We interviewed Pauline Black as part of our Underground Music Awaydays to Coventry. Pauline was one of the first women and first women of colour to break into the British music scene.
Coventry has strong music heritages; what/who influenced you when you started?
The Coventry Automatics who went on to be called The Specials. I think the one person that probably influenced me the most was Poly Styrene from X-Ray Specs. She was the first woman of colour I saw that was doing something outside the mould of what people like Chic were doing.
What do you reckon are the greatest changes throughout the years since you came here studying and singing?
Well the ring road hasn’t gotten any better!! Changes I guess there has been a lot of inward investment, a lot of building. It was really nice to see what happened to the Belgrade theatre, when they replaced their studio theatre, which was a dreadful little space with the B2 building, which is wonderful theatrical space and where I go in Coventry to see some artistically interesting, challenging and radical shows.
What are your thoughts on the music and sub culture scene today in Coventry?
Well it still carries on, after all this time, you know? It wasn’t just Two-Tone that left a legacy, there were other people before us. I always liked the fact Delia Derbyshire was from here and composed the Doctor Who theme, that’s really cool!
What do you miss the most from Coventry when you are away?
The access to a good road system. It’s a great place to live and that’s why I live here! It’s really easy as a musician, if you need to go north or south really quickly, it’s practical.
We are here in the CMM, supporting Coventry music from the past and now. How have you been involved in the CMM?
I’ve known Pete Chambers for a really long time and when he first had the idea it was Coventry’s 2 tone musicians that he came to for old stage clothes and memorabilia. He of course couldn’t just concentrate the museum on Two-Tone, he had to look at what came before and after and I think he’s done a splendid job.
The Selecter is a significant member of the Coventry music and culture family, as Coventry is bidding for the City of Culture 2021, how are you supporting it?
Well, I’ve been supporting it for a couple of years now and I think the main thing is – Wherever we go and perform worldwide, we tell people about Coventry and the history through our music. It’s also important to pass on that we believe in – multiculturalism as the future. Perhaps a lot of people don’t believe in that the moment, but it is what fuels our music.
What’s the plan of 2017 for The Selecter and yourself?
The plan is to go out on a joint headline tour with our friends The Beat, which is basically a Two Tone tour. We are playing 14 dates. The tour started out as 6 but the demand has been really high, three already being sold out, so we’ve added a lot more. Really it’s just to spread the anti-racist & anti-sexist message of Two-Tone, by playing some great music, both old and new. We must never lose that central message of what 2-Tone music was about. That message is much more important than the individual bands that were part of the 2-tone movement at the beginning. It’s even more imperative that we get that message across now, especially with Trump’s appalling agenda in America.
Underground inspires and is inspired by British subculture, both contemporary and from the past, since 1981. Which subculture do you identify with the most? Where do you think British sub cultures are going?
I don’t belong to a tribe, but I’m interested in the reasons why tribes exist; I’m interested in why people decide they are going to wear this kind of clothing but not that kind of clothing and how they feel those kinds of decisions defines them. I like clothes & fashion. The things we choose to wear are like calling cards. When you meet someone their clothes are often what register; visual signifier; an expression of their identity. What you wear on stage as a performer is similarly important, a visual signal of what you are about. I believe you owe it to your audience to not look as though you’ve just crawled out of bed. They’ve got to look at you for two hours so the least you can do is turn up looking as though you’ve put some effort in.
Our last album was called Subculture and the whole reason for this was because the Two-Tone movement was an umbrella for many subcultures; punks, skins, rude boys, mods etc. It was somewhere as well that allowed women to fit in, as these movements historically have often been very male centric and the female stories become forgotten.
Of course 2 Tone has never gone away but how about a mainstream revival in Two-Tone and Ska?
Oh well everyone asks me that! I mean we’ve been doing this for 37 years, if I had a quid for every time someone asked me that I’d be a rich woman. I think that it’s like anything, the reason it came to the fore when it did was because politically things were happening in this country, people were thinking politically and there was a political reason for our existence. If it’s coming to the fore now, its because there is a reason for its existence again and no one else is picking it up. That’s not strictly true though, I’m really enthused by the Afro Punk movement and festival in London. I see a lot of interesting fashion and artistic work and bands coming out of that. On the mainstream front, I want to see a bit more then Kanye West doing his soft shoe shuffling and snuggling up to old Trumpy boy.
Underground Soundwave presents an ongoing series of reports on emerging and established bands with close-up Q&As, new release reviews and gig reports with a special emphasis on supporting diversity in music, women in music, independent labels and venues and the local music scene.
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