A Special Talent

About which we talk to Specials bassist Horace Panter on art, teaching and not being Status Quo….

Horace PanterTo have one successful and fulfilling career is as much as most of us can hope for. To have three would seem a bit greedy, although if they belong to Horace Panter, aka Sir Horace Gentleman, Specials bass-player, teacher and now exhibited artist, it is, perhaps, excusable. With the Specials latest tour winding down, we spoke to Horace about the band, his painting and the future.

“The tour’s been really, really good. We’ve played bigger venues than before, and we were a bit dubious about them but it’s worked out and we were able to do longer sets. Cardiff and Glasgow were great nights – the Scots especially went mental, and Wolverhampton was also  a great one. Wolverhampton and Coventry are very similar places – they’re both still old-style city centres in the shadow of Birmingham.”

“The European gigs were good as well. The promoters must have thought ‘Ah, the Specials. What should we have supporting them – a band who sound like the Specials.’ It was astounding, we’d play in Milan and we’d have an Italian band who had gone to such obvious pains to faithfully reproduce the old ska sound, then in Stockholm a Swedish band who would do exactly the same. Like having a Toots & the Maytals tribute band with us every night.”

You toured two years ago; is this going to be a regular thing?

“I’ve no idea. We’ll let the dust settle and see what happens.  We don’t want to take the piss though, become like Status Quo and put on the sort of show where people go for their office Christmas party. We want to keep our integrity.”

And new material? Will there be an Even More Specials album?

“I’m not sure. Sometimes we talk about it, but it’s difficult without Jerry (Dammers, the band’s main creative force, who refused to join the reunited band). We did set the barrier pretty high, although while our back catalogue’s a meal ticket it can also be a millstone round our necks. It’s like U2 or Bon Jovi, when they say ‘This one’s from the new album’ and the audience aren’t interested because they want to hear Pride or Living on a Prayer.”

When the tour’s over Sir Horace Gentleman becomes Horace Panter, with an exhibition entitled Robots, Saints and Extraordinary People opening soon at a West End gallery. What caused the transformation?

“I met Jerry at Lanchester Polytechnic, where I was doing an art degree, and it’s a subject that has always fascinated me – when we were touring, the band would hit the hotel bar and I’d hit the local art galleries. Then I spent ten years as an art teacher at a special needs school near Coventry. That made me focus on my appreciation of art and how I could sell it to the children. When I quit teaching to re-join the band I began painting to pass the time and soon had thirty or forty pieces which I had to do something with.”

You’ve obviously enjoyed all your careers, but which would you say was the most important?

“Shit….that’s a difficult one. I’d have to say financially, being in the Specials, for peace of mind painting, with teaching somewhere between the two. I loved teaching, I could bend the rules because I was teaching kids with learning difficulties so I could make lessons more child-centric rather than having to follow rules and get them through exams. “

You’ve been involved in education, as well as entertainment. What’s most important for a child –to enjoy themselves or to be educated?

“You have to qualify education – is it about getting results, or about learning? The two are often confused. I would say education is more important, but you have to bring both together and make education enjoyable.”

What do you want to be remembered for – teaching children or recording Ghost Town?

“That’s another really hard one. Answering that means you have to come to terms with your ego. You never really know….people ask me what I did with children and you won’t know for another 15 years. It’s not until they have children going to school themselves that they might appreciate what their teachers were like. But I’m always that bloke in the Specials.”

Horace Panter’s exhibition Robots, Saints and Extraordinary People is at the Strand Gallery, London, 22nd November-3rd December and then his work is part of the White Christmas X exhibition at the White Room Gallery, Leamington Spa, from 10th December.