You’re wondering now!
Jerry Dammers talks exclusively to Backbeat’s Pete Chambers
It’s with some pride that our resident local music Connoisseur Pete Chambers talks in this rare
interview with Jerry Dammers the genius behind The Specials and 2-Tone. Giving him a chance to speak about some of
those rumours and speculations that have surrounded him and the Specials for some time!
1.At what age were you when you moved from India to Britain, do you have any strong memories of growing up in Coventry?
I left India aged 2, then lived in Sheffield and came to Coventry aged ten (1965). Obviously I’ve got loads of memories.
I don’t know, for some reason I can remember thinking the top floor of multi storey car parks was a good place to hang
out when you’re a bored teenager.
2.How was your musical background formulated, were your parents an influence at all?
Not that much I don’t think, although I’m grateful they sent me for piano lessons. I was rubbish and hated
practising, the only thing that interested me was teaching myself blues. It was The Who, The Small Faces, The Kinks, which
made me want to be in a band, and I loved soul music, Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Tamla Motown.
3.How was your interest in reggae, punk and ska nurtured, did it always feel natural to meld punk and ska
together or was it a conscious effort ?
I got into reggae from when I first heard it around 1969, Desmond Decker and all that, I was trying to get my school rock
band to play it as early as 1971, but no one took reggae seriously in rock circles in those days. Yes it was a conscious effort
to combine ska with punk, but it still seemed natural to me. We injected a bit of that funky African offbeat energy, which
most rock could do with I reckon.
4.The Specials break up was of course a messy affair, you are often quoted as saying you were just pleased that they stayed
together long enough to record Ghost Town. Was there a lot of disappointment on your part, did you feel the Specials suffered
a premature death, or was it a relief to work with a new set of musicians?
Some people seem to have forgotten that strictly speaking The Specials didn’t actually break up, some of the band
left and said I could carry on the name, which is what happened. I suppose at first maybe it seemed like a bit of a relief,
because a couple of the band had become impossible to work with by the end, but deep down it was very disappointing. When
the Fun Boy Three went "pop" and left the Specials I don’t think they really understood the unique position they were
in. What they did quite possibly reduced the chances of protest music getting into the pop charts right up to the present
day. I also don’t think they realise what I was put through trying to keep alive that standard of music, combined with
the political ideals, which the Specials had come to represent. I got more than enough grief from a couple of the original
Specials for my song-writing and arranging, that resentment was even more crazy from a couple of the replacement members.
It was probably a mistake to expect another good live band to come mainly from Coventry, so soon after The Specials and Selecter.
We still managed to achieve "The Boiler", the "In the Studio" album, and "Free Nelson Mandela" though, but it took forever
and all turned into a bit beyond a nightmare. By the end I was in so much debt to the record company I had to stop recording.
I got involved in organising Artists Against Apartheid, which led to the Mandela concerts at Wembley Stadium, so some good
did come out of it all in the end. Maybe Terry Hall wouldn’t have been as convincing as Stan Campbell singing "Free
Nelson Mandela" anyway.
5.Your understandable stance to keep 2 Tone and the Specials as things of the past has often been misconstrued
as your disregard towards them. I was personally gratified to hear you tell me that wasn’t the case, and that all you
have created did indeed give you a great sense of pride. Is this why your remain so protective of the 2 Tone and Specials
I’ve never had any stance to keep 2 Tone or The Specials as things of the past. The Fun Boy Three took that stance
when they left the band. If I’d had my way The Specials might still be making music today, who knows. I’m very
proud of the music we made and I still want as many people as possible to hear the proper Specials’ records. Anyone
who really valued the band would be bound to have a little bit of disregard towards the people who demolished it wouldn’t
they? Terry Hall now says they didn’t really have a reason for leaving. A couple of them went on to rubbish The Specials
or me in interviews, then a couple claimed to have formed The Specials (when everyone knows it was me), then a couple claimed
to still be The Specials even though they’d left years earlier. As I understood it they stopped being The Specials when
they announced they’d left the band. For them to use the name like they did wasn’t fair on the public. They didn’t
even phone me to see if I might be interested. It was hard to see the thing I’d worked towards for years being pulled
back down almost to the level of a pub band. I think it’s them that disregarded The Specials, I never did.
6.The talk of a Specials reunion featured heavily in our local press last year, just how frustrating is it
to be at the centre of such huge speculation?
If many people had actually heard those later records made under The Specials’ name they’d be able to work
out how much I contributed to the real Specials, and what a massive effort it would take, from everyone, to get it back to
anything which could really be taken seriously again. There’s a web site which was set up at the time they were doing
the rounds as the Specials and I think the guy who set it up was given a bit of a false impression. I don’t know if
there’s really been that much speculation, it’s hard to say how many of the public are really losing sleep over
it. I wish, as much as anyone, that we were all young and The Specials were still together, just like the good old days at
the start; but the practical reality is it’s quite late in the day. People have got new careers, some have moved on
musically, some have hardly played for years, there are health problems, some voices may be damaged, some people’s memory
never was that good, and we don’t even live on the same continent. A lot of fans who loved the Specials don’t
want to see us reform. If anyone outside the band tries to push us back together, they might be well meaning, but I think
it just makes it even more unlikely for anything at all to happen. Too many old bands take advantage of the public’s
good will by doing second rate "take the money and run" type gigs. The public, and any band members, would need to know that
whoever was working together was doing it because they really wanted to, for genuine musical reasons, not just because someone
was offering money or whatever. Otherwise I don’t think it would be the real Specials. I put my name to the joint statement
that there are no plans to reform in the foreseeable future, just like every other member from the original band did.
7.Lastly, talk is that 2 Tone should quite rightly be commemorated in someway in Coventry, I suggest a street
named " 2 Tone Way". What would you like to see (if anything).
Renaming one of the multi storey car parks "Ghost Town Park" would do me, but seriously, if it’s true anyone really
wanted to do anything like your suggestion, it would be brilliant, it’s not really for me to say though. Maybe because
2 Tone was against racism I should also really say I hope there’s something in the city to commemorate people who’ve
been killed in racist attacks, like Satnam Singh Gil who was twenty when he got killed in 1981. Doctor Amal Dharri got stabbed
in the chip shop off Albany Rd. in the same year, it was supposedly for a fifty pence bet . I think they deserve to be remembered
more than we do really.
I would like to thank Jerry for agreeing to do this interview for Pete Chamber’s Backbeat and for the people of Coventry...good
on ya Jerry! Pete Chambers.