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The Selecter

One of the core five ska revivalist combos that also comprised The SPECIALS, MADNESS, The BEAT and BAD MANNERS, Coventry-based 2-Tone “specialists” The SELECTER had one unique ingredient in that they were the first to be fronted a woman, Pauline Black; the all-female BODYSNATCHERS were readily inspired.
The story goes that drummer John Bradbury was looking for a local group to fill a B-side for The SPECIAL A.K.A.’s independent debut 45, `Gangsters’. A long-time friend of his, guitarist Neol Davies, had penned an instrumental tune entitled `The Selecter’, so, with trombonist Barry Jones, it was recorded for 2-Tone Records. Released in March ’79, and a Top 10 hit for their mentors that summer, the flip-side received a fair whack of airplay and prompted a “proper” band formation. Retained on the 2-Tone set-up by Jerry Dammers, who’d arranged a co-deal with major label Chrysalis, The SELECTER branched out on their own. Bradbury busy with The SPECIALS, Davies recruiting an entire new band from scratch by way of Hammond organist Desmond Brown, guitarist Compton Amanor, bassist Charley Anderson, drummer Charley “H” Bembridge and vocalist Arthur “Gaps” Hendrickson. Foremost among this new bunch of multi-racial ska warriors was Pauline Black, one of the few female vocalists on the ska scene. Her playfully distinctive high-pitched tones virtually made the first “real” SELECTER hit, `On My Radio’, an irrepressibly boisterous pop stomper which gate-crashed the Top 10 in late ’79; a triple-bill nationwide tour along with The SPECIALS and MADNESS had helped with exposure for all parties concerned. `Three Minute Hero’ followed in much the same fashion sales-wise, and opened the Top 5 debut album, TOO MUCH PRESSURE (1980) {*8}. An effervescent companion piece to The SPECIALS’ more radical debut, the album featured all the hits including next-in-line `Missing Words’ (a rom-ska ballad) and the high-octane freak-out of the title track. Of the other songs, the five cover versions made the biggest impact: the Jamaican-born Justin Hinds (for `Carry Go Bring Come’), Owen Gray (`Murder’), The PIONEERS (`Everyday (Time Hard)’ and MILLIE’s “My Boy Lollipop”-inspired `My Collie (Not A Dog)’ slightly overshadowed their “killa” re-vamp of Monty Norman’s theme for `James Bond’.
Anderson and Brown making way for Adam Williams and James Mackie, respectively, it seemed The SELECTER star had initially burned too brightly; the exclusive Top 40-only single, `The Whisper’, a prime example of turning the corner too fast. The naive charm of their debut was indeed wasted with the more lugubrious state-of-the-nation musing for sophomore Top 50 set, CELEBRATE THE BULLET (1981) {*4}. Norman Watt-Roy (ex-BLOCKHEADS) in for Williams, the title track had been a total flop, while just about each group member in turn (Black, Amanor or Hendrickson) were allowed their bit of songsmith creativity; a bad decision by Davies. This failure coincided with the once vibrant 2-Tone movement reaching its natural conclusion. The group split soon afterwards; Black’s replacement Stan Campbell (soon-to-be of The SPECIAL A.K.A.) was not given much of a chance.
Meanwhile, star attraction PAULINE BLACK duly felt the pinch when a couple of solo singles (the BETTY WRIGHT song `Shoo-Rah, Shoo-Rah’ in ’82 and `I Threw It Away’ in ‘83) failed to match the criteria wanted by Chrysalis Records; she subsequently fronted post-ska-pop outfit SUNDAY BEST for the 1984 single, `Pirates On The Airwaves’. She later re-surfaced as a presenter of kids’ TV quiz show, Hold Tight, before eventually re-joining a re-vamped SELECTER in the early 90s, initially as a live touring project.
With so many American acts inspired by the British bands and turning out their own breed of ska-pop, Black and Davies re-formed; adding on keyboards, Martin Stewart (ex-BAD MANNERS), on bass Nick Welsh (also ex-BAD MANNERS) and sticksman Perry Melius for the reunion set, OUT IN THE STREETS (1992) {*5}. Recorded at the Tic Toc in Coventry the previous December, fans were treated to their best-known cuts and a re-take of a B-side: The ETHIOPIANS’ `Train To Skaville’. Neol duly left and was replaced part-time by the returning Hendrickson.
On the back of a “Madness” EP featuring PRINCE BUSTER and former SPECIALS trombonist RICO, 1994 also saw their first studio album release for 13 years, ironically-enough entitled THE HAPPY ALBUM {*5}. Augmented by co-producer/part-scribe/guitarist Jimmy “Senyah” Haynes, The SELECTER threw in a bit of hip hop and orchestral flourishes into the mix; covers comprised TOOTS HIBBERT’s `Sweet And Dandy’), DELROY WILSON’s `I Want Justice’) and CARLOS ALFONSO’s `Copasetic’), the reggae roots kept the group on rock-steady ground.
Guitarist Paul Seacroft roped in by Black, Welsh and Stewart, 1995’s PLUCKER! {*4} – re-titled “Hairspray”, for US ears – was hardly going to prise the ska crown from the Americans NO DOUBT, The MIGHTY MIGHTY BOSSTONES et al, and in the cheesy covers of LEE HAZLEWOOD’s `Sugar Town’ and BOB DYLAN’s `Rainy Day Women Nos.12 & 35’, The SELECTER were trying too hard to convince the public they could expand their horizons.
Following on from an untidy selection of concert sets in LIVE INJECTION (1996) {*4}, LIVE AT ROSKILDE FESTIVAL (1996) {*4} and I WANT JUSTICE: LIVE (1998) {*5} – the latter highlighting re-treads of PRINCE BUSTER songs `Madness’, `Al Capone’, `Orange Street’ and The PYRAMIDS’ `Rough Rider’ – studio set CRUEL BRITANNIA (1998) {*4} was next in the firing line. Adding drummer Al Fletcher, and vocalists Dave Barker (ex-DAVE & ANSEL COLLINS) and Richard Wayler, The SELECTER paraded several cool cuts and the usual array of covers; this time via the back catalogue of DELROY WILSON (`Better Must Come’), LEE “SCRATCH” PERRY (`What A Confusion’) and Luther Ingram/Sir Mack Rice (`Respect Yourself’).
Sandwiched either side of the MY PERFECT WORLD – LIVE (1999) {*4} set, Receiver Records acted on a surge of ska/rock-steady activity by releasing a series of themed sets, kicking off with THE TROJAN SONGBOOK (1999) {*5} and completed by THE TROJAN SONGBOOK: VOLUME 2 (2000) {*4} and THE TROJAN SONGBOOK: VOLUME 3 (2001) {*4} – you name the reggae song, it’d probably be here.
Now down to just a duo of Black and Welsh, they became responsible for bringing ska into the fashionable acoustic field courtesy of UNPLUGGED FOR THE RUDE BOY GENERATION (2002) {*6}; many would recognise `The Tide Is High’ (JOHN HOLT), `Midnight Rider’ (GREGG ALLMAN), `Do Nothing’ (The SPECIALS) and `Israelites’ (DESMOND DEKKER).
2003’s REAL TO REEL {*4} – showcasing a cover of PETER TOSH’s `Stepping Razor’ – and a second “Selecter Acoustic” set, REQUIEM FOR A BLACK SOUL (2004) {*4}, rounded off this period for the duo.
Several years on, Black and Hendrickson re-grouped The SELECTER for the umpteenth time, enlisting newbies Greg Coulson (keyboards), Anthony Harty (guitar), Neil Pyzer (sax, flute, keys, guitars), Orlando La Rose (sax, flute), The Emperor Mingus (bass) and Winston Marche (drums) to re-create something more designed on their original sound. MADE IN BRITAIN (2011) {*5}, LIVE IN BRITAIN (2012) {*5} and STRING THEORY (2013) {*6} were given a review by-pass from the most of the media, although The SELECTER – now with bassist John Thompson and no Mingus, Coulson, Marche and La Rose – soldiered on regardless.
Delayed for around three months (probably due to copyright although that’s not certain), 2015’s SUBCULTURE {*6} stretched them little, but for a weak reading of SPRINGSTEEN’s `Because The Night’ and another cover, this time courtesy of CULTURE’s `See Dem A Come’. Best served live in sweat-stained halls up and down the country, the instantly catchy `Box Fresh’, `Walk The Walk’ and the reggae-styled `Break Down’ had appeal to their steadfast fanbase, if no one else. If God love a trier, Pauline Black and The SELECTER should surely get to Heaven when their bell tolls, but hopefully not in the too distant future.
© MC Strong 1994-2000/MCS // rev-up MCS Jun2015

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