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Black to the days of 2 Tone

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Pauline Black was the female voice at the heart of the 2-Tone movement, and as such, revolutionised pop music. She told Katy Lewis how you can re-live those days with 3MEN+Black and their 2TONE Special tour.
As the lead singer of The Selecter, Pauline Black enjoyed a string of hits in the early 1980s, including 'On My Radio', ‘Three Minute Hero’ and 'Missing Words'. Since then, she has not only continued touring with the re-formed Selecter, she has also worked extensively in television, film and radio.

She now also enjoys being part of various other music projects, most recently 3MEN+Black, an acoustic walk through the music and influences of the late 1970s and 1980s.

Their latest tour, is a 2Tone special, and is a coming together of the songwriters and singers from the bands that formed the 2Tone label some 25 years ago.

3MEN+Black did their first tour in 2001 and consisted of Pauline plus The Stranglers’ JJ Brunel, Nick Welsh, from Bad Manners and The Selector, Jake Burns from Stiff Little Fingers and The Jam’s Bruce Foxton.

The tour went so well that they have continued with different musicians from that era coming in to replace those with other commitments.

For the 2Tone special, Pauline and Nick are joined by The Beat’s Dave Wakeling, The Specials’ singer/songwriter Roddy 'Radiation' Byers, and, for some of the shows, Rhoda Dakar of the Special Aka.

Together they play over 40 of their self penned hits and also talk about their careers, their choices about songs and the way in which they write. The shows are enjoyed by those who loved the music at the time and a whole new fan base, relishing the songs and stories they have experienced.

"If you want to listen to old favourites and new good music played stripped down to the barest bones then come along."

"We’ve done it [a tour] every year since 2001 and it’s going very, very well" says Pauline. "But Jake Burns is now married and living in Chicago so couldn’t do this tour and Rhodda Dakka can’t do all the nights because she’s got a family. So there’s myself, Nick and Dave Wakeling and we also thought it would be great to get Roddy from The Specials involved.

"We also tell stories linking the songs and give our take on the 2-Tone movement. And I’m sure Roddy has a lot to say about that!" she adds.

It seems as though many musicians of that era can come and go from the group as long as the ‘Black’ stays, which Pauline agrees is lucky for her, unless a certain popular entertainer wants to have a go!

"I think this kind of thing can be fairly fluid but I guess that having the ‘Black’ in the name is quite fortuitous on my part" she says. "Although maybe Cilla will want to do something one day!"

Even though the songs come from the same time, all the groups have their own fan base so potentially there is a risk putting them altogether in the same show. But as previous tours, which have included songs from the The Jam and The Stranglers have shown - it just works.

Pauline acknowledges this but says that essentially a good song is a good song and that’s what matters. It’s also a challenge to win people over.

"I think when you are putting Jam songs with the 2Tone stuff, you are thinking ‘will it work?’" she says.

"But surprisingly they do sit together because they were all around during the same time. And basically if you can play something acoustically it shows it’s a good song.

"There’s also a lot of variety in the set" she continues. "Even if you’re a staunch Stranglers’ fan, you realise that there was something going on in the 2Tone area and so on.

"It’s a strange mixture sometimes but I like that because it can be boring preaching to the converted.

"If you are in front of an audience who really liked The Stranglers and you are winning them over then that is a real challenge and I like a challenge."

And you only need to look at the comments on the Web site to see not only how much people have enjoyed their gigs but how they have also been surprised as they weren’t sure what to expect. Pauline says that it is a good time to be doing what they do.

"Younger people are now less catholic in their tastes and will come along and check it out" she reveals.
"And there is also more interest generally in acoustic music. People’s attention spans are not the nanosecond that we sometimes think they are, and they are prepared to sit and listen.

"Then if you can introduce your new songs and they like those too, then that’s the icing on the cake."

Audiences are enjoying the new songs but they will always hold a special place in their hearts for the 2Tone label and the ska music that it championed. It seems to have enjoyed somewhat of a revival in recent years although it truth it has never really gone away.

Pauline says that it is not only still remembered today, but it is still important because it attempts to answer questions that are still pertinent.

"It's always been there but we always reappraise types of music again and that's what's been happening recently" she explains.

"In The Selecter we incorporated styles like soul, R&B and punk in Ska and turned it into popular music, but it was more interesting than just pop music.

"It occupied a very particular place in time, from 1979 to the early 1980s, the period between the end of punk and the beginning of the new Romantic era, and it was a transition point for many people growing up."

"People hold this point in time dearly" she continues. "In 1979 Margaret Thatcher had just been elected and there was a lot of racial tension around. Stop and search laws meant that black people could be picked up merely on the suspicion of doing something wrong so there was a lot of tension in black communities.
"There were also riots in the 1980s so there was this whole kind of hotbed going on. Young people were at the forefront of questioning it and this hasn’t been lost. We are still trying to answer those kind of questions so the music is still relevant."

In recent years Pauline has branched out into film, TV and stage work and her theatre credits range from Titania in A Midsummer's Nights Dream at the Lyric Theatre to Yvette in Mother Courage at the Olympia Theatre Dublin. But while she still does a lot of writing, the acting has taken a bit of a back seat for the moment, in favour of music.

She has recently completed two Selecter acoustic albums, and still tours with the Selecter as well as 3MEN+Black and this leaves little time for acting.

"When you are acting you need to know three months in advance that you are free so it’s just not possible at the moment" she says.

"But musically, I’m now in the fortunate position of really being able to do what I want and am not tied to a record company.

"We make our own music and arrange our own gigs and those days of dreadful deals are long gone - I’m just not interested in that."

Clearly Pauline is still really enjoying her music, as anyone, like myself, who has seen her play with the Selecter recently can testify. Moreover she looks fantastic too - at least half of her 51 years! Her secret is simple - enjoy what you do!
"I run 30 miles a week and have done the London marathon and I generally keep fit but the key is to keep yourself interested in what you like doing" she says.

"I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t enjoy it" she continues, and explains how you’ve got to keep yourself interested and challenged.

"It’s very difficult if you’re known for being in a band as people want to hear the old songs" she says. "You play new stuff and people enjoy it but then they always want ‘On My Radio’ as well.

"That’s why I’m branching out, composing new songs and finding a new audience and that’s really important to me.

"It’s not that I don’t enjoy playing the old songs but you’ve got to keep challenging yourself."

3MEN+Black is a chance to hear the songs you have loved coupled with new work from the performers you idolised and Pauline urges people to give it a try.

"If you want to listen to old favourites and new good music played stripped down to the barest bones then come along" she says.

Katy Lewis
Online Broadcast Journalist
BBC Beds, Herts & Bucks Website

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