THE SPECIALS: on the subject of Terry Hall, perfect sounds and two nights partying in Vancouver

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It’s 1:30am. Lynval Golding, one of the original members of UK ska legends The Specials is at a bar next to Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom and is explaining to me that I am only the second-ever Mikala he’s met and so he hopes we can be friends.

(This is an offer he makes good on when, the next night, he comes down off stage and dances with me during “Ghost Town” then comes BACK down off stage to slow dance/spin me during “You’re Wondering Now.” Yep, Lynval Golding is a true gentleman.)

He’s also telling me that it’s taken him 5 years to get the band together for this tour, and that people here in North America don’t really get singer Terry Hall’s “super-dry” sense of humour. And he’s right – several people who’d been at the shows over the two days the Specials were in town, asked me if  Terry Hall was really an asshole, and if he hated being up on stage.

Probably sort of maybe, can see why ye’d think that, I said.  After all, during the lead-up to “You’re Wondering Now”, the last song of the last date on the whole tour, he quipped (and meant it): “This is our last song, then we can all go home….thank fuck.” “That’s mean to say,” a woman behind me, whimpered.

The rest of the time, he stood clutching his mic stand with two hands, rolling his eyes, sighing, dragging his arse from stage side to stage side, and stopping to laugh only once when guitarist Roddy Radiation mimed kicking Golding (the biggest crowd pleaser/mugger of the bunch) off the stage while he was hand-slapping the audience. Or actually, twice, like when he ran around the stage slapping over his band members’ mic stands. But besides those brief  moments of enjoyment, Terry Hall looked as if he was having an argument in his head with everyone, and himself.

But that’s what you’d expect, right?  He’s no different now, than when he was then. The lunatics were breaking out of the asylum, remember?  A promoter friend who worked with the band says Terry’s got a “caustic sense of humour” that few get. He’s also got a sharp tongue, and an occasional dislike for members of his own band, (“I’m not your friend,” he said to the adoring front row on night 1. “The only friends I have are in this band, and even then, I don’t really like ‘em”).

On night 1 at the Commodore Ballroom he slagged off some of the punters in the front row, mumbled about Coldplay, thanked the gods for ESPN so he could watch the footie at 5am, chucked things at his band and crew (I nearly caught a box of Cadbury Fingers) and berated the drunks  in the audience (nothing like an epic reunion tour to bring out the crazy old people). Terry Hall does not suffer fools. When I joked about Terry to an English mate after night 2, he simply shrugged and said “I get it. I’m English.”

But there was one moment on Night 1 that put it Hall in perspective, as it where. It reminded me why I actually love Terry Hall. “I’m sorry I’m so socially retarded,” he quipped at the Commodore, “Or I’d come down there and dance with you.” And you know he is. And that he wouldn’t.

Terry Hall – bi-polar, curmudgeon, mic-clutcher –  is still Terry bleedin’ Hall. And that’s his humour. And Terry Hall is the singer for one of the  most important bands in UK history. And when you wait 27 years to see that show –  I was given their debut as Side B on a mixed cassette in 1985 – Terry Hall can do what he fucking likes.

Now, to the music, which I would have started with, had I not been sidetracked by “what’s the deal with Terry?” questions over the weekend. Ah the music. What a wonderful gift for a fan  to hear all those songs again. The setlist was near perfect: a  joyous “Do the Dog” to start, “Concrete Jungle”, “Night Club”  and jubilant “Rudy, A Message To You” (let’s be pedantic, that’s what it was originally called), the rad “Do Nothing”, dedications to the bouncers for “Monkey Man” and to Amy Winehouse for “Hey Little Rich Girl”  and hell…aww…hell…all of it. All of it was marvelous. Not just nostalgic, but sounding, really, really ace.

Wonder what you want about Hall, he sounded perfect. The band SOUNDED PERFECT. (Okay not as perfect as if Neville Staple and Jerry Dammers were along, but still.)

Roddy Radiation was a be-quiffed old-school Elvis rocker, playing on his knees, Lynval Golding danced, skanked and broke less sweat at 62 years old than me at, errr, younger, and touring keyboardist Nik Torp Larsen totally made those great Specials keylines come alive whilst bouncing behind his kit.

But the real winners were John “Brad” Bradbury on drums and Horace Panter on bass, the latter occasionally coming out front to illustrate just how monumentally rocksteady the Specials’ sound really is.

Two Specials shows in a weekend is pretty special. Drinking with a few of them until the wee small hours, dancing to one of their 7 inches whilst next to the band who made it, is beyond special. Dancing WITH a member of the Specials while the rest of the band played “You’re wondering now/what to do/now you know/this is the end” and a crowd looked on? GAH…..

….even if all you could think of while dancing with Lynval was that Terry Hall must have been rolling his eyes at you. But still, it’s TERRY BLEEDIN’ HALL, innit? \m/

Click on all photos from March 29 at the Commodore Ballroom, to peruse and embiggen.

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