The Latin Quarter Story - Part Two
Live and further recording projects
The success of the 'Modern Times' singles soon gained the band a dedicated following in Britain and Germany. Their field of action were small to medium sized venues with a capacity of around 1000 people. The audience was made up of young people from their teens into their twenties, who could translate the band's songs, sit in utter silence while songs like 'Cora' and 'Eddie' were performed quietly, but also respond enthusiastically when songs like 'Modern Times' or 'Truth About John' provided the right atmosphere.
Latin Quarter on stage was an incomparable live experience. Steve Skaith, a seasoned, confident and sympathetic performer, carried the programme. The vocalists took turns with the solo performances. The dark skinned singer and percussionist Carol Douet, in a pleasantly soft voice, presented songs which Mike Jones seemed to have written especially for her: 'No Rope As Long As Time', 'Freight Elevator' and 'The Men Below' were her province. The young Yona Dunsford played keyboards and was responsible for (singing) songs like 'The Night', 'The New Millionaires', 'Burn Again' and 'I, Together'. When Steve Skaith sang, they became his choir. All this generated a strength, an engagement and a credibility that moved the audience to storms of applause. Often the band received ovations that brought proceedings to a halt for minutes at a time. Only after the audience had finished showing their appreciation could the band move on to the next song.
The other musicians didn't add any vocals, but their sensitive and mature playing was a big part of the band's live success. Unfortunately Steve Skaith all to often gave the impression that he was identifying with the depression of the lyrics rather too much. With his tearful singing he did rather overdo it a bit at times.
Latin Quarter always endeavoured to give their audience value for money. Nearly every single and Maxi-Single had bonus tracks that were not on the album. After the second album they'd already released enough bonus tracks to have easily made up a third album.
The band waited two years after the success of their first album to release the follow up. That album was 'Mick And Caroline', with ten more irresistibly good songs. 'Nomzamo' is the second name of Winnie Mandela, to whom Jones dedicated this song. In 'The Men Below', Carol Douet told the story of the British miners, who struggled desperately but in vain to keep their jobs. 'Burn Again' is a brilliant song about Nicaragua's problems: 'Must Nicaragua burn again because the USA is in the mood today to be born again? The USA plays Central America, like it was a line of fruit machines'. A depressing lyric, undoubtedly one of Mike Jones' best. The song was sung by Yona Dunsford. With 'Mick And Caroline' the band once again served up outstandingly good music and lyrics.
Their 1987 German tour, coupled with many TV appearances, was a further highlight. Their third album 'Swimming Against The Stream', was released in 1989 and marked a decided change of direction for Latin Quarter. Keyboard player Martin Lascelles and singer Carol Douet left the band. The departure of the singer was difficult for the band to cope with. They were wise enough not to try and replace her, but Steve Skaith and Yona Dunsford couldn't manage to convincingly interpret the songs which had been tailored for her. Important songs like 'No Rope As Long As Time' were entirely left out of the live set - and rightly so. But the concept was shaky.
'Swimming Against The Stream' once again contained Mike Jones' reliable lyrics, who now turned to other themes, even though Apartheid still remained in the foreground. The outstanding track here was 'Slow Waltz For Chile': "A song about the work of the solidarity campaigns for Chile, first for the Socialist Government of Allende, and then, from 1973, against the dictatorship of Pinochet.". (From the text commentary for 'Swimming Against The Stream')
On 'Dominion', Jones mercilessly documented the exploitation of animals by mankind. The song was used as the signature tune of the documentary 'Animal Traffic'. But the German-sung single version was an awkward affair, hardly comprehensible. Not to blame Steve Skaith for not mastering the German language, but he should have thought better of recording a production like that.
'Swimming Against The Stream' showed, despite good new songs, that the band wouldn't have a much longer life. Steve Skaith pushed his vocals too much into the foreground, while remaining singer Yona Dunsford hardly got a word in. Skaith became more and more depressing in his interpretations and thought that in this manner he was offering up high art. Once so successful, the Latin Quarter concept had met its end.
At the end of 1989 the band performed a few remaining contractual obligations, especially for TV and to promote the singles 'Dominion' and 'I, Together'. After that, the break up of the band was announced. Steve Skaith and Yona Dunsford wanted to form two separate new bands, while Mike Jones wanted to continue to write lyrics for both of them.
In October 1990, however, another album, entitled 'Nothing Like Velvet' was released, which was made up of unreleased demos and live tracks. Next to very lovely songs like 'The Colour Scheme' and 'The Big Pool', there were also incomprehensibly weak live versions of 'Snow Blind' and 'See Him!', as well as unpolished demos like 'Nothing Like Velvet' and 'February 1990' on the CD, which, with twenty songs, had a playing time of 68 minutes, which somewhat made up for the weak moments. Judging by the sleeve notes , the band agreed to the release of these songs. As much as one should be glad of the offer of alternative versions and unreleased songs, it shouldn't be forgotten that after three brilliant albums, the creative history of Latin Quarter was unblemished. The fourth album, perhaps released for contractual reasons, somewhat detracted from the overall impression.
In the autumn of 1991, BCM Records suddenly released a CD with four different versions of 'Radio Africa'. At the same time, RCA also released a 4-track CD, with three further versions of 'Radio Africa' and the till then unreleased title 'Older'. A sign of a new Latin Quarter era or only a rummage through the vaults? Who knew!?!
1991: Mandela is free, his wife somewhat discredited - have Mike Jones and Latin Quarter therefore done their duty and justified their retirement from the stage? Just the opposite is the case!
With Latin Quarter, the otherwise musically uninspired 80's were so impressively enriched, that it's hard to do without them. Mike Jones should still find enough themes to wake up the public. Apartheid and inequality. Corruption and greed for power continue to cause much suffering. Jones and the singers and musicians who interpreted his lyrics, played an important part in at least getting people to think.
The third and last part of the Latin Quarter story follows in the next issue of GOOD TIMES. Although the band only released four albums, they released many singles, Maxi singles and CD singles, which contained so much good material, that the third part is entirely made up of the Latin Quarter discography.
By Peter Seeger © Good Times, Issue 2, June 1992