The Specials, the celebrated British band that reformed in 2009 after more than two decades apart, will play its first North American shows in nearly 30 years in April, starting with an appearance on NBC’s “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” on April 13.
The Specials are also one of the topped-billed bands for the first night of the 11th annual Coachella Music and Arts Festival in Indio, Calif., on April 16, and have announced a New York club show at Terminal 5 on April 21. Two more April shows are in the works as part of the brief North American trek; a full tour is being eyed for later in 2010.
The Specials played a sold-out 30th anniversary tour of U.K. clubs in May 2009, marking the first time that the six members of the ska band, including singer Terry Hall, had performed a full set together since a Boston, Mass. show in 1981. Founding member, keyboardist Jerry Dammers, is not participating in the reunion.
Subsequently, the group performed in front of more than 100,000 people at the 2009 Glastonbury Festival, played the Summer Sonic Festival in Japan, toured Australia and New Zealand for the first time ever and did a second sold-out U.K. jaunt in November.
The band’s appearance on “Late Night” will be its first U.S. performance since reforming. The Specials first appeared on U.S. national network television on “Saturday Night Live” in 1980; the group launched its reunion on the BBC’s musical variety show “Later … With Jules Holland” in April 2009.
The Specials formed in 1977 in Coventry, England, and its then-unheard-of mix of punk rock, Jamaican rhythms, social and political commentary and pop sensibilities proved a huge sensation in the U.K. and spawned an entire youth subculture that encompassed both music and fashion.
Between 1979 and 1981, the group scored seven consecutive top 10 singles in the U.K., including the No. 1s “Too Much Too Young” and “Ghost Town.” With its mixture of musical styles and its multi-racial lineup, the Specials served as a rallying point for British youth during a period of ethnic and class-based unrest in the country.
The Specials’ 1979 self-titled debut album was produced by Elvis Costello and the band’s music was released on its own self-started record label, 2 Tone. The label spearheaded a ska craze, releasing the first singles from groups like Madness and the Beat (called the English Beat in the United States) and albums from the Selecter and the Bodysnatchers. 2 Tone’s iconic logo and black-and-white checkered graphic style, along with the band’s 1960s mod-style clothing — like porkpie hats, tonic suits and Fred Perry shirts — remain symbols of the British musical shift from punk to new wave in the early 1980s.
In the United States, the Specials rode in on the tidal wave of their U.K. success, making its North American debut on Jan. 25, 1980, at New York’s post-punk mecca Hurrah’s. The band toured extensively, including a four-night, eight-show run at L.A.’s Whiskey-a-Go-Go and several arena gigs supporting for the Police. While the band didn’t enjoy the same level of success in the United States as it did at home, its two U.S. tours are widely credited with kicking off the later “third wave ska” scene and inspiring such bands as the Go-Go’s, No Doubt and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.
The band split acrimoniously in 1981 having released just one more album (“More Specials”) and an EP of new music, yet its single, “Ghost Town” hit No. 1 on the U.K. just prior to the break-up. Hall, along with vocalist Neville Staple and guitarist Lynval Golding, immediately formed the Fun Boy Three and continued to top the U.K. charts; he has remained a fixture in British pop music ever since.
Dammers recorded a third album with several of his other Specials bandmates under the band’s earlier moniker the Special A.K.A., and his 1984 single “Free Nelson Mandela” became an international anti-Apartheid anthem. He continues to perform with his jazz ensemble the Spatial A.K.A. Orchestra but has publicly criticized the current Specials reunion.
Despite recent tabloid speculation that a reconciliation is forthcoming, subsequent reports have debunked the rumor, suggesting that nothing has changed since the band first began discussing the possibility of getting back together.