The Specials, also known as The
Special AKA, are an English 2 Tone and
ska revival band formed in 1977 in Coventry. Their music combines a
"danceable ska and rocksteady beat with punk's energy and
attitude". Lyrically they present a "more focused and informed
political and social stance".
The band wore mod-style "1960s period rude boy outfits (pork pie hats,
tonic and mohair suits and loafers)". In 1980, the song "Too Much
Too Young", the lead track on their
The Special AKA Live!
The Special AKA Live! EP, reached
No. 1 in the UK. In 1981, the unemployment-themed single "Ghost
Town" also hit No. 1 in the UK Singles Chart.
After seven consecutive UK Top 10 singles between 1979 and 1981, three
members of the group abruptly left to form Fun Boy Three.
Continuing on as "The
Special AKA" (a name they used frequently on
earlier Specials releases), a substantially revised Specials line-up
issued new material through 1984, including the top 10 UK hit single
"Free Nelson Mandela". Afterwards, founder and songwriter Jerry
Dammers dissolved the band and pursued political activism.
The group reformed in 1993, and have continued to perform and record
with varying line-ups (but without Dammers).
1.1 Founding and early years (1977–78)
1.2 Ascendancy of the Specials (1979–81)
1.3 Band split, rebirth as the
Special AKA (1982–84)
2 Later developments
7 Further reading
8 External links
Founding and early years (1977–78)
The group was formed in 1977 by songwriter/keyboardist Dammers,
vocalist Tim Strickland, guitarist/vocalist Lynval Golding, drummer
Silverton Hutchinson and bassist
Horace Panter (a.k.a. Sir Horace
Gentleman). Strickland was replaced by Terry Hall shortly after the
band's formation. The band was first called the Automatics, then the
Coventry Automatics. Vocalist
Neville Staple and guitarist Roddy
Byers (a.k.a. Roddy Radiation) joined the band the following year, and
the band changed its name to the
Joe Strummer of the
Clash had attended one of their concerts, and invited the
to open for his band in their "On Parole" UK tour. This performance
Special AKA a new level of national exposure, and they
briefly shared the Clash's management.
The Specials began at the same time as Rock Against Racism, which
first organised in 1978. According to Dammers, anti-racism was
intrinsic to the formation of the Specials, in that the band was
formed with the goal of integrating black and white people. Many years
later Dammers stated, "Music gets political when there are new ideas
in music, ...punk was innovative, so was ska, and that was why bands
such as the Specials and the Clash could be political".
Ascendancy of the Specials (1979–81)
In 1979, shortly after drummer Hutchinson left the band to be replaced
by John Bradbury, Dammers formed the
2 Tone Records
2 Tone Records label and released
the band's debut single "Gangsters", a reworking of Prince Buster's
"Al Capone". The record became a Top 10 hit that summer. The band
had begun wearing mod/rude boy/skinhead-style two-tone tonic suits,
along with other elements of late 1960s teen fashions. Changing their
name to the Specials, they recorded their eponymous debut album in
1979, produced by Elvis Costello. Horn players
Dick Cuthell and
Rico Rodriguez were featured on the album, but would not be official
members of the Specials until their second album.
The Specials led off with Dandy Livingstone's "Rudy, A Message to You"
(slightly altering the title to "A Message to You, Rudy") and also had
Prince Buster and Toots & the Maytals songs from the
late 1960s. In 1980, the EP Too Much Too Young (predominantly credited
Special A.K.A.) was a No. 1 hit in the UK Singles Chart,
despite controversy over the song's lyrics, which reference teen
pregnancy and promote contraception.
Reverting once again to the moniker the Specials, the band's second
album, More Specials, was not as commercially successful and was
recorded at a time when, according to Hall, conflicts had developed in
the band. Female backing vocalists on the Specials first two studio
albums included: Chrissie Hynde;
Rhoda Dakar (then of the
Bodysnatchers and later of the
Special AKA); and Belinda Carlisle,
Jane Wiedlin and
Charlotte Caffey of the Go-Go's. In the first few
months of 1981, the band took a break from recording and touring, and
then released "Ghost Town", a non-album single, which hit No. 1 in
1981. At their
Top of the Pops
Top of the Pops programme of the song, however,
Staples, Hall and Golding announced they were leaving the band.
Golding later said: "We didn't talk to the rest of the guys. We
couldn't even stay in the same dressing room. We couldn't even look at
each other. We stopped communicating. You only realise what a genius
Jerry was years later. At the time, we were on a different
planet." Shortly afterwards, the three left the band to form Fun
Band split, rebirth as the
Special AKA (1982–84)
For the next few years, the group was in a seemingly constant state of
flux. Adding Dakar to the permanent line-up, the group recorded "The
Boiler" with Dakar on vocals, Dammers on keyboard, Bradbury on drums,
John Shipley from the Swinging Cats on guitar, Cuthell on brass and
Nicky Summers on bass. The single was credited to "Rhoda with the
Special AKA". The controversial track described an incident of date
rape, and its frank and harrowing depiction of the matter meant that
airplay was severely limited. Nevertheless, it managed to reach No. 35
on the UK charts, and American writer
Dave Marsh later identified "The
Boiler" as one of the 1,001 best "rock and soul" singles of all time
in his book The Heart of Rock & Soul.
After going on tour with Rodriguez, the band (without Dakar, and as
"Rico and the
Special AKA") also recorded the non-charting (and
non-album) single "Jungle Music". The line-up for the single was
Rodriguez (vocal, trombone), Cuthell (cornets), Dammers (keyboards),
Bradbury (drums), Shipley (guitar), returning bassist Panter, and new
additions Satch Dickson and Groco (percussion) and Anthony Wymshurst
Rodriguez and the three newcomers were all dropped for the next
single, "War Crimes", which brought back Dakar and added new
co-vocalists Edgio Newton and Stan Campbell, as well as violinist Nick
Parker. Follow-up single "Racist Friend" was a minor hit (UK No. 60),
with the band establishing themselves as a septet: Dakar, Newton,
Campbell, Bradbury, Cuthell, Dammers and Shipley.
The new line-up (still known as the
Special AKA) finally issued a new
In the Studio
In the Studio in 1984. Officially, the band was now
a sextet: Dakar, Campbell, Bradbury, Dammers, Shipley and new bassist
Gary McManus. Cuthell, Newton, Panter and Radiation all appeared on
the album as guests; as did saxophonist Nigel Reeve, and Claudia
Caron Wheeler of the vocal trio Afrodiziak. Both
critically and commercially, In The Studio was less successful than
previous efforts, although the 1984 single "Free Nelson Mandela" was a
No. 9 UK hit. The latter contributed to making Mandela's
imprisonment a cause célèbre in the UK, and became popular with
anti-apartheid activists in South Africa. Dammers then dissolved the
band and pursued political activism.
Since the break-up of the original line-up, various members of the
band performed in other bands and have reformed several times to tour
and record in Specials-related projects. However, there has never been
a complete reunion of the original line-up.
Upon their departure from the Specials, Golding, Hall and Staple
founded the pop band
Fun Boy Three
Fun Boy Three and enjoyed commercial success from
1981 to 1983 with hits such as "Tunnel of Love", "It Ain't What You Do
(It's the Way That You Do It)", "Our Lips Are Sealed" and "The
Lunatics (Have Taken Over the Asylum)". The group ended with Hall's
sudden departure, leading to a 15-year rift with Staple.
After Fun Boy Three, Staple and Golding joined Pauline Black of the
Selecter in the short-lived band Sunday Best, releasing the single
"Pirates on the Airwaves".
In 1990, Bradbury, Golding, Panter and Staple teamed up with members
of the Beat to form
Special Beat, performing the music of the two
bands and other ska and Two Tone classics. The group, undergoing many
line-up changes, toured and released several live recordings through
A 1994 single credited to "X Specials" featured Neville, Lynval,
Roddy, and Horace. A cover of the
Slade song "Coz I Love You", the
project was produced by Slade's Jim Lea.
Moving into production and management, Staple "discovered" and
produced bhangra pop fusion artist Johnny Zee. Throughout the 1980s
and 1990s, Staple would stay active producing and guesting with a
variety of artists, including International Beat,
Unwritten Law, Desorden Publico, the Planet Smashers and others, as
well as leading his own bands and starting the Rude Wear clothing
line. He sang with the 1990s Specials line-up, and again from 2009 to
Panter went on to join with members of the Beat and Dexys Midnight
Runners to form General Public, and then
Special Beat. He joined the
1990s Specials before training as a primary school teacher at the
University of Central England
University of Central England in Birmingham. He continued to play with
Neol Davies in the blues outfit Box of Blues.
However, he rejoined the band for their 2009 reunion and continues as
Golding teamed up with Dammers for a brief spell of club DJing, and
then worked with
Coventry band After Tonight. After
Special Beat, he
went on to lead the Seattle-based ska groups Stiff Upper Lip, and more
recently, Pama International, as well as many collaborations with
other ska bands. He has also toured with the Beat. He joined the 1990s
Specials line-up, but left in 2000. He rejoined in 2009 and continues
with the group.
Radiation fronted and worked with numerous artists including the
Tearjerkers (a band that he had begun in the last months of the
Specials), the Bonediggers, the Raiders and Three Men & Black
Jean-Jacques Burnel of the Stranglers),
Jake Burns (Stiff
Little Fingers), Pauline Black,
Bruce Foxton (the Jam), Dave Wakeling
(the Beat, General Public) and Nick Welsh (Skaville UK). He also
fronts the Skabilly Rebels, a band that mixes rockabilly with ska. He
joined the 1990s Specials line-up and again in 2009, continuing to
Bradbury continued through the
Special AKA era, then formed the band
JB's Allstars, before moving into production. He joined
for several years, then a reformed Selecter, before retiring from
music to work as an IT specialist. He rejoined the band for their
2009 reunion, and continued to perform with them until his death in
From 1984 until 1987, Hall fronted the Colourfield, with some
commercial success. After they disbanded, Hall pursued a solo career,
working mostly in the new wave genre. He co-wrote a number of early
Lightning Seeds releases. He also performed some vocals for a Dub
Pistols album. Hall and
Eurythmics member David A. Stewart formed the
duo Vegas in the early 1990s, releasing an eponymous debut album in
1992. He joined the Specials for their 2009 reunion and continues to
perform with them.
In 2006, Dammers formed large, jazz-style ensemble the Spatial AKA
The first reunion under the Specials name occurred in 1993, when
producer Roger Lomas decided to use the Specials as backing band for a
new album by ska legend Desmond Dekker. Only Golding, Panter,
Radiation and Staple were willing to participate. They were joined in
the studio by former Selecter drummer Charley Harrington Bembridge.
Bembridge had also played in the 1970s with soul singer Ray King, who
mentored and worked with Dammers, Staple, Golding and Hutchinson in
their days before the Specials. A group of studio musicians filled
out the band, including keyboardist Mark Adams. The album, released by
Trojan Records as King of Kings, was credited to
Desmond Dekker and
This led to an offer from a Japanese promoter to book a tour for the
band. Retaining Adams and adding trumpet players Adam Birch and Jon
Read, the line-up began rehearsing and playing live using the names
Coventry Specials and Specials2, but shortly reverted to the
Specials after accepting that it was the name promoters were using
anyway, although the line-up was referred to as Specials MkII
by those involved. This line-up would go on to tour
internationally, and in 1996, released the studio album Today's
Specials, a collection of mostly reggae and ska covers. In 1998,
the band released Guilty 'til Proved Innocent!, a collection of
original compositions featuring guest vocals by
Tim Armstrong and Lars
Frederiksen of Rancid. The band toured heavily in support of both
releases-including headlining the prestigious
Vans Warped Tour
Vans Warped Tour - and
received positive reviews of their live shows.
Despite the live success, the band fizzled out after a 1998
(which Panter missed due to illness), although limited touring
with a different line-up continued into 2000.
After their 1993 project backing Dekker, the band had been brought
back into the studio by producer Lomas to record a number of classic
songs from the
Trojan Records back catalogue. Two weeks before this
project, Golding left the group to concentrate on domestic life in
Seattle. Once again turning to a Selecter veteran for help, the
band replaced him with Neol Davies. Davies, Staple, Radiation and
Panter, joined by a group of session musicians, recorded a wealth of
tracks that eventually saw release by Trojan as
Skinhead Girl in 2000
Conquering Ruler in 2001. This would be the last heard of the
Specials for some time.
In 2007, Hall teamed up with Golding for the first time in 24 years,
to play Specials songs at two music festivals. At Glastonbury
Festival, they appeared on the Pyramid Stage with
Lily Allen to
perform "Gangsters". In May 2009, Golding claimed that Allen's
reuniting him with Hall played a "massive part" in the group's later
reformation. Later the same day, they played on the Park Stage,
Damon Albarn of Blur on piano and beatboxer Shlomo providing
rhythm, to perform "A Message to You, Rudy". At GuilFest, Golding
Dub Pistols to again perform "Gangsters". In 2007, Golding
regularly performed concerts and recorded with Pama International, a
collective of musicians who were members of
The Specials performing at Brixton Academy, London, May 2009 as part
of their 30th anniversary tour.
On 30 March 2008, Hall stated that the Specials would be reforming for
tour dates in autumn 2008, and possibly for some recording. This
was officially confirmed on 7 April 2008. On 6 September 2008, six
members of the band performed on the main stage at the Bestival,
billed as the "Surprise Act". By December 2008, the band had announced
2009 tour dates to celebrate their 30th anniversary, although founder
member Dammers was not joining the band on the tour.
Hall was quoted as saying, "The door remains open to him".
However, Dammers described the new reunion as a "takeover" and claimed
he had been forced out of the band. Around that same time,
longtime Specials fan
Amy Winehouse joined Dammers onstage at Hyde
Park, singing the song he wrote for the Specials, "Free Nelson
Mandela", for Mandela's 90th birthday concert, dubbed
Mandela's prison number, and also the name of his AIDS charity, which
received money raised by the birthday bash.
On 10 April 2009, the Specials guested on the BBC Two's Later... with
Jools Holland. The following month, Bradbury and Golding expressed
their intentions to release further original Specials material at a
later date. On 8 June 2009, it was announced that the Specials
would embark on a second leg of their 30th anniversary tour, taking in
the locations and venues that they missed earlier in the year. In
July and August 2009, the Specials toured
Australia and Japan. In
October the band picked up the Inspiration Award at the Q Awards.
In 2010, they performed at the Dutch festival Lowlands.
In an interview at the Green Room in Manchester in November 2010, Hall
confirmed that there would be further Specials dates in the autumn of
2011, and confessed to having enjoyed playing live again: "It's a
celebration of something that happened in your life that was
important, and we're going to do that again next year, but then maybe
that'll be it". In late 2010, the band re-released "A Message to
You, Rudy" as a
Special Fund available to download from iTunes
in both the UK and the US, with proceeds going to aid the UNICEF
effort to help children in earthquake-stricken Haiti.
In February 2012, it was announced that the Specials would perform at
Hyde Park with Blur and New Order to celebrate the 2012 Summer
Olympics closing ceremony. Panter said that the band were excited
to be involved in such a momentous event: "We have been keeping it
under our pork pie hats for a month or so now. I think it is going to
be the only chance people get to see the Specials performing in the UK
this year." The Specials' performance was said to have remained
synonymous with Britain's political and social upheaval of the late
1970s and early 1980s.
The Specials performing at Métropolis, Montreal, 7 July 2013.
In August 2012, the Specials released a new live album, More... Or
The Specials Live, featuring "the best of the best"
performances from their 2011 European tour, selected by the band
themselves on a double-disc CD and double-vinyl LP.
In January 2013, the Specials announced the departure of Staple with
the following message on their website: "We are very sad Neville
cannot join us on the Specials' UK tour in May 2013 or indeed on the
future projects we have planned. He has made a huge contribution to
the fantastic time and reception we have received since we started and
reformed in 2009. However, he missed a number of key shows last year
due to ill health, and his health is obviously much more important. We
wish him the very best for the future".
The Specials completed a North American tour in 2013, performing to
sold-out crowds in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco,
Seattle, Portland and Vancouver.
In February 2014, it was revealed that Radiation had left the reformed
group. In spite of his departure, the Specials played an extensive
tour in the autumn of 2014 with
Steve Cradock (Ocean Colour Scene,
Paul Weller) as lead guitarist.
Bradbury died on 28 December 2015.
On 22 March 2016, the Specials announced that Libertines drummer Gary
Powell would be performing on their upcoming tours.
Lynval Golding – rhythm guitar, vocals (1977–81, 1993,
Horace Panter – bass guitar (1977–81, 1982, 1993, 1996–2001,
Terry Hall – vocals and songwriting (1977–81, 2008–present)
Tim Smart – trombone (2008–present)
Drew Stansall – saxophone, flute (2008–present)
Nikolaj Torp Larsen
Nikolaj Torp Larsen – keyboards (2008–present)
Steve Cradock - lead guitar (2014–present)
Pablo Mandleson - trumpet (2014–present)
Gary Powell – drums (2016–present)
Jerry Dammers – keyboards, principal songwriter (1977–84)
Silverton Hutchinson – drums (1977–79)
Tim Strickland – vocals (1977)
Roddy Radiation – lead guitar, vocals (1978–81, 1993, 1996–2001,
Neville Staple – toasting, vocals, percussion (1978–81, 1993,
John Bradbury – drums (1979–84, 2008–15; his death)
Dick Cuthell – flugel horn (1979–84)
Rico Rodriguez – trombone (1979–81, 1982; died 2015)
Rhoda Dakar – vocals (1981–82, 1982–84)
John Shipley – guitar (1981–84)
Satch Dickson – percussion (1982)
Groco – percussion (1982)
Anthony Wymshurst – guitar (1982)
Stan Campbell – vocals (1982–84)
Edgio Newton – vocals, percussion (1982–83)
Nick Parker – vocals (1982)
Gary McManus – bass guitar (1983–84)
Jon Read – trumpet, percussion, bass (1996–2001, 2008–14)
Adam Birch – trumpet (1996–2001, 2008)
Mark Adams – keyboards (1996–2001)
Aitch Bembridge – drums (1996–2001)
The Specials discography
The Specials (1979)
More Specials (1980)
In the Studio
In the Studio (1984)
Today's Specials (1996)
Guilty 'til Proved Innocent!
Guilty 'til Proved Innocent! (1998)
Skinhead Girl (2000)
Conquering Ruler (2001)
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p. 519. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
^ Chris Woodstra. "The Specials". AllMusic.
^ Woodstra, Chris. "Allmusic.com". Allmusic.com. Retrieved 29 April
^ Rice, Jo (1982). The Guinness Book of 500 Number One Hits (1st ed.).
Enfield, Middlesex: Guinness Superlatives Ltd. p. 201.
^ a b c Strong, Martin C. (2000). The Great Rock Discography (5th
ed.). Edinburgh: Mojo Books. pp. 914–915.
^ The Specials.com Archived 27 May 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
^ Sarfraz Manzoor The year rock found the power to unite The Guardian
(London), 20 April 2008. Retrieved 12 March 2009.
^ a b Roberts, David (1998). Guinness Rockopedia (1st ed.). London:
Guinness Publishing Ltd. p. 409. ISBN 0-85112-072-5.
^ "Dave Haslam, Author and DJ – official site". Davehaslam.com.
Retrieved 19 July 2011.
^ Petridis, Alexis (8 March 2002). "
The Specials and the story of the
UK's most remarkable chart-topper". theguardian.com. Retrieved 8
Neville Staple with Tony McMahon, Original Rude Boy: From Borstal to
the Specials, Chapter 9: "Bhangra House".
^ a b c
Neville Staple with Tony McMahon, Original Rude Boy: From
Borstal to the Specials; Chapter 10: "The Third Wave – America
^ "Jerry Dammers' Spatial A.K.A. Orchestra".
^ Original Rude Boy: From Borstal to the Specials by Neville Staple
with Tony McMahon; Chapter 4:
The Specials – The Rude Boys Arrive
^ a b Paul Williams, You're Wondering Now –
The Specials from
Conception to Reunion; Part Two: "
More Specials – Roddy Radiation".
^ name="The Great Rock Discography"/Today's Specials
^ You're Wondering Now –
The Specials from Conception to Reunion, by
Paul Willams; Part Two:
More Specials – Horace Panter
The Specials reunion all down to Lily Allen".
15 May 2009. Retrieved 29 April 2010.
^ "6 Music –
The Specials reunion". BBC. Retrieved 29 April
^ "BBC.co.uk: ''
Ska band confirms reunion plans''". BBC News. 7 April
2008. Retrieved 29 April 2010.
The Specials reunite for 2009 tour''". Nme.com. Retrieved 29
Jerry Dammers Damns Specials Reunion ''". Thequietus.com.
Retrieved 29 April 2010.
^ "''London rocks for
Nelson Mandela ''". FoxNews.com. Retrieved 28
^ "''London rocks for
Nelson Mandela ''". CNN.com. Retrieved 28 June
^ "''Muso's Guide Interview with the Specials''". Mymusos.com. 13 May
2009. Retrieved 29 April 2010. [permanent dead link]
The Specials confirm more 2009 UK dates''". Thespecials.com. 8
June 2009. Retrieved 29 April 2010.
The Specials pick up Q Inspiration Award 2009''".
Thespecials.com. 26 October 2009. Retrieved 29 April 2010.
^ "The Specials". Archived from the original on 22 August 2008.
Retrieved 21 August 2010.
^ "Dave Haslam, Author and DJ – official site". Davehaslam.com.
Archived from the original on 20 July 2011. Retrieved 19 July
The Specials Re-release 'Message To You Rudy' To
Raise Money for Haitian Earthquake Relief". Marco on Bass.
MarcoOnBass. 12 May 2010. Retrieved 23 May 2010.
^ "London 2012: Blur to headline Olympics closing show". BBC News.
BBC. 21 February 2012. Retrieved 21 February 2012.
The Specials join Blur for London 2012 Olympics closing ceremony".
Birmingham Post. Retrieved 21 February 2012.
The Specials join Blur for London 2012 Olympics closing ceremony".
Rolling Stone. Retrieved 13 August 2012.
^ "'More…Or Less.
The Specials Live': Live compilation of the
legendary band's 2011 tour. Release date: 6th August, 2012".
thespecials. Retrieved 13 August 2012.
^ "Specials lead guitarist Roddy 'Radiation' Byers leaves the band".
Coventry Telegraph. Retrieved 24 October 2014.
Steve Cradock joins
The Specials for November UK tour". Louder than
War. Retrieved 24 October 2014.
^ "John Bradbury, Drummer for the Specials, Dies at 62". The New York
Times. 2 January 2016.
^ "New Touring Line Up".
The Specials at the Rico", BBC
Coventry & Warwickshire, 15 May
Williams, Paul (1995) You're Wondering Now – A History of the
Specials, ST Publishing. ISBN 1-898927-25-1
Panter, Horace (2007) Ska'd for Life – A Personal Journey with the
"Specials", Sidgwick & Jackson, ISBN 978-0-283-07029-7
Chambers, Pete (2008) 2-Tone-2: Dispatches from the Two Tone City, 30
Years on, Tencton Planet Publications. ISBN 978-0-9544125-6-2
Staple, Neville (2009) Original Rude Boy, Aurum Press.
Williams, Paul (2009) You're Wondering Now-
The Specials From
Conception to Reunion, Cherry Red Books. ISBN 978-1-901447-51-4
Thompson, Dave (2011) Wheels Out of Gear: 2-Tone, the Specials and a
World In Flame, Soundcheck Books. ISBN 978-0-9566420-2-8
Wikimedia Commons has media related to The Specials.
The Specials history
The Specials on Facebook
The Specials Youtube channel
The official Specials fan forum
The Specials official website
The Specials profile Unofficial 2 Tone website
The Specials at AllMusic
Nikolaj Torp Larsen
In the Studio
Guilty 'til Proved Innocent!
Blue Plate Specials Live
Ghost Town Live
Too Much Too Young
"A Message to You, Rudy"
"Too Much, Too Young"
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