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Pauline Black of The Selecter: ‘We’re really proud of what we created’

Whenever the top names associated with the famed 2 Tone/ska revival movement of the late 70s, early 80s are mentioned, The Selecter, still led from the front by singer Pauline Black, is always one of them, along with the likes of Madness, The Specials, and The Beat.

The Selecter. Picture: Dean Chalkley
The Selecter. Picture: Dean Chalkley

Ahead of the band’s Cambridge gig in May, original Selecter members Pauline, Arthur ‘Gaps’ Hendrickson, Charley ‘Aitch’ Bembridge and co will release a new album, on April 21, titled Human Algebra.

Speaking to the Cambridge Independent from her home in Coventry – where the 2 Tone craze began – Pauline, known as the ‘Queen of Ska’, had been at an event at the BFI IMAX on London’s South Bank the previous evening.

The singer, who admits that she never had any dreams of being in a band, “but ended up in one”, was there alongside “a number of other 2 Tone luminaries like Jerry Dammers, Madness, Buster Bloodvessel from Bad Manners” watching the relaunched Dance Craze documentary film, which was originally released in 1981.

She adds: “It seems to be getting a lot of traction round the country, lots of people want to see it and some festivals around the world are now wanting to use it.”

Pauline Black. Picture: Dean Chalkley
Pauline Black. Picture: Dean Chalkley

It’s been 43 years since the release of The Selecter’s debut album, Too Much Pressure. Did Pauline ever imagine that what they and the other 2 Tone acts were doing back then would go on to be so iconic? “No, not at all,” she says. “I mean who does when they’re young and you’re just trying to get a foot in the music industry, as it were?

“Those were quite strange times as well because it was post-punk but pre-New Romantics and quite a difficult time, I suppose, in the country – I mean very similar to now in a lot of ways... But no, you don’t really think that you’re going to be doing anything to do with what you were doing 43 years later obviously, but it’s very nice that we are.

“And I think that it kind of shows the – I’m not going to say importance, but it shows that we had our finger on the pulse then and obviously that has translated into today’s thinking as well.”

The Selecter. Picture: Dean Chalkley
The Selecter. Picture: Dean Chalkley

Pauline notes that many of the musicians from that era are still in touch and have also toured together. It’s a family, with all the kind of things that happen in families,” she observes.

“There’s fallings out, there’s getting back togethers again and all of those kinds of things. But I think that all of us really do feel that what we created that long ago is something we’re really proud of.”

Human Algebra is The Selecter’s 16th studio album. Subjects addressed in the songs include ‘fake news’ (Big Little Lies), pointing the finger at keyboard warriors (Armchair Guevara), and knife crime (Human Algebra). There is also a touching tribute to the late, great Ranking Roger from The Beat, titled Parade the Crown.

“It’s our new album, it’s got 12 brand new songs on it. The single is the same title as the album and the song Human Algebra portrays the aftermath of a young man’s rather senseless death due to pretty much what is the current scourge, which is knife crime,” explains Pauline, who was awarded an OBE for services to entertainment in 2022.

“What we were trying to say, I suppose, is use Human Algebra as a metaphor. No one knows why these things happen; I mean everyone has a view on maybe why it happens – some socio or political view on it, but at the end of the day algebra is about finding the unknown and that’s what we’re really trying to point up, that these things shouldn’t be happening.

“There is something going on in society at the moment that is causing a great deal of stress, I just feel, among human beings and it’s finding solutions in ways which really are no help to society at all.”

What could be the solution to preventing knife crime? “One of the solutions I think is teaching people better life skills to deal with arguments,” replies Pauline, whose band will be supporting

Blur at Wembley Stadium in July, “to deal with stuff that happens on social media, to actually share problems and try and talk them through.

“But young people react in ways which... well, impetuosity of youth, I suppose, is a lot to do with it. But I really do feel that certain life skills just aren’t as apparent maybe now as they used to be.”

Expect to hear songs off the new album, as well as classics such as On My Radio, Three Minute Hero and Missing Words, when The Selecter perform at Cambridge Junction (J1) on Thursday, May 4.

Pauline Black. Picture: Dean Chalkley
Pauline Black. Picture: Dean Chalkley

[Read more: The Specials treat Cambridge to 40 years of hits, Review: Madness live at Newmarket Nights]

Tickets, priced £31.50, are available at junction.co.uk. For more on the band, go to theselecter.net.

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