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Special Needs

Special Needs in 2004
Background information
Origin London, England
Genres Indie rock
Years active 1998–2005
Labels Poptones/Mercury Music/(UK) (Universal Music Group)
Label type: Major
Neil Allan
Phillip James
Andrew Pearson
Daniel Shack
Zachery Stephenson
Former members
Yuri Zhislin
Jamie McLoughlin
Tom Horsfield
Jon Odgers


Special Needs

Special Needs (briefly known as ‘The Needs’) were a five-piece alternative rock group formed in London, England in 1998 and disbanded at 2005. They regularly appeared live on bills with bands such as Razorlight, The Libertines, Art Brut, and Maximo Park.



The band was formed in fledgling form in 1998 by London guitarist Daniel Shack and Irish singer Zachery Stephenson. Shack recruited school friend Philip James to play bass. Shack and James moved to University of Sheffield in the autumn of 1998 and it appeared that the band would never get off the ground. At Sheffield, Shack and James met Andrew Pearson who would join the band on rhythm guitar and convinced Stephenson that the band could still work despite the distance between members. The band played their first gig in September 1999 at the Bull & Gate, Kentish Town. In the first three years several drummers played with the band that went under the name of Panacea, having originally considered the name Mute Witness. The first of these was former BBC Radio 2 Young Musician of the Year, the violinist Yuri Zhislin.

The band finally located to London in 2001 and deployed former The Men They Couldn’t Hang drummer Jon Odgers. At this time the group, tired with pleading with venues for gigs started their own club night called Funfairs & Heartbreak after a lyric from their demo ‘Stick Around.’

At the end of 2002 Neil Allan was recruited on drums and would continue in this role until the band’s disbandment.

In 2003 the band began to play more high profile gigs, as John Kennedy of London station Xfm began to champion the band. All of the band’s singles became John Kennedy’s ‘Single of the Week.’ At the start of 2004 Twinstar Revolution released the double a-sided single ‘Sylvia’ and ‘Tarts.’ The single was met with some critical acclaim but did not chart.

The band formed close alliances with other bands on the London scene such as The Rocks, The Barbs and Cherubs and embarked on two tours with the former two.

In the summer of 2004, former Creation Records boss Alan McGee signed the band to his Poptones label and the band released the single ‘Francesca,’ [1]which entered the British charts at number 69.

The band’s profile continued to rise as the video was featured frequently on MTV2 and by the end of the year the band had signed to Mercury Records. There was also interest from Rough Trade but they failed to officially declare their interest until after the day after the group had signed to Mercury.

In September 2004 the band flew to Belfast at the request of Johnny Borrell of Razorlight to support them at their Rizla ‘Inspired By’ gig at Belfast Empire. Borrell also named Andrew Pearson as a person who should have been included in the 2004 NME Cool List.

Possibly the most tumultuous incident in the band’s history occurred around this time when a clearly intoxicated Stephenson punched Pearson on stage at the Infinity in Mayfair and for a while the band’s future appeared in doubt. Management moved swiftly to address certain issues and the band continued to function. Q magazine chose the band as one of their acts to look out for in 2005.

On New Year’s Eve 2004 the band played their biggest gig at the London Forum. In March of 2005 the band began recording their album ‘Funfairs and Heartbreak’ at 2khz studio in Kensal Green with Ian Grimble who had previously engineered albums for Manic Street Preachers and Travis. The band’s third single Blue Skies [2] was released in June 2005 and entered the charts at number 56. The band embarked on several UK tours [3]and on the sold out London leg of the tour stopped traffic by arriving at the venue in motorized dodgem cars. The single was runner-up for the NME’s Single of the Week and Single of the Week by Tom Robinson on his BBC 6Radio show. The band played the 2005 Glastonbury Festival, the 02 Wireless Festival in Hyde Park and partook in Channel 4’s Road to V competition although they lost out to The Young Knives who coincidentally supported Special Needs around this time on an NME Tour.

In the autumn of 2005 Mercury Records decided to cancel the band’s recording contract. New label management culled many of the bands around this time, including several other bands that had also started out on Alan McGee’s Poptones label such as Thee Unstrung and The Others.

At this point the band decided to change their name to The Needs as they felt the name was a hindrance, anecdotally quoting one booking agent who refused to even listen to their record because of their name.

After several months of discussions with various labels about releasing the album no offer was on the table and the band, feeling that they were starting to go backwards decided to break up. [4]

During 2006 the members of the band were approached by ReAction records with a view to release the album and it was released (under the resumed moniker of Special Needs) in August 2006. The album was very well received, [5]with the NME giving it 8/10 and The Sun and The Independent on Sunday offering glowing reviews. The only exception being a fairly negative review in Q by John Robinson who ironically had previously described the band as ‘essential’ on his Channel 4 teletext column.

Stephenson now performs with a new group The Bon Vivants.


  • "Sylvia/Tarts" (on Twinstar Revolution)(2003) – did not chart UK
  • "Francesca " (Poptones)(2004) – # 69 UK
  • "Blue Skies" (Poptones/Mercury)(2005) – # 56 UK



  • Funfairs and Heartbreak (2006)


  1. ^ 'Francesca' video
  2. ^ Blue Skies video
  3. ^ BBC review
  4. ^ NME article about split
  5. ^ Album reviews
  6. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 555. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 

External links


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