An Eight Part History of The Specials - Part One - Dawning of a New Era.

Dawning of a New Era

The beginnings of what was to become The Specials as we know them, came about when Jerry Dammers(keys), Horace Panter(bass), Lynval Golding (guitar), Silverton Hutchison (drums) and Tim Strickland (vocals) formed Coventry band 'The Automatics' in 1977. The band hit the Coventry circuit, playing a unique mixture of punk and reggae to local punters, even securing a residency at Coventry's 'Mr. Georges' club.

After a while, vocalist Tim was replaced by former Squad front man Terry Hall, and soon after Jerry also recruited an old acquaintance, Roddy Byers, lead guitarist from 'The Wild Boys'. In fact, Roddy's introduction was just in time to join the rest of the band in Berwick Street Studios, London, under the auspices of Coventry DJ Pete Waterman.

Jerry circulated the tape to the record companies, but they showed little interest. A tape was also sent to John Peel at Radio One, and although overlooked at the time, this tape was rediscovered in 1993 and released as 'Dawning of a New Era, The Coventry Automatics AKA The Specials'.

Jerry persuaded fellow Coventry kid, and more importantly, Clash roadie Steve Connolly to introduce him to their manager Bernie Rhodes. The ensuing conversations resulted in the lads being given the support slot on the Clash's 'On Parole' tour in June/July 1978.
Originally booked for just the first couple of shows, they got the whole tour thanks to Joe Strummer's interest in the band, and Jerry's persistence.

By this point the band had changed their name to 'The Coventry Automatics' due to the fact that another 'Automatics' were already doing the rounds, and they again changed it to 'The Special AKA The Coventry Automatics'. It was finally shortened for claritys sake to 'The Special AKA'.

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

American support act 'Suicide' were well received by the Clash's crowd, but the reggae influenced brand of punk that the Special AKA played didn't fare so well, getting them spat at and pelted with cans by many of the drunken punk audiences.
One positive outcome of the tour was the addition of former roadie Neville Staple to the line up. Having often heard him toasting over songs at sound check, the band invited him to join them full time on vocals and percussion.

After the experience of the Clash tour, Bernie Rhodes put the band into rehearsals for six months at his dive on the Chalk Farm Road in London. That time in the rat infested warehouse was a real low point in the young bands career, seven of them sleeping in one room, but eventually lead to Mr. Rhodes deciding that they needed some more experience, and he sent them off to France.

Read Lynval Goldings recollection of this eventful trip and the story behind their first single 'Gangsters' here.

On their return to Coventry, the band locked down to some serious rehearsals in the back room of a pub, and started to experiment mixing some ska elements into their sound. Drummer Silverton was increasingly absent from rehearsals, both disinterested in the bands new direction and more importantly looking for a paying job to keep his family fed.

Bernie Rhodes was back on the scene, this time advising the band to think about an image to go with their sound. Jerry, influenced by Paul Simenon of the Clash's off stage look, drew from the looks of the West Indian rude boys and the mods, and settled on what was to become the definitive ska look.
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