The true story behind The Specials' first single 'Gangsters' (by Lynval Golding)

Episode I : Gangsters
[soundbite 1]
After we toured with The Clash on the 'On Parole Tour' we asked their manager Bernie Rhodes if he would look after us. He said yes and he decided we had to get out of England so he sent us to Paris, France to get out act together 'cos he thought we weren't right yet!

He hired a van, we loaded all the equipment in, and he took us down to Dover. We thought he was coming with us, although he had his 'right hand man' this guy called Mickey Foot with him. So anyway, we got to Dover and he said 'unload the van', which we thought was a bit strange but we did it anyway. He pointed to some trolleys and told us to get all the equipment and put it on the trolleys.

The Coventry Automatics - (from left) Silverton Hutchison, Terry Hall, Horace Panter, Roddy Byers, Jerry Dammers, Lynval Golding, Neville Staple
The Coventry Automatics - (from left) Silverton Hutchison, Terry Hall, Horace Panter, Roddy Byers, Jerry Dammers, Lynval Golding, Neville Staple

Then he gave Mickey Foot some money and said 'see you guys', and drove back to London, left us at Dover with the equipment! We pushed the equipment up the ramp onto the ferry and that was that.
We got to the other side problem number one, and that's where the 'adventure' started. When we got to Calais, we got off the ferry, we all had our passports, but Silverton (our first drummer) was from Barbados so he had a Barbadian passport. So the French decided they didn't want him 'cos he didn't have a work permit, and they sent him straight back home to England.
He went back to London and got a work permit and met us back in Paris, but in the meantime we had got off the ferry and met this guy that Bernie had arranged to pick us and the equipment up. He had come in this tiny little 'Interflora' van. There was no way we were going to fit all the gear and the band in this small van so we came up with the idea that some of the guys would have to hitch-hike from Calais to Paris. I looked around and thought - first time in France - the majority of the people were white, there's no way that I was going to hitch being black. Me and Neville looked at eachother and decided no-one would give us a lift, we just assumed that in France they had the same sort of racial problem that we had in England. So me and Neville squeezed into the van with drums and keyboards and amps on top of us and we went right on to Paris.

[soundbite 2]
Terry, Roddy, Jerry and Horace they hitched, and they got a lift, I think Terry or one of them got a lift in a Rolls-Royce! Can you imagine me or Neville getting a lift from a guy in a Rolls-Royce!! Anyway, we all got to Paris and booked in the Hotel, got settled in and I think Siverton showed up 2 days later, anyway we were getting ready to do this gig at this one club, it was like a residancy at one club and this woman walked in. A very beautiful woman, she knoked on the door 'bang,bang' - 'Are you from England?' she said. 'Yes' we replied, 'Well the last band that were from England that stayed here smashed my hotel up' which we thought was bad news, but we did't realise how bad. (note: last band was The Damned!) These two other guys walked in, I had my guitar just lazing around strumming a few chords and singing fun songs, and this guy took the guitar off me and took Roddy's guitar. The woman said 'You pay for the damage that the last band did, if you don't pay - no guitar!' We thought it was a joke, but the woman was serious - 'no payment, no guitar'. So I went mad, it was my cream telecaster, that guitar meant everything to me, I'd had to stuggle to get it, 'cos I wasn't working and I had to pay for it, so it was tough.
So there was a big argument, we got pushed downstairs, and the woman decided to throw us out of the hotel, so we got down to the lobby and there was a big argument pushing around until the glass door to the hotel got smashed.
The police arrived - 'English, Jamaicans' they cried, and showed no interest at all, they just didn't want to know smoking their cigarettes. I went crazy 'I want my guitar back...'. The guy from the club arrived and started talking to the woman and he told us to go to the club. It took us about 10 minutes to walk there - all the way I was screaming at passers by 'I want my guitar back!'.
[soundbite 3]

By the time we got to the club the guitars and all equipment was there - I thought wow, these guys are wicked. How did they do it? They just back pulled guns and demanded all the guitars and everything, and there we are!!! - so GANGSTERS.
The songs intro 'Bernie Rhodes knows dont argue' is for Bernie, and the 'Can't interrupt while I'm talking, Or they'll confiscate all your guitars' comes from the hotel incident. My line in the song was 'They use the law to commit crime'.
Everything in Gangsters was about that trip, and it was a brilliant trip in the end because it gave us our first hit record - can't complain about that.

Click here for the complete song lyrics.

When we went to record our first single it was going to be 'Nite Klub' but we couldn't get the vibe quite right recording in the daytime, so we did Gangsters instead. Silverton had just left the band, and Jerry got his room mate Brad to play drums the day of the recording!

Lynval Golding - July 2000