Selecter - Black By Design: A 2 Tone Memoir

  by Fiona Hutchings

published: 28 / 8 / 2011

Selecter - Black By Design: A 2 Tone Memoir

Fiona Hutchinhs finds Selecter frontwoman Pauline Black has lost none of her uncompromising edge in her brutally, but refreshingly honest autobiography, 'Black By Design'


'Rolling Stone' crowned the Selecter's lead singer Pauline Black "the best voice that ever graced 2-Tone." I don't know if I 100% endorse their opinion but I do hold she is the undisputed Queen of Ska. Black was a virtual lone female and black voice in a movement dominated and remembered mostly for its male and white voices. 'Black By Design' is a memoir that spans Black's early adoption by a white Romford based family, her success with the Selecter, the misbehaviour (both others and her own) that touring brought and the always intriguing what happened next. As well as providing a full and frank appraisal of the rapid rise and fall of the Selecter, Black also gives us a very personal social history lesson of the racial tensions alive and well in England from the 1950s onwards, and more importantly the reality those tensions and widely accepted bigotry had in shaping her life. Her story takes in radiography, skanking, American politics, theatre, dynasty and many more pit stops on the way. Black's prose is pithy and uncompromising to an almost uncomfortable level. She never shies away from giving you her full and frank opinion on matters ranging from the treatment she received as a lone black face in a white world to the behaviour of her band mates. I expected spike and punch but there is also very real sense of an anger that has not mellowed with age. It shouldn't have surprised me. Pauline Black has a lot to be angry about. This is not a memoir that skates over the difficult patches and relationships. You finish it with a pretty clear idea of what Pauline Black thinks about a lot of people and a lot of events. It is a very welcome change indeed to the multitude of sanitised autobiographies - the ones where detail and opinion have been smudged and refined so far that you are left with the equivalent of a 300 page 'Heat' interview. Absorbing and informative, 'Black By Design' is a book with appeal beyond the ranks of the rude girls and boys.

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