Specials guitarist Lynval Golding says he really wasn’t sure anyone would bother coming to see the ska-rock-reggae band’s reunion shows in the UK last year. “At times I thought, ‘Am I making a mistake? Does anyone really like our music?’” he recalls. Golding needn’t have worried. Two shows in the band’s hometown of Coventry sold out in just 5 minutes. and a couple of hours later tickets were being advertised on eBay for $300.
Those figures are a testament to the enduring UK popularity of the septet, who acrimoniously split way back in 1981 after releasing such classic singles as “Too Much Too Young,” “Rat Race,” and “Ghost Town.” Next month, the band test the strength of their US following when they play a string of dates here, including a slot at the Coachella Festival. The Specials will also hit Late Night with Jimmy Fallon on April 13, almost exactly thirty years to the day since their last American TV appearance, which found them gracing the stage of Saturday Night Live. “My memory was meeting Keith Richards,” says Golding. “Our sound engineer knew him. I was too shocked to talk.” Specials frontman Hall says he too was shocked by his audience with Richards—if for different reasons: “I remember meeting him in the dressing room and thinking, ‘This man can’t possibly get any older than he is at this moment.’ And 30 years on, he has!” (FYI: The SNL host that week was Strother Martin, who played the prison warden in Cool Hand Luke. Yep, that’s how long ago it’s been since the Specials were on TV.)
The current Specials line-up isn’t exactly the same as it was three decades ago thanks to the absence of Jerry Dammers, one of the band’s main musical architects. The keyboard player did rehearse with the reunited act, but then fell out with his band mates. At one of the reunion shows last year, Terry Hall joked to the audience that Dammers was busy playing Scrooge in “panto” (a popular-in-Britain type of children’s play). Dammers, in turn, has claimed that he was “kicked out.” Golding denies that accusation, but admits the door has now closed on the possibility of the keyboard player returning to the Specials fold. “I think Jerry shut the door and bolted it a long time ago,” insists the guitarist. Meanwhile, Hall says the problem was that Dammers, “couldn’t get his head round doing thirty dates and being together for that period of time. He wanted to do two shows, and that’s it.”
The hangdog-faced Hall has a rep for being one of pop’s premier grumps—and has suffered from bouts of depression over the years—but he sounds overjoyed to be hanging out with Golding and the rest of the band again. The secret to his upbeat demeanor? That he doesn’t have to hang out with them too much. “The biggest difference between being on the road thirty years ago and being on the road now, is that I don’t have to spend time with the rest of the band,” he says. “Now, with hotels, we can actually get a separate floor to Lynval, which is fantastic.” Er, Lynval? “I agree 100% with that, I make a lot of noise!” laughs the guitarist. “We travel separately and I don’t have to talk with the rest of the guys until I see them at sound check. It’s absolutely wonderful!”
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