The Specials’ bassist Horace Panter has spoken to Headliner about the band’s live return later this year, new music and last year’s covers album Protest Songs 1924-2012.
On Friday, June 3, the iconic outfit kick off a series of dates across the UK and Europe at Bedford Park. The band’s live return follows the release of Protest Songs 1924-2012 late last year. The covers collection, which includes renditions of songs from the likes of Bob Marley and Talking Heads, was released after plans to get together in person to write material for a new album were waylaid due to the pandemic.
Here, Panter opens up on the concept of the protest song, returning to the live stage, the band’s evolution over more than 40 years, and why The Specials have always had something to say…
Towards the end of 2021 you released a record of covers of protest songs called Protest Songs 1924-2012. How did this come about?
That came out of Covid, really. We’d scheduled to write a new record of new material, then Covid came along, which threw that part of the creative process out of the window. It was a case of ‘what do we do now’? So, we decided on a covers album instead. Covid was very much responsible for us having to think outside the box. And it was a feeble excuse to get the band back together in a room and make some music.
Why these songs, and why this time period?
The Specials have always had something to say – it wasn’t like we wrote songs about fast cars and girls. And 2020 became the year of protest. It was that perfect storm of people being locked up at home, and then the Black Lives Matter thing kicked off in America and went around the world; there was the response to the ‘woke movement’. Protests became a thing again. But obviously protest songs are nothing new, people have been writing them for centuries, so we decided to record some of them. The hardest part was choosing what songs to do.
One of the songs you personally chose to cover was Talking Heads’ Listening Wind. What was the reason for that particular choice? It’s not overtly a ‘protest song’.
I don’t know if Listening Wind is my favourite Talking Heads song but Remain In Light is probably my favourite Talking Heads album. It’s very non-specific, you don’t know what the character in the song Mojique is railing against, you don’t know what country he lives in. It could be that he’s in Marbella and is upset that everyone is building houses for foreigners, or it could be Haiti, it’s non-specific and I really like that. But I wanted to approach it differently and wanted to make it a bit more ‘world music-y’ and I mentioned this to Kendrick [Rowe, drummer] so he said he’d get these guys he knew from Brixton along. And Terry, who is a huge Talking Heads fan, said he couldn’t sing it as it was one of his favourite songs, so we got Hannah Hu to sing it and she nailed it. It became something else. I don’t know if David Byrne wrote it as a protest song, but it has that feeling, and it is quite dark.
How did you go about selecting the rest of the songs?
It was pretty democratic. Between the three of us we had a hit list of 60, which we narrowed down to 30, and then it was narrowed to 15. Then we recorded 13 and released 12.