Too Much Too Old?

We caught up with the reformed Specials and estranged former member Jerry Dammers for Issue 36 of Clash magazine.

Below you can read the extended versions of our chats with, in one corner, Terry Hall and Johan 'Brad' Bradbury and, in the other, Jerry Dammers.

Part One - Terry Hall and Johan 'Brad' Bradbury

What has been the most surprising thing about each other since you have started rehearsing again?
Terry: Probably how easy it’s been. Just how its slipped back in. It's like that thing where your best mates – you can go without them for such a long time and then go back to them and it's exactly the same. It’s been amazing really, it's been effortless, I mean we’ve put effort into it, but it's been effortless
Brad: It’s just really exciting to be doing this again; I can’t sleep at night some nights. The playing has gotten a lot better too… I don’t know whether that’s because everyone’s gotten better musicians. Probably.

Does it feel 30 years since you got together?
Brad: We were just saying; in some cases it feels like a wormhole; it’s a scientific term where you leap through space and time.
Terry: I don’t think we’ve changed that much – which is both nice and surprising. We all have our same flaws and the same strengths – they haven’t gone away, which is good.

What would you say these strengths are in 2009?
Terry: To deal with each other now is easier. It was a lot harder back then. But I think that was youth. But we know where the line is now and if you cross it then you’ve crossed it as you know where it is. Before there weren’t any lines.

And what are the flaws in 2009?
Brad: I haven’t any to be honest, I have found things easier. But then I’ve changed and mellowed a lot. You go through life and go through a lot and this comes back round and its just great to have a second wind. It's fresh and it's news again. It's not a boring trip at all… it's really exciting
Terry: With me it's my own flaws. I have worked on them a lot and my ability to, not conform, but fit in a bit. I had that thing were’d I disagree to disagree. Do you know what I mean?

There’s been so much speculation about reformations (by Mani for one) – what lead to this chapter in the end?
Terry: He [Mani] was saying that to me too on a train up to Manchester for the match, but I can’t see them reforming to be honest. But what led to it? Well we all have our own personal stories. I got a serious illness about 5 or 6 years ago and as I got better I wanted to put my house in order with my family and my friends and especially with the people that I grew up with in this band. So I got together with Lynval whenever he was over from Seattle for a drink or whatever and eventually we starting talking about how we were going to celebrate our 30th anniversary. So it's rolled on and rolled on until we are here.
Brad: I hadn’t seen the guys for a long long time, I hadn’t seen Terry for a very long time and didn’t realise what he was going through to put it mildly. Then in 2007 we all met up at a café in Belsize Park and it seemed like getting back together was a good idea. Then Terry and Lynval came up with the idea of doing a little something at Bestival and that worked perfectly, which gave us the impetus to go and do it, prove that we can do it as much to ourselves as to everyone else. Now we have taken it to the next stage where we are doing the full show that seems to be going really well.

So this was a litmus test, who suggested it?
Terry: I wanted to do something that meant we’d actually walk on stage together. An act where we’d turn up and play our songs. I know the organisers of Bestival and they have a surprise act slot where you turn up and you don’t know who it's going to be and that suited what we wanted to do. It showed us that we still want to do this.
Brad: I have probably taken the longest sojourn out of everyone, around 12 years since I have been on stage but Horace is a great bassist and Lynval is a great guitarist so its really easy to fit back into a great rhythm section again.

What are you looking forward dot most about the dates?
Terry: I am looking forward to splitting up at the end of it all.
Brad: Or maybe we should walk out in Newcastle halfway through 'Ghost Town'.
Terry: To be honest it's quite unlike me but I am looking forward to celebrating something with people that have had a lot of belief in me, grown up with us and share an important moment really – that’s what I am looking forward to most. I have spoken to a lot of people who have got tickets and they are so excited. They are my age or younger at 40+ and it's something that they really want to be part of. To me music and fans is a precious thing and I know how precious this band is to a lot of people

Why do you think that you struck such a deep chord with people? There’s a lot of music lovers that have carried the Specials around in their hearts for 30 years more than other bands.
Brad: I know why, and it's because we were born in Coventry and we were associated with a multi cultural society even before people we talking about multi cultural societies and our music and our lyrics have always been established within that, deeply. So what is written, played and performed always lives with us via the audience and why often many in the crowd felt like they were in the band in some respects.
Terry: I think it's also to do with how you ‘enter’ a band because there weren’t any links with showbiz or record labels or industry – it's just something we did and there wasn’t much choice. It’s like that old adage from the East end of London; you are either a boxer or a footballer and it used to be like that in Coventry and I think people saw that in us, a reflection fo themselves. We didn’t make our first record and then turn into Celene Dion. We pretty much just lived who we were and I think that comes across really. It's about communicating and relating to people in what you do and that was a big one really.

Did you feel privileged to come through when you did, to be able to bridge that gulf in race and social issues, in a very politicised time?
I was probably the last to join the band just before we recorded 'Gangsters', it tied in perfectly with my background as I was coming from community education writing teaching aids for English as a second language so I was dealing with a lot of immigrant children. And it tied in perfectly with these guys, wanting to make a change, and make a noise about it. And it's still here. And that doesn’t change, not within the individual. And things haven’t changed too… 30 years later we are back in a recession and facing the same issues.

So what issue would you address today?
Terry: The same issues still exist and you only needed to walk around Britain to see this. If you look at a song like 'Ghost Town' and you think things have changed… but it hasn’t. If you go to the arse end of Liverpool or Glasgow and it's exactly how it was at the end of the 70s. You can tart up the city centre like they did in Liverpool last year but if you look at that walk from Anfield to Lime Street when you get escorted then you ARE back in the 70s again. It’s nuts. You may have a different party in control but is there any difference? I can’t see any difference. It's new labour and old story and there’s no difference at all.
Brad: all my family used to work on the car track in Coventry, Jaguar and Chrysler and all got made redundant or short working weeks. Exactly the same thing is going to happen again in Coventy and I think they need a knees up. The people of Coventry are going to be celebrating this 30 year tour as much as everyone else.

So after all the bluster for change, what do you feel that you changed 30 years ago?
Terry: You can’t save the planet, and that’s part of the reason why things went a bit wrong, the expectation was a bit too much. You need to get out of your safety zone; which for us was Coventry. One of the things that Bernie Rhodes said to us, which is what I think is true was: "Sort out your own street first", then your neighbourhood and so on. But if you are zooming off to Japan and America then you lose track of what you are doing, it's only natural. Having spoken to people over the last 30 years, I know that we changed SOME individual beliefs politically. If you change 2 people out of 2 million then you have some good, and I KNOW we did some good.

Does it surprise you that so few bands these days have so little to say?
Terry: It doesn’t surprise me at all. I can’’t think of too many bands that have said MUCH in the last 30 years.
Why do you think people don’t say anything?
I don’t know. It sort of crossed over into hip hop where people talked about their surroundings.
Brad: I think that’s absolutely right, it just moved into a different genre. Disputes were still going on, maybe not so much in Britain.
Terry: Our idea came from the early 70s reggae stuff and the protest song and we took that with the punk protest song and we became this band. There may be some reggae artist that still talk about this but as far as a British band… I don’t know what they talk about these days. Its sad. Especially when you come from a smaller place like we did, its your only chance to get on a stage and speak to people. Being in a band is different now. From the winner of pop idol to who is on the cover of the NME, I can’t tell the difference anymore. It’s the same shit. One is cooler than the other because someone says so; that’s all.

Just as 'Ghost Town' came out it seemed you were peaking… in music, exposure and your message… how many regrets do you have for not holding it together?
Terry: I still believe that's as far as we could have gone. We couldn’t go beyond that. As we were we couldn’t go beyond it. Its like we were in office for three years. We had said wheat we could say and Ghost Town was the perfect way for us to say ‘bye’ for a bit. What do you do after that? What do you address after that? You have to give it a breather. You need to hold back a bit
Brad: I think that despite all the side projects that none of us did anything better than when we were together. We came to a natural end with ghost town and pursue our own aims and now this anniversary has given us the great opportunity to do again, what we did then brilliantly again. I for one would like to see, past the tour, we can start making more stuff again.
Terry: We haven’t gone that far yet because we are just rehearsing but you already feel that there is no reason why not.

Was there much unrecorded material when you finished to pick up again?
Terry: No. there was that thing on the second album where it was a bit rushed to get it finished and when you are in that position of writing and recording you aren’t rejecting too much stuff.

In light of regular accusations about doing stuff just for the money…What were the arguments for NOT reforming?
Terry: Erm… there weren’t arguments NOT to reform but there were things that needed to be in place to reform. Like dignity. I have looked at bands that have reformed like Patti Smith, Pixies and Sparks who have reformed and when I saw the pixies at Brixton you just turn up and play your songs to people that want to hear them. You don’t want to go into the ins and outs of it all, that’s just it. So many bands are reforming, are they all doing it for the money? Who gives a shit?
Brad: Money is just a bi-product really..
Terry: And you only spend it once you’ve got it anyway..
Brad: when I met Terry and Lynval again I just knew that I couldn’t miss out on it. even if there had been no mention of earnings I would have still got back involved
Terry: For me its so intensely personal why I want to be with these people again, THAT’S the only reason, I can’t think of another reason, it’s been six months since I’ve been signed out as an out patient and it’s a big thing for me.
Brad: I have noticed the big difference in Terry since I saw him in 2007 and hand on my heart (looks Terry deeply in the eye) I can say that if this ended tomorrow its been worth it just to see him again. That’s really important.

If there's’ all this feeling here, why is Jerry Dammers not being able to be involved?
Terry: He was involved, but there’s SO MANY ins and outs now with Jerry about why this or why that, the predominant thing is that there are six people working together in their band called the specials and there’s one guy working by himself called Jerry Dammers. So who is right and who is wrong? If it was three against three or three against four there is room for debate but six against one means there is NO room for debate. Its down to Jerry to put his house in order and I keep reading all this shit about Jerry. I have always said the door is always open for Jerry because last year he said he had an idea how we could do it and we waited and waited and eventually me and Lyndval said ‘let's just get on with it and put some rehearsals together’ and he didn’t come so its no big deal really.
Brad: I think it's important to note that we can do these 30th anniversary shows and play these shows that people are so keen to see. We can do this in 2009 and then in 2010. Who knows?
Terry: Jerry’s also got this head on at the moment that he’s doing his orchestra and that’s cool. If that is what you are doing then that’s what you are doing, DO IT! But what we are doing this year is so specific; we are celebrating our 2 records, we aren’t even celebrating it, that’s the wrong word. We are ‘recognising’ along with a lot of people that want to do the same.
Brad: We are recognising the longevity of it all… the fact we can walk on stage and sing who’s ever lyrics, play who's ever music and at the same time have an effect on an enormous amount of people and have an emotional impact on these people… and I don’t see a problem with that.

Do you think that Jerry worried that the whole notion of The Specials might be devalued through this tour… that without new music The Special’s aren’t what their name is about?
Terry: I don’t know how he could think that. How can you devalue something if you play it as it was played and you are pretty much as you are. If I was turning up to first rehearsals and being faced with completely different people then I don’t think I could have done it. This is the divisive issue and I think The Specials always attracted quite a serious music lover, a set of ‘heads’ as it were and perhaps these people feel that The Specials always have to be going somewhere. Some people have said The Specials is like Irish coffee with no whisky, yet some people can look past this…
It depends on who you speak to. When the tickets went on sale it listed 6 names and we sold 50,000 tickets. And that kind of answers that really.
Brad: I don’t think we don’t need to really take this any further. It came to a head a few months ago really and its time to look forward. Nothing precludes what we can do in the future, especially with Terry’s writing skills and Horace’s writing skills who knows what we are capable of now.

It would be great if there was new material, I read recently that Horace and Lyndval had been making music recently with a view to having fresh stuff?
Terry: I think Lyndval has been playing with Pama Int and has been for a few years.

I meant the material they were doing with Jerry.
Terry: Oh I think that was written over a three year period … and I think it just died a death really.
Brad: it was a few years ago. Jerry asked me to do a session on it but I was ill. I can’t quite remember, I couldn’t make it for whatever reason.
Terry: Jerry knows the fucking score with us and it's up to him.. he knows that and we know that. ‘nuff said really. It's up to him.

What would it take to get Jerry back in the band?
Terry: I don’t know. That’s something that needs to be asked via him. We are just doing what we do. Its up to him. When it's six against one then it’s a bit weird.

Was Jerry too demanding to work with, was he a tyrant?
I don’t think so… I enjoyed working on 'More Specials' more than I did on the first one. I thought we were getting into some interesting areas. But we recorded it at a time when personal relationships were frayed so its going to mess it up. There was a definite argument that we should have taken some time off and let the dust settle between records but we didn’t do that.

What else would you go back and change?
Terry: I wouldn’t have worn that top in Pasadena.
Brad: There’s a few clothes issues to be honest.
Terry: Every bit from the massive high to massive lows – it's brilliant. I got into this through the Pistols and the Clash and that’s how it should be in a band you should argue and you should fight, it needs to be about something. Anybody can make a record, ANYONE. Whether its valuable or not is a different matter. But it all felt right, even the split. It all felt right.

Part Two - Jerry Dammers

Visionary? Tyrant? beating heart of the Specials? Whatever the precursor this man was the originator of a band who burned so deep across numerous generations.

Historically the day was neat. The evening of the day we spoke to Terry Hall, Clash went to see Jerry Dammers play Sun Ra covers with a 16 piece cosmic orchestra cheekily titled Spatial AKA Orchestra. Cheeky perhaps as it turns out Dammers has the rights to The Specials name. On stage dressed as a pharaoh and conducting his space band which impressively features dubstep super rapper The Space Ape (alongside 15 other jazz visionaries) Dammers looks several light years away from wanting to go back and play the Specials songs for a football chairmen, an act he damns terms being: ‘a Muppet for a millionaire’.

Yet as we are closing this issue is turns out he has a lot to say… this is this side Jerry Dammers presents of the feud with his old band.

Before the 30th anniversary had loomed, what were your plans for the specials in the future?
Dammers: Celebrating the thirtieth anniversary was my idea first, and was resisted. I also wanted to do recording, and the tune I had started with Lynval and Horace was rubbished by Roddy. Critics I have played it to thought it was good. Concerning the old tunes, I wanted them to play them more like the original records than at the two rehearsals I was allowed to attend, or at Bestival. Contrary to what Roddy has said on the internet, I did not want to do weird jazz versions at half speed, that is typical of the untrue gossip about me which has spoiled this so far.

What were your terms on the reformation?
Dammers: I wanted to try and make good music of the standard associated with the name The Specials, in the studio with all seven original members, and also for all seven to get together in a rehearsal room to see if we could still do something really good live, and truly worthy of the public’s hard earned cash. I wanted all seven original members to be treated with respect, and our other creative projects to be recognised and taken into account, rather than being bulldozed insensitively by those with no other creative projects on the go. I wanted to preserve the legacy for our long term benefit.

I believe you and Horace and Lynval had been making music, when did you start making this? when was the last time you worked on this together?
Dammers: About five years ago I think, before Roddy started his campaign of verbal abuse against me on the internet, sometimes under the name Jett Rink. He published obnoxious untruths such as that the only reason we did one of his songs was because he threatened me with a knife. Lynval promised to sort this out, but failed to do so, preferring instead to get involved with football club owner Simon Jordan, which he had previously been adamant he would not do. The re-writing of history also started around that time with untrue claims on Wickipedia that the band was formed by myself, Lynval and Horace. I don’t know the source but Lynval was not a founder member as he often claims now, Neol Davis (later of the Selector) was the original guitarist and Lynval left several times in the early days. Horace’s memoirs say that Lynval resisted my idea of doing ska, but recently Lynval appeared to be accepting credit for that. I had to wait for Horace’s memoirs to come out, for historical inaccuracies about me to be corrected for the second edition. Roddy’s campaign has continued, sometimes on an almost daily basis, ever since. All this is what has wasted all the time, how could I reasonably be expected to work with people who were spreading incorrect information and or verbal abuse about me at the same time. I have worked on the track more recently with Neville, Rico and Dick the original brass section. Roddy, Brad and Terry have not shown enough consistent interest or commitment to be involved, although they were invited.

Could you see this music as working for the band still?
Dammers: This is protest music it’s not really made for the benefit of any band, but to try and give voice to the people that the lyrics relate to.

How many meetings did you have with Terri and the rest of the band regarding playing again?
Dammers: Terry has never really approached me properly to discuss a reunion although I did speak to his manager about working with him again on the basis of an agreement that he wouldn’t just try and use the name again without me, but his manager said he wouldn’t allow him to sign any such agreement. I had one meeting with Neville which Terry appeared at, of Simon Jordan’s plans Terry said “I’m saying nothing”. Terry and Simon Jordan turned up one night when I was but it was not discussed. After Lynval got involved with them and played at Jordan’s fortieth birthday party with Terry, some of them had various meetings without me, then they tried to have one with six excluding me, but Brad told me about it, and I managed to get it rescheduled. I was subjected to sneering verbal abuse from Roddy, and my orchestra was rubbished by Terry who had never seen or heard it. I was pressurised to sign up immediately to a tour without all of us even having played together for 25 years. I was also apparently expected to agree to other unreasonable things like rerecording the first two Specials’ albums, and Simon Jordan making a Specials biopic.

Following this meeting, I was told by Lynval that I was not required in the band. (This was before anyone knew I had any trade mark). Emails were circulated and rehearsals organised excluding me. I eventually did get to meet Terry alone, and he supposedly finally agreed that no gigs should be contemplated until we had all rehearsed together. We discussed the possibility that if rehearsals went well we might do a large gig or gigs in London followed by Coventry Ricoh. I had a large venue in my mind, not necessarily the football stadium. What might happen after that was left open. Terry seemed to agree, but then said he would not play the Ricoh. I assumed it was the size of the venue, but he sent me an email saying “I was not complaining about the size of The Ricoh I have played at much bigger. I will not perform at a Coventry festival of who, why, when, whatever. Speaking as someone who grew up there I don’t feel I owe it anything.” I thought that if we played anywhere it should include Coventry, but Brad said I should compromise and I was excluded for the last time. I have received lawyers letters stating they had resolved to go ahead without me and that I was not to contact any of them. They now intend playing the Coventry Ricoh.

What would it take to get you back in the band?
Dammers: I have never left The Specials if that’s the band you’re talking about, and in a way I can’t. I shouldn’t have to be crawling back to a band that I’ve been excluded from over and over again, it should be a question of all of us rejoining The Specials together. Whether they will ever change their minds and really want to do that, I have no possible way of telling, I don’t think they even know themselves where the truth starts, and the P.R. ends. I think if they really did want me back, they would probably just tell me where they are rehearsing.

Terry has pointed out that there are six people playing together and one on the fringes. How do you feel about him saying this?
Dammers: For a start there are actually at least seven people involved, if you include his manager, who told me in an email that he intended to take 20%, I don’t know if that is still the case? Of course I’m on the fringes because I’ve been told I’m not in the band. Seeing music simply in terms of numbers may be a bit irrelevant and missing the point, sometimes the fringe is where it’s at. I always did encounter a fair amount of resistance to most of the major steps forward in the Specials. Sorry, but five of those people have not been that seriously involved in modern music for quarter of a century. I believe in getting things good, but some of the others still just see that as me trying to “control” them. The value of the Specials name is after all based on my idea of what was good enough. Terry seems to be trying to imply six people can’t all be wrong, but they could possibly lack that little extra bit of ingredient X.

In light of the many incarnations of the specials (special aka, special beat etc…) do you feel that most people aren’t as precious about the band’s rigidity as you are?
Dammers: How can I be accused of that, when The Special A.K.A. had a completely different line up? The Specials thing and the mod thing was about getting it right, spot on, and what everyone knows really, is that if Jerry Dammers ain’t in it, it ain’t really The Specials, and there’s nothing me, or anyone else, can do about that, because it’s just a historical fact. One thing that is precious is the truth. I know of people who bought tickets thinking it was the proper thing, and they are very angry about being misled. I know some of the most committed and genuine fans, who really understand what the Specials was about, won’t go unless I’m in it, and I feel extremely touched by that.

Terry told us that he thinks you need to put your house in order and that the ball is in your court… do you agree?
Dammers: If I spent my time trying to work out what he is trying to say or really means by these obscure statements in the press, I would probably go mad.
Does that sound like a warm welcome back by someone who has come to appreciate me ? I don’t think so. If anyone has genuinely changed their mind and wants to work with me again, surely they would just tell me where they are rehearsing?

Do you feel betrayed in the way the band have reformed?
Dammers: I feel they have betrayed themselves, the public and The Specials’ legacy , but most of all, the people The Specials could still maybe have given a voice to.

Do you think this has all gone too far now?
Dammers: It’s too late for what I suggested. Hopefully there is some sort of reconciliation that can be found.


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