Pauline Black On Rude Girls And Young People

12 November 2015 | 2:51 pm | Carley Hall

"It's like punk; punk is an attitude, it's not a style of music or what you wear or those sort of things, it's just an attitude."

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In 1979 Margaret Thatcher ruled the Brits with her iron fists and Sex Pistol Sid Vicious was found dead in a New York apartment — an eventful year by any standard. It was also the year that 2 Tone Records, founded by The Specials' Jerry Dammers, kicked off and gave reggae and ska-savvy punks a platform to reach the masses, and spawned a subgenre in itself. The Selecter was one of the first bands to be signed with the label that same year, launching their assault on a national conscious at war with itself and the social issues wreaking havoc across the UK and further abroad.

One of the original 'rude girls' — the youthful, sometimes disenfranchised but largely passionate mouthpieces for the ska revival — was Selecter singer Pauline Black, who began life as anything but, at least on paper. Pauline Vickers already had her foot in the door of a radiography career before she changed her name and fell in with founder Neol Davies and his multicultural outfit.

"I'd been working in the NHS system here for about three years before I joined the band and had a completely different life being a musician," Black explains. "But I never had to go back to my day job of being a radiographer so I think after 30 years I must be doing something right."

In June this year, Black, along with fellow vocalist Arthur 'Gaps' Hendrickson and a relaunched Selecter line-up released acclaimed new album Subculture. While the sound is cleaner and the writing and recording process vastly different from the old days, the same social issues of racism and sexism are still at the forefront. Black says even though progress has been made in these areas, there is still much to be said.

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"I'm far too old to have any thoughts about poor Miley Cyrus! The lovely girl just likes getting her body out there."

"You can spread yourself too thin sometimes and I feel that if you're dealing with those two subjects they're kind of large enough," Black laughs. "But that's who we want to get our message across to; those people who don't just accept the status quo, who actually want to make the world a better place to live in, dare I say it. And obviously you've got to eradicate those things before you can even attempt to do something like that."

"We've had some really great plaudits for putting out material, considering the band is 35 years old and touring still, and touring with as much energy as we ever did. And we're talking about contemporary subjects, not just relying on the heritage of what we had done in yesteryear and those sort of things."

Another change from yesteryear is the proliferation of music and a musician's profile. Zines and street press ruled the day for underground and off-the-grid artists back in the UK of the 1980s, as well as radio airtime. (Ironically, The Selecter's biggest hit On My Radio was a criticism of fickle DJs and yet it was their most played song.) In today's industry, a profile can be built up with little more than crude images and 140-character Twitter tirades. Modern rude girl of sorts Gwen Stefani credits Black as an inspiration, and loose commentary from some circles herald Miley Cyrus as an possible contender to carry the torch.

"Even Gwen's getting a bit a long in the tooth now!" Black laughs. "But I don't really think that it happens like that. It's like punk; punk is an attitude, it's not a style of music or what you wear or those sort of things, it's just an attitude. And being a rude girl is exactly the same thing.

"Oh and I'm far too old to have any thoughts about poor Miley Cyrus! The lovely girl just likes getting her body out there. Who am I to say you shouldn't, if you can't at that age when can you? She is an artist, she can sing, she's the full package, and if we can forget Hannah Montana then great."

With the promise of another album by the end of next year ("We'll be putting stuff together and beginning the writing process come the new year"), Black is hopeful that the seeds The Selecter sowed in the world of ska punk and the powerful messages that went with it continue to move their audiences and inspire a new generation.

"You look out to the sea of faces and now you see people who are our age or older, but it can be anyone really, from 16 or 17 years old and upwards, which is very gratifying," Black says. "I feel that all the best music is hybrid music, it's a little bit like the 2 Tone movement and the bands associated with it. We made hybrid music, we did not just do ska music, we mixed it up with soul, punk, reggae, rock and out of that came something new and exciting for people. So I always live in hope that someone is going to reinvent ska music, that some young person is going to do it."