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 U.K. and U.S.
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.
Gartside is known for his distinctive vocal style; 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 a more correct translation of this from the Italian would have produced "Scritti Politici").
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 primary line-up of the band (1983-1989) 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) 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, Gartside 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 top 50 hit.
'The Sweetest Girl' marked a stylistic change toward the more melodic, and was followed by minor hits 'Faithless' and 'Asylums in Jerusalem' and the 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.
Gartside was becoming more and more influenced by the new sounds coming out of New York City, hip hop especially. He signed with Virgin records in 1983 for the ROW and Warner Bros. in the U.S. The original line-up was disbanded and essentially Scritti Politti became a solo vehicle for Gartside. In 1983, he moved to New York City and began working on what was to become his signature sound. He began working with producer Arif Mardin and recorded 'Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin)'.
Gartside later teamed with keyboardist/programmer David Gamson and drummer Fred Maher to write and record Scritti Politti's most successful album, Cupid and Psyche '85, with songs produced by Arif Mardin and performances by numerous notable session musicians. The 1985 album charted in the U.S. and U.K. and spawned several disco/soul-style hits, including 'The Word Girl', 'Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin)', and 'Perfect Way', which would become the band's most successful US single.
In 1987, Scritti Politti appeared on Who's That Girl soundtrack with the song "Best Thing Ever".
1988's album Provision continued Gartside's development into synth-funk (as well as reggae and other styles). The roster of session players also became even more impressive, including performances by Miles Davis and Roger Troutman. However, although the album charted in the U.K., it did not match the commercial success of Cupid and Psyche '85 in the U.S.
Gartside hit the UK charts twice more in the early 1990s, with featured vocals from both Shabba Ranks and Sweetie Irie (broadening the SP/reggae connection further) - however, a corresponding album was never released.
Gartside fell ill, and Scritti Politti went on hiatus until revived later as a solo project. The eclectic album Anomie and Bonhomie was released in 1999 and comprised of even more session artists. The now bearded and bespectacled 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.
In 2003, Green resurfaced on the Kylie Minogue album Body Language, dueting on the Emiliana Torrini co-write "Someday".
In February 2005, the LP Early was released, comprising of several works from Scritti Politti's Peel and early Rough Trade years - the pre-commercialism period, which was released to favourable critical praise.
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 May 29, 2006. Later that year, the album was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize.
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.
"The Sweetest Girl" was later coverd by Madness for their album Mad Not Mad.