The Specials roll back years with storming show – but songs are just as relevant today: LIVE REVIEW

It is exactly 40 years this month since The Specials first graced the charts with their debut single Gangsters.

By Darren Burke
Thursday, 09 May, 2019, 12:25

Climbing to number six in the summer of 1979, it was the world’s first introduction to the Coventry ska revivalists and that infamous “Bernie Rhodes knows, don’t argue!” intro.

Coming out of the West Midlands with a lot to say about race and racism, unemployment and the social issues of the day, The Specials were never shy of ruffling a few feathers with their political stance.

The Specials - still relevant forty years on.

Now, some four decades on, the songs and the viewpoints framed within them remain just as relevant as they did when they were spilling over the airwaves in Thatcher’s Britain.

So welcome then to Scunthorpe’s Baths Hall where a mixture of ageing rude boys – still sporting the pork pie hats – have gathered to see if the band have still got what it takes to press home some important messages on the back of bouncing and uplifiting ska classics.

In divided Brexit Britain and with hate crimes and racism sadly on the rise once more, songs such as Doesn’t Make It Alright resonate with the message they did back then.

The set is largely mined from the band’s output back in their hey day – sprinkled with much-loved favourites like Man at C&A, Rat Race and Do Nothing.

The fast-paced Nite Klub and slower Friday Night, Saturday Morning both contain the same message – tales of drunken excess in fleapit nightclubs – and the general disappointment served up from within.

However, Encore, the band’s number one album from earlier this year – their first since 1980 – also comes under the spotlight with Embarrassed By You one of the highlights.

One of the group’s most divisive tracks from the new album also gets an outing. Ten Commandments features the vocals of Saffiyah Khan, an anti-racism activist who went viral after she was photographed squaring up to a member of the EDL.

It’s a song that seems to split the Specials fan base – and the auditorium was noticeably emptier during its rendition.

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But as remaining original members – lead singer Terry Hall, guitarist Lynval Golding and bassist Horace Panter – turn up the tempo towards the end, the venue bounces along nicely to dancefloor gems such as Too Much Too Young, the aforementioned Gangsters and Monkey Man.

Despite the upbeat nature of the songs being delivered, Hall seems content to wander about in relaxed fashion, regularly taking a puff on his vape e-cig and questioning the audience as to where Scunthorpe is: “Is it in Lincolnshire? It doesn’t feel like Lincolnshire….”

Surprisingly, there’s no space in the set for one of the band’s biggest hits, Ghost Town, but You’re Wondering Now, a Skatalites cover, wraps everything up nicely and takes us right back to the ska roots that set it all off forty years ago.

The lads might be older and greyer, but musically they are still tight and lyrically relevant as they ever were.

The Specials know, don’t argue.