TOO MUCH PRESSURE
2021 SLEEVE NOTES AND TRACK LISTING
By Daniel Rachel
Since the 1950s, Coventry is a city that welcomed workers and their families from the Caribbean Islands to bolster the economy. While adults worked in factories and similar low-paid jobs their children mixed in schools and youth clubs: white kids were introduced to the sounds of Jamaican ska; and black kids the pop explosion of The Beatles, The Who and The Kinks. Overtime, bands were formed and a new hybrid of music emerged combing punk, soul, rock and reggae and with it the birth of a new British sound: 2 Tone.
In 1972, a twenty year old white fan of blues music, Neol Davies, was invited to a jam session at the Holyhead Youth Centre, with future Selecter members Charles ‘Aitch’ Bembridge, Desmond Brown and Charlie Anderson. ‘Neol came along and played some lead guitar,’ Charley told Sounds in January 1980. ‘I thought it was great, like Hendrix coming in over the top of reggae.’ ‘I was twenty-one,’ Neol remembers, ‘I didn’t know how to play reggae but from Desmond cajoling me about my rhythm enabled me to become an authentic player. Nobody could play reggae organ better than him and he mixed the rock flavour in seamlessly.’
Over the ensuing years, an inter-changing set of musicians intermingled through a variety of bands including Chapter 5, Pharaoh’s Kingdom, Earthbound, Nite Train and Hard Top 22. Asked in September, 1979, by NME, how The Selecter was formed, Desmond cited, ‘Music, schooldays, friendship, fighting in the same gang and sharing the same sort of experience…I’ve known Charley since I was 15,’ he added. ‘Me, him and Lynval from The Specials used to play in a soul and a reggae band, but we didn’t like the heavy reggae too much; we were more into the rhythm and the fun.’
In 1977, as the influence of punk spread nationwide, Neol Davies and drummer John ‘Brad’ Bradbury (later of The Specials) recorded an instrumental track called ‘The Kingston Affair’. ‘The riff was reference to a 1930s dance band track that I heard on a TV play,’ Neol reveals, ‘I had no idea what it was but I was dabbling around on the guitar and came up with the idea. It’s almost Cole Porter’s “Begin The Beguine”.’ Prouder, Roger Lomas, picks up the story: ‘Neol knocked on my door and said, “I’ve come up with this great idea for a new song.” I had a little four-track studio in the garden of my house and when I heard it, I thought, “He’s got something here.”’
Recorded over several weeks, ‘The Kingston Affair’ featured a trombone solo – played by a local newsagent owner, Barry Thomas – and a percussion track combining tambourine and two bits of sandpaper rubbed together. Credited to ‘The Selecters’ – a name taken by Neol from the switch on a hi-fi amp – an acetate of the track was cut and played by DJs in clubs around Coventry. Boyed by the reaction, Neol and Brad formed The Transposed Men with Desmond Brown on keyboards, Kevin Harrison on guitar and bassist Steve Wynne (later of The Swinging Cats). The band introduced many songs that would later appear on Too Much Pressure, including On My Radio’, ‘Out On The Streets’ and ‘Street Feeling’. ‘We had a rock/reggae feel,’ says Neol, ‘which was very similar to the later Specials sound after Brad joined them.’
In May 1978, another local group The Coventry Automatics toured with The Clash. Performing to volatile audiences, the Automatics’ leader, Jerry Dammers, witnessed a growing antagonism between tribal youth groups and formulated the idea of 2 Tone: as an anti-racist movement to unite divided factions. In January 1979, the newly named’ Specials’ recorded their debut single, ‘Gangsters’ and approached Neol Davies with the idea of a double-sided independent single. ‘The Kingston Affair’ was embellished with an overdubbed rhythm ‘ska’ guitar, and retitled ‘The Selecter’ and on 28 July, 1979 the inaugural 2 Tone single entered the national charts; peaking at No. 6 and selling in excess of 250,000 copies.
A meeting was hastily organised at Charley Anderson’s house where The Specials proposed the creation of a group called – ‘The Selecter’ – to join forces and launch 2 Tone as a co-operative. ‘They had it all sussed out,’ recalls Arthur ‘Gaps’ Hendrickson. ‘I was thinking, “Can we really pull this off?”’ ‘Everyone who was in the room would go on to be in The Selecter,’ says Pauline Black, ‘Neol played “The Selecter” and it was like, ‘Woah! That’s amazing.’ On 2 July, the newly formed group performed their debut gig in Worcester opening with a cover of The Upsetters instrumental track ‘Soulful 1’. Travelling to gigs in a rusty green Bedford van, The Selecter soon had the music press in raptures. ‘They create a truly modern sound blending ska, dub and rock in a vital mix,’ Jack Bowers regaled in Record Mirror, ‘The stage crackles with energy; providing a show I haven’t seen equalled in many moons.’ A fortnight later, The Selecter joined a triple bill alongside Madness and The Specials, at the Electric Ballroom, Camden. ‘The Selecter conspire to make dancing the only way to walk,’ wrote Giovanni Dadomo in Sounds. ‘The music treads with an exhilarating ease forcing even the weariest limbs into action.’
In August, The Selecter recorded their debut single at Horizon Studios. ‘I saw them supporting The Ruts,’ recalls producer Roger Loams,’ and “On My Radio” jumped out as the obvious choice. But when we booked into the studio I didn’t have a clue what it was called. They played all their songs and I was thinking, ‘Am I going mad? They haven’t played it.’ Somebody said, “Well, there’s ‘On My Radio’ but it’s like a bloody Eurovision Contest song.” They played it and I said, “That’s the one!” ‘Nobody spotted it as a standout track,’ Neol agrees. ‘There was a feeling it was a bit too poppy.’
When ‘On My Radio’ was released on 28 September – backed by ‘Too Much Pressure’ – HMV Oxford Street reported an unprecedented demand necessitating a raid on Chrysalis headquarters for extra stock. ‘Catchy, infectious, timely ska,’ Jon Savage raved in Melody Maker, ‘tricksier than either The Specials or Madness. If they now do a good Top of the Pops performance, the next dance craze, if not the world, is theirs.’
As 2 Tone mania swept the country, The Selecter, Madness and The Specials joined forces to tour the country. On 29 November, the package tour arrived in Coventry where fans queued for over four hours to welcome home The Selelcter and The Specials. ‘We couldn’t believe it,’ Gaps reminisces. ‘It was an amazing night.’ ‘It was like, “We are Coventry”,’ drummer Aitch agrees. ‘People came out looking the part, feeling the part and being the part.’ Opening the night, The Selecter’s set was full of unbridled energy. ‘There’s never been a British band like them,’ journalist Paul Rambali wrote, ‘Not that they reject all that has gone before or anything, it’s just that no-one’s ever arrived at their combination.’ Smash Hits was equally enamoured. ‘They deliver steam locomotive bluebeat,’ Mark Ellen wrote, ‘jangling with angular chords, rattling with percussion and fronted by Gaps and the frenetic, wide-eyed Pauline who belt around like a couple of yo-yos wired to the mains.’
Having recorded a coveted John Peel session prior to the tour, The Selecter ended the year recording their debut album Too Much Pressure. ‘The Selelcter live was unbelievable,’ says producer Errol Ross, ‘I thought, “If we can capture the energy in the studio we’ll be onto something good.” The was so strong.’ ‘I didn’t know Errol,’ says Aitch. ‘Charley brought him in. We were all thinking, “Who is this guy?”’ Recorded in less than harmonious circumstances the album was recorded over three weeks between December and January 1980. ‘At moments everybody wanted to kill each other,’ Errol explains, ‘but I had to block that all out. Aitch was a very good, tight drummer. Pauline had an incredible voice. Gaps was a reserved guy but he knew what he had to do. Compton kept steady skank rhythm going. Desmond played the Hammond organ and Charley was a good bass player. None of them were the greatest musicians but all the raw energy and anger gave the music an edge.’ ‘Everybody was quietly excited,’ says Gaps. ‘That’s what kept it together.’
The iconic front cover of Too Much Pressure originated from a sketch drawn by Charley Anderson of a man holding his hands to his head against a wall. To David Story [Chrysalis art department] the image reminded him of an advert for Oldham Gold Seal batteries from the textbook The Typography Of Press Advertisement, published in 1956, which depicted a frustrated motorist leaning against a wall gripping a defunct starting-handle. ‘We had a model to assume the same pose but he couldn’t get it,’ Neol remembers. ‘A friend of ours, Steve Eaton said, “Let me have a go,” and that became the famous shot.’ On the reverse there was a live shot from Dingwalls taken at soundcheck on New Year’s Eve. ‘It was a poor representation of the band,’ Gaps gripes. ‘It was too dark and Aitch’s head looked like it was stuck on. I was singing in front of a mic stand and I had a microphone in my hand!’
Too Much Pressure was released on 8 February, 1980 to five star reviews. ‘Just watch the spirits dance and see the resistance melt away,’ Paul Du Noyer marvelled in Sounds. ‘What’s so attractive is the width and crispness of the sound,’ Vivien Goldman, raved in Melody Maker. ‘The way that every single individual’s part is distinct and separable, easily picked out and yet blended essentially into the whole. A touch of Dread, some equally natty baldheads, a white boy, plus the most militant black woman singer in the land.’
A new entry at No. 5, Too Much Pressure spent thirteen weeks on the national chart, selling over 300,000 copies, as The Selelcter embarked on a thirty-date headline tour of the UK. Further adulation from the press followed: ‘Watching the band is like watching a hornet’s nest after you’ve thrown rocks at it,’ Garry Bushell gushed in Sounds. ‘They’re up and down, in and out, jiving and dancing all over the shop.’ Reviewing the show at the Hammersmith Palais, Melody Maker was similarly enthused. ‘Pauline Black’s natural effervescence puts her well above other 2 Tone vocalists,’ Mark Williams wrote. ‘The Selecter satisfy most every musical craving, throwing in a little social commentary as a bonus. They’re yet to let us down.’
After further hits with ‘Three Minute Hero’ and ‘Missing Words’, The Selecter returned to Horizon to record their fourth single. ‘”The Whisper” was an older song,’ Neol explains. ‘It was like a New Orleans blues riff and the chorus had a little twist in the rhythm.’ ‘From a drumming point of view,’ Aitch adds, ‘it had a rock ’n’ roll vibe but I added a tango off-beat to the verse. When we did it on Top of the Pops I’d set the cymbals right in my face. I watched it on TV and thought, “Oh shit!”
‘It was the last track we did as the original line-up,’ Neol says ruefully, ‘I think what we did was amazing. It was a very intense experience but what we accomplished in that short time is extraordinary.
- Three Minute Hero
‘It just occurred to me we want to be heroes; that’s a great title for a song. I wanted to write songs that people could identify with; something deeply meaningful that didn’t appear too personal or political. Commie played the solo.’ – Neol Davies.
Original released date: January, 1980. Highest chart position: No. 16.
‘Living in the black community it was like everyday things are getting worse. Nothing was happening.’ – Charles ‘Aitch’ Bembridge
‘The lyrics were political: time so hard, dog and all a look work even a dog was looking for work.’ – Arthur ‘Gaps’ Hendrickson
Originally recorded in 1972 as ‘Time Hard’ by The Pioneers
- They Make Me Mad
‘I wrote it with Lawton Brown, a politics student at Warwick University, and The Selecter laid the rhythmic and musical basis for it to come alive. Suddenly I was singing in an uninhibited manner, almost shouting the chorus. It was a raw, strident tone, not at all like the ladylike folksy vocals that I has been delivering hitherto.’ – Pauline Black, Black By Design
‘It was quite skeletal; we had to work quite hard to make it work. Commie had a lot to do with the arrangement.’ – Neol Davies
- Missing Words
‘The Selecter asked me to remix the single version. I changed the arrangement: to bring the chorus in after the first verse; took a bridge out; and added an extra chorus at the end. I had to do several mixes, chops bits up and then splice parts together with a razor blade.’ – Roger Lomas
Original release date: April, 1980 backed by a live version of ‘Carry Go Bring Come’ recorded at Tiffany’s on 29 November, 1979. Highest chart position: No. 23
‘Desmond came up with the idea and credited it to The Selecter because everybody put a part to it.’ – Errol Ross.
‘The opening riff came about at a rehearsal, ‘Why don’t we do a siren noise? It’s only two notes da du, da du. It was simple and inspired.’ – Neol Davies
- Street Feeling
‘It was about male identity: a very close friend of mine developed a taste for alcohol and fighting and there was a bunch of thugs who used to see him as the number one. He came to my flat late one night drunk and bruised from a fight my friend here’s covered in pain, got to get it all out tonight like a flame so bright.’ – Neol Davies
- My Collie (Not A Dog)
‘Charley and I wrote the words at his house when we were stoned to the melody of “My Boy Lollipop”. There were a lot of songs around about legalising cannabis. At the end of the song, Pauline says, ‘Roll another one!’ It was to get away from the serious side of what we were about, like a quirky Prince Buster song. We did takes of our voices over and over again and it sounded like a choir so we said, ‘Let’s call ourselves “The Hillfields Boys Choir”‘- Arthur ‘Gaps’ Hendrickson
‘The groups finest recorded two minutes 45 seconds so far.’ – Paul Du Noyer, NME
- Too Much Pressure
‘It was a snapshot of my life: the car had failed the MOT; my wife and I were struggling and I was angry and frustrated. I sat at my work desk fuming: “It’s this…this…it’s just too much fuckin’ pressure…hang on… that’s a good phrase.” I hastily wrote a melody line down on company headed notepaper and finished it fifteen minutes.’ – Neol Davies
‘I suggested the intro from “Beat Down Babylon” by Junior Byles. I said, “Let’s take that and rock it up.”’ – Charles ‘Aitch’ Bembridge.
Original released as the B-side of ‘On My Radio’ date: October 1979. Highest chart position: No. 8
‘Our backgrounds would say who brought those songs in. It was to kick back out from the pressures of society.’ – Charles ‘Aitch’ Bembridge.
Originally recorded by Owen Gray, Leon Silveras & the Drumbago All Stars in 1962
- Out On The Streets
‘Whites lines and amber lighting tend to seduce me was a reference to when we used to drive around trying to find somewhere to drink after the pubs had closed let’s go somewhere, I don’t know where, lets go somewhere exciting. The ring road had amber street lighting and the white lines was the road markings. Some people thought it was about cocaine.’ – Neol Davies
‘The instrumental section moved from ska to a disco vibe. Me and Charley just went into that. We were fusing different cultures and music.’ – Charles ‘Aitch’ Bembridge
- Carry Go Bring Come
‘Rico was a great addition to the sound. It was great to see a man of his age among twenty year olds. It was like your father and son in the same band.’ – Errol Ross
‘Standing next to Rico was a dream come true. To find myself in the studio counting him in for his solo was astonishing. I couldn’t believe it was happening.’ – Neol Davies
Originally recorded by Justin Hinds and The Dominoes in 1963
- Black And Blue
‘”Black And Blue” summed up my state of mind at the time: feeling so angry, minutes tick by, stuck in one room, living a lie. I was honoured when Rico provided a beautiful blusey solo that captured the melancholic quality of this personal lament.’ – Pauline Black, Black By Design
- James Bond
‘Gaps came up with some great toasting lines James Bond the killer…are you ready to die.’- Neol Davies
Originally adapted by Roland Alphonso and the Studio 1 Orchestra in 1965 from ‘The James Bond Theme’ written by Monty Norman
©Daniel Rachel 2021