Sunday, February 21, 2021

Duff Interview: Author Daniel Rachel on Writing the Liner Notes for the Deluxe Reissue of The Selecter's "Too Much Pressure"

If you haven't heard yet, on April 23, 2021, 2 Tone/Chrysalis is releasing a deluxe reissue/remaster of The Selecter's debut 1980 album Too Much Pressure as a three-CD set and LP + 7" single + 7" single live EP (each edition includes previously unreleased material and super-fans will likely want both). My ears pricked up when I spotted that music journalist Daniel Rachel had written the liner notes for this reissue (included only with the CDs), as he is the author of Walls Come Tumbling Down: The Music and Politics of Rock Against Racism, 2 Tone and Red Wedge and co-author of Ranking Roger's I Just Can't Stop It: My Life in The Beat (which I reviewed here)--two of the best and most essential books about 2 Tone ever published. So, I was eager to speak with him about this reissue and what he might have uncovered during his research. Daniel was most generous with this time and spoke with me earlier this week on a fairly wide range of topics related to The Selecter's Too Much Pressure and the 2 Tone era. Please note that the transcript below has been slightly edited for clarity and length (though it's still a long read...).

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Duff Guide to Ska: So, a couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of talking to Neol Davies about recording Celebrate the Bullet. But he mentioned that he had tried to get his hands on the original tapes for Too Much Pressure, because he wanted to do a remix. And I remember reading how the band felt rushed when they recorded the first album and really weren't always happy with the results. Do you know if they're happy with this new remaster. And were they involved with it? 

Daniel Rachel: Well, I think with the first album, the problem was the choice of the producer. Charlie Anderson brought in Errol Ross, and not all of the band agreed with his choice. Neol, particularly, wanted to stay with Roger Lomas, who had recorded "On My Radio" and "Too Much Pressure." But with that change and experience in the studio in December '79 made the experience fraught for them, I think. Pauline didn't get on with Errol at all, and there was a mixed reaction to Errol's approach to production. And added to that was the cantankerous nature of The Selecter, in which they kind of existed because of their differences. Of course, their differences caused a lot of the antagonism between them, which would eventually erupt and cause them to split in summer of 1980.

So, the album was rushed. Even though it was in a tight period, The Selecter were well played in by that point. They'd done the 2 Tone Tour and had done a fair amount of their own touring. But, at the same time, they had only existed as a band for a little more than six months, if that. You know, you're talking June, July, 1979, and then they're recording an album in December. And if you take into consideration the gestation time of a band forming, having to get to know one another as musicians, having to write songs, agree on songs, rehearse songs, get them tight, form a musical relationship--that's an incredible demand on any set of musicians. The fact that they were even up and running within literally weeks is quite astonishing. 

(l-r) The Selecter's Arthur "Gaps" Hendrickson,
author Daniel Rachel, and The Selecter's Pauline Black
So, then in answer to your question, the original master tapes were found, and they had been remastered, not remixed. Who's heard the tapes? Neol's heard it, Pauline's heard it. And that may be it at this point. I think all the other members of the band, except for Desmond, were invited to be involved in the project and to a greater or lesser degree, they did or didn't.

Duff Guide to Ska: And were you able to interview all of the band members?

Daniel Rachel: No. The invitation was sent out to every member of the band, and some declined, didn't want to contribute. Pauline didn't want to, even though I know Pauline and get on with her well. I have the strange experience where I can chat her, but we didn't chat about the album. But that's her right. Desmond is not in a healthy place, I understand, for him to be involved. And the connection was never directly with him, it was through a family member. And I've spoken to everybody else.

Duff Guide to Ska: When you were putting together the liner notes for this reissue, did you learn anything from either your research or speaking with the band members that you didn't know back in 1980 or that surprised you?

Daniel Rachel: An enormous amount. Before I got involved with writing the sleeve notes, I'd started writing, and am currently writing, the story of 2 Tone Records, with an attempt to try and lay down a definitive version of events by revisiting everything I can find in the archive--and coupling that with attempting to speak to every member and backroom staff member of 2 Tone/Chrysalis that is possible to this day. So, I've spoken to already more than 60+ people and laid down a lot of research. So, yes, as I get inside The Selecter, I've uncovered an incredible amount of stories, and try to get to the bottom of what was going on with the recording of the album. And that was incredible. 

Of course, some members of the band don't often talk or haven't talked for a long time. So, their experiences haven't been put on the record. Whereas, Pauline will often talk about that period and Neol will, it's a lot rarer to hear H talk or Compton, even. Both of those people have got fantastic memories and fantastic opinions. As a fan of the band, and if you're a fan of 2 Tone, what you most probably want is to hear the rounded version of events. As you well know, with seven people involved from the band, with their producer making eight, and I spoke to Errol as well, they've all got their eye on how it happened, and some of those stories concur and some of them are vastly different. And that's the joy of history. There's no one simple truth that can exist at one time, right? 

Duff Guide to Ska: Yes, absolutely. Were you a fan back in 1980? Were you a 2 Tone fan, a Selecter fan?

Daniel Rachel: In 1980, I was 10 years old. I was a fan through through magazines, and I was a fan through BBC Radio One and Top of the Pops. I think the first record I ever heard was "Too Much Too Young" by The Specials. And I remember learning the lyrics to those songs as an 11 year-old and performing them in school with a bunch of mates in front of the class. Then I seriously got into 2 Tone increasingly with each year through "Ghost Town." And I then I continued with it, so I was really into following stories about Special AKA in that period as well.

Duff Guide to Ska: As a side note, I'm a fan of your book with Ranking Roger and then your other book Walls Come Tumbling Down. The latter book is amazing--I've called it the best history of 2 Tone that's out there. But did you did you ever come across George Marshall's Two Tone Story back from the late '80s?

Daniel Rachel: George Marshall's book is fantastic. It was originally part of The Compact 2 Tone box set, and you could buy it on its own from ST Publishing. It's really great and so important because at the time it was written in the early '90s. So it's only less than 10 years on from the events, and it's got the spirit of George Marshall as a fan. As he writes, I think it's in his introduction to his book on Madness, he doesn't claim to be a writer or an author. He's just writing from passion. And I love that as much as I love the book Total Madness he wrote.

He can write and really got in great detail. And I think that set the template for 2 Tone books. But, of course, I don't think a lot of material was necessarily available to George Marshall at this point that he wrote it. And subsequently you can find now the full stretch of UK fanzines and all the music papers, from Sounds, New Music Express, Melody Maker, Look In, Smash Hits. You know, there's so many places where all of the 2 Tone bands did interviews. Fanzines, for example, is where musicians were historically looser with their tongues because at that period in '79, '80, '81, you didn't think if you did an interview in a small town somewhere in the United Kingdom for a fanzine anybody was going to read it beyond that. You get a lot of honesty, right? Likewise, there are a lot of musicians subsequently that, as they reflect back on that period, have got an important distance. They are freer to tell stories that they wouldn't have told you at the time--or their memories can be sparked by different archive material. And you get different perspectives and the newer versions of older history, I guess. So, George Marshall, great template, but there's a great depth and exciting narrative to reveal.

Duff Guide to Ska: This reissue features a fair number of unreleased live tracks from The Selecter. Do you know where they've been all this time? Where were they sitting for the last 40 years? 

Daniel Rachel: I think they've been sitting in record company archives, because the ownership of the label has changed so many times, originally from Chrysalis to EMI it was, at one point. One of the guys at Chrysalis now, Dermot James, he's great because he's a real fan of the music. And that's why there have been all of these reissues, and certainly more possibilities now for 2 Tone stuff to come out, and unreleased stuff, because he's prepared to dig in there and find it.

He gave me a load of different track sheets of what was in the archive and asked me what's there that would be brilliant to release. So, I went through all of that. And then you can get rough mixes done of different concerts. So, I had those done up. And then coupled with that, Neol had a few tapes of Selecter concerts either originally from those 2 Tone archives or board mixes from a couple of gigs. So, my job was to go through all of the live tapes from '79 and '80, and say, "this is what's great, and we could use this, and this would be brilliant." And then it had to exist on multi-tape, so that it could be properly mixed. So that was just so exciting--I loved it!

Duff Guide to Ska: That's amazing!

Daniel Rachel: Wow, some really amazing revelations--like, who has ever heard, unless you were at The Selecter gig in 1979 or early '80, who has ever heard them playing the song "The Selecter"? It's really brilliant. It's got Gapper toasting over the top of it. And then there's the brilliant version of The Upsetters "A Live Injection." So, you get an instrumental version, as it was, of "A Live Injection" really showcasing Desmond Brown's organ skills that then cuts momentarily as a link into "Mony Mony," that Tommy James & The Shondells track, which seques into the beginning of "Too Much Pressure," and then comes "Too Much Pressure." And all of that put together, which is about nine minutes, is just great! And then they started the gig with "Soulful I," the [Lee "Scratch" Perry] instrumental.

And so things like this were really, really brilliant to hear. And then just the fact that we then get to the Too Much Pressure tour, the second 2 Tone Tour in February, March 1980, they've really played in the tracks that they were laying down on the album two months, three months before. And so there's a new energy in the tracks. There's only about, I think, four of those recordings on this.

But the key recording is The Selecter at Tiffany's, which was the key venue in Coventry, which they played in December 1979 at the end of the 2 Tone Tour. And they support The Specials. You can just feel the raw, visceral energy of the hometown audience throughout the whole gig. There's a run on tickets, because there's been some forgeries. So, there's massive queues to get in--a demand, and feeling of those lucky ones that were in Tiffany's. They just explode as the band come on stage and The Selecter played great. Everybody knows that's a 2 Tone fan, the B-side of The Special's Live EP, the "Skinhead Symphony," which is from that gig, which sounds like one of the greatest concerts ever. On the flipside of The Selecter single "Missing Words," "Carry Go Bring Come" is from that gig and, as a fan, who's ever not wanted to be one of those members of that audience? And here's now the whole concert.

Duff Guide to Ska: Oh, that's extraordinary! Do you know if 2 Tone/Chrysalis have plans to do sort of a deluxe reissue of Celebrate the Bullet?

Daniel Rachel: I don't know. If there's demand...

Duff Guide to Ska: I'm curious because fans definitely consider that part of the 2 Tone canon.

Daniel Rachel: It's not, though.

Duff Guide to Ska: I know technically it's not. But personally as a fan, I've always felt that it is. Do you know if they're thinking about doing any of Rico's albums? 

Daniel Rachel: Well, Rico's albums were released this last year, weren't they, on that 2 Tone box. Jama and That Man is Forward were included on that. What I would love to hear is the tour that Brad, Horace, and Jerry did with Rico. Wouldn't you love to hear that? You know, the tour when they backed him?

Duff Guide to Ska: Yes, I don't remember the exact date, but I do remember that they did that tour. Yeah. Oh, that'd be extraordinary. When would that have been?

Daniel Rachel: Rico Jama came out just after the split. Well, I think the tour was '81, wasn't it?

Duff Guide to Ska: The tour was probably earlier. Yeah. So it's probably '81. So, they're still just at their height.

Daniel Rachel: I'm getting confused at dates. I've looked at too many dates today. I've got numbers running in front of my head to all kinds of things. Jerry keeps on saying to me, "you know more about 2 Tone than I do, Daniel. Just tell me what happened on this date."

Duff Guide to Ska: But that's probably true, right? Because you're getting all the other viewpoints and conversations and memories that he didn't necessarily have access to.

Daniel Rachel: The mad thing about talking to Jerry is that, of course, you forget as a fan, that they were busy doing their own thing. So, at the time, they don't necessarily know what the other bands are getting up to. They hear bits and pieces, but you kind of think that they would know it all inside out. But, the reasons why The Selecter decided to split, I don't know how much Jerry knows about stuff like that.

Duff Guide to Ska: Well, it's so crazy when you think about how intense and brief a period it actually was. The Selecter was only around for about two years.

Daniel Rachel: The Selecter in their original incarnation was 12 months. It was the summer of '79 and they split in the summer of 1980. And then they continue with two new members. So, that's just an extraordinarily short period of time, isn't it? 

The Bodysnatchers were together for 11 months. And that's mad, from their first gig in November '79--and they rehearse for a bit before--and then they split 31st of October, 1980. That's 11 months. And, yet, Rhoda [Dakar] has probably been asked about it every single day of her life since. It must drive her mad! 

Duff Guide to Ska: Did you hear the album that she recorded a few years ago?

Daniel Rachel: Of course, I hang out with Rhoda a lot, and drive her mad with asking her questions about The Bodysnatchers. Oh, she's great. Horace played on that album and Lynval added a bit of guitar.

Duff Guide to Ska: That was a great album. [I reviewed it here.]

Daniel Rachel: You know, the thing is, you can't replicate what a band did--it's all the individual components of that band that make up the total sound. Although they were doing the songs of The Bodysnatchers, which Rhoda rightfully credited the album as Sings The Bodysnatchers, it's not The Bodysnatchers. You can hear that by listening to the John Peel sessions, Kid Jensen sessions. You can hear what the original Bodysnatchers sounded like. And it's not what the album is.

Duff Guide to Ska: It was still nice to have, particularly for fans in the United States. I had never heard some of those songs before. So, it was nice to have even if it wasn't the full Bodysnatchers experience.  But it definitely gave a fan like me a really good idea of what they were about, because in the United States, they're really just their two singles.

Daniel Rachel: That's all there was to hear. Plus, what was on Dance Craze.

Duff Guide to Ska: When should we be expecting your book on 2 Tone or are you still in the depths of research?

Daniel Rachel: I really don't know. I'm in a very strange, but exciting position. This year, I have four books coming out in my name, two of which have come out before and two are new. So, by doing that, I've really struggled to keep going with the 2 Tone book because my attention is just being demanded by the other releases.

Duff Guide to Ska: What are the two new books?

Daniel Rachel: The old one's a paperback of Don't Look Back in Anger and a new, slightly edited version of Ranking Roger's book. The new books are both coming out in August. One is Oasis: Knebworth, the text I've written, and the photography is by Jill Furmanovsky, which is about the Oasis weekend at Knebworth in August '96, which was, for this country, kind of the defining cultural moment of the decade. And then at the end of the month, I've written a book called Like Some Forgotten Dream, which looks at if The Beatles hadn't split up, what would have been the album they would have recorded in late '69, early 1970.

Duff Guide to Ska: Do you want to give a little hint of what the answer is or should people wait to buy the book?

Daniel Rachel: I'm happy to. The first quarter of the book just looks at all the "what if" moments, mainly starting with the "Get Back" sessions in January 1969, and looking at why that was an incredible, productive time for The Beatles--and how all of Let It Be and more than half of Abbey Road were written in that time. There were quite a lot of songs that would become solo records for each of The Beatles a year later were in some form or other rehearsed in that initial period. Things like "Gimme Some Truth," "All Things Must Pass," "Another Day." Then it looks at some of the moments where, had it been for just slightly different circumstances throughout that year, '69, they could have kept it together. And then based upon John Lennon in a meeting at Apple in '69, saying, "how about on the next album I do four songs, Paul does four, George does four, and Ringo does two?" He proposes that. I take that argument to say at that exact moment, if they had agreed, here are the songs that were written, were being written, or could conceivably have still been written in the next six month period--and it kind of formed an album. I take each of those songs and tell the back story to how they came about, and really get underneath the involvement of how they were written. So, there were lots of arrangements, say, for the song "All Things Must Pass" that Paul and John did--vocal arrangements, bass arrangements, musical arrangement. Really exciting stuff. Or how Paul worked with John on "Gimme Some Truth." Lots of stories like that. So, it was really exciting to do.

Duff Guide to Ska: I see the the great appeal in doing that and why people would want to read it. For music fans, there's always that "what if?" You see, after a band splits, where they go, and one faction does this, the other faction does that, and you're like, "that could have all been back together, and on one album with one band."

Daniel Rachel: Have you ever done that with The Specials' In the Studio? Can you imagine "What I Like Most About Your Girlfriend," if Terry had sung that? And, of course, Jerry used to write for Terry's voice. And then what if The Specials had done "The Lunatics...", which [Fun Boy Three] had demoed when they were members of The Specials with the view of giving the song to The Specials?

Duff Guide to Ska: Yeah, it's really tantalizing.

Daniel Rachel: I mean, it's kind of a form of madness, but at the same time irresistible. You can't help to sometimes listen to those songs and just imagine the organ solo in "The Lunatics..." if Jerry had got hold of it. Wow.

Duff Guide to Ska: It's extraordinary. I'm interested in the newer version of the Ranking Roger book. What was revised or added?

Daniel Rachel: Oh, to be honest, it's hardly anything really. It was because the publisher Omnibus are publishing what's known as a "B format" book, which I think just means it's slightly smaller. It just gave me an opportunity to correct a few things that were not right in the text. My final edit, that I went over with a kind of a fine scalpel, I'm not sure made the final publication, so it just gave me an opportunity to tighten up a few sections.

I think I might have found three more gigs for the gigography. I mean, it's really, really hard to find out what The Beat did in the US in the latter years. To nail down for certain every single date.

Duff Guide to Ska: For something I'm writing, I was trying to look up a gig The English Beat did at Roseland in New York in '81, and it's hard to find, it's hard to figure out.

Daniel Rachel: I wrote that gigography for Roger's book originally just because I needed reference for myself to try and make sense of the story. And then as I was giving it more and more, I realized, well, this doesn't exist and nobody's ever done it. And there's that great Specials' gigography in Paul Williams's book. And I thought, if I've got it at home here, the least I could do is share it, and accept the wrath of people going, "you didn't say about this gig I went to, it was the best one of my life, you charlatan!"

Duff Guide to Ska: Oh, I think it's fantastic. And I think people will be referring to it for years, I'm sure. So, any final thoughts or things you'd like to share about the liner notes for The Selecter reissue?

Daniel Rachel: I guess the only thing is really, in one sense, is because it's a record company release, there is a certain reserve about how much people can be critical of one another. Or the experience of making the record. It's not the right place to do it, because the release is a celebration of Too Much Pressure, not a condemnation of the record. And so there's a hell of a lot of conversations I had with members of The Selecter that I now intend to use for my book and not for the liner notes.

Just from a personal point of view, the joy that my name might be on something that is a kind of a semi-2 Tone release is unbelievable. 

Can I give a mystery to your readers for them to try and solve?

Duff Guide to Ska: Yes, please.

Daniel Rachel: On the second CD of the release is the single version of "On My Radio." When Roger Lomas mixed "On My Radio" and "Too Much Pressure," he did two versions of each song. They're almost identical, and then one of those then became the cut for the single. But the two versions I heard--I'm convinced--are not the version on the 2 Tone single that I own.

There's something slightly different on Pauline's vocal, on the effect. I can't work it out... It's real trainspotter stuff.

Duff Guide to Ska: I'm sure there is someone out there that will have the answer. Because the fans really know their stuff and are so deep in the minutiae. They will know.

Daniel Rachel: There's something of an effect that Roger put on Pauline's voice, where it goes "radio-oh-oh-oh-oh" and the effect is on the i-o of radio. And that part of the track is throwing me.

Duff Guide to Ska: I think what so perfectly encapsulates everything about The Selecter is how they would have these staged fights during their performance and people thought they were real. And I think there was real emotion behind the aggression that was expressed. And I totally agree with your assessment that, even though a lot of them were always at odds at each other, it really made for an amazing band.

Daniel Rachel: I remember writing about that in Walls Come Tumbling Down. The idea of presenting the theatrical idea of fighting is--it doesn't achieve anything, or it shocks the audience who are fighting to go "hold on, why have they all dropped their instruments, why are they laying into each other?" And at the same time, it became this excuse to pile into one another and throw a few punches.

Juliet De Vie is brilliant to talk to about that. She's the original manager of the band and co-ran the 2 Tone London office with Rick Rogers. Juliet was pulling her hair out trying to manage these eclectic, divisive people. She's great. I think her contribution to Walls Come Tumbling Down was brilliant.

Also, the other thing that's on this release is the "Cool Blue Lady" track. That, as you know, is on Celebrate the Bullet. From the evidence I've seen, that's played by the original members of The Selecter--unless the bass is Roger Lomas. It comes out of the same session as "The Whisper" and "Train to Skaville."

Duff Guide to Ska: Those were recorded when they got back from the U.S. tour, is that right?

Daniel Rachel: Yeah, in the summer of '80. 

Duff Guide to Ska: Then right after that is when Charlie and Desmond left to form The People. 

Daniel Rachel: Well, I don't I don't think they left to form it. I think they formed it as a result of not being part of The Selecter. It's a subtle choice of words there that has a separate meaning.

Duff Guide to Ska: Yeah, absolutely. OK, well, unless you have anything else to share...

Daniel Rachel: No, I mean, it's great fun to talk to somebody across the pond who's a 2 Tone fan. Wow, what a great thing to do.

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4 comments:

Heather Augustyn said...

Fantastic read, Stephen! Daniel's book The Walls Come Tumbling Down is outstanding--it is really a conglomeration of so many voices speaking, almost in conversation together, with Daniel as an invisible moderator, so there is an active energy that brings it to life. I have pre-ordered this box set and looking forward to hearing the new songs! What a find.

Steve from Moon said...

Heather,

Thanks! Daniel Rachel was fantastic to talk with and has done an incredible job documenting 2 Tone's story. And I completely agree with your assessment of "Walls Come Tumbling Down." It's brilliant--the best book about 2 Tone out there!

Best,

Steve

Unknown said...

Great interview, Stephen! Can't wait to hear this reissue.

Steve from Moon said...

Thank you!