Big Thanks to Steve of Special Duties for making great music and granting me this Interview
Interview with Steve Duty
According to urban Legend – you were going to be called Expelled but found a box of badges with “Special Duties” on them and figured it made more sense to call yourselves Special Duties – is this true? And if so where do you think that box of pins came from? Another punk band?
Yes, the urban legend is true. Steve (Arrogant) and I had decided on the name Expelled but then another Colchester punk got hold of some pins from a small school in Colchester which were used to identify the children who were doing extra work as mentors or head boys and girls I think. It just seemed easier to change the band name at that time to Special Duties as we had a few hundred pins to give out to the local punks and publicize ourselves.
How old were you when you got into punk and what were your favorite bands at the time?
was 15 when I got into Punk in 1977. I was still at school and used to listen to a DJ called John Peel (RIP) on the biggest radio station in the UK, Radio One. Peel did a late night show and Arrogant and I used to listen and record the shows most nights on our Radio Cassette players. The next morning on the way to school we used to listen to the tracks we liked the most. New Rose by The Damned was my favorite at the time, Spiral Scratch EP by The Buzzcocks, The Ramones, The Adverts, London, The Clash and The Pistols all featured as bands we liked at the time.
How was the scene in Colchester back in those days? Can you explain to punk rockers born in the 90s and beyond how it was back then?
The early days the scene in Colchester was amazing. We were only 60 miles from London so we spent plenty of time on the train going to some early gigs at The Roundhouse, The Hope and Anchor, 100 Club, The Marquee etc We have a University in the town, Essex Uni and that ran loads of gigs too. We were also friendly with the Punks from Chelmsford, another town also in Essex, so we all traveled around to see bands like The Adverts, 999, The Lurkers, The Damned, X-Ray Spex, The Buzzcocks, The Clash, The Boys, Penetration etc. We were at gigs most weekends and practicing during the week. It was a brilliant time.
I mentioned in the article I did on you guys that I felt that when Crass came along they really split the punk scene into two – the militant hippy punks and the punks who didn’t give a fuck – do you think that this is a fair assessment or do you reckon it was not as black and white as that?
We said at the time and in the lyrics to Bullshit Crass that they were the first to say Punk is Dead. We were offended by that and came out and said so. The Crass followers got labelled as Militant Punks, Crusty Punks, Hippy Punks and I don’t know if that was fair. We also got labelled as an Oi Punk and a Street Punk band at the time too. It seemed like everyone was trying to divide Punks and give everyone sub labels. Special Duties, The Partisans, Abrasive Wheels, Blitz, GBH, Discharge, The Exploited might have been playing a slightly different style of Punk to some of the so called Crass bands at the time, but it was all still Punk to me.
We were just annoyed that Crass took it upon themselves to say Punk is Dead and assumed that everybody would be OK about it! We said Fight Crass not Punk and by that we just wanted people to kick back and understand that Crass could not dictate to them. Punk was and is a scene to enjoy for some people, a way of life, or a state of mind for others and who were Crass to dictate when it ended.
Did you ever run into any of Crass at any point after the single came out? If so how did it go? I was once staying at the same hotel as Chumbawumba in Germany and they wouldn’t even look at me during breakfast – ha ha
Yes we did. We were both playing in the North of England and the band plus our two roadies had stopped at some services to grab some food. As we sat eating our full English Breakfast in walked Crass and their support bands. There was a lot of them! They spotted us straight away and came over and started giving us grief about Meat being Murder and generally being abusive. We got up from the table more than happy to take them on but they soon backed off and eventually they left. When we got outside to where our vans was parked, they were in their vans waiting for us. Ignorant asked Arrogant if he could “have a word” so they walked off for a while and stood together and talked. Afterwards Steve said nothing much had been said but later when we were driving home, Steve said Ignorant had said if we didn’t stop with all this Bullshit Crass stuff he’d break Steve’s legs. Steve decided not to tell us at the time as he knew we’d have had a punch up with them there and then. We never got to see them again after that….
Any comment on Steve Ignorant’s “super group” Crass formation and recent world tour?
Ignorant’s been singing Crass songs with a group of musicians behind him and if people want to pay money to watch, it’s their decision. It’s not something I would pay money to see.
How did the deal with Rondlet come about and in what ways did they try and mess with the band?
Rondolet came and watched one of our gigs and wanted to sign us. We were young and not sure what we were signing, so looking at it now the contract was horrible and it means we’ve never seen any money. We’re still battling with them now for some money all these years later. In terms of recording, Rondolet let us run things. We found the studios we wanted and hired our own producer Mike Stone who ran Clay Records, the label Discharge and GBH were on. We liked the guitar sound Mike had with Discharge and so we brought him in on The Police State EP and for the album ’77 in 82′ and he made a real difference to the sound of the band. Sadly Mike died in 2002 having worked with many great Punk bands as well as band like Asia, Blue Öyster Cult, Foreigner, Journey, KISS, Queen, Lou Reed and others. He was a good guy.
What made you guys choose The Boys “First Time” as a cover? (great choice BTW)
Arrogant and I loved The Boys, a great band live and should have been much bigger. We loved the guitar work and harmonies in tracks like I Don’t Care so we decided that First Time would be a great track for us to play if we made it faster and gave a bit more balls to the vocals. Straight away it became a firm favorite with the crowds at our gigs. Still today everyone joins in with the chorus and it’s a great one to get the crowd involved
Do you think if the records distributors back in the day had been more supportive would you guys have made another record back then?
Yes we would. Police State and ’77 in 82′ had done really well and sales were good, but after the release of Bullshit Crass everyone closed ranks on us and that made carrying on very difficult. Punk Rocker is a firm favorite with everyone, but it wasn’t well distributed at the time for that reason. It’s a shame that those people didn’t allow us the free speech many of them saw as their right isn’t it!
What do you think has been more responsible for some of the classic 80’s bands getting back together – the re-issue of classic album on cd (with bonus material 7” tracks etc or the advent of the Internet?
The catalyst for getting the band back together in ’95’ was the release of the Duties back catalog on CD. I was still playing my old Punk vinyl at that time and didn’t even own a CD player! At that time we found interest in Special Duties was bigger than ever and the internet had certainly taken us to a greater audience than ever before. Sites like your own are a great source of information for some of the Punks born later and this led them to buy CD’s and back catalog material which they would not have found without the internet. We know some bands have sited us as the inspiration for them forming their own bands after hearing our old stuff or after seeing us on Youtube, so both have proved to be really important in keeping the interest in Punk alive and healthy.
What was some of the best memories you have of the old days? Gigs,
We were lucky enough to have played with some of the first Punk groups and most of the ’82’ bands, so we’ve got loads of stories and sharing the stage with all those bands has been amazing when you look back. Playing at Skunx in London and bringing the house down in ’82’ around the time of Police State being released was a stand out moment for me but there we so many great gigs. We just loved it
When did the band reform and what’s been the best gig of Special Duties 2.0?
We got back together in ’95’ and got lots of offers. We did the F**K Reading gig in London at Brixton Academy, the first Holidays in the Sun and they were both great gigs as we got to see all our mates from other bands and watch all the music we all loved in one place. We also toured with The Business across Europe with me on vocals and a friend on bass. Micky Fitz and Steve Whale are as nuts as us, so we had a completely mad tour. Those are my top three.
Other than playing that shithole Cbgbs did you get much of a chance to check out America and or NYC? If so, what did you make of it? A bit different from Essex – eh?
We all love the US. If it was possible for us to tour there every year then we would! We didn’t get as much time as we wanted to look around but bands that we’ve played with and people that we met in the US like Violent Society, The Casualties, The Virus, The Unseen, Banner of Hope, Oppressed Logic, Lisafer, Rikk Agnew and Casey Royer were all brilliant company and we had a lot of fun.
Any plans for a US tour?
We had a brilliant time on the East Coast and in California too and made some great friends. If a promoter wants to give us the chance to tour in the US again we’ll be back! We really hope we get the chance to tour again in the US in 2013.
Any plans for a new album?
Yes. We know that their has been a lot of call for us to write another album, so I’ve written some new material and Bart has too and we will be getting together later in the year to rehearse the songs. We then need to find a good record label who can offer us the right distribution for the album. I’ll let you know more as this develops.
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