In The Studio by The Special AKA is a marmite moment in Two Tone’s checkered catalogue (if you’ll forgive the pun). It’s an album largely overlooked by die-hard ska fans, no doubt thanks to an about-face in style which saw Dammers and co experimenting with soul, latin, calypso, “difficult” time signatures and jazz infused melodies. Even it’s overt reggae moment, the dark and dubby Racist Friend, is a lyrically uncompromising ultimatum.
Today’s selection is album track Alcohol, a somber death march in the New Orleans tradition with an underpinning rumble of Link Wray, and a stifled skank which instantly endears it to the boys of Bologna.
SBB: In The Studio seems a far cry from the early days of Two Tone. Was the switch in sound a natural progression for everyone involved? Did anyone question the album’s direction?
RD: As far as I can remember, apart from Can’t Get A Break and Mandela, all the backing tracks were recorded before most of us joined the party. The people who would have questioned the direction had done so and left. The first track I heard was Racist Friend, which was hardly a leap from what had gone before.
SBB: So, I’m guessing it was very much Dammers’ baby right? Were some of these tracks intended for The Specials before the split?
RD: Most of the tracks had been recorded by The Specials. It’s possible Night On The Tiles only had Brad and Horace on it, but I wasn’t there. From my first studio session, only the two aforementioned tracks were recorded in their entirety. We basically spent two years doing overdubs. Oh yes.
SBB: I was gonna ask how come it took so long to release it but you’ve just answered that. I’ve always thought the LP sounded pretty accomplished, were you happy with the outcome after all that time and effort?
RD: I’ve heard one or two tracks, but I haven’t ever listened to it in its entirety.
SBB: And out of those one or two, is there even one track you’re fond of, or is it something you’re happy to have seen the back of?
RD: I care about Mandela and the memory of seeing it on the news being sung at an ANC rally in South Africa during apartheid. My contribution has been revised out of history, so it leaves a bitter taste. I listen to my mismatched vocal on Alcohol and think how good it might have been. I like Night On The Tiles – it was John Shipley’s vision and is a natural successor to The Swinging Cats. I can listen to it without regret.
Despite Rhoda’s misgivings I still love Alcohol, and what’s more I can’t get enough of this performance taken from a suitably woozy and wobbly old VHS, so thanks to whoever’s responsible for uploading this clip…
To balance things out here’s the 1st ever public performance of Free Nelson Mandela, written for the short lived Play At Home TV show in 1984.
And finally, a gloriously awkward TV spot featuring Jerry Dammers and singer Stan Campbell surrounded by balloon wielding children and interviewed by the late David Rappaport. Seriously, what’s a Ftumch?