S1 — The Specials
We caught up with Horace ‘Gentleman’ Panter, artist and bass player with The Specials, who recounted how the band’s suited and booted ska man logo was born.
The Specials’ logo — like most things to do with the original incarnation of the band — was dreamed up by Jerry Dammers (aka ‘The General’).
It was based on a 1960s publicity photo of Peter Tosh, posing in a suit and shades, along with the other two members of the Wailers, Bob Marley and Bunny Livingstone. Long, lanky and languid, Tosh was reimagined by Dammers as a sassy, comic-bookalike character, and went on to become the face of the irresistible British ska revival movement in the late 1970s.
“Jerry called his design an impression of an impression of The Impressions,” recalls Panter. (The early Wailers were more of a soul group, paying homage to American acts like Curtis Mayfield’s Impressions.)
“I had a very small hand in it, but the lion’s share was Jerry ... absolutely. People kept asking if the 2-Tone man had a name, and Jerry had this old bowling shirt with ‘Walt Jabsco’ embroidered on the back of it. We thought this sounded suitably silly, so he was duly christened Walt Jabsco.”
Walt Jabsco, unsurprisingly, is most closely associated with The Specials, but was actually applied across the whole 2-Tone label stable, including releases by The Selecter, Madness, The Beat and Rico Rodriguez.
Dammers and Panter met as art students at Lanchester Polytechnic (now Coventry University) before setting sail on the good ship ska, so the pair of them had strong ideas and opinions about the band’s graphic output. In fact, as well as still playing bass for The Specials (who are celebrating their 40th anniversary next year with a tour and new album), Panter now has a parallel career as an artist.
Panter puts the logo’s enduring appeal down to its striking simplicity. “It’s really easy to reproduce … clean lines … black and white … you can draw it on the cover of your rough book at school or your satchel. The logo really summed up what The Specials were about at the time — the shoes and the hats and the suits.”
His only regret is that the band didn’t have the foresight to secure the IP. “We never copyrighted it … we could have made an absolute fortune. The whole world and his friend made badges and T-shirts. They’re probably living it up in a villa in Capri thanks to Walt Jabsco. He developed a life of his own and continues to do so.
“With punk it was about looking revolting as possible … bin bags and safety pins and writing filthy stuff on your jacket. Then 2-Tone came along and it was ‘Mum, can I have a suit for Christmas?’. In the ‘70s, you could pick up second-hand tonic suit for next to nothing. That suit I’m wearing on the cover of the first Specials album set me back £7.50 … it cost me more to get it altered to fit properly.”
That Walt Jabsco has a lot to answer for.
Many thanks to Horace and Clare Panter for their time and help with this post.