Some amazing acts have graced the stage at the DM’s Boot Room, Camden but this month saw music royalty take to the boards to play a riotous set of ska classics. The Selecter cannot be described as anything other than legendary, such is the influence they’ve had on music and fashion. Before their gig we caught up with ‘queen of ska’ Pauline Black and original member Arthur ‘Gaps’ Hendrickson to talk two-tone and about their new album Daylight. Read on to see what they had to say…
The Selecter formed in 1979, did you have any idea you’d still be releasing music and playing across the world?
Pauline – I think the age we all were at the time; we probably didn’t think we’d be alive 40 years later!
Gaps – Who would’ve thought we’d still be doing this and enjoying it as much as ever?
Do you still get a thrill out of playing live?
P – Oh, the biggest thrill is always playing live, isn’t it? There is no other reason, for my mind, for doing it. When you go in the studio its great to go in with new material and record it. But after that, getting out and actually playing it to people is the best thing.
I wanna walk the same as any guy walks in to a room… as though I own my space, as a woman
Your name comes from the Jamaican term for DJ – how do you think Jamaica and other cultures influence British music?
G – When we grew up, reggae was really at the height [of its popularity]. You had so much reggae music in the charts. Black slate, Bob Marley, Sugar Minot, Okay Fred and all that. All those were very instrumental in what we set out to do.
P – And also I don’t think you should leave it at [reggae]. I mean it was a meeting point of reggae and punk. Both of those were underground music in this country, and by being underground, I mean that disaffected youth, or people that weren’t as ‘conditioned’ maybe as some of the other were, had a place to go.
All those subcultures: punks, rude boys, reggae artists, all came together and had common cause, even mods were in there. It all kind of bleeds into everybody’s music. And I think two tone is the epitome of that, that’s the subculture we come from. [It’s] blending black music and white music together and making a form of dance music. It’s still the way forward as far as I’m concerned.
Your new album Daylight was released at the end of last year – can you tell us a bit about it? It has quite a strong message.
P – The Selecter has always had a political message, I don’t see any reason not to have to be perfectly honest. If I was to look back at people that influenced me I think of women like Nina Simone who always had a political current running through anything that she did.
Daylight is basically to shine some daylight on the mess that we find ourselves in, I mean look at what’s going on in the world. The world is making a lurch to the right so it’s quite disheartening to think that all that we went through in the last 40 years, to establish some sort of basis for multiculturalism and then suddenly these outside forces come along and now have some sort of currency out there among society. It’s got to be stopped.
G – When you’re not touring and you want to relax and you turn on the TV and see all this mayhem, children worrying if their families are going to come home to them… I thought ‘it’s complete mayhem’ so that’s where the track [Mayhem] came from.
We like political [lyrics] but also we like kind of throwaway lyrics that are nice to sing along to like The Big Badoof which comes from my childhood in St. Kitts. It comes from a fairy rhyme that we used to sing back home in the West Indies and my grandma used to say it to us.
You just have to be able to bounce on stage ‘cos if you can’t bounce to the rhythm of ska music, then nothing’s happening.
What new musicians are you inspired by? Do you think it’s important for artists to have a point of view and use their influence?
P – I always have respect for any new artist who comes along and has something to say. It’s hard to stick your head above the parapet because there’s millions of people out there who all want to knock it off. Especially in these days of social media. It’s very difficult for women, and black women in particular, to say anything without a whole torrent of abuse coming [their] way.
A very political man called Malcolm X once said “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything” which I know Dr. Martens uses, which is the best slogan you could use. And it’s very much our ethos. We’re black people, we’re out in the world. Everybody knows about racism, everybody knows about sexism and we’re at the age where ‘hey’ if someone’s gonna say something, it might as well be us.
How will you be celebrating the upcoming 40 years of 2-Tone anniversary next year?
P – We’re doing a tour up and down the country, there will be a very big London gig and probably we’ll be teaming up with The Beat.
We’re at the age where ‘hey’ if someone’s gonna say something, it might as well be us.
The Selecter has always had a political message, I don’t see any reason not to have to be perfectly honest.
The Selecter have been so influential not just in music but fashion – how did the distinctive look come about?
P – In terms of fashion you can’t go wrong with a monochromatic black and white look. Androgynous or not. I like shoes that are made for walking, proper walking, not teetering about on stilettos. I wanna walk the same as any guy walks in to a room… as though I own my space, as a woman and I find that those kind of shoes help you do that.
G – When you’re on tour you need something comfortable to be in for 12, probably 14 hours a day. Once you break in Doc’s they become very comfortable.
P – And they give you the right kind of bounce on stage. You just have to be able to bounce on stage ‘cos if you can’t bounce to the rhythm of ska music, then nothing’s happening.
G – I’ve got about ten pairs…
P – The Imelda Marcos of Doc Martens shoes.