The Specials were the first band that I was into. Their debut LP was the first record I ever bought. I listened to it from start to finish, over and over. Knew all the words by heart. The band’s Rock Against Racism stance of “black and white unite” reflected the mix of working class kids that I hung out with, at the Apsley Road chip shop. “Standing on the corner, giving trouble.” Getting hassled by the Old Bill. As a teenager, I don’t think there was a single day that didn’t see agro, either at school, on the streets, or at home.
Their song lyrics detailed our dead-end dole futures. Echoed familiar Jamaican accents, and football chants. Paraphrased bullying teachers, convinced of my uselessness, and a life-changing chat that I once had with a local legend – where he relayed the righteous wisdom of “There`s always a badder man.” Fusing Blue Beat with punk energy The Specials covered Dandy Livingstone and Coxsonne Dodd, and updated classics by The Maytals and Prince Buster.
Babies having babies, unplanned, unwanted pregnancies, high rise homogeneity, boring mindless conformity, and day-to-day drudgery – things that surrounded me – were their primary concerns. That, and the constant threat of random violence. Concrete jungles where stabbings and the giving and receiving of glassings were a rite of passage. They described, exactly, where I lived. The drinking, the fighting, and the fucking, all delivered in Terry Hall’s drone, wielded with totally unconcealed contempt. But rather than dour and downbeat, the pieces played like protest songs. Attempting to rally with their angry anti-apathy.
On a live E.P. they moved from the Harry J. All Stars, to The Pioneers, The Skatalites, and Symarip – Jerry Dammers on his funky organ doing his very best Jackie Mittoo – to remind you that for all the politics and preaching it was still a party. There`s dancing to be done when you`re young.
“Bernie Rhodes` knows, don’t argue”, and Roddy Radiation was my first guitar hero. I used to practice drawing the 2-Tone rude-boy logo – “Walt Jabsco” – “Stay-Press to his ankles”, in my school notebooks, and we`d get sent home for mimicking its look. Trousers taken up, too short. Brightly coloured socks between them and our tasseled loafers.
On their second LP, the Bontempi symphony, More Specials, the track, Stereotypes, dropped into dubwise, which was same direction that we, me and my mates, were heading. Do Nothing, though, could have been our theme tune. “Nothing ever change”, and “Living in a life without meaning”, we drifted and loafed. Reggae and existential ennui. I had to get out of Croydon.
Terry Hall, thank you for the music, and the motivation. Rest In Peace.