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The Specials performing at Brixton Academy, London, May 2009 as part of their 30th anniversary tour.
|Genres||2 Tone, ska, ska-punk,|
|Years active||1977–1984, 1996–2001, 2008–present|
|Labels||2 Tone, Chrysalis, Virgin, Kuff|
|Associated acts||Fun Boy Three, The Spatial AKA Orchestra, The Specials MK2, The Skabilly Rebels|
The Specials (sometimes called The Special AKA) are an English 2 Tone ska revival band formed in 1977 in Coventry, England. Their music combines a "danceable ska and rocksteady beat with punk's energy and attitude", and had a "more focused and informed political and social stance" than other ska groups. 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! EP, reached number one in the UK. In 1981, the unemployment-themed single "Ghost Town" also hit number one in the UK Singles Chart. After seven consecutive UK Top 10 singles between 1979 and 1981, the band broke up. Their 1983 song "Free Nelson Mandela" was a #9 UK hit. It contributed to making Mandela a cause célèbre in the United Kingdom, and became popular with anti-Apartheid activists.
The group was formed in 1977 by songwriter/keyboardist Jerry Dammers, with Terry Hall (vocals), Lynval Golding (guitar, vocals), Silverton Hutchinson (drums) and a rhythm section. Horace Panter (also known as Sir Horace Gentleman) was in at the creation. The band was first called The Automatics, then The Coventry Automatics. Terry Hall and Roddy Byers (also known as Roddy Radiation) joined the band the following year, and the band changed its name to The Special AKA, The Coventry Automatics, and then to The Special AKA. Joe Strummer of The Clash had attended one of their concerts, and invited The Special AKA to open for his band in their On Parole UK Tour. This performance gave The 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 gathered 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."
In 1979 shortly after drummer Hutchinson left the band to be replaced by John Bradbury, Dammers formed the 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 debut LP The Specials in 1979, produced by Elvis Costello. The album lead off with Dandy Livingstone's "Rudy, A Message to You" (slightly altering the title to "A Message To You, Rudy") and also had covers of Prince Buster and Toots & the Maytals songs from the late 1960s. In 1980, the EP Too Much Too Young (credited to The Special AKA) was a number one 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 Terry 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), 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-LP Specials single, which hit number one in 1981. However, shortly afterwards, Staple, Golding and Hall left the band to form Fun Boy Three.
Dammers then drastically revised the line-up of the band, adding vocalists Stan Campbell and Rhoda Dakar, and began working again under the group name The Special AKA. The resulting album from the new line-up, In the Studio, was less successful, although the song "Free Nelson Mandela" was a #9 UK hit. The latter contributed to making Mandela a cause célèbre in the United Kingdom, and became popular with anti-Apartheid activists in South Africa. Dammers then dissolved the band and pursued political activism.
Since the breakup 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. In the 1980s, Hall, Staple and Golding founded the pop band Fun Boy Three and enjoyed commercial success from 1981 to 1983 with hits such as "Tunnel of Love", "Our Lips Are Sealed" and "The Lunatics (Have Taken Over the Asylum)". 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.
Roddy Radiation fronted and worked with several bands including The Tearjerkers (a band that he had begun in the last months of The Specials), The Bonediggers, The Raiders and Three Men & Black which included of Jean-Jacques Burnel (The Stranglers), Jake Burns (Stiff Little Fingers), Pauline Black (The Selecter), 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.
In the early 1990s, members of The Beat teamed up with members of The Specials to form Special Beat. The band toured and released some live albums. In 1996, with ska enjoying a resurgence in mainstream popularity on North American radio and MTV, several members of The Specials reunited to record Today's Specials, a studio album mostly of reggae and ska covers. This was followed in 1998 with an album of originals, Guilty 'til Proved Innocent!, featuring guest vocals by Tim Armstrong and Lars Frederiksen of Rancid. The band toured heavily in support of both releases. These albums were followed by Skinhead Girl in 2000 and Conquering Ruler in 2001. Notably absent from these records and tours were Hall, Bradbury and Dammers. In 1992, ex-Specials bassist Panter quit the music industry to train as a primary school teacher at the University of Central England in Birmingham. He later resumed his musical career.
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 groups later reformation. Later the same day they played on The Park Stage, with Damon Albarn of Blur on piano and with beatboxer Shlomo providing rhythm, to perform "A Message To You, Rudy". At GuilFest, Golding joined the 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 Special Beat.
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. It was announced that founder member Jerry Dammers is not set to join 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 has been forced out of the band.
On 10 April 2009, the reactivated band guested on the BBC Two's Later... with Jools Holland. The following month, Golding and Bradbury 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, Terry 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."
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