Thursday, 27 April 2017

It Was 1980! The Specials Were Doing Their First US Tour & We Were Publishing The First Issue Of Idol Worship: An Interview With Sir Horace Gentleman

Devorah interviews Sir Horace Gentleman
for the first issue of Idol Worship
Photo: Vicki Berndt
Originally printed in Idol Worship #1, May 1980

Interview by Devorah & Joey

The Specials were in the Bay Area awhile back, playing their "special" brand of reggae to packed halls. After we'd attended several of their shows, Sir Horace Gentleman was nice enough to let us interview him after the show at the S.F. Warfield Theater.

IDOL WORSHIP: Did you expect this big of a response in America?

HORACE: Not at all. I was very worried, because reggae doesn't seem to have taken off here. I kept imagining that someone would come up to us and say, "It's alright, but your rhythm guitarist is playing a beat behind."

IW: How would you define the type of music you play?

H: It's dance music, based on early Jamaican music, which is SKA.

IW: Is there a large reggae or ska scene in England?

H: There is now. We just had a number one single in the singles charts!

Chrysalis advert for the debut album
IW: Which one?

H: It's a live EP which was recorded on our last tour, with "Too Much Too Young," "Guns of Navarone," and a medley on the other side.

IW: What size halls do you guys play back in England?

H: On our last tour, it was these size halls (Warfield) and bigger - but without seats in! That was one of our prime considerations, that there would be no seats on the dance floor and that there would be no restrictions as far as age.

IW: Where did you get the band's name from?

H: We used to be called the Automatics, and then the Coventry Automatics because we heard of a band in London called the Automatics, and they had a record deal. We were offered some gigs on tour with the Clash in England in 1978, and the day we were to do the first show, we got a letter from the London Automatics' lawyer saying, "You are not to use the word 'Automatics' in your name or else you will be sued." So, we had like four hours to sort of change the name. We just threw some names around in the van and decided about five miles from the gig that it would be the SPECIALS.

IW: How long did it take before everyone said, "Hey, this is great!"

H: About March or April of last year it started to get good. We finally got "Gangsters" released - we released it ourselves, by an organization called Rough Trade.

IW: When did Chrysalis pick up the group?

H: After "Gangsters" was released. We met Rick, who's our manager, and he got our record out to the DJs. In England, there's a late-night show, done by a bloke called John Peel. He plays independent singles and new wave stuff four nights a week, and he played "Gangsters" a hell of a lot! Then it crossed over to the daytime DJs, and then it became one of the DJs "Records of the Week." Then we did some gigs in London and people began to take some interest, and then the record company thing started. Chrysalis was just the best of the bunch. We said, "We want our own label; we want to sign other bands onto this label; and we want TOTAL CONTROL over it!" It really got silly towards the end. WEA were ringing us up saying, "This Chrysalis deal, we'll double it!" It was BONKERS!

IW: How did you decide to do your promotions in black and white?

H: We were blessing the '60s, sort of the mods and skinheads. It's not just the mods and skinheads, but a complete mixture of styles. Black and white was kind of like pop art and op art. All of the mods used to have black and white checks on the handlebars of their scooters, so the black and white checks came in that way. Black and white was very simple. Plus, as far as the LP cover goes, it was cheaper. We could have had a full-color sleeve, but the album would have cost a bit more.

IW: Is it true that you guys don't like the London scene? That you want to stay in Coventry?

H: Yeah. Brad, our drummer, is the only one who lives in London. I tend to get complacent. The reason I don't want to live in London is because one day I looked in the paper and saw I could go to see the Talking Heads at the Hammersmith Palais, the Jam at the Rainbow, the Bodysnatchers at the Windsor Castle, and so on... But I get really complacent. So we all live in Coventry, where NOTHING happens. But when something does happen, it great! It becomes a major event. I like it there. There are people there who know me as a van driver, which was the job I had before I joined the band. And they keep saying, "When are you going to get a decent job?" That keeps your feet on the ground, which I think is important.

IW: What kind of music do you guys like to listen to?

H: When I'm off the road, I listen to anything but reggae, blues and ska. No, that's not true. Everyone has very individual tastes. I'm into sort of old Tamla-Motown. I don't know what the other people listen to.

IW: How does the English scene differ from the American scene?

H: The English scene picked up a lot faster. If a band is good it travels very quickly by word of mouth. London is like the nerve center of England. Perhaps in America, it's split a bit between New York and Los Angeles. I don't know if you'd agree with that or not.

The Specials with SVT at Tresidder Ballroom
Stanford, California - February 15, 1980
IW: Yeah. Have you guys done any TV shows, like Top of the Pops?

H: Yeah. We've done TOTP and the Whistle Test.

IW: Did you hear what happened when they played your record on American Bandstand?

H: "Gangsters"? Someone said it was too punk!

IW: Yeah. Some girl from Texas said, "It's too punk! I can't dance to it!"

H: "Can't dance to it," that's ridiculous!

IW: That's what we said!

H: That's funny. It makes me laugh.

IW: Are you going to do any American TV shows?

H: There was a rumour that we might do a Saturday Night Live. They want us to do it sometime late in March, but we'll be heavily into recording schedules then, so I don't know about it. Stop asking me serious questions! Ask me some silly questions now!

IW: What's your favorite breakfast food?

H: Peanut butter on toast! Makes me very anti-social to the rest of the band.

IW: What brand of shampoo do you use?

H: The cheapest. Do you have a car? Could you give me a lift back to the hotel?

IW: Sure, but we have to take a bus to get to the car. We can lend you a quarter.

H: Alright, then.

IW: Is it hard for all seven of you to get along on the road?

H: Yeah! No, actually it's nice, because if you're fed up with a particular person, you can go talk to someone else. There are three sort of cliques in the band. There's the blacks, the low-life humans, and the sensibles. Blacks are sort of like the marijuana culture. Roddy, although he's white, is a black because he's into the marijuana culture and he's sometimes a low-life human, too. I tend to be king of the sensibles, although I have become a bit low-life of late.

IW: Did you get to see Alcatraz?

H: Only briefly. I didn't get to take a boat out to it, which is annoying. I bought some lovely postcards with a view of Alcatraz saying, "Lovely time, wish you were here."

IW: Well, you can go to Trafalgar Square and write us a letter about it, and we'll go to Alcatraz and write you a letter about it. We can exchange tourist t-shirts.

The bus ride to the car - Horace sits with Idol Worshiper Sue
Photo: Vicki Berndt
H: Yeah, awful Beefeater t-shirts! That's one of the nice things about coming out here. I can be a total tourist! The other week I was paddling in the Pacific and the connotations of me living in England and paddling in the Pacific was like, something tremendous! Although it was freezing and people thought I was stupid.

IW: Do you enjoy touring?

H: Well, I haven't much choice, have I? Yes, I do! I never thought, two years ago, that I'd be stomping around America. I've always wanted to come to America.

IW: How did you get the name Sir Horace Gentleman?

H: It's like the reggae names. Everyone's got funny names. Brad's name is Prince Rimshot, sometimes.

IW: Where do you guys get your suits?

H: Second-hand stores, mostly. Now some band members have money and have been known to buy full-price suits. I disapprove of that whole-heartedly. The suit I wore tonight, that grey one, cost me six quid - $12. I got some lovely button down shirts in a Goodwill store the other day for $1.89 each. I bought six! This girl that works at ... was just telling me about that store, but their suits are $40. That's 20 quid!

IW: The thing is, the stuff they have you already own. That's why they stock it, so we can look like our favorite bands!

H: When we started out, we were dressing like our audience, sort of like skinheads. Now that we're getting popular, people are beginning to dress like us.

IW: How did you like working with Elvis Costello on your record?

H: Fine! It was alright.

IW: Are you going to work with him on the second album?

H: No, I don't think so. We're going to use Dave Jordan, who's the engineer on the first album and does our sound onstage.

Chrysalis advert for The Specials appearance on
Saturday Night Live
IW: Are there times you wish you had just stayed a van driver:

H: Sort of the split second before the plane's about to land and sometimes one or two minutes before I go onstage. I get a bit nervous all the time, but that's all. If I can cope with a hangover in Los Angeles, then I'm alright!

IW: What do English people think of Americans? Do they have any stereotypes?

H: Yes, of course they do! We get the tourists - like the fat bloke with the Bermuda shorts and Hawaiian shirts, three cameras and a hat! Or else those suits with the massive checks!

IW: Plaid!

H: I suppose you have the stereotyped Englishman - the pinstriped suit, bowler hat and umbrella, going, "Awfully, awfully nice to see you." It works both ways.

IW: Did you do any Midwestern shows?

H: Oklahoma City, Salt Lake City...

IW: How did those go?

H: Oklahoma City was really funny! The Police were meant to do two shows there, but they pulled out of the gig because of Sting's voice and Stuart Copeland's back. So, we ended up doing one show in Oklahoma City - actually, it was in Norman, which is just outside of Oklahoma City in a 600 capacity theater. I was really worried about it being a "redneck" state and the announcer saying, "I'm sorry, all you Police fans, the Police aren't playing and now here's a band from England that you've never heard of, that doesn't play rock 'n' roll!" I was really worried, but we went on and it went great. It was nice getting back to an audience that had never heard of us before, grabbing them by the throat and saying, "You will dance!"

IW: I noticed at Stanford that a lot of people don't know what reggae is, or how to dance to it, but they enjoyed it anyway. Even if it wasn't the punk rock they expected.

H: Yes, they sort of pogo slowly. Dancing to reggae is really fascinating, it's a lot slower... (Here Horace gives us a lesson in skanking.) You've got to see people like Neville and Lynval do it. Reggae is on the second and fourth beat, that's where the bass drum goes and that's how you dance to it.

Full-page advert
Trouser Press magazine May 1980
IW: How long have you been playing the bass?

H: Do you have a lot of room in your fanzine? I've got quite a nice story. When we were doing those dates at the Music Machine with the Clash, on the last day I spoke to Paul Simonon, who's quite a shy bloke, actually, and he says, "I really like your bass playing. How long have you been playing?" I said, "I've been playing for eight years, but only seriously for the last three years." He turns around and scratches his head and says, "Yeah, I wonder when I'll start taking it seriously." Which was the prefect answer from one of the Clash.

IW: Do you get much time to look around the cities?

H: We had a couple of days off in Los Angeles and it was really nice. I got to put my feet in Cary Grant's footsteps and I got to see the Hollywood sign, and all that!

IW: Did you go to Disneyland?

H: Yes! It was amazing! We went on Space Mountain and the Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted House... It was great!

IW: Did any movie stars come to see your shows in Los Angeles?

H: Randy California from Spirit came on the last night, and was seen dancing, but was probably drunk. I did get to meet Rod Stewart's bass player...

IW: Was Andy Warhol there when you played New York? [One of the IW editors has an Andy Warhol fetish -- Other Ed.]

H: No, but Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson were going to come to the gig in New York, but only if they could stand in the sound booth. We said, "Either you're in there with the punters, or forget it."

Here Horace gathers up his clothes and we all catch the bus back to the car. On the bus, Horace clears up a misunderstanding...

IW: Is it true you guys don't like the Clash? I saw you tearing up the cover of the magazine with a picture of Joe Strummer on it at the record store.

H: NO! NO! That's not true at all! The reason for that was because they were giving them to us for nothing. They had to rip the top off so they could send them back as damaged. Christ, the Clash are great!

The Specials - logo
On the ride to the car, we pass Haight Street, which Horace was excited to see, since he was somewhat of a hippie a few years back.

Later on, we meet up again at the Mabuhay, where Horace, Brad, Terry and Jerry were watching the Go-Go's, who'd opened for them in LA. After advising him against the Mab's fare, Gwen, Spike, Vicki and Sue took the famished bass player to Zim's for a late-night snack. Everyone laughed as he showed us his Roddy Radiation imitation. (Suck in your cheeks, bend your ears out, and say, "Bollocks!") And the wire-rimmed glasses Horace wears offstage are fake! He picked up several pairs in Seattle so he can "look like a professor on a lecture tour rather than a pop star." We also got clued in that one of the Clash is married! It seems that several years ago, a member of the group married a European girl for several hundred pounds so he could buy his first guitar and she could get British citizenship. (When the Clash were here, this story was confirmed by sources close to the group - they're still married, legally, but he "hasn't seen her for years.")

Finally, in the early morning hours we dropped Horace off at his hotel to get a bit of rest before his 7am flight, and these IWers headed home with some memories of a very Special night.

7 comments:

  1. What a fun interview. I met Horace last year at one of his art exhibitions, always good to meet a boyhood idol from the greatest band in the world.. In my opinion! I love coming across stuff from 'the day' as it whisks me back in time to my yoot. Thanks for resurrecting it.

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    1. Hi, many thanks for your comment! I'm so glad you enjoyed it. Horace was so nice and amazingly patient with all the questions. And he's still a lovely guy!

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  2. Paul Standley5 May 2017 at 03:48

    The Specials were/are my all time favourite band so reading this earlier article brings back so many great memories. Thank you!

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  3. Great read and brilliant to have more nostalgia about one of the most influential bands ever to emerge. To me The Specials are exactly that: Special!

    Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Hi Ricky, thanks so much for your comment! So glad you liked the interview! My friends and I had such a brilliant time hanging around with Horace. He was an absolute sweetheart! I'm happy I could share it with other fans.

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