I have been a lucky boy just lately. Having had the joy of photographing other brilliant bands from the 80's such as Ultravox and Deacon Blue, here I was at the Venue in Derby to both review and photograph the Selecter. Whilst not possessing the sharpest of staff, it is still a nice little place with its longish bar and big room. Although quite dimly lit, I still felt quite at home here.
As the support drew to an end, the room started to fill up with skinheads and trilby-donned fans. I could have sworn as I gazed through the dark that I had just clapped eyes on Ranking Roger. The support incidentally came from Sheffield and goes under the name of Smiling Ivy who, as I was reminded by my wife, we had seen up at Southsea a few months ago. They played a good set which mixed up ska, rock and reggae.
After what seemed like a decade, Pauline Black, Gaps Hendrickson and the rest of the Selecter made their way from the back of the room onto the small but adequate stage.
I remember them as a cracking ska outfit with something to say, and an energetic lead singer with strong political points of view. As a kid, I always thought she was a bit scary. As well as being into early futurist bands and getting stuck in the late 70’s mod revival, I had a deep liking for early reggae and Two-Tone acts like the Beat and the Specials and the group that stood before me now. I wasn't political back then and I'm not now as it goes. I had as much interest in politics as I had in Maths, but I loved the music.
The good thing is that the latter really hasn't changed. Like some of the bands I've seen lately we've all got a little older, but, believe me, the sound of the Selecter hasn't changed. Their energy hasn't either. Pauline came to life as soon as she looked out into the murk and said with a smile, "So, this is Derby? Well, we are The Selecter!" Then the whole band burst into their eponymous song and 1979 debut single.
They raced into ‘Out on the Streets Again’, ‘Time Hard’, ‘They Make Me Mad’ and ‘Danger’. Aptly, it was about now that someone in the crowd decided he was going to heckle the now-in-form Miss Black. “Best of luck,” I thought as he shouted something about the Bodysnatchers. Now Pauline had heard some of this and pointed into the crowd and simply said, "What's wrong with him? What's his problem?" “Ooh, crikey,” I thought and smiled with a little chuckle as she put him right back in his place and he slinked back into the gloom.
Pauline reminded us that while other bands back in the 80's came and went the Selecter came and stayed, and are still going because they had something to say. They then broke into a blistering version of ‘My England’. While all this was going on, the long, tall, thin figure of ‘Gaps' Hendrickson continually jumped and skanked around the stage as if he was still a teen. By now his grey/silver shining suit was wringing. There was not a dry stitch on it. The whole band was really on form now and the crowd was reflecting the energy right back. The entire front of the room was moving and jumping up and down. Arms flailed around, trilbies bumped into each other like at a punk do, and there was beer everywhere.
They flew through the set, finishing with outstanding renditions of ‘Three Minute Hero’, ‘Missing Words’ and ‘On My Radio’, which of course sent the throng into oblivion.
The photos don't do it justice really. This was a heaving, sweaty, ferocious place to be if you had come to just watch. If you were stood near the front you had no choice. You were doomed. Slowly the infectious music got a hold and your feet started to tap, and then your head started to nod and move back and forth like a demented pigeon on steroids. Then, as the rest of them gleefully bumped and banged into you, you found that actually you didn’t give a flying fuck. And that was it. You had succumbed to the Selecter. Gaps didn’t help either. He kept staring out at the audience as if daring them to take a breather, and Pauline glanced every now and then out into the crowd with some kind of unique pride at what they'd accomplished. It was bloody marvellous.
They were quickly back on to the stage for the encore. I would have been too having seen the small waiting area at the side of the stage where they had to stand and which really you would only enter if you were staying for a couple of seconds. They continued where they left off with ‘Carry Go Bring Come’ and then a frantic ‘Too Much Pressure’, before ending with ‘My Collie’, which you would have thought would have been about a dog. And a good time was had by all.
The band went straight to the other side of the stage to sign autographs, and, as they passed me, I managed to pat Gaps on the back and congratulate him on a great set. He looked at me, and a big grin manifested itself across his face as he replied, "Hey, thanks man," leaving me to wring my hands out.
We made our way back out into the cold Derby night, and drove our way back home heads nodding to the sound of the Two Tone CD I had found in the back of the car. It was then that I discovered to my disappointment that it is hard to skank and to drive at the same time…