Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Exclusive: Interview with Charley Anderson of The Selecter

Sadly missing from the 2-Tone celebrations taking place this summer across the UK are The Selecter. Like their compatriots in The Specials who had not played together in 28 years before taking the stage this past spring, the original line-up of The Selecter have also not played a show together since 1981.  At that time, the band made the decision to leave 2-Tone records and began recording sessions for its second album 'Celebrate The Bullet', which was a creative success but a commercial failure.

More than any other 2-Tone era band, The Selecter reflected the Black British experience. On the surface, this predominantly black band represented the black diaspora in the UK. On a much deeper level, The Selecter were true trail blazers.   They were the first Black British band (led by a black woman no less) to achieve a level of pop success and media visibility, that while short lived, succeeded in making them cultural icons who helped influenced a whole generation of bands that followed in their wake.

The history of The Selecter is really the history of Coventry as a hotbed of musical experimentation and inspiration. The early 70's in the UK midlands was a time when young working class white and black musicians finally came together to play music. Originally it was collaborations built around soul and R&B bands (e.g. The Ray King band which included many original members of The Specials and The Selecter), but eventually the sound of ska and reggae that Jamaican immigrants brought with them to the UK became the sound of places like Coventry, Birmingham and London. Amazingly, it was a youth center in Coventry that brought together many of the musicians who would later go on to start The Specials and The Selecter.

I've been reading Neville Staple's autobiography 'Original Rude Boy'. The book is a great read about The Specials, but more importantly, the first third of the book is really a history of the Black British experience through Staple's eyes. Other members of 2-Tone bands also have their own compelling stories to tell, including Charley Anderson who was the original bassist for The Selecter.

Anderson. was born in Negril, Jamaica, but moved to Coventry when he was 11 years old. It turns out his brother and Lynval Golding were best friends and often rehearsed downstairs in the Anderson garage. He gained his first stage and music experience by dee-jaying at sound systems in the Coventry area and then started a band with his brother and Golding. Though The Selecter’s success didn’t change his life financially, Charley has been quoted as saying “It was a great mental boost – like graduating with a triple Ph.D. on how to survive in music.” After touring with The Selecter, Charley focused on his own career. He started The People with his ex-Selecter band mate Desmond Brown and he toured Ireland with The Century Steel Band, and later moved to Mombasa, Kenya where he formed The Vikings Band. He now lives in Bogota, Colombia and has been in the UK recently to re-connect with some of his band mates and members of The Specials.

Anderson recently conducted an interview with me about his experiences moving to Coventry as a youth and the varied and creative musical path he has been on ever since. Much like Lynval Golding in The Specials, Anderson is quietly working behind the scenes to bring his band mates back together to honor The Selecter's legacy. He is hopeful he can pull it off. In the meantime enjoy the interview.

What was it like to move from Jamaica to England as an 11 year old boy?
It was a real shock to the system the first reaction was how cold it was then I got off the plane at Heathrow airport in those days we had to have a hair cut clean like a skinhead rude boy. It was a time when you get dressed to travel you had to look your best suit and tie wit drainpipe trousers the full works I forgot my hat on the plane as soon at the cold hit me in my clean head I knew felt a taste of what to, that was in the month of May, soon summer arrived, it was then a matter of getting used to the weather. The English houses were all connected together with some semi detached I wonder why they were all joined and how can people live in such a small space, at school everyone wanted to fight me because I was the new kid and didn’t understand the local slang, we were taught proper English in Jamaican schools pronounce words correct, and to have manners.

The teachers used a bamboo cane for punishment if you caused trouble during class, fighting was at least six of the best, you has a choice on your hands or your backside. I might have had one or two, but never graduated to six of the best.

How different was life for you and your family in England?
Getting up to a cold room was the hardest thing - constant cold feet, cold hands, at school I did pretty well but it took a few years to settle. My father was a professional shoe maker. He could not get a job so he settled for the Ford Factory and preached in the church. He played guitar and accordion. My mom was a seamstress. Miss Mary could design and make her own clothes and had many customers in Jamaica. She worked for GEC UK. We had a soda delivery business from home at weekends and we went round in a van selling to Jamaican customers. So I got to know a lot of the black families from an early age and one youth I met is still my friend up to this day.

What was it like growing up in Coventry in the 70's?
Discrimination in the work place - It was a terrible time trying to fit in. I was not black or white so many people saw me and didn’t realize I was from Jamaica until I open my mouth. I discovered Martin Luther King as the education system in the UK did not cater for black history so we were confused to find out the truth about what happened to the black nation. It was a real wake up call. I became radical, looking deep into myself to ask myself Who am I? What happened to me? I feel black but don’t look black… I became conscious of who I wanted to be and it had to be African Rastafarian.

I was adventurous and travelled to Blues Parties in different cities. We didn’t have night clubs in the UK only the major cities, so we organized a night club at a house in every city where black people lived and there were blues being played.

Did you grow up listening to ska and reggae music?
Ska music was the first music I can remember. In Negril, Jamaica where I was born we had the Fisherman’s Club on the beach where sound systems would come and set up the speakers and put the tanoy speakers high up in the tree and big sound boxes on the ground. We used to attend these and when all the out of town people had gone the locals took over. We kids had our own dancing competition to see who could do the best shuffle to the local sound master El Red. My favorite song was Bonanza - I didn’t know there was a TV series, it was the Ska Version! I spent my lunch money in the juke box just to hear Millie Small’s My Boy Lollipop and Sweet William. Byron Lee and the Dragonaires Ska band, Desmond Decker, The Skatalites, Justin Hinds, Owen Gray, Jimmy Cliff, Prince Buster, Laurel Aitkins, etc.

When did you discover that you could play the bass? What kind of bands did you play in growing up?
I was about 14 when a friend of my brother named Flash brought a bass to my house to show my brother who was thinking of getting into a band playing Saxophone. I had no idea I would play one bass day - it was out of reach as I had no money.

My friend Fritz had an Acoustic with 3 strings and when I was about 17 years old I could play Guilty by Hone Boy. Lloyd Minto the Bassist with Coventry-based Merrytones used to give me lessons before I bought my bass. He was the most gifted bassist but I wonder up to this day why he didn’t peruse music as a career. I guess it was so tough in those days to make a living as a professional musician. In Chapter 5 we played Bob Marley Santana Booker T and the MG rock and roll Ska.

Charlie Aitch from Gloucester arrived in Coventry with Lynval where they were living and playing some music. They came to Coventry to join up with local music guru Ray King. I went on the road mixing for a soul band True Expression, sang and sometimes played bass and also learned to play the rhythm pans with the Tropical Harmony steel band at week end they always have a gig and I was never out of work. Lynval ended up with Jerry Dammers in the Automatics (The pre Specials) Aitch and I formed Hard Top 22 consisting of the members who would eventually become the Selecter: Gaps, Aitch, Desmond, Komie Amanor, and I.

How did you meet Lynval Golding?
Lynval played guitar along with my brother Winston Anderson (sax), Lloyd Minto (bass) Desmond Brown (organ), Horace Chambers (vocals), Tony Thomas (sax), Colbert Campbell (drums) - The Merrytones. The band rehearsed in Miss Mary’s garage under the house. We all lived in the same area and walked many nights from town to home or from parties. I was the young kid that hangs around with the big boys. I was taller than most so I could get into night clubs from when I was 15, and I travelled in the back of the van to all their gigs no matter where, and I was like part of the equipment. Lynval and I became friends from those days. He is more like a brother like all the Merrytones. I still have a deep fond feeling for all of them, as they are like my first music masters.

The seeds of The Selecter were sown along time before the band started. Tell me about the Holyhead youth facility in Coventry City center?
The Holyhead was sponsored by the local education authority through the Race Relations council. Paul Stephenson formed the West Indian Youth Council. I became aware of this while at College doing a Electrical Engineer Apprenticeship. I met Cedric Bogle who invited me to the Centre, where I was shocked to see the West Indian youth only had use of the facility twice a week for two hour sessions. I asked what was under the trap door, it was a rat infested cellar used to store beer. But I recognized the potential straight away.

I went to the city meeting with Courtney Griffiths (now a QC) and pleaded our case with the Community relations committee. They granted us access to the basement and gave us 25 Pounds to help paint the place out. Then we started Jah Baddis Sound System with Neville Staples and ET Rockers (Now on tour with the Specials).

Furthermore, the Centre saved a lot of us from going to jail. At the time the boys used to hang out outside Burton tailoring in town waiting for their girlfriends to finish work. This became a big problem for the police, because the shop owners didn’t want to see young black boys loitering outside the shop chatting up the girls. So we addressed this to the Chief of Police through the Youth Council, and the wise chief brought the officers who we were complaining against in to the club for a meeting. We had a chance to pinpoint all the problems, and the chief gave us funds to purchase a table tennis table. That at the time was a revolutionary move for the city police as at last they had some communication with the young blacks. We went so far as to appoint the police liaison officer - sergeant John Jackson - to be chairman of the youth Centre, and that meant maximum protection.

Now we had a place of our own to rehearse and in the meantime Lynval and all the Merrytones left Coventry for bigger opportunities in London. Desmond and I used to hang out a lot and he said one day "Charley, go buy a bass guitar. I need you to play with me on the piano; we can have a jam session at your apartment". As soon as we could play a few songs I invited Gaps Hendrickson who was a good shuffle dancer in the Ska days and played guitar. He also sang but was a very shy vocalist. With a bit of a push he was up for the challenge. One night Silverton Hutchinson (original drummer with the Specials AKA Coventry Automatic) came to visit us in the basement. He had never played drums seriously before but he offered to fill in as we didn’t have a drummer. A drum set was at his house from some guys he was rehearsing with (he was a vocalist at the time) and he went for the drums and had the best jam of his life. The next day he bought a new Hayman set and Chapter 5 was born with Joy Evering on Vocals (Now in Canada).

Silverton lived on the same street as Neol Davis and suggested we invite him to play lead guitar over reggae music. He rehearsed with us in the cellar a few times and also performed two gigs with Chapter 5 (the Wood End Festival- the first reggae festival in Coventry - and the Santa Rosa Reggae Club in Birmingham). It was almost a disaster at the reggae club - Neol's guitar was so loud, people were not used to hearing lead guitar on reggae, we nearly got canned off the stage.

You have been quoted as saying playing in The Selecter was "..a great mental boost – like graduating with a triple Ph.D. on how to survive in music.” What did you learn from the experience?
I learned about accountancy, marketing and promotion, radio plays and plugging, publishing, and understanding contracts…you know, the business side of music.

Tell me about The People, the band you started with your ex-Selecter band mate Desmond Brown. Why did you leave The Selecter?
The People was formed after I left The Selecter. In the beginning it was just me, Desmond and Silverton Hutchinson. Then Chris Christie joined us. We supported the Specials and did quite a few gigs around London. But Desmond was having psychological problems so the bad was dismantled after we finished our one single, “Sons and Daughters” and “Musical Man”, produced by Lynval Golding and Dave Jordan. With regards to my leaving The Selecter, I refused to play on “Celebrate the Bullet”. I didn’t think it was the right direction for the band and the rest is history. We all know John Lennon was shot two days before the album was released. Maybe I had a premonition.

What brought you to Mombasa, Kenya where you formed The Vikings Band?
One day I met Ranjit Sondhi at Maria Guinness’ home, she was married to Denny Cordell (producer of Whiter Shade of Pale). Ranjit invited me to come down to Mombasa to organize and produce the Vikings Band and to serve as entertainment manager at his father’s hotels. This path led to me eventually travelling to south Sudan with Unicef and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, which were filming a documentary by Olle Gjerstadt on the plight of the people affected by war, violence and displacement. Through this experience I was introduced to humanitarian work and I have been interested and active in this ever since. On my return to Mombasa the only way I could process what I saw and felt was by putting it all down on music. And for this I am eternally grateful to my Vikings friends, Bruno DaSilva, Bernard Putchinyen, Otis Mzererah Ngetsa, and Reno Roho who supported me in what I consider to be my greatest work, the Sudan Project, Journey to Akot.

What was The Century Steel Band? Did you live in Ireland at the time?
I sang with the Century Steel Band in the ‘70s in the UK. I was interested in the sound, as the steel pan is a relatively new instrument if you consider the history of music. When I joined they were exclusively using steel pans, with bass, tenor, alto, guitar and double second tenor pans. Bass pans could play four notes. The other pans would have about sixteen notes, and the lead pan could play up to 36 individual notes. I figured out a way to mike up the steel drums. At the time they were using six full drums just for bass. We ended up replacing these drums with an electric bass, and then we experimented with hanging the pans on boxes to get a full acoustic sound. After The Selecter and The People, I joined them in North Hampton to record their first recording (1982). Later on we added keyboard, sax and guitar on studio recordings to create a fusion with the Caribbean steel drum sound. The result was very highly regarded. It was unique and was one of Denny Cordell’s favorite sounds. We collaborated in Dublin on overdubs on Toots and the Maytels album tracks and we were in the process of producing an album for the Century Steel Band when sadly, Denny passed away.

Tell me about the Ghetto Child project you are working on? How has living in Latin America influenced your world view?
Ghetto Child supports the work the World Food Programme is doing to eradicate child malnutrition in Latin America and the Caribbean. The song “Ghetto Child” was inspired by my watching young street kids steal car parts of people’s cars and then try to sell them back to them the next day. It brought home to me the fight they go through every day just to survive and somehow I wanted to make a tribute to them, to their determination, and also to raise awareness.

You can download the single on www.digstation.com/charleyanderson

Living in Bogota is like living in a European city in Latin America. The cultural life is very rich and there is a lot going on. I have found tremendous support from Colombian friends and have linked up with such bands as the Fabulous Cadillacs (Los Fabulosos Cadillacs) from Argentina, who were inspired by TwoTone! It is easy to work in Bogota because although you are in a city of 8 million people, there are pockets of like-minded people who are genuinely interested and wanting to collaborate. On the other hand, parts of Colombia are still very close to Africa, where the people such as the Arawaks are struggling to preserve their language, music and culture, which is extremely rich and in many cases undocumented. This for me was amazing as a Jamaican, to see ancestors of the original inhabitants of our island here in Colombia.

I hope to link up with some of these indigenous groups and create some music with them. I use Ghetto Child to highlight existing social project like the Theodora Centre for learning and personal development for young women and men run by the Dr Rev Margaret Fowler, this is a special project to me its run by the church in Negril where I remember singing for the first time in front of people.

Below is a video of Charley and members of The Selecter and other Coventry-based musicians rehearsing 'Ghetto Child' for the 'Love Music, Hate Racism" show in April:

This year marks the 30th anniversary of The Selecter. Is there a reunion in the works? Do you and your band mates have any plans to perform this year?
We had four Selecter members on stage in April in Coventry with my production of Charley Anderson and Friends show, we have 5 members of the original band who can perform, Desmond Brown has not played organ for long time and I don’t think he would come back.

Neol Davis Gaps Hendrickson Charlie Aitch, fans will get a chance to hear the Selecter live version our original song on the B side of The Specials Gangsters this was the original 2Tone records first release.

The Selecter guitarist Neol Davis was one the highlight of the night along with the legendary Carlos Garnett on sax. We performed The Selecter, Danger, Too Much Pressure, and James Bond at the end of the show a total surprise the fans went crazy.

We are currently planning more shows with the line up from the Coventry City show, with Selecter X Steel Pulse members for later on this year managed by Global507 planned for late 2009 early 2010 in Latin America, also mixing the sound tracks for the live DVD soon to release

Below is a short promo video that Charley produced about his musical life and his new single 'Ghetto Child':

You can purchase the 'Ghetto Child' CD at CD Baby.

You can read more about Charley at his MySpace Web site.


Anonymous said...


Toni Tye said...

Hi Marco
View my back stage photos from Charlie Anderson & Select Special friend’s Cov gig at:
Will add Madstock pics soon!
Toni Tye