I met Horace Panter just short of 10 years ago when we worked together on a charity recording for the Teenage Cancer Trust. Playing with Kevin Eldon, Rat Scabies and Neil Innes we had a right laugh and have continued to work together since. I chatted with him recently about his life in the Specials and beyond..
You’re best known playing bass in The Specials but you do a load of other stuff. Tell us about your artwork for example?
I have a degree in Fine Art. I met Jerry Dammers at art college – always been interested in art. Being in The Specials, I was able to travel a lot and visits ome of the World’s Art Galleries. When we re-formed in 2008 and started doing shows, I started painting again. This developed into a parallel career. I knew The Specials weren’t going to last forever so I thought the art career would eventually take over from the music career, which is what happened, although a bit more abruptly, and sadly, than I would have liked.
You got to Number 1 in the early 80s and again in 2019. How different were those experiences?
I think ‘back in the day’ it was incredibly exciting. We were young, we were on a mission, we could leap tall buildings with a single bound. In 2019 we knew what we were dealing with. You still had to turn right when you boarded the plane. It was very satisfying but a lot more measured. Been there. Done that. When are they serving the meal (chicken or beef Sir?… I’ll have the beef)?
How did the first reformation gig in 2008 feel for you after so long?
The only gig we did in 2008 was at Bestival on the Saturday afternoon. It had belted down with rain the whole afternoon and nobody at the festival knew we were playing. We went on stage to a pretty sparse crowd. After the first few bars the people started coming. Play and they will come! By the time we’d finished, the place was rammed, and everyone was going bonkers… fuck me!
It’s The Specials! It was pretty wild. On the Monday I was back in school teaching. I handed my notice in.
You worked as a special needs teacher for 10 years from 1998. Was it good for the soul?
I had no idea that The Specials would re-form, and I thought that I would retire as an art teacher. I very fortunately landed a job at one of Coventry’s special needs’ schools and eventually became an art teacher. When it was good it was great. When it wasn’t… it wasn’t. I had a really supportive head teacher who helped me to navigate the minefield of teaching and admin. The other plus was that once a month, an amount of money, sufficient to cover my mortgage, bills, and food, appeared in my bank account, which after being self-employed and never being sure of when and how much money was coming in, was a godsend.
You left Coventry a few years ago. Do you often go back? And how do you now feel about the place now?
We moved out of Coventry in 2020, just before the Covid pandemic, to a village outside Warwick. I don’t go back that often, but I never spent an enormous amount of time in the city centre anyway. I’ve always been a small- town kid. We preferred Leamington, Warwick, and Stratford on Avon. Coventry has changed considerably since the 3 years I’ve not lived there. A lot of new student accommodation, and, of course, the City of Culture business.
You play in the Dirt Road Band with members of Doctor Feelgood & The Beat. How did that all come about?
The Dirt Road Band is the brainchild of Steve Walwyn, Leamington Spa resident who I’ve known for over 40 years. He was, until recently, the longest serving guitar player with Dr Feelgood. Before that, he’d played with other Blues artists, including a stint with Steve Marriot. He approached me about 5 years ago with the idea of a trio with Coventry drummer, Ted Duggan, who I’d seen but never played with. At the time, it was a side project for Steve and I, but he left Dr Feelgood in 2021 and, of course, The Specials aren’t working anymore. I do other musical stuff, but the Dirt Road Band takes precedent. It’s was fun. I always say it’s the nearest I get to playing Heavy Metal!
You’ve helped me out greatly by playing bass on a number of the tracks on the new Mellotronics album (‘Le Vice Anglais’). Do you generally find it easy to write bass lines? Do you have a philosophy?
Some of those bass lines were rock hard Micko! For me, the bass part has to work for the song, Keep the thing as simple as you can and make sure you lock in with the drummer. I played country music for a while a few years ago and that taught me an awful lot about serving the song. Jaco Pastorius or Stanley Clarke would not work in Nashville.
Our old bandmate Neil Innes (Charity super group – The Spammed), wrote ‘the children of Rock ‘n’ Roll never grow old, they just fade away’. Can you ever imagine a time when you’re not out playing?
Not right now, although weight is now a consideration. I recently purchased some new amplification, simply because it was lighter to carry. Same with guitars. I have some heavy Fenders, but they tend to stay at home, the lighter ones having precedent. The Gibson Thunderbird I play with the Dirt Road Band is as light as a feather. I’ve always interacted physically with the music I play so sitting down to perform is going to be difficult! I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.
You played in a band that had politics integral to their sound. Do you think that politics can take center stage again in a similar way ?
I know very little about contemporary pop music, but I do not, it’s very fragmented. I really doubt whether material would get to a wider audience. In 1979, the music industry was readily available – whether through the Rough Trade network, major labels, and, more importantly, the national music press. Music, obviously, has the power to communicate ideas but I’m doubtful
whether it could have the effect that The Specials did.
Did you manage to spend a bit of time with Terry before his passing?
Terry didn’t want anyone to know of his illness and went incommunicado up until about a fortnight before he died. I’d sent a few emails and got replies but he very much wanted to be on his own and with his family. I managed to say goodbye the day before he died but he was barely conscious. That night, the Dirt Road Band played a charity gig at Southam Sports & Social Club. I played like a motherfucker.
Pre save for Micko & The Mellotronics single
‘Le Vice Anglais’ due 17/11/23
Tickets for the Dirt Road Band 7 th September