The Specials + The Tuts @ O2 Academy, 26th April 2019

In celebration of 40 years since Coventry legends The Specials founded the 2-Tone genre by splicing Jamaican ska with British new wave, the band are back in the West Midlands as part of an extensive tour following the release of their chart-topping comeback album ‘Encore’ last year. Having gone through a number of line-up changes over the years, the core trio of vocalist Terry Hall, guitarist Lynval Golding and bassist Horace Panter lead the band through an epic set mixing old favourites, new material and a couple of ska classics in front of a sold-out crowd.

Taking to a stage decorated with socio-political slogans, Lynval introduces ‘Man At C&A’ by yelling “warning, warning, nuclear attack!” as Terry makes a bee-line for his e-cigarette and takes a few puffs. The atmosphere is bouncing right from the start and old favourites such as ‘Rat Race’ and ‘Do Nothing’ go down a storm as the crowd sing back loudly. The new material understandably doesn’t quite get the same revered response, but the lyrical messages are as strong as ever in our current climate, with ‘Vote For Me’ a scathing attack on the state of politics right now and ‘Embarrassed By You’ critical of today’s young generation, with Lynval handling lead vocals over a reggae-inspired backing. Of course, despite the often bleak and gritty outlook, The Specials’ crossover pop appeal still makes for an uplifting experience, with the apt ‘Friday Night, Saturday Morning’ getting the crowd up again as Terry stares out across the enthralled audience and Horace bounces around the stage alongside Ocean Colour Scene guitarist Steve Cradock on ‘Blank Expression’ and the anthemic ‘Doesn’t Make It Alright’. “This is 2019, not 1979!” says Lynval, explaining the need to keep his guitar in tune, with the differences between then and now further highlighted after the euphoric ‘A Message To You, Rudy’ when Terry deadpans “alright, you can put your phones away now, it’s like playing in a call centre!”

Still showing they’ve got plenty to say in the present day, the band bring out activist Saffiyah Khan as a special guest to perform the spoken-word diatribe against misogyny ’10 Commandments’, a bold and important message but the dubby instrumental underneath it isn’t quite as inspiring as the lyrical content. Lynval notes “boy, you’re a quiet one tonight!”, but the final third of the set rectifies that, with the upbeat ‘Nite Klub’ and ‘Do The Dog’ seeing much-increased movement before the classic Toots & The Maytals cover ‘Monkey Man’ sends the place wild. ‘Gangsters’ and ‘Too Much Too Young’ are played with the same kind of punk urgency they had back in 1979 and it feels like the band have come full-circle. For their encore, Lynval tells a story about the Windrush generation and his experiences of racism on the funk-influenced ‘B.L.M.’ before the 8 musicians on stage line up in a row for ‘Breaking Point’. Finally, the band play out with their gloomy classic ‘Ghost Town’ to finish the celebration.

Support comes from DIY punk trio The Tuts, who perform a high energy set which is as lively as it is entertaining. ‘Let Go Of The Past’ and ‘Tut Tut Tut’ kick things off with a fun, three-chord bubblegum approach with singer/guitarist Nadia helped out with harmonies from bassist Harriet as drummer Beverley attacks her kit with venom, before yelping out the introduction to ‘Worry Warrior’, a song about anxiety that sees Nadia leaping from the stage to play in the pit in front of the barrier. With politically-charged tracks like ‘Give Us Something Worth Voting For’ and ‘Dump Your Boyfriend’, the band’s lyrics are straight to the point, but the light-hearted delivery makes for a lot of fun. The PA cuts out during ‘1982’ but the band continue to play on regardless, and after both Nadia and Harriet end the set playing on the floor in the centre of the stage, the three come together to take a final bow, gaining an appreciative reception from the suitably warmed up crowd.


Review: Ian Paget
Photos: Ian Dunn

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