How to mix pop and politics without sounding like a bunch of Singing Leaflets? Somehow Latin Quarter have found that magic formula – the perfect blend of Dance with Stance. And not a slogan in sight.

It was the sheer 18-carat quality of Latin Quarter’s music that first captured the attention and universal enthusiasm of the normally fickle music press. Critical recognition that here was a band with something very special to offer soon spread to deejays and record-buyers. The chart placing of their single ‘Radio Africa’ and buoyant sales of the ‘Modern Times’ album are proving that Latin Quarter’s transition from unknown newcomer to household name is going to be a smooth and effortless one. And this despite not fitting into any of the old Rock Biz clichés.

Latin Quarter’s press profile is potentially a PR’s nightmare because, quite simply, none of the old labels fit. Latin Quarter are a seven piece black/white, male/female pop band only if you don’t count non-performing lyricist Mike Jones as their eighth member – which Latin Quarter do.

Latin Quarter’s music has been variously described as easy-listening/political commentary/synth/soul/funk/light-reggae/rock/pop. All these descriptions are true in their own way – but mighty confusing, and hardly encapsulating that unique and beguiling mix of hypnotic melodies, reflective lyrics and passionate vocals which is the Latin Quarter sound.

Latin Quarter are pop mavericks in another sense too: they don’t fit into the industry’s current penchant for designer froth pop. This band has something to say for itself. Mike Jones’ politically astute lyrics, full of integrity and humour, captured the rock critics from the start – though there were many who felt the band’s material was too classy, too hard-biting, for the record-buying public. But with a monster hit in ‘Radio Africa’, Latin Quarter are now enjoying their first taste of commercial success, with the guarantee of more to come. They’ve travelled a long way since those early days of indie labeldom and ‘one man and a dog’ gigs.

Latin Quarter began when ex-printer and founder-member Steve Skaith left Liverpool for London in 1982 to write songs for music publishers Chappells. Although gaining a measure of success with songs for Jimmy Ruffin amongst others, he felt artistically frustrated – until he began setting to music the lyrics of his old friend from Liverpool, the Welshman Jones.

This combination of Skaith’s enticing melodies and Jones’s social observant lyrics was musically alchemy and soon they were producing modern classics like ‘Modern Times’ (a musical reconstruction of Senator Joe McCarthy’s Hollywood witch-hunts of the 1950s) – ‘The Truth About John’ (about the parasitical I-knew-John-Lennon memoir industry) – ‘America for Beginners’ (a stinging indictment of the reactionary, paranoia-inducing USA of Ronald Reagan); and, of course, the brilliant ‘Radio Africa’.

The rest came easy. Skaith began sending demo tapes of their songs (recorded in his bedroom) to record companies and simultaneously assembling the collection of uniquely talented individuals who comprise Latin Quarter. Inevitably there have been personnel changes since the band was first formed in 1983, but Latin Quarter now has a settled, solid line-up in its present form.

First to join vocalist/guitarist Skaith in 1983 was lead guitarist Richard Wright, a classically-trained musician and ex-member of the Inversions, a band active on the jazz/funk scene. Singers Carol Douet and Yona Dunsford took time off from TV appearances as two-thirds of girl trio Soft Touch to ‘help out’ on vocals for the band’s first live dates in January 1984, and never returned to their old group. Now Yona, who also plays keyboards, and percussionist Carol share lead vocals with Steve and are, respectively, the soulful leads on ‘New Millionaires’ and ‘No Rope As Long As Time’. Bassist Greg Harewood joined next. Relative newcomers Martin Lascelles (keyboards) and Dave Charles (drums) are more recent additions, but no less integral to the Latin Quarter sound.

After the band’s first sporadic London gigs in 1984, ex-Police producer Nigel Gray recorded two of Latin Quarter’s songs at his own expense, and the band released ‘Radio Africa’ on its own independent record label, Ignition. Highly impressed by this single, the newly-formed, larger independent company Rockin’ Horse signed the band and issued the ‘Modern Times’ album, as well as a couple of singles from the LP. None were massive sellers at the time, though they created a highly favourable impression amongst those who managed to hear them. With the merger of Rockin’ Horse with Arista, Latin Quarter is receiving the additional attention, exposure and tender loving care that any serious, developing band needs at this all-important stage of its career. And they’re beginning to shift records too. ‘Radio Africa’s’ UK success was reflected throughout Europe, while their album has already sold over 100,000 copies in Germany alone.

As a band formed primarily for recording purposes, Latin Quarter were once weakest in the live stakes, but constant, regular gigging to increasingly appreciative audiences is turning them into one of the most exciting and exhilarating live acts around. A lengthy club-and-college UK tour last year, followed by a sell-out European tour playing to capacity crowds in France, the Netherlands, Italy, Belgium and Germany has given them a confidence and stage presence which will stand them in good stead for their present UK tour, and British audiences can look forward to a performance band of the highest calibre. The band member put this down to each individual’s determination to equal the excellence of the devastating new material constructed for them by Skaith and Jones. This includes the goose-bump inducing ‘The Men Below’ (which perfectly evokes the subterranean slog of the miners) and ‘Burn Again’, an impassioned condemnation of American involvement in Central America, as well as ‘Freight Elevator’ (a moving vignette detailing the racist indignities inflicted on blues singer Billie Holiday) and ‘Donovan’s Doorway’, a spooky, melancholy picture of Liverpool, a great city in decay.

It’s a music business of cliché that socially aware hit records are a contradiction in terms, but Latin Quarter of proving ’em wrong. As the Western World steadily drifts rightwards and young people are increasingly beginning to question the status quo as they did in the ’60s there’s a growing need amongst audiences for a bit of substance in pop. Latin Quarter supply that with their astute and compassionate lyrics, sublime melodies, delicate harmonies and that all-important touch of anger.

Dance with a stance.

Latin Quarter are the shape of things to come.