The Specials were formed in Coventry in 1977, as The Coventry Automatics and later The Special A.K.A. by:
- Jerry Dammers – Organ
- Lynval Golding – Rhythym Guitar
- Horace Gentleman – Bass
- Terry Hall – Vocals
- Roddy Radiation – Lead Guitar
- John Bradbury – Drums
- Neville Staples – Vocals
- with honourary members:
- Rico Rodriguez – Trombone
- Dick Cuthell – Trumpet
The following article, is one of the best on The Specials that we’ve read and was written by Alexis Petridis for MOJO magazine. Permission was requested for it’s use on the site. All Rights Reserved.
(Alexis also wrote the excellent ‘Ska For The Madding Crowd’ article on Ghost Town for The Guardian)
In June 1980, The Specials flew to New York to make their US television debut, performing their first single, Gangsters on Saturday Night Live. To the wave of American ska-punk bands who appeared in the mid’90s, The Specials appearance has become legendary, the stuff of hushed, reverential tones and fuzzy, nth-generation video copies passed among collectors. For the members of Rancid and No Doubt at least, it was a perfect, inspirational moment: The Beatles on Ed Sullivan in Sta-prest and a pork pie.
For The Specials themselves the memory is different. Weary from touring, they rowed about their hotel, about the limo NBC sent to take them to the studio, about what they should actually do on the show. Jerry Dammers, the bands leader and troubled political conscience, thought the hotel was too flash and expensive, the limo was just rock-star bollocks, the live show was a platform to say anything the band really wanted to say. The others disagreed. ” Jerry was thinking so far ahead of us,” reflects Lynval Golding. “He said to us, ‘It’s a live TV show in front of millions of people, we can do anything we want’. I just thought, Oh my God, he’s really lost it. We’re dealing with racism and political problems in England and he wants to take on America as well.”
So the band played a tense, speedy version of Gangsters instead: wrestling with their instruments, no eye contact except the occasional glower. On the one hand, it’s and incredible performance: a splenetic, wild burst of energy set to ferocious, groundbreaking, thrilling music. On the other, something is clearly very wrong with the people on stage. Grim faces, their movements are slightly too aggressive. The band seems barley in control of what is going on. At any moment you feel the whole thing could prematurely collapse and this lot could start punching each other.
Viewing their performance today is rather like seeing he Specials career condensed into two and a half minutes. As Jerry Dammers surmises two decades after The Specials demise: “It was a laugh to start of with, it was great. But it ended in chaos, total chaos”.
Dammers first met Roddy Byers in the early 70s before the latter changed this name and became Roddy Radiation. ” I was about 15, the first band I had was called Gristle. I played the drums,” smiles Dammers . “Just recently I was reading this interview with Roddy and it turns out he was in that band. It only clicked this year that it was the same guy: he had long hair at that stage and I just didn’t remember. Anyway, he was telling the story and he said, ‘Jerry’s band had this weird name: Rissole.’ Maybe our communication problems stemmed from then.”
Dammers, the son of a Coventry clergyman, had other musical plans. His fellow student at Lanchester Polytechnic, Horace Panter, remembers “this weird looking bloke with tartan trousers who used to smash things up”. While Panter played bass in a soul band, Dammers became part of “a small group who dressed like teds or skinheads. We used to wreck the hippie parties, play Prince Buster records. I had this band playing dodgy versions of Desmond Dekker’s 007. We used to gob at each other on stage. I was like a forerunner of punk.”
After college a brief period with New Faces winning covers band Sissy Stone, Dammers asked Panter to help him record some of his songs. They were joined by a vocalist called Tim Strickland (“A kind of Lou Reed chap,” remembers Panter, “he didn’t really sing, he sort of glowered and spat”) and two refugees form Coventry’s multiracial soul scene: a Barbadian drummer called Silverton Hutchinson and Jamaican guitarist Lynval Golding. Christened The Coventry Automatics, the quintet muddled through Dammers songs. “I used to have reggae lessons,” remembers Panter. “Lynval used to come round my flat, play records and go, ‘Listen, mon! De bass should sound like dis! I got the hang of it eventually.”
They secured a residency at a club called Mr Georges – 40p to see the band support Coventry’s punk combos. One punk band, Squad, yielded their 17-year-old lead singer to replace Tim Strickland in The Automatics. Terry Hall was given to performing with his back to the audience. “He worked in a stamp shop” remembers Dammers. ” I told him, Philately will get you nowhere'”.
Despite Halls off stage shyness and comparative youth – he was five years younger than Dammers – he was a remarkably capable front man. “If anybody in the audience fought,” remembers Roddy Byers, “Terry had a great way of putting them down. He’d pick them out and ask the rest of the audience what they thought of them, just make them feel completely small”.
Hall claimed he abilities had less to do with stage craft than his exercises on Coventry’s streets: “Me and Roddy were in the first groups of punks that ever appeared in Coventry and the people took the piss all the time. That only made us more hardened to ridicule and afterwards things didn’t worry us again”. However according to Panter, he remained an aloof presence in the band: “I don’t ever remember saying much to Terry”.
The Automatics attracted the attention of DJ Peter Waterman famed for playing Philly soul at Coventry’s Locarno with Neville and The Boys, a dance troupe featuring roadie Neville Staple. Waterman offered The Automatics time in Soho Berwick’s Street Studios. Looking to flesh out their sound, and unaware of the shared history, Dammers invited his former Gristle/Rissole band mate, Roddy Byers, to join.
Byers came complete with his own anthem to urban alienation, Concrete Jungle, but if the appointment of a punk guitarist was intended to smooth out the bands lumpy attempts to fuse punk and reggae, it failed. In Berwick Street, they lurched gracelessly from one genre to another. In addition, the band was sick of Waterman’s advice. “We had to get ride of him when he tried to teach Terry Hall to dance,” says Dammers. “He got on stage and demonstrated. It was unpleasant. It involved hip swinging”.
Dammers searched for other routes to stardom. Through a Clash roadie, Steve Connolly, Dammers blagged a meeting with Clash manager Bernie Rhodes. He managed to talk to his band, now renamed The Special AKA The Automatics, onto the 1978 On Parole Tour. “Suicide were the official support but they couldn’t make the first dates so we were supposed to fill in for them,” says Panter. “Then Neville started supplying Mick Jones weed and we were allowed to stay. It was like being in a film. It was ace”.
The tour was effectively the making of The Specials. Neville Staple became a member after plugging a microphone into the mixing desk at London’s Music Machine and toasting along with the bands set. In Bracknell, skinheads disrupted the tour, evidence that the National Front, in political decline thanks to losing votes to Margaret Thatcher, had shifted tactics and begun recruiting football hooligans and skinheads. If the NF could no longer get votes, it would kick its way into the headlines and gigs.
“That was the night The Specials concept was born” says Dammers. “It was obvious the Mod/skinhead revival was coming and I was trying to find a way to make sure it didn’t go the way of the NF. I idealistically thought, we have to get through to these people, and that’s when we got the image together and started using ska rather than reggae. It seemed a bit more healthy to have an integrated kind of British music, rather than white people playing the two. In the 1940s and 50s, Professor Longhair took on board Caribbean rhythms, then Jamaica picked up on New Orleans sound. You got Afro-Cuban jazz combining North American jazz with African rhythms – and that’s the roots of ska”.
There were also less idealistic reasons for the bands new image. “We looked odd,” admits Panter. “I was this sort of Woolworth’s skinhead, Terry wore loud checked jackets and Jerry had tartan trousers. We saw the mod revival thing going on and you could still buy tonic suits in Gosford Street real cheap.”
Rhodes graciously allowed The Special AKA to move into The Clash’s rehearsal studios in Chalk Farm, north London. “It was freezing,” remembers Golding. “Sleeping on the floor, rats jumping over you”.
Eventually Rhodes booked the band a gig in Paris. The ensuing trip was enshrined in Specials legend. At Dover, their driver told the band to unload the van, then promptly drove off. Silverton Hutchinson was refused entry to France because of his Barbadian passport. The van picked up them up was only big enough for two members. Staple and Golding hopped aboard, the others hitched. At their hotel, the management complained the last English band to stay there, The Damned, had smashed the place up and snatched Golding and Byers guitars in lieu of payment.
“There was a lot of shoving in the hotel lobby, then the manager of the club turned up and told us to go to the club,” remembers Golding, “By the time we arrived, our guitars were there”.
“We thought, how did they do that?” says Byers. “Then the manager of the club arrived, he offered me and Terry a mint. As he opened his jacket, we saw a gun”.
The trip precipitated the demise of both Bernie Rhodes as manager and Hutchinson as drummer. The latter was unsure about the shift to ska and fed up living in penury. “He walked into the rehearsal one day, called us a bunch of wankers and left” notes Golding. Back in Coventry, they borrowed money to fund a recording session, featuring Dammers flatmate John Bradbury on drums.
Inspired by Stiff and Rough trade, 1979 was the years of the indie label: hundreds hopeful bands began their own cottage industries, Dammers among them. He designed the 2 Tone label, with its black and white checks and ‘rude boy’ mascot, Walt Jabsco. His name came from a second hand bowling shirt, his image was a crudely drawn copy of an early photo of Peter Tosh. “The Wailers trying to be The Impressions,” smiles Dammers, “The 2 Tone man was an impression of an impression of The Impressions”.
Backed by The Selecter, an instrumental recorded in 1977 by John Bradbury and guitarist Neol Davies, Gangsters borrowed its riff from Prince Busters Al Capone (and changed the inaugural cry to “Bernie Rhodes knows, don’t argue!”) and the bands Parisian experience: ” Don’t interrupt while I’m talking or I’ll confiscate all your guitars”. Recognisably post-punk thanks to Terry Halls’ monotone vocal, yet danceable as 60s ska, it sold steadily for 6 months, bolstered by John Peel plays and the bands increasing live reputation. By May, when the Special AKA played the Fulham Greyhound, Mick Jagger was in the audience, keen to sign the band to Rolling stones Records. Panter claims he left the gig in a huff noting the resemblance of the bands Little Bitch to Brown Sugar. The Specials ended up signing to Chrysalis, in a deal brokered by new manager, Rick Rogers, a former associate of The Damned.
“Chrysalis was more open than anyone to the idea of the 2 Tone label. which was sort of groundbreaking” explains Dammers. “Mind you, they were laughing all the way, because they got the talent spotting and A&R done for nothing”.
With the deal with Chrysalis signed, The Specials picked up momentum at remarkable pace. Uniquely in the post punk landscape they offered a complete and easily accessible package: a ‘new’ sound, an image, a political stance and, most importantly at this stage, a hyperactive live show. “You get this fantastic feeling of togetherness playing ska because no one individual could do it on their own,” says Dammers. “It all interlocks – you get this communal feeling between the musicians onstage and that spreads into the audience like a fever. That’s why The Specials gigs and the 2 Tone gigs were the wildest the country has ever seen. They were just absolutely fucking incredible”.
By June 1979, Gangsters was in the Top 10 and on Top of The Pops. “The Specials there,” offered host Peter Powell. “Good time music form Coventry”.
With the bands rise in popularity, however, came the first signs of tensions that would eventually destroy them. Dammers was uncomfortable with his celebrity. “Everywhere you would go, everyone acts abnormal. ‘He’s in The Specials – act abnormal!’ It’s like entering The Twilight Zone or something. It can be a bit weird, to put it mildly, especially as it happened really quickly”. During the recording of the debut album, producer Elvis Costello was unimpressed by Byers’ Clash influenced licks and unsuccessfully argued that Dammers should sack him. It was the first step to the guitarist’s gradual estrangement from Dammers.
Like many debut albums, Specials offered a thunderous run through the bands set, its live feel abetted by Costello’s thin production. While punk had been a phenomenon largely revolving around London – from the Clash’s Westway strife to Sham 69s suburban bovver – The Specials were resolutely provincial. Terry Hall sang in a deadpan Midlands’s monotone. Nite Klub was set no in Wardow Street but in a shabby Coventry ballroom, where “all the girls are slags and the beer tastes just like piss”.
Despite the presence of Jamaican ska trombonist Rico and its Toots and the Maytals covers, Specials was an album thick with the preoccupations of post punk British youth. The National Front is on the march; teds fight punk’s bovver boys luck around every corner waiting to put the boot in.
Its October release was heralded by the 2 Tone Tour with The Specials, Madness and The Selecter, which was sometimes marred by crowd violence. “The amount of violence at specials gigs ahs been exaggerated down the years” say Dammers. “I really wish there hadn’t been any. The great majority were trouble free, but there were a few where a minority thought they were supposed to have a scrap. With about four exceptions, any sign of trouble was nipped in the bud by the band stopping and Terry explaining that it wasn’t part of the deal”. In Bristol, Neville Staple discovered his fame now meant girls were willing to star with him in hotel room porn. On November 7, all 3 bands appeared together on Top of The Pops. In just 3 months, 2 Tone had gone from indie label to countrywide phenomenon.
“The Specials played 2 gigs in Coventry Tiffany’s that Christmas,” says Panter. “That was the apogee of 2 Tone, for me. Coventry was an industrial motor city, lots of unemployment. Without being melodramatic, it raised peoples spirits here a but”.
The bands’ punishing live schedule ensured things would never truly be the same again. Buoyed by the speed of The Specials rise in England, manager Rick Rogers was keen for the band to break America: a 6 week US tour was booked, followed by a lengthy European jaunt. From their arrival in America, it was clear that all would not go according to plan.
“It’s hard to believe now, but at the time, the concept of retro did not exist in America at all,” remembers Dammers. ” We arrived at the airport in our tonic suits and pork pie hats, ready to take America by storm, and this bloke who picked us up in the minibus said to Rick, ‘Say, are these guys mental patients?’ He really thought we were from a mental hospital because of the suits and short hair”.
The band ploughed on. A support slot with The Police, then a headlining tour. In Los Angeles they were booked for eight shows in 4 nights at the Whisky a Go Go.
“It was one of the stupidest things that ever happened to The Specials,” Dammers remembers. “On stage were putting everything in to it. Playing two shows a night was like putting someone in for 2 boxing matches a night – it made no sense at all. I hate to say it, but that really broke the spirit of the band. We were completely exhausted. After that, everybody stopped getting on.”
Even news from England that The Specials Live EP had topped the charts couldn’t lift the bands mood. Dammers had done little to endear himself to the American public by telling a press conference he “could have had more fun on a school trip to Russia”. Now his insistence that the band turn down limousines and flashy hotel accommodation was irking at least one of his fellow Specials.
“I was getting pissed off,” remembers Staples. “Maybe he came from a background where he was privileged, but the rest of us didn’t, so let’s enjoy it a bit. You get a limousine sent, who wants to go in the van with the gear? Fuck that, I’m from the streets – let me live a bit’.
Dammers remains largely unrepentant.
“Its’ hard to discuss things with Neville – I wish I’d tried more. Maybe a vicars pay was actually low enough to teach me some respect for money. We didn’t travel in the van with the gear, we travelled in a normal tour bus and the hotels were fine, with a few exceptions.
“It seems odd now, because rock music has returned to excess, but in the early 80s it was different. I remember Bad Manners staying in a hotel where the lobby was made out of remnants. I got a train once with Dexys Midnight Runners and they all had to bunk the fare. You’re buying into the American dream, you’re buying into bullshit, and you’re being flash with money. The amount of money that gets wasted on tour is phenomenal.”
“It was fine in the beginning,” Terry Hall told MOJO. “But it became difficult when there was nothing left to rebel against. We couldn’t sing about unemployment when we were buying ready meal meals for 2 at Marks and Spencer.”
On their return to England, Byers student baiting Rat Race became The Specials fourth consecutive Top 10 and Lynval Golding was attacked by racists outside Hampstead Moonlight Club. “I got beat up badly,” he says. “My ribs were smashed in. It was a frightening experience. It was a racist attack, it was because I was walking down the road with two white girls.” The day after the attack, Golding was given painkilling injections so he could play the Montreux Jazz Festival.
The issue of The Specials drug use, and its effect on their deteriorating relationships, is a thorny one. None of the ex-members agree precisely who was taking what. There was certainly a lot of pot smoking – on the tour bus, trombonist Rico dispensed marijuana and wisdom from his ever-present Bible in equal measure- but Panter is adamant that after America “cocaine reared its ugly head.” Others dispute this, but all agree that alcohol was a destructive force within the band. “When everybody got sloshed and all that crap, I used to go back to the room with my weed and women,” claims Staples. “When they were pissed, that was when their inhibitions came out, that’s when it all became ‘I hate you’ I never thought, ‘He’s like that because he has been taking cocaine or amphetamines’, I thought, ‘He’s is like that because he is has been fucking drinking.'”
Whatever the reasons by the time The Specials embarked on their summer 1980 tour of British seaside resorts, relations in the band particularly between Dammers and Byers, both heavy drinkers were strained to breaking point. Dammers original idea was for the band to sail around Britain on a boat, anchor offshore and travel to the gigs by speedboat. “That got translated by our manager into doing a tour of every seaside town in Britain. That sort of thing happened often with Rick Rogers. His intentions were totally right but it somehow went wrong. For too long the band doubled up in hotel rooms because that was what we did in the early days and Rick thought that I didn’t want the policy changed. Of course I did.”
“On the first day of the tour” remembers Panter, “Jerry was going ‘I don’t want to do this.’ Everybody else was saying ‘The trucks are here, the tickets have been sold’. I suggested doing it with another keyboard player, because I could see that Jerry was at the end of his tether, but the roller coaster had started- nobody was allowed to get off it.”
The tour continued. During a photo session, an argument about clothes ended with Byers attempting to push Dammers over a cliff top. (Dammers; “Actually, Roddy give me one of those jokey little pushes, but it was a bit more dangerous that it should have been”.) Later that night, he smashed his guitar over Dammers keyboard mid set. Dammers was at a loss to explain what was wrong: “It wasn’t as if anybody had told me what the problem was.”
“I always rebelled against authority and Jerry started to be an authority to me ” says Byers today. “I saw him as the guy who was telling me what I could and couldn’t do. I wasn’t happy with my internal situation (Byers has briefly split from his wife) and I was drinking too much. I was being a total arsehole.”
Ongoing sessions for the bands second album were tense. “Every day someone left” says Golding. “It was horrible.” Dammers was keen to venture beyond the first albums ska roots. He had become interested in muzak and easy listening, a dramatic Shift in sound which caused some consternation in the band: Staples and Byers were particularly unimpressed. Chrysalis Records were nonplussed by Stereotype, a mournful dirge satirising lads culture earmarked as a single (despite its wilful uncommerciality, it reached Number 6). Other band members became resentful of Dammers control.
“Everybody was into different kinds of music,” says Byers, “but Jerry still wanted to control what was happening. He’d been right up to that point, but I started to think he was losing it a bit. He wanted to use drum machines. I didn’t want them on my songs.” “I wanted everyone to write songs, I didn’t want to do it all myself,” counters Dammers. “Just trying to keep everyone happy was difficult. Roddy had a song called ‘We’re only monsters’. The lyrics went something like, ‘We’re not the boys next door, we’re the werewolves from down your street.’ It was not right for the album, so I told him to go and write something else. He came back with this song and the lyrics were essentially saying ‘Jerry Dammers is a heartless bastard and he won’t do any of my songs.’ I was like, No, that’s not a good one either. Then Neville came up this idea, called Neville’s Erotic Sounds. It was ahead of its time, genius. It had classical music and dub reggae playing at the same time in the background and Neville arguing with some girl about having a tape recorder under the bed. I didn’t like to listen much further than that.”
Released in September 1980, More Specials betrays the atmosphere that surrounded its creation. Its music is brilliantly varied – leaping from reggae to Northern Soul to Dammers’ jazz-inspired exotica – its tone inescapably bleak. International Jet Set despairingly examined the misery of touring. Hall’s Man At C&A was rife with nuclear paranoia. Even Pearl’s Café, which dated back to the Coventry Automatics, matched jaunty ska to a bitter, frustrated chorus. “It’s all a load of bollocks, and bollocks to it all.”
On the ensuing tour, fan’s stage invasions had got out of control. “At first it was a great laugh – we’re all in this together, there’s no stars here,” says Dammers. “Then people were getting on-stage two numbers into the set. It became tedious and dangerous, but you couldn’t stop it. One gig we told the audience it was too dangerous and they wouldn’t have it and it ended up in a massive ruck with the bouncers.”
In Cambridge, an audience member jumped on-stage and attacked the support band, The Swinging Cats. Violence between bouncers and the audience flared throughout The Specials’ set. Terry Hall hurled a mic-stand at one bouncer. Dammers announced that the band would stop if the violence didn’t cease: another bouncer got on-stage and threatened him. After the gig, Hall & Dammers were arrested at the behest of the promoter and charged with incitement to riot. They were fined Ł400.
Even Hall, usually redoubtable on-stage, was perturbed. “As a group we’re now thinking whether or not to carry on doing tours,” he told a reporter after the trial. “We don’t like violence at our concerts, we’ve made that clear from the outset. We offer music as an alternative to fighting. It’s easier to use your energy dancing than punching someone in the mouth. Anyway, if the fighting doesn’t stop, there’s only one way to make it stop. We either stop gigging or call it a day.
“You’re in this fantastic group making wonderful music and you can’t play it anymore because people are hitting each other,” says Panter. “I ran away, I went to America after that tour. It became absolutely unbearable.”
Worn down by the pressures of life as a Special, Panter became involved in ‘Exegesis’, a religious cult which preached self-assersion (it’s other celebrity adherent was Mike Oldfield). “Just to add to the fun and games, Horace joins some nutty cult and starts giving them all his money!” sighs Dammers. “Anyone who knows anything about those cults and trying to get people out of them… it was a nightmare.”
The band reconvened in early 1981 to rehearse Dammers’ epic Ghost Town. The song had been inspired by scenes glimpsed during the band’s last tour. “In Liverpool, all the shops were shuttered up, everything was closing down. In Glasgow there were little old ladies on the streets selling all their household goods, their cups and saucers. It was clear something was very, very wrong.”
The song’s noble intent didn’t make the rehearsals or recording sessions any easier. “People weren’t co-operating at all,” says Dammers, “Every little bit of Ghost Town was worked out, all the different parts, it wasn’t a jam session. I can remember walking out of rehearsals in total despair because Neville would not co-operate. You know the brass bit is kind of jazzy, it has a dischord? I remember Lynval rushing into the control room while they were doing it going, “Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!” In the meantime, Roddy’s trying to kick holes in the studio wall. The engineer was going,” If that doesn’t stop, you’re going to have to leave!” I was saying This is the greatest record that’s ever been made in the history of anything! You can’t stop now!”
Nevertheless, Ghost Town was a remarkable record, The Specials single greatest achievement. Quite aside from it’s musical content – a doomy mesh of reggae rhythms, jazzy chord progressions and stabbing John Barry brass – there was the matter of its sheer prescience. As the track sailed to Number 1 in June 1981, its lyrical prediction – “the people getting angry” – was chillingly borne out. Riots erupted in Brixton and Liverpool’s Toxteth and spread around Britain’s deprived inner cities. No record in British pop history has ever collided with the news so acutely.
But its success couldn’t save The Specials. Despite his protestations in the media that “The Specials as a working unit are stronger than ever, and I feel we’ve got a lot more to give”, Hall had been working on demos with Lynval Golding & Neville Staples prior to the Ghost Town sessions. “It was just an idea as a break from the band,” says Golding today, “Like Damon from Blur’s done with Gorillaz. But no one was talking, no communication in the band, we couldn’t even look at each other…”
“After more or less getting on my knees and begging the band to do the song, I thought after it got to Number 1 that I’d proved myself to the band, that they were going to realise that I knew what I was doing,” says Dammers. “We had popularity and critical acclaim. We got to Top Of The Pops, and Neville came into the dressing room and announced they were leaving. I was really, really upset.”
Inevitably Roddy Byers also left. “I was relieved. If I’d carried on in the band, I’d have ended up dead or someone would have got hurt. I wish I’d drunk less and not argued so much, but you can’t change the way you are.” Dammers determined to continue with Panter, Bradbury and singer Rhoda Dakar. She had left Conference League 2 Toners The Bodysnatchers, bringing with her their sole original number, The Boiler. A saga of attempted rape climaxing in harrowing screams, it was the first single issued by the new line-up, re-christened The Special AKA. It reached Number 35 six months after Ghost Town reached Number 1: an indication that both the single was deliberately uncommercial and 2 Tone’s moment had slipped away.
Dammers retreated to Coventry to search for new-musicians. “I had a lot of loyalty to Coventry, but the pool of talent wasn’t big enough. John Shipley was from The Swinging Cats, Stan Campbell came in on vocals. It was out of the frying pan and into the fire really.”
Sessions for the third album lasted two weeks before Panter quit, alienated by his continued involvement in Exegesis. “I could see that Jerry was struggling, but I was full of Exegesis and self-assertion and he was dead against that. It must have been hell for him. I hated leaving. I couldn’t change Jerry’s mind, make him go away for a bit, get some inspiration. He was going to confront it head-on.”
The sessions lurched on. John Bradbury belatedly emerged as a songwriter, contributing two tracks, but could see matters were spiralling out of control. “It took an inordinate amount of time,” he says. “There didn’t seem to be any rehearsals for it – it all took place in the studio. Did Jerry tell you how much it cost? It was loads. The money being spent was ridiculous. There was no way the album was going to recoup it unless it got to Number 1 and sold across the continents.”
That clearly wasn’t going to happen: the next single, War Crimes, with its awkward rhythm and lyric comparing Beirut to Belsen, was released in Christmas 1982 and flopped. The similarly uncompromising Racist Friend struggled to Number 60. Stan Campbell was unimpressed: he had thought he was joining a chart-topping combo.
“It got a bit hairy at the end, that band,” says Dammers. “Nelson Mandela was the same as Ghost Town. I literally had to beg them to do it, which was really humiliating. I knew it was a really important song, but once again people didn’t want to co-operate.”
It was the final track to be recorded for The Special AKA’s third album, prosaically named In The Studio, and its only hit. Like Ghost Town, it had implications beyond it’s chart placing. “Jesus, it really woke people up,” beams John Bradbury. “A lot of people had never heard of the guy before that.”
In The Studio itself sank without trace. “The record company did no promotion on it at all,” complains Dammers. “I think they spent Ł9,000 on promotion, which considering all the time that had been spent on it was just ridiculous.” It was an ignoble fate for an underrated record, although quite how any record company in 1984 was supposed to market an album filled with tricky time signatures and brooding songs about alcoholism and agoraphobia remains a mystery.
£9,000 pounds on promotion?” chuckles John Bradbury, when reminded of the figure. “After Jerry had finished recording, that’s probably all the money the record company had left.”