Latin Quarter - Pop and Politics

For a long time this basic principle was regarded as incompatible. And yet socially and politically committed musicians like Billy Bragg and bands like the "Redskins" and the "Style Council" are reaching tens of thousands of listeners in the U.K. and they have for a long time distanced themselves from the musical ghetto of the hippies, political-activists and socialworkers. Politics and social commitment has gained popularity in pop-music which reaches a great deal of listeners. But in contrast to bands like the "Style Council" or the "Redskins" who can only get together a small audience on the continent "Latin Quarter" sets out to draw Europe`s attention all at once. Soon after the release of their second single "Radio Afrika" they were described in England as one of the best "Newcomers of 1985"! A few weeks ago their first album was released. Its title is: "Modern Times".

"To be referred as a "newcomer" is a little confusing, says Steve Skaith, guitar player and responsible for the musical parts of their songs. Some four years ago we started to play the music to the lyrics of Mike (Jones). Back then his lyrics were radical and political and no music label was interested in them. Only because of this we decided to form a group, be our own publisher and have our own label."

Mike Jones himself doesn`t play with Latin Quarter, but he writes the lyrics to the songs. The former technical school teacher from Liverpool has already been writing political songs for eight years and has been a friend of Steve Skaith`s since grammar school.

"Since my high-school years I was an active member of many left-wing organisations. It didn`t take me long to realize that not too much can be achieved through the work in political groups. So I started writing lyrics to pop-songs, because through music I felt I have a possibility to reach a larger audience".

Steve Skaith soon made a name of himself in London as a good songwriter and it was also him who got together the musicians of "Latin Quarter" when all music publishers and record companys entrusted Mike`s lyrics to the paper bin.

Steve: "From the outset we tried to avoid to be put in the "politics-rock box" because there is no escape once you are put in this drawer. Most of these rock bands get into a musical "ghetto" and in the end they are reaching only those people, who are already committed anyways. It was and will be our goal for the future to reach thousands with good relevant pop music."

Their album "Modern Times" named after the movie by Charles Chaplin with the same title clearly underlines this. Synthesizer Pop, Funk, Reggae, Rock - nearly every song has a different style. The whole album is practically a collection of all conceivable varieties of modern pop music.

Mike:"I highly respect songwriters like Paul Weller or Billy Bragg. They have some impact on the people`s minds, who listen to them or sees them. But they are too stubborn and unemotional in their way to interest people who couldn`t care less for what is happening in the world around them. Basically the pre-conditions are good: unemployment has never been this high before and the income of large parts of the population has never been as low as today..."

Whoever considers Latin Quarter to be old-time hippies hungry for a revolution is wrong. No propaganda, but they rather want to comment on situations and put their finger on the sore spots of our social lives.

"Sadness and anger are feelings that have made pop music worth listening to for decades." says Steve Skaith, "Whether the song is about an unhappy love or racism in South Africa as in "Radio Africa".

He himself likes the music of Alison Moyet and Paul Young above all. In the future Latin Quarter will be good for many musical surprises. Steve Jeffries played together with Howard Jones, drummer Rikki Stevens with Linton Kwesi Johnson or Annabel Lamb and Carole Douet and Yona Dunstord gained their first experiences in the much acclaimed female vocal trio "Soft Touch".

"Nowadays it is very difficult to mix pop and political lyrics", Mike Jones reflects. "But I have great conficence in Steve. He has a good nose for current sounds. Who knows, perhaps soon we will sound like a mixture between Bruce Springsteen and the Eurythmics..."

THOMAS BORK; ROCKSPEZIAL 1985