The following is a guest post.
Here is guest blogger PS Gifford’s interview with Roddy Radiation, the lead guitar player from The Specials, done exclusively for Smitten by Britain.
Roddy Byers, best known as Roddy Radiation, is an English guitar player who is best known as one of the founding members of the iconic British band The Specials.
In the late seventies The Specials shook up the music scene, and found success worldwide with their unique blend of ska and punk.
The Specials’ number one hit “Ghost Town” (1981)
I first saw The Specials play back in 1979 and have been a fan of the band ever since. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Roddy Radiation, who has kept busy over the years, including playing with the reunited Specials at the end of the 2012 London Olympics.
1. What was the first record you ever purchased?
The Monkees – Headquarters, then Jimi Hendrix – Smash Hits when I was 13 years old.
2. Who was the first band you saw play live?
The Troggs – also when I was 13 years old.
3. Before you got your guitar, at thirteen, did you play any other instruments?
My father who was a trumpet player in soul/blue Beat bands in the 1960’s. He taught me trombone.
4. Which performers impacted your distinct guitar style?
Well firstly, Jimi Hendrix, then Mick Ronson, Chuck Berry, Keith Richards, Pete Townsend, Johnny Thunders etc., etc.
5. How did you come to be part of the punk band Wild Boys? What was the wildest gig you played with them?
I formed the Wild Boys in early 1975, a sort of Glam Rock n’Roll band, which evolved into a punk/new wave band in 1976. We supported the Buzzcocks in Manchester (before splitting in late 1977.) That was a wild show!
6. How did you meet Jerry Dammers?
I met Jerry in the early 70’s when me and a friend jammed with Jerry and his mate at his Dad’s vicarage. Jerry was playing drums at the time.
7. When you joined the Coventry Automatics, and they became The Specials, did you suspect that you were going to change the face of British pop music? Do you think your punk style gave the band the edge they needed? Concrete Jungle and Gangsters had/have such a raw and exciting sound to them.
Jerry wanted a punk edged guitarist at the time and I fitted the bill. I had been listening to Bob Marley and a lot of Dub stuff at the time, so I was interested in the cross-over sound Jerry’s band was doing and I had become bored with punk scene. Concrete Jungle was a song I wrote while in the Wild Boys which I brought with me to the Automatics/ Specials. I sang it live early on and that’s my lead vocal on the first album.
8. It is rare that a band is given their own record label. When Chrysalis started Two Tone did you feel pressure to make sure it succeeded? Did you feel disappointed that certain bands seemed to use it as a leaping board and then went on to other labels, or start competing ones?
Jerry wanted a Stax/Motown type label so he could start a musical movement. It was Jerry’s baby and we had little to do with who was signed.
9. That first tour with The Clash goes down in the books as one of the greatest tours ever. What was the highlight of the tour for you?
Yes, being a big Clash fan like most of the Specials, we were delighted to be touring with them. The four shows in a row we did at the end of the U.K. tour at the Music Machine, Camden town, London were brilliant!
10. Rumour has it that when you recorded More Specials, with a more jazzy sound, that you and several other band members were not pleased with the bands new direction. Care to elaborate?
Jerry was all for changing our ska/punk sound a bit too early I thought, but I managed to write three songs that fit into his new master plan.
11. Which town was Ghost Town based on, I have heard both Coventry and Glasgow cited. Was it just a general observation of British working class cities falling apart?
Well, we had toured the U.K. prior to recording Ghost Town and had noticed the run down state of the country, mainly due to Thatcher’s right wing policies. It was to be Jerry’s finest moment until his recording of Free Nelson Mandala, which topped even Ghost Town.
12. Your next band, The Tearjerkers, was an amazing project. Were you surprised at the lack of commercial success?
I thought I could break through playing Rock n’Roll country/punk but the music scene had changed to the New Romantics and the Stray Cats had beat me to it. But I had a lot of fun and formed the basis for my Rock-a-Billy Ska cross-over sound – I call Skabilly.
13. Did you ever consider giving up the music business?
Yes in fact I have a couple times, mid 80,s and early 90,s, I had a family to feed so I went back to my original trade as a painter & decorator.
14. After the Tearjerkers, you went solo for a couple of years then formed the Bonediggers. Can you describe their sound, for those not familiar?
Well the Tearjerkers were Hank Williams meets the Clash, whereas the Bonediggers were the Clash meets Hank Williams. LOL!
15. When you were approached to put most of the original members of The Specials back together, for that first Japanese tour in the mid-nineties, did you imagine that the band would see a renewed success?
Well I thought it might be a chance to get more of my songs out there, we did quite well in the U.S.A.
16. What was it like recording the next two albums with them? Guilty ‘Til Proved Innocent I think is a great album, and Tears In My Beer is my favourite track on it. How was the mood in the band as you recorded it?
I wasn’t too impressed with the cover album “Todays Specials” but as I was the only one with any new songs most of the band thought it the way to go.
17. How was the recent reunion, including Terry hall? How much tension existed? I caught the show in Los Angeles, and have to say it was damned exciting- and the crowd were really into it.
The Specials never started like most bands – as in school or college friends, we were never particularly close friends, but maybe that’s what makes the show exciting?
18. Now you are leading the band Roddy Radiation and the Skabilly Rebels, and having been to several gigs, I have to say you have never sounded better.
Thanks, well I’ve been working on my Skabilly sound for 30 years and I think I’ve finally got it right.
19. I am sure everyone reading this will want to buy your latest CDs and catch you playing live. What are your plans for 2014?
I’ve just recorded some new tracks with Lynval Golding the Specials other guitarist so hopefully a new Skabilly Rebels CD will be ready next year. 2014? Well another U.S. West Coast tour early next year with the Rebels, also the U.K. and Europe and maybe Argentina?
20. Anything else you would like to share with us?
Things are starting to look good for me after 40 years of Rocking! But sometimes I wish I was 21 again. Ha,ha!
Roddy “Radiation” Byers. 18/12/2013
The Specials “Much Too Young” which reached Number One on the UK charts in 1981.