The legendary ska band's enduring quality is proving attractive to a new generation. Andy Coleman met them.
The Specials are playing music that is more than 30 years old – but they are attracting a whole new audience, says guitarist and vocalist Lynval Golding.
The Coventry band is approaching the end of a triumphant tour, the follow-up to a successful 2009 reunion, that has seen them perform all over Europe and the UK.
“On the 2009 tour we had all these mostly male, bald, wonderful guys in the audience, but on this tour there seems to be a lot more girls, for whatever reason, which is quite surprising because we’re not young lads anymore,” 60-year-old Lynval reveals.
“So it’s the music, not us, that is still young and fresh. The music has never aged, which is wonderful. Seeing the young girls in the front row singing the songs, it’s like ‘woahh’. It’s a wonderful feeling.”
Despite band founder, songwriter and keyboardist Jerry Dammers not being part of the reunion, which marked the 30th anniversary of the release of their debut album, The Specials are going from strength to strength.
“We’re probably one of the only bands that can do three tours of England, in the recession, and sell them out,” says Lynval, who is joined on stage by singers Terry Hall and Neville Staple, bassist Horace Panter, guitarist Roddy Byers and drummer John Bradbury.
“It’s cool that the parents have passed the music to their kids and they’re coming to see us.”
And Lynval sees his role as much wider than simply entertaining the masses.
“When I walk on the stage and see the audience I kind of connect with them and I feel I’ve got a story to tell them, to guide them through their lives.
‘‘Obviously I’ve lived long enough to be able to say ‘if you do too much drugs, if you do too much alcohol, it will damage you’.
“I think that’s what I’m there for, not to be a preacher, but to tell them, because when I was younger, 18 or 19, no one told me about the effects of drugs and alcohol can have on you.
‘‘My father was a heavy drinker so I just thought it was a way of life. I didn’t realise the damage it was doing. I feel I can connect with people by what I’ve gone through in life.”
Now living in Seattle, Lynval is currently writing his memoirs with Paul ‘Willo’ Williams, author of the book You’re Wondering Now – The Specials From Conception To Reunion.
“It’s called Back In Time,” Lynval says of his tome.
“We go back to me being born in Jamaica, coming to England, going to school in Gloucester, and all I had to go through as a kid.
“I never understood what racism was about until coming to England. In Jamaica we didn’t have it.”
Lynval and his sisters were sent to England to stay with his aunt when he was ten.
He lived in various cities, including Birmingham and Southampton, before settling in Coventry.
He teamed up with Jerry Dammers and Horace Panter to form The Automatics which eventually became The Specials.
He has also been in Fun Boy Three, The Beat and Pama International.
He reveals that his most recent outfit, Pama International, which also featured Fuzz Townshend from Pop Will Eat Itself, was a means to an end and is now “in the past”.
“The reason for coming over from Seattle and working with Pama International was to get The Specials back together,” he admits, adding that he would try to arrange meetings to hasten the reunion whenever he was in the UK.
In his memories of The Specials, Original Rude Boy, Neville Staple says he probably won’t be doing any new material with The Specials.
He writes: “The reason to get together with the rest of The Specials was to please the crowd. Nothing else. This was our pension – simple as that.”
Speaking to Lynval, I get the feeling some of the other members don’t quite see it like that.
“That’s Neville – he doesn’t write,” Lynval grins. “We do write.”
He adds that world events will always provide inspiration.
“Seriously, Colonel Gaddafi’s gone and we’ve just been discussing that we’d like to dedicate a song tonight to all the Libyans and the dawning of a new era. So there are things to write about.
“It seems that today’s bands don’t write about what’s happening around because they tend to be manufactured by The X Factor and stuff like that.
“When I’m back in Seattle I’ll be writing stuff, getting ideas together. We’ve got a few ideas between me, Brad, Terry and Horace that we’ll be working on.
“But it doesn’t make sense talking about it until we’ve finished it.”
* The Specials play The Ricoh Arena in Coventry on Oct 29. The show is being recorded and the discs made available to fans within minutes of the concert ending. See www.thespecialslive.com
Follow the 2-Tone trail
A special pre-concert party gig, Sent 2 Coventry, is being staged at The Spencer Club in Albany Road from 2pm.
The show features the debut of The Three with Silverton Hutchinson, the drummer from The Automatics, Ska-Waddy and The Allskas with The Selecter’s Aitch Bembridge and a rare DJ set from Neol Davies from The Selecter.
Before the concert there will be a chance for guests to walk the 2-Tone Trail which highlights important landmarks in the history of 2-Tone scene.
The trail begins at Coventry University, the former Lanchester Polytechnic, where The Specials’ Jerry Dammers first met Horace Panter.
Tickets for the pre-Specials concert gig are £8, and for The Trail £2, available from www.2tonecentral.co.uk, or 2-Tone Corner, Unit 7 The Courtyard, Walsgrave Road.