Scritti Politti are a British band, originally formed in 1978 in Leeds, Yorkshire, England. Scritti Politti is now primarily a musical vehicle for singer-songwriter Green Gartside (real name Paul Julian Strohmeyer, born 22 June 1955, Cardiff, Wales), who is the founding member and only member of the band to have remained throughout the group's history.
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. It spawned three UK Top 20 hits with "Wood Beez", "Absolute", and "The Word Girl", as well as a U.S. Top 20 hit with "Perfect Way". The personnel for this album differed from that of their first album, and now featured keyboardist David Gamson and ex-Material drummer Fred Maher, both of whom would collaborate with Gartside on songwriting and production duties (famed producer Arif Mardin would also produce three songs for the album).
This new line-up remained for the band's next album, 1988's Provision. This album was also a Top 10 success, though it only produced one Top 20 hit ("Oh Patti"). After releasing a couple of non-album singles in the early 1990s, as well as a collaboration with B.E.F., Gartside became disillusioned with the music industry and retired to South Wales for the rest of the decade. He returned to music-making in the late 1990s, releasing two critically acclaimed albums, 1999's Anomie and Bonhomie (which included various rap and hip-hop influences) and 2006's stripped-down White Bread, Black Beer which returned to the more experimental era of the band's history.
In the 1970s, Gartside was studying fine art at Leeds College of Art and Design. 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 his 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 ethic 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 band, 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 labelmates 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 1980s. Gartside then 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 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 hit in the UK Singles Chart 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 in September 1982. Displaying Gartside's previously hidden reggae influence, it was a critical and commercial success, reaching #12 in the UK Albums Chart (and #1 in the independent album charts). Also during this period, Gartside duetted 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, especially hip hop. He signed with Virgin Records in 1983 (and with Warner Bros. in the U.S.). The original line-up was disbanded and Gartside moved to New York to begin working on what was to become his signature sound.
Collaborating with producer Arif Mardin, David Gamson and Fred Maher, the first recording to emerge from these sessions was the 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 hit in the UK and also sold well in the U.S. In addition to the four already released singles, the album included the song, "Perfect Way". It was only a minor hit when released in the UK (#48) but it became the band's biggest U.S. single, peaking at #11.
1986 saw Gartside and Gamson write and produce "Love Of A Lifetime" for Chaka Khan, which appeared on her Destiny album.
In 1987, Scritti Politti appeared on the Who's That Girl soundtrack with the song "Best Thing Ever". This track also appeared on the next Scritti Politti album, 1988's 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 U.S., stalling at #113.
They hit the UK charts again in 1991 with "She's A Woman", which featured guest vocals from Shabba Ranks. It became Scritti Politti's final UK Top 20 single, peaking at #20. However, a corresponding album never materialised, 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 Albums Chart.
In February 2005, Early, a compilation album of Scritti Politti's early years was released.
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. Later that year, White Bread, Black Beer was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize, and gained high critical praise.
The current line-up toured worldwide (under the Scritti Politti name) on the back of the album's success, and completed a UK tour in November 2006. They appeared at the Bestival music festival in September 2006, and at Summer Sonic Festival in Japan. On Tuesday 19 December, they played a short set at the Rough Trade Christmas party in London.
In 2007, Gartside worked on an album with Alexis Taylor, the singer with Hot Chip. The pair met at the Mercury Music Prize ceremony, and played a concert supporting Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid at KOKO in London on 29 March 2007.
Miles Davis covered Scritti Politti's track "Perfect Way". Davis also appeared on one track of the Scritti Politti album Provision.