Roddy “Radiation” Byers, known originally for his role as The Specials‘ lead guitarist, has now stepped into the spotlight with his own band, The Skabilly Rebels, known for its distinct mix of ska rhythms with rockabilly.
Byers’ first real band, The Wild Boys, was formed in Coventry in 1975. It was with this band that he wrote and first performed “Concrete Jungle,” which was recorded by The Specials for their debut album in 1979. The Specials’ version of “Concrete Jungle” was eventually released as a single by Chrysalis Records.
Byers joined The Specials at its conception, when it was still called The Coventry Automatics, and wrote several songs for the band. The most successful of his singles was “Rat Race”, which peaked at number five in the UK singles charts in May 1980.“Hey Little Rich Girl” appeared on The Specials’ second album, More Specials, which was released in October 1980, and has been covered by many other famous musicians, such as Pauline Black of The Selecter and Amy Winehouse. “Hey Little Rich Girl”was also released as a 7” single in Japan by Chrysalis Records in 1980.
While with The Specials, Byers sang the lead vocal on “Concrete Jungle” and on the track“Braggin’ and Trying Not to Lie,” which was released as a free single with initial copies of the More Specials album. Additionally, “Braggin’ and Trying Not to Lie” was credited as Roddy Radiation & The Specials.
After The Specials split in 1981, Byers re-emerged with The Tearjerkers, a band that he had begun in the last months of The Specials. Byers threw himself wholeheartedly into The Tearjerkers, resulting in the band notching up an impressive number of gigs and a cult following. The band originally consisted of Roddy Byers (vocals/guitar), Mark Byers(vocals/guitar), Joe Hughes (vocals/bass), Pete Davies (Drums), and Slim Tearjerker, aka Clive Pain (vocals/keys/accordion). The Tearjerkers were signed by Chiswick Records in 1982, with whom they released their 7″ vinyl Desire, backed by the track“Western Song.” They also released an EP themselves which was sold on tour, containing the songs “Desire,” “Western Song,” “Tears In My Beer,” and “Nothing Lasts Forever.” After six years in action, the band split up in 1987.
The Bonediggers, with their rawer, hard-edged rockabilly style, were formed shortly after the Tearjerkers ended in 1987. The band released a self-titled album on Rimshot Records the following year. The band consisted of Roddy Radiation (vocals/guitar), David West(vocals/guitar), Sam Smith (bass), and Gary Muldoon (drums), later replaced by Jim Pryall. Byers still plays with Sam Smith to this day in The Skabilly Rebels. The Bonediggers would transition into The Raiders, shortly before Byers reunited with several members of the Specials to form The Specials MK2.
Byers was an essential part of The Specials MK2, who reformed in the early 90s after teaming up with Desmond Dekker for the King Of Kings album. With Byers sharing the lead vocal position with Neville Staples, the group toured for a couple of years throughout the UK, America, and Japan. They released two singles: “Hypocrite,” and a cover ofToots & the Maytals’ “Pressure Drop.” The band recorded two albums – 1996’s Today’s Specials, a compilation of covers, and 1998’s Guilty ’til Proved Innocent! which was made up of original material. Byers contributed the songs “Tears in My Beer,”“Bonediggin’,” “Keep on Learning” and “The Man with No Name” for the Guilty ’til Proved Innocent! album.
After The Specials MK2 period ended, Byers worked with the acoustic project Three Men & Black which consisted of major UK music names such as Jake Burns (Stiff Little Fingers), Pauline Black (The Selecter), Dave Wakeling (The English Beat, General Public), and Nick Welsh (Skaville UK).
Byers’ current band, The Skabilly Rebels, are based in Coventry, featuring Roddy Radiation on lead guitar and vocals, Sam Smith (The Bonediggers) on rhythm guitar, Paul Ayriss (The Tone/Ex-Cathedra/The Spitters) on drums, Mac (Travis Cut /The Pharaohs) on bass, Jay Jones (Lee Perry) on keyboards and Drew Stansall (Laurel Aitken/Prince Buster/Rico Rodriguez) on sax. Later, Paul Ayriss would be replaced by Matt Hart on drums, and Drew Stansall would depart from the band. At the end of 2008, The Skabilly Rebels released their debut album, Blues Attack!, with 14 original Byers-penned tunes, all with the distinctive “skabilly” sound the band has become well-known for.
Though 2009 brought Byers back to the Specials for a reunion tour, he continues to write, record, and gig with the Skabilly Rebels, including playing venues such as the Skabour Festival, the 100 Club in London, and the 2-Tone Central Museum in Coventry.