“I WAS IN Los Angeles, in a tattoo parlor, and I was getting a tattoo onmy leg,” Terry Hall explains, his quiet voice peppered with more than a little nostalgia. “The lad who was doing it had no idea who I was, until I said I used to be in a band called The Specials. I just felt the needle go up my leg. He was really shocked, because that first album got him out of a situation. And he was younger than my oldest boy. But it still had great relevance to him.” Despite being a touch groggy from having just slept through band rehearsal, The Specials’ front man is seemingly in a fairly whimsical mood.
It’s the perfect moment for reflection, of course. It’s been two years since the band reunited to commemorate its 30th anniversary, an event born as a celebratory one-off festival appearance that soon blossomed into something much larger. “We did a surprise slot at Bestival, a festival in the U.K., two or three years ago,” Hall tells me. “We just wanted to test our stuff, really, see if we could manage to do a set together, and we did.The response was great.That’s why we then decided to do it for our 30th anniversary.”
The reunited Specials, Hall is quick to point out, has been now been together for longer than the band’s original incarnation. “We made two albums in a very short period, and it really imploded because of the nature of our material, or band and our social climate. It was destined to fold pretty quickly.The way bands like The Pistols did and The Clash, even—it was very much a flashpoint.You capture something and then it just disappears, all of a sudden.”
The driving force of the late-1970s and early-’80s ska scene, the band put out two of the era’s greatest records—Specials and More Specials—in two years and then promptly dissolved. Mastermind and keyboardist Jerry Dammers kept the name alive for a third album, 1984’s decidedly mediocre In the Studio, while fellow expats Hall, Neville Staple and Lynval Golding formed the New Wave trio, The Fun Boy Three.
The band had a short-lived reunion of sorts in 1996, riding the popularity of the mid-’90s ska revival with an album full of covers and a headlining spot on that year’s Vans Warped Tour. Hall didn’t participate that time around, so vocal duties were split amongst those who did. “I couldn’t think of a good enough reason to do it,” he tells me, simply. Fourteen years later, Hall’s got reasons aplenty. “Two or three of us have very personal reasons for why we wanted to get back together again,” he explains. “It wasn’t necessarily to play music—it was because we had lost this friendship that was very near and dear to us.That was my number one priority. It could have ended at a meeting, knowing that we were all OK, and I would have been OK with that.”
As with the ’96 reunion, Dammers opted ultimately to sit this round out. But Hall is hopeful that we haven’t heard the last of him as a member of The Specials. “I’d like to see if Jerry’s interested in doing something,” Hall tells me, hinting at the possibility of an LP full of new material. “But I know he’s not interested in playing the amount of dates we’re playing. That’s been our problem with Jerry. He’s out touring with his orchestra, and they’re doing 10 dates. For him, that’s a lot of work. It would be quite interesting to see what would happen if we sat around, later this year.”
> The Specials
April 20 & 21, Terminal 5, 610 W. 56th St. (at 11th Ave.), 212-260-4700; 7, $30.