In 1985, Latin Quarter released their stunning debut album ‘Modern Times.’ Twenty five years and several albums later, former Latin Quarter frontman Steve Skaith and his band return with a reinterpretion of eleven Latin Quarter songs. Gone are the synthesiers and special effects and replaced with acoustic instruments to create a more intimate and personal feel whilst losing none of the power and hooks of the originals.
We caught up with Steve Skaith to discuss Latin Quarter Revisited.
Since the last Steve Skaith Band album, Imaginary Friend, the band line-up has changed again. How did the current line-up come about?
Steve: Well the Ricardo Serrano, the drummer, is the same. Siobhan is an old friend and I had planned to work with her for several years. Cath Burke I met through the Bournemouth Folk Club. We sometimes jammed together there and became friendly. The range of her instruments adds a lot to the band (as does Siobhan’s.)
Why did you choose now to re-record a selection of Latin Quarter songs?
I was playing some of the old songs just on acoustic guitar in my solo gigs with Armin Pongs. I enjoyed it and it seemed the audience did too. With the new band being so different instrument-wise to the old one, suddenly there seemed to be an interesting project waiting to be realised. I suppose there was an element of laziness about it too. The first part of any album is getting the songs written. With this album I was able to skip that process knowing that I already had some really, good songs. (He said modestly).
“I am sure ‘Latin Quarter Revisited’ is the best Steve Skaith Band album and think, with ‘Bringing Rosa Home’, the best record I have done.” – Steve Skaith
This is not a ‘Best of Latin Quarter’ so did you listen to the Latin Quarter albums and chose songs you were not happy with their recordings?
I chose the songs for different reasons. ‘Donovan’ s Doorway’, ‘Something isn’t Happening’ and ‘Remember’ (definitely Remember) because I don’t like how they sound on the original. Others (‘The Night’, ‘Heart Stop Speaking’, ‘I Together’, ‘Dominion’ and ‘New Millionaires’) just because I fancied playing around with them and it brought back warm feelings. ‘Eddie’ because I like it and this is more or less how it sounded before the synths got involved. ‘Radio Africa’ because everyone would expect that and even though I am weary of this fact, it is still what most people remember of Latin Quarter. ‘Church on Fire’ was an afterthought and is the odd one out because it is not from the early albums but it had become a feature of the live set and I thought people at gigs might want to buy it.
‘Radio Africa’ is the best known Latin Quarter song yet on ‘Latin Quarter Revisited’ the lyrics have been changed as well as the title. Is this an admission of the failure of political idealism; in much the same way as Nomzamo?
Well the new version certainly includes more references to the corruption inside African societies, especially their leaders, that has played such a big part in the problems the continent faces. In particular Mugabe, who was once a hero of the anti-colonialist left, has become a very cruel and self-deluding dictator. This is a source of disillusion. Actually though, the biggest disillusion since those early Latin Quarter albums is the way the Sandinistas have gone in Nicaragua. It’s truly depressing. They say power corrupts etc but I still don’t want to accept that it is inevitable. Unfortunately the evidence is currently against me. Back to Africa though…….I would have loved to re-record ‘Nomazamo’. It works so well on acoustic guitar and I have been known to sing and play it to myself. But of course, the lyrics are now so out of date. As, fortunately, is ‘No Rope as Long as Time.’
Songs written about certain political or social situations age over time, was there any concern that the meaning of ‘Eddie’ would be lost on anyone not familiar with the Falkland War?
I guess this is a possibility and even people who remember the war may not immediately get the song. (The reference to the battle in Goose Green is the only real clue.) On the other hand though, the problem the song talks about, post conflict stress and trauma faced by so many soldiers returning from the battlefield, is now recognised in a way it wasn’t 30 years ago. Not that governments are doing enough for those soldiers.
You worked with Steve Jeffries prior to Latin Quarter when you wrote songs for Chapel Music and on Latin Quarter’s first album ‘Modern Times’, how did you come to work with him on this album?
I had recorded the drums and much of the guitars and vocals for the album in Mexico in Ricardo’s studio but when I got back to the UK I had to go begging for someone who had a studio here to help me finish it. There was no budget so I really was begging. Steve very kindly offered. I thought in advance that it could be interesting creatively. He has a strong pop sensibility and I knew he would have some ideas of his own that could be interesting and maybe challenge my own. What I didn’t realise was just how good a producer/engineer he had become and how much time and interest he would offer. When it came to the mixing he did it all himself, asking me for approval, but constantly surprising and pleasing me with good ideas. I really do believe it is the best album I have made and that is very much down to him.
When selecting the songs how conscience are you that many reviewers will simply not look beyond any political song even if it means overlooking songs as strong such as ‘Love Has Gone’ and ‘It Makes My Heart Stop Speaking’?
Well yes, reviewers can sometimes be lazy and most of them have us in the box ‘political songs,’ so can miss the full mix. This laziness can be frustrating (especially the time when one reviewer said we got the song ‘Slow Waltz for Chile’ from listening to Sting too much!) but I think it is true that the older I get, the less sensitive I am to bad reviews. I read them all of course but they don’t have the power to depress me like they used to. Actually at the time of writing I am being informed that the reviews coming in from Europe are very good. Let’s see what happens in the UK.
On the subject of reviews, the inclusion of ‘Church on Fire’ is bound to once again mean you get the usual ‘Paul Simon – Graceland’ comparison. How do you feel about such lazy comparisons?
Well there is a comparison, I cannot deny that. When I first did ‘Bitter to the South’ at the Bournemouth Folk Club, the organisers asked me if it was a Paul Simon song. The point is they did it without sneering or implying that something was wrong. ‘Church on Fire’ is also a little like Paul Simon but that in itself is not a criticism. Who, apart maybe from Bjork, sounds 100% like absolutely no one else?
For anyone who has not heard the album yet, how would you say the style differs from the Latin Quarter originals?
Those first albums were produced in the 80’s and that means one thing: lots of synthesiers and obvious effects, especially on the voices. The new album is played on acoustic instruments with less obvious effects (though at times effects are used for a reason) and the arrangements are a little simpler i.e. less stuff on them, especially on the songs from ‘Mick and Caroline’.
Of course I wondered if some of the older Latin Quarter fans would not like me fiddling with the original versions. Some don’t. But in general, the reaction has been very positive and I think it works. As I said before, I am sure it is the best Steve Skaith Band album and think, with ‘Bringing Rosa Home’, the best record I have done.