Books - Y

Written to commemorate the 30th anniversary of this legendary British band’s formation (and reformation), this is an engrossing read. It’s written from the perspective of fan first and foremost, with critic coming in as a close second.
Half of the book is taken up with the band’s history. This encapsulates each members’ history and subsequent acquisition into the ranks of THE SPECIALS. The early days present a virtual gang mentality, with united band members. The book then charts the band’s progress from clubs to supporting THE CLASH on the ‘On Parole’ tour, the formation of Two-Tone Records (+ MADNESS, SELECTER, BEAT, BODYSNATCHERS et al), the tumultuous US tours, inter-band friction, ‘Ghost Town’ and culminates with the split as Jerry Dammers appears to implode within his own ego.
The remaining half charts, in considerable detail, the post-SPECIALS history of each band member. It’s apparent as the story unfolds that there seems to be noticeable friction (albeit through management) between Dammers and Terry Hall.
From there we get a studied chapter on the reformation. It’s a convulsive story with Dammers seemingly neurotic, possessive and a tad jealous while the rest of the band just want to get out and relive all that made it such a formidable unit in the first place.
The book is filled out with a foreword from long-time SPECIALS fan Phill Jupitus, an analysis on the origins of Ska, a massively detailed discography (including bootlegs), full gig guide, testimonies from notable fans, and rare photos from both the personal collection of Roddy ‘Radiation’ Byers and from the initial reformation shows.
Williams is well qualified to write this comprehensive guide. Back in 1995 he wrote the original version of this book and attended the secret 2008 Isle Of Wight Bestival Festival appearance. He has a grasp on each character within the band and does not shy away from the negatives be it the domineering genius of Dammers, the sarcastic and tortured aesthetic of Hall or Radiation’s solid down-to-earth desire to simply live the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. Of all seven members it’s guitarist Lynval Golding who comes across as the most sincere. Often the butt of racial issues (with one leading to extreme violence), it was he who was determined to see the reformation through to fruition.
Williams also highlights the political quagmire that entrenched the UK at the time. His observations on Thatcherism are particularly potent and his detailing of the nationwide 1981 riots eerily captures the distressing prophecies of ‘Ghost Town’ to great aplomb.
The question as to whether this is an essential read for even the most casual SPECIALS fan is not in dispute. The book is naturally going to draw comparisons to bassist Horace Panter’s excellent autobiography. Rather that recommend one over the other, the books actually compliment each other. While Horace’s gives a specific insider’s perspective, Williams’ offers a broader overview littered with details and insights that Panter’s omits.
This is an authoritative, objective book written with enthusiasm and drive. If you realise THE SPECIALS was a band of integrity and intelligence that fought against an oppressive Conservative government while making the entire country want to dance, then you’ll want to read this. (04.11.09) Website