Pauline Black: Queen of 2-Tone
No-one told me pop music is all about sex
Garry’s guest tonight is Pauline Black – the charismatic leading lady of 2-Tone, the musical movement that combined the anger of punk with the joyous bounce of Jamaican Ska. Arriving after the first waves of punk were receding, the new blue-beat bands put dancing and tunes back into pop.
Pauline’s combo The Selecter were one third of 2-Tone’s Holy Trinity along with The Specials and Madness.
She was one of the very few women in the male-dominated movement; but as a mixed-race girl growing up in an all-white working class part of Romford, Essex, Pauline was used to being an outsider – and tough enough to confront the sexism as well as the racism of the early 1980s.
Today, as a Eton-educated British Prime Minister David Cameron loftily proclaims that “multiculturalism has failed”, maybe we should hear from Pauline – the woman who got thousands of black and white youth dancing together. Pauline for Prime Minister? Don’t rule it out.
Pauline’s memoir Black By Design is available now.
Gary: Good evening culture lovers, you are listening to the Gary Bushell Show here on Radio Litopia, where tonight I am joined by the sensational Pauline Black of The Selecter, one of the holy trinity of bands that made 2-Tone a global phenomenon, along with The Specials and Madness.
2-Tone was a collision between the joyous bounce of Jamaican ska and the [inaudible 00:00:49] attitude and energy of punk. Jerry Dammers was the brains behind Madness and Bad Manners supplied the court jesters and Pauline Black was queen of the scene possessing the best voice in the whole blue ska explosion.
Pauline, do you ever think back at the beginning that you’d still be going on now, doing it now 35 years on?
Pauline: I didn’t really think about anything then to be perfectly honest other than getting on stage and not bumping into the furniture kind of thing and doing your gig, Gary. It’s a revelation to me that people are still into the music 35 years on but I think that’s more of a testament really, to what 2-Tone actually stood for although I feel that maybe some people have kind of forgotten that along the way for various reasons or whatever.
I feel very passionate about 2-Tone and feel that you cannot go on about it enough because let’s face it; racism hasn’t disappeared from the world. If anything it’s just kind of changed its perspective slightly maybe and while that’s going on then, yes, I’m quite happy to get on a stage and be doing what we are doing.
The other thing as well, of course is that it was also an anti-sexist stunt too. Yes, there was me and there was Rhoda Dakar from The Bodysnatchers, bringing out that kind of whole thing.
Gary: We’re actually leaping ahead about 10 questions.
Pauline: Okay, I’ll shut up then, I’ll shut up.
Gary: We will get to all that, I promise you, we’ll get to all that. Back then at the start, it was just … did it feel as thrilling as it seemed to us? Did you realize that you were part of something that was so revolutionary or was it just this week’s gig?
Pauline: Oh, it was never this week’s gig; it was the first band I was ever in. I never even thought I was ever going to be in a band. I thought I’d be playing around folk clubs and doing sort of Joan Armatrading and Joni Mitchell nonsense for a very long time in Coventry before I ever go to be in a band and so I was absolutely over the moon. When we did our first gig, I actually didn’t know the sound came out of a PA. I discovered what those big black boxes were on the side of the stage (laughter), that’s how dumb I was.
Gary: As you just touched on, on the surface, 2-Tone was about putting pop back in the charts. ‘Fuck art, let’s dance’ was the famous Madness slogan, but it was always more than that because, put simply, 2-Tone was black and white together, the antidote to racism. Going up in Romford in …
Pauline: 1953, you can say it. (laughter)
Gary: Had you experienced much?
Pauline: I mean, Romford is a bit of a backwater, it certainly was then. I’d been born in a place called Coggeshall, which is in Essex near Braintree in an unmarried mother’s home, so us kind of mixed race kids occasionally got adopted into white families because you could only adopt a mixed race kid, you couldn’t adopt a child who’d got two black parents in those days. It was never stated, it was, that’s what happened. Kids like me tended to grow up maybe and go to school with just white kids. There wouldn’t be other black kids around and stuff like that.
So it wasn’t like you experienced racism, but you experienced otherness. You were always kind of … you felt outside of what the norm was. It wasn’t really talked about, because people didn’t have a word called racism in those days. They didn’t know that having a run a colored bar down at the local club or calling someone a blah, blah, blah was racist, that was just what you did because your parents did that.
Gary: That was the norm.
Pauline: Yes, it was the norm. It was ignorance.
Gary: In the book, you talk about discovering the aspects of black culture almost by accident [inaudible 00:04:33] whether it be a jazz musician or, I’m not suggesting this is a great cultural iconic figure by the way but Mandingo and things like that. You talk about discovering that, coming across it and building up maybe a picture of …
Pauline: Yes, because they had to tell me when I went to school that, “You’re not actually ours by the way,” (laughing) someone obviously was going to tell me that if you’ve got two white parents. From that time on it kind of brought it to me that, “Yeah, yeah, I’m all right,” well, you’re black or colored as the polite term was then.
Of course, after that, anyone who comes on the television or on the radio or a picture that you see in the newspaper or something like that who isn’t white, you’d be, “Whoa, oh, wow, I have to find out about them.” I just kind of hop-scotched my way through my youth, if you like, until I arrived at 2-Tone and was like, “Wow, yeah, I’ll Have some of this.” (Laughter)
Gary: I think Lady [inaudible 00:05:28] Trevor McDonald was sort revered because he was the first black face they saw.
Pauline: Absolutely, absolutely.
Gary: Didn’t you see a band at your school, a black band at your school?
Pauline: The Foundations.
Gary: The Foundations, I was trying to think of what it is.
Pauline: The Foundations, yes. What they were doing at our school dance, I really don’t know. It was one of those where you’re in fifth form or the sixth form or something like that and you turn up … and we had quite a … well, I would say large but we certainly had a skinhead fraternity because that catchment area for our school came from Dagenham as well as from Romford. They’d adapt their uniform to make it look much more sort of [inaudible 00:06:03] or whatever and have their little short feathery cuts and all this kind of thing.
Somehow or another The Foundations had turned up and of course I was the only black kid in the school. I always remember I got this little red dress, white tights, little red sort of character shoes on and things like … bloody big afro. They saw the only black person in the school and knowing what I know about guys in bands and that sort of thing, (laughter) I won’t elaborate. They just made a beeline like, “Whoa, yes, I’ll have some of that.”
Gary: How did that make you feel?
Pauline: I ran home, (laughter) I ran home. I thought, “I can’t be dealing with this.” Yes, that could have been a great piece, see. The whole of life might have been different.
Gary: Vertically, you were, you resisted the temptation. Resisted The Temptations, perhaps if they’d been next but … (laughter). That’s obviously the first generation of skinheads, when 2-Tone [inaudible 00:07:01] it’s more of a retro thing, it isn’t something that’s been created as it goes along, it’s something that’s deliberately looking back. 2-Tone come along as a sort of antidote to the racism that was there. It certainly worked like that.
A lot of Asian people I know who were young then say to me that that was the first music in this country they could actually identify with. It was their first identity set apart from their parents and something they could completely relate to without feeling as you were saying about, as an outsider. Most of the audiences you were getting … although predominantly light, you had black kids, you had Asian kids coming too.
Pauline: Yes, there was certainly a lot more of a mixture of people coming to see us then maybe than what comes now. Not necessarily to see us but I’m talking about bands like Madness or bands like The Specials. You really felt as though, “Yes, this was at grassroots level. You are actually talking to your own kind and they had the same kind of problems as you or certainly had them in their lives.” It was just like … I mean I came out the NHS, I was a radiographer so I was worker with lots of girls who’d come from Bangladesh or come from India and had become radiographers or nurses and stuff. There were lots of black women around who had come from the Caribbean who worked in places where I worked.
I’d kind grown up within the NHS if you like, from about the age of, I don’t know, 21, something like this thinking that, well, work in the NHS is a great leveler. When people are dying on you every day you really don’t think about the differences between who’s going to save who and who’s not. You just all muck in and you pitch in and you get on in doing it.
I think that was something that I didn’t find that difficult then, transitioning from that straight into the kind of audiences that we were getting and talking to those people because it seemed quite natural because we discuss those things probably everyday anyway.
Gary: It wasn’t all good though was it because I remembered you talking about discovering one audience is a cross between a Viking pillage and a national fund rally was a worse sort of effect.
Pauline: Probably half field or somewhere (laughter).
Gary: Did The Selecter suffer much from that sort of neo-Nazi backlash that was around at the time?
Pauline: Suffering is probably too strong a word. It was there, it was there, yes. For a lot of those gigs, particularly when we went out in the 2-Tone tour, The Specials and Madness, Specials, we were supposed to alternate the bill every night as to who was top of the bill and who wasn’t. That normally meant that we went on first and they alternated the bill the other two.
We got first dibs as it were, on how horrendous the audience was going to be to you. Yes, so sometimes, yes, you’d go on stage and there’s be a whole load of [inaudible 00:09:57] kind of skinheads and stuff like this and so you’d stop after the first song and you’d go off. You might try and talk to them but there was preaching to the already converted; to the right wing is not really the most edifying thing in the world.
Then we go off, have a bit of a mumble, come back on then try to get the more intelligent members of the audience or certainly people with more of a world perspective than skinheads had at that time. You’d try and get them on side like, “Do you really think this is right? Do you really think they should be carrying out like this?” You throw out a few ringleaders and troublemakers and boom, off you go.
Gary: You should say of course that not all skinheads were like this, it was just an element at the time.
Pauline: Well, I would also say as well there are probably more fascists walking around in business suits and [inaudible 00:10:47] than there are people walking around with short trousers and 2XL (laughter) British shirts.
Gary: I was lucky enough to go to the States with you and I do remember there were some … I mean you had some nasty [inaudible 00:11:07] there. Not particularly life threatening or anything but you had… there was a time [inaudible 00:11:13] where we stopped [inaudible 00:11:14] had a nice jolly session at [inaudible 00:11:17]
Pauline: At South Fall, yes, yes.
Gary: Anyway, some geezers turned up in a van with baseball bats, snowballs in evidence, they weren’t happy about you being there.
Pauline: No, no, I think they were going to use our heads really as the balls. No, they weren’t happy at all, yes.
Gary: It seemed like a different level of racism out there, did you think, or …?
Pauline: Well, I mean it wasn’t anything that I didn’t think necessarily was going to happen. Everybody had seen Easy Rider by then and they were white. Everybody had heard about what went on in the South if you were black. It wasn’t a revelation but nonetheless it was pretty scary really, when you are having such a good time and it’s all quite jolly and you’re just thinking, “Well, this is Dallas, look at this, blah, blah, blah.” Standing in there and then suddenly these people turn up, that was a bit of a leveler.
Gary: I remember Lynval saying, of The Specials when he’d gone into a shop and they refused to serve him until he spoke and then they realized he was British …
Pauline: I had that all the time, had that all the time particularly because I used to walk around in my little signature sort of suit and hat so they thought I was a geezer for a start. Then of course, I’d go in my usual sort of, “Hello,” (laughs) which is completely manufactured for anyone who I think is going to … and they do this kind of double take and they really wouldn’t. They were so flustered about that and everybody else in the shop was so flustered that they’d be actually be quite nice to you.
Gary: I remember in particular I thought you were quite fearless out there because you had … the audience weren’t hostile in Texas but they were passive I think. They weren’t sure what to expect. I mean obviously, you used to [inaudible 00:12:57] blues band and those, it wasn’t Los Angeles, it wasn’t New York and now you come on and you’re hitting them with a sound that … ska wasn’t really known in the States, not particularly. You were fearless, you were out there, you were giving it to them all the time and you got them all up on their feet and they were cheering in there, which was fantastic.
Pauline: Yes, I think that they just thought that, “Wow, what on earth is this?” You’ve got to shock these people. I don’t remember whether you remember being there, I don’t know where it was but it was probably somewhere in Texas. We went on after a wet t-shirt competition.
Gary: I was there, yes.
Pauline: Yes, yes and for your more kind of more sensitive listeners, a wet t-shirt competition involves throwing a big bucket of water over some poor woman who remains braless under her t-shirt until her nipples stand out and then they ask them to dance a lot (laughter). People [inaudible 00:13:47] going, “Wee, hurray,” and things like this. Then we’d have to come on and start doing songs like They Make Me Mad (laughter), which was laugh in itself but you’ve got to hold your head up, haven’t you, saying, “I’m above that.”
Gary: As I remember, your only life-threatening incident on that tour did involve water. It involved a waterbed.
Pauline: It did involve a waterbed, yes.
Gary: Portland, Oregon?
Pauline: In Portland Oregon, yes, because I was stupid enough, I was stupid enough to demand a waterbed when I knew that they had one and so I got the only waterbed over everyone else who was in the band. What I didn’t know and nobody told me was that you’ve actually got to plug them in the water [inaudible 00:14:27] (laughter). I came back after the show and got into a freezing cold waterbed and woke up in the morning with sort of a … I was just so cold and couldn’t stop shaking. From then I had for the entire tour after that, I had this awful cold and laryngitis so serves me right.
Gary: I don’t think you at the time, [inaudible 00:14:48] and certainly they didn’t either, I don’t think you realized how much impact you were having because you were playing small clubs and … it was all small clubs as I remember it. What you couldn’t have known is that people in the audience would go away and then two years down the line they would have their own ska bands. You basically inspired a whole new generation of American ska bands, which [inaudible 00:15:10].
Pauline: Yes, well, we’d just been out there and it’s amazing the people who from that time actually come to you and they’ve all got kids now and they’ve all got their nice house and all this kind of thing and they go, “Oh, you know, I used to be in this marching band but then I discovered ska.” They say this in an American accent, which I’m not doing but, yes, people from Let’s Go bowling and all those kind of bands, it’s just wonderful, it’s just wonderful to know that’s what happened, we did inspire something.
Gary: I remember … I’m sure you had Debbie Harry, you had Bette Midler, people they come and see you, was that a surprise? This was back in ’81.
Pauline: Bette Midler coming to see us was a surprise. Not as much Debbie Harry because we shared a record company, Chrysalis. Bette Midler coming along and … because I didn’t recognize her at first. She had an old beret on and an old coat on [inaudible 00:16:08]. She came up to me and said, “Shit, doesn’t all that jumping around hurt your titties?” (Laughter) I thought, “Who is this woman?” I thought, “Wow, I remember that nose.” We were best mates after that kind of thing and no all that jumping around doesn’t hurt your titties if you wear a good bra.
I saw funnily enough we did Riot Fest. I know I’m jumping forward probably about 30 years but we did Riot Fest in America and Chicago just over a month ago and Blondie were playing there. Debbie is X amount of years older than I am and she was absolutely lovely, just as lovely as she was back then and invited me into her dressing room. Sort of sat there and told me about, you know, oh, what it’s like being a lady of a certain age these days kind of thing. Yes, we did even manage to have a hot flush between us (laughter).
Gary: Do you ever hear from Bette now?
Pauline: From Bette, no, no, no, she stopped calling after the Academy Award nomination (laughter).
Gary: Unfortunately The Selecter, in that line up didn’t survive the US tour. I think there was a schism you could spot when I was out there. You would see a divide. It’s been an element of the band would be at the back of bus most days smoking ganja and listening to [inaudible 00:17:25] (laughter)
Pauline: Well there was a ganja smoke sort of divide really between those who are at the front of the bus, who were probably hitting the brandy probably more than they should have been and at the back of the bus. You’d open up the back of the bus and just this great waft of smoke would come out. You could barely see people towards the back.
Yes, our band was no different from any other band, certainly no different from The Specials in terms of that there was faction or factions as it were and it was very difficult keeping those factions on an even keel and not ripping each other’s heads and stuff but most bands go through that kind of thing. I think it’s something to do with boys really and their kind of hormone levels (laughter).
Gary: Did you get propositioned much when you were in the band or …?
Pauline: Mostly by women, (laughter) well, they were just confused probably. I don’t know, I feel comfortable dressing in my little suit and my hat and things like that. Other people get confused. Don’t get confused is my only advice but they aren’t the only people; it’s fans who are the only people. Dave Wakeling got confused on the first time that he saw us. I think we were doing a gig in Birmingham and they were kind of standing there and he thought I was a boy. That was when Dave was a little more ambivalent than he is these about which side does he fancy. He sat on and he thought that he’d have a go and then he found I was a girl (laughter).
Gary: And gave up?
Pauline: Thank god (laughter).
Gary: There was also that …
Pauline: Well, we have a business relationship now you understand, none of those reasons obviously. Lovely young man.
Gary: The band changed after you came back, more members left, didn’t they? At least two I think.
Pauline: Yes, Charley Anderson left and Desmond Brown left.
Gary: Des, yes, was there ever a problem for you with what I suppose you could call the sexism with the early ska lyrics?
Pauline: I wouldn’t call it sexism because again, like racism, they didn’t really know the word.
Gary: No, it was just the way you were.
Pauline: Yes, it was just the way it was.
Gary: It didn’t mean any harm, by it.
Pauline: It didn’t mean any harm, no, you know, there you go. We’ve been down that road, haven’t we? I think the BBC are just still going down that particular road, aren’t they. No, it was just that was the way it was. You learn if you like to kind of avoid it or … my policy was always attack first and only def4end if you really had to. From that point of view, it didn’t really bother me but it was difficult I think for other women in those days, certainly women who came on the tour and things like that.
You suddenly discover that, “Hey, come and have a coffee with me back at the hotel,” didn’t really mean, “Come and have a cup of coffee with me back at the hotel,” which then meant that there’d be some sort of poor little grizzling hulk of a girl on the floor in the corridors of the hotel going, “Oh, I didn’t know it was going to be like that.” Then I’d say, “Oh, come on, have you got cab fare home?” “No,” “Well, come and bunk in my room for the night.” Of course as soon as we both appeared downstairs in the morning everybody thought that I’d got it, (laughter) no.
Gary: I don’t think you exploited your sexuality at all, I don’t remember that.
Pauline: I should have done.
Gary: You should have done.
Pauline: Neol Davis told me that I should have done. He told me quite recently actually, well, probably about five years ago. “What bit of that did you not understand Pauline that pop music is about sex?”
Gary: The fact that you didn’t, didn’t prevent hundreds of thousands of teenage boys and [inaudible 00:21:14] fallen with unrequited love for you, didn’t they?
Pauline: Well, fortunately I didn’t know that.
Gary: You didn’t know? (Laughter)
Pauline: No, no, didn’t, honestly no, no, it makes me sound like a complete naïve, I know but I actually didn’t know that. I just got out there and did what I did.
Gary: What do you feel now about this whole Miley Cyrus debate where young women …?
Pauline: What, Miley Cyrus being humped by that geezer dressed up as Beetle juice?
Gary: Yes, basically and with the finger. The whole business of women now is even more so than it was then. It seems like you have to exploit your sexuality. You have to be very sexy. You can’t be just as an artist; you have to use your charms to woo …
Pauline: That was always the case. There’s nothing new about it. The only thing new about it is there are more women around these days who are given the opportunity to make music in whatever way that they want to, to do it and also maybe have more control over their output. I don’t know how much control they have over it. I don’t know how much control Miley Cyrus has over it. Having Billy What’s-his-face for a dad can’t help I shouldn’t imagine. Anyway, that’s likely to send you down that route, isn’t it?
I certainly wouldn’t jump on the bandwagon like Skinner and O’Connor’s did and whoever else it was. I think Annie Lennox has been out there, hasn’t she, she’s been saying something.
Gary: Sharon Osbourne even.
Pauline: Sharon Osbourne?
Gary: Sharon Osbourne.
Pauline: What on earth has she got to say about anything? (Laughter)
Gary: I do think [inaudible 00:22:42] sends people she doesn’t like boxes with turds in, little presents like that.
Gary: That’s what Sharon does.
Pauline: Power to her really, she can muster one up (laughter). She probably has some minion minioning doing that, I would imagine. I really don’t know. Probably Ozzie does it; she just collects it up like she does the dogs, who knows. More to the point, who the hell cares? I can’t bear the woman. She probably says the same about me but I don’t know what these women are doing for heaven’s sake. She is primped with a navel on the end of her nose and God knows what.
I really cannot understand how they can start having a go at some young girl who’s in full possession of her beauty and all the rest of it and wants everyone to know about it, what’s wrong with that? It’s not necessarily music I would listen to but I’m certainly not going to have a go at her. We’ve all done things when we were young girls and … all right, maybe not in primetime TV, (laughter) that’s by the by. That was only lack of opportunity probably.
She’s just trying to explore her creative output; I would put it like that, yes. I have more kind of, yes, I would say, “What on earth is that bloke doing behind her?”
Gary: Who are your …?
Pauline: Oh, Diana Ross, I love Diana Ross, I love Joni Mitchell. I was not partisan, it was, I love the clothes that they wore, I love the confections they wore on their heads, I love Joni Mitchell for being sort of slightly goofy and having this soprano voice and having these weird, weird lyrics and rhythms and playing around guitar and all those kind of things. I loved all that and I didn’t care whether they were black or white. As long as they were women and they were doing it then great.
Gary: The Stones you liked, [inaudible 00:24:35]
Pauline: I did like the Stones, yes, but that’s because he looked like a girl (laughter). He did look like a girl back then; he doesn’t look like a girl now. He looks like a very raddled girl now.
Gary: You liked his moves didn’t you, the …?
Pauline: I loved his moves. He came to a gig as well in … when we played … Harouse was it, in New York. I had a headache that night. I went home … I went back … well, I didn’t go home, I went back to the hotel and there he was and no one told me he was there. (Laughter) tears, violins, Gary is on [crosstalk 00:25:16]
Gary: How old was he then, how old was he then?
Pauline: Oh, how old was he? I don’t know, I suppose he must have been late 30s. Yes, still bonkable (laughter).
Gary: The great could have beens?
Pauline: The great could have beens, yes. I was so jealous of Marsha Hunt I can’t tell you.
Gary: Oh, you met Marsha Hunt, didn’t you?
Pauline: Yes, yes, yes, yes. First thing Marsha Hunt ever did, right, myself and Neol Davis of The Selecter, she came to interview us at … oh, where was that place that everyone stayed in Los Angeles? The Tropicana in those and she came to interview us along with a whole load of other people and that. As soon as our keyboard player Desmond Brown clapped eyes on her, he went, “Oh, I want your fucking babies.” (Laughter)
Genetically impossible but interesting and not a bad calling card for getting a really great interview out of this. Fortunately, she overlooked that and took Neol and myself to her house, which is a very humble at the time. The first thing she did, right was not, “Do you want a cup of coffee or a cup of tea?” No, “Come look at my child.”
Gary: Come look at?
Pauline: Her child, yes, and we did and it was this … she, it, she was the spitting image of Mick Jagger and it was like … it was weird. “Yes, yes, yes, I see where you got that one from.” Off it went but she was a very nice lady, a very nice lady indeed.
Gary: Now Neol, who you refer to, of course some people [inaudible 00:26:51] the history of the band. Neol was the creator of The Selecter.
Pauline: He was indeed.
Gary: The b-side and the first special single, the Gangsters?
Pauline: It wasn’t the b-side, it was the AA-side, I have to stick up for Neol here because if he was here he would tell you that. It was John Peal who did think it was the b-side but he thought The Specials had actually done it and Neol had to ring in to John Peal’s show to tell them, “Nope, that’s me, N-E-O-L, Neol.”
Gary: [inaudible 00:27:18] and ER on The Selecter?
Gary: He wrote the first three hits, didn’t he? You had three mega hits, they were …
Pauline: On My Radio, Three-Minute Hero …
Gary: Missing Words.
Pauline: … and Missing Words, yes.
Gary: You’re really unlucky I thought, fisted by fate you might say because there you are …
Pauline: Oh, that sounds painful (laughter).
Gary: You had a great song, I thought it was a great song for the next album and I think it was called Celebrate The Bullet.
Gary: You recorded it and then between recording it and it being released, John Allen was shot dead unfortunately, tragically and your record was off every playlist.
Pauline: Well, the main thing was that Ronald Reagan was shot. Unfortunately, that killer did not have such good aim. Yes, it was … well, I mean, it just killed it dead. I think it was Mike Reed, Neol still holds an amazing grievance to Mike Reed about that. He just refused to play it. They obviously didn’t get the concept of irony but then the radio won, I never did expect …
Gary: [Crosstalk 00:28:25]
Pauline: How would they even know that the word existed? Although I would imagine they probably know it exists now (laughter). You see, you just have to wait long enough and they all get their come-uppance.
Gary: Was that the end? Was that the last single?
Pauline: That was the last single, yes, it killed the single, it killed the album and from then on really, it was kind of a slippery path down to new romanticism (laughter) and stand out ballet of course around Chrysalis …
Gary: Was that what made you think, “I can’t do this anymore,” because you walked away after it, didn’t you?
Pauline: I didn’t walk away, I ended up being managed by Allen Edwards, who has outside organization now. He was managing Hazel O’Connor at the time. We were both two nice lasses from Coventry and he thought he could do something, salvage my career in some way or another and like, “You could do presenting, you could do acting, you could do this, you could do that.” These are things that I’d never ever talked about before.
Gary: Oh, so it’s Allen who put those things in your head to do them?
Pauline: Well, he didn’t put those thoughts in my head.
Gary: Oh, encouraged.
Pauline: He opened up avenues whereby I could realize these things. Those thoughts had already to a certain extent been in my head because Dance Craze had come out and just prior to Dance Craze coming out, Quadrophenia had come out. I knew like Phil Daniels and I knew Trevor Laird [inaudible 00:29:50] in Quadrophenia and he was getting a director’s ticket at that time and was going to direct his first play, which I ended up being in. It kind snow balled from there really and I just thought, “Oh, acting, yes, well, I’ll give that a go.” It really was like that, it was …
Gary: You enjoyed your acting experience?
Pauline: Yes, yes, I did it for 10 years, it was absolutely amazing. Well, longer than 10 years really.
Gary: You played Billie Holiday, didn’t you?
Pauline: I did play Billie Holiday, yes.
Gary: At what stage in this 10-year period did you end up with Bob Carolgees doing the TV show?
Pauline: Oh, that was quite early on. The first thing I did after leaving The Selecter was Black on Black came along and also I got this kids program called Hold Tight.
Gary: Black on Black was a series?
Pauline: That was a serious series and that was like the first time really black people had been on the telly doing what black people do, getting other black people on to perform, talk about what they were doing creatively, culturally, any of those kind of things. It was quite exciting time because there weren’t that many black people on the television, they weren’t in top of the pops playing music, there weren’t really even any footballers match then. It was a bit of a groundbreaking program and it was Channel Four of course and Channel Four was …
Gary: It was three years before [inaudible 00:31:13] if I remember.
Pauline: Yes, yes, yes.
Gary: Who did you have on? Do you remember?
Pauline: Oh, gosh, we had on everybody. If you were black or any version of black that you might be able to think of kind of thing, you were on that show. We had Yellow Man on, we had … oh, gosh, Nina Simone on, we had Arthur Kit on there, I interviewed Coretta Scott King, I interviewed Julian Bond, who was a senator at that time. All these people are still around today, particularly with Obama being in the White House now. Yes, it was an incredible time. I got to meet all my heroes and heroines at that time. I had a wonderful time.
Gary: At the other end of the scale, Spit the Dog.
Pauline: Yes, well, there was Spit the Dog, yes. I don’t think Spit the Dog was the worst actually, I’ll tell you what the worst was. The worst was Dougie from Bad Manners (laughter). Dougie has buzzwords for certain things, which I won’t give away. Anyway, one of them was a word called grumble (laughter).
Gary: Okay, [inaudible 00:32:25], I think it is.
Pauline: Oh, I don’t know. Anyway, he’d obviously been plied after they performed, I had to interview him to get this word grumble into the conversation. I’m sitting there like a complete and utter novice not knowing what the hell to say (laughter) being talked to by somebody who looks [inaudible 00:32:44] bumblebee about grumble. It was grumble and grimble. I now know what they mean Dougie.
Gary: He’s a shocker that boy. Did he do something, did he have a bad stomach … and this is going into airwaves we don’t really want to go but did he have the bad stomach onstage back then or …?
Pauline: What do you mean by bad stomach?
Gary: The inability to control his bowels.
Pauline: Oh, I’ve always heard that he’d sort of … well, I don’t know about that. I only really remember him from when we used to do electric ballroom and stuff like that and when they were doing Dance Craze. I never used to notice him going off at that time. You mean in the kind of farting capacity or he actually had to go off and evacuate his bowels?
Gary: He didn’t actually go off when he …
Pauline: This is NHS speak, I just like to say that, evacuate his bowels.
Gary: Actually, we are going into airwaves we shouldn’t really go into.
Pauline: I’m sure many have been there before (laughter).
Gary: I’d hate to be the person who cleared up the stage, [inaudible 00:33:44]. Actually, fantastic but then on the … you were saying to me, on the show you did with bob Carolgees, you had a lot of people you knew from pop bands coming on as guests.
Pauline: Oh, gosh, yes. I mean Dexys Midnight Runners, he came back in his Come On Eileen days everything and turned into a load of Irish dinkers and of course, they were number one. There’s me, sat there like a patsy sort of interviewing Spit the Dog and here’s the more interesting character. Yes, it was like you were in Room 101 that program because all these bands would be coming through and you just sat there [inaudible 00:34:20], “I could be doing that, I could be doing that.” Yes, that was character forming.
Gary: 1991, you rejoined The Selecter.
Pauline: No, I didn’t rejoin The Selecter, I’d say we reformed it. I had a phone call from Dougie who said, “I’m thinking of getting this thing together called Buster’s Allstars, do you fancy coming along? We’re doing a gig at…” I think it was Nottingham Rock City and they were doing another gig at the borders of Germany and whatever country that borders on to Holland I think, a place called Arkan.
I said, “Hey, I don’t mind coming and doing this. That would be great, you get your band to sort of everything but I think Neol Davies ought to be involved as well.” I rung up Neol and Neol said, “Yes, yes, well let’s just go and do it,” sort of thing. Off we puddle and was introduced to Dougie’s wonderful abode in Stamford Hill and … (laughter)
Gary: Is he Bulgarian now?
Pauline: Is he?
Gary: He’s got 27 properties in Bulgaria.
Pauline: He’s got 27, then none of them have got running hot water.
Gary: One of them’s got a roof.
Pauline: One of them’s got a roof, that sounds about like it, yes. Well Stamford Hill had a roof, it just didn’t have any running hot water or any sanitary ware (laughs). Yes, we went off and did that. To this day, he accuses me and I think that this is wrong because it didn’t happen that way. Anyway, two members of his band, Nick Welsh and Martins Stewart sidled up to me and Neol and said, “Do you fancy getting The Selecter together?” We went, “Well, what can you do?” He said, “Oh, well, we could get a band together and we could go out. We could go and do some gigs around the UK and we could go to America.” Neol and I thought about it for a nanosecond and said, “Oh, all right then,” not thinking anything was going to happen and bless their cotton socks, it did.
Gary: 15 years, wasn’t it?
Pauline: Yes, 15 years worth yes, yes. Well, one year of … no, two years, really, really great and probably about, sort of , I don’t know, 13 years of, “What was I doing?” (Laughter)
Gary: A lot of studio albums too, didn’t you?
Pauline: A lot of studio albums. I enjoyed writing with Neol, we did loads of things at that time. We went off and we did Three Men and Black with Jean Jacques Burnel and Jake Burns from Stiff Little Fingers and Dave Wakeling was in there at one time and Rodha Dakar came on as well. Rodhie use to come and sing in the middle of the set sometimes, that was always great fun. Yes, we had good fun but I’ve always just kind of … I don’t know, rather naively I suppose just sort of thought of music as, “These are a really jolly bunch of people to be with and I’m having a really, really good time.” This sounds like sort of the Famous Five doesn’t it really?
My approach to it really, if I’m having a good time I see no reason particularly to stop. The business side of it has always completely gone out of the window and I’m not so stupid now.
Gary: Were you making a decent living from it then or just ticking over …?
Pauline: Oh, no, just making a living really, just ticking over. It was … otherwise, wouldn’t I, I’d have a bloody big mansion probably like you somewhere (laughter).
Gary: Why did you stop?
Pauline: Why did I stop?
Gary: The second time, yes.
Pauline: I got bored. I couldn’t see what we were doing, where we were going or … I just knew I wanted something better and also I wanted to write my memoir.
Gary: Which you called?
Pauline: Black by Design.
Gary: Black by Design, published by Serpent’s Tail.
Pauline: Published by Serpent’s Tail.
Gary: Still available, second print run, selling well?
Pauline: Yes and it was released in America last year. I sell at gigs and it’s just really great because you can … the amount of people who come up to me at gigs and go, “I really like that book, blah, blah, blah and this happened to and things.” I go out and do readings with it and …
Gary: It’s like a cathartic cleanser, isn’t it.
Pauline: No, Ex-Lax is a cathartic experience, I don’t think you should treat a book in that way. What I didn’t want was something that was just like a potted history, like some diary form of all these things that I ever read. The main thing about it as well was that it was a woman’s perspective on 2-Tone or certainly that was part of it. It couldn’t just be that, The Selecter had been in existence 18 months. In 2-Tone, that would have been a very short book, wouldn’t it.
I just wanted to say something a little more because at the time we are living now, we have replaced the idea of racism with a word called multiculturalism and everyone’s coming to term with that, what it means for us. Being a product if you like of multiculturalism, I having a black father and a white mother, I think that I have something to say about this because I’d spent most of my youth as this little kind of eavesdropper in a white family, which was predominantly, had racist ideas even though they had adopted me but that’s just the way things were back then.
I felt that I had something to say, which was not only about the part of me that identified with black people but also the part of me that identified with white folk too. I wanted to put that down in a book. Really, that’s what it means is Black by Design. I was brought up as a little white girl, a little white working-class girl in Romford. If you like, I had to discover my own blackness and I feel pretty much that’s what this country is doing, is discovering that it has to share with people that once they colonized.
Gary: There’s a passage in the book which is quite uncomfortable too where you talk about the time when you were a young girl, I think secondary school age but when you were inappropriately touched by a friend of your brothers. Is that a hard thing to talk about or …?
Pauline: For all those women who have been divulging their own stories over the past year since the whole thing about Jimmy Savile came out and all of that, I feel certainly an affinity with them and their stories because they weren’t believed. It wasn’t what happened. Things happen like that. They certainly happened like that’s the way things were back then kind of thing to a certain extent and I know a lot of women who’ve had very similar experiences. That really wasn’t what I wanted to put across.
What I wanted to put across was that you were not believed and it is the not being believed that is the damaging part of it. I find that far more damaging than what actually happened. You can process what happened and you can sort that out for yourself as the years go by. What you cannot sort out is when people who should love you unconditionally do not believe you. When somebody who perpetrated the crime can spin the story in such a way that you are at fault, that is what is damaging and that is what damaging to young people when things like that happen.
Gary: Because who do you trust?
Pauline: Indeed, who do you trust? I don’t trust anybody, least of all you (laughter)
Gary: I have never inappropriately touched anyone.
Pauline: I can believe that Gary.
Gary: Not even myself. On a more frivial … trivial note …
Pauline: Frivolous, frivolous.
Gary: Frivolous, was the word I was looking for, more frivolous …
Pauline: Frivial, I like that.
Gary: Obviously, there’s a big chunk of your life, which you haven’t gone into, you stopped where the band stopped.
Pauline: Oh, you haven’t got the second edition then?
Pauline: I did bring it up to date.
Gary: I was going to say there is enough for a second volume, I was going to suggest.
Pauline: Oh, a second volume, well, that will have to come way later. I intend to live a long time (laughter).
Gary: Okay, the new edition, is it up to date with all the other Selecter stories?
Pauline: It’s up to date in terms of bringing the band back to life if you like. That is something that I have done with the great help of Gaps Hendrickson, who was the other original singer in the band and would have been with the help of Neol Davies if Neol Davies hadn’t decided that he wanted to form his own version of The Selecter.
Gary: Why did that happen because …?
Pauline: It was just one of those awful serendipity moments where on the 1st of June in, I believe it was 2010 we both announced that there were two separate versions of the sledge and neither one knew about the other. I didn’t know that he was doing that. The previous year, all of us of the original band had pretty much sat down and talked about maybe reforming and doing something. The Specials have been back together, Lynval Golding had been kind of instrumental in maybe getting us to talk to each other and it looked as though possibly something was going to happen.
Then for some reason or another I disappeared off to work with somebody in Argentina, just do a couple of gigs and that was really great. During that period of time, Charley Anderson turned up in Coventry and just scarpered the whole thing. Neol kind of washed his hands of the whole business and then decided, presumably he decided at that time he would get something entirely new together.
We had a very, very long conversation. Not many people know this. We had a very long conversation in the summer of 2010 which unfortunately ended acrimoniously because neither of us really had any kind of fallback position. It was, one of us had to dominate the band that we had formed. Unfortunately, Gaps and I thought that it would be much easier for him to come on board with us having the guitarist and the original singers there than it was really for him to carry on with an unknown singer and everybody else unknown in the band doing what was really an instrumental version. People not really knowing and hear On My Radio being sang by a bloke.
I couldn’t really get to what had been the problem, where this whole thing had come off the rails because only the previous year, we’d done an acoustic thing in the city center in Coventry. We came up myself and H, the drummer, the original drummer and we’d gotten along fine. I never really understood why. He knew I was writing the memoir, in fact, he gave me some of the information out of his own personal diaries, which helped to no end and I’ve never really got to the bottom of it. He will not talk to either myself or to Gaps. We can be occupying the same space and he will blank both of us and I really don’t understand. Of you ever hear of this Neol, I don’t understand.
Gary: If Neol is listening, you’d be open for a reunion or a [inaudible 00:46:21]?
Pauline: I would certainly be open to talking.
Gary: Yes, I always thought it strange that The Specials came back without Jerry.
Pauline: (Laughter) Gary just did an impression of somebody playing the keyboard. Yes, it was … well, I mean, they had a similar experience I suppose except I don’t think that they talk so openly about it maybe as what I do. Jerry was the founding father of everything, everything, without a shadow of a doubt. I feel that reasons really why The Specials have been kind of shoehorned into only being able to do those two albums and nothing else, the first two albums has been because Jerry hasn’t been there. I’m sure that they would have had new material and …
Gary: I think he wanted to go down the route of doing new material or he wanted to ex … he didn’t want it to be just a retro show. Like yourself, you’ve done new albums, at least two in recent years, haven’t you?
Pauline: Yes, because we felt that we had to. We had to build a band. We had to prove who The Selecter were again. I mean it’s good for us because The Selecter is in the singular. It’s been through numerous incarnations, some of which Neol has been involved in and others that he hasn’t, some that Gaps has been involved in and others that haven’t so it’s kind of a moveable feast. It’s had a wide span but I think that the great thing about us is that there isn’t another 2-Tone band that has a male-female up the front, which means that we can expand what we do in terms of what we say, what we sing, the way we present it. It is unique; none of the other bands do that.
It didn’t matter to us, we could tear up the rulebook, do new stuff, it didn’t matter. If people liked it, it was great, if they didn’t like it then okay, just listen to the stuff of Too Much Pressure or the Celebrate The Bullet album. Fortunately, people have across the board kind of liked and so that’s been great for us, which meant that next year, which is our 35th anniversary, we can say, “All right, since you’ve liked all this new stuff, let’s go back to the beginning. Let’s do the Too Much Pressure album for you.”
People seem to really like that idea, which I do as well because then you can show how much we’ve grown, how much things have changed and all those kind of things. You have to own your history, not pretend it’s not there, not sweep it under the carpet. All those tricky bits like, “Oh, yes, we have musical differences,” don’t go there. Yes, we had musical differences, we had all kinds of other interesting differences. Don’t get set and I don’t understand why The Specials couldn’t do that.
Gary: It’s a tragedy I think really.
Pauline: Oh, the money though.
Gary: They were getting paid huge amounts of money.
Pauline: Well, the thing is, is that it’s a brand, it’s a brand and you’ve got to look at it as a brand and you’ve got look at it as business. I always remember Lynval turning round to us and saying … I think when H, Charles Bembridge, who’s the original drummer turn around and said, “What about support slot or something like that?” I just turned around to H and I said, “Look, do not beg. You do not beg these people for a gig. We go out, if we are going to get together, we go out as The Selecter and we get our audience. It’s not crumbs off the table time here.”
I always remember Lynval turning around and saying, “It’s business man, it’s business,” and I thought, “Yes, it’s business.”
Gary: What would you now, what would today’s Pauline tell the Pauline of 1980 if you had the chance to tell her anything?
Pauline: Do exactly the same as you have done girl, just make more money at it (laughter).
Gary: Apart from Jagger any regrets, any of that history?
Pauline: Any regrets? Oh, no, you should never regret anything at all. Never regret, always look forward, I always look forward because what’s coming is just as good. This time last year, I didn’t think that this band would be in a position where we’d been out to America three times, where we were on tour out with Pil and things like this. Yes, it’s all good, it’s all good. At our ages, it really doesn’t matter.
Gary: [inaudible 00:50:36] you mentioned this, you’re on tour at the moment with Public Image.
Pauline: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Gary: Where are you going to be on Monday when this will be on air?
Pauline: Shepherd’s Bush Empire.
Gary: Excellent and you’re also working on a novel.
Pauline: Yes, I’m working on a novel. It’s written actually, the first draft is written so hopefully this might come out in 2015 and also Black by Design has been optioned for a film.
Gary: Oh, excellent, excellent.
Pauline: Called Rude Girl if it happens, that’s [inaudible 00:51:02].
Gary: 35 years.
Pauline: I know, it took a long time but we got there in years.
Gary: Pauline, thank you for your time today, wonderful to see you, wonderful to talk to you and good luck with everything.
Pauline: Thank you.