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This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Latin Quarter July 25, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
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It’s curious, in the 1980s, that great flowering of reaction both in the UK and the US, there were no end of politically inflected pop groups and artists. It’s a near enough endless list and the curious lack of similar groups with such a significant profile during the contemporary period has often been noted.

But that’s another day’s work. Sam here in his guest post covered an enormous number of them. And mentioned by Sam was Latin Quarter. Their album, Modern Times, thirty years old this year, is for all the airiness of the compositions and a very characteristic 1980s perkiness an oddly claustrophobic experience to listen to in its entirety. It is perhaps that there is a melancholia that ultimately begins to permeate the songs – driven by the lyrics.

But where is the surprise. Founder members Mike Jones and Steve Skaith were both members of Big Flame (see here in the Left Archive). And Jones is quoted on their Wiki page as saying that ‘Modern Times’ was ‘a veritable manifesto’ of Big Flame’s views. I don’t know if this is me, but I seem to hear an odd empathy in some of the lyrics, a recognition of the fear that lies at the heart of much of reaction. But there was no compromise with that reaction.

None of this would work if the songs themselves weren’t well written melodic pop. But they are. Sometimes lugubrious, it has to be admitted, but never overly worthy. A bit of folk, some reggae, rock and pop are all part of the mix. No Ordinary Return, or Radio Africa, or America for Beginners are all catchy as hell. And I kind of like the less feted tracks like Seaport September or New Millionaires which are admirably snarky.

It’s almost entertaining how synth pop so many of them are – Toulouse – with a fantastic lead female half-spoken vocal wouldn’t be out of place on a Heaven 17 album (another group who could be remarkably political when the mood took them). There aren’t many songs I can think of that have a chorus that starts so directly as ‘You’ve had the OAS, you’ve had the CGT…’ (this by the way is criticised on the Allmusic review as positioning them too much as of their time – well, not so sure about that now). In a way it’s surprising they weren’t bigger, because one feels – particularly with a track like New Millionaires – that only a very minor tweak could see them setting the controls for the heart of the mainstream. I’m surely not the only one who can hear late period Genesis or even, at a stretch, Toto or – gulp, for this is not necessarily a good thing, Starship in there. And perhaps that smoothness is off-putting to some, though I’ve always had a liking for bands that danced up to the line of out and out commercialism without tripping across it. But Latin Quarter’s grit is in the lyrics, not in the music.

Although there are female led tracks more would be better, not least because of the brilliance of the female vocals from Yona Dunsford and Carol Douet – both lead and backing – throughout.

I never heard the other albums, in large part because like some other groups that I loved then and subsequently I was concerned that if they weren’t as good they wouldn’t measure up. They’ve released albums more recently having reformed and I’d be interested what they’re like if anyone has heard them.

America for Beginners

Radio Africa (Live on Top of the Pops)

Toulouse

No Rope As Long As Time

New Millionaires

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