MAR 99] THE BLACKROOM
Hi and welcome to the blackroom. My name
is Pauline Black, lead vocalist with The Selecter.
The Story So Far
Roddy 'Radiation' Byers (lead guitarist with The Specials)
Roddy Radiation has always been a bit of a tortured
soul, but Ive always had a very healthy respect for him, because essentially
hes a local working class poet, who isnt afraid to let people
know that he sings what he means.
He started out leading The Wild Boys, his first local Coventry band,
before joining The Specials. He has also led two other bands, The
Tearjerkers and The Bonediggers, before returning to the
Roddy has always been a bit of a philosopher, recognising that most modern music has
its roots back in the old days of New Orleans jazz and blues.
"Listen to the old rockabilly track, From A Jack To a King"
said Roddy, "it almost has a ska feel. It just depends on whether youre wearing
a cowboy hat or a pork pie hat!"
I couldnt agree more!
The last time I saw him was in Los Angeles at the House Of
Blues, which The Selecter played on its 1997 tour of the US.
Roddy arrived with various other sundry Specials members in our
dressing room and blagged at least half our rider, much to the annoyance of some of the
members of the The Selecter. It didnt bother me. I was more bothered about the
hypocritical attitudes of the owners of the place.
The House of Blues is a soulless venue and to make things worse the
private toilets backstage were staffed by two black people, who were dressed in what would
only pass for Deep South maid and servant uniforms. So much for the empty
eulogies to the blues that pervade the establishment; some things never change!
By the time wed done our set, Roddy was basically pissed and I know from
experience that a coherent conversation with him, under these conditions is just not
possible. So when I rang him up and got him to agree to an interview, I made sure that it
was going to take place at 10:30 am, because then I was certain of finding him compos
mentis. Here are some highlights from that conversation.
Q How did you first get involved with The
A I was drinking in a local club called
The Domino in 77 and Jerry Dammers asked me to play guitar on some sessions that he
was doing in London. At first I thought it was just drink talk, but the next morning he
came round with er, whats that blokes name who used to run Kylie Minogue, er Peter
Waterman. He was looking after Jerry at the time. So I went down and did a few sessions
and joined the band shortly after that. Silverton was on drums at the time and the band
was called Coventry Automatics.
At the time I was trying to get Jerry
to join the punk group I was in, called The Wild Boys, but we were not having a great deal
of success. Plus I was listening to a lot of Bob Marley at the time, so punk and reggae,
seemed like a natural way to go. A lot of punk bands at the time were including reggae in
you listen to much ska music then?
No I used to get beaten up to it though, when I was very
young, because I had long hair. In my early teens, the local skinheads in Keresley village
where I lived, were into that kind of thing.
much did the fact that you were a songwriter too, have to do with you being picked by
Jerry to join the band?
I dont know really. Concrete Jungle was
originally a Wild Boys song that I brought with me into the Specials. Rat
Race I wrote later on. In the early days I was sharing a room with Terry Hall for
quite a while, so Id spend all our free time singing my songs in the room, so he
would hear the way I was singing them and try and get them close to the way I wanted them.
Well almost. Sorry Terry!
you think that caused tension in the band?
Yes, so Lynval said to me. In fact when Terry left to join
Fun Boy Three, Jerry said he ought to have got me to sing, but in music its not
always the case of whats better for the band musically, its more a case of
whos in control. I think if that had happened and Jerry had given me more control
over the band in terms of songs and direction then it would have been better. But, as
people have said about him, he was a benign dictator.
your best memory of the early days of the band?
It was nice doing Top Of The Pops, that was a sort of dream
come true, I suppose. The first time we played I got banned from the BBC bar because I
still had my punk head on at the time. I had an argument with one of the top guys there.
He pushed in front of me at the bar and I had a go at him and then they threw me out.
After the show, I was that drunk that I thought it was a live gig and I was looking for
the back stage entrance trying to find out where the band was. Most of the band were
pretty heavy drinkers at the time. I seem to remember that Brad (the drummer) was pretty
It was great fun in the early days, but they kept us working and
working. The problem was that we werent really school buddies to start with, we were
just musicians from other bands who just happened to get together, so we werent
really that close. Its that closeness that gets bands through all the crap, because
youve been friends for a long time. Since we werent particularly great mates,
then it was a lot harder to keep it going.
your worst memory of that time?
The seaside tour in 1980. A great idea to play all round the
coast of England and wake up every morning and look out your hotel window and see the sea,
but on the day of the start of the tour, Jerry Dammers decided he didnt want to do
it. He was on downers and seeing a doctor and was cracking up due to personal things and
just pressure, I guess. So I said to everyone else, oh bugger him, why dont we get
the sax player, who also played keyboards, to do his parts and go without Jerry. That
didnt go down too well. But Jerry got better and did the tour anyway. Jerry would
tend to throw wobblers if he didnt get his own way. So to try and get my own
material or input noticed, I had to throw as big a wobbler as him, which wasnt
always the best thing to do.
it important for you to get your material noticed?
Yes because Ive always written a lot of songs.
Thats the main reason why I re-joined the present line-up, or played in local bands
or my own groups. Unfortunately my own projects never got the same kind of distribution as
The Specials did.
But Im not very pushy. I dont like dealing with the
suits. Some people are good at it, and will do anything to get their own way, but I
dont find it very pleasant, because I automatically dislike those people, which is
not very helpful.
In the early days we did a load of
gigs in Los Angeles, two shows a night for 4 days at the Whisky-A-Go-Go. On this
particular night, we came off stage after the last gig and the business suits from the
record company turned up. We were all hot and sweaty and one of them said to me, "Oh
I love that song of yours On My Radio (a Selecter song!)" and "could
you teach me how to pogo?" That shows how much they knew about us as a band.
They wanted us to put our stage clothes back on and pose with
them for a photo and Jerry, who was really tired just told them all to Fuck off!
Then the rest of us joined in with him. Jerry had also done an interview with the Los
Angeles Times, which is the newspaper in California and when asked how he
liked America, he told the interviewer that hed had more fun on a school trip to
Russia. When the record company read that they stopped pushing the record. Whereas if
wed all shook hands and had our photograph taken with them, we would probably all
have big bank accounts and mansions in the countryside, instead of being poor as piss
(much mutual laughter!). But it felt great at the time telling them to F-off!
your favourite Specials album?
The last one we just did! Its got more songs that I
you get on with Terry Hall?
Yes he was all right. He was a very quiet person, he
wasnt one of the lads type. I liked having a few beers in the bar, but Terry would
sooner sit quietly somewhere with his girlfriend back then. Its just different
people and different ways of dealing with things.
did you feel when Terry, Lynval, and Neville split away and formed Fun Boy Three?
If you went and interviewed everyone in the band, then
probably each person would remember it differently. Id been told that my days in the
band were numbered by Lynval on the way home, after a big outdoor gig in Leeds. He said
that Jerry was thinking of sacking me, because I was still causing problems in the band.
Its horrible really because when you read that book about the TwoTone Story,
Rick Rogers, our old manager makes me out to be like some kind of thug, threatening to
smash Jerrys face in and taking swings at him with my guitar on stage, which is half
true, but it wasnt quite as dramatic as all that. As you know managers tend to blow
things up to make a good story.
We were playing a gig in Birmingham once, in the very early days
and I walked on stage and it seemed like all of a sudden everybody in the band had suits
on and had gone for the mod image, which Jerry had borrowed from Paul Simenon of the
Clash. Paul Simenon used to wear rude-boy gear when he wasnt on stage and Jerry had
seen this and thought, yeah that will work, so we all had to wear these suits, which I
wasnt particularly keen on at the time.
So later when we had a bit of money, we bought the kind of gear
that we wanted to wear. The whole band was made up of individuals and we all dressed
differently and had different ideas. I bought a leather jacket and Lynval would wear his
soul gear. When we turned up for a photo session, Jerry would always pick on Horace and
say, I think youre wearing the wrong clothes, when what he really meant
was that everybody looked wrong. We all had to go back to the hotel and get changed, so we
could put on something a bit more in keeping with the image of the band. Then Jerry came
out of his hotel room wearing a tartan suit and a tartan hat. We were all pretty peeved
about this after him trying to tell us to dress in the band image.
For example there was another incident when we were in Blackpool.
Jerry jumped up on this wall and I pretended to push him and it was about a 100ft behind.
Then he accused me of trying to kill him. I said to him at the time, look Jerry if
Id meant to kill you, then Id have killed you. It was just a joke, because I
was really wound up.
Before all that Jerry and I were best buddies, we used to go to
parties and hang out with each other a lot, but when it came to the songs and stuff, it
was more a case of if you dont tow the line then
.. (long pause!).
Jerry had very definite ideas about where the band should go and
the way I was leaning wasnt the same.
that difference of opinion upset you at the time?
Yes it drove me round the bend. We were all under a lot of
pressure, because it all happened so quickly.
do you think that Fun Boy Three split away?
After that Leeds gig I mentioned, everyone had their own
thing going on. I had my own band on the side The Tearjerkers and everyone was
doing demoes of their stuff. And I guess that Neville, Terry and Lynval decided their
stuff was good enough to do on their own. We all thought we were getting to be big boys
and could manage to do it on our own, without Jerrys guidance. The press in England
had decided that Jerry was the genius behind it all and that actually messed Jerry up
quite a lot.
you think the competition between all of you was a healthy thing?
Well that is what made the band
what it was. Everyone was different, I thought I was playing in The Clash, Horace
thought he was playing in Little Feat or whatever band he was into at the time,
Lynval thought he was in a reggae/soul band and Terry thought he was in The Cure.
All those different influences actually managed to work and make the sound of the
Elvis Costello was brought in to produce the first album
and he told the band to sack me at the time, because he thought my style of playing
wouldnt fit in. Hed heard the early ska stuff, like the Skatalites and he said
that he didnt hear a punk/rock and roll guitar working with that sound, so he
decided I was wrong. But that was the whole point of the band, we were a mixture of things
and that mixture worked.
did it become clear that everyone in the band was pulling in different directions?
From the very start really!
you feel the times were against you?
In Coventry everybody had cut their hair and were suddenly
playing ska, because there was an opening there and you cant blame people for
thinking that way.
Q You dont appear on the Specials AKA album, In The
Studio except for a guitar solo on Racist Friend. Why was that?
John Shipley was the guitarist on that album and he couldnt
play that bit, so they used my track off a demo Id done earlier. The press said that
Id returned to the fold when they heard that one track, which was untrue.
it upset you that you didnt carry on with Jerry?
No, I wanted to do something completely different, which was
the reason why I formed The Tearjerkers in 81. It was what Id always
been into and I thought I could do it. I spent eight years with that band and failed
miserably. But we had a lot of fun. Unfortunately we were in competition with the likes of
Duran Duran and if you didnt have brilliant production then you didnt do so
well. So me trying to turn the clock back to the early days of rock and roll didnt
work. We built up a big following, but the kids whod been into 2-Tone werent
particularly into it.
you think that being associated with 2-Tone has held everything back for you?
Yes, The Tearjerkers had to play Concrete Jungle and Rat
Race, because people came to hear those songs and since Id written them, I had to
play them. Also I didnt want to use the name Roddy Radiation, but the manager
disagreed. So we went along with it.
about your other band The Bonediggers?
That was a similar kind of situation. I tried again in the
early 90s with The Bonediggers, but didnt have much success. That carried on
until I joined the reformed Specials.
did you re-join the Specials in 95?
We were asked to back Desmond Dekker on an album and to get
together as many of the original band as possible. That line-up became the re-formed
Specials. Then we were offered two weeks in Japan, and the money was really good. It was
the first time wed been back on stage for 15 years and it didnt seem that
different. It was still working well, even though some members werent there. Then we
were offered more work in America, but at that particular time nobody had decided to make
it an on-going thing. After the tour of the US, it all started looking like it might be a
second chance. I thought it was a chance to get some more of my songs out. Most of the
rest of the band were thinking lets just play the old stuff and make a living.
did you feel when the covers album Todays Specials came out?
I was about to leave. I was totally disgusted with it.
decision was it to release it?
The idea was that it was supposed to be like UB40s
Labour of Love album. Lynval and say half the band thought it was a good idea,
but I said at the start, that to come out with a covers album and call ourselves The
Specials was a bad move and I was proved right afterwards, because the press completely
did you want to call the band?
Me and Horace wanted to call it Specials2.
But obviously record companies and promoters wanted us to use the name of The Specials,
because it would be stronger business-wise. That didnt make Jerry very happy. At
first he said he didnt mind us doing it, but when we got offered a record deal he
changed his mind. He phoned me up to moan about it. He was just afraid that we might do
well without him. Anyway he didnt want to do it. He hated touring and hated America
and so it wouldnt have been possible for him to do it. Also Terry Hall was doing so
well in his own career at the time that he didnt want to do it either. I enjoyed it
because it gave me a chance to sing, which was quite nice.
about the latest Specials album, Guilty Til Proved Innocent, were
you more pleased with that?
All the songs I wrote on that album were written before we
re-formed. I wrote Bonedigging, Tears In My Beer and Man with No Name.
The rest of the material was written between us. It took about 4 weeks to record it in Van
Nuys, which is a rough area of Los Angeles. It was weird having to live with each other
for all that time.
Neville had got in with the manager of Waycool Records at MCA,
who had very definite ideas about what we should be doing, so that was always a battle. He
was very bossy and we had a few problems with him and thats why the album never got
world-wide distribution. It only came out in America and Japan. Everyone in the business
knows that a band is continually battling against record companies, because they always
think they know better than you do. But Neville went along with the record company guys,
because he thought they were right.
did you find touring?
It was hard work. The Warp
Tour last year was all open air gigs. I dont like playing outside very much,
especially at midday in hot temperatures in Arizona or somewhere like that. Rancid
was on that tour and had been influenced by us having grown up listening to us and I used
to play with them on stage sometimes. Also me, Lynval and Neville did a track on
Rancids last album; that was good fun. In Europe we mostly played in the rain. We
were getting worn out, because we were twice the age of most of the other bands. Most of
the other bands had flash luxury buses and loads of tour support, whereas we had the worst
tour bus and no money back-up from the record company. That was a bit strange. But we
still went down a storm and mostly ended up headlining the shows, because none of the
other bands could follow us, but it takes it out of you. It was basically The Specials and
Rancid that ruled the tour.
do you think of Third Wave Ska?
I get on well with most of the bands. I like the ska/punk
bands more, like the Suicide Machines in Detroit appealed more to me than the ones who try
to sound like the 2Tone bands. The Bosstones are good and mix it up a lot more.
you wish that The Specials organised themselves more like Madness, and just re-formed once
a year to do a huge London gig and collect the money?
No, I always thought we meant more than that. I thought it
was more of a political and social thing, which is very hard to keep together in this
you think those ideas are hard to get across to todays audience?
I dont know, Im not sure that kids today care
whether the stance is working class anymore. I think kids today like to see their
heroes in limos and have mansions in the countryside, which weve never had. In the
early days, Jerry refused to travel in limos. Often wed have to move out of hotels,
because Jerry thought the hotel was too posh for us. That was going a bit far.
are you doing in the future?
Im having a break at the moment. Im trying to put
together a skabilly band right now, probably called Roddy Radiation and the Skabilly
Rebels; perhaps with some local musicians. I also did some work with Neville recently
around California, that was fun, but I think we need a break from each other for a while.
Im doing a couple of gigs soon with a Leamington ska band called Skaboom, just
because I like to play.
Well thats it for this week. Next week I shall be reviewing two acoustically
based bands, Smoking Joe's Café and The Somethings.
E-mail me at email@example.com if you know of a good band that you think I should see.
Till then adios amigos and may all the bands you see be good!!!
ALSO THIS WEEK: ENDLESS KNOTT