The Specials were an English two-tone/ska band from Coventry that released two albums and several non-album sides between 1979 and 1981 on 2 Tone, a specialty imprint that keyboardist Jerry Dammers established in cooperation with Chrysalis. After the departure of guitarist Lynval Golding and vocalists Terry Hall and Neville Staple to Fun Boy Three, Dammers assembled a new lineup under the name Special A.K.A. for a further run of singles and that culminated with the 1984 album In the Studio.
Members: Jerry Dammers (keyboards, vocals, 1977-84), Lynval Golding (guitar, vocals, 1977-81, 1996-2000, 2008-present), Horace Panter (bass, 1977-81, 1996-present), Silverton Hutchinson (drums, 1977-79), Tim Strickland (vocals, 1977), Terry Hall (vocals, 1977-81, 2008-present), Neville Staple (vocals, percussion, 1978-81, 1996-2013), Roddy Radiation [aka Roddy Byers] (guitar, vocals, 1978-81, 1996-2014), John Bradbury (drums, 1979-84, 2008-15), Rico (trombone, 1979-84), Rhoda Dakar (vocals, 1981-84), Dick Cuthell (flugelhorn, 1981-84), Gary McManus (bass, 1981-84), Stan Campbell (vocals, 1981-84), Egidio Newton (vocals, percussion, 1981-84), John Shipley (guitar, 1981-84), Nigel Reeve (saxophone, 1981-84), Caron Wheeler (backing vocals, 1981-84), Claudia Fontaine (backing vocals, 1981-84)
The Specials started in 1977 as The Coventry Automatics, formed by keyboardist Jerry Dammers with guitarist/singer Lynval Golding, drummer Silverton Hutchinson, and bassist Horace Panter (aka Sir Horace Gentleman). Their original frontman, Tim Strickland, soon cleared way for Terry Hall, fresh off a stint with Coventry punks Squad. With the 1978 arrival of singer Neville Staple and guitarist Roddy Byers (aka Roddy Radiation), they remained themselves The Special A.K.A.
They were spotted at an early gig by Joe Strummer, who invited them to open for The Clash on their summer 1978 On Parole tour. Their mix of punk and reggae soon morphed into a tighter, staccato sound that drew from 1960s Jamaican ska. Meanwhile, they spent some time under the auspices of Clash manager Bernie Rhodes.
The Special A.K.A. cut a demo album that was later released as Dawning of a New Era. To complement the sound, they adopted a checkered b&w variant of the mod look, complete with skinny suits and pork pie hats. This became the trademark two-tone image, adopted by other bands on the emerging ska scene. Hutchinson made way for drummer John Bradbury, a personal friend of Hall.
In 1979, Dammers started 2 Tone Records through a distribution deal with Chrysalis. The label’s first release was the debut Special A.K.A. side “Gangsters” (UK #6). Its flipside, “The Selecter,” was the instrumental theme of another up-and-coming ska act, The Selecter. That summer, Special A.K.A. modified their name to The Specials and recorded their debut album with Elvis Costello in the producer’s chair.
- The Specials (1979)
- More Specials (1980)
- “Ghost Town / “Why?” / “Friday Night, Saturday Morning” (1981)
- “The Boiler” / “Theme From the Boiler” (1982 • Rhoda With The Special A.K.A.)
- In the Studio (1984 • The Special A.K.A.)
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