Jerry Dammers (The Specials)

British musician Jeremy David Hounsell “Jerry” Dammers, was born 22 May 1955 in Ootacamund, Tamil Nadu, South India, He attended King Henry VIII School, Coventry. Dammers was a Mod in the 1960s, then became a hippie, before becoming a skinhead. He had been a member of The Cissy Stone Soul Band, and studied art at Coventry’s Lanchester Polytechnic (now Coventry University), where he met Horace Panter.

He is a founder, keyboard player and primary songwriter of the Coventry, England based ska revival band The Specials, The Special A.K.A. and The Spatial AKA Orchestra. He also founded 2 Tone Records, which helped develop the 1970s/1980s ska revival. He became an anti-apartheid campaigner, helping to create Artists Against Apartheid in the U.S., and writing the song “Free Nelson Mandela” about the jailed African National Congress leader in South Africa. In 1985, in the wake of the Band Aid single, he organised the recording and release of the “Starvation” single, a version of The Pioneers’ 1969 song, in aid of famine relief in Africa, featuring members of The Special AKA, UB40, Madness, The Pioneers, and The Beat. In early 1986, he took part in the Red Wedge tour that also featured The Style Council, The Communards, Junior Giscombe, Lorna Gee and other special guests. He also introduced Simple Minds to producer Tony Hollingsworth and they became the first major act to agree to perform at Hollingsworth’s Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute concert, which was broadcast worldwide from London’s Wembley Stadium, on 11 June 1988. That same year, he briefly played with the re-formed Madness on their single “I Pronounce You” and its attendant album, The Madness.

In October 2000 Dammers received Q Magazine’s Q Merit Award at London’s Park Lane Hotel. Dammers still regularly DJs in English nightclubs, as well as performing with his band, The Spatial AKA Orchestra, playing his own compositions and tributes to Sun Ra and other experimental jazz artists. The band features established jazz musicians Zoe Rahman, Larry Stabbins and Denys Baptiste. They perform in elaborate Ancient Egyptian and outer space-themed costumes, and share the stage with bizarre props such as model alien heads and mummy Sarcophagi. Renowned trombonist Rico Rodriguez also featured in a number of shows.

In November 2006, Dammers was awarded an honorary degree from Coventry University, celebrating by DJing at the launch party of the Coventry branch of the Love Music Hate Racism organisation. In the same month, he attended a private viewing of a Harry Pye curated art exhibition in east London that featured paintings of bands and singers that had once been championed by the late BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel. Dammers read out a four-page poem, in which he thanked Peel for helping his own band, and for supporting black musicians.

Carl Barât of The Libertines included a Dammers composition, “Too Much Too Young”, on his personal compilation album Under The Influence. Pete Doherty, former member of The Libertines, namechecked “What I Like Most About You is Your Girlfriend” on Down in Albion, the first Babyshambles album. The song “Merry Go Round” contains the lyrics “He says, ‘What I like most about you, Pete/Is your girlfriend and your shoes.’” Those who have recorded a song written by Dammers include Tricky (“Ghost Town”), The Prodigy (“Ghost Town”) and Elvis Costello (“What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend”). Dammers has produced singles for Robert Wyatt, The Untouchables, UB40 and Junior Delgado. He contributed “Riot City” to the soundtrack of the Julien Temple film, Absolute Beginners, and “Brightlights” to the compilation album Jamming: A New Optimism.

In April 2014, Dammers received the South African Companions of OR Tambo order in silver award, a national honour, for his role in the anti-apartheid movement and In November 2015 he received an honorary doctorate from Sheffield Hallam University

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