The Specials, also known as The Special AKA, are an English 2 Tone and ska revival band formed in 1977 in Coventry. Their music combines a “danceable ska and rocksteady beat with punk’s energy and attitude”.Lyrically they present a “more focused and informed political and social stance”.
The band wore mod-style “1960s period rude boy outfits (pork pie hats, tonic and mohair suits and loafers)”.In 1980, the song “Too Much Too Young”, the lead track on their The Special AKA Live! EP, reached No. 1 in the UK. In 1981, the unemployment-themed single “Ghost Town” also hit No. 1 in the UK Singles Chart.
After seven consecutive UK Top 10 singles between 1979 and 1981, three members of the group abruptly left to form Fun Boy Three. Continuing on as “The Special AKA” (a name they used frequently on earlier Specials releases), a substantially revised Specials line-up issued new material through 1984, including the top 10 UK hit single “Free Nelson Mandela“. Afterwards, founder and songwriter Jerry Dammers dissolved the band and pursued political activism.
The group reformed in 1993, and have continued to perform and record with varying line-ups (but without Dammers).
The first reunion under the Specials name occurred in 1993, when producer Roger Lomas decided to use the Specials as backing band for a new album by ska legend Desmond Dekker. Only Golding, Panter, Radiation and Staple were willing to participate. They were joined in the studio by former Selecter drummer Charley Harrington Bembridge. Bembridge had also played in the 1970s with soul singer Ray King, who mentored and worked with Dammers, Staple, Golding and Hutchinson in their days before the Specials. A group of studio musicians filled out the band, including keyboardist Mark Adams. The album, released by Trojan Records as King of Kings, was credited to Desmond Dekker and the Specials.
This led to an offer from a Japanese promoter to book a tour for the band. Retaining Adams and adding trumpet players Adam Birch and Jon Read, the line-up began rehearsing and playing live using the names the Coventry Specials and Specials2, but shortly reverted to the Specials after accepting that it was the name promoters were using anyway, although the line-up was referred to as Specials MkII by those involved. This line-up would go on to tour internationally, and in 1996, released the studio album Today’s Specials, a collection of mostly reggae and ska covers. In 1998, the band released Guilty ’til Proved Innocent!, a collection of original compositions featuring guest vocals by Tim Armstrong and Lars Frederiksen of Rancid. The band toured heavily in support of both releases-including headlining the prestigious Vans Warped Tour – and received positive reviews of their live shows.