The Specials

 The Specials

 Terry Hall – circa 1979

 “When we’re living in gangster times” – ‘Gangsters’ (The Specials)

It begins with violence.  It is 1978 and British punk rock band The Clash is on tour.  They have two support acts: Suicide and The Specials.  The latter is a seven-man outfit and two of them are black.  This seems to be sufficient provocation for neo-Nazis to disrupt a gig in Bracknell.  It is actually Suicide who bears the brunt of the chaos, but the occasion shakes up The Specials.  It also makes them determined.  “That was the night The Specials concept was born,” claims keyboards player and main visionary Jerry Dammers.  “I idealistically thought we have to get through to these people.”

Jerry Dammers is born Jeremy David Hounsell Dammers on 22 May 1955 in Ootacamund, Tamil Nadu, South India.  There is a suggestion that his real name was Gerald Danki but this seems unsubstantiated.  Jerry Dammers is the son of Horace Dammers, who becomes the Dean of Bristol Cathedral (1973-1987).  Despite his exotic birthplace, Jerry Dammers is the child of white Britons.  He attends King Henry VIII School in Coventry, England.  Jerry begins composing on the family piano as a youth.  “Through my teenage years I was writing songs, playing in club bands, but at the back of my mind was the day I would form my own band,” he says.  Already the possessor of ‘a gappy smile’, that space grows wider after Dammers loses a tooth when a pint glass is thrust in his face in a Coventry pub when the lad is 19.  Jerry Dammers attends Coventry’s Lanchester Polytechnic (now known as Coventry University) and it is here he meets a person who will join him in that band Dammers has been dreaming about.

Horace Panter A.K.A. Sir Horace Gentleman is born Stephen Graham Panter on 30 August 1953 in Croydon, Surrey, England.  He grows up in Kettering, Northamptonshire.  As Stephen Panter he attends a first year art course at Northampton College in 1972, transferring to Coventry’s Lanchester Polytechnic later the same year.  He becomes acquainted with Jerry Dammers while at this educational institution.

It takes a while for the band to coalesce, but there’s no doubt who is the guiding hand in the creation.  “The Specials, I handpicked everyone in it, I put it together and I had the vision for the whole thing; it didn’t just happen,” states Jerry Dammers.  “It was originally set up primarily to perform my songs, although I did encourage everybody else to write songs as much as I could.”

In mid-1977 the act is launched as The Coventry Automatics and plays gigs in the Midlands area.  In addition to Jerry Dammers (keyboards) and Horace Panter (bass), there are three other founding members: Tim Strickland (lead vocals), Lynval Golding (rhythm guitar, vocals) and Silverton Hutchinson (drums).

Lynval Golding is born 24 July 1951 in Saint Catherine, Jamaica.  When his family arrives in England, they settle in Gloucester.  Lynval Golding moves to Coventry, the hometown of The Coventry Automatics, when he is 18.

The Coventry Automatics expand to a six-piece in 1978 with the addition of Neville Staple (toasting, vocals, percussion).

Neville Eugenton Staple is born 11 April 1955 in Manchester, Jamaica.  His family leaves Jamaica when Neville is 5.  They make a home first in Rugby, Warwickshire, England, before moving to Coventry.  The ‘toasting’ with which Neville Staple is credited is a style of lyrical chanting popular in Jamaica.  It is similar to the rapping used by African-American recording artists from the early 1980s.

Vocalist Tim Strickland leaves the band in 1978 and is replaced by Terry Hall.

Terrence Edward Hall is born 19 March 1959 in Coventry, England.  One of his grandfathers is said to have been a Jewish watchmaker from Germany.  Terry Hall leaves school before he is 15.  He wanders through short-term employment as a bricklayer, a quantity surveyor and an apprentice hairdresser.  Terry Hall describes joining The Coventry Automatics as “an alternative to having no life, really…no work…Five of us got kicked out of school.  We were just sitting around being unemployed.  There was no real choice.”  On stage, Terry Hall becomes noted for his ‘downcast delivery’.  Asked why he doesn’t smile, Hall responds, “I’ve never felt it necessary.  That sounds weird.  I just smile at certain things.”

Next, Roddy Radiation joins as lead guitarist.

Roddy Radiation is born Roderick James Byers on 5 May 1955 in Keresley, England.

The social landscape of Great Britain is changing in the late 1970s.  There is an influx of migrants from the Commonwealth Caribbean countries.  This is a replacement term for what was previously called the British West Indies.  The islands concerned are English-speaking locales such as Saint Kitts, Barbados and Jamaica.  While the majority of Britons are welcoming to their new, darker-skinned countrymen, there are segments of the population who feel threatened and regard ‘true’ British culture as endangered.  This gives rise to packs of racist bigots and more organised neo-Nazi right-wing hate groups.  The situation is enflamed by a rising tide of unemployment.  As Terry Hall noted, many of his bandmates were unemployed.  Additionally, with two Jamaican-born members – Lynval Golding and Neville Staple – The Coventry Automatics find themselves caught in the midst of these social pressures.  The racial mix in the band is controversial and, in Britain, virtually unprecedented.

The music played by The Coventry Automatics is called ska.  It is native to Jamaica.  The average white-skinned Anglos and Americans know the Caribbean islands for calypso music, as popularised by Harry Belafonte’s ‘The Banana Boat Song (Day-O)’ in 1956.  Rock music fans would also be familiar with reggae, a Jamaican music associated with Bob Marley And The Wailers who have been making inroads internationally since the early 1970s.  The native sounds of Jamaican popular music evolve and overlap through the latter half of the twentieth century.  Ska arises in the late 1950s.  The name is derived from the repetitive rhythm guitar sound: ska, ska, ska.  Like most Jamaican music genres, the emphasis is on what to non-Jamaicans seems the wrong beat: one, two, three, four.  Ska reaches its peak in the early to mid-1960s with the advent of acts like Prince Buster (in 1963) and The Skatalites (in 1964).  It then collapses into rocksteady in 1966 which, in turn, becomes reggae in 1968.  The main difference between ska and reggae is the speed at which it is played.  Ska is much faster; reggae is more loping.  Additionally, reggae embraces political and religious themes that are largely absent from ska.  Reggae owes part of its rise to the high temperature in Jamaica.  It’s just too hot to be bopping around like a bee in a bottle.  It’s better to just chill out and sway to ‘da riddim.’  It’s a different story in (comparatively) chilly Britain where ska’s momentum is welcome and warm.  The Coventry Automatics kick off ska’s second wave of popularity, one that arises in the U.K., not Jamaica.  “Ska is just somewhere to start,” says Jerry Dammers.  “It’s dead simple, but there are so many variations you can make of it.”  He sums up his philosophy this way: “The basic thing is Anglo-Jamaican music.  It’s trying to integrate those two.”

Musically, in Great Britain in 1978, the domination of punk rock is waning, giving way to its quirkier successor, new wave.  However, there is still room for some offshoots along the way.  “Punk was dying,” claims Horace Panter.  “We were in the right place at the right time.”  One of the greatest punk bands is The Clash.  They have an interest in reggae and, later in 1978, will record ‘(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais’, a reggae song of their own.  Joe Strummer of The Clash catches a show by The Coventry Automatics and invites them to be a support act on their ‘Clash on Parole’ tour (June-July 1978).  It is during this tour that The Coventry Automatics encounter an ugly racist incident at Bracknell.  This fires Jerry Dammers’ resolve for the band.

The Clash and their manager, Bernie Rhodes, take The Coventry Automatics under their wing.  It seems likely they will arrange a record deal for the band, but Jerry Dammers and company demur.  (The Clash sever their relationship with Bernie Rhodes on 21 October 1978.)

What does come out of The Clash connection is an upgrade to the image of The Coventry Automatics.  It seems Bernie Rhodes encourages this smarter presentation, though – to be fair – it is at least as much part of Jerry Dammers’ agenda.  The band take to wearing two-tone suits that were favoured in the 1960s by Britain’s mods, a fashion movement that also had an interest in ska (sometimes referred to as bluebeat).  Pork pie hats, mohair suits and loafers (footwear) all become integrated into the image.  “The clothes are almost as important [as the music],” claims Terry Hall.

These accoutrements are often referred to as ‘Rude Boy’ outfits.  Rude Boy is a term from 1960s Jamaican street culture.  Strictly speaking, it’s the equivalent of ‘gangsta’ or ‘badman.’  However, it is watered down a bit in fashion terms to indicate a tough, streetwise, look.  Variations on Rude Boys include Rude Girls, Rudie, Rudi or Rudy.

In the latter part of 1978, The Coventry Automatics change their name.  They may have been known as The Coventry Specials for a while but this changes to The Special A.K.A. by the end of the year.

In 1979 drummer Silverton Hutchinson departs.  His replacement is John ‘Brad’ Bradbury, born 16 February 1953 in Coventry, England.  Bradbury attended Kingston-Upon-Hull Regional College of Art prior to joining The Special A.K.A.

This produces the classic line-up of The Specials (though they are still The Special A.K.A. at this point in early 1979): Terry Hall (lead vocals), Neville Staple (toasting, vocals, percussion), Lynval Golding (rhythm guitar, vocals), Roddy Radiation (lead guitar), Jerry Dammers (keyboards), Horace Panter (bass) and John Bradbury (drums).

Jerry Dammers is the band’s primary songwriter, though a significant portion of the band’s output consists of cover versions of 1960s Jamaican ska classics that are largely unfamiliar to the British audience.

When Jerry Dammers decided to forego the sponsorship of Bernie Rhodes and The Clash, he had in mind the goal of creating his own record label.  This is 2 Tone Records, founded in 1979.  It is financially backed by Chrysalis Records.  2 Tone is named for the two tone suits worn by the members of The Special A.K.A. and the operation’s multi-racial agenda.  The label’s logo is a man in a black suit, a pork pie hat and loafers.  The logo is created by Walt Jabsco and based on a photograph of Peter Tosh in the 1960s when Tosh worked with Bob Marley And The Wailers.  Jerry Dammers traced the photo, but Jabsco executed the final design.  Dammers, Horace Panter and graphic designer John ‘Teflon’ Sims come up with the label’s distinctive look, including the black-and-white checks motif.  2 Tone becomes home not only to The Special A.K.A. but also the wave of ska revivalist bands influenced by them, including Madness, The Selecter and The Beat.  2 Tone releases ‘ska and reggae-influenced music with a punk rock and pop music overtone.’  Over the course of its existence, 2 Tone scores twenty hits out of twenty-eight releases.

‘Gangsters’ (UK no. 6), a single credited to The Special A.K.A., is 2 Tone’s first outing.  It is released on 12 September 1979.  ‘Gangsters’ employs part of ‘Al Capone’ by Prince Buster, the first Jamaican record to enter the U.K. pop chart back on 23 February 1967.  (Millie Small’s ‘My Boy Lollipop’ in 1964 started the ska boom, but it was recorded in London.)  Instead of “Al Capone says don’t argue,” Neville Staple changes it to “Bernie Rhodes says don’t argue,” a satirical nod to The Clash’s ex-manager and his role in the story of The Specials.  The song has a tight, haunted beat with Terry Hall, as will be customary, on lead vocals.  Neville Staple throws in interjections like, “Don’t call me Scarface!”

The next single is ‘A Message To You Rudy’ (UK no. 10).  This is a cover version of a 1967 song by Dandy Livingstone (real name – Robert Livingstone Thompson).  In its original form, the title was ‘Rudy, A Message To You’.  The gist of the song is to warn a Rude Boy to straighten up and keep out of trouble.  This single is the first attributed to The Specials (instead of The Special A.K.A.), which becomes the band’s most familiar name.  The Specials give this tune a spare treatment, featuring choppy brass.

Some of those horns come from Rico Rodriguez, ‘the eighth Special’, who is a regular guest with the group.  Rico Rodriguez is considerably older than the rest of The Specials and actually played on some of the 1960s ska hits from Jamaica.  He was born Emmanuel Rodriguez on 17 October 1934 in Cuba, but moved to Jamaica ‘at an early age.’  A trombone player, Rico Rodriguez records in Jamaica from 1961 to 1970 and then moves to the U.K.

The debut album, ‘The Specials’ (1979) (UK no. 4, US no. 84), is released in October.  This is the band’s finest work.  Punk–new wave singer-songwriter Elvis Costello is enlisted to act as producer.  ‘A Message To You Rudy’ is included on this album.  Amongst the highlights are the Jerry Dammers compositions ‘(Dawning Of) A New Era’, ‘Blank Expression’ and ‘Little Bitch’ – though The Specials as a whole are co-credited on ‘Blank Expression’.  ‘(Dawning Of) A New Era’ weds a rockabilly guitar riff to ska for a vision of a dystopian future: “I met a girl from area three / She told me she worked in a chicken factory.”  A more skeletal ska is adopted for ‘Blank Expression’.  The scolding ‘Little Bitch’ features Terry Hall in peak motor-mouth form, gabbling out, “So you wet your bed and you think that’s sad / For a girl of 19 it’s more than sad / I think that’s obscene!”  ‘The Specials’ also includes cover versions.  ‘Do The Dog’ carries a co-songwriting credit for R. Thomas so it seems to be based on U.S. soul music singer Rufus Thomas’ ‘The Dog’ from 1963.  ‘Monkey Man’ has island rhythms that betray its origins as a Toots Hibbert composition from 1969 for his Jamaican band, The Maytals.  Original ska act The Skatalites are credited with the nodding beats of ‘You’re Wondering Now’.  They backed Andy & Joey on the 1964 original.  ‘Too Much Too Young’ is half-original and half-cover version…but more on that in a moment.  ‘The Specials’ captures both the excitement of the ska revival and the group’s social conscience.  This fusion makes it the greatest album by this act.

‘Too Much Too Young’ (UK no. 1) spearheads an EP released on 18 January 1980.  The disc’s alternate title is ‘The Special A.K.A. Live’ (UK no. 1) – and, yes, confusingly, it is credited to The Special A.K.A., The Specials old designation.  ‘Too Much Too Young’ is a semi-original because it makes use of part of Floyd Charmers 1969 song ‘Birth Control’.  The song’s high-stepping sound doesn’t prevent some eyebrows being raised at its pro-contraception message.  Legend has it the song is banned by the BBC but this is incorrect.  What actually occurs is that a promotional video for the track played on British television show ‘Top of the Pops’ is cut short before it reaches the exhortation, “Try wearing a cap!”  The rest of the EP consists of ‘revamps of several 1960s and 1970s reggae/ska classics.’  The other track on side one, ‘Guns Of Navarone’, is recorded at the Lyceum in London, while the three tracks on side two – ‘Long Shot Kick De Bucket’, ‘The Liquidator’ and ‘Skinhead Moonstomp’ – are from a show at Tiffany’s in Coventry.

The Specials embark on a tour of the United States beginning on 25 January 1980 with a show at Hurrah in New York City.  Tensions arise within the band during this tour.  “It was very, very destructive,” claims bassist Horace Panter.  “We were a different band when we came back to England.”  Jerry Dammers points to there being, “Too much drink in the dressing room, too many drugs.”

In 1980 Lynval Golding of The Specials is attacked by racists outside a nightclub in London and given a savage kicking.

‘More Specials’ (1980) (UK no. 5, US no. 98) in October is the group’s second album.  It is produced by keyboardist and main songwriter Jerry Dammers.  “When it came to the second album, I wanted the music to progress, because the first album is all just three chord tricks,” states Dammers.  This set introduces what is described as a ‘new neo-lounge persona’ for the band.  Guitarist Roddy Radiation offers both ‘Rat Race’ (UK no. 5) and ‘Hey Little Rich Girl’, representing, respectively, forceful reggae and a swinging tune.  (When ‘Rat Race’ is released as a single it is backed by ‘Rude Boys Outa Jail’, a song co-written by Neville Staple and Lynval Golding, in which Judge Roughneck deals with a young offender.)  Lynval Golding pens the swaying tropical ode to boredom and unemployment, ‘Do Nothing’ (UK no. 4).  ‘Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think)’ is a brassy cover version of a piece composed by Herb Magidson and Carl Sigman that was originally recorded in 1949 by Guy Lombardo.  Doubtlessly, The Specials know it from Prince Buster’s 1963 ska version.  Terry Hall and Jerry Dammers share a credit for the eerie, doom-laden, nuclear fears of ‘Man At C & A’.  The reference in the title is to the Dutch-owned retail chain C & A, jestingly referred to in Britain as ‘Coats & ‘Ats’.  It’s a cheap clothing store for ordinary folks.  In other words, “I’m the man in grey / I’m just the man at C & A / And I don’t have a say / In the war games that they play.”  Jerry Dammers writes ‘I Can’t Stand It’, a modern soul duet sung in unison by Terry Hall and special guest Rhoda Dakar from The Bodysnatchers.  She also provides backing vocals to Dammers’ ‘Pearl’s Café’, incongruously harmonising with Hall on the refrain, “It’s all a load of bollocks.”  ‘Pearl’s Café’ is a rich character portrait of a woman whose “hair was greyish blue” and whose “perfume turned to gin.”  ‘Stereotype’ (UK no. 6), again written by Dammers, is a sharply observed account of a drunken lout with venereal disease whose car ends up “Wrapped round a lamppost on Saturday night.”

On 9 January 1981 Terry Hall and Jerry Dammers are fined for inciting violence at a concert in the autumn of 1980.

‘Dance Craze’ (1981), a documentary film directed by Joe Massot, premieres on 14 February 1981.  It features the music of The Specials, Madness, The Selecter, The Beat, Bad Manners and The Bodysnatchers.  A soundtrack album, ‘Dance Craze’ (1981) (UK no. 5), is also issued.

The Specials’ greatest song, ‘Ghost Town’ (UK no. 1), tops the British singles chart on 18 July 1981.  The flip side is ‘Why’, Lynval Golding’s song about the assault he suffered the previous year.  To understand ‘Ghost Town’ it is necessary to have some idea of the social situation at the time.  British unemployment reaches a new high of eleven point eight per cent of the population and the country suffers ‘race-related unemployment riots in Brixton and Liverpool.’  As the song’s author, Jerry Dammers, describes it, “[British Prime Minister] Margaret Thatcher had gone mad.”  ‘Ghost Town’ is more like reggae than ska and is described as ‘funereal.’  Amid banshee harmonies, the song expresses sentiments like, “This town’s becoming like a ghost town”, “No job to be found in the country” and “People getting angry.”  Although ‘Ghost Town’ is as topical as The Specials’ earlier songs, it is much darker and less festive.  Still, it captures the moment with precision, making it the band’s peak.  It was not an easy song to record.  “Everyone was getting under pressure and the band was getting tired,” Jerry Dammers recalls.  “After it got to no. 1 [I thought], ‘I’ve proved myself’…Then Neville [Staple] came into the dressing room and announced they were leaving.  I was really upset.”

Terry Hall, Neville Staple, Lynval Golding and Roddy Radiation all leave The Specials in 1981.  To add to their troubles, the 2 Tone record label has financial woes.  A generous contract allowed the label’s other artists – such as Madness, The Selecter and The Beat – to leave after initial releases.  They were all lured away by offers of higher remuneration on other labels or the opportunity to start their own labels.  By 1981, two years after the founding of 2 Tone, they are all gone.  “Just to add to the fun and games, Horace [Panter] joins some nutty cult [Exegesis] and starts giving them all his money…It was a nightmare,” says a despairing Jerry Dammers.

Left with only drummer John Bradbury, Jerry Dammers rebuilds the band.  Reclaiming the previous appellation of The Special A.K.A., the new look 1981 version is: Stan Campbell (vocals) (born 1961), Rhoda Dakar (vocals) (born 1959 in Hampstead, London), Egidio Newton (vocals, percussion), John Shipley (guitar), Jerry Dammers (keyboards), Garry McManus (bass), John Bradbury (drums), Nigel Reeve (saxophone), Dick Cuthell (flugel horn), Caron Wheeler (backing vocals) (born 19 January 1963 in London) and Claudia Fontaine (backing vocals) (born 28 June 1960 in Bethnal Green, London).  The lead singers had some history with other 2 Tone acts.  Rhoda Dakar was in the all-girl group The Bodysnatchers (1979-1980) that, without her, evolves into The Belle Stars.  Stan Campbell filled in for the better known Pauline Black for a few months in The Selecter.  Rico Rodrigues (trombone) continues to make guest appearances with The Special A.K.A.

The Special A.K.A. issue the one-off single ‘The Boiler’ (UK no. 35) in 1982.  Rhoda Dakar handles the lead vocals on this single, a song about a rape victim.

‘In The Studio’ (1984) (UK no. 34) in June is produced by Jerry Dammers.  This set includes the 1983 single ‘Racist Friend’ (UK no. 60) co-written by Jerry Dammers, John Bradbury and Dick Cuthell.  The chant-along ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ (UK no. 9) draws some attention.  Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) is a campaigner against South Africa’s apartheid regime that discriminates against that country’s (majority) black population.  He was imprisoned in 1964.  The song by The Special A.K.A. joins worldwide pressure for Mandela’s release.  He is subsequently freed in 1990 and, as apartheid collapses, becomes South Africa’s President (1994-1999).  Also on this album is what will become the final single by The Special A.K.A., 1984’s ‘What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend’ (UK no. 51).

The Special A.K.A. disbands in 1984.  Jerry Dammers admits, “Obviously I made loads of mistakes in The Specials.  I’m not trying to take all the credit.”  The 2 Tone record label grinds to a halt in 1986.

After leaving The Specials, Terry Hall, Neville Staple and Lynval Golding continue to work together under the name Fun Boy Three from 1981 to 1983.  They record two albums: ‘Fun Boy Three’ (1982) (UK no. 7) and ‘Waiting’ (1983) (UK no. 14, US no. 104).  Some of the best known songs from this trio are: ‘The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum’ (UK no. 20) in 1981; ‘It Ain’t What You Do (It’s The Way That You Do It)’ (UK no. 4, AUS no. 4) with Bananarama in 1982; and ‘The Tunnel Of Love’ (UK no. 10) and ‘Our Lips Are Sealed’ (UK no. 7), both in 1983.  Terry Hall co-writes ‘Our Lips Are Sealed’ with Jane Wiedlin of U.S. girl group The Go-Go’s who also record the song and have a hit with it.

During this time Lynval Golding is again attacked by racists.  In Coventry, he is stabbed in the neck on 6 January 1982, the blade narrowly missing his jugular vein.

After Fun Boy Three, Lynval Golding becomes a stay at home Dad.  He has three mixed race children, Michelle, Anna and Dominic.

Neville Staple has two children of his own: Sheena Staple and Darren Simms.

Terry Hall goes on to a new band, Colourfield, from 1984 to 1987.  The other members are Toby Lyons and Karl Shale.  Colourfield release two albums: ‘Virgins & Philistines’ (1985) (UK no. 12) and ‘Deception’ (1987) (UK no. 95).

‘Ultra Modern Nursery Rhymes’ (1989) is credited to Terry, Blair & Anouchka.  This trio finds Terry Hall working with American actress Blair Booth and jeweller Anouchka Groce.  Their album fails to chart.  Next, Hall teams up with Dave Stewart, best known as half of British synth pop act The Eurythmics.  The name of Hall and Stewart’s project is Vegas, but their self-titled album, ‘Vegas’ (1992), also fails to chart.  Somewhat more successful is Terry Hall’s first solo album, ‘Home’ (1994) (UK no. 95).  This is followed by another collaborative work, the Nearly God collective.  In this enterprise, Hall joins with idiosyncratic Icelandic songstress Bjork, rapper Tricky, and the edgy Neneh Cherry, amongst others.  They issue the album ‘Nearly God’ (1996).  Terry Hall puts out another solo album, ‘Laugh’ (1997) (UK no. 50), and then partners with Mushtaq for ‘The Hour Of Two Lights’ (2003).

After leaving The Specials, guitarist Roddy Radiation puts together a series of bands.  The first of these groups is The Tearjerkers from 1981 to 1987.  The Bonediggers supersede them in 1987 and this act morphs into The Raiders.

Horace Panter extricates himself from the Exegesis cult and works as a school teacher.

From 1996 to 2001 a version of The Specials exists, but it is minus Terry Hall, Jerry Dammers and John Bradbury.  The 1996 model of The Specials consists of: Neville Staple (vocals), Lynval Golding (vocals, guitar), Roddy Radiation (guitar), Mark Adams (keyboards), Horace Panter (bass), Mitch Bainbridge (drums), John Read (trumpet) and Adam Birch (trumpet).  The albums issued by The Specials during this era largely consist of cover versions.  ‘Today’s Specials’ (1996) is released on Virgin and ‘Guilty ‘Till Proved Innocent’ (1998) appears on MCA.  Receiver is the record label that puts out the act’s two remaining albums.  Neol Davies replaces Lynval Golding for ‘Skinhead Girl’ (2000).  By the time of ‘Conquering Ruler’ (2001), Neville Staple, Roddy Radiation and Horace Panter are augmented by session musicians.  None of the four albums make the charts.  The Specials dissolve again in 2001.

Terry Hall attempts suicide in 2004.  In the aftermath, “I was diagnosed as a manic depressive, which I sorta knew anyway, I just avoided the diagnosis,” he reports.  “[I had been treating the problem] with gin, which isn’t the greatest medication.”  Hall states that, subsequently, “I’ve had brilliant medical care and now I’ve got a mixture of drugs – stuff like Lithium – and it helps balance me out.  It’s such a weird illness.  It’s like an unseen illness.  You only see it when it’s really at peak and I didn’t have a choice this time.  I had to seek attention.”

While recovering, Terry Hall decides to get The Specials back together again.  Everyone agrees – with the notable exception of Jerry Dammers.  He sees no point in getting the group together just to revive old glories without moving forwards.  Additionally, the bad blood between Dammers and his erstwhile colleagues seems to persist.  “It’s not The Specials,” is his blunt assessment of this incarnation.  Dammers elects to continue working with his own Spatial A.K.A. Orchestra, an outfit that mixes funk, ska, jazz, jungle and dubstep.

The Specials reconvene in 2008 with a line-up of: Terry Hall (lead vocals), Neville Staple (vocals), Lynval Golding (rhythm guitar, vocals), Roddy Radiation (guitar), Horace Panter (bass), John Bradbury (drums), Drew Stansall (saxophone), Tim Smart (trombone), John Read (trumpet) and Adam Birch (trumpet).  As Jerry Dammers observed, The Specials only tour – not record – reliving their past hits.  But maybe that’s all that is required.  Terry Hall thinks it is “really fantastic.  It’s just a sense of belonging really.  I lost touch…They understand my illness.”

Roddy Radiation continues to also work with his side project, The Skabilly Rebels.

Neville Staple drops out of The Specials in 2013 ‘due to health concerns.’

Jerry Dammers claimed that The Specials existed to get through to racist thugs.  Did that happen?  The attacks on Lynval Golding are evidence of failure.  Racists are probably too close-minded to listen to any other views.  Perhaps more significantly, The Specials and the 2 Tone record label reached out to younger, more impressionable minds.  A new generation may have been enlightened, or at least saw racial harmony as ‘cool’ in a way their elders had not.  Eradicating racism is too big a task for a pop group, but The Specials made a worthy effort at reducing such abhorrent practices.  It’s ironic that a band so devoted to peace and racial harmony should have been so riven by internal feuds.  The Specials had noble aims, but were only human.  The Specials ‘began the British ska revival craze, combining the highly danceable ska and rocksteady beat with punk’s energy and attitude.’  They ‘struck a chord with British youth – black and white – and especially, the unemployed.’

Sources:

  1. wikipedia.org as at 3 March 2014
  2. ‘The Guardian’ (U.K. newspaper) – ‘Ska for the Madding Crowd’ by Alexis Petridis (8 March 2002) (reproduced on theguardian.com)
  3. ‘Too Much Too Young’ (compilation album) – Sleeve notes by Chris White (EMI Records Ltd, 1996) p. 3, 4
  4. ‘The Independent’ (U.K. newspaper) – ‘Ska Wars: Why Isn’t Jerry Dammers Playing on The Specials’ Sell-Out Reunion Tour Next Month’ by Ian Burrell (1 March 2009) (reproduced on independent.co.uk)
  5. ‘The Illustrated Rock Handbook’ edited by Roxanne Streeter, Ray Bonds (Salamander Books, 1983) p. 44, 200
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  7. worldmusic.about.com – Toasting – by Megan Romer as at 20 April 2014
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  18. ‘The Guardian’ (U.K. newspaper) – ‘Ghosts Story’ by Chris Arnot (4 July 2001) (reproduced on theguardian.com)
  19. ‘The Independent’ (U.K. newspaper) – ‘C & A: A Sad Tale of the High Street Store that went from Coats & ‘Ats to Closure and Acrimony’ by Nigel Cope (16 June 2000) (reproduced on independent.co.uk)
  20. songmeanings.com as at 17 April 2014
  21. marcoonthebass.blogspot.com by ‘Marco on the Bass’ (14 February 2011)
  22. ‘Coventry Evening Telegraph’ (Coventry, U.K. newspaper) ‘Rise and Fall of a Pop Star – Stan Campbell’ by Paul Barry, Steve Chilton (17 April 2002) (reproduced on thefreelibrary.com)
  23. Internet movie database imdb.com as at 19 April 2014

Song lyrics copyright Plangent Visions Music Ltd.

Last revised 13 May 2014

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