More Specials
In The Studio
On March 30th, 2 Tone Records/Warners Catalogue will release Special Editions of three exceptional, ground breaking albums by one of the most important British bands ever – The Specials. These reissues have been liaised and approved by the band’s founder and main songwriter Jerry Dammers.

Formed in Coventry in the mid-1970s, The Specials (formerly Coventry Automatics) was the idea of musician Jerry Dammers, who brought together an eclectic array of individuals to fulfill his vision of a multi-racial band, fusing the energy of punk with the legendary but, at the time, often overlooked, sound of Jamaican ska. This was a fusion which proved to be explosive. The seven individuals – Dammers (keyboards), Terry Hall (vocals), Neville Staples (vocals), Lynval Golding (rhythm guitar), Roddy ‘Radiation’ Byers (lead guitar), ‘Sir’ Horace ‘Gentleman’ Panter (bass) and John Bradbury (drums), along with legendary Jamaican ska trombonist Rico Rodriguez and trumpeter Dick Cuthell– not only fully realised Dammers’ vision, but their exuberant, uncompromising sound and ‘message’ music reached the top of the charts. Their third single, ‘Too Much Too Young’, was amongst a tiny handful of live recordings that have ever reached no 1 on the singles’ chart*, (an amazing achievement for such a new group, and testament to the phenomenal excitement and energy generated by their live shows). The resulting popularity of the band and its music was considered by many, to have a hugely positive influence on race relations in late ‘70s/early ‘80s Britain, helping to create unity amongst disaffected youth.

Dammers’ vision also included a record label, 2 Tone Records, which took its blueprint from such disparate elements as anarcho punk band Crass, Berry Gordy’s Motown label, Jamaican ska and the Buzzcocks’ independently pressed Spiral Scratch EP. The label would release not only The Special AKA’s debut single ‘Gangsters’ (UK Top 10) and The Specials’ debut album ‘Specials’ (November 1979 , reaching no.4 in the album charts), but also singles by bands who shared 2 Tone’s musical ethos, including: Madness, The Selecter and The Beat. With a striking aesthetic based on a chessboard logo, designed by Dammers, which incorporated a cartoon mascot based on Peter Tosh from the Wailing Wailers album sleeve, christened Walt Jabsco after a vintage bowling shirt, 2 Tone spawned a musical and cultural movement that defined a generation and still resonates around the world to this day.

Following the success of their debut aIbum, the band released the non-album single, Rod Byers’ class war polemic ‘Rat Race’which reached the Top 5 in May 1980. This was followed in September by the groundbreaking ‘Stereotypes’, which mixed dark lounge core, spaghetti western themes and dub reggae, and reached the Top 10. The song was the first hint of what was to come on the band’s second album.

Less than a year after their debut, Dammers was determined to make their follow up an equally musically innovative album. ‘More Specials’ (October 1980) was to be ambitious and totally unique, expanding the group’s musical palette into areas never previously explored in ‘rock’ music. As well as the aforementioned genres, it also encompassed muzak, nightmare exotica, bossa nova, northern soul, and calypso. It was a commercial success, hitting the UK Top 5, and, as well as ‘Stereotypes’, the single ‘Do Nothing’ was also a Top 10 hit.

In early 1981, the group re-entered the studio to record another non-album single, one that would eerily soundtrack that summer’s widespread rioting and assure the group’s place in music history. ‘Ghost Town’, (B/W ‘Friday Night, Saturday Morning’ and ‘Why?’)influenced the dystopian sounds which were to dominate the Bristol “trip hop” scene, and in turn pass into much British music since, up to and including dubstep. Capturing a mood of inner city anger and alienation in an uneasy amalgam of Eastern melody, skank reggae and heavy dub bass, with an inimitable and mournful trombone solo by Rico Rodriguez, the song reached no.1 in the charts, but sadly, after what should have been an occasion for celebration, Hall, Golding and Staple left to form the Fun Boy Three and Byers left to tour with his band the Tearjerkers.

The remaining members, Dammers, Bradbury and Panter, briefly toured backing Rico in Germany, then Dammers recruited guitarist John Shipley from The Swinging Cats, ex-Bodysnatcher Rhoda Dakar (who’d guested on ‘More Specials’) and lead vocalist StanCampbell. The new line up set to work on the ‘In The Studio’ album, reverting to the band’s original name of The Special AKA. Released in 1984, the album was a brave mix of bold and challenging music, with a strong political, social and moral conscience. The album made it into the Top 40, and while it might not have been a huge commercial success, it was, and still is, an astonishingly unique work: a haunting, claustrophobic mix of lounge, soul, reggae, jazz (foreseeing what would later in the decade become known as ‘acid jazz’) and Arabic rhythms, with uncompromising subject matter. It featured two brilliant singles: the joyous, yet serious rallying anthem for the then imprisoned South African ANC leader, ‘Free Nelson Mandela’, and ‘What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend’, a rare outing for Dammers on vocals (later covered by the band’s debut album producer, Elvis Costello). As time has gone by, the status of ‘In The Studio’ has grown, and today it is rightly viewed as a genuine lost classic.


  1. I certainly will look forward to listening to SPECIAL EDITIONS of THE SPECIALS ! I first saw them in early 1981,
    when I was 17, as a young teenager. They were something else, the atmosphere, the crowd,the chanting,
    at times I thought I was at a football match! I had the good fortune to meet Terry Hall and Rico, backstage
    after the show, brilliant.


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