The Selecter : SubCulture

It took three plays before I was humming and singing the melodies of 'SubCulture', the new album from The Selecter. Remaining true to their two tone roots, each song carries a poignant message, delivered through the old ska formula;- horns, keyboard and consistent drum beat that gets you up moving or skanking, if you still got it in ya. Pauline Black kicks off with 'Box Fresh Start', the release single, shortly followed by Gaps taking the lead in 'It never worked out'. Say no more. Of course in true two tone style, the lyrics were gonna hit home at some point.. But then that's what Pauline, whom I had the privilege of interviewing, explains is the whole message behind the two tone culture; ' dealing with what's going on in society , what's going on around..'.

And when Pauline explains the thinking behind the aptly entitled 'Sub Culture', 'two tone was a sub culture and let's celebrate all sub cultures -mods, skinheads, rude boys, soul boys northern soulers' and that 'It started from that point of view and then we started to think about 'well what do sub cultures listen to .. they tend to listen to relatively niche music as opposed to what's going on in the pop charts and all those kinds of things and usually niche music tends to deal with what's going on in society. As a sub culture what did two tone stand for, and as far as we were concerned they had an anti sexist and an anti racist message'.. You can't help thinking 'thank God they're back' because it's about time someone started to wax lyrical some anti sexist messages again. And who better than the iconic Pauline Black herself who later confesses, ' it was mostly blokes involved in two tone, me and Rhoda were flying the flags for women at that time, slightly misogynistic when I look back. Since then I'm flagging the anti sexist message'. Yes indeed it was a male dominated sub culture back then, which is why you were inspirational to so many young women at the time ( and I've still got my 'Rude Girls Don't Cry badge to prove it).


What's so admirable about The Selecter is that their inventiveness has no bounds. From applying the old ska formula to classics such as 'Because the Night', associating lyrics 'bedroom tax and schadenfreude' in Hit the Ground running and( I know it's on the 'String Theory' album but deserves a mention) to revamping old songs with re interpretation in ' The Secret Love' which, in Pauline's own words, '- I don't know if everybody got the message behind it. It was in support of gay marriage at the time with Doris Day being a huge gay icon of time past. Different songs mean different things'. Sheer genius.

'Subculture' is a balance of fresh ideas and sounds mixed with some familiar melodies and rhythms. There's always the odd time fillers on an album, but not this. Five songs in and I'm still thinking 'hit'. The Gaps/Black partnership in full bloom, complementing each other vocally for the past 35 years, covering themes such as the cycle of abusive relationship in 'Open Goal' , then a slower reggae beat, enticing us like a snake charmer into the dark world of a social and cultural 'Breakdown' and lifting it up again with 'Karma' and that nostalgic Jamaican Wailer like chorus -' what goes around, comes around'. It all makes exciting listening. It's a fusion of optimism and reality, old and new. This isn't surprising as that's exactly how Pauline Black comes across. She embraces the 'smogenboard of music' that is now accessible ' whereby ' in terms of making a product it's more of a level playing field because of the software you can get - knock up a track. You can get it out up on You Tube and make your own video for it.... From that point of view its probably easier' and still realises ' the hard thing is because it's easier millions of people have access and the only thing that can lift you above the herd is money'.

And of course when asked 'what audience are you appealing to?' it is obvious that The Selecters' feet remain firmly on the ground , 'our generation are still coming along and those that were 10 at the time can now come along. I don't worry about what audience , people come to you because they find something they like. The music stays fresh because we stay true to The Selecter. As relevant as 'Too Much Pressure' was in 1979, you have to move on, all sorts of things move on. I never thought that there'd be a black president. Gaps and I always made a point of talking to people and finding out what they like or didn't like, people like to be talked to'.

The Selecter's identity is clearly enshrined in Subculture. Without doubt they have become Ska legends; still keeping it fresh, in touch with their fans and producing great beats.

The Selecter are on tour now and will be playing Cambridge Junction 22 November 2015
Subculture was released 15th June 2015
With special thanks to Pauline Black for sharing her time and to Michael Eccleshall of Music Media Relations for arranging this interview.