The Selecter – Oxford Academy – live review

The Selecter
Oxford Academy
Sunday 7th October 2012

In a year when Madness have become national treasures and are about to release an extremely impressive new album, The Specials confirmed their iconic status by playing in front of 80,000 people at Hyde Park supporting Blur, The Beat got some mush deserved recognition via the reissue of their three albums – and as Phil Newall’s recent LTW review confirms still remain a terrific live act – it’s fitting that the final piece of the 2 Tone jigsaw, The Selecter, are on tour again.

Having originally split in 1981, the Coventry seven piece reformed ten years later with iconic singer Pauline Black and guitarist and main songwriter Neol Davies and although Davies left a couple of years later, the band, led by Black, continued with various line ups through to 2006 and released some decent albums along the way. That appeared to be the end until Black re-united with original co-singer Arthur ‘Gaps’ Hendrickson and put together a new Selecter in 2010 to celebrate thirty years since the release of their fantastic debut album ‘Too Much Pressure’, incorporating a triumphant gig at the Bloomsbury Ballroom in London, which has subsequently been quoted as one of Black’s top five memories of the Selecter. Spurred on by that gig the new band, which includes ex- Spear of Destiny sax player Neil Pyzer, recorded last year’s ‘Made in Britain’ album which was not only a great record but the best Selecter album since their debut all those years ago.

On a Sunday night in Oxford it’s equally apparent that this line up of the band is the best since the original one. Black and Hendrickson are a dynamic duo, making centre stage a place where it’s impossible to take your eyes away from and have such an explosive natural chemistry. And they look impeccable, and I mean impeccable. Both from a dress sense and a physicality sense. It’s incredibly hard to believe that it was over thirty years ago that they were familiar faces on our TV screens on Top of the Pops and to say they have both aged well would be a massive understatement.

The other six members of the band know their history and treat the Selecter’s back catalogue with the careful understanding it deserves but anyone who thinks this is pure nostalgia is thankfully mistaken. The set may feature almost all of the classic Selecter tracks of old but it also includes a significant number of songs from the current album, including the passionate ‘My England’ and fantastically titled ‘Fuck Art Let’s Dance’ , both of which would have sat comfortably on the ‘Too Much Pressure’ album. There’s also a respectful cover of Any Winehouse’s ‘Back to Black’ which slots comfortably into the middle of the set.

The audience is a mix of old ska fans, many telling Black and Hendrickson, who are both on the merchandise stall before and after the gig, that they saw them in 1979 but also a lot of curious youngsters clearly hooked on the stories from parents about those 2 Tone days. The common ground is on the dance floor which by the time they get to ‘Three Minute Hero’ is heaving with barely any space left to stand still.

Black and Hendrickson never stop for a minute on stage. By the encore Hendrickson’s sharp suit is soaking in sweat and he returns with top half discarded to prove that not only is he the best dancer from the 2 Tone era but he’s also the leanest man standing. After the closing salvo of singles, ‘Too Much Pressure’ has virtually the whole room bouncing up and down to the infectious ska beat which still has the amazing ability to transcend time and remain as contemporary as it did when it first emerged from Jamaica in the sixties.

There are moments tonight where it feels like it must have felt in 1979 when the Selecter were breaking through. A smallish club sized venue packed to bursting point, everyone covered in sweat with huge smiles on their faces. Black and Hendrickson sense and feel it too and that indelible unity message which was written through the heart of 2 Tone transcends itself from stage to audience and back again many times.

Who would have thought then that thirty three years after 2 Tone broke we would not only still have all of the main bands playing live but also that, more importantly, they would still sound so exciting and vital.

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