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The Specials - a beginner's guide

  • The Specials are on the cover of NME this week, to mark our giving them the Teenage Cancer Trust Outstanding Contribution To Music Award at the upcoming Shockwaves NME Awards. Oh, and they're playing the Big Gig, too – you'll find details at NME.COM/tickets

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    Added: 02 Feb 2010

  • The Specials scored their first Number One single 30 years ago this week, with 'Too Much Too Young'. More recently, the song was covered by Kasabian – you can hear their version on YouTube. Pic: Corbis

    Photo: Corbis

    Added: 02 Feb 2010

  • The original line-up of The Specials was short-lived, lasting from 1977 to 1981. After a break of over 25 years, the band (minus Jerry Dammers) returned to live performance with a set at Bestival in 2008, followed by a full UK tour the following year.

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    Added: 02 Feb 2010

  • The classic line-up of the band only released two albums – 1979's 'Specials' (produced by Elvis Costello), and the darker 'More Specials' the following year. Following the release of non-album track 'Ghost Town' in 1981, three members of the band – Terry Hall, Neville Staple and Lynval Golding – left to form Fun Boy Three. Pic: Corbis

    Photo: Corbis

    Added: 02 Feb 2010

  • However, the band squeezed a lot of success into their brief initial career – notching up five Top 10 singles and two Number Ones between 1979 and 1981. Pic: Corbis

    Photo: Corbis

    Added: 02 Feb 2010

  • Today The Specials' influence can be heard everywhere, from Alex Turner's urban vignettes to the state-of-the-nation candour of Jamie T. Amy Winehouse is a fan, too – she covered 'Hey Little Rich Girl' and sang 'You're Wondering Now' with them at last year's V Festival. Pic: Andy Willsher

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    Added: 23 Aug 2009

  • Lily Allen can be credited, in part, for inspiring The Specials' reunion. She invited Terry Hall and Lynval Golding to join her on a cover of 'Gangsters'. Hall later said that being reunited with Golding played a "massive part" in inspiring a proper comeback. Pic: Corbis

    Photo: Corbis

    Added: 02 Feb 2010

  • According to Hall, two other factors convinced him to get the band back together: one was seeing the reunited Pixes play live ("they were fantastic"), the other was seeing Brian Wilson's 'Smile' tour. Pic: Corbis

    Photo: Corbis

    Added: 02 Feb 2010

  • Speaking in the current issue of NME, Terry Hall admits he's disappointed that so few modern artists have inherited his mantle as a political songwriter. "There's no rebellion," he says. "I see bands today and I think, 'What do you have to say? Why are you bothering?'" Pic: Corbis

    Photo: Corbis

    Added: 02 Feb 2010

  • The Specials' lyrical references to urban decay and poverty were no pose – Coventry in the '70s could be a harsh place. "It was one of the most violent cities in England at the time," recalls Golding. "Running battles in the streets. 'Concrete Jungle'? We lived that."

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    Added: 02 Feb 2010

  • It took Jerry Dammers over a year to write 'Ghost Town', which has since been called "the most remarkable Number One in British chart history". It was certainly timely. A song about social unrest and urban blight, it was released just a day after widespread rioting had exploded across the UK. Pic: Corbis

    Photo: Corbis

    Added: 02 Feb 2010

  • 'Ghost Town' has dark connotations in other respects, too – it was after performing the song on Top Of The Pops that the band split up after an almighty row in the dressing room. Pic: Corbis

    Photo: Corbis

    Added: 02 Feb 2010

  • In their heyday, The Specials' gigs were marred by violence. Hall and Dammers were arrested and charged with incitement to riot after one particularly bloody confrontation between fans and bouncers in Cambridge.

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    Added: 02 Feb 2010

  • After that incident, The Specials announced they would quit touring. "You're in this amazing, fantastic group making this wonderful music and you can't play it any more because people are hitting each other," explains bassist Horace Panter. Pic: Corbis

    Photo: Corbis

    Added: 02 Feb 2010

  • After The Specials split, bassist Horace Panter quit the music industry and began a career teaching art to special needs children at Corley Special School in north Warwickshire. Pic: Phil Wallis

    Photo: Phil Wallis

    Added: 26 Jan 2010

  • Prior to The Specials' reunion, one of Hall's regular gigs was DJing at the Guilty Pleasures club nights. "I've stopped that now," he explains. "We were getting a lot of hen parties coming in." Pic: Corbis

    Photo: Corbis

    Added: 02 Feb 2010

  • Fun Boy Three – the name of the Specials splinter group, who had a string of hits including 'Our Lips Are Sealed' – started out as an ironic joke. Sound engineer Dave Jordan coined it to describe members of The Specials, because they looked so miserable recording 'Ghost Town'. Pic: PA Photos

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    Added: 09 Jul 2009

  • These days Jerry Dammers prefers to plough his own maverick furrow. He currently fronts The Spatial AKA Orchestra, a cosmic-minded free-jazz outfit who dress as ancient Egyptian priests. Pic: Tom Martin

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    Added: 29 Jun 2009

  • Meanwhile, Lynval Golding lives in Seattle. He says he was drawn there by the "ghost of Jimi Hendrix". Pic: Danny North

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    Added: 29 Jun 2009

  • Even 30 years on, The Specials' music can still have a powerful emotional effect. "We played in Sheffield last year," says Golding," and I saw this guy who was crying and punching the wall. I asked him what was wrong and he said, 'I'm 45 years old and I never thought I'd ever get to see The Specials again.'" Pic: PA Photos

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    Added: 24 Mar 2009