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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…

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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02.17.2017
10:36 am
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Fun Boy Three cover the Doors, burn the American flag on TV, 1983
01.19.2017
09:44 am
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Waiting, the second and final Fun Boy Three LP, produced by David Byrne
 
At the most recent meeting of the Los Angeles chapter of the Doors Study Group, my friend and former bandmate Jessica Espeleta showed her favorite video on all of YouTube: a TV performance of “The End” by Fun Boy Three, complete with flag-burning.

Fun Boy Three—the group formed by runaway Specials Terry Hall, Neville Staples, and Lynval Golding in 1981—started playing “The End” when the end of their brief career began to loom, according to The Rough Guide to Rock:

Tensions were growing within the band, aggravated by a punishing touring schedule to try to break the group in America. Including The Doors’ “The End” in their set may not have been the wisest move they ever made, especially when they climaxed it by burning an American flag.

More after the jump…

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Posted by Oliver Hall
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01.19.2017
09:44 am
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‘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
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05.25.2016
12:40 pm
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Paintings of vintage cassette tapes by ‘Sir Horace Gentleman’ of the Specials
06.19.2015
11:33 am
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When the Specials’ self-titled first album, produced by Elvis Costello, dropped in 1979, it instantly became one of the founding documents of the ska revival movement, or 2 Tone, as it became known. The band had a remarkable run of hit singles from 1979 to 1981, with both “Too Much Too Young” and “Ghost Town” hitting #1 on the U.K. charts before the group broke up. Terry Hall , Neville Staple and Lynval Golding would go on to form Fun Boy Three, whilst the Jerry Dammers-led contingent pressed on as The Special AKA, releasing new material through 1984, including the influential hit single “(Free) Nelson Mandela.”
 

 
Before he even became the bassist of the Specials, Horace Panter, who went by Sir Horace Gentleman, had a degree in fine art from Lanchester Polytechnic, and he apparently imbibed a solid sense of the pop aesthetic in addition to considerable draftsmanship skills. From 1998 to 2008, Panter was “Head of Art” at a secondary school. Panter lists as his influences “Peter Blake, Kenneth Noland, Wayne Thiebaud, and Joseph Cornell as well as the naive style of Henri Rousseau.”

Panter’s pop art paintings cover a wide swath of ground but I found his series of cassettes the most amusing. Most of the canvases are about three feet wide, and many are available for purchase.

Clicking on any painting will yield a larger image.
 

Prince Far-I
 

One Step Beyond
 

Gangsters
 
More after the jump…

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Posted by Martin Schneider
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06.19.2015
11:33 am
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‘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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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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04.01.2015
11:50 am
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Rock Against Racism: On the front line with The Clash, Specials, Undertones & Elvis Costello

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It all began in 1968 when an old Tory coot Enoch Powell gave a racist speech against immigration and anti-discrimination legislation at his West Midlands constituency in England. Powell claimed he was horrified at what he believed was an unstoppable flow of immigration that would eventually swamp the country where “in fifteen or twenty years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.” It was an incendiary and offensive speech full bile and hate, and became known as the “Rivers of blood speech” because of Powell’s quotation from Virgil’s Aeneid about “‘the River Tiber foaming with much blood.’”

Many of the white working class supported Powell, most shamefully the London dockers’ union staged a one day strike in his favor. Powell became the pin-up of the far right and his words appeared to sanction their rise, in particular the odious neo-Nazi National Front that promoted its racist policies with the boot as much as the ballot. Against this rose Rock Against Racism—“a raggedy arsed united front” co-founded by Red Saunders, Roger Huddle and others in 1976.

At first, Rock Against Racism was just an idea—a way to bring together a new generation of youth against the stealthy rise of the far right. It may have remained just an idea had it not been for Eric Clapton announcing during a concert in 1976 that the UK had “become overcrowded” and his fans should vote for Enoch Powell to stop Britain from becoming “a black colony.” Allegedly Clapton then shouted “Keep Britain white.” His racist tirade led to Saunders and Huddle writing a letter to the music paper NME pointing out that half Clapton’s music was black. The letter ended with a call for readers to help establish Rock Against Racism. The response was overwhelmingly positive.

In April 1978, 100,000 people marched across London in support of Rock Against Racism, which was followed by a concert at Victoria Park headlined by The Clash and the Tom Robinson Band. It was a momentous event, which singer and activist Billy Bragg correctly described as “the moment when my generation took sides.”

Photographer Syd Shelton documented the rise of Rock Against Racism during the 1970s and 1980s from its first demonstrations, the concert in Victoria Park, to the gigs, bands, musicians (The Clash, The Specials, The Undertones, Elvis Costello, etc), the young activists and supporters who stood up and proudly said: “Love Music, Hate Racism.”
 
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More rocking pictures against racism, after the jump…
 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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12.10.2014
01:06 pm
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After The Specials came the bittersweet pop of Fun Boy Three
11.10.2013
11:24 am
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Terry Hall. Terry Hall. Terry Hall. There’s only one Terry Hall. Okay, there’s probably thousands of the bastard, but there’s only one Terry Hall.

That dour-faced grumpy-looking singer and songwriter who has appeared in as many different bands as there are Terry Halls out there.

Hall seems to have been around for decades now—longer than the careers of most pop stars, but he’s never achieved the heights of success, despite having the talent, the idiosyncratic voice and that surly sneer. Maybe it’s because he’s “too English”? Maybe it’s because he’s perceived as awkward, moody, and trouble? Maybe it’s because he’s never kissed America’s ass? Maybe it’s because he’s actually quite shy, suffers from depression, and gets so wound-up about writing songs that the stress gives him eczema? I don’t know. All I do know is that Hall has been involved with some incredible bands and has produced a diverse and impressive array of work, with a dozen pop classic songs, and a clutch of superb albums. But all that doesn’t help, for really, who the fuck is Terry Hall?

There’s that old pop riddle of why some bands manage to keep a shambling career going on the basis of one Top 40 single; while others, with more talent and charm, disappear after a residency of two-to-three years in the Top Ten. Fitting into this latter camp is the Fun Boy Three, the band formed by Terry Hall, Lynval Golding and Neville Staple, after they quit Ska band The Specials.

Hall had tired of the chaos and aggression (drugs, drink and bottles being thrown by skinhead fans) of life with The Specials. And after too many years of near constant touring, Terry, Lynval and Neville found joyous release producing their own distinct and eclectic music in the studio.

It was as if the three young lads had gone on holiday, and packed-in their 9-5 Two-Tone suits for sweat shirts, three-quarter-length cargo pants and Terry’s distinctive Shockheaded Peter haircut. Their appeal was instant and the Fun Boy Three were soon all over the music press, and bouncing around like teenyboppers on Top of the Pops. But underneath it all, they were just the same three lads wanting to make music, as Terry Hall explained it to the student magazine I edited at the time:

”We created one of the biggest images last year with stupid haircuts, but our image is ourselves. I have had enough of telling people that I am just the same as them; they think I’m different because I’m in a group, but it’s just my job. A lot of people think record companies control us, but they just distribute our records; we manage ourselves.”

Lead singers always receive the focus, because they’re the ones out front, saying those things so many young hearts want to hear and understand. Listening to Hall’s lyrics it was obvious here was no ordinary lead singer, with his near monotone vocals and withering gaze, he was the maverick talent at the heart of the Fun Boy Three.

”I come up with most of the ideas for our songs. I take lyric writing very seriously. I would like to produce other people’s music, to give myself ideas as much as anything.”

It’s been said that Hall has to wear white gloves when he writes lyrics because he gets so stressed his hands erupt with eczema. It’s one of the stories that if not true, should be, for it makes Hall seem near saintly in suffering for his art.

Together Fun Boy Three produced two classic pop albums and a handful of hit singles between 1981 and 1983. Their debut, “The Lunatics (Have Taken Over The Asylum)” may have carried on from where The Specials’ “Ghost Town” left off, but Fun Boy Three were no Specials-lite, and their following singles—“T’Ain’t What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It)” (with backing from Bananarama), and “The Telephone Always Rings”—offered jaunty, enjoyable pop.

“Commercial success takes a lot of pressure from the band. There is tension among us but we can talk about it, and we try to avoid each other as much as possible. With The Specials tension split us up; but I think all groups should eventually. Changing helps the progression of music like doing cover versions to take music further, the way we did ‘T’Ain’t What You Do…’ with Banarama. Unlike Phil Collins, his version of ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ took music back about ten years.”

 
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Hall later jokingly dismissed the band’s first album as “crap,” and that it had only been done to make money, which kinda sums up Terry’s sense of humor. A typical joke by Terry (an avid Manchester United supporter) goes something like this, where you have to imagine he’s reading out soccer results:

“Real Madrid, one. Surreal Madrid, fish.”

I liked their first album, but it was their second (and sadly last) album Waiting, produced by Talking Heads’ David Byrne, that hit me directly between the ears. This was no ordinary record, Waiting is classic pop of an exquisite and thoroughly brilliant and enjoyable kind. From its opening track (a cover of the theme music of the Margaret Rutherford/Miss Marple movie, Murder She Said), through the politically barbed “The More I See (The Less I Believe)” with its Captain Scarlet drum riff, to such pop chart gold as “Tunnel of Love” and “Our Lips Are Sealed” (with Jane Weidlin), Waiting is one of pure pop’s genuine masterpieces, or as Hall described it at the time just “a really good LP.”

”It shows we have grown up in a lot of ways. We are taking our music a lot more seriously than last year. We were enjoying ourselves and hoping that people were enjoying us.”

In 1983, Fun Boy Three appeared on TV show Switch, where they performed “Well Fancy That,” “Our Lips Are Sealed” and “Farmyard Connection.” Their opening number, the jaunty yet hellishly disturbing “Well Fancy That,” detailed Hall’s sex abuse at the hands of a teacher on a “school trip to France.” It’s like a depth charge, as the meaning lyrics only hit you after you’ve started humming along to the carnivalesque tune.

”You took me to France
On the promise of teaching me French,
We were told, to assemble, to meet up at ten,
I was twelve and naive,
You planned out our route
I sat in your car, my suitcase in the boot,
On the M1, and the A1, until we reached Dover,
Through passport control, you pulled your car over
On the liner, we stood on the deck, we left port,
My first time abroad,
A school trip to France.”

Who else but Terry Hall would make such a naked admission in such a public way? As David Byrne pointed out at the time:

“He didn’t tell his mum, he didn’t tell his friends, but he’s going to tell everybody.”

Hall later said writing the song was cathartic:

“It was about me being sexually abused as a kid by a teacher,” says this father of three.

“The only way I could deal with the experience was to write about it, in a song. It was very difficult for me to write, but I wanted to communicate my feelings.”

 

 
I bet it was. Every critic nearly peed their pants when John Lennon sang about his mother obsession and his Primal Scream therapy, but along comes Terry Hall singing about his sex abuse as a child, and not one hack says peep, or even “how brave.” No, I seem to recall they were all rubbing their nipples over Flock of Seagulls’ asymmetric haircuts, and Bono’s enormous ego. Plus ca change..

Terry Hall’s approach to such a horrific event reveals something of the essence of the man. Hall has always done things on his own terms. He has chosen how best to deal with his own private demons; and he has followed his own career path from The Specials, to Fun Boy Three, through The Colourfield, Terry, Blair & Anouchka, then Vegas (with Dave Stewart), to his own solo career and back to The Specials again. Hall is an artist who is only ever been beholden to anyone but himself and his own muse. This has meant some people, some journalists, have pettily and foolishly written Hall off. But wait, stop, and take a look at what he has achieved. Hall has a highly impressive and significant body of work, both as a solo artist and through his various bands. And together with Staple and Golding as the Fun Boy Three, Hall has produced some of pop’s best and most lasting songs.
 

The 1983 Switch performance.
 

 
Fun Boy Three live on ‘Rockpalast’ plus more, after the jump…

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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11.10.2013
11:24 am
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‘Dance Craze - The Best of British Ska Live!’ ft Madness, The Specials, The Beat & more

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There’s no need to explain why this film is such a corker. Joe Massot’s Dance Craze is 84 minutes of absolutely mint performances from the best British ska acts of the early 80s, featuring 27 tracks from Madness, The Specials, The Beat, The Selecter, Bad Manners and The Bodysnatchers.

All the bands were signed to the iconic 2 Tone label, who also put out a soundtrack album featuring some of the best cuts from the film. I have that record and it’s excellent, but seeing the footage for the first time in full really puts it in perspective.

The energy, the passion, the clothes, the diversity and yet the sense of community, it’s no wonder ska was the biggest youth movement in the UK after punk. These gigs look great, and it’s a pity more modern live experiences aren’t as communal and just such goddam fun.

I mean, how could you possibly go wrong with a tracklist like this:

“Nite Klub” – The Specials
“The Prince” – Madness
“Ne-Ne-Na-Na-Na-Na-Nu-Nu” – Bad Manners
“007 (Shanty Town)” – The Bodysnatchers
“Three Minute Hero” – The Selecter
“Ranking Full Stop” – The Beat
“Big Shot” – The Beat
“Concrete Jungle” – The Specials
“Swan Lake” – Madness
“Razor Blade Alley” – Madness
“Missing Words” – The Selecter
“Let’s Do the Rock Steady” – The Bodysnatchers
“Lip Up Fatty” – Bad Manners
“Madness” – Madness
“Too Much Too Young” – The Specials
“On My Radio” – The Selecter
“Easy Life” – The Bodysnatchers
“Rough Rider” – The Beat
“Man at C&A” – The Specials
“Inner London Violence” – Bad Manners
“Night Boat to Cairo” – Madness
“Twist and Crawl” – The Beat
“Wooly Bully” – Bad Manners
“Too Much Pressure” – The Selecter
“Mirror in the Bathroom” – The Beat
“One Step Beyond” – Madness
“Nite Klub” – The Specials
 

 

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile
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04.24.2012
09:27 pm
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The Specials: In Concert from ‘Rock Goes to College’ 1980
02.08.2012
07:05 pm
Topics:
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The Specials in concert at the Colchester Institute, January 21st 1980. Recorded as part of the Beeb’s series Rock Goes to College (boy, they must have struggled with that title), this is Coventry’s Magnificent 7 at their best.

Track listing:

01. “Do the Dog”
02. “Monkey Man”
03. “Rat Race”
04. “Blank Expression”
05. “Rude Boys Outta Jail”
06. “Doesn’t Make It Right”
07. “Concrete Jungle”
08. “Too Much Too Young”
09. “Guns of Navarone”
10. “Nite Club”
11. “Gangsters”
12. “Longshot Kick De Bucket”
13. “Madness”
14. “You’re Wondering”
 

 
Previously on Dangerous MInds

The Specials: Live in Japan 1980


 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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02.08.2012
07:05 pm
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