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Ska, Ska, Ska: The Specials, Selecter & Bad Manners: Cool photos of the bands & their fans 1979-80

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Jerry Dammers basically ran 2 Tone Records out of his bedroom. It was a do-it-yourself label started in 1979 to record his band The Specials and promote a bunch of other ska groups—mainly friends and colleagues in and around Coventry, England.

2 Tone was the start of a ska revival. At one point nearly every new British ska band was on Dammers’ label—The Specials, Madness, Selecter, The (English) Beat, Bad Manners, The Bodysnatchers and even an indie act named Elvis Costello.

The world was turning black and white. Quite literally as it turned out when The Specials toured America. At the Whisky a Go Go in February 1980, the whole exterior of the building was painted in black and white checks.

That summer was the last great high for the ska revival. The UK pop charts were crammed with ska music. The Specials scored another top ten hit with their fourth single “Rat Race.” They were recording their second album and played a sell-out seaside tour of England with support from The Bodysnatchers. They had also made a legendary appearance on Saturday Night Live with “Gangsters” which according to some was a performance that stands out as one of the best in the show’s history. The Specials also toured Japan where their opening gig at Osaka sent the audience into a frenzy of ecstasy. The audience rushed the stage and mobbed the band. As a result of this, the band’s manager was arrested and their further shows canceled. In Japan audiences were forbidden from standing or dancing at concerts—something these young fans found all but impossible to do.

Yet for all the success, the Specials were falling apart. There was infighting between lead singer Terry Hall and guitarist Roddy Radiation and loud disagreements between Dammers and other band members over the new direction the Specials’ music was heading. At the end of the year, Lynval Golding was brutally stabbed in a racist attack outside a concert in London. It began to look like the great multicultural pop movement represented by the Specials and all the other ska bands was coming to an end. The following year, the Specials split. Ska was replaced by the New Romantics and synth-pop.

These photographs capture the bands and fans of 2 Tone during 1979 and the summer of 1980 when ska united a nation.
 
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Neville Staples and Jerry Dammers of The Specials, circa 1979.
 
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Sarah Jane Owen of The Bodysnatchers, 1980.
 
More memories of the summer of ska, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘An experiment waiting to happen’: A brief history of ‘Two Tone Britain’

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Jerry Dammers: the father of Two Tone records
 
Two Tone was a specifically British, or more accurately English, musical genre that came out of punk and ska in the late 1970s. The roots of Two Tone can be traced back to the arrival of West Indians to England—the so-called “Windrush Generation”—under the British Nationality Act of 1948. This act gave British citizenship to all people living in Commonwealth countries and full rights of entry and settlement in the UK. With the arrival of these Commonwealth citizens came ska and reggae music, which was slowly adopted by the white working class.

Most youth music is exclusive—it’s old versus young; hip versus square; mod versus rocker; slacker versus yuppie; black versus white. Few musical genres are totally or even try to be totally inclusive—there is a built-in snobbishness that comes with the package. The osmosis of ska and Afro-Carribean culture into the white British culture pointed a way towards a truly inclusive musical genre—Two Tone. It was, as Two Tone singer Pauline Black once said, “an experiment waiting to happen.”

During the 1960s, Skinheads took ska as their own—but the growing racism of the skinhead movement led to their ostracization. Reggae replaced ska—but the skins hated reggae’s laid-back, spliffed-up vibe. Skinheads became suedeheads. Popular music moved onto glam rock, heavy metal, and prog rock. Then punk arrived in 1976. A new generation of youngsters saw that the means of music production could be theirs.
 
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Two Tone pioneers The Specials.
 
Jerry Dammers was a young musician in Coventry. He had been a fellow traveler in various youth movements—a hippie, a skinhead, a punk—but his first love was ska. Dammers took the energy of punk with the rhythms of ska and created a new genre of music known as Two Tone—an inclusive, socially aware, “danceable earfest.” Dammers formed the Specials AKA with like-minded youngsters and the best of local talent. The Specials pioneered Two Tone music. They got a record deal that allowed Dammers to set up his Two Tone record label. Its first release was The Specials with “Gangsters” on the A-side and Pauline Black and the Selecter—a band made up in the studio—on the B-side. Dammers quickly signed up the Beat (a.k.a. the English Beat), London band Madness, Bad Manners, the Bodysnatchers and even Elvis Costello and the Attractions.

Two Tone’s iconic black and white label design (an image created by Dammers that was loosely based on a photograph of Pete Tosh from the Wailing Wailers) was a standard for the fans’ style—a mix of Rude Boy and Mod—baggy suit, white shirt, black tie, and porkpie hat. Two Tone brought black and white together and although The Specials could sometimes be didactic—they sent out a political message that united the young.

The whole story is well told by those at its heart and from those who were most influenced by it in Two Tone Britain—a thoroughly enjoyable documentary that makes you realize what at its best music can achieve. (The video embedded below looks suspiciously unavailable, but we assure you, as of the time of posting, you can click on it and watch it!)
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘The Boiler’: The Specials’ harrowing song about date rape

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By the summer of 1981 The Specials had all but split up when they topped the UK number one slot with their last single as original line-up “Ghost Town.”

Terry Hall, Lynval Golding and Neville Staples went off and formed Fun Boy Three releasing their debut single “The Lunatics (Have Taken Over the Asylum)” later that year. Bass player Horace Panter went to co-form General Union, Roddy Radiation fronted The Tearjerkers, which left band founder Jerry Dammers and drummer John Bradbury to regroup with Rhoda Dakar (vocals), John Shipley (guitar), Dick Cuthell (brass), Nicky Summers (bass) to continue as The Special AKA.

The Special AKA was how the band were originally known after they changed their name from The Automatics or The Special AKA The Coventry Automatics, which became The Specials for short—but what’s in a name?

“Ghost Town” was a powerful pay-off by The Specials and its strong political message saw it named “Single of the Year” by the UK’s top three music papers, NME, Sounds and Melody Maker. The song delivered a stinging social commentary on the poverty and inner city destruction caused by Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s economic policies during the 1980s. In 2002, Dammers discussed the inspiration to the song with Alex Petridis of the Guardian:

“You travelled from town to town and what was happening was terrible. In Liverpool, all the shops were shuttered up, everything was closing down… We could actually see it by touring around. You could see that frustration and anger in the audience. In Glasgow, there were these little old ladies on the streets selling all their household goods, their cups and saucers. It was unbelievable. It was clear that something was very, very wrong.”


The song’s success meant high expectations for what Dammers and his reconstructed Special AKA could achieve.
 
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Dammers was often described by the music press as the main driving force and writer behind The Specials, which was perhaps unfair to his fellow bandmates. This was in part down to the fact he was the founder and CEO of the record label 2 Tone—a home to The Specials, Selecter, Madness and The Beat. 

Born in India in 1955, Dammers had attended King Henry VIII public school in Coventry, whose former pupils include poet Philip Larkin and co-founder of Napalm Death, Nic Bullen. He had been a mod and a hippie before becoming a skinhead and discovering his love for ska music. Ska led him to founding 2 Tone Records in 1979 that kick-started the ska revival.

Dammers had a glorious talent for writing upbeat pop music with strong social and political messages, which can be seen by most of The Specials tracks from “Too Much Too Young” to Ghost Town,” and he had never been one to shirk from difficult or controversial subject matter. When considering what the Special AKA shoudl release after the all-conquering “Ghost Town,” he collaborated with singer Rhoda Dakar on powerful single about date rape called “The Boiler” a song which Alex Petridis has described as having:

...[a] worldview [that] was so bleak as to make previous Specials albums – no barrel of laughs themselves – seem like the height of giddy gay abandon.

 
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Rhoda Dakar had been a member of The Bodysnatchers (best known for the single “Do the Rock-Steady”) before joining The Specials as a backing vocalist, appearing on the band’s second album More Specials, and on their 1981 tour. Dakar and Dammers started work on “The Boiler” sometime in 1980, and the song was added to The Specials’ set list during the ‘81 tour, but was not fully finished until later that year.

“The Boiler” is the harrowing tale of a young girl who is swayed by the attentions of a man who eventually rapes her. Dakar said in an interview with Marco on the Bass that the song was based on “a friend [who] had been raped a couple of years earlier and I suppose I was thinking of her at the time. It was a very long and drawn out process. It was released a year after it was first recorded.” It was not the kind of song that ska fans were expecting to hear after “Ghost Town” but Dammers believed it was worth doing as it made a statement about a subject matter that needed to be brought to public attention.

Continues after the jump…

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