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Monday, 7 December 2009

The Specials - Gangsters

The Specials (sometimes called The Special AKA) are an English 2 Tone ska revival band formed in 1977 in Coventry, England. Their music combined a "danceable ska and rocksteady beat with punk's energy and attitude", and had a "more focused and informed political and social stance" than other ska groups.

After being formed in 1977 by Jerry Dammers, Lynval Golding and Horace Panter (also known as Sir Horace Gentleman), the band was first called The Automatics, and then The Coventry Automatics. Terry Hall and Roddy Byers (also known as Roddy Radiation) joined the band the following year, and the band changed its name to The Special AKA The Coventry Automatics, and then to The Special AKA. Joe Strummer of The Clash had attended one of their concerts, and invited The Special AKA to open for his band in their On Parole UK Tour. This performance gave The Special AKA a new level of national exposure, and they briefly shared The Clash's management.

The Specials began at the same time as Rock Against Racism which first gathered in 1978. According to Dammers, anti-racism was intrinsic to the formation of The Specials, in that the band was formed with the goal of integrating black and white people. Many years later Dammers stated, "Music gets political when there are new ideas in music, ...punk was innovative, so was ska, and that was why bands such as The Specials and The Clash could be political."

Having been rejected by numerous record companies The Specials decided to release a self-financed single after Dammers decided to set up his own record label called 'Two Tone'. If the legend is to be believed the single was recorded for a mere £700 financed by a ‘sort of’ local businessman by the name of ‘Jimbo’. It is said that a piano part on the track took up most of the studio time and as a result only one track, Gangsters, was recorded.

Needing a b-side the band turned to an instrumental track Noel Davis had recorded two years previously in 1977 with drummer John Bradbury and trombonist, Barry Jones. Originally titled ‘The Kingston Affair’ the track got a slight reworking and was re-titled The Selecter. The track also came complete with it's own unique catalogue number, which may seem unusual but was actually quite common with old ska and reggae singles.

The single was initially distributed via Rough Trade Records, who persuaded the band to produce 5000 copies, twice what the band had originally intended. The single was issued a plain white sleeve stamped by the band themselves with the words THE SPECIAL A.K.A 'Gangsters' Vs THE SELECTER. The band then signed to Chrysalis Records, who were more than happy to sign both The Specials and the 2 Tone label. Chrysalis pressed up more copies of the single in the now familiar 2 Tone sleeve resulting in the single making it to number 6 in the UK Singles Chart and the biggest selling independent single of the year.

Original Specials drummer Silverton Hutchinson had left the band just prior to the recording of Gangsters and was replaced by John Bradbury, and as a result Bradbury was the only person to play on both sides of the labels debut single.

Click the link below to download the following:
Live Tube Performance
Single Version
The Selector - The Selector - B-Side


The Specials - Gangsters - Live on the Tube

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