Latin Lesson - Smash Hits
Latin Quarter reckon that they're a good British pop group. So what's so unusual about that, you ask. Under normal circumstances, nothing. Yet ever since their single 'Radio Africa' first came out they've been categorised as an awfully serious political pop band. But as Pat Thomas found out from guitarist Steve Skaith, Latin Quarter is really two bands in one.
"We don't regard ourselves as a dogmatic political band," sighs Steve Skaith, guitarist, composer, co-founder and driving force behind Latin Quarter. "Obviously I care - I'd like to think that everybody does. But we're not on any crusade. We want our music to make people feel good. At the same time we don't feel we should have to write songs that mean nothing."
Lest that leave you in any doubt, Latin Quarter are of that new breed of bands that seems to be everywhere these days. Chances are you won't find any moon-in-June type lyrics on their current 'Modern Times' LP. But you will find their hit single 'Radio Africa' along with songs about miners' wives, Falkland veterans, John Lennon and even the McCarthy witch-hunts of the 50s (in which people who were thought to be 'un-American' were hauled up before government committees and dared to defend themselves).
The man responsible for their lyrics is one Mike Jones, the other co-founder of the group. But don't look for him on stage with the band. He prefers to stay home in Liverpool, often forwarding his latest lyrical creations onto Steve via Her Majesty's post.
The band began to come together in 1983. "We had to form a band to play the songs we'd written," jokes Steve. Since then this seven piece band has been compared to the likes of Elvis Costello and Robert Wyatt. That's pretty hefty praise indeed, and there's some that'd say that this particular kind of political pop is going to be the Next Big Thing. But Steve remains unconvinced.
"I think music has a lot of power to bring people together - that's its great strength. To believe that it can change things, though, is very naïve. I think there will always be room for all types of music."
"The music press are always trying to highlight certain types of music at any one time. But these so called 'trends' are rarely reflected in the charts. There will always be room for your Madonnas and your Ozzy Osbournes."
But Latin Quarter are serious about their music however much they wish to be seen as merely a good pop group. And as is often the case with the more thoughtful among the pop community, creating a video that is both interesting and still true to the tone of the song remains a problem. As Steve revealed he wasn't entirely happy with the group's first foray into the world of video.
"I don't want to be critical because we agreed with the ideas for the 'Radio Africa' video at the time. I think the basic concept was to play it safe - which on reflection was not a good idea. The play on the idea of the radio dial is OK, but overall I think the video is quite down which is a shame. Actually we did Pebble Mill At One recently and whilst we were broadcasting live the BBC intercut our performance with bits from the video as well as footage from South Africa, and it was absolutely brilliant. In the future I'd like our videos to be like that - more direct."
And, of course, Steve and the others are simply filled to the brim with ideas for their next video.
"We were pretty dry on ideas the first time round. But we've recently met a lot of interesting people in the States. There's one guy who used to work with Francis Coppola - Lord knows how much he'd charge. But I think it's true that you get what you pay for. The thing is it's very difficult if you're on a low budget to get the people with the talent and the ideas to work with you."
You may or may not like this new breed of dead-normal pop stars with a social conscience - there's enough of them at the moment to make you want to ignore the lot. But Latin Quarter are a bit different. Chances are they won't be on a low budget for too much longer.