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Jerry Dammers, Lynval Golding and Horace Panter formed the band in 1977 as The Automatic, later changing their name to the Coventry Automatics. Terry Hall and Roddy Byers joined the following year, and the name evolved into The Special AKA The Coventry Automatics, then just The Special AKA. When Joe Strummer of The Clash attended one of their gigs, he was so impressed that he decided to invite them on tour to open for their On Parole UK tour. This propelled The Special AKA into the public eye and increased their exposure.

They released their debut single, Gangsters, on Jerry’s on label, 2 Tone Records. The song entered the top 10, and they dropped the ‘AKA’ in their title. They had begun incorporating late 60s fashions into their style, with elements of mod and skinhead looks. Elvis Costello produced their debut album, which contained the single A Message to you, Rudy as well as covers of Prince Buster and Toots & the Maytals songs from the late 60s. In 1980, the single Too Much Too Young went to the top of the singles chart in the UK, increasing demand for The Specials tickets.

Their second album, More Specials, was released and also performed well. The single Ghost Town went to number one in 1981, and they enjoyed a successful Specials tour but shortly after this Lynval, Terry and Neville left the band to form Fun Boy Three. The lineup was shaken up then, with Stan Campbell and Rhoda Dakar added as vocalists. They created the album In the Studio, under the name of the Specials AKA again, which spawned the hit Free Nelson Mandela (UK number nine). After this, Jerry left the band to pursue political activism.

In March 2008, it was announced that the band would reform for The Specials tour dates in autumn that year. They performed at Bestival in September, where they announced more dates for 2009. The Specials 30th Anniversary tour is due to continue in 2011.

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