Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think
Enjoy yourself, while you’re still in the pink
The years go by, as quickly as you wink
Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself,
It’s later than you think—The Specials (1980)
Those words were my mantra growing up in the 80’s. These are simple yet profound words of ‘Enjoy Yourself’ by the Specials, a 2-tone ska band from Coventry, England who debuted in 1978. I loved all kinds of 80’s music, but discovering ska was like meeting the love of your life as a teen. Even if the relationship didn’t work out, the infatuation would remain for the rest of my life.
Ska originated in Jamaica in the late 1950’s, and was the precursor to rocksteady and reggae. This upbeat genre combined elements of calypso with American jazz, rhythm and blues. In the early 1960’s, ska was the dominant music genre of Jamaica and popular with British mods. The second wave of ska, originated in Coventry, England in the late 70’s and was a fusion of punk rock, reggae and rock steady. The songs usually had a strong political, social and racial message, with a strong upbeat horn section. The horn section is pivotal to the music and that is what I love most about ska bands. The sound pulses threw me and instantly I get shivers down my spine. The sax? Humdinger. A man who can dance with a sax is equivalent to Avenue32.com granting me free clothing and shoes, delivered to my doorstep accompanied by a life time supply of Veuve Clicquot and Humboldt Fog cheese.
Back in the 80’s, I embraced the rarefied fashion style of the 2-tone ska scene. While the music attracted all walks of life like skin heads, mods and punks, it was the rude boys and rude girls I identified with most. The typical uniform was clean cut, sharp, fitted and sensible. The guys usually wore suits with skinny ties, loafers, flat top haircuts, pork pie hats, fedoras and a closetful of Ben Sherman and Fred Perry polos. Girls preferred a 60’s look with mini skirts, in black and white checked patterns, V-neck sweaters, Fred Perry polos, and Doc Martins. You’d see these boys and girls slobbering all over a souped up Vespa scooter.
The Specials toured the US in 2010 for their 30th anniversary, but I couldn’t make it to any of the shows. So when they came around this year, there was no way, come hell or high water (think Superstorm Sandy), I would miss them.
The Stone Pony, the iconic music venue in Asbury Park on the Jersey shore, hosted The Specials on July 20th. I was completely beside myself that I would finally get to stare at and drool over front man and style icon Terry Hall. And I was equally excited to meet the fans and photograph them. I knew the fashion would be amazing and transport me back to the Lower East Side of New York in the 80’s.
I attend a lot of shows, but rarely do I get the opportunity to see so many punks, skinheads, mods, rude boys, rude girls, freaks and stylish people all in one space. I loved every second of navigating the venue and schmoozing with fans. The energy was electric, enthusiasm was unbridled and I overheard people exuberantly reminiscing over the Specials in the 80’s.
(mouse over the slide show to play or stop. Check out some Specials fans.)
I usually head to the stage early to secure a spot, but this time I was out of luck. I was so engrossed with photographing the fans that I arrived too late and ended up at the far end of the stage. The East Coast was experiencing a heat wave and that night was particularly unbearable with an indoor temperature of 95 degrees. Lucky for me, I came prepared with a fan so I could make it through. What transpired next amazed me. After the band was greeted with loud cheers, the lead singer, Terry Hall, strutted onstage in a SUIT! WHAT??!! A suit in the blistering heat? Now that’s stalwart fashion style. Leave it to Terry to stick to his Coventry Rude Boy roots and appear in a suit. HOT DAMN!
To see better images check out their show at Pier 26 in NYC July 17th, only a couple of days before their gig at the Stone Pony. Terry is sporting his suit.
As for my music festival outfit choice, I initially chose checkered tights, a yellow ombre skirt and a vintage red neck scarf. But the weather won out and I went more casual–a top with a plunging back, paper thin leggings, brogues and a fedora.
The Specials kicked off the evening with ‘Do the Dog‘, a super charged drum pounding beat calling all rebels to ‘Keep on fighting ’till you’re dead.’ By the fifth song, ‘the Rat Race‘ a social commentary about working in the ‘rat race’ as a waste of time, I was covered in sweat and beer. I didn’t mind though, because “Doesn’t Make it Alright‘ a commentary about race relations was next. How foreboding-fast forward in the US, we are still experiencing the same challenges regarding race that plagued England then and continues to this day.
Doesn’t make it allright (1979)
Just because you’re nobody
It doesn’t mean that you’re no good
Just because there’s a reason
It doesn’t mean it’s understood
It doesn’t make it alright
It doesn’t make it alright
It’s the worst excuse in the world
And it, it doesn’t make it alright
Just because you’re a black boy
Just because you’re a white
It doesn’t mean you’ve got to hate him
It doesn’t mean you’ve got to fight
The night got better when they sang my favorite song, the heavily reggae influenced – ‘Do Nothing‘ with these words that always seemed to be written for me:
Each Day I walk along this lonely street
Trying to find, find a future
New pair of shoes are on my feet
Cos’ fashion is my only culture
Nothing ever change, oh no
Nothing ever change
People say to me just be yourself
It makes no sense to follow fashion
How could I be anybody else
I don’t try, I’ve got no reason
My next favorite was the second to last, “Ghost Town“- a song fueled by the despair of high unemployment in England, rioting, racial tension and Thatcherism. This is all sung in a haunting reggae beat with jazz chords, horns blaring, to the wailing back drop of someone who has gone mad. According to keyboardist Jerry Dammers, it was “supposed to sound a bit Middle Eastern, like a prophecy of doom.” Doom indeed, and menacing to boot.
The finale was ‘Enjoy Yourself‘, ironically, something most of us neglect to do. On that night, fans gathered to sing, cheer, laugh and savor the brilliance of a band that will leave a mark in music history.
That evening I had an amazing time dancing with close friends. After the show, we crossed the street to stroll on the boardwalk restored after Hurricane Sandy. Breathing in the ocean air was so good though the heavy humidity was so palpable. With a cold beer in hand, I smiled thinking about the timelessness of great music which made its greatest impact on me during my teen and early adult years. The Specials sounded amazingly energetic. Terry Hall wasn’t jumping all over the place like the rest of the members. Then again, that is not his thing. Angelo Moore, front man of Fishbone, he is not. However, the entire concert was solid, performing songs everyone came to hear and cheer.
Thank you, Specials, for bringing me back to my high school years when I was ‘Too Much Too Young‘, skanked with ‘tude to my most treasured vinyl albums, with great hair and the raddest clothes any 16 year old could sport.