SKA legends The Selecter celebrate 35 years of 2-tone with an anniversary tour, playing their first album, Too Much Pressure, in full for the first time. Sophie Diver spoke to iconic frontwoman Pauline Black

The Selecter has come a long way since first appearing on the B-side of The Specials’ record Gangsters. At the forefront of the second wave of ska, the Coventry band took to the Top of the Pops’ stage in 1979 and skanked through On My Radio fronted by the petite yet bold Pauline Black. She scaled the top notes wide-eyed, flaunting her attitude and rude girl style in black blazer and fedora and not much has changed for Pauline, “apparently it’s our coral anniversary! I looked it up the other day because I saw the Stranglers were doing their ruby anniversary. It’s all down to hard work and because we did something 35 years ago that people quite enjoyed.”

In 1980, the band’s debut reached number five in the UK charts and fans can expect to hear its hits Too Much Pressure and 3-Minute Hero alongside an extended encore of ska covers and new material.  But, with four albums in the bag, isn’t it odd to focus a whole tour around one old album? “The Selecter does everything back to front so when we got back together in 2010 we put out two new albums. Usually, when bands get back together they do what we’re just about to do and tour the first album. We thought it was better to put some new stuff out so people could see that we haven’t stultified over the years.”

With record label friends The Specials, The Beat, and Madness still on the circuit, ska has proved its staying power and Pauline knows the key to its longevity, “I think that it’s very hard not to dance to ska music. It’s been steadily growing over the years. No one ever asks about the enduring wonder of rock music, but everyone asks about ska music like it’s a bit strange! It’s not just that they enjoy the music; we actually stood for a couple of things; against racism, against sexism. Which, let’s face it, even after 35 years certainly hasn’t been sorted.”

The Selecter is still addressing social and political issues with their recent album String Theory, “for most of us there’s still ‘too much pressure’ really! You only have to switch on the news and there’s plenty of source material. In some ways there’s an obligation on bands not just to take the fans money but to cast an eye on people’s lives and some of it isn’t very good is it?”

Regretfully for Pauline politics in music has become a thing of the past, “some bands are doing it but they tend to remain more alternative than mainstream. I enjoy the fact that there are more ladies around making music. But I think people are scared to say things these days because somebody may withdraw their funding. Back in my day you weren’t scared to say anything, in fact that was stamped on the label; you were supposed to say something!”

In Pauline’s 2011 autobiography, Black by Design, she tells the story of her adoption, facing racism, finding her voice through music and later acting and presenting. Currently, a film company is optioning the rights to her story, “it’s very nice to have put all the effort into writing something. It’s strange for people to write their own book these days! For somebody interested in taking it further that’s absolutely brilliant. I think it’s a good story and it’d be lovely if it all takes shape.”

Aged 60 and she’s still performing with vigour and hanging out at the merchandise stand with the Selecter’s other original singer Gaps Hendricks like it’s 1980. Pauline is showing no interest in swapping her red shoes for slippers just yet, “one hopes that it’ll be a long time before one shuffles off this mortal coil! It depends on what comes along, I try and stay relatively fluid but this is great fun at the moment and we’re already started on a new album for 2015, so watch this space!”

The Selecter play Rock City Friday 21st March

Written for Nottingham Post


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