In the late 1970s and early 1980s, The Specials were a rare group that successfully combined a political message with mainstream appeal. Their style, which combined the infectious rhythms of Jamaican ska with the social commentary of punk, continues to be an influence of many musicians, including contemporary artists such as Lily Allen and Tricky.
Horace Panter (A.K.A Sir Horace Gentleman) was their bassist at the height of the group’s popularity, present as The Specials took the world by storm with acclaimed singles like ‘Ghost Town’ and ‘A Message To You Rudy’. Talking to him about the origins of the band’s more political side, he states: “When I was 10 I was in The Searchers fan club because I liked the way Tony Jackson wielded a semi-acoustic bass guitar. Politics was probably the furthest thing from my mind. But growing up in the 1960s you were aware that music gave you a voice, you know, going back to Bob Dylan and all those kind of Woodstock artists like Country Joe and The Fish – the Vietnam war and the protest stuff.
“Then when punk came along it encapsulated the whole thing. It was more nihilistic in a way than anarchistic – we’re bored and therefore we can get away with being stupid, which I didn’t think was that cool. But The Clash had the right sort of idea; they took a very positive stance. We had all these influences, so I think then I changed from wanting to be a pop star – for want of a better word – into something that had meaning, that had depth.”