Specials legend Roddy Radiation’s tuning up for an intimate Perth show.
The influential Two Tone outfit’s ex-lead guitarist’s playing a sold out gig with his five-piece Skabilly Rebels at 44 Bar on March 8 on a short Scottish tour.
Formed in 2003, Roddy’s band blends roots rock, ska, blues, rockabilly and cajun influences.
“I’ve always mixed it up since back in The Specials when I didn’t really play ska or reggae much,” he says.”Jerry Dammers got me in because I was a punk rock ‘n’ roll guitarist and he thought they needed something different. It was a bit like Island Records getting a blues guitarist into Bob Marley’s Wailers to make it a bit more accessible. Jerry was good at putting things together.”
Recruited in 1978, Coventry-born Roddy, 63, penned the classics Concrete Jungle, Rat Race and Hey, Little Rich Girl — famously covered by Amy Winehouse. “If she’d released it as a single I’d probably have my own holiday home now,” he laughs.
“We did Glastonbury and I thanked her because I got a nice new gold top Gibson Les Paul and amp out of the cash I got from it. There was two or there festivals where she guested for us and we also met her at a couple of other things.
“Amy grabbed hold of Terry (Hall)’s arm at the NME Awards and wouldn’t let go and Terry was trying to shake her off. She was a great talent but this business does seem to eat you up and spit you out sometimes and it’s very easy to lose the plot.”
Supporting The Clash helped shape Roddy’s musical outlook — even if glamour was in short supply. “We did a UK tour with them about 1978 or ’79,” he remembers.
“It wasn’t so much me copying what they were doing, we had similar influences. Mick Jones said I was his favourite guitarist at the time and they treated us very well. I think we were on £25 a night to start with and they found out and put the money up to £50.
“We were young and stole a big judo mat and put it on top of all the amps and guitars in our van and slept on it. That was seven people plus a couple in the front and roadies, so it was quite snug. I wouldn’t like to do it now.”
After just two studio LPs The Specials split in 1981 when single Ghost Town hit number one. Subsequent success proved elusive and Roddy quit music in 1986 to earn a crust painting and decorating.
A version of The Specials surfaced in the mid-’90s, with a full-scale reunion in 2009 minus Dammers. “There were a lot of very big egos, a lot of people with very different outlooks on life in general, musical tastes, everything,” says Roddy.
“That’s probably what made the band sound like it did. The influences and personalities rubbing against each other made it sound a little more aggressive early on. In 2012 I told them I was leaving. Me and Terry weren’t getting on and they didn’t really want my style of guitar anymore.
“People couldn’t hear me at gigs, and I didn’t realise Terry had told the amps and sound man to turn my backing vocals off out front and turn my guitar down in the mix. They wanted me on the stage but didn’t want my input and that made me a bit sad.”
Roddy formed side project The Tearjerkers way back in 1981, followed by Bonediggers and The Raiders. Funding a sequel to Skabilly Rebels’ 2009 debut LP’s proved tricky, but a Specials return’s unlikely. “Me and Terry were always coming to blows it was getting that bad,” he says.
“We played Brixton Academy and I got too close to him and got whacked in my back. Maybe I was saying stuff on the internet he didn’t like as well. He was the boss and kind of took over from Jerry, getting his personal manager to be the new Specials manager. So whatever happened was what he wanted to happen.”
Roddy admits he’s yet to listen to the down-sized Specials chart-topper Encore. “I often wonder, would it have sold as well if it’d been a Terry Hall solo album with friends?” he asks.
“The name tends to carry a lot of weight. There’s been lawyers making a fortune since 2009 ‘cos Jerry tried to stop us using it. It’s a great shame that a band that stood for unity can’t get on together.
“There’s only three original members left and I should imagine they’re laughing their heads off at the rest of us. I’m a lot happier doing my own thing.”
Roddy’s upcoming Perth gig’s a chance to hear Specials favourites alongside newer material. “The skabilly’s catching on a bit now and the young kids get it, whereas the older people go back to tribalism,” he says. People who’re into my newer stuff often complain if I’m playing too much Specials. It’s hard to get it all in, but we’re going to do a mixture and have a good dance and sink a few beers.”
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*** Clarks welcomes jazz-funksters The Katet on Sunday, with psychedelic duo Man Of Moon on Thursday. Tickets via usual outlets.
*** It’s Neil Young tribute Heart Of Rust at Kinross’s Green Hotel tomorrow. Tickets £21.50 at Ticketweb.
*** Eurodance chart-toppers Cascada play a Church sell-out tomorrow.
*** Number 57 has Ringer tomorrow and Chain Gang on Sunday.
*** Cherry Bombz hit Campbeltown Bar, The Glens and Harlequins this weekend.