The True Tone of Two-Tone

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At the end of April, I went to see The Selecter’s Pauline Black and Arthur ‘Gaps’ Hendrickson perform with Jools Holland’s Rhythm & Blues Orchestra, at Margate’s Winter Gardens. Having previously seen The Selecter play live to their Ska and Two-Tone fan base, I was eager to see how this collaboration would work, playing to a diverse audience in a seated venue.

Opening their set with The Ethiopians’ ‘Train To Skaville’, the duo left us in no doubt in which direction we were heading. As Ms Black told us to “mind the Gaps”, he, in his inimitable style, wanted us to “wind up your waist”; it became impossible to sit still. Looking around me at the rest of the audience, who remained firmly in their seats, I pondered the etiquette of climbing over my neighbours, so I might dance in the aisle. Having to content myself with a bit of chair dancing as the pair launched into ‘Secret Love’, a track which beautifully showcases Pauline’s vocal talents, against Hendrickson’s top-tapping toasting, I could hold back no longer. I was up and at ’em!

By the time they performed The Selecter favourites ‘Too Much Pressure’ and ‘On My Radio’, even the unlikeliest of characters were up and moving, if not quite skanking. All testament to the energy and frisson coming from onstage Two-Tone team. It was almost unbelievable that these were the same people I had been talking to a couple of hours before the gig.

Pauline had agreed to be interviewed for my next book ‘More Eighties’. I must confess, I was more than a little nervous as I arrived at her hotel. Not only do I consider the Queen of Ska to be a musical great, but as one of the few strong female role models of the Eighties, I had afforded her semi-iconic status since I was in single figures. I needn’t have worried. Walking across the hotel foyer, looking as impeccably stylish as ever, Pauline greets me with a warmth that immediately puts me at ease.

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As we begin the interview, we’re joined by Gaps, someone whose dynamic, high-octane stage persona bears little resemblance to the softly spoken, laid back man who tells me he still considers it an “honour” to be in his position, performing and writing songs.

Pauline is poised and eloquent as she explains how their song writing has evolved over time, with the pair now having the freedom to encompass a broader range of musical influences. What hasn’t changed is their commitment to quality. Determined not to fall on the retro/revival bandwagon, The Selecter continue to produce and perform new material which, whilst maintaining the band’s distinctive sound, delivers a fresh, contemporary take on Two-Tone. Listen to last year’s ‘Subculture’ album, and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

We covered a host of topics during our conversation, from perilous tours to Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’, multiculturalism to that Michael Putland photograph, all of which will feature in ‘More Eighties’, to be published next year.  Every question I posed was given a full, considered answer, offering an insight into The Selecter’s music and history, but also glimpsing the real people behind the band. By the end of the interview, I was left with a real appreciation of two people, whose natural creativity and musicianship can be sometimes lost amongst the performance elements of the band, and its Two-Tone image. I was also left with a little bit of a crush on the unassuming, off-stage Mr. Hendrickson!

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Pauline Black and Gaps Hendrickson are touring throughout the UK with Jools Holland’s Rhythm & Blues Orchestra until the end of the year. Click here for tickets.

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