The Latin Quarter Story - Part One

In 1985 a young British group with the name of Latin Quarter managed the breakthrough that - at least musically - swam against the stream (which was also the title of a later ALBUM). A mixture of latin, reggae and rock, performed by undeniably first class musicians, gave a sound that was unique and fascinating at the same time, while never giving the impression that they were randomly throwing everything into the pot.

It was also unusual that the band had three equally talented solo singers in Carol Douet, Yona Dunsford and Steve Skaith. The first line up of the band also included Greg Harewood (bass), Steve Jeffries (keyboards), Richard Stevens (drums) and Richard Wright (guitar). All the lyrics were written by Mike Jones, whom the band described as a band member, even though he stayed in the background. Steve Skaith was responsible for composing nearly all of the songs.

Steve Skaith, over thirty at the time, was the one who pulled the strings. He and Mike Jones were the creators and offered a quality that was ordinarily only found in the pop music of the sixties. Therefore one can honestly describe them as "children of the sixties". The group swam against the current because Jones dared to write about serious, even rather depressing, themes. Apartheid, war, exploitation of animals, misuse of power and loneliness were covered in the songs. Mandela, the Sandinistas and the discriminating treatment of the black blues singer Billie Holiday ('Fright Elevator'), were repeatedly and realistically covered.

They started in 1984 with the single 'Radio Africa'/'Eddie', released by the small "Ignition" label. With the first single, Mike Jones made it clear what his message was. But his lyrics were complicated, so their next record company, "Rockin' Horse", decided to include German text commentaries with the albums. A very good idea. The first single, "Radio Africa", at once pointed to the troubles in South Africa: "There's only bad news from Radio Africa. In 1985 South Africa was still governed by the monster apartheid. The West complains about the foreign aid, but in the trade with the industrial nations, it's the African countries who are at a disadvantage: They exchange cheap raw materials for expensive finished products. With the war in the Ogaden 1977/78 Moscow first supported the socialist government of Somalia, but then supplied weapons to the Ethiopian dictatorship." (Extract from the text commentary for 'Radio Africa'.)

With the B-side 'Eddie', Jones described the perversions and after-effects of war. "Looking at the water, through the spaces of an iron-ore train. The water eddies round the rushes, and Eddie's round at my house insane." "Rejoice!" Margaret Thatcher said, when the message of victory came from the Falklands. When the soldiers returned the port was swarming with reporters. Small boats go bobbing, like a 1940 repeat of Dunkirk, when the stranded British army was picked up and saved by an enormous quantity of civilian ships. After a train ride home to a heroes reception, a banner proclaims "Well done, Eddie". We could ride the big wheel on the fairground by the sea forever, but we still wouldn't know how Eddie feels." (Text commentary for 'Eddie'.) With lyrics like that, one would think that it's impossible to have success in the pop sector. But no! Latin Quarter proved that demanding, topical themes, tied to imaginative, engaging, sometimes tender melodies can win over the public.

The British record company Rockin' Horse records recognised this and in 1985 gave the band the chance to bring their message to a broad audience. The first album "Modern Times", to this day stands as an example of an album without a single weak moment. Alongside the slightly changed versions of 'Radio Africa' and 'Eddie' stood nine other excellent songs, of which the best known are 'Modern Times', 'No Rope As Long As Time', 'Truth About John' and 'America For Beginners'.

By Peter Seeger © Good Times, Issue 1, March 1992