The Selecter

The Selecter was an English ska band that released the 1980 2 Tone album Too Much Pressure, followed by the 1981 Chrysalis release Celebrate the Bullet. The former spawned the UK Top 20 hits “On My Radio” and “Three Minute Hero.”

Members: Neol Davies (guitar, 1977-92), John Bradbury (drums, 1977-79), Barry Jones (trombone, 1977-?), Desmond Brown (keyboards, 1979-80), Charley Anderson (bass, 1979-80), Arthur Hendrickson (vocals, 1979-81, 1993-present), Compton Amanor (guitar, 1979-81), Charley “H” Bembridge (drums, 1979-81), Pauline Black (vocals, 1979-81), James Mackie (keyboards, 1980-81), Adam Williams (bass, 1980-81, 1991-present), Stan Campbell (vocals, 1981)


Background

In late 1977, guitarist Neol Davies (pronounced Neil) and drummer John Bradbury teamed with trombonist Barry Jones. That winter, they recorded the track “Kingston Affair.”

In the spring of 1979, Bradbury joined a rising Coventry act, The Specials, which had cut several tracks (“Nite Klub,” “Too Much Too Young”) in a choppy, syncopated ska style. They slated one track, “Gangsters,” for release as a single, but deemed the others unsuitable as b-sides. Bradbury suggested the track he’d cut more than a year beforehand, “Kingston Affair.”

At the insistence of Specials keyboardist and musical director Jerry Dammers, Davies overdubbed ska riffing onto the 1977 demo, now re-titled “The Selecter” (a Jamaican synonym for disc jockey). On May 4, 1979, it appeared as the b-side to “Gangsters,” the inaugural release on Dammer’s 2 Tone label, distributed by Chrysalis. Billed specifically as The Special A.K.A Gangsters VS. The Selecter, the single hit the Top 10 in France (No. 3), Belgium and the UK (both No. 6).

To capitalize on the single’s success, Davies assembled a proper band under The Selecter nameplate with organist Desmond Brown, bassist Charley Anderson, guitarist Compton Amanor, drummer Charley ‘H’ Bembridge, and vocalist Arthur ‘Gaps’ Hendrickson. Davies and Brown recently played together in the Transposed Men while the others hailed from the Coventry acts Hard Top 22 and the Ray King Soul Band.

In July 1979, The Selecter added singer Pauline Black, a science graduate from Lanchester Polytechnic who worked for five years as a radiographer for the National Health Service.


“On My Radio”

On September 28, 1979, the seven-piece Selecter issued its first single: the 2/4 upstroke “On My Radio” backed with the simple singalong “Too Much Pressure,” both Neol Davies originals.

A. “On My Radio” (3:15) originated in the Transposed Men setlist.

B. “Too Much Pressure” (2:49)

The Selecter recorded both sides and a third track (“Street Feeling”) at Coventry’s Horizon Studios, where Dodgers guitarist Roger Lomas earned his first production credit on the single. Lomas once played in Coventry beatsters The Sorrows.

“On My Radio” appeared as the third 2 Tone release between the debut Madness single (“The Prince”) and the second Specials release (“A Message to You, Rudy”).

“On My Radio” reached No. 10 in the Netherlands and No. 8 in Belgium and the UK. The Selecter mimed it on the October 18 broadcast of the BBC music program Top of the Pops, which also featured autumn hits by ABBA (“Gimme Gimme Gimme”), The Buggles (“Video Killed the Radio Star”), Earth, Wind & Fire (“Star”), Fleetwood Mac (“Tusk”), New Musik (“Straight Lines”), Sad Cafe (“Every Day Hurts”), and XTC (“Making Plans for Nigel”). In their segment, The Selecter hop in place clad in mod suits with details of note on Pauline (pork pie hat) and bassist Charley Anderson (dreads). TotP re-aired “On My Radio” on the November 11 episode, which also featured label-mates Madness (”One Step Beyond”) and The Specials (“Rudy”), plus a new video by Queen (“Crazy Little Thing Called Love”) and studio appearances by The Commodores (”Still”) and Sham 69 with their cover of the Yardbirds classic “You’re a Better Man Than I.”

The Selecter also mimed “On My Radio” on the Dutch music program TopPop, where they emerged from a marquee stage fixture a lept about in two-tone suits with full displays of the checked strips on Desmond Brown’s organ and Charley “H” Bembridge kickdrum.


1980


Too Much Pressure

The Selecter released their first album, Too Much Pressure, on February 15, 1980, on 2 Tone (UK) and Chrysalis (abroad). It contains thirteen songs, including the pre-released b-side “Too Much Pressure and the followup singles “Three Minute Hero” and “Missing Words.” Guitarist Neol Davies wrote the album’s eight originals apart from the group-composed “Danger” and two numbers (“They Make Me Mad,” “Black and Blue”) by singer Pauline Black.

Too Much Pressure contains covers of rocksteady classics by George Dekker (“Everyday”), Owen & Leon (“Murder”), Justine Hinds (“Carry Go Bring Come”), and an adaption of the 1964 Millie Small hit “My Boy Lollipop” retitled “My Collie (Not a Dog).” Side Two closes with a toasted version of the “James Bond” theme.

Too Much Pressure is the only Selecter album with the original seven-piece lineup of Black, Davies, co-singer Arthur “Gaps” Hendrickson, guitarist Compton Amanor, bassist Charley Anderson, drummer Charley “H” Bembridge, and organist Desmond Brown. On “Carry Go Bring Come,” they employ The Special’s auxiliary brass: trumpeter Dick Cuthell and trombonist Rico Rodriguez; the latter also plays on “Black and Blue.”

The Selecter fuse staccato riffs and tight beats across energized cuts like “Three Minute Hero” (marked by chordal jumps and pinched keys) and “Black and Blue” (with snaky strings and clicking cross-sticks). Personalized imprints include Davies’ vibrato twang (“Everyday (Time Hard)”) and Brown’s blocky fills (“Street Feeling”). Black maximizes her vocal range on “They Make Me Mad” and “Missing Words,” both octane minor-key melodramas.

1. “Three Minute Hero” (3:00) features saxophonist Joe Reynolds.
2. “Everyday” (3:10) originated as “Time Hard,” a 1972 Trojan Records a-side by Pioneers singer George Dekker (aka George Asgard), who co-wrote the song with bandmates Sydney Crooks and Jackie Robinson. (In Jamaica, it appeared as a Pioneers song on the High Note label.)
3. “They Make Me Mad” (2:47)
4. “Missing Words” (3:22)
5. “Danger” (2:38)
6. “Street Feeling” (3:11)
7. “My Collie (Not a Dog)” (2:45) appropriates “My Boy Lollipop,” a proto-ska song written by Bobby Spencer (The Cadillacs, Crazy Elephant); first issued as a 1957 Darl Records a-side by American rock ‘n’ roll singer Barbie Gaye and popularized in 1964 by Jamaican singer Millie Small.

8. “Too Much Pressure” (3:48)
9. “Murder” (2:39) originated as a 1962 a-side by Owen & Leon Silvera (aka the Black Brothers).
10. “Out on the Streets” (4:28)
11. “Carry Go Bring Come” (3:02) is a song by Jamaican rocksteady pioneer Justin Hinds; first released as a 1964 Treasure Isle a-side with The Dominoes and covered in 1973 by Cedric Im Brooks & The Divine Light.
12. “Black and Blue” (3:17)
13. “James Bond” (2:16) is a song by British film composer Monty Norman for the 1962 spy-adventure Dr. No, the first film in the James Bond series.

Sessions took place during December 1979 and January 1980 at Horizon Studios, where The Selecter co-produced the album with Errol Ross, who engineered multiple 1976–77 reggae titles on the Water Lily and Weed Beat labels. Horizon staffer Kim Templeman-Holmes engineered Too Much Pressure ahead of 1980 titles by ska aspirants The Army, Bad Manners, and Reluctant Stereotypes.

Too Much Pressure is housed in a two-tone sleeve that presents their jagged logo above a slumped rude boy in checkered framework. The back cover shows a live Selecter shot against a checked backdrop with credits arranged in the style of a film poster. Chrysalis art director John “Teflon” Sims designed the cover with graphic illustrator David Storey, who also has visual credits on the 1980 Stiff Little Fingers live album Hanx! the UK version of the Split Enz compilation Beginning of the Enz.

In the liner notes, The Selecter give “special thanks to: Lynval [Golding, Specials guitarist], The Specials, Madness, Sarah Wills, Rick Rogers, Steve Allen, Chesterfield Audio, Bob, Mark ‘Smuts’ and all those who didn’t.” Early pressings of Too Much Pressure incorrectly list “Out on the Streets” as 3:28 in duration.

The Selecter lifted “Three Minute Hero” on January 25 as the album’s lead single (b/w “James Bond”). It reached No. 16 on the UK Singles Chart. They mimed “Three Minute Hero” (with Reynolds) amid gradient round orange–green stage fixtures on the February 7 broadcast of TotP, which also aired a live video of “Too Much Too Young” by The Specials (then at No. 1) and winter hits by The Boomtown Rats (“Someone’s Looking at You”), The Buggles (“The Plastic Age”), The Chords (“Maybe Tomorrow”), Cliff Richard (“Carrie”), Jefferson Starship (“Jane”), Joe Jackson (“Different for Girls”), The Regents (“7 Teen”), and The Tourists (“So Good To Be Back Home Again”). 

On March 21, The Selecter lifted “Missing Words” as the album’s second single (b/w “Carry Go Bring Come”). It peaked just outside the UK Top 20. They mimed it under a lavender–pink canope on the April 3 broadcast of TotP, which twice aired the song amid spring hits by Barbara Dickson (“January February”), Blondie (“Call Me”), Dexys Midnight Runners (“Geno”), Girl (“Hollywood Tease”), The Jam (“Going Underground”), Judas Priest (“Living After Midnight”), Leon Haywood (“Don’t Push It, Don’t Force It”), Madness (“Night Boat to Cairo”), The Pretenders (“Talk of the Town”), The Ruts (“Staring at the Rude Boys”), The Spinners (“Working My Way Back to You”), UB40 (“Food for Thought”), and Thin Lizzy frontman Phil Lynott (“Dear Miss Lonely Hearts”).

Too Much Pressure reached No. 5 on the UK Albums Chart. North American copies add “On My Radio” as the opening track on Side One, which closes with “Three Minute Hero” and bumps “They Make Me Mad” over to Side Two.


“The Whisper”

On August 15, 1980, The Selecter released their fourth single: “The Whisper,” a Neol Davies original backed with The Ethiopians cover “Train to Skaville.”

A: “The Whisper” (3.01)
B: “Train to Skaville” (3:07) originated as a 1967 Rio Records a-side by Jamaican rocksteady trio The Ethiopians; written by group founder Leonard Dillon. Chrysalis issued a 12″ with an extended “Skaville” (7:46).

The Selecter cut both tracks at Horizon in mid-1980 with “On My Radio” producer Roger Lomas, who returned by popular demand for this single and the upcoming sessions for their second album.

“The Whisper” became their fourth and final UK Top 40 hit. The Selecter mimed it on the August 28 broadcast of TotP, which also featured late-summer hits by David Bowie (“Ashes to Ashes”), Diana Ross (“Upside Down”), Elton John (“Sartorial Eloquence”), The Gap Band (“Oops Upside Your Head”), Gary Numan (“I Die You Die”), Ian Dury & The Blockheads (“I Want to Be Straight”), The Jam (“Start”), The Piranhas (“Tom Hark”), Sheena Easton (“9 to 5”), and The Skids (“Circus Games”).

In “The Whisper” segment, Pauline sports a new look: up-tied hair (no hat) and a red blazer with matching ascot. The Selecter perform as a five-piece with guitarist Compton Amanor on bass and co-singer Arthur “Gaps” Hendrickson on keyboards. Backstage, Dury noted their trimmed lineup. Pauline confided that Selecter bassist Charley Anderson and organist Dennis Brown left over musical disagreements after sessions for the single. Dury offered them Blockheads bassist Norman Watt-Roy (once of brass rockers The Greatest Show On Earth) for the duration of their musicians search.

Meanwhile, Anderson and Brown reteamed with their onetime Hard Top 22 guitarist bandmate Chris Christie in The People, which cut the 1981 reggae single “Musical Man” (b/w “Sons & Daughters”) on Race Records, a Spartan subsidiary started by Specials drummer John Bradbury.


1981

The Selecter appear in the 1981 film Dance Craze, a documentary of the English ska revival with live numbers by Bad Manners and 2 Tone labelmates The Specials, Madness, The Beat, and The Bodysnatchers. The 26-song film — directed by American filmmaker Joe Massot (Wonderwall, The Song Remains the Same) — features live footage of four Selecter numbers: “Three Minute Hero,” “Missing Words,” “On My Radio,” and “Too Much Pressure.”


Celebrate the Bullet

The Selecter released their second album, Celebrate the Bullet, on February 27, 1981, on Chrysalis. It features one song by co-vocalist Arthur ‘Gaps’ Hendrickson (“Tell Me What’s Wrong”), who also sings on the Neol Davies numbers “(Who Likes) Facing Situations” and “Their Dream Goes On” and harmonizes with Pauline Black on “Selling Out Your Future,” one of two cuts (along with “Bombscare”) by guitarist Compton Amanor.

Pauline submits three cuts (“Deepwater,” “Red Reflections,” “Bristol and Miami”) while Davies takes credit for the balance of Side Two: “Cool Blue Lady,” “Their Dream Goes On,” and the title track.

Celebrate the Bullet features a revised seven-piece Selecter lineup of Amanor, Black, Davies, Hendrickson, drummer Charlie “H” Bembridge, and two new recruits: bassist Adam Williams and keyboardist James Mackie, who plays Hammond organ and occasional saxophone. Williams arrived midway into the sessions. Therefore, producer Roger Lomas plays bass on “Deepwater” and Blockhead Norman Watt-Roy does likewise on “Washed Up and Left For Dead” and “Celebrate the Bullet,” the latter with one Barry Jones on sax.

Musically, Celebrate the Bullet opens with two ska-tinged numbers (“(Who Likes) Facing Situations,” “Deepwater”) and explores sixties-style rocksteady (“Tell Me What’s Wrong”) and stands of reggae in the syncopated uptempo “Washed Up and Left for Dead” and the laidback rootsy title track. “Bombscare” reflects recent new wave innovations with its eerie synths and nervy vibe; traits fused with reggae on “Cool Blue Lady.” They experiment with echoing dub effects on “Selling Out Your Future” and the post-punk inspired “Their Dream Goes On.” The perky album-closer “Bristol and Miami” hybridizes ska with icy keyboards and Pauline’s newfound melodic vocal range.

1. “(Who Likes) Facing Situations” (3.32)
2. “Deepwater” (4.09)
3. “Red Reflections” (3.38)
4. “Tell Me What’s Wrong” (3.30)
5. “Bombscare” (3.05)
6. “Washed Up and Left for Dead” (3.57)

7. “Celebrate the Bullet” (4.34)
8. “Selling Out Your Future” (3.59)
9. “Cool Blue Lady” (3.30)
10. “Their Dream Goes On” (3.42)
11. “Bristol and Miami” (4.58)

Sessions took place in October 1980 at Horizon with Lomas, who co-produced Celebrate the Bullet in succession with titles by Bad Manners, The Mo-Dettes, and The Opposition. Reluctant Stereotypes soundman Paul Dee engineered the two Watt-Roy cuts.

Celebrate the Bullet is housed in a sleeve designed by Neol’s wife Jane Davies. It shows a vintage wood television tuned to a fuzzy red reception with a gloved ringer on the second of four knobs, each with “the symbol” – a black circle with a white cross-stripe and red pie slice (similar in scheme to the flag of Trinidad–Tobago). The back cover shows the TV with a fuzzy transmission of The Selecter standing face-to-camera. The inner-sleeve presents a clear full-body version of the same group image, backed with a black-on-red lyric side. US copies reverse the front and back imagery.

The Selecter lifted “Celebrate the Bullet” on February 13 as an advance single, backed with “Last Tango In Dub.”

B. “Last Tango In Dub” (4:23) is a dub version of “Washed Up and Left for Dead.”

In the video to “Celebrate The Bullet,” Neol Davies and Pauline Black fade in and out of barren old brick interior and reappear with the full band inside a smoky chamber, where Pauline sports a frizzy flared hairdo with a satin purple tunic, black Capri pants, and gray ankle boots. The video cuts between the band and scenes where she wanders through the red-tinted chamber corridors, where other members appear at random, including Arthur ‘Gaps’ Hendrickson, who dances in a tight space near a wall fixture with “the symbol,” which constantly appears amid the shadows of flying birds. MTV twice-aired this video on the cable channel’s first day of broadcast (August 1, 1981).

“Celebrate the Bullet” ran afoul with BBC programmers due to the recent assassination of John Lennon and the assassination attempt on Ronald Regan, which made the title seem inappropriate for the times.

In Spain, “Facing Situations” appeared as the album’s second single, also backed with Last Tango In Dub.”


Discography:


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