Despite only existing as a band (defacto line up) for 3 years The Specials remain one of the most important and influential acts of their period.Forming in 1977 as the ‘Coventry Automatics’ it took until late 1978 for the band to finally settle on a name, a musical direction, a line up (consisting : Roddy Byers - guitar, John Bradbury - drums, Terry Hall - vocals, Lynval Golding - guitar, Horace Panter - bass, Jerry Dammers - keyboards, Neville Staples - vocals) and most importantly an attitude and an image.
The 2-Tone image and ethos was primarily concocted by Jerry Dammers who, drawing influence from original Jamaican Rude boys such as Walt Jabsco, created the familiar 2-Tone check and look which accompanied a lot of their releases and indeed a lot of similarly influenced bands since then. After releasing their debut single ‘Gangsters’ (UK # 6) themselves through a distribution deal with Rough Trade the band and the label were finally signed to Chrysalis with the option to release other acts material through the 2-Tone brand (Including The Selecter, Madness and The Beat).
Their debut album (The Specials, UK # 7) was hastily released, produced by Elvis Costello, it was predominantly a recording of their live show and kick-started a long period of fervent touring which saw the madness and chaos surrounding 2-Tone and The Specials spiral out of control with many scenes of Racist / anti-racist violence, mass stage invasions and support acts dropping off and on due to these pressures.
Despite the constant touring the band found time to record and release a second album (More Specials, UK # 5) which showed a marked change in direction from their ‘Ska-Punk’ sound, inspired by Jerry Dammers’ interest in Lounge music and Muzac it fuses an odd combination of styles, but was however well received by fans and critics alike.
By this point the cracks in the Specials were beginning to show, the pressures of constant worldwide touring were taking their toll, coupled with Jerry Dammers insistence on a certain style and attitude to the band members conduct forced the band into a six month break to revitalise and write songs. The only songs to ever surface out of this period were the tracks that formed the single release ‘Ghost Town’, the result of tense and stressful recording sessions with most band members believing it to be too odd and strange, it was finally released in June 1981. Remaining at number 1 for 3 weeks it became the anthem and backdrop to the nationwide riots that blighted the summer of 1981, with Jerry Dammers proclaiming it the ‘Culmination of all that the Specials stood for√Æ. Shortly after this The Specials split with the band members splintering into several new groups - Terry Hall, Lynval Golding and Neville Staples became the Fun Boy Three, Roddy Byers started the Tear Jerkers, John Bradbury formed the JB all-stars and Jerry Dammers and Horace Panter remained to form the Special A.K.A who remained on 2-Tone but were far less successful bar the anthemic ‘Nelson Mandela’ single.
The Specials were one of the few bands who remained true to themselves despite their successes, which possibly helped contribute to their eventual downfall. The pressures of the real world of the music business restricting them from developing and exposing the new talent they wanted to through the 2-Tone label.
Published in Drowned in Sound artist profile