Calling all rude boys and girls – seminal British two-tone outfit The Selecter are celebrating the 35th anniversary of their debut album, Too Much Pressure, and they are coming down under to mark the occasion. JESSICA WILLOUGHBY chats to frontwoman, Pauline Black, ahead of their show this Tuesday, October 14, at the Rosemount Hotel.
Two-tone and social commentary goes hand-in-hand.
Spearheaded by bands such as The Specials and Madness – this genre saw multi-racial acts use their take on ska music to stand together against the woes of racism and sexism in a late ’70s UK landscape. It was definitely not an easy feat in an era marked by economic and political turmoil. But revivalists found a way to make their voice heard – with The Selecter staking their claim as one of the movement’s best.
Now, 35 years after the release of their seminal debut offering, Too Much Pressure is being playing in its entirety live for the first time as the band hit the road.
“We’ve been back together about four years now,” frontwoman, Pauline Black, tells X-Press. “We’ve had two new albums out and now it’s our 35th year. We probably think things are going better than they’ve ever done. I don’t think we expected that to happen. We know we can always work in the UK and Europe. But going further afield – you don’t expect really, after a band has been going that long, to be jetting all over the world. Especially with our type of music. It’s not like we do rock music – we do ska music. It’s not an unknown genre, but it’s a small genre. We are very, very proud to fly the flag for two-tone and stand for what we do.”
Dubbed reverently as the ‘Queen of Ska’, 60 year-old Black and company have been busy since reforming in 2010. Carrying their ‘Multiculturalism rules!’ message to a new generation with their most recent albums, Made In Britain (2011) and String Theory (2013) – the iconic singer says revisiting The Selecter’s debut was a “strange” experience.
“When you make your debut album, you’ve been playing it for quite a while because that’s your set,” Black says. “You tend to record it as though you’ve played it live and it will have all that energy – those feelings and thoughts – you’ve amassed over time. Now it’s over 35 years later, so we’re not in that position. So we can be much more celebratory about it. A song like Black And Blue from the album – which was autobiographical, as far as I was concerned – was about my childhood and my experience of growing up in this country as an adoptee and sort of mixed race. It didn’t really mean too much to people back in 1979 because racism was rife, questions of mixed race – all of these things – would come much later. There was just generally institutionalised racism in this country. But now, when you sing that song, it’s like looking back as an experience that happened a very long time ago and remembering how things were.”
So how do the themes of Too Much Pressure stand up in the 21st century?
“I would say this album could be a backdrop to today’s environment really. When you look around the world, the number of countries who are either at war with each other or trying to overthrow some regime somewhere. All those roots cause social unrest, poverty, different economic statuses between countries, nationalism – all of that nonsense. We don’t make comment in every song we do, but I certainly wouldn’t call them passing references.
“People would definitely understand On My Radio, because it’s so prescribed these days by shows like X Factor. People who tend to turn up on these things and then go on to make records are really like performing monkeys to a certain extent. We just don’t come from that generation of performers. We come from something that’s a little bit more anarchic, being post punk and having bands around that we enjoyed like The Clash and Bob Marley & The Wailers. You could even include in that people like Patti Smith and Blondie – those that maybe had a more poppy but edgy sound. I think that’s very much where we fit in.”