Excerpts from Roddy Radiation's Autobiography 'Don't Get Angry, Get Even'
Part 1: Introduction by Jett Rink
Roderick James Byers (a.k.a. Roddy Radiation) was born 5/5/55 to a trumpet playing father and a "Movie Mad" mother, in the year of Rock'n'Roll, when Elvis and Dean were "Rebels with a Cause".
Roddy spent his first 18 years in a coal mining village just outside of Coventry in the English Midlands.
At the age of 11 years, his father started Rod and his brother Chris on trombone and trumpet respectively, but by the age of 13 Roddy had discovered Rock'n'Roll, and swapped his trombone for an electric guitar.
Several school groups followed with regular gig's at the local youth club.
In the early seventies, forsaking the local art school, Roddy started work as a painter and decorator for the local council, which enabled him to buy the much needed new guitar and amp.
Roddy's early tastes in music ran to the more outrageous pop and R'n'B bands such as The Rolling Stones , The Kinks, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. At this time Roddy also acquired a long lasting love of Blues and early Rock'n'Roll.
The early seventies saw Roddy adopt a "Ziggy Stardust" persona as "Roddy Radiation", a nickname given to him by his brother Chris.
From the Glam Rock days, Rod discovered other more eccentric artists such as Iggy Pop, Lou Reed and the seminal proto punk group, The New York Dolls.
Roddy's first proper group based on these early influences was The Wild Boys, formed in 1975. Short spikey hair, drainpipe jeans, and cover songs such as "No Fun" and "I'm Not Your Stepping Stone" along with Roddy's early songs "1980's Teddy Boy" and a song called "Concrete Jungle".
But Coventry was not London, and Rod would have to wait a few more years until a certain local nutter (Jerry Dammers) asked Roddy to punk up his new band "The Coventry Automatics" - nee "The Specials"...
Part 2 :: The Early Daze!
Coventry Automatics - The Special AKA - The Specials. - 1978-79
It's funny I have difficulty remembering these years, maybe I blocked out a lot of bad memories or maybe I was just blotto most of the time! Anyway here's the bits I recall...
The Coventry Automatics
Me and Jerry Dammers were party animals in those far off days, and trying to find a late drink was pretty difficult in Coventry in 1979. A curry or a dodgy club was the only way to get a late beer.
One such club was called "The Domino", which had been a gay hangout, but in 1978-79 had been taken over by punks and various degenerates and criminals.
It was there my dear readers that Jerry asked me to play guitar on a demo they (The Automatics) were doing in "London".
After many pints, I staggered off home and next morning I was awoken by someone banging and kicking my front door.
It all came back to me... recording - London - Dammers.
I explained to Angie (my misses) and put on my jeans + leather jacket. At the front door was Jerry and a local D.J. Pete Waterman, they helped me load my Vox AC 30 and Gibson Les Paul into a taxi and we caught the train to "the big smoke" ... London..
The rest is a bit hazy. I remember the studio was near soho and I remember an off licence brandy and beer. I don't think I heard what we did until the 1990's when Neville discovered a lost tape!
Apparently no record company was interested in this strange hybrid of reggae and punk. We carried on gigging - rehearsing - hoping for some kind of break. Jerry, our leader, was determined we should succeed, and somehow talked the Clash and their manager into letting us support them on their British tour.
The Clash were my ideal of a punk-rock'n'roll band. They had a message, the sound and their wardrobe was almost the same as mine!
The tour was exhausting but brilliant fun, we slept rough - very little food - but sometimes the crowd gave us a chance and we would retire from the stage happy-even though we were covered in gob.
Around this time I was given an ultimatum, either pack in the band or quit my job. Me and Angie had just took on a mortgage!! I quit! Jerry said, give up everything, we are going to be famous!*( or words to that effect)
I told my wife several weeks later,after she had had a couple of drinks.
Part 3 :: Le Paris Trip<< >>
Lynval covers most of this hellish trip on the specials web site, but there's a couple of bits he forgot...
After the Clash tour we became involved with Bernie Rhodes (don't argue). I could never quite understand what he was on about - double speak I guess. Like Paul Simonon, I just thought he was funny!
Anyway back to the trip. We had a driver and van but Bernie had upset him and had to hire one. At Dover we were told another van would meet us at the Calais side (France)! So we pushed the gear to the ferry on a handcart, meanwhile Jerry's case burst open and his Y-fronts and stuff blows across the ferry station much to the amusement of the band. Jerry was always clumsy and untogether in ordinary ways, if not in music or his drive to succeed. It was a rough crossing but a few beers helped.
At the other side Jerry drops on his knees and claims France for England by putting a handful of sand in his mouth? Our drummer is sent home at customs - no visa - and Jerry try's pleading with the Gendarme, but forgets he has all his money in his hands - bribery!
We get through just!
The van sent to meet us is tiny, and because we were told the French didn't pick up black hitch-hikers me, Terry, Horace and Jerry put out our thumbs. We get lift in a Rolls Royce!!! Jerry didn't mind as we were "on the road jack".
We get to Paris after another lift, and go to the club we are to play that night - where the care taker sets his dog on us..
The nightmare had only just begun... An English hooker/heroin addict is sent to look after us tired little boys - hotel mayhem - "confiscate all your guitars" - gangsters - gig - meet two blockheads, Dury guys, try to get home, sent (back) to Coventry.
That year was tough! Sharing half a beer and ten fags with Lynval, Jerry always seemed to have a bit of cash? Our drummer Silverton quit and we plodded on...
Part 4 :: Two Tone Pup Stars
After rough trade did the second pressing of Gangsters, things really started to happen! The pub gig's were fuller and when we supported other bands we usually won.
Other pop stars started coming to our gig's in London pubs - The Pretenders, Elvis Costello etc to name but a few.
Then finally the record labels! But General Dammers wanted more, a label, with it's own identity. They all seemed interested in the latest thing? Even Mick Jagger asked us to sign to rolling stone records. But none of them seemed keen on signing an independent label.
Finally chrysalis records agreed to Jerry's Two Tone record label, and things started to move incredibly fast. Gangsters was re-released on Two Tone/Chrysalis, and it seemed everyone was forming ska based bands!
Friends I'd known for years suddenly cut their hair and started wearing tonic suits ( ahhh! the smell of money £$ ). By this time I'd also become a ska convert and would buy anything blue beat or remotely skankie.
On these early records was the legendary trombone player, Rico Rodriguez who had recently played with another reggae punk outfit The Members.
Jerry asked him to feature on a cover we had started playing called "A Message To You Rudy" - I think he'd played on the original! Rico and his sideman Dick Cuthell became our brass section, adding a touch of class to our punky ska
We all had great respect for Rico and Dick, and Rico became our mentor - godfather.
Part 5 :: And There's More >>
Top of the Pops, was a laugh. We got pretty merry (I was escorted from the BBC bar.) and we wondered what next!
The Two Tone tour - The Specials, The Selecter our label mates, and also a band from north London called Madness. Cheeky chappies who also loved Prince Buster and who's first release "The Prince" came out on Two Tone!
The hit's kept comin! We were having fun, getting along famously, gig's in Europe and then the USA.
America had been something we had all grown up with, rock'n'roll, Kojak - movies. Would they like or even understand British ska? Madness had already beaten us and had played New York, now it was our turn!
We did some dates supporting the Police and a few on our own. The East Coast ,New York, Boston etc and the West Coast ,Los Angeles, San Francisco loved us, but the midwest and not so hip places didn't quite get it! In fact the record company had real problems!
Even though punk rock had changed things a bit in the U.K., America was still hippie land! everybody seemed to be into coke, something we hadn't really come across. We were mainly weed and beer boy's, with a bit of mod whizz.
The huge distances certainly took their toll. The tour bus, as Horace put it, was like a mobile funeral home. Jerry said I'd come back looking like Marlon Brando ( circa "The Wild One" ), I could now get all the gear i wanted in American thrift shops - leather's - cowboy shirts - hats and motorbike boots - Brando-Dean. Most of the band didn't want to wear the same old suits, and this among other things caused disagreement.
I had also gotten into rock-a-billy in a big way, a music I'd always liked but now it became my religion. The music on the tour bus would usually be heavy reggae or jazz ,which after several weeks would fail to excite me. The short tours in Britain and Europe could no way prepare us for 5-6 weeks around the U.S. and Canada.
Jerry hated it! He told the Los Angeles times that he'd had more fun on a school trip to Russia. When the record company guys came to see us in L.A., where we had been doing two shows a night for a week or more, it was the straw that broke the camels back!
We were shattered, partly due to non stop partying but mainly exhaustion. The Chysalis USA guys came in wearing suits and ties, smoking cigars, and wanted us to have a photo taken with them. This was in between sets, towards the end of our residency! Jerry just told them to fuck off! and most of the band joined in... they stopped pushing the record! but i must say it felt good. Maybe today, if we had been good little English boys, I might have a little more money in the bank! But we considered ourselves revolutionaries with Jerry our leader.
Part 6 :: Teenyboppers <>>
Even though the 1st album, without any more company backing, stalled then dropped from the U.S. charts, the gig's on the tour were all sold out, with Bowie + Jagger comin to the last concert in New York! Then it was back to blighty, knackered.. the fun had gone.
Back home I noticed very young teen's + children dressed in full two tone regalia. My mother asked me to go to a relatives wedding. I went in my usual punk-rock-a-billy gear, my cousin's were most disapointed and asked me "was I in disquise?"
We had become a teenybop group!
I suppose thing's had started to go wrong... the press decided Jerry's new signings to Two Tone were not up to scratch.. and right wing skinheads were using our gig's to vent their ignorant racist views.
Also our private lives had radically changed ,whether we liked it or not. I had crowds of youngsters hangin around outside my house, and Terry could hardly go out.. Jerry's girlfriend split cause of the pressure. To name but a few of the problems our fame had brought the local heroes!
Part 7 :: Rat Race <>
In May 1980, my song "Rat Race" was released - a track we had recorded on the BBC john peel show and had been in our live set for several months. A song which has been much misunderstood.
I wrote Rat Race after a night in the local college bar. While sittin, suppin, I chanced to hear several well-to-do student's in conversation. They were discussing the jobs their parents had lined up for them when they finished college.
It struck me that their places in college would be better used by students of a less wealthy back ground, but not everybody understood the sentiments, in fact i was told i was anti-education!
We did the video in the hall below the college bar where i had over heard the conversation. I've often wondered whether those rich kids were there? Anyway it got to number six, not bad for my first effort!
Little did i know it would be my only "proper" single release.. Chrysalis had wanted to release concrete jungle from the 1st album, but as I sang that version.. Terry vetoed it.. no wonder my favourite drink is bitter!
The Seaside tour..
Being from a land locked city, the seaside has always app ealed to me (little did i know what was in store!)
Like most of the guys my personal life was upside down, mostly due to my own failings. Anyway on the 1st day ,before the sound check, Jerry anounced to the band that he wanted to cancel the tour!
He was coming apart before our very eyes.. I didnt help by suggesting, Paul Heskatt the sax player could play keyboards. Anyway a doctor was called, and Jerry given "medicine" to help sort out his breakdown.
I had my own, "booze"!, which was making me more and more crazy too. Like a later member of the Specials m.k 2, once said "just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, it did!"
Part 8 :: Oh! I Do Like to be Beside the Seaside.. >>
The tour was a strange one! We had the Bodysnatchers (U.K.) and the Go Go's (U.S.A.) ..which made thing's even more scenic.
The coach would be a beehive of conversation, with girly pop tapes as a background.
After the sound check in blackpool, a photo session had been arranged for the music press. Jerry looked uncomfortable, the band looked wrong!
Jerry picked on Horace, who was less likely to bite back, and said we would all have to go back to the hotel to get changed. We all came out of the hotel slightly more appropriately dressed.
A little later Jerry appeared, dressed in a red tarten suit with matching hat?!
We stood sullenly by the sea wall, Jerry climbed on the top and began to clown... I pretended to push him!
Jerry screamed "you all witnessed, he tried to kill me"
It was that kinda tour..
Part 9 :: Prease Jelly do not luin my rife.. <<>>
Sorry to anyone who's been waitin' with "baited breath" for the rest of my version of the truth, I can't wait to read Jerry's!
It's just that I spent year's tryin' to forget, in fact it's only recently that I can listen to "More Specials" without feelin physically sick. But I know I wasn't the only one who found being special a nightmare.
Rick Roger's, The Specials' manager, said it was all a clash of egos. But even Rick had his own personal demon's, and wasn't well enough to help. I guess I for one hadn't thought where it was all going, or where or when it would all end.
12 months and the cracks appeared.
Japan was for me (and the rest of the band) a culture shock! We didn't really take it seriously, which shows how small minded we were then. The Japanese kids had seen the video, and wanted to invade the stage too! I've heard the Japanese promoter hasn't been allowed to work in the music biz since. Back stage, he got on his knee's in front of Jerry and said "prease Jelly do not luin my rife".
But for most of the band it was almost a holiday. Today I find it one of my favourite places to tour.
Two Tone... originally was supposed to be The Selecter and The Specials label. But as we were always in different places, it was impossible for any meetings to take place. But really I think Jerry didn't want anyone to mess with his baby.
I quite often get asked "how much money did you make?", apparently we were on £300 a month each, which for me was a vast improvement from the dole. But try tellin two teenage daughters how come you were famous but didn't get rich? It's a mystery...
Well not quite a mystery... I met a member of the Reluctant Stereotypes (now there's a name to conjure with!) who had supported the Specials in our heyday, and he was sayin how wonderful it was. What with their hotels paid for, their transport provided (Specials tour bus, English school type coach.) and PD's everyday (cash per day, spendin money?). This went for all our support acts!
So with that and the huge numbers of kids, hangers on, and anyone who fancied the crack. I guess that's where some of the dosh went!
Also unlike some other socialist bands, the financial split was very uneven - although as the second major writer I didn't do as bad as some.
But the money was not what the band was about... even so i try not to watch MTV programs such as cribs..
but less bitchin' 'n back to the skankin!
Part 10 :: More Specials (the album)
"As they say", recording that difficult second album... you have four years to get your first album together song wise... the second your lucky if you get 4 month's!
Jerry had been hanging out with John Shipley (Swinging Cat's) and John was really into sound track music - Mantovani, John Barry and all thing's musak!
(By the way, I had taught John to play guitar after his girlfriend had left him for the other guitar player in my band, The Wild Boy's. He thought by playing guitar she would fancy him again?. He later took over my job in the Special AKA. anyway...)
Little did we know what direction the Specials music was now heading. We recorded more specials at Horizon Studio's in Coventry, by the railway station - it's been knocked down now! - so at least we could go home after work.
Jerry wanted the new album to be a radical change musically... drum machines... lounge music and very little ska! When questioned about this, he said he wanted to do songs which people could'nt tell whether they were good or bad!
My first disagreement with Jerry was over "Hey little rich girl", a song I'd written about a girlfriend I went out with in the early seventies, who came from a posh area just outside Coventry. Jerry's new sound included the use of robotic drum machines. I thought this would ruin my skabilly / rock'n'roll song, but after a long chat, and by letting Jerry admire my new "James Dean flick knife", he left the studio while we got on with the song. He put his part on later, along with a "sha-doobie" backing vocal which he thought was hilarious.
Then I put the lyrics to one of my other tunes on the studio wall...
Why Argue With Fate. (1981)
There are no perfect people, and if you're looking for revenge,
Thought I'd found the answer, but it was just another dead end.
But I wait and wait and wait and wait.
Why argue with fate.
There are two kind's of people, some wrong some right,
Thought I'd found the answer, but all I got was sleepless nights.
But I wait and wait and wait and wait.
Why argue with fate.
Thought I'd found the answer, a cause for me to fight,
But you can't believe false prophets, with hearts as cold as ice.
(repeat first verse. end.)
The next thing I know is "Why Argue With Fate" has become "Holiday Fortnight", and has also become an instrumental.
It's a funny old world!!
Part 11 :: The End or not the End, That is the Question? <
I guess a lot of reader's consider this the end of the real "Specials"... but I shall keep travellin' back in time, as the present affects how we view the past. (so bear with me goldielock's.)
The break up of the band was a tremendous relief to me, the future suddenly seemed so much brighter and happier.. but as I wasn't a front line vocalist - or a creative genius-band leader, life would not be a breeze!
The funboy's got a record deal... I was given 4 day's to record something Chrysalis Record's could sell. I asked Dave Jordan who was now with the funboy camp to produce, and Rick Roger's, now the funboy's manager, agreed to help little ole me.
Dave didn't turn up for the first two day's recordin' and when he did he was not well!? So Dick Cuthell (who hated rock'n'roll) bless him, helped us out.
I had plenty of new songs, but so little time. Anyway I was dropped from the label. I heard Jerry was angry that I had been dropped, so i asked him if he would put "me skabilly" out on Two Tone. This was at a student party in Coventry, he turned around and head butted the wall.
They say the ladder to success is a hard one, but they don't tell you some of the rungs are missin' on the way back down!