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By Gigantic Tickets
Posted on Friday 9th December 2016 at 14:00
The Selecter exploded onto the scene in the late 70’s in a burst of energy fusing furious political punk attitude with danceable ska that chimed with the consciousness of the youth and saw them quickly climb the charts.
They emerged at a turbulent time which had seen an economic meltdown resulting in high unemployment, the rise of an antagonistic Thatcher government whose prime focus was on wealth creation to the detriment of all else and the organised Far Right who were marching in the streets. All of which hit the urban youth the hardest, particularly any kind of minority, and spurred the musical, political and artistic revolution of punk.
Punk gave a voice to the alienated yet creative. Suddenly anything was possible and from this revolution came a huge variety of forms of expression spurred by the advent of the frenetic energy. Amongst the many incendiary new undertakings came the infamous record label 2 Tone. Tapping into the resurgence of ska whilst also having a finger on the pulse with punk, 2 Tone became the home for the likes of Madness, Bad Manners, The Specials and The Selecter.
The Selecter join the amazing array of acts booked for Outlines Festival. Held in various venues around Sheffield on Friday 3rd and Saturday 4th of March, 2017. A stunning array of essential acts plus up and coming names will be performing at such premier gig venues as Queens Social Club, Bloc Projects, The Leadmill, The Harley and Plug.
We spoke to formidable frontwoman and original rude girl Pauline Black about the band’s history, her outlook on the current political climate and what is in store for The Selecter in 2017.
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How did The Selecter become involved in the fantastic festival Outlines?
The usual way I think that any band does. They contact our agent – our agent comes to us and says ‘Hey look, this promoter wants to put you on here. This is what festivals are about and all those kind of things. We either say yay or nay. We very rarely say nay!
Have you any special memories of playing Sheffield in the past? Any stand out gigs?
Oh yeah, absolutely! We played the Corporation in Sheffield. I can’t remember when. That was a few years ago now. And we also have done the Tramlines Festival as headline and been on the bill for two years. The most recent years anyway.
It was always a great experience. I mean, Sheffield people seem to like their ska music – 2 Tone in particular. And I just think Sheffield is a great place to be perfectly honest.
The Selecter have a high energy that makes for compulsive viewing. Do you prefer playing festivals or to a crowd that has come specifically to your gig?
Both are okay. We’ve done a lot of headline tours of playing our own music to our own fans as it were. But what I mean, what festivals are great for is being out there. And when people come to festivals they come to see a lot of different things, maybe they like one band in particular, but they’re very open. They’re open to other band’s music.
If you want to expand your audience it makes perfect sense to play festivals because you’re going to get to a lot more people and maybe people who have never ever heard of you. We still kind of like that challenge because it keeps it fresh and it keeps it new.
Is it that thirst for a challenge that keeps the band so fresh and exciting?
I think that The Selecter has always been like that, ever since 1979. Everybody in the 2 Tone movement, the other bands that were involved as well, have always been like that. We’re out there. We’re putting out a message of ‘We think multiculturalism is a good thing’ and that’s challenging maybe to some people.
So, we never go on stage just to play a few songs and hope people like it. We go on there and, to my mind in this day and age and the things we’re living with in the moment, if you don’t go on the stage with an agenda that you are prepared to fight for then don’t go on stage at all. Go and be on X Factor.
Do you think it is important that pop music has a confrontation edge?
I think its important music should have an edge to it. There are a million and one things going on in the world that are directly going to impact on young people in particular – probably on everybody on the not too distant future. And to not have an opinion about that I think is a dereliction of duty quite apart from anything else.
But for those of us who are able to get on a stage and people actually part with their good money, I feel that; yeah you should have something to say about that. You’re in a privileged position to be able to maybe fight some of the untruths that are out there and 2 Tone ostensibly was always setup to fight against attitudes of racism and to fight against attitudes of sexism. As a mixed race female I feel that I’m perfectly placed to have something to say about that.
The Selecter have always addressed conflicts in society be that crime, racism, sexism and inequality, however the music tends to be bright and upbeat. Was this a deliberate means of getting across a message to as wide an audience as possible?
I think that there’s a punk edge to it. I think that maybe what Madness plays is sunny and all upbeat and all the rest of it. I think that we tend to mix our ska with reggae, we mix it with elements of punk as well and elements of rock and that makes, I find, a fusion for a lot of different styles. An umbrella under which you can say most of the maybe edgier things we wish to say. But its always danceable.
There does seem to be a lack of acts that are purposefully trying to say anything, to agitate, confront problems in society or instigate change. Not necessarily in the independent and alternative circles but in the mainstream.
But that’s the purpose of mainstream isn’t it? The mainstream upholds the status quo. We’ve always been involved in the alternative side of things. Ska music to my knowledge doesn’t even have a genre on iTunes, I think its tied to world music or reggae.
You get used to being side-lined and things like that. But none the less I feel that it was an enduring message, the 2 Tone message, and its an enduring theme today. There are still people worldwide who consider that message something worth upholding. And we can still pretty much tour anywhere in the world and get an audience. For a band with the longevity that we have and also a band that, arguably, has been marginalised in terms of the mainstream pop industry then I think we’re doing okay. I expect nothing else from the pop world. It always was like that. It was like that when I was young, nothing much has changed since then.
Women are too often side-lined in the music industry. How does it feel to be a role model for other female artists?
Well its one of those things. You’ve got to remember I’ve been doing this for thirty-seven years. I came up with role models myself. They were few and far between as well. But nonetheless there were woman around. There are still woman within music.
It is difficult I think for some women to forge a path through. But there always are pretty strong ladies out there. If they’ve got something to say, they’re gonna say it. In terms of numbers; yes I would there to be much more of an equal amount of people in terms of male/female in the music industry but we’ll keep fighting for what we can.
What additional challenges do women who want to get involved in music face?
Well there was a pretty amazing photo which was taken around 1980, I think, that was on the front cover of NME and that was myself, Poly Styrene from X Ray Spex, Debbie Harry from Blondie, Viv Albertine from The Slits, Siouxsie Sioux from The Banshees and Chrissie Hinds from the Pretenders and we were all in one photo at that time. And the reason for that front cover with all those females on the front was because the male editor probably didn’t think one female could carry it if they were going to be there in any pose that wasn’t sexually provocative, which none of us were at that time.
We were just sort of facing out to the camera saying “This is us”. The NME considered us to be the most important females in music at the moment and that was quite a challenging photo. It has always been that if you want to be make a front cover some other way then presumably you’ve got to be showing some degree of flesh. That was a challenge in 1980, 1981, and I think the same sort of premise is a challenge for women these days.
Nowadays the NME feels more like an advert but I’m surprised that back then the editors felt they were not able to present a single woman as a credible independent artist. I find that shocking.
Well they were doing other things at that time. You’ve got to remember what life was like in 1980, it was the height of Thatcherism for one thing. People were only just beginning to get used to reggae music in this country. It was at a time when British Black music was beginning to come to the fore. They were different times.
People who led the good fight then, led the good fight. And a good fight it was!
What was it about this period that caused the 2 Tone explosion? Was it spurred on by the confrontation generated by the Right with the rise of Thatcher and Monetarism politics? Or was it the discovery of Black and Jamaican music in Britain?
I think there were a number of bands in the middle of the 70’s, you’ve got to remember that punk had happened in the mid 70’s at the same time Bob Marely broke through here with a kind of revolutionary reggae music. And those were definitely musics that were completely against the status quo. Punk broke down a lot of barriers particularly for working class people. Particularly for people who wanted to get a band together and say things maybe not in the normal way that had been said.
We’d just been suffering all these bloody supergroups like Genesis and all that kind of business, Pink Floyd, and as wonderful as some of those bands may or may not have been they’d all come out of Cambridge or that way of thinking. They were going to uphold a very British/English Middle Class way of thinking. Then along came punk and blew all of that out of the water.
I would say that bands like The Clash and other bands that were female fronted like X Ray Spex, like Siouxsie Sioux and The Banshees and things like that began to may a way or another path for women to go forward within music for one thing. And also the advent of Bob Marley meant that British Blacks here began to form a music of their own that reflected their own experience in Black communities in London, and in Birmingham, and in Liverpool and in Toxteth and places like that.
And I would say Steel Pulse were the ones who came out of that with their own particular brand of reggae music and broke through, and appeared on Top Of The Pops. Also, you had The Clash who were mixing up punk music with reggae music and that, of course, paved the way for 2 Tone that went back to an early form or reggae; ska music and made it danceable.
How did an East London girl get started with a Coventry band?
I came from Romford. I grew up in Romford. I came up here to go to polytechnic to study science. I stayed in Coventry and worked as a radiographer in various local hospitals here for the NHS until I joined The Selecter. I didn’t have to go back to my day job.
I was playing around Coventry. In those days if you were a female you had to either front somebody else’s band or teach yourself to play an instrument – I thought that was probably a good idea. So, I taught myself to play guitar and the only places really you could play, pretty much in Coventry anyway, was folk clubs and things like that. So, I used to do Dylan songs or Jodie Mitchell songs, whatever I could get together with about three of four chords. And eventually I got myself into The Selecter. It didn’t take me too long.
Despite addressing specific issues at the time they were written, your songs have a real timeless quality to them and don’t feel tied to any particular decade. Do you think this is the secret to your continued popularity?
Well I would say that the things that have assisted our continued popularity is the fact that racism and sexism have never gone away. You would think that in the past thirty-seven years with people maybe having much more liberal ideas and all the things that have been broken down, or I thought had been broken down, during that time that there’d be no need for a band to be talking about the subjects that we’re talking about now.
But, to be perfectly honest, with the latest developments I think there is more need for bands like us than there ever has been.
I think you’re completely right. In recent years we’ve seen a growth in the organised Far Right across Europe and the election of an American President using racism to gain popularity. What do you think is the future for bands like yourselves? And how do we challenge racism, sexism and inequality in society?
I have no idea what the future is, the same as nobody else. But all you can do is carry on doing what we’re doing really and hope that people in some way or another listen, begin to organise themselves and begin to see that equality is something you have to fight for. People have lived and died doing that. The next four years is going to be an incredible learning period for people. They may think that somebody like Donald Trump is pretty much just using the presidency as an extension of his TV programme and they may be suckered in that way. But they have yet to find out exactly what is on his agenda and I think when people do, I have greater faith in people. You’ve got to remember that half the people in the USA didn’t vote for him. Those that did, I think they are in for a big wake up call.
We were out in America just about a month ago now (October) so we saw a lot of what was going on and certainly there weren’t many Trump supporters, I don’t think, that came and saw us play. And we’re going to go back again next year as well to continue that good fight so I hope other bands take up that challenge too.
What else have you got in store for 2017? Will you be touring and do you have any other festivals confirmed?
We will be doing the UK and we will be doing some shows at the end of March and beginning of April which will be a headline tour and they are big venues as well.
You’re continuing to write and record new material and your latest release Subculture went down a storm. Any plans to put out another record soon?
Yeah! We’re recording in January and February and there will be a new album out in the autumn of 2017.
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