November 28th, 2011

Time Out Interview, November 3-9 2011

John ‘Brad’ Bradbury tells Eddy Lawrence about growing up in the Detroit of the UK and living with political déjà vu

Unlike many of the other outfits currently supplementing their non-existent pensions with reunion tours, The Specials seem to have been conjured out of the ether by current events. Britain, it seems, has gone crazy for the pearl jubilee of their depressing masterpiece ‘Ghost Town’, reviving trends like economic depression, social injustice and burning sportswear shops to mark the occasion.
This week the Two-Tone stalwarts play the last London show of their reformation. Unlike their previous dates, deliberately booked for multiple nights in smaller venues, this is being up scaled to the 10,000 capacity Alexandra Palace so
everyone has a chance to give them a good send-off. However, as member John ‘Brad’ Bradbury
informs us, there’s almost certainly more to come from the band, who are
currently kicking around ideas for new material—their first since the group split properly in 1984—which will likely facilitate future one-off gigs. Plus, as he explains, the band still has plenty to say.

Your comeback has been, sadly, very fitting for the times. How does it feel to still be so relevant?
‘I honestly think that the socio-political message that we put together in our early original days is at the same value as it was then. I don’t think much has changed. Our live intro film starts with a picture of Thatcher and ends with a picture of Cameron, and they get the same degree of boos, which is quite interesting. It’s like being “Ghost Town” on tour. If anything, it’s worse now than it was then. To put it quite simply, things haven’t improved; we’re on the cusp of a massive recession. So, here we go again. We’re out there doing it, and I don’t think its anachronistic, I think it’s doing the same as we were doing back in ‘79 to ‘81—it’s got the same power and the same meaning now as it did then.’

Were you expecting to see riots again?
‘It was obvious that something was going to happen sooner or later, and the social network situation helped it
happen as well. My wife, Emily— she was really worried —I mean, we live in North London, and we were away from it, but we were watching it on TV and it was like it was round the corner. I said, look, this’ll be like a bad nightmare after the weekend, and it was; by Friday it was just like a bad bloody dream. The actual violence, fires and looting had gone away, but the underlying problem hasn’t, that’s still very much there. So what do l think about the riots? I think they happened and l think we’ve got to learn from them, big time. They’ll go down in history, quite heavily chronicled, as a bad turn of events.’

At the same time, the coverage has tended to focus on the most extreme fringes on all sides of the debate, whereas the majority of the generation being blamed for the trouble is eminently sensible.
‘Way back in ‘76 1 used to work for an organisation in Coventry, called the Community Education Project. They would go round teaching English as a second language to the immigrant kids in Coventry. And it was some of the best- times of my life, that was—Coventry being multicultural, one of the original cosmopolitan areas. There was such an attitude towards immigration in those days, but when you work with people, you teach kids from different backgrounds, different cultures, you realise that they’re really good souls. But it’s only the fringe stuff that people are interested in and that people get to see. I think the kids are all right.’

In some respects, in those days Coventry seems to have been the Memphis of the Midlands… ‘Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. I bang on about this but the fact is, when I was seven or eight, my family’s friends from West Indian backgrounds, from the subcontinent backgrounds, they were playing diverse music and I was listening to it from an early age. So, for me, Coventry was a wonderful place to grow up. It put me on the right track musically and also taught me how l want to talk to people, what I want to, if you like, “preach” to people about multiculturalism. And when you say Memphis, you might as well include soul, an area of music that Coventry was known for as well. There’s reggae music and bhangra music. It was like the Detroit of the UK almost, with the cars. Most of my family worked on the car track there. I have tremendously good memories from then. Musically, it was a tremendous place to grow up,
no doubt about it’

At the moment the political narrative Is that multiculturalism Is breaking down…
‘I don’t get this. I don’t get this at all. My mum was a shop steward until she retired and beyond. Working for GEC in Coventry, she was very sort of Labour orientated. She spent a lot of time helping people, immigrant workers, you know, with their plight. All the people I’ve met and all the things I’ve had to deal with, including working with The Community Education Project, has made me a better fucking person. And I know that I’ve got a wider view on life from that, not a narrower one, so I’m all for it. It brought me to the conclusion that we need to come together and not split apart.’