Black By Design

Pauline Black

Serpent's Tail
ISBN: 9781846687907
Released: 2012-04-07

Black By Design
Black By Design
Black By Design
Black By Design

Pauline Black had one of the most distinctive voices and personalities ever to grace the chequered label and her memoirs certainly follow suit. Never one to be afraid to speak out in the past, this book certainly pulls no punches. From a working class upbringing by her adoptive parents in Romford, to an emotional reunion with her birth mother in Australia, this certainly is a story that takes some telling.

There are some truly shocking tales of subtle and none too subtle racism from her immediate and extended white adoptive family. As uncomfortable as these are to read, they're nothing compared to the truly harrowing account of the sexual abuse by a neighbour which Pauline endured as a child. Understandably, this does not make for easy reading, but Pauline deserves full credit and support for taking the brave step of making this public.

Being black in a white family lead to some confused times during Pauline's childhood which only intensified as she got older. In her teenage years Pauline became aware of the civil rights movement in the United States and she documents well her eagerness to establish her own black identity, although her venture into the Black Panther Party took on almost comical proportions. Unable to find a black beret she had to make do with her navy blue school beret (the school badge was hidden by wearing it back to front) and membership of her branch never exceeded one: herself.

There are a few harsh words for some of her former label mates, most notably Jerry Dammers and Madness. Her issues with Dammers appear to be more personal than professional, but her branding of Madness as 'cowards' for 'jumping ship', as she puts it, from the 2 Tone Tour in the face of an ever growing Far Right presence at gigs is not only unfair but factually untrue. It is well documented that by the time the 2 Tone Tour kicked off Madness were already signed to Stiff Records who had booked the band on a US tour to commence mid November '79. As a result Madness left the tour with Dexy's Midnight Runners filling the slot for the remaining dates. This change in line up was advertised in the music press at the time and clearly was not a last minute decision.

Pauline also offers some new revelations about The Selecter's time with 2 Tone. Interestingly she feels that it was a mistake to release Too Much Pressure as a double A side with On My Radio, stating that releasing it as a single in it's own right would not only have showcased Gaps Hendricskon's vocal role within the band, but would have made better commercial sense. She also states that tensions and divisions within the band began as far back as the recording of the debut album. After all these years Pauline still feels disappointed by the sound of 'Too Much Pressure', although she rightly feels proud of the songs themselves. Producer, Errol Ross, takes the blame and also feels the sharp edge of Pauline's tongue as she brands him, and to quote directly, 'a complete wanker'. As interesting as her account of her time with 2 Tone is, it would have been of benefit to have some more light shone on the reasons for her departure from the label. Instead, the narrative of the book goes straight from the remix of Missing Words into the recording of The Whipser without a single mention of the well-publicised split from 2 Tone.

More tales of the travelling mad house that was the aforementioned 2 Tone Tour are also included which will keep readers both amazed and amused in equal measures. We are also reminded, not that it was needed, that while Jamaica's finest musical export may have inspired the tour, a certain powdered export from Columbia helped fuel it.

Pauline states that while the band's follow up album, 'Celebrate the Bullet' is a worthy collection, line-up and image changes, along with changing musical trends, meant the band's days were numbered and a split was inevitable. From here the book documents her post-Selecter career in great detail. Moves to London and Liverpool coupled with a solo career and collaborations with ex-Specials in the shape of 'Sunday Best' failed to make an impact, but her move into acting and TV presenting met with more success. Her stage work saw her portray roles such as Cleopatra and Billy Holliday while her TV work spanned the spectrum from presenting the hard hitting Black on Black series to kids TV show Hold Tight along side Spit the Dog. Later years would see her combine her acting roles with sporadic performances with a new look Selecter.

The book concludes with a rather emotional re-union with her adoptive mother in Australia. Some amateur detective work resulted in Pauline uncovering her birth parents. Unfortunately her father, a Nigerian Prince is no longer alive, but her mother now lives in Australia with a new family and is a Jehovah's Witness, something which Pauline freely admits does not sit well with her own beliefs.