Why Pauline Black of The Selecter is The First Lady of Two-Tone Ska

Any artist will tell you that a great career is full of success, regret and comebacks. Then again, it’s not really a comeback if you’ve never left. These days, bands that were once the talk of the town, are headlining shows and being featured in music mags all over again. At the top of the list of dynamic female artists from back in the day include Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders and Debbie Harry of Blondie, then, there’s the Queen of Cool, Pauline Black of The Selecter.

These days, there are only a handful of artists that are respected for their social views as well as their elegance in delivery of the state of the music industry. On the top of that list is Pauline Black of the Selecter. Because of Pauline’s nature, The Selecter has never been shy about telling you like it is. As eloquent as her demeanor is, her views on all things social and political are very direct and to the point. There are several reasons why Pauline commands the respect that she does, even outspoken artists like Jello Biafra channel a similar fervor for speaking your mind. Black is joined by fellow countrymen like the Beat, the Specials, the Clash and the Damned as being champions for many who feel their words aren’t heard.

The other reason people listen is Black is an award winning actress, whose career covers both television and theatre. Her credits include a Series 24 episode of Never Mind the Buzzcocks. She also narrated the 2007 BBC 4 Documentary, Soul Britannia (the film chronicles the history of British soul music). In 2011, Black released her autobiography simply entitled Black by Design. This would be impressive by anyone’s standards, but there’s more. Her Two-Tone ska revival band The Selecter formed in Coventry, England in 1979. Best known for uber-hits "Too Much Pressure" and "On My Radio," the original lineup was fronted by Neol Davies and Black’s rude-girl style and voice. Their seminal debut album, Too Much Pressure, put them on the map and opened doors. Over the years, they’ve released several albums, singles and EP’s. The 2-Tone (EP) featured the immortal Prince Buster and Rico.

The Selecter is such an iconic band, they, along with bands like the Specials, the Bodysnatchers, Bad Manners and the English Beat are credited with starting the ska revival movement. These bands were all featured in the 1981 documentary film entitled Dance Craze. This film is to Two-Tone ska as the Social Distortion/Youth Brigade/Minor Threat documentary film Another State of Mind is to punk rock. There’s also Madness, they’re a ska juggernaut all to themselves. As for the Selecter, they’ve had break-ups and re-formation. There are two versions of this band, which their fans both love (Black and Davies versions). Although, Black has the trademark rights to the name. The Selecter is by far one of the most entertaining bands you’ll ever see. Rolling Stone said “Hands down, Pauline Black possessed the best voice that ever graced a 2-Tone release.” Those are some impressive accolades any artist could receive. Ask most in the music industry, they’ll say that the respect she gets from her peers is for the guidance and voice she’s given to older and newer artists.

Truth-be-told, it takes a lot of courage to stand up to those who don’t agree with you; and it takes even more to stand up to those who share your side of the goal line. I’ve spoken with Pauline a few times over the years, and the sense you get in her demeanor is such that you’re in the presence of royalty. Turns out she has royal blood in her lineage, which comes as no surprise to many. People listen to Pauline because she is very well spoken; that may be because her family had a strong position on education, and she studied science at Lanchester Polytechnic (which is now Coventry University). Having a great sense of humor, she’ll speak her mind about politics, music and everything else in between; and she doesn’t hold back. Recently, she voiced her opinion in a Forbes Magazine interview regarding the state of the music industry. She spoke with me about the Forbes piece, and what it’s like being a musician today.

For some reason, when Pauline talks about this topic, you are entranced in the manner the topic is presented. Honestly, most people don’t care about the music industry, per se… or, the big corporations who have turned into this enormous Kafka-esque creature. The public doesn’t see the impact on the up-and-coming musicians that get taken by the music industry. Their plight is almost like a modern-day Steinbeck novel. After you hear what Pauline has to say, she gives you pause to consider all the tangibles, and then the underlying considerations as to where any viewpoint could lead us.

In the end, as a consumer, we complain about ticket prices to go to concert or festivals and the cost of t-shirts and other items. If we don’t pay attention to the needs of artists, this may be a continuing trend. For the most part, live shows are the only way for bands to make any kind of money. After all, who doesn’t have a family member, friend or acquaintance who’s in a band, or wants to make music for a living. When you put it in that context, Black gets your attention and puts a more human face to the topic. It’s true, musicians provide a service and product, just like any other industry. The biggest difference is in today’s social media world, getting music is easy, and often costs the consumer nothing. The point being, would any of us say to our doctor, dentist or mechanic… thank you for the services, but I’m not paying you. Highly unlikely anyone would be cool with that. The question is, why are we OK with doing that to musicians? It’s been a long road to ruin for musicians; but, when you have quality music, and larger than life figures like Black, Ulrich and Reznor are out there educating the public… there is hope for the music industry and those who create music we all love.

In order to be given a voice, to artists, you have to be heard. Like most icons, you have to pave your own way to be noticed. For quintessential bands from any era, like the Selecter, they believe in their body of work. For some, they trade in their innovation for nostalgia; and rarely do we ever expect anything new or bold from these bands. Just the fact that they show up to a gig is all some fans care about. It’s bands like the Selecter that continue to re-define what being the Ambassador’s of Cool really means. Today, the band is just as electric, dynamic and entertaining as ever. Aside from Pauline, original bandmate, Arthur 'Gaps' Hendrickson provides a show within a show on vocals. Will Crewdson is on guitar, Luke Palmer is on bass guitar, Lee Horsley is on keys, Neil Pyzer-Skeete is on horns and Winston Marche is on the skins. The band continues to put out critically-acclaimed music. Their last album was SUBCULTURE in 2015; their next release is due out October 6th. The album is called DAYLIGHT, and it features a new single called Frontline, and it’s starting to make noise.

The question is when can you see this iconic band? They’ve played major festivals, headlined shows from coast-to-coast and around the world for some time now. Locally, you can catch them tonight at Petco Park in San Diego with Rancid and Dropkick Murphys. They’ll also be playing Downtown Las Vegas Events Center on August 25th. They’ll be finishing up their North American tour at the It’s Not Dead Festival on August 26th. That festival will be held at the Glen Helen Festival Grounds. That show is simply going to be insane. Just to name a few, the bill includes Rancid, Dropkick and other kick-ass bands like the Interrupters, Buck O’ Nine, The Adicts, Buzzcocks, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, GBH, the Exploited and possibly the last performance ever from ska-core legends, Voodoo Glow Skulls. Pauline said she couldn’t be more excited to be part of this lineup! If you want to see music that matters by bands that are part of music lore, come check out the Selecter!

The Selecter perform this Saturday at It's Not Dead Fest at Glen Hele Amphitheater in San Bernardino. For full info click here.


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