The Specials announced the news on Twitter, calling Bradbury “the world’s greatest drummer.” In a statement, the band added, “Brad’s drumming was the powerhouse behind the Specials, and it was seen as a key part to the 2 Tone sound.”
Formed in Coventry, England in 1977, the Specials — along with groups like Madness and English Beat — pioneered a third wave of reggae that combined elements of classic Jamaican ska and rocksteady with contemporary punk and New Wave. Specials keyboardist Jerry Dammers coined the term “two tone” and in 1979 founded the label 2 Tone Records.
That same year, the Specials released their seminal, self-titled debut. Elvis Costello co-produced the album, which spawned two top 10 hits in the U.K. The Specials’ next five singles would all land in the top 10 as well, including two Number Ones: 1980’s controversial “Too Much Too Young” and 1981’s “Ghost Town,” the latter addressing urban blight and violence in Thatcher-era England.
“Ghost Town” would also mark the final single recorded by all seven original members of the Specials. Despite losing three players, the Specials regrouped and went on to tour and record as the Specials AKA. Bradbury remained involved in the group while also forming his own Northern Soul outfit, J.B.’s Allstars, in 1984.
Over the next few decades, Bradbury continued to drum, playing in the Special Beat — which brought together members of of the Specials and the English Beat — and sitting in for a few years with the Selecter. In 2008, Bradbury played a crucial role in the Specials’ reunion, touring with them extensively as recently as November.
In 2012, the Specials’ place in U.K. culture was cemented when they joined fellow British legends Blur and New Order for a special gig at Hyde Park celebrating the end of the 2012 London Olympics. And while the group, and other two tone outfits, never garnered similar success or stature in North America, their pioneering ska-punk blend laid the groundwork for third wave ska outfits like Reel Big Fish, Less Than Jake, Goldfinger and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, who rose to popularity alongside pop punk acts during the Nineties.