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Scritti Politti

One of alt-pop’s most buoyant and effervescent success stories of the 1980s (and beyond), SCRITTI POLITTI were down to just one maverick “loverboy” singer, Green Gartside (born Paul Julian Strohmeyer, 22 Jun’55, Cardiff, Wales). As a Rough Trade artist, Green and Co set the pace among the burgeoning, nouveau niche artists that filled a void between the pseudo post-punk of the day to something with a political, linguistic bent. Adapting vocal chords that only angels could dream of attaining, it was only a matter of time that Green and his cosmopolitan team of musicians spun airwave gold-dust from `Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin)’, `Absolute’, `The Word Girl’ and `Oh Patti (Don’t Feel Sorry For Loverboy)’.
It all began way back in 1977/78 when Leeds art student (and former Young Communist League affiliate), the aforementioned Green, met up with bassist Nial Jinks and owner of a LinnDrum, Tom Morley; manager Matthew Kay filled in as programme organiser and occasional keyboardist. Relocating to London in June ’78 and following a path and DIY ethos that groups such as The MEKONS, GANG OF FOUR and The DESPERATE BICYCLES prescribed to, SCRITTI POLITTI – meaning Italian for political writing (well, nearly) – were almost immediately out of the starting gate on the self-financed, St. Pancras-endorsed 7-inch, `Skank Bloc Bologna’. Confused? That mattered only initially, as Green’s guitar licks and runs combined/conflicted with an anti-pop diffusion of spontaneous, avant-garde polyrhythms: one could allude to Green’s mock-philosophical memorandum through intellectual icons like Karl Marx, Gilles Deleuze and Jacques Derrida at a later date – the song would certainly stick in the mind. It would indeed become a Festive 50 staple on the John Peel show.
That same John Peel Radio 1 programme would unearth further night sessions by way of third Rough Trade/St. Pancras single/EP, `Work In Progress’, a record that arrived late in ’79 after an obviously-stated `4 A Sides’ EP. Basically, though, nothing could match the sharpness and edgy angles of “Skank”. That accolade would come with the late 1981 release of the classic `The “Sweetest Girl”’ single, a gloriously gorgeous slice of romantic white-soul/reggae. The SCRITTIs had now added Mike MacEvoy (keyboards, vocoder), while guests Mgotse Mothle (double bass) and label-mate ROBERT WYATT (piano), added panache and pizzazz to the endearing composition. It was indeed a complement when fellow Londoners MADNESS later took the minor-hit track into the higher echelons of the charts in February 1986.
As Jinks and Morley made way for bassist Joe Cang (although credits were forthcoming for all on the Politti’s forthcoming debut set), `Faithless’ and `Asylums In Jerusalem’ – the latter twinned with The MONOCHROME SET-esque `Jacques Derrida’ – likewise, tracked a similar path to once again bubble under the Top 40.
All four songs were included on the much-anticipated debut set, SONGS TO REMEMBER (1982) {*8}. Green’s whipped-cream falsetto, musical eclecticism and unerring way with an insidious pop hook (not to mention a clever-clever lyric) made him a critical darling and one of Rough Trade’s most unlikely success stories; the album almost snatched a Top 10 place, while becoming the label’s biggest selling release to date. A shock to the system for many who’d written off the Scrittis as a cause lost to pretentious arty-pop, there was at least one more classic to add to its resonance and flava: the cod-reggae inner soul of `Gettin’ Havin’ & Holdin’’.
Subsequently relocating to New York after moving up the corporate ladder to Virgin Records, Green sought out such accomplished US-based musicians as bassist MARCUS MILLER (formerly of MILES DAVIS), guitarist Paul Jackson Jr. and journeyman sticksman Steve Ferrone, who all accompanied him on his first Top 10 British hit, `Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin)’, in spring 1984. A succession of different sessioners played on subsequent singles, `Absolute’, `Hypnotise’ and `The Word Girl’ (the latter crediting Ranking Ann), although drummer Fred Maher (ex-MASSACRE) and keyboardist/synth man David Gamson continued to supplement Green on SCRITTI POLITTI’s sophomore set, CUPID & PSYCHE 85 (1985) {*8}. Again, showcasing all the relevant singles, this slick set of Arif Mardin-produced, dancefloor pop-soul also included `Perfect Way’, a perfect song to break Green and Co – albeit briefly – Stateside; it was duly given the honour of being covered by aforementioned jazz legend MILES DAVIS.
The aforesaid trumpeter also contributed to `Oh Patti (Don’t Feel Sorry For Loverboy)’, Gartside’s first single after three years of beavering away in the studio. The accompanying album, PROVISION (1988) {*6}, further refined the shy man’s luxuriant pop vision with an altogether more straightforward approach; Gamson again provided the lush synth textures. Despite the quality, further singles `First Boy In This Town’ (Lovesick)’ and `Boom! There She Was’ (featuring ROGER Troutman) lingered and/or languished in the lower regions of the singles chart. Sadly, Green could not rid himself of stage fright, therefore tours to support each set would be his proverbial albatross.
After another interminable lay-off, Green’s SCRITTI POLITTI reconvened in 1991 for a Top 20 collaborative cover of The BEATLES’ `She’s A Woman’ alongside ragga loverman SHABBA RANKS, and a further duet with SWEETIE IRIE on a re-vamp of the GLADYS KNIGHT number, `Take Me In Your Arms’. With no accompanying album in the pipeline, it seemed as if Gartside had finally abandoned SCRITTI POLITTI as a front for his musical activities, although the pop maverick would subsequently emerge by the end of the millennium.
Re-inventing himself as a bearded rapper type (well his backing group were anyhow), Green, Gamson and SCRITTI POLITTI came storming back from oblivion on the long-awaited fourth set, ANOMIE & BONHOMIE (1999) {*6}. Supplemented by Allen Cato and Wendy Melvoin (guitar), Me’Shell NdegeOcello (bass, vocals), David Dyson and Vere Isaacs (bass) and Abe Laboriel, Jr. (drums), the first track to reach an audience was the unorthodox UK Top 50 rap piece, `Tinseltown To Boogiedown’. For some, lost in space, sprinkled in the ether-dome of musical misnomers, cool cuts `Umm’, `Brushed With Oil, Dusted With Powder’ and `Die Alone’, were barely down to the once-gleeful Green and his golden voice, but his backing group.
Not the most prolific artist by any means, Green returned from a long leave of absence to release an acclaimed, Mercury Prize-nominated comeback set, WHITE BREAD BLACK BEER (2006) {*7}. Signed once again to Rough Trade (Nonesuch in the US), the main man’s sweet heartache and romantic philosophy was re-implanted and expressed full-circle on the XTC-like `Dr. Abernathy’, the one-that-got-away single `The Boom Boom Bap’ and the brittle but warm, `Snow In Sun’. Coming across like “both!” SIMON & GARFUNKEL, pastel-shaped soft-rock was the order of the day for the back-to-back `Road To No Regret’ and `Locked’.
If intervals of eleven and seven years respectively had been frustrating for his SCRITTI POLITTI fan base to take (recalling that of The BLUE NILE), then another decade away from the limelight was thoroughly excruciating. In the meantime, Green worked with HOT CHIP’s Alexis Taylor, The INCREDIBLE STRING BAND, TRACEY THORN and, most recently (2014), with the MANIC STREET PREACHERS. Stop press: SCRITTI POLITTI played three festival gigs running up to September 2016.
© MC Strong/MCS 1994-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Jul2016

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