It’s 2018, and we still love the Royals. We lose our minds over them, almost as if they were born on Main Street USA. For the local ska fans, UK royalty is coming to town when The Selecter, featuring the Queen of 2Tone ska, Pauline Black, hit the stage next Tuesday at House of Blues Anaheim.
Every female ska-lead, and many of their male counterparts and say that Black had a major impact on their professional and personal lives. In addition to bands like The Specials, Madness, Bad Manners, The Bodysnatchers, The Beat (all highlighted in the 1982 ska documentary Dance Craze),The Selecter have kept ska in the hearts and minds of genre supporters. They’ve also inspired many very successful 3rd wave ska-punk bands and newer acts like The Interrupters, who’ve brought the genre back to the forefront of the music world in recent years.
Formed in 1979, the band came in at a turbulent time that was filled with strife and social injustice throughout England. Politics has always been a source of contention no matter where you call home. We’re often reminded that politicians make promises that they soon forget once elected. Luckily, back in the ‘70’s, bands like The Specials and the Beat held politician’s feet to the fire. Truth be told, most people, in general, don’t think about injustice of any kind until it happens to them, or someone they know. Bands from England had to remind us that injustice breeds everywhere, and can happen to anyone. Pauline has been very outspoken about that and a major reason she is so beloved by the masses. From a performance standpoint, The Selecter also held their peers to a standard that to this day remains the example all great bands should model themselves after.
When The Specials launched their 2Tone revival movement, it focused on equality and racial diversity. A central theme of the genre was bringing people together. At that time, people were at odds with each other, economic issues crossed over to social injustice and racism. That became the nomenclature of the time… sound familiar? Instead of playing pop songs and saying nothing, many of the early ska and punk bands took a stand and spoke their minds. They weren’t OK with limousines, and private planes being reserved for the privileged. Back then, the only way the working class would ever be treated equally was in their dreams. The goal was to point out the things that unite us as human beings versus embracing the rhetoric that divides us. Again, sound familiar?
As for the dynamics of the time when The Selecter was first formed, the music world was still evolving out of the mentality of the ’50 as and ’60s. Despite all the barriers torn down by Jamaican singer Millie Small, the ska scene was still pretty much a boys’ club, that is, until Pauline Black and Rhoda Dakar (Bodysnatchers) landed. Black and Dakar embodied what a “Rude Girl” is. They emerged as smart, witty, opinionated, great entertainers who stood for equality and justice. It wasn’t exactly MeToo Version 1.0, but it was the beginning of a movement. Their example transformed a mindset still embraced by the ska scene to this day. Call it what you want, but these two ladies put it on the line and Black was the face of the scene.
The thing about being a leader, sometimes you have to say the things that aren’t popular. Back in the ‘70’s, it was difficult at best to call out racism and police brutality, because that’s just the way things were. To that extent, The Selecter, and Black, in particular, have moved so many people to the path of equality while putting out kick-ass music.
Current tunes like “Take Back the Power” by The Interrupters are driving home a great message. Selecter’s “Too Much Pressure” also had a subtext and a message that took root. Suffice it to say, topics like racism have resurfaced, proving that our social tectonic plates haven’t moved as much as they needed to. Black says that “there hasn’t been any real seismic kind of alleviation of the pressure. It was too much pressure then, and it’s still too much pressure now.” On the flip side, songs off their two most recent studio albums, Subculture (2015) and Daylight (2017) covered the issues of Brexit and changes in the political climate. Those topics remain controversial; perhaps the thought of guilty minds top the list as to why the themes of these albums are so controversial? Billy Shakespeare was right, a guilty mind needs no accuser; so scream at the messenger!
As for what the band has been up to; they’re in the middle of a U.S. Tour, and their 2017 album Daylight is very good and it’s been well received by their fans. When you go to a show, fans still scream for songs like “On My Radio,” “Too Much Pressure,” “Three-Minute Hero,” “The Whisper,” “Missing Words” and “Frontline”. In addition to Black, the band currently features Arthur “Gaps” Hendrickson on vocals, Winston Marche (drums), Will Crewdson (guitar), Luke Palmer (bass), Lee Horsley (keys), Neil Pyzer-Skeete (horns), and Orlando LaRose (horns). This band is simply electric and they can put on a show that will make you break out and dance.
What impact has ska and The Selecter had on society? They’re proponents of speaking up, fairness, equality and anything else that falls under that umbrella. Black says causes like Black Lives Matter has happened and the #MeToo generation has happened. Those are newer causes and that genie is out of the bottle. You can’t put that back in and hope people are going to forget. No matter what the topic is, fairness and racial equality are pillars we should all use as a measurement. The Selecter and 2Tone bands remind us of that.
Today, we see how the band’s contributions to 2Tone ska have influenced a number of sub-genres–most notably 90’s ska-punk and ska-core. If it wasn’t for the 2Tone movement, there may not be bands like Reel Big Fish, Rancid, the Bosstones, Sublime, No Doubt, and the aforementioned, Interrupters. Countless bands owe their careers to the early ska legends. Black has had a profound influence on local ladies of ska. Gwen Stefani of No Doubt and Aimee Interrupter are at the top of the list. From the OC, perhaps the next big thing is Telena Chekami from the newly formed ska-punk band, Bite Me Bambi. These ladies all have one thing in common, their love for putting out great music, and Pauline Black….OK, they may have two things in common. If anything, this Queen has opened a dialogue for all of us, but she’s also provided inspiration for the next generation of leaders.
The Selecter performs withThe Delirians and DJ, Rhoda Dakar at House of Blues, Anaheim on November 13. For tickets, click here.