Sometimes, we have to look back to get perspective on where we’re headed. In the late ‘70s, there was a lot of turmoil going on in the world. In the US, we were dealing with the after effects of Vietnam, we were becoming all too familiar with cats known as the Sandinistas; and the Iran Hostage Crisis was front page news. In England, there was unreal racial tension; riots were breaking out across the country. Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister and it turns out unemployment can be a very powerful motivator. As anyone who’s been through it can tell you, the shock of unemployment becomes a pathology of its own.
In both countries, homelessness and mental health issues have always been tied to our hips. On the socio-economic front, songs like “London’s Burning” by The Clash and “Stand Down Margaret” by the Beat had a much deeper meaning for the Brits. There was so much going on from coast-to-coast and around the world that youth from two nations looked towards their musical heroes for inspiration. That chaos gave birth to the voice of a new generation; the sound and vision came from a 2Tone / ska revival band out of Coventry called, The Specials.
The Specials are one of the most influential and iconic bands of our time. They provide us with honest soul-searching lyrics, and they challenge us to talk with each other versus at each other. It’s true, they were the catalyst for the British ska revival in the late ‘70s. In their original incarnation, the band was racially diverse and unity was what the 2Tone culture was all about. In 1979, the band blew up and became a household name in the ‘80s with mega-hits like “Gangsters”, “Ghost Town”, “Too Much Too Young”, “Little Bitch”, “Monkey Man”, “Concrete Jungle”, “A Message to You Rudy”, and “Nelson Mandela” just to name a few.
The songs were substance filled with youthful energy; all wrapped in black and white checkerboard aesthetic. In all honesty, there’s much more to this band than a cool sound, cool clothes, and a wicked, ass-shaking show. Through their music, they spoke the words that captured our souls. Not since Prince Buster has a band commanded the respect that The Specials brought to the stage. They get the respect they get because they don’t shy away bringing up challenging topics. They are fearless and best described as kids running with scissors with the tops of their heads on fire. They will shout and dance to make sure they aren’t just heard, but also understood. They convey experiences all people live through, while demanding we stand up to the powers that be in a very Gandhi and MLK-esque way.
Here’s the thing about The Specials, if you want a historical perspective, watch the History Channel, or a BBC documentary. Ask any of their fans and they’ll tell you there are bands that make history, and then, there are bands who are history. More times than not, The Specials fall into the latter category. Sometimes history needs a push, that’s how certain bands find their calling. They become our conscience and redemption; meanwhile they entertain us. Their music has been used in countless commercials, and features films like Grosse Pointe Blank and Sixteen Candles just to name a few. Sometimes, reality becomes so unreal, it takes a brave heart to call out insincerities and straight out untruths from our leaders. That’s the difference between a good band, and a great one. The great ones, challenge us to think for ourselves, and not just be sheep or extend blind loyalty just because we’re aligned with a political ideology. In the end, they demonstrate how we can all be civil towards each other, while making good, decent and honest decisions and demanding that from those we elect to government.
Over the years, the band has had a variety of lineup changes. Some of the band members have passed away due to health-related issues. In 2015 we lost drummer, John Bradbury and trombonist Rico Rodriguez. Other original members are working on other projects; that includes Jerry Dammers, Neville Staples and Roddy Radiation. Despite missing a few bandmates, the core remains intact. Fast forward to 2019, this year marks the 40th anniversary of their formation. It’s hard to believe, but after all these years, this band continues to remind us that life has its moment filled with pride and shame, but in the end it doesn’t matter where you come from; or who you are. What does matter is who you want to be. Now, The Specials are about to release a new album simply titled Encore.
Like in 1979, there’s lots going on, politics, unemployment and homeless is a significant issue in certain parts of the world. Sadly, racial tensions are still an issue in 2019; religious persecution remains an evil that still plagues us. Just like back in the day, immigrants are blamed for many of the issues that fall upon us. Whether it’s justified or not the politics of fear is still a thing. When asked why The Specials decided to make another run and a new album, their first in 37 years: Lynval Golding says, “how could we not, with what’s going on in this world… it doesn’t matter if it’s a Brexit issue, a caravan US issue, or some other insane act throughout Europe or elsewhere on our planet. People have to realize that the Lunatics, Have Taken Over the Asylum. We have an obligation to speak truth and challenge ourselves to seek-out what is reality; and be better people.”
In today’s trending social media world, there is a lot of misinformation out there, some of it being intentionally disingenuous. Consequently, in our current turbulent climate, Encore picks up almost exactly where classics like “Ghost Town” left off. The Specials address serious issues like homelessness, mental health, Black Lives Matter, Me Too, and a host of politically charged topics head on. The first single, “Vote For Me” (UMC / Islands Records) came out last month. The song is haunting and pierces the soul and is very reminiscent of their early work and that of other 2Tone iconic bands like Madness, The Selecter, The Beat and Bodysnatchers.”They believe we demand that the officials we elect should put the people first, and not their own self interest,” Golding says. Bottom line, the music doesn’t advocate that anyone turn right or left, instead they want people to check out the words of those they follow, to insure we Vote for those who will protect our rights instead of taking them away.
As for the album itself, it’s scheduled to be released February 1st. It can also be pre-ordered at thespecials.com.
Some of the other songs you’ll get to know soon include titles like “Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys”,
“The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum”, “Embarrassed By You” and “The Life And Times Of A Man Called Depression”.
This album is bold and entertaining, the songs were written and produced by Terri, Lynval, Horace, Nikolaj and mixed by Cenco Townsend. These songs will make you think, and open up a dialogue for discussion about the things we want to change, and it reminds us that we’re not the things that haunt us, nor are we the pain we feel.
For the band’s fans, Encore marks the return of original lead vocalist Terry Hall. The band’s current lineup features original members, Lynval Golding (rhythm guitar / vocals) and Horace Panter (bass). The band also features Tim Smart (Trombone), Nikolaj Torp Larsen (keys), Pablo Mandleson (trumpet) and Kenrick Rowe (drums). The band has been touring with this current lineup for a little while now, and they are as electric as ever. The guys take the road starting on the UK leg and all other parts throughout 2019 on their Encore 40th Anniversary Tour. They come back to the U.S. sometime in the latter part of 2019, after their UK run.
Catch their show when they play in your neck of the woods. Ask any of their fans, they’ll entertain you. After all, their fans come from all walks of life, ages and their music means so much too so many for so many different reasons. They are most definitely a band that is part of musical history, they make the invisible, visible. Encore just adds to their legacy.