‘Playing punk until I drop’

RODDY Byers played a pivotal role in the success of The Specials but was edged out by frontman Terry Hall. He now says he probably should never have been in the band in the first place.

As the lead guitarist with the legendary Two Tone pioneers, he wrote some of their most famous songs, like Concrete Jungle, Rat Race and Hey Little Rich Girl, and played with various incarnations of the band from 1978 right through until 2013.

Roddy Byers has broken away from The Specials to form The Skabilly Rebels, who are coming to Woking in March

He says he was eventually forced to quit after being treated badly by Hall in the latest reformed version of the group.

“Terry was making my life hell,” says Roddy, who’s bringing his latest band, The Skabilly Rebels, to headline the Undercover Festival in Woking on Friday 6 March.

“Terry wanted a world music Funboy Three thing. He got an all-female string section in and complained my guitar was too loud – he even used to say it on stage.

“I was going for a 1960s Vox AC30 sound, he was trying to lose the punk rock and roll element that I put into The Specials. He wanted a more refined sound and to keep me out and obviously that didn’t sit very well with me.

“I was the punk rock and roller and Terry had moved on. He would punch me in the back if I got in his space on stage.”

When The Specials re-formed in 2009, Roddy would sing Concrete Jungle and other songs he had written but he says: “Later Terry decided he wanted to sing and they just turned my mic off.

“It was painful. Eventually, they took my mic away altogether. They didn’t want to know. Then, when Neville Staples left, they asked me to do some backing vocals again, which was funny.”

Looking back, Roddy says he never really fitted in with the band’s mod image.

“I had a leather jacket and spikey hair, but it would clash with the tonic suits,” he recalls. “I shouldn’t have been in the band really. When Elvis Costello came in to produce the debut album he said ‘lose the punk, he doesn’t fit in…’”

Roddy was obsessed with punk before joining The Specials. “The first major Specials tour supporting The Clash was a dream come true,” he says. “I was a big Clash fan, I’d met Joe Strummer in 1976.

“A friend from Coventry had moved to London and called me down. I went to the 100 Club and saw The Clash and the Sex Pistols. We would see The Damned or whatever. 

“I was going to move to London and join a punk band, but I couldn’t get a flat for what I was paying for a house in Coventry. Luckily, the Specials founder Jerry Dammers asked me to play on some demos.”

Roddy is much happier playing with his current band The Skabilly Rebels and says: “It’s basically what I’ve always done. When The Specials were going in the 1980s I started my own thing, The Tearjerkers, as well, it was rock and roll and ska and power punk pop.

“Then, when The Funboy Three quit The Specials in the early ’90s’, I formed The Bonediggers.

“With The Skabilly Rebels I still play a few Specials songs and most of my new stuff is punky rock and roll I guess. I’m not a teenager, so I just play what I like now.

“My father and grandfather played in bands. It’s hard to get it out of your system, I’ll play until I drop.”

Roddy Radiation’s Skabilly Rebels will headline the Undercover Festival at the Fiery Bird, Woking, on Friday 6 March, alongside Chelsea, XSLF, Menace and more. The festival continues on Saturday 7 March with 999, Johnny Moped, Subhumanz and many more.

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