You’re Wondering Now: Horace Panter recalls making of The Specials’ debut
Horace Panter is set to discuss The Specials‘ debut album next Tuesday (16 June) at the Proud Archivist Gallery in London – where he has an upcoming art exhibition The Art Of The Mixtape – for a special event hosted by Classic Album Sundays. The bassist will discuss the band’s self titled debut in front of an audience and the record itself will also be played in full on a high quality CAS hi-fi. The event takes place between 7 and 10pm, so head to Classicalbumsundays.com for more info and advance tickets. To prepare him for a night of recollections and insights, we asked ‘Sir Horace Gentleman’ to write us this guest column about the creation of the 1979 album.
History and hindsight are both capable of redefining events. Some events become malevolent whilst others attain mythical proportions. On my gravestone, it’s going to say “he played bass in The Specials” and I accept that.
The primary part of that legacy has to be that first Specials album, recorded in August 1979. We made the album at London’s TW Studios which was located in a basement just down the road from The Fulham Greyhound where, a couple of months earlier, half a dozen record company A&R types and, more famously, Mick Jagger, had come to see us. MJ, apocryphally, heard the intro chords to Little Bitch and remarked that we’d nicked the chord sequence off The Stones and left – he was right incidentally.
Recording the album was just a question of setting up and playing our live repertoire. There were very few instrumental overdubs. The studio sound was helped immeasurably by the session’s engineer, Dave Jordan, who became our live-sound operator and unofficial eighth member. The cramped claustrophobic atmosphere helped create a sound halfway between tinny 1960s pop and Studio One reggae, which was what The Specials were anyway.
At that time we were a unified force. We all believed in what we were doing and everyone gave 100 percent to make the band work. Money was not the main motivator, which gave the whole thing an ideological purity. That doesn’t mean to say we weren’t careful. We took a pitifully small advance (£10,000) from Crysalis, which was recouped pretty much straight away once the album came out. We all believed in those songs and what they stood for. Listening again to the album now, I’m more aware of the theatrical bits of the production – nicking the crowd noises and Neville’s intro to Monkey Man from the live Moonlight Club bootleg and the ‘crowd scenes’ on Nite Klub. I think those two tunes are my favourite cuts: Monkey Man because it absolutely rocks and is the essence of The Specials, the amalgamation of punk energy and ska rhythms, and Nite Klub because I get to do my party-piece bass solo thing.
The album was produced by Elvis Costello who, apart from anything else, was a big fan. He didn’t change any of the arrangements and suggested very few musical ideas. He just waited till it felt right and then we took it. In retrospect, he was the perfect man for the job. We used to call him ‘Mister C’.
Of the 14 tracks on the album, four are cover versions and two of them (Stupid Marriage and Too Much Too Young) utilise parts of old reggae tunes but this just goes to prove how indebted we were to that music – our roots were showing and we were paying homage to them.
Earlier this year The Specials played three concerts in South America, two in Mexico City and the third in Santiago, Chile. There was no way, in 1979, that we would have got to play to people in those countries but the rapturous response from those audiences to those songs, thirty-six years later, is a testament to their longevity.