Thursday, December 22, 2011

Duff Interview: Paul Willo of the "Specialized: A Modern Take on Specials Classics" Charity Album

Paul "Willo" Williams--author of the essential Specials book "You're Wondering Now - The Specials from Conception to Reunion" (Cherry Red Books), administrator of fantastic official Specials fan website (, and all-out 2-Tone fanatic--is the man behind Specialized: A Modern Take on Specials Classics, a Specials tribute album whose total proceeds are being donated to the Teenage Cancer Trust (a British charity that The Specials supported on their recent reunion tours).

To date, over thirty ska, indie, punk, dance, rap, and rock bands have contributed newly-recorded, never-before-released covers of your favorite Specials cuts (see the band/track list here). The double-CD and digital download will be available for sale in February 2012 through Surely, this release will be of great interest to Specials fans far and wide--and your support will have a direct impact on the lives of teenagers doing their utmost to fight and defeat cancer.

The Duff Guide to Ska: What sparked the idea for doing this charity album to benefit the Teenage Cancer Trust? (Without getting too personal, do you have a connection to this cause that motivated you to do this project?)

Paul Willo: I've always worked with kids in my spare time. I come from a deprived area of York in northern England, became a football coach and used to train these rough 'n' ready kids. I firmly believe that kids, as our future, need nurturing. I don't like seeing them suffer or miss out--and serious illness at a young age is very unfair and cancer at a young age is such a blow, at a time when life is quite tough anyway. You should be living your life and experiencing new horizons, not plugged into a chemotherapy unit. It's awful. So when I realised that The Specials themselves were supporting the charity, I thought it was a great gesture. I then decided on this project, to keep the money going that could help the kids struck down with the disease cope with life that bit better. Having seen and been affected by cancer in its virulent form, anything we can do to help get rid this disease off the planet can only be a good thing. I've also been involved with a local cancer case of a young girl and The Specials contributed to that.

DGTS: How did you select the bands to be included on this album--and what was the criteria? Were any members of The Specials involved in the selection of bands?

PW: I know plenty of bands/artists, so it was never going to be hard to fill. A colleague on the project, Graham Lambert who has been invaluable, has plenty of London and international connections--and things just clicked into gear. Criteria-wise, it was simple: a love of The Specials, the chance to do something really positive, it didn't matter if you played ska. It's almost a showcase compilation, as well. Lots of young bands, crammed with talent. If the compilation helps them as well, brilliant, happy days! As for choosing the bands, none of The Specials were involved. This is a separate project, but I do know that some of them have heard some of the tracks and were over the moon with them. However, we do have the support acts from the last Specials tour, By The Rivers and Stone Foundation on the compilation, along with some of The Specials' brass section in their own bands, and even The Specials keyboard player Nikolaj Torp Larsen is booked in.

DGTS: Was there a particular reason for focusing on UK-based bands? (The Specials are beloved world-wide...and there are ska bands all over the globe.)

PW: No, none at all--it just seemed to work that way. We do have the band Lushy, who are an American lounge style band, and we have a French band called The Dustaphonics. Once the project gained ground, bands came quick and fast and the tracks went in a flash.

DGTS: Please don't take this as a criticism, but what is the thinking behind the inclusion of non-ska covers of Specials' tracks? I realize this potentially increases the appeal of this compilation beyond the ska scene, but were there other reasons for doing this?

PW: Yeah, the main reason was I think that The Specials are regarded in high esteem in many ways, not just for being a ska band. They have a huge legacy that has inspired musicians all over the world to take up a musical path and career and these bands/artists are not all ska acts. They jumped at the chance to say thanks in their own ways and styles, and this a measure of The Specials' depth and popularity--and one that definitely needs highlighting. There are, of course, a good selection of ska and reggae bands, so people won't be disappointed--plus the fact that the Teenage Cancer Trust is such a hard working charity and a great cause to play for that it was a huge band/artist magnet.

DGTS: I realize this is like asking a parent to publicly declare their favorite child, but out of all the tracks on the album, which ones do you like the best or work particularly well (or take The Specials' music in a wonderfully unexpected direction)?

PW: Wow, there are so many! It's been eye-opening, but fantastic to hear. I haven't got all the tracks yet, but The Craven Braves' "Too Hot," Swagga's unique take on "Stupid Marriage," the ear-blistering "Too Much Too Young" by rock outfit Venous Return, Theatre of Ghosts' "International Jet Set," "Enjoy Yourself" by Mr. Bligh, "Why" by Urang Matang. I've heard sneak previews of other tracks like "Gangsters" by The Dustaphonics that I'm really excited about, as well. It's going to be a real festival of music, shall we say. So many great artists, so much great music!

DGTS: How did ex-FYC singer Roland Gift become involved? (And where has he been all these years?)

PW: Well, Roland's addition was a fantastic coup, but not of my making. The band The Values have a member who did the video to one of his tracks "Crushed" and I think they just know him. They chose the track "You're Wondering Now," asked Roland to guest, and there you have it. I was very well chuffed! last I heard he had been recording and acting?

DGTS: Where will fans be able to purchase a digital or physical copy of Specialized?

PW: There will be a download version and a very limited-edition physical double-CD album (we're only able to do this thanks to some fantastic sponsors) with sleeve notes by Horace Panter of The Specials. There will be a launch in Coventry.

DGTS: Are The Specials going to sell this album at their future gigs (assuming they're doing gigs in the coming months)?

PW: No, I very much doubt it. Be nice if they could, but it's not feasible, I'm afraid. But that doesn't dampen the spirits, they know we mean well and have said they hope we can go on to raise lots of money. This project is possibly going to lead on to others as well.

DGTS: Any bits of as-of-yet unannounced Specials' news that you can share with us?

PW: No mate, sorry. The band and management make all the official announcements. We only announce stuff that they ask us to do. Sometimes we get the exclusives, but at the moment it's all very quiet. The odd dates abroad have filtered through, but it's had no official confirmation.

DGTS: Lastly, I've heard a rumor that you're helping King Hammond (aka Nick Welsh) write his this true? (How is his take on "Friday Night, Saturday Morning"?)

PW: Nick--sorry, the King--is doing "Friday Night, Saturday Morning" and it will be a great Hammond rendition. I've heard some of it and it's great. Gonna be a highlight, I reckon. We are devising a biography, the title, "The Life and Times Of a Ska Man (or How to Fail in the Music Business)" will be a cracker. Eye opening, brutally honest--but, by God, hilariously funny.

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