There are a few moments in pop music that once seen will never be forgotten. For me most of them were on Top of the Pops.
The Jam in their suits, ties and shiny shoes, looking like they had just come from a job interview. The druggy swagger of Happy Mondays or the Smiths waving gladioli.
But the Specials, were something, well, special
They dressed like they had raided their dad’s or grandad’s wardrobes. Skinny 60s suits and pork pie hats, but cool with it.
And they played this odd mix of 60s ska and punk. At the time 60s ska was about as popular in mainstream music as Morris Dancing or Gilbert and Sullivan.
I grew up in a place where the only non-white faces were behind the counter of a take away. There were black bands and white bands, but none with a mix, particularly in an era when the press obsessed over “racial tension”. The Specials looked like a gang of mates having a brilliant time, regardless.
They looked and sounded like no-one else and yet every little bit of it worked. The people, the clothes, the music. It was easy to become obsessed by them because they were like nothing I had seen before, and were cool in a way that I didn’t know cool could be. And for a teenage boy being cool was very important.
I bought everything by them, and everything by any band who was like them, including Madness, the Beat, the Selector and Dexys. I tried to dress like them, raiding family wardrobes and charity shops for old clothes. I admit that not all of those wardrobe choices worked out that well.
And at the centre of it all was Terry Hall. He looked pissed off, numb, sick of it all. And yet the songs he wrote were the opposite; passionate, engaged and brilliant. He connected with people because he was like a kid in the year above at school, or a mates older brother. The most normal person imaginable but brilliant with it.