Economically speaking, there isn’t really a better time for The Specials to have re-appeared on the scene. Britain at the tail end of the 1970s wasn’t yet a country awash with selfish, debt-ridden arseholes, but it’s fair to say that the credit card was certainly in the post by that stage. It’s somehow fitting, then, that they should return just as that particular bubble appears to have burst.
Even more fitting, perhaps, are the current hungry rumblings of recession and tabloid concerns over a ‘Broken Britain’- themes similar to that arose again and again in the music made by The Specials, almost 30 years ago, making their songs sound strangely prescient now, and perhaps even a sad reminder of the fact that nothing ever really changes. If they’d only waited another 12 months for this reunion, there would even have been a Tory government to make the circle be truly unbroken. Heaven help us all.
Whilst The Specials message was never overtly party political, unlike a lot of the Red Wedge bands that followed them in the early 1980s, they nevertheless came from a generation of artists, several of whom emerged from right here in the West Midlands, that had something to say. To me, as a youngster (annoyingly too young to have seen them first time around) and growing up into an adult, they spoke more of a personal political stance; a feeling of responsibility for ones actions in a world going increasingly weird and bad, wanting to be a good human being, not standing for injustice, intolerance, not being seduced by the trappings and lies of a consumer culture…they did all of this, and more, with a dry sense of humour, a truly great look and, of course, some timeless music.
It was this, all of this, that had us packed into the Academy last night. Truly, I have never seen or experienced the place so hot and packed, and I’ve been going to gigs there for more years than I care to remember. The bars were ten deep and we were crammed in, together, wall-to-wall, with every possible vantage point taken long before the band took the stage.
Kicking off with ‘Do The Dog’, and in front of a simple, black backdrop spelling out their name in 20 foot letters, the band rattled through classic after classic — ‘Monkey Man’, ‘Too Much, Too Young’, ‘Concrete Jungle’, all followed in quick, breathless succession, and just when you thought the set had been front-loaded with the best material, along came the likes of ‘Man At C&A’, ‘Stereotypes’, ‘Nite Klub’, ‘Friday Night, Saturday Morning’. For a band with, technically speaking, only 2 albums to draw upon, this was, as the Americans are fond of saying, all killer and no filler.
Mid-set, the band were joined by a horn section and the crowd at once knew that soon the likes of ‘Message To You, Rudy’ and ‘Ghost Town’ — with surely the best 16-bar mid section to a pop song ever — were on the way. Each tune was rapturously greeted, and the crowd knew and sang along to every word, all the way to the encore of “Enjoy Yourself”.
Make no mistake; this was a pure nostalgia show. The sound, the look, the politics, all frozen in time and all the more vivid and vibrant for it. This reunion, long hoped for amongst a still-loyal fan base, was fraught and subject to rumour and counter rumour for many years. Main man Jerry Dammers was initially excluded, then included, before finally being excluded completely, but that’s another story. For his part, the ever laconic Terry Hall declared at one point last year that he didn’t want to reform, and indeed had no need for the money such a venture would generate, “I’d only spend it on sweets”, he told the press.
If Terry ever runs out of pocket money, I’d be there again in the blink of an eye.