The Specials’ “30th Anniversary” concert film celebrates their 1979 2-Tone self-titled debut

By on March 23, 2018

In late 2008, England’s punk-ska legends the Specials announced they were re-grouping again for a 30th Anniversary Tour to celebrate the release of their Elvis Costello-produced 1979 2-Tone self-titled debut.

The band’s classic line-up — minus their founder, chief songwriter and organist Jerry Dammers, and a brass/horns trio replacing original members Rico Rodriguez and Dick Cuthell — were filmed live in concert at the Wolverhampton Civic Hall in front of an adoring home crowd.

We now have that special 30th Anniversary Tour concert film — by director Lindy Heymann — streaming for you over on Night Flight Plus.


The reformed group — Terry Hall, Neville Staple, Lynval Golding, Roddy Radiation, Sir Horace Gentlemen and the late John Bradbury (he died in 2015) — had been playing their first gigs together since an acrimonious break-up in 1981, kicking off with UK dates in April 2009.

They also performed four songs — which were broadcast over two separate nights, April 7th and April 10th — on the UK’s popular “Later with Jools Holland” music TV series.


Over the spring and early summer of 2009, the reformed Specials played a prominent headlining show at the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival, as well as a pair of sold-out club gigs at Terminal 5 in NYC in addition to appearing on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.”

These were their first U.S. gigs since their grueling ’80 and ’81 tours (in 1980, they opened several arena dates for the Police, and appeared on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live”).


After playing shows in Australia and Japan, the Specials returned to the UK for thirteen shows in November 2009, billed as the “final dates” of their reunion tour, including their Wolverhampton Civic Hall gig on November 10th.

Read more about the Specials 30th Anniversary Tour below.


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The classic Specials line-up, left to right: John Bradbury, Lynval Golding, Terry Hall, Neville Staple, Roddy Radiation, Horace Panter and, in shades, Jerry Dammers

The Specials formed in 1977, in the depressed auto manufacturing town of Coventry, in the Midlands region of central England.

Coming together during the last days of England’s punk wave, their danceable ska and rocksteady beat, rife with punk’s energy and attitude, was enjoyably refreshing.

Their mod-style ’60s-period rude-boy clothing — the bands and their fans wore porkpie hats, tonic and mohair suits, and loafers — was a nice change-up from punk’s dyed mohawks, safety-pinned leather jackets, and Doc Martens.


They signed to Jerry Dammers’ very own 2-Tone Records, which soon became home to other notable ska-influenced from the local area — acts like the Selecter, the Beat (English Beat) and the Bodysnatchers — and North London’s Madness.

Between 1979 and 1981, they produced seven consecutive Top Ten UK singles, including two UK #1 hits (“Too Much Too Young” and “Ghost Town”).


In 1981, Terry Hall and Neville Staple — the group’s two main vocalists — along with their guitarist Lynval Golding (who became Hall’s manager) all quit the Specials, in what many have said was a bitter breakup, and formed Fun Boy Three.

The rest of the band soldiered on without them, playing with various lineups led by Jerry Dammers, who revived the band’s original name, The Special AKA, for what would be their last album, In the Studio.

Dammer’s 2-Tone Records label, meanwhile, collapsed in 1982.


In the early ’90s, some of the group had teamed up with former members of the Beat — known as the English Beat in the U.S. — to form Special Beat, who toured extensively.

Meanwhile the Specials released a final string of albums in the late ’90s and early 2000’s before eventually calling it a day.


In the end, the lyrics to their epochal 1981 hit “Ghost Town” could just have easily described the strife within the band’s own ranks (and probably did) as it did Thatcher’s England.

Before decade’s end, Terry Hall was hoping to re-unite the band, saying: “All I wanted to do was rekindle our friendships, because we spent such a long period together and an intense period, and then it disappeared.”


Hall — who had attempted suicide in 2004, leading to being diagnosed with bi-polar disorder — was later quite happy to once again be making music with his former bandmates.

In 2008, he made the official announcement they would reunite for the 30th anniversary of their classic self-titled first album.


Hall apparently reached out to Dammers to be involved, but Dammers felt that the Hall-led version of the re-assembled Specials was “a takeover, rather than a proper reunion.”

Dammers issued a lengthy statement to the press in December 2009, claiming that he was “not invited to take part in this proposed tour, or even told about it,” adding that he had been “driven out every time he attempted to get involved over the last year.”


As it turned out, the group had tried working out their differences with Dammers during two rehearsals for their 2009 reunion shows, but they apparently felt some of his ideas were too bizarre.

Dammers, who had grown tired of ska music and embraced experimental music, had become fascinated with the Muzak music he’d heard in American elevators, and had apparently wanted to slow down some of their older songs and do modern jazz versions instead.


Dammers was also upset that Hall had convinced the rest of the group to perform songs from the band’s first album, something that Dammers had apparently balked at doing, even though the reunion shows were based around the debut album’s thirtieth anniversary.

Watch the Specials’ 30th Anniversary Tour concert film — and other live concert films — over on Night Flight Plus.


About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.