Next week The Specials embark on the European leg of their long awaited 2011 tour, widely understood to be their last gigs together. I am terribly exited by a planned trip to see them in Brussels on the last date before the UK tour. I love the social aspects of UK dates, but to see a band abroad will always be that little bit more special - no pun intended, exotic I suppose (even in Belgium!).
Whilst the reunited Specials gigs to date have focussed on the first album plus singles, it is strongly rumoured that on this final tour both albums will be played through. For those not familiar with the 'More Specials' album it is very different from the first 'Specials' album.
By the time it was released, the band were exhausted by the cruel touring schedule that such a rapid rise in popularity demands, the process of writing new material for a second album on the road was not ideal (an age old problem for bands) and the claustrophobic atmosphere on a cramped tour bus (well their were a lot of them!) resulted in a serious clash of personalties. Of particular concern was the state of the relationships between some members of the band and 'The General', Jerry Dammers, a key driving force behind the whole 2 tone ethos (label, bands, look etc) and a man with strong ideas of the band's direction for the next LP.
Dammers was looking to move away from the Blue Beat/punk fusion (the signature '2 tone sound' at that time), rather favouring a more organ driven sound, Jerry was keen on a 'lounge' style by this time. However, it is fair to say that not all of the band shared Jerry's vision. This is perhaps understandable, given that in 1980, the 'movement' was at its height, half the country was decked out in the rude boy style and expectant of more of the same. Nevertheless, despite internal friction, to a large extent the General's will prevailed, the musical style of the first album was strictly 1979 and the result of the new direction became..... 'More Specials'.
I think that 'More Specials' is every bit as good as 'The Specials' and in some aspects I would say that it surpasses the first, being more complex (but certainly not more accomplished for sure) and diverse that 'Specials'. The themes remain similar in some areas 'Stereotype', 'Do Nothing' and 'Rat Race' (not on the album, but a contemporary 45), but new themes were included that reflected the impact that the last 18 months of massive success had had on the band e.g. 'International Jet Set'. Underpinning much of the music on this album was Jerry's new style which was perfect for the album.
The Specials in their intense and sadly short career formed the perfect musical backdrop to the times. Writers advise other writers to stick to and document what they know and understand. This is a principle that The Specials adhered to throughout. Listen to the first album and the upbeat ska/punk pace cannot disguise the lyrical content.
The songs reflect hopelessness, fear and violence (in a very English, self-effacing style) as industry, specifically the car industry, the backbone of Coventry's very post-war existence, crumbled under the new politics of the day. These themes were carried over to the next album with perhaps more irony and melancholy.
Last year Gunta and I took the kids to Coventry for the first time to show them their mum's school, house where she grew up etc. The visit was timed to coincide with the run of the play 'Too Much Pressure' at the city's Belgrade Theatre. It was a great play, but for me the most poignant moment came when a radio broadcast was played announcing the imminent closure of one of the city's main car plants. The braodcast included a soundbite of Margaret Thatcher justifying the closure. At the very sound of her voice, the entire audience spontaniously started jeering. Evidence that the for the audience (mostly in the 40-60 age range), the hardships experienced by the working people of Coventry in the early years of the 1980's were still keenly felt even now. 'Thatcherism' has been neither forgotten nor forgiven.
'Too Much Pressure'
Begrade Theatre, Coventry February 2011
Here's a gig, one of the last the first incarnation were to play, that features most of the second album.
NEW LINK: http://we.tl/i2rb7bIK16
Full artwork here:
The Specials imploded after the release of 'Ghost Town', whith Terry, Lyn and Neville forming the Fun Boy 3 and Jerry, Horace and Brad reverting to the Special A.K.A. (who in due course gave us the wonderful 'Free Nelson Mandela').
The Specials TOTP July 1981
The inquest into the causes of the riots resulted in the publication of the Scarman report which concluded that:
Last April's riots in Brixton, south London were caused by serious social and economic problems affecting Britain's inner cities. Lord Scarman's inquiry into what he called the worst outbreak of disorder in the UK this century also blamed "racial disadvantage that is a fact of British life".
The report criticised police and the government, but it said there was no excuse for the violence and praised officers for their conduct during the disorder.
Radical changes in policing resulted.
Perhaps the Scarman report should have been distributed to police chiefs and politician's alike with a complimentary copy of 'Specials'. The perfect mix.