The Specials - 02 Academy, Glasgow, 28 Apr 2009
How very now are The Specials? Back in 1979 when the mixed race Coventry band led the Two Tone label’s ska revival first skanked their way into the hearts of a nation’s disaffected and unemployed youth, recession was about to give way to a Tory nightmare, racism was on the rise and police brutality had led to at least one unlawful killing during a mass demonstration in central London. By the time they split in 1981 on the back of menacing state-of-the-nation elegy, Ghost Town, the inner-city riots that coincided with the record’s number one chart slot made it sound like prophecy.
Today, this thirtieth anniversary reformation tour may have an air of Butlins style nostalgia among the hordes of ageing Rude Blokes clearly cutting loose for the first time in some years, but there’s a poignancy to the songs as well. It’s not just the perma-miserable expression tripping Terry Hall’s face contrasting with the irrepressible ebullience of his vocal foils Lynval Golding and Neville Staples that gives the night a restlessly contrary air. It’s the way that such increasingly dark kitchen-sink vignettes as Rat Race, Do Nothing, Nite Klub and Ghost Town are received with as much gleefully physical abandon as sweaty middle-aged men can muster.
One sour note is the absence of band founder and driving force Jerry Dammers, but frankly no-one seems to mind overly much. Hall himself declares himself uncharacteristically happy, and by the time the five-song encore kicks into the finale of Enjoy Yourself, it might as well be Britain’s last gasp calling time before the party has to end.