstar by S C Sterling

I was hooked right from the intro. Remembering your first album, CD or concert is always a special moment, and when you are a real music fan, you will take delight in others’ experiences too.

33 Percent Rockstar starts with SC Sterling’s first big gig supporting Agent Orange and The Misfits. I loved his recollection of the music venue and the feelings at seeing the queue of punters waiting in anticipation to get in. He goes on to describe the realities of soundcheck and the feeling of watching his idols on stage. It’s funny no-one really thinks that all our idols have idols themselves and can be just as starstruck.

We get to experience all of this wannabe musician’s firsts – learning to play, first auditions, first band, first gig, and his first recording session. We read of his love for his musical instrument. As someone who can’t play a note, I don’t get this feeling personally but I’ve seen plenty who do and it’s a real pleasure to read. This guy clearly loves music.

We witness his journey through different bands, mostly American punk bands. There are bands mentioned here that I love, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t know who they are, it’s a musical journey that any genre can identify with, particularly if you’re into an underground music scene.

I thoroughly enjoyed the ethos of the band joining the Vans Warped Tour –  no spoilers!

I love how he states that songs evoke memories and each can transport him to a time and place. Everyone I know who has a passion for music feels the same.

This book is well written and easy to follow. 33 Percent Rockstar by S C Sterling was released 19 April 2019. SC Sterling is also the author of Teenage Degenerate.

Available as a paperback, on Kindle and free on Kindle Unlimited.

book cover called 33 percent rock star by S C Sterling with carton musical instruments drawn around the title for Books about ska, punk and new wave

Breaking Glass by Susan Hill

Breaking Glass by Susan Hill is a fiction story made famous by the film. It captures the whole ethos of the  DIY punk/new wave scene with the beginning of the band which then crosses over into the cut-throat world of the music business.

Those of us who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s often remember that era through rose-tinted glasses but the story portrays the violence, racism, fuel shortages, unemployment, and power cuts.  Reading it now made me think that in some aspects the human race has not evolved at all!

Breaking Glass captures the band’s dynamics and the portrayal of the musicians’ rise into the media spotlight. It was actually pretty sad to see how far removed from their initial ideals a musician’s life can become, once fame rears its ugly head. You can read more about Breaking Glass – The film, the book and the soundtrack HERE

photo of Hazel OConnor as a punk in 1979 on the book cover of Breaking Glass for Books about ska, punk and new wave

Tubeway Daze – The Untold Story of Tubeway Army by Paul Goodwin

I enjoyed Gary Numan’s music in the late 70s and early 80s, but I wasn’t really aware of him until Tubeway Army hit the charts. I found it fascinating to read of the band’s journey before Numan embarked on a solo career.

Even those of you who weren’t Numanoids would prob enjoy the story describing the early days of punk to new wave. The beginnings of the synthesizer and electronic pop movements were all something people of my age will remember. The mentions of the Old Grey Whistle Test, Top of the Pops, and singles costing 69p (my first was 49p) were all fond reminders of my teenage years. Who else remembers shopping at Shelleys for shoes, and visiting Carnaby Street and Kensington Market? Or the hot and sweaty gigs of The Marquee where so many bands played before they hit the big time? They all get a mention in Tubeway Daze.

The author has drawn lots of quotes from official bios including ones from Numan himself. On a couple of occasions, the story wasn’t quite as seamless where Goodwin legally identifies the source of the quote, but the story still flowed.

The book also includes an obituary for Paul Gardiner (Tubeway Army) written by his then-girlfriend.

Worth a read especially if you have Kindle Unlimited.

If you’re a Numan fan you might also like to read Remind me to Smile by Martin Downham and Understanding Gary Numan by Paul Sutton

All available on Kindle, Kindle Unlimited, and in paperback.

black book cover with a slight siloette of a man with blonde hair (Gary Numan) with the title Tubeway Daze for Books about ska, punk and new wave

You may also like to read:

* Books about the mod and scooter scene – coming soon
* Breaking Glass – the book, film and soundtrack
* Books about rockabilly and psychobilly – coming soon

I have more books about ska, punk and new wave in my “To Be Read” pile, and I will add them to this post as soon as I have read and reviewed them.

Have you got any ska or punk books to recommend?
Perhaps you’ve already read some of the above?
I’d love to know your thoughts on them.

15 thoughts on “Books About Ska, Punk, & New Wave

  1. This is so interesting for me to read. I missed all of this by about ten years (15, if you count being old enough to go to gigs etc.) but my boyfriend was right in the middle of it all up in Manchester (before punk reached London and became really popular with Malcom McClaren and all that apparently). I’m still learning what came out when and who crossed over into what, and went on to work with who, ha! Were you part of those scenes hon?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was too young to be part of the punk and new wave scenes. 2 Tone was the first one I felt part of. I was only 12 or 13 so it was limited to wearing the clothes and enjoying the music at the youth club discos or watching the bands on TOTP.

      Bet your boyfriend has some great stories from the early days.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Pretty wild and probably not repeatable in here,haha, he also got the beginning of the rave scene and early dance music as well, lucky bugger! I was a teenager during the whole 90’s Brit-pop and House music era and then I started finding out those bands/DJ’s influences, which blew my teenage mind, ha! Although, oddly I’ve always naturally dressed quite punky since I was about 12!?

        Liked by 1 person

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