From Top of The Pops to Tour Bus

Standard

For many of us growing up during the Eighties, Top of The Pops was eagerly awaited Thursday night viewing. Some performances remain as fresh in our minds as the day we first saw them. Who can forget Culture Club’s debut on the show, and the subsequent discussions about Boy George’s gender the following day at school? Then there was Adam Ant’s performance of Goody Two Shoes, when he danced across the studio from stage to stage wearing those red leather trousers. For me, The Beat’s appearance in May 1983, when they first performed Can’t Get Used To Losing You on the programme, has always held a special place in my heart. As a 12-year-old girl watching Dave Wakeling perched on a stool, looking down the camera with a cheeky glint in his eye, I was left with an indelible imprint on my memory. You can imagine then how I was feeling when I stepped onto The English Beat’s tour bus to interview him for my next book.

dsc00635

On  board the tour bus with Dave Wakeling

Any nerves I may have had soon disappeared as we got chatting … and chat we did, covering everything from politics, racism and Greenpeace to his Vox teardrop guitar, musical influences and songwriting. In fact, there wasn’t much we didn’t cover in our hour and a half interview, all of which you will be able to read about next year when More Eighties is published. Having finished our interview, I was delighted when Dave invited me to the band’s gig that evening.

Based in California, The English Beat were in Folkestone, Kent to headline the Skabour festival, as part of their current UK tour. Fronted by the Brummie singer, the band comprises Matt Morrish on saxophone, Kevin Lum and Minh Quan on keyboards, Nucci Cantrell on drums, Brad Engstrom on bass and, with apparently limitless energy, King Schascha toasting.

DSC00657.JPG

After The English Beat’s gig at Skabour, Folkestone

Bringing us all The Beat’s favourites, such as Mirror In The Bathroom, Stand Down Margaret, Too Nice To Talk To and Save It For Later (or Save It, Fellator according to Dave’s schoolboy humour!), the band delivered a top notch set that had everyone singing and dancing along. So much so, that I didn’t hesitate to accept an invitation to the band’s gig the next night at The Forum in Tunbridge Wells.

A more intimate venue than the previous evening, it was the perfect setting to perform new material Never Die. One of the tracks from a forthcoming album to be released next year (I’ve heard a preview of a few of the tracks and they are A-Ma-Zing!), Dave wrote the song in memory of his late father. Beautiful both lyrically and melodically, the song demonstrates not only a huge songwriting talent but a rare insight into love and life. It’s already a firm favourite with me.

The English Beat still have a week left of their UK Tour, so try to catch them before they head back over the Atlantic. The music is first class, the vibe is great and Dave Wakeling still has that twinkle in his eye.

beat-dates

The True Tone of Two-Tone

Standard

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.

IMG_20160429_183919411

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!

*

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.