Horace talks 2 Tone, ‘Horace the Artist’ and the importance of rudeboy style with Pellicano
Dodging between the aging punks, new ‘Britpop’ wannabes and excited Italian teenage tourists in Camden High Street, Steven ‘Horace’ Panter long time bassist of The Specials, successful artist and all round gentleman took time out from his busy schedule rehearsing for the present Specials tour to talk 2 Tone, ‘Horace the Artist’ and the importance of rudeboy style with Pellicano.
The Pellicano Interview – part 1
The Specials and their Legacy
Welcome to London, it is very kind of you to come down to visit us from Coventry today, and to Camden as well which I believe does have some memories for you way back when you were first with The Specials?
“Camden was the centre of the universe for the Specials in late 78-79. We had just finished the first national tour supporting The Clash on their ‘On Parole’ tour, which was amazing. We started the tour as civilians and ended it as a close knit pop group. Then we were with Bernie Rhodes, their manager, and we spent a lot of time at Rehearsal Rehearsals which is the old stables on what is now Camden Market. We met our manager, Rick Rogers, and his office was at the corner of Kentish Town Road, just round the corner from Camden Town tube and, of course, the Electric Ballroom was just down the road and so Camden was pretty much where we operated from for a while despite the fact we lived in Coventry.”
One of the stories that members of Madness talk of is them coming to watch you play in Camden and they not realising that there were others bands doing similar things to what they were doing…
“We became aware of Madness when we played the Hope and Anchor in Islington and someone had written “Madness – the sound of ‘bluebeat’ and ‘ska’” and was then that we became aware that there was this other band that played similar stuff. It was the same when we got a demo tape from a band from Birmingham called The Beat and they were mixing reggae with punk as well, only in a different way, so I think that there was something in the air about trying to mix the styles and I suppose that we got there first.”
The Specials seemed to have more of a punk influence in the sound, a more aggressive sound, where Madness seemed to have more of a cockney music hall sound.
The Specials were a rock n roll band and we could all play. We had all played in funk or soul bands or whatever and our musicianship, our chops, was superior at the time.
2 Tone was important to me – I was brought up in the years following the Enoch Powell speech, during a time of racial tensions and the National Front. There was a lot of tension in east London and The Specials were a rallying cry, a different way forward, way of doing things. Do you think music still has a role in influencing people or changing views?
“I don’t want to be too depressing but I think that the cultural importance of music has changed considerably. I think that music was something that you nailed your cultural colours to back then; it was a different generation. That is a difficult question to answer. I would like to think that music can still change things but I haven’t seen much evidence of it myself.”
The Specials lyrics were important to a whole generation, as important as the music to many; do you think that they still have a relevance?
“I think The Specials lyrics were the message as well as the music. The message was as important as the music. What was the old revolutionary thing, “free your arse and your mind will follow”. If you’ve got people dancing they will be much more open to receiving good information. Yeah, the lyrics are still relevant today; justice is timeless and there are still pretty hideous things going on today that you could write songs about aren’t there? So yes, I think the issues are still the same; you know, teenage pregnancy and racism … things takes different guises but they are still there today. Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran produced pop records but I don’t think ‘Hungry like the Wolf’ or ‘Gold’ have the cultural weight of ‘Ghost Town’ or ‘Too Much Too Young’, but then again I would say that wouldn’t I? “
Do you think it’s the lyrics or the music that draws people in to still seeing the Specials today? You reformed 5 years ago now…
“I’d like to think that’s because it’s the music these people grew up to. I know a few younger people who said they had never heard of ‘The Specials’ until they saw us on Jools Holland in 2009 and liked what they heard. Playing at festivals to young people that weren’t born when those songs were recorded and hearing them all singing along, knowing all the words, says to me that we are still relevant”
Madness always seemed to be the kind of band that your younger brother might like: more fun loving, light hearted than The Specials …
“We were a serious group but that didn’t mean that you couldn’t have fun while listening to it – serious fun, ha!
In Part 2: Horace discusses Rude boy style, life as Horace the Artist, and the Specials on tour
Fashion, style and Return of the Rudeboy exhibition
What are your thoughts on the recent ‘Return of the Rudeboy’ exhibition at Somerset?
An excellent piece of alliteration but I think that should really be “Rediscovery of the Rudeboy”. If anything, it shows that that style never really went away but was lurking underground.
There has always been that working class dandy who wears overalls all week and on the week-end will look like the jack of diamonds and will go out and impress everybody; that has always been part of working class culture. Have you seen the photos of these guys in Nigeria who are dandys? With pink suits that they have had made? There is a shanty town in the background and these guys look like they are straight out of a West-End musical; they look fantastic and in a way that is the elder brother of that sort of ideal … about looking sharp just because you can and the street suddenly becomes a catwalk or a club. Showing off and being like a dandy, like a peacock. I love it, I think that is what that exhibition did for me, reminded me that that Caribbean style is still prevalent now.
Where did The Specials ‘rudeboy’ style come from?
I didn’t naturally fit bondage trousers and Mohican hairstyles, but down Gosford Street in Coventry you could buy a second hand two tone suit for less than a tenner in the back end of 1978- 79 and there was that mod revival thing going on: Secret Affair, The Chords and all that kind of stuff which was getting a lot of press. We thought if we were going to play ska the visual thing would be for us to look like mods in 1964 and, hey, we could buy these cheap suits. The look also sat alongside the punk ethic of buying second hand clothes. Although we weren’t deliberately copying the mod style, it suited what we were doing and, because they were second hand, because we didn’t pay top dollar for them, it worked.
In your book ‘Ska’d for Life’ you state that you have dreadful dress sense and that usually you just wear a t-shirt and jeans and rely on others to point in the direction of appropriate fashion – who is dressing you these days? …
At home I’m a jeans and t-shirt guy to be honest. These days I tend to wear a suit of some description for gigs with some black desert boots that are really comfortable; I have to jump around for a hour and a bit … I err towards being comfortable these days.
Who dresses you these days?
Well it would be Mr Levi, Mr Perry, Mr Marten and possibly Mr Pellicano too.
Horace wears ‘Roberto’ black & white gingham penny collar shirt and ‘Hoxton’ black silk slim tie with ecru polka dots – both by Pellicano (December 2014) !
We would love to work with you on a piece of clothing, maybe a shirt for your rudeboy wardrobe; any ideas what this might look like?
We talked about the idea of a blues shirt. I am quite interested in the idea of the mod culture and its antecedence so we shall see.
Horace Panter – the artist and other projects
Can you tell us more about an important aspect to your life is you as an artist?
I met Jerry Dammers at the Lanchester Polytechnic during the second year of my fine art degree; he was a year below me. Art has always been something that I have been interested in.
I tell everybody that when The Specials went to New York, everybody else went out nightclubbing but I went to bed early so that the next morning I could get up to go to Guggenheim museum of Modern Art, so I have always used being in the Specials as an excuse to visit some of the more prestigious art galleries in the world and to see some terrific paintings.
I was an art teacher from 1998 – 2008 in a school in Coventry – a special needs school, which made me re-focus how I thought about art as I basically had to sell it to children who didn’t have an enormous amount of self-steem or weren’t particularly literate. Art was a great leveller because even if they couldn’t read or write too well they could still achieve by drawing or painting something; it was a great way into building relationships with children and helping them along – it was the second best job that I have ever had!
Since The Specials reformed in 2009 I have had a lot of down time to take my art seriously and now I have starting to have exhibitions and sell stuff. I had an exhibition in September, at Reuben Colley Fine Arts in Birmingham, which focussed on my ‘Americana’ paintings: pictures of American restaurants, street signs and the blue skies of California! At the same time I had an exhibition of music-related art at Pete McGee’s gallery ‘A Month of Sunday’s’ in Sheffield. Next year is all booked up with exhibitions in London, Birmingham, Glasgow and Harrogate so I’ll be kept busy! I sell original paintings but I also sell prints in limited runs of 35 to 50 so that regular folks can afford them and it doesn’t get too elitist.
Additionally, I have been promoting my book on art cleverly named “Art” which showcases some of my work so far
(This available form Amazon at: http://astore.amazon.co.uk/foruli-21/detail/1905792522 )
Pellicano has invested in one of your Clash prints which is, rather pleasingly the size of a 12” record sleeve –what other musicians have you painted?
I am really into my Blues and so I have done a Blues series – mainly Chicago Blues practitioners: Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Freddy King, BB King, Stevie Ray Vaughan et al, as well as a couple of jazz practitioners: Miles Davies and Charlie parker. I find I’m listening to more and more jazz these days so I’m on a journey of discovering music I’d ignored in the past. I also did a collage in homage to Stax records – Booker T and The MG’s, Otis Redding etc. were the sound track to my youth, and one of The Ramones, the unsung heroes of punk.
I believe that much of your work is influenced by Pop Art?…
That was the style that originally hooked me when I was still at school before I did my foundation course at Northampton School of Art – Mark Angelo, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, etc. When I did my degree I was very much swept along by the trends of conceptualism, ideas taking precedence over painting. I struggled with my degree course to be honest and it is only recently that I have returned to my Pop Art roots, paintings that elevate the mundane! I love the idea that you can get something really boring like a soup can and make it into an art object and I think that I still have that sense of finding the ordinary and making a big deal out of it. I have made a series of paintings about people/places that you wouldn’t normally give credence to, such as a street sweeper in Beijing or a guy selling postcards outside the Sacre Coeur, the Big Issue seller or the street signs in my Americana range –making the ‘ordinary’ the focus of the art I do.
Do you think that you will have much time over the next few months with The Specials about to go on tour?
The Specials have started to rehearse and I will now become Horace the bass player instead of Horace the painter, which means at least that I won’t be getting paint all over myself for a few weeks!
Are you still enjoying the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle that comes with The Specials – the pop star status?
Ha! Rarely do I have to get up to an alarm clock which is wonderful, absolutely great! It is a fabulous way to live your life and I know I am very lucky, having spent a decade living by the clock as a school teacher! I don’t know about a rock’n’roll lifestyle … I do what I have to do: I work, eat and sleep!
Big thanks to Horace for his time and patience – Mick