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The Specials (sometimes called The Special AKA) are an Englishmarker 2 Tone ska revival band formed in 1977 in Coventrymarker, Englandmarker. Their music combined 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 group was formed by songwriter/keyboardist Jerry Dammers, with Terry Hall (vocals), Lynval Golding (guitar, vocals) and a rhythm section. The band wore mod-style "1960s period rude-boy outfits (porkpie hats, tonic and mohair suits, and loafers)." In 1979, 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" single also hit number one in the UK Singles Chart. Their music is featured in film and television soundtracks. After seven consecutive UKmarker Top 10 singles between 1979 and 1981, the band broke up. In 2008, it was announced that the band would reform and embark on a 30th anniversary tour in 2009.


After being formed in 1977 by Roger Mullin, Jerry Dammers, Lynval Golding and Horace Panter (also known as Sir Horace Gentleman), the band was first called The Automatics, and 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."
The cover of the 2009 book by Paul Williams

In 1979, Dammers decided to form his own record label, and 2 Tone Records was born. On this label, the band released their 7" debut "Gangsters", featuring a part of Prince Buster's ska hit "Al Capone". The song became a Top 10 hit in 1979. 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 Specials in 1979, produced by Elvis Costello. In a nod to classic ska, 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 or plainly ska-influenced as previous recordings. The album featured a more experimental approach; including influences from pop music, New Wave, and muzak. Their 'lounge music' style would later be an influence on bands such as Air. The band also experimented with what could be described as dark, almost psychedelic reggae. Notable female backing singers 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). "Ghost Town", a non-LP Specials single, 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 not very commercially successful, although the song "Nelson Mandela" was a #9 UK hit. The latter contributed to making Mandela a cause célèbre in the United Kingdommarker, and became popular with anti-Apartheid activists in South Africa. Dammers then dissolved the band and pursued political activism.

Later developments

The group performing in the late 2000s
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 English Beat, General Public) and Nick Welsh (Skaville UK). He latterly fronted The Skabilly Rebels, a band that mixed 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 and Dammers. In 1992, ex-Specials bassist Panter quit the music industry to train as a primary school teacher at the University of Central Englandmarker 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 Festivalmarker 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 GuilFestmarker, 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 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, Lynval Golding and John 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.


Original Specials line-up

Unofficial members

Special AKA

1996 reformation

2009 reformation



  2. The Specials reunite for 2009 tour
  3. The
  4. Sarfraz Manzoor The year rock found the power to unite, 20 April 2008, Retrieved 12 March 2009
  5. The Specials reunion all down to Lily Allen Coventry Telegraph 15 May 2009
  6. BBC - 6 Music - The Specials reunion
  7. Ska band confirms reunion plans
  8. The Specials reunite for 2009 tour
  9. Jerry Dammers Damns Specials Reunion
  10. Muso's Guide Interview With The Specials
  11. The Specials confirm more 2009 UK dates

Further reading

  • Williams, Paul (1995) You're Wondering Now - A History Of The Specials, ST Publishing. ISBN 1-89892-725-1
  • Panter, Horace (2007) Ska'd for Life - A Personal Journey with the "Specials", Sidgwick & Jackson, ISBN-10: 0283070293, ISBN-13: 978-0283070297
  • Chambers, Pete (2008) 2-Tone-2: Dispatches from the Two Tone City, 30 Years on, Tencton Planet Publications. ISBN 978-0954412562
  • Staple, Neville (2009) Original Rude Boy, Aurum Press. ISBN 978-1-84513-480-8

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