Interview - Pauline Black of The Selecter


Thursday 7th February 2013

2 Tone, Ska pioneers, The Selecter, are back on tour with a new album this month, so we took the chance to speak to Pauline Black, about new music, multi-culturalism, touring and Coventry.

What can we expect from your new album "String Theory", and why the scientific title?

Well it's not really a scientific title in that sense, I mean it's scientific in the respect that string theory means that everyone is made of the same stuff, vibrating strings, that's the universe, everything that we can see, everything that we know about, and probably everything beyond that. I think the way that we've tried to interpret that, is that it feeds very well into our whole ethos of multi-culturalism, which if you like is a movement on from 2 Tone, and also, we feel we are tied to our past. We have this back catalogue of songs, which is where people know us from, "On My Radio", "Too Much Pressure", "Missing Words", "Three Minute Hero", and obviously people want to group us into that whole heritage band thing, because they love those songs, but we felt it wasn't good enough to get back together and trot out the hits. We actually wanted to say something about the times that we live in. We felt that 2 Tone meant something - a great deal to us, and we feel that the same kind of issues that were around, racism, sexism are still here, and we wanted to put our stamp on it, and what we had to say about today. A band worth its salt should be saying something about what's going on today.

How does touring with The Selecter in 2013 compare to touring between 79-82?

It's a lot more comfortable. I prefer touring now. The band is in a good format at the moment, the people are really like minded, it's great being back with Gaps Hendrickson, and that whole male/female duo at the front is unique within any of the 2 tone bands that recorded on 2 Tone, and it allows us to explore a wider range of issues, themes and music generally, because you have the different registers of voice so it can be that much more interesting, much more interplay.

The last date of the UK tour looks like a Coventry homecoming gig. What are your feelings about Coventry three decades on from the 2 Tone era?

I've always liked Coventry. I think it's a good place for me. I grew up in Essex, and I wasn't too happy with Essex back then, I don't really know what it's like now. But as soon as I came here to go to university, I felt really comfortable, and I stayed here - and that's a long time.

You Tweeted an amazing photo a couple of weeks ago, of yourself along with Debbie Harry, Viv Albertine, Chrissie Hynde, Siouxsie Sioux and Poly Styrene. Do you remember how such a photo opportunity came about?

Well that photo was done for New Musical News which was a newspaper that came into being because I think the journalists at NME were on strike. They wanted to put a woman on the front cover, but we all know that the music business, especially in those days, was slightly misogynistic, and they didn't really feel that any one woman was big enough to carry the front cover of a rock paper, so they decided upon the six of us there. I guess we were the women that were around at that time that sort of ticked all the boxes. The main person I remember from that photo shoot was Viv Albertine, and Poly Styrene who was a big hero of mine, but it was great to meet people like Debbie Harry. The Selecter did gigs with Blondie at Hammersmith Odeon back in those days, and they always had one eye on what we were doing with 2 Tone, because we shared a record company, and to be in the company of someone like Siouxsie or Chrissie Hynde was really cool.

Looking at the six of you in that photo, you were all such iconic role models for young women, each in your own very distinct way. How do you feel about the way the music industry currently promotes its young female artists?

It is different these days. There are a lot more female artists and there are a lot more female artists doing a range of different things. What I like to see is young women who do the whole bit, they write songs as well as perform. What's not to like?

You're often referred to as the "Queen of Ska". Do you find that title flattering, or a bit trite, given everything you've done to stand up to racism and sexism throughout your career?

Well I don't go around calling myself that, if people want to call me that, they can call me whatever they like. They probably call me a lot worse, so I'm really not that worried. I think the worth of what you do is in the music that you make and the performances that you give for people.

Once the String Theory Tour is over - what's next for yourself, and The Selecter ?

After the twenty dates here are over we're going out to the states, and we're at Coachella Festival, over the two weekends there and then we're doing other dates along the West Coast. For us, we're going back to America after quite a long time - so there's a lot of people out there, Ska fans and other people who are really excited about it, and it's a chance for me to promote my book "Black By Design" in new places, so I'm really excited about that too.

For more information about Pauline Black and The Selecter, including upcoming UK tour dates, go to


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