Friday, November 28, 2008

Stan Campbell - Forgotten voice of one of the greatest protest songs of all time

I distinctly remember the South African divestment protests and sit-ins that rocked my college campus in the late 1980's. As news that our University (along with many other universities and corporations) had money invested in the apartheid regime in South Africa, students demanded that the administration immediately divest. As protesters staged a sit-in in-front of the student center, effectively closing it for a time, the song "Free Nelson Mandela" by The Special A.K.A. played regularly over a sound system that had been brought in.

As an impressionable young ska fanatic, I was deeply affected by the song and it moulded my world outlook and personal politics. I also remember thinking that the song might finally bring the band the recognition they needed to help mount a comeback and that I might finally get to see them perform live in the U.S. (despite the fact that they had effectively dissolved after the release of their album "In The Studio"). Nevertheless, I played the song constantly and it was a staple of the many mix tapes I made for friends at the time. The lyrics were simple and direct and told Mandela's story powerfully. It was sung with grace and determination by Stan Campbell who had been recruited by Jerry Dammers to replace Terry Hall. Indeed, looking back on the impact of the song, Dammers commented that "Maybe Terry Hall wouldn’t have been as convincing as Stan Campbell singing "Free Nelson Mandela" anyway." As much as I love Terry, I have to agree with Jerry.

Campbell joined The Special A.K.A in 1983 with a hope to make it rich and famous, but his plans were thwarted by endless time locked in the recording studio with Dammers and then the lack of commercial success for the resulting singles. In fact, he left the group right after the recording of "Nelson Mandela" and the release of the video for the song and had to be co-erced into rejoining briefly for a live appearance on Top Of The Pops in 1984. Following that one TV appearance, Campbell left for good, skipping out on a live appearance on Channel 4's "The Tube"where he was replaced on short notice by Elvis Costello who sang instead. Here is video of Campbell's performance with the band on Top Of The Pops in April 1984:



 Campbell then had a try at solo work after signing a deal with WEA in 1986. The self titled album was recorded at UB40's DEP Studio in Birmingham with local musicians and included originals and covers of various musical styles - reggae, jazz, soul, blues. Campbell's debut came out right about the same time as the first release from another pop/soul artist by the name of Terence Trent D'Arby, but unlike D'Arby's debut, Campbell's album never built up much momentum and quickly faded. And that's a shame because the songs still stand up, after twenty years. Campbell's renditions of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood", "Crawfish" and "Strange Fruit" are memorable and his smooth, smoky vocal delivery ranks with among the best soul singers of all time. While garnering some good reviews - his versions of Elvis Presley's "Crawfish" has been said to be better than the King's - the album and its singles failed to chart and Campbell disappeared from the musical scene.

Here is a video of Campbell's 'Years Go By':  

 Unfortunately Campbell's story takes a very sad and tragic turn. According to news accounts from Coventry papers and information I've gathered from a variety of web sites, its been reported that Campbell's mental health began to take a turn for the worse following the failure of his solo record and while in London, he was involved in a number of sexual harassment cases. He later returned to Coventry where his mental health deteriorated and its been reported there were times that he was homeless. In 2002, he was arrested for his involvement in a sex crime against a young woman, and was convicted of the charge. Campbell has been sectioned indefinitely under the UK Mental Health act to a psychiatric hospital to serve his sentence. The sad irony is that Campbell sang the song that helped to free Nelson Mandela but is now imprisoned himself. The Special AKA song "Bright Lights" proved to be prophetic for Campbell with its warning about the seduction of fleeting fame and the hard reality of what can happen.

 

28 comments:

Stephen said...

Download limit reached on the Stan Campbell lp. Any chance you could re-up it? (It's Stevo from the Specials forum/Kifaru reggae band here.)

Marco On The Bass said...

Hi Stephen. I've asked Steve (who kindly made the record available for dl) to repost the link. Check back in a few days and try the link again.

Andrew said...

Thanks for this. I used to love Years Go By and his take on Inner City Blues, and have often wondered what happened to Stan Campbell and why he disappeared without trace. What a sad tale it is, and how sad also that his music will be forgotten by all but a few. And those of us who do remember him can't even afford to buy the CD!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this - ah, the memories. Cheers.

Anonymous said...

Ahhhh I Love you so much right now! I loved Stan Campbell have been looking for this since my cassette of him was destroyed! One of my favs and greatest voices ever... For sure wish he had bigger commercial success and in small was glad he was one of my best kept secrets. I tried to download link of album having trouble please up date any info and music you may have on him.. where what when is he doing..
Thanks HUGE FAN and ADMIRER
T

Marco On The Bass said...

Thanks for the comment. I have always believed Stan was incredibly overlooked as a singer and suffered some terrible luck and awful circumstances that prevents him from ever reaching his potential.

You should be able to download the album from Badongo. You need to type in 4 capital letters in the box on the upper right to access the file which should enable you to unpack the music files. Good luck happy listening..

Anonymous said...

Hi Marco, I see Stan Campbell from time to time busking in Birmingham uk, in and around the city, playing the bongo's! sad to see the guy, suffering from mental health problems, he had a really cool voice.

philippe said...

Thank you so much. i have only this lp on cassette and was litteraly dying to find it on mp3 so i can listen to it. wonderful voice, good songs, this is really a great album.
ps : excuse my english.i m french!!!

Anonymous said...

"Hi Marco, I see Stan Campbell from time to time busking in Birmingham uk, in and around the city, playing the bongo's! sad to see the guy, suffering from mental health problems, he had a really cool voice."

Is Stan free now? The last I heard he was still in a psychiatric hospital?

Anonymous said...

Hi, i love this guy and his voice, are there some site at internet about him ? fanclub other stuff at internet ?

Stan fan forever - Norway.

Anonymous said...

thanxs for the post and the whole blog, Marco. It's great!. I'm reading the specials biography these days and it says that during the recording of "in the studio" Stan attitude was quite unbearable, threatening to quit any time he fronted a hard situation. it looks like he was in his way to madness...
sad story, really.
Andreu

Anonymous said...

I worked for Chrysalis at the time and was friends with some of the band. Stan was very tricky to deal with and tried to hold the band to ransom over tv appearances to support Free Nelson Mandela. A great shame as it was that rarity - a campaigning record and a great pop song too.

Sorry to hear that mental health issues were at the root of his behaviour.

Anonymous said...

What is the current situation with Stan? Will he ever be released. There is so little information about him on the web.

Anonymous said...

Arrgghh! Just spent 2 hours digitising my old vinyl copy of Stan's LP only to get a really muddy usefless transfer. Found this page when searching for album artwork and then found a link to a lovely digital download - wasted 2 hrs! One thing, LP has a track called "Little More Faith" - what happened to that; did it not make latter CD release?

Anonymous said...

Free Nelson Mandela is such a great song. Stan really sells it, and the part where the sax players step all over each others' toes is priceless.

Stan's solo album is fantastic and, as you say, still sounds fresh. The grooves on Can't Get Enough are unsurpassed. It seems that there might have been some legal jiggery-pokery there, however, because the CD I have does contain Little More Faith and not Knocking on Heaven's Door.

Steve P-M said...

I knew and worked with Stan back in the late 70's, we traveled the UK from Coventry selling 'door-to-door'. He kept me entertained for hours on the motorway 'breaking' into song about the things he saw through the car windows. I hope he's happy.

bob said...

This was and is a fantastic album. What a soulful voice and intelligent selection of songs. I've actually got a signed copy on vinyl. Wonder what it's worth

Anonymous said...

Aahh the wonders of the web!
Great Blog, Amazing song, fantastic detail and background on amazing vocalist, I'd always thought Elvis Costello sung it till now.

Will listen to his album.

Anonymous said...

Today while going through vinyl I'm selling I came across Stan Campbell's record and wondered whatever happened to him (how I got to this page.) I was working at a record store when his lp was originally released and I recall it coming out a few months prior to Terence Trent D'arby's debut. Not only are these two handsome black musicians living in the U.K at the time, but they're posing nearly identically on their covers. They both have songs titled "Seven More Days" on the record as well. Nevertheless, the "noise" about TTD's debut was louder, the push by his label was harder, and the sells were faster. In the back of my mind I really have always believed it was about timing for Stan and I'm so sorry this may have broken his spirit. I've decided I had better hold on to my album now.

Anonymous said...

I went to school with Stan. We were in the same class (Sidney Stringer, Coventry) until he 'left' earlier than most of us. I recall him sticking chewing gum in my hair and Mrs. Jones (music teacher) being blown away by him hitting perfect pitch from hitting any note. But he was a troubled soul back then... He was in a group called 'Channel A' before Jerry cajoled him onto the Specials. I can't claim to have written 'years go by', but... :)... He was a great laugh... great schoolboy/teenage memories.

Emily said...

I knew Stan , I did cook some meals for him when he was homeless , what a shame he had mental issue and never recovered it seems like ...I have his vinyl and his voice was quite unique .....

Andy M.... said...

Rummaging through a second hand record store, I stumbled across a 12" version of Crawfish. My 20 year old son, thought it was amazing. I'm originally from Coventry now living in Ireland and have a copy of Stan's album. Which just played for the first time in many years, Its certainly stood the test of time and would easily be considered fresh and exciting in these times.

Didn't realize Stan's story and I wish him all the best where ever he may be.

God Bless him

Anonymous said...

He was my neighbour while in Channel A and I knew the Two Tone bands.His was a bedsit and he practised on his drums..and loved to sing, pretty late into the night but always shut up when I asked him.
Coventry was buzzing musically and he had the voice those bands wanted...when their lead singers left but he was so young,had been fostered and didn't have the security the others enjoyed.i can imagine he felt an outsider amongst them.
I thought he was a great kid really polite but cheeky and it really was too much too young!
Sorry women got hurt by him.

Anonymous said...

He was my neighbour whilst in Channel A and I knew the Two Tone bands.His was a bedsit and he practised on his drums..and loved to sing, pretty late into the night but always shut up when I asked him.
Coventry was buzzing musically and he had the voice those bands wanted...when their lead singers left but he was so young,had been fostered and didn't have the security the others enjoyed.i can imagine he felt an outsider amongst them.
I thought he was a great kid really polite but cheeky and it really was too much too young!
Sorry women got hurt by him.

Anonymous said...

Album now reissued on Edsel label, catlg no. EDSA 5020 is reviewed in this months Record Collector magazine.

lionscourt said...

I'm American and have a slightly different view on Stan. I listened to him all through college in the late 80's and could never get his smooth style and incredible voice out of my mind. The Years Go By album is a classic period, nothing else to say.
The difference in my view that is that many black american male artists were railroaded and blacklisted because they sang protest songs OR the very strength of their voice could move nations to change. Stan might have been blacklisted BECAUSE of his immense talent. He wouldn't be the first person who was "white" listed because he spoke the truth in way that could move millions. Is there still a download link to get Years go BY???? As you can see, I love that album!

lionscourt said...

I'm American and have a slightly different view on Stan. I listened to him all through college in the late 80's and could never get his smooth style and incredible voice out of my mind. The Years Go By album is a classic period, nothing else to say.
The difference in my view that is that many black american male artists were railroaded and blacklisted because they sang protest songs OR the very strength of their voice could move nations to change. Stan might have been blacklisted BECAUSE of his immense talent. He wouldn't be the first person who was "white" listed because he spoke the truth in way that could move millions. Is there still a download link to get Years go BY???? As you can see, I love that album!

Anonymous said...

He has raped a young girl and attacked women and kids In the street. He should be locked up and forgotten about for the safety of people in birmingham/Northfield area. Hope he rots in hell