In the politically tense late 70s, the Specials practically wrote racial integration into their 2 Tone manifesto and made a slew of clever, witty, socially-charged hits that energised a generation and changed lives.
But, with Jerry Dammers still eschewing this reunion – ongoing since the Specials got back together for their 30th anniversary in 2008 – and with toaster Neville Staple now departed on health grounds, could support for the band be waning?
Not tonight, at least. At the first of a Barrowlands double-header, old classics are given a new sheen, there’s a rousing party section in the middle, and a typically joyous toast to ska heritage at the end. Ghost Town opens in its full spooky-rousing glory, setting the bar high, where it more or less stays.
Singer Terry Hall, guitarist Lynval Golding, bassist Horace Panter and drummer John Bradbury maintain a strong spine of vintage-era members. Guesting on guitar is Ocean Colour Scene’s Steve Craddock – his authoritative playing a reminder, like his sideman duties for Paul Weller, that he is wasted in the universe’s most turgid indie band. Supplementary to the standard horns section, a trio of female strings players lend a smart burnish to the likes of Stereotype and Man at C&A, while somehow managing to make gently skanking with a violin look not entirely unnatural.
Then Golding inquires, “Are you ready to start skanking?”, and everyone gets down to business, as an up-tempo volley from Rat Race to Why? and Too Much Too Young lands. The finale is largely dedicated, in that unselfconsciously reverential way of ska shows, to the standards – Dandy Livingstone’s A Message to You, Rudy, Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think) a la Prince Buster, the Skatalites’ Guns of Navarone and You’re Wondering Now. As band and audience alike roar the latter’s fatalistic refrain a capella skywards with the lights up, there’s a powerful sensation that the crowd are still strongly connected with something much bigger than any of them.
• At O2 Academy, Newcastle, 9 November (0844-477 2000); O2 Academy, Leeds, 10 November (0844-477 2000); Apollo, Manchester, 11 November (0844-477 2000); Roundhouse, London, 13-15 November (0300-6789 222); then touring until 22 November. Details: thespecials.com
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