One of the key bands of the U.K. ska revival of the late '70s and early '80s, the Selecter were also one of the few racially and sexually integrated acts on the scene, and vocalist Pauline Black often tackled sexism along with racism and the other social ills focused upon by groups that were part of the 2-Tone movement. The Selecter originally began as a studio project: when the Specials released their debut single, "Gangsters," in 1979, they needed a second song for a B-side, and they decided to use a track that Specials drummer John Bradbury had previously recorded with guitarist Neol Davies and trombone player Barry Jones in 1977; the tune, "Kingston Affair," was credited to the Selecter. When "Gangsters" became a hit and "Kingston Affair" began gaining its share of attention, Davies opted to assemble a proper band using the name. Recruiting his friends Charley Anderson on bass and Desmond Brown on keyboards, Davies filled out the lineup with guitarist Compton Amanor, Charley "H" Bembridge on drums, and vocalist Arthur "Gaps" Hendrickson; when Davies met Pauline Black, he promptly gave her an audition, and she was added to the lineup as lead singer.
The Selecter were soon added to the 2-Tone Records roster, and scaled the U.K. singles charts with the singles "Three Minute Hero," "On My Radio," and "Missing Words." The Selecter's debut album, Too Much Pressure, was released in early 1980, and rose to number five on the U.K. album chart, eventually receiving a gold record. At the peak of their success, the Selecter were filmed on tour for Dance Craze, 2-Tone's documentary about the British ska revival, but the first proper lineup began to crumble when Charley Anderson and Desmond Brown left to form their own band, the People. With the addition of keyboard player James Mackie and Adam Williams on bass, the Selecter began work on their second album, but 1981's Celebrate the Bullet was welcomed with tepid reviews and poor sales, and Black left to pursue a solo career, with the band soon breaking up after a new vocalist didn't work out.
Black worked in music and as an actress before the enduring popularity of the 2-Tone sound led her to assemble a new lineup of the Selecter with Davies in 1991. The new Selecter released an album, 1992's Out on the Streets, but not long after its release, Davies had left the group, and "Gaps" Hendrickson came aboard in 1993, in time to help cut 1994's The Happy Album. In 1997, No Doubt, serious fans of the 2-Tone era, invited the Selecter to open their American tour, and a steady stream of live and studio releases appeared from the group, most featuring Black and a rotating cast of musicians. In 2006, Black left the Selecter, and for a while Davies toured with his own edition of the group. Black and Hendrickson began performing again as the Selecter in 2010, and in 2015 they released a new album, Subculture, a commanding fusion of reggae and ska that rose to number five on the U.K. indie album chart. ~ Mark Deming