Horace has a chat with Jacqueline Howell of Toronto-based music and culture magazine Step On.
Sir Horace Gentleman, founding bassist of The Specials. Horace Panter, artist. There’s a number of ways to appreciate the creative work of the iconic bassist these days, as The Specials returned to the road after decades apart beginning in 2009 with all the fire and uncorkable energy that the records and filmed footage always promised. Still, the return of The Specials has been a delightful surprise after decades of longing, anticipation and rotating those early perfect records. The success of the early reunions have assured all concerned that The Specials can join festival bills and play in the UK and beyond whenever they are so inclined, and sell out crowds will be lining up to meet them on the other side of the barrier. The Fall 2016 tour (US September 9th-30th) then UK in October/November) will include Gary Powell of The Libertines on drums.
Crowds now contain multi-generational groups of fans: from those who were there more than 30 years ago to young parents with their children, to raised-right Millenials. A more well-dressed than usual rock club scene forms wherever The Specials land, with a strong representation of Rude boy and mod looks and Fred Perry shirts that have become more emblematic of this music, and more right, somehow, than your typical band t-shirt (though fans will sell those out too, for later dress down days.) For this band, and this rare decades long celebration that will reignite in the coming weeks across North American cities on The Specials’ upcoming tour, one tends to want to wear a collared shirt.
The legacy of The Specials music which led to no less than 7 consecutive top 10 singles from 79-81 (and music of their contemporaries and touchstones) as well as the criss-crossing of American cities over the years has informed the work of Horace Panter the artist. Hailing from Coventry, Panter was a fine artist first, meeting Jerry Dammers at Lanchester Polytechnic (where Panter would earn a degree in fine art in 1975), a meeting that would lead to the formation of The Specials in 1977.
As a fine artist, Panter has created work that reflects a diverse set of influences from the Pop Art movement, a realm that continues to change as culture shifts in new ways, to Edward Hopper’s realist Americana works. Notably, the artist, having had much time to develop and grow in other creative pursuits, as well as the added facets of the unique life experience of a touring musician, has, in our view, also been his own influence, and a worthy one. Memory, highly specific, compelling travel imagery and the life of the idea of Americana are all present in Panter’s recent exhibitions in the U.K. including the recent Myth America show. America and Americana is an idea often best analyzed by visitors from abroad who’ve seen all the films and imagery but then connect that to the actual experience of the place, to dreams and fantasies or to jarring realities and fictions that are different in every different place’s myths. These tend to focus on iconography of the road and its landscapes. The peopled pictures are something else again; the artist has created a definitive painting of The Specials that speaks to legacy and permanence despite the changes of time. A commissioned painting of the late Amy Winehouse moves beyond pop art and into something classical, while looking exactly like the overly-photographed woman, except composed, at peace, with that shrugging shoulder and surrounded by beauty and sun somewhere safe from paparazzi.
Horace Panter’s upcoming art shows (details at the bottom of this page) include Cassette vs. Vinyl, Panter’s continued exploration of iconic music imagery with the technology that is deeply bound in our shimmering memories when the physical object, cassette or vinyl was an inexorable part of music itself, plastic or vinyl treasures with pride of place. A canvas with a recreation of a band’s scrawl and an iconic record brings a sense of immediacy and emotion to something that culture has largely become divorced from in the unreal digital era. It’s a strong statement, and a very timely one. Today’s Pop Art, currently being redefined in these and other contemporary works, is something full of not only vivid colour, but vivid heart. And now, a rare musicality.
As Ska legends The Specials embark on their latest U.S. tour this month and with a full slate of art showings and related travel at home and abroad, Sir Horace Gentleman most generously took time to speak to us about his music, his art, his influences and his treasures.
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