Pioneering UK Ska Revivalists Return To SF

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — One of the most important groups of the late ’70s British ska revival, The Specials return to San Francisco for a sold-out show at the Warfield Friday.

Founded in Coventry in 1977 by keyboardist and  main songwriter Jerry Dammers, the Specials (or The Special AKA as they were sometimes referred to) got their start as the Automatics before switching their name. Bringing punk-rock energy and a politically minded message to their mix of pre-reggae Jamaican ska and rocksteady, the band was invited by Joe Strummer to open for The Clash on their “On Parole Tour” after Strummer witnessed one of the Specials’ fiery performances.

With it’s integrated band membership and political stance, the group would become associated with punk’s rising Rock Against Racism movement. In 1979, the band released it’s debut single “Gangsters,” a hit which reworked Prince Buster’s 1964 classic “Al Capone.” Later that year, the Specials issued their eponymous debut album produced by Elvis Costello to wide acclaim with it’s mix of  covers (a ska take on the Rufus Thomas nugget “Do the Dog,” as well as songs by Dandy Livingston, Prince Buster and Toots and the Maytals) and original tunes depicting grim life in the “concrete jungle” of British inner-city youth.

Despite the commercial and critical success of that album and the follow-up More Specials that featured backing vocals from Pretender Chrissie Hynde and members of The Go-Go’s, inner tensions between players in the band would lead to a tumultuous series of personnel changes. By the time the group issued it’s third album In the Studio in 1984, the writing was on the wall. Later that year, Dammers dissolved the group and focused his attention on political activism.

While the band only produced those three albums and a handful of additional singles, the Specials remained a major inspiration, influencing the ’80s ska-punk-funk of Fishbone and helping fuel the ska revivals of the late ’80s and early ’90s in Southern California. Members of the band would reunite to back ska legend Desmond Dekker in 1993, the first of numerous partial reformations over the decades that culminated in many of the original players coming together without Dammers for the group’s 30th anniversary tour in 2009.

The group has toured successfully several times and become a regular festival attraction, playing Coachella, Glastonbury and Isle of Wight among many others since then.  The Specials continue to perform despite the departure of such principles as singer/toaster Neville Staples and guitarist Roddy Radiation and the death of longtime drummer John Bradbury last year. The current line-up featuring Libertines drummer Gary Powell filling in comes to the Warfield Friday night for a highly anticipated sold-out show. The group is joined by NYC reggae crew The Far East and renowned Bay Area DJ Harry Duncan.

The Specials
Friday, Sept. 23, 8 p.m. $40-$50
The Warfield

 

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