Scritti Politti are a Welsh musical group.
Formed in 1978 in Leeds, England, Scritti Politti is primarily a musical vehicle for singer-songwriter Green Gartside (real name Paul Julian Strohmeyer) (b 22 June 1955, Cardiff, Wales).
Initially a left-wing-inspired post-punk British rock group, Scritti Politti developed into a more mainstream pop music project in the early to mid-1980s, enjoying significant success in the music charts in the UK and US. The band's music was characterized by sophisticated studio production and Green Gartside's sly, punning wordplay influenced by his reading of deconstruction (the group's 1982 debut album, Songs to Remember, features a song called "Jacques Derrida").
The group's most successful album, 1985's Cupid & Psyche 85, was innovative in its early use of the techniques of sampling and MIDI sequencing and produced hit singles including "Perfect Way", "The Word Girl", "Wood Beez" and "Absolute". Following this period of fame, Gartside became disillusioned with the music industry and retired to the South Wales of his childhood for nearly a decade. He returned to music-making in the late 1990s, releasing two critically acclaimed albums in 1999 and 2006.
Like many Welsh singers, Gartside is known for his distinctive vocal style — in this case, an effeminate, archly cooing falsetto-tenor; he was described by one critic as having "a voice that's eternally 14 years old".
The name Scritti Politti was chosen as a homage to the Italian Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci: The name is generally understood to refer to Gramsci's political writings (although the correct spelling in Italian would have produced "Scritti Politici"). Green changed it to "Scritti Politti" as he thought it sounded more rock'n'roll, more like "Tutti Frutti".
Along with Green Gartside, the band's early line-up included Matthew Kay (keyboards, manager), Tom Morley (drums) and Nial Jinks (bass) who left in 1980. The line-up of the band when Cupid & Psyche and Provision was recorded consisted of Gartside (vocals), David Gamson (co-songwriter/keyboards/programming), and Fred Maher (drums/drum programming).
Green Gartside was born Paul Julian Strohmeyer (22 June 1955, Cardiff, Wales). His biological father died when Green was a small child and later his mother remarried a solicitor from Newport, Wales, named Gordon Gartside. Paul grew up in Cwmbran, attending Croesyceiliog Comprehensive School, and in his teens decided on the name Green "while viewing the countryside during a train journey back to Wales." He studied Fine Art at Leeds Polytechnic. The Sex Pistols Anarchy tour which included The Damned and The Heartbreakers was launched at Leeds Polytechnic on 6 December 1976 and inspired Gartside to form a band with childhood friend Nial Jinks and fellow student Tom Morley. For their first public performance supporting local Leeds punk group SOS the group went under the name "The Against." Upon finishing their studies the group relocated to London's Camden Town around 1977 where they lived in a squat at 3 Regent's Park Road and in the infamous Carol St. Collective. Alongside other groups of what has been termed the DIY or movement (notably the Desperate Bicycles and Steve Treatment, the latter being associated with the Swell Maps), the group released a DIY record titled 'Skank Bloc Bologna' on their own St. Pancras label in 1978. This appropriation of the means of production, to quote from the Marxist parlance that can be heard among the lyrics of these early works, might well have been equally inspired by the group's initial admiration for and contact with the avant-garde left-wing rock group Henry Cow.
To the raw energy of punk, Scritti Politti added a creative spontaneity and a mock-philosophical intelligence in their lyrics, with scholarly allusions to Marx, Bakunin, Derrida, Deleuze, and Lacan. In early tracks, the punk-like fracturing of language and spikiness of the sound were held together by more lyrical melody than the more austere music of other left-field groups from the post-punk scene, such as Gang of Four, London art-rockers This Heat or Bristol-based Pop Group.
"Skank Bloc Bologna" picked up airplay on John Peel's influential new music show, and the band were signed to Rough Trade records under Geoff Travis in 1979, making them label-mates with the other popular Cardiff avant-garde band Young Marble Giants. Scritti Politti released two EPs in 1979 with singles "Bibbly-O-Tek", "Doubt Beat", "OPEC/Immac" and "Hegemony". "Hegemony" led to more melodic songs such as "Confidence", which in turn hinted at the direction the band would take in the 80s. Gartside slimmed the band down to a three piece.
By the time of 4 A-sides, a blend of strong melody and rhythmic jaggedness had been achieved. The band exhibited a very explicit do-it-yourself attitude, which manifested itself in their hand-made record sleeves with detailed breakdowns of production costs, including addresses and phone numbers of record pressing plants, and even their own Camden squat address for feedback. In the days before the Internet, this openness delighted fans.
However, whilst on a national tour with Gang of Four, Gartside was overcome by the pressure of playing live. In order to recover from ill health, he retreated to his native Wales and began writing an album that was to be heavily influenced by the R&B and New York sound he was listening to. The first outing of one of the new songs was "The Sweetest Girl", which was featured on C81; a free cassette tape given away with the New Musical Express, NME. The song was a success and received strong reviews, but the track was not given a wide release for 10 months, by which time momentum was lost, and it became a minor UK hit at #64.
"The Sweetest Girl" marked a stylistic change toward the more melodic, and was followed by minor hits "Faithless" (UK #56) and double a-side "Asylums in Jerusalem"/"Jacques Derrida" (UK #43). The debut album, Songs To Remember, was released on Rough Trade records in September 1982. Displaying Gartside's previously hidden reggae influence, it was a critical and commercial success, reaching #12 in the national album chart and #1 in the independent album charts. Also during this period, Gartside dueted with Annie Lennox on the Eurythmics track Wrap It Up, for their Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) album released in early 1983.
Gartside was becoming increasingly influenced by the new sounds coming out of New York City, especially hip hop. He signed with Virgin Records in 1983 for the ROW and Warner Bros. in the U.S. The original line-up was disbanded and Gartside moved to New York City to begin working on what was to become his signature sound.
Collaborating with producer Arif Mardin, keyboardist/programmer David Gamson and drummer Fred Maher, the first recording to emerge from these sessions was an infectiously funky, breathy single: "Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin)". Released in April 1984, "Wood Beez" was an immediate UK hit, peaking at #10, and was also successful in Australia, charting at #25. A series of disco/soul-style hits followed, including "Absolute" (UK #17), "Hypnotize" (UK #68) and "The Word Girl", which became Scritti Politti's biggest UK hit single, climbing to #6 in May 1985.
In June 1985, Scritti Politti released their second (and most successful) album, Cupid and Psyche '85, with songs produced by Arif Mardin and performances by numerous notable session musicians. The LP was a Top 5 smash in the UK and also sold well in the U.S. In addition to the four already released singles, the album featured another classic single, "Perfect Way". Strangely, this song was only a minor hit when released in the UK (#48) but it became the band's biggest U.S. single, just missing the Top 10 by peaking at #11.
1986 saw Green Gartside and David Gamson write and produce "Love Of A Lifetime" for Chaka Khan: a highlight of her "Destiny" album. Although featuring a strong vocal performance by Chaka Khan, the song could easily have been a leftover backing track from the Cupid and Psyche '85 sessions; Gartside's backing vocals and the general production techniques gave it the unmistakable stamp of Scritti Politti.
In 1987, Scritti Politti appeared on the Who's That Girl soundtrack with the song "Best Thing Ever".
This track also appeared on the 1988 album Provision, which continued Gartside's development into synth-funk as well as reggae and other styles. The roster of session players became even more notable, including contributions from Roger Troutman and Miles Davis, who performed on the single 'Oh Patti (Don't Feel Sorry For Loverboy), a UK #13 hit. However, although the album charted in the Top 10 in the UK (#8), it did not match the commercial success of Cupid and Psyche '85 in the US, stalling at #113.
Gartside hit the UK charts again in 1991 with "She's A Woman", which featured guest vocals from Shabba Ranks (broadening the SP/reggae connection further). It became Scritti Politti's final UK Top 20 single, peaking at #20. However, a corresponding album never eventuated, with Green deciding on another hiatus.
The hip-hop inspired album Anomie and Bonhomie was released in 1999 and comprised of even more session artists. The now bearded Gartside dived directly into the now commercially accessible hip hop scene, borrowing tradesmen of the genre such as Mos Def and Jimahl amongst others. While considered by many critics to be a return to form, the album was not as commercially successful as previous output, reaching only #33 on the UK album chart.
In 2003, Green resurfaced on Kylie Minogue's Scritti Politti inspired album Body Language, duetting on the Emiliana Torrini co-write "Someday".
In February 2005, "Early", a compilation of Scritti Politti's Peel and early Rough Trade years was released, to critical acclaim.
In early January 2006, Gartside and a new incarnation of Scritti Politti, billed as "Double G and The Traitorous 3", played a low-key show in Brixton, London. This was Gartside's first live appearance since 1980. This band, including journalist/musician Rhodri Marsden on keyboards and Dicky Moore on guitar, played a number of concerts previewing a new album, White Bread, Black Beer, which was released on Rough Trade Records on 29 May, 2006. The album was performed in its entirety by Gartside and recorded in his London home, assisted by his long-term engineer Andy Houston.
Later that year, White Bread, Black Beer was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize, and was subject to high critical praise. The award later went to Arctic Monkeys and their album Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not.
The current line-up toured worldwide (under the Scritti Politti name) on the back of the album's success, and completed a well-received UK tour in November 2006, playing in the majority new tracks, but also taking time to perform some of Green's earlier material. On Tuesday the 19th of December, they played a short set at the Rough Trade Christmas party in London.
In 2007, Green Gartside is working on an album with Alexis Taylor, the singer with Hot Chip. The pair met at the Mercury Music Prize ceremony, and will be playing a live show supporting Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid at KOKO in London on 29th March.
Stylistically, Scritti Politti's work moved from radical post-punk to smooth, highly-polished 1980s power pop, and in their latest work also developed to encompass rap music. Gartside innovatively incorporated sampling into his music as early as 1985's Cupid & Psyche 85. The 1999 album, Anomie & Bonhomie, featured rappers Mos Def and Jimahl.
Miles Davis was interested enough in some of Scritti Politti's material to cover one of their songs, "Perfect Way", the band's most successful US single. Davis also appeared on one track of the Scritti Politti album Provision.
"The Sweetest Girl" was covered by Madness for their 1985 album Mad Not Mad.
The concept behind Kylie Minogue's 2003 album "Body Language" was to recreate a 1980s sound, with Scritti Politti and Cupid & Psyche 85 cited as a main point of reference. Minogue's breathy vocals on songs such as 'Chocolate', 'Sweet Music' and 'Still Standing' are indeed reminiscent of Green, who she managed to convince to provide vocals on the track 'Someday'.
"Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin)" was sampled by Audio Thieves for their 2006 single "Pray Like Aretha Franklin".
- "Skank Bloc Bologna" (1978)
- "2nd Peel Session" (1979)
- "4 A-Sides" (1979)
- "The Sweetest Girl" (1981) UK #64
- "Faithless" (1982) UK #56
- "Asylums In Jerusalem/Jacques Derrida" (1982) UK #43
- "Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin)" (1984) UK #10, US #91, AUS #25
- "Absolute" (1984) UK #17
- "Hypnotize" (1984) UK #68, US Hot Dance Music/Club Play #43
- "The Word Girl" (featuring Ranking Ann) (1985) UK #6
- "Perfect Way" (1985) UK #48, US #11
- "Oh Patti (Don't Feel Sorry For Loverboy)" (1988) UK #13
- "First Boy In This Town (Lovesic" (1988) UK #63
- "Boom! There She Was" (featuring Roger) (1988) UK #55, US #53
- "She's A Woman" (featuring Shabba Ranks) (1991) UK #20
- "Take Me In Your Arms" (featuring Sweetie Irie) (1991) UK #47
- "Tinseltown To The Boogiedown" (1999) UK #46
- "The Boom Boom Bap" (2006) UK #??
- "After Six" (2007) (Unconfirmed)
- Songs To Remember (1982) UK #12
- Cupid & Psyche 85 (1985) UK #5, US #50
- Provision (1988) UK #8, US #113
- Anomie & Bonhomie (1999) UK #33
- Early (2005) (retrospective containing earliest singles)
- White Bread, Black Beer (2006)