Friday, October 23, 2015

Duff Review: The Selecter "Access All Areas"

Edsel Records

(Review by Steve Shafer)

The Selecter's Access All Areas documents the band's August 13, 1980 fantastic performance at Nottingham's Theatre Royale (with The Swinging Cats as openers, though they do not appear on the DVD or CD), which had been videotaped for ITV's "Rockstage" TV series. Of particular note, it was a transitional time for the band, even though they had just returned from a largely successful, if not exhausting, tour of the USA and Canada that April, which included a week of sold-out shows at the Whiskey A Go Go in LA, a gig at NYC's Hurrah's attended by a dancing Mick Jagger, and radio support from Rodney Bingenheimer at at KROQ and college radio stations across the land. However, according to Pauline Black's autobiography "Black by Design," they also experienced a shocking amount of racism in the South--such as being refused service at truck stop diners and threatened with great bodily harm when they stopped for a picture in front of the "Dallas" TV show's Southfork Ranch--and their songs were hardly played on commercial radio, which in 1980 was still largely divided between black and white audiences and black and white radio stations--"musical apartheid," she called it.

The Selecter had just departed 2 Tone Records in July (essentially, over disagreements concerning the future direction of the label that they co-managed with The Specials, and how out of control the whole 2 Tone craze had become--the massive amount of bootleg 2 Tone and cluelessly misspelled "Selector" merchandise was a particularly sore point)--and, also that July, had recorded their first single for their own intentionally unnamed Chrysalis imprint: "The Whisper" b/w The Ethiopians' "Train to Skaville" (sadly "The Whisper" was the last time the band hit the UK charts--at #36 in August of 1980). Sporting only the band's logo and a large question mark, the "Train to Skaville" 12" included a version of "Street Feeling" produced by Roger Lomas, recorded during the session that had yielded the "On My Radio" and "Too Much Pressure" singles; "Street Feeling" had ended up being re-recorded for The Selecter's debut album with another producer, but Neol Davies, according to this CD's liner notes, was never satisfied with that version and was pleased to see its release here. And plans were in place to enter the studio again in late August with Roger Lomas to begin recording what would be their incredible second album, Celebrate the Bullet.

A still from the "Access All Areas" DVD.
But as various members of The Selecter were putting their final touches on their new songs for Celebrate (Davies wrote five of the tracks, Black composed three, Compton Amanor penned two, and Gaps Hendrickson one), they were scheduled to perform live at Nottingham's Theatre Royale for "Rockstage" before what appears to be an electrified and sold-out crowd. While the audio recording of this performance could have been more robust (and it's a shame that it's not better, since The Selecter are so good here), the film of their show--shot using multiple cameras all over the stage--is an essential document of the 2 Tone-era (the only other opportunity I've had to witness the original version of The Selecter live is via their disjointed Dance Craze clips). Clearly, The Selecter were in peak condition at this point in their career (which makes what was soon to transpire all the more tragic). Their intense, sweat-drenched, high-energy performance--the whole band is dancing throughout the entire set--is an awesome thing to behold, even 35 years on. This is one hell of a concert film (and it must have been amazing to have seen it live; at points, the camera pans across the audience on the floor and then up to the theater's three balconies--everyone in the crowd is dancing like mad)!

The poster for The Selecter's Theatre Royale gig.
Their set list draws upon the familiar and terrific material from Too Much Pressure and "The Whisper" single, but there are some thrilling, standout renditions here, including "Street Feeling," "Black and Blue," "On My Radio," "They Make Me Mad," and Gaps' brilliant showcase, "Too Much Pressure" (which captures their staged, but seemingly real fighting that I've only read about until now--it's kind of shocking to see him grab keyboardist Desmond Brown by the neck and shake him!). For their last song--their revved up version of "Train to Skaville"--Pauline invites some of the crowd up to dance on stage with the band and about 15 kids (and I mean kids--one looks about 10 years-old; the rest barely teenagers; and since The Selecter were primarily a black band, there are a good number of black kids dancing on stage and in the audience) take her up on the offer. It's amazing to see how sharply dressed they are, too--either in tonic suits or Harrington jackets and Fred Perry shirts (the mod-ish 10 year-old kid is in a fishtail parka)! American ska fans at all the shows I've been to since the 80s have never looked this good; we're perfect slobs compared to the youth of 2 Tone!

Barely a week and a half after the "Rockstage" taping, both Desmond Brown (keys) and Charley Anderson (bass) were out of The Selecter (Desmond had quit, Charley was asked to leave--both had insisted that The Selecter head deeper into reggae territory--and they then formed the short-lived, but compelling, The People). So, The Selecter's Access All Areas is a fairly significant release in terms of the history of the band, as it is the last live recording of the original Selecter line-up and, as far as I can tell, has never been previously issued!

The Selecter's episode of "Rockstage" was broadcast in 1981, after the release of Celebrate the Bullet (and its unwarranted crash and burn) and, as we know, didn't help revive the band's fortunes, though it certainly should have. In the annals of 2 Tone, The Specials have always overshadowed The Selecter, though The Selecter's Access All Areas is further proof of how brilliant they were and how unfair history can be...

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