Making political statements through music has been The Specials’ strong suit since they formed in the late 1970s. And that skill of getting the message across through music still stands today.
I was at Manchester’s Victoria Warehouse gig with my 20-year-old son, and the irony of the angry, protesting lyrics about government, unemployment and dying towns wasn’t lost on me. My son is the age I was when I discovered The Specials, and the fact that, more than 40 years on, the message still rings true is pretty dismal.
But we were here to lift our spirits after 18 months without a live gig and, following decent support by former Dexys Midnight Runner Pete Williams, The Specials sauntered on stage as if they were looking for an open chippy.
The Fred Perry-clad, middle-aged blokes in the crowd didn’t disappoint with their ‘Rude Boy’ chants and we were off.
I needn’t have worried that only three original members remain in the band (Terry Hall, Horace Panter and Lynval Golding) because the music was as uplifting and powerful as ever and they’ve surrounded themselves with excellent musicians.
They opened with Freedom Highway (from their new album) followed by three crowd-pleasers: Rat Race, Do Nothing and Friday Night, Saturday Morning (the latter containing some of the best lyrics ever: “moving legs in footless tights”, “hope the chip shop isn’t closed, ‘cos their pies are really nice”) all delivered in the usual deadpan way by Hall.
Hall also enjoys a spot of banter in between songs, mainly about the return of Ronaldo to his beloved Manchester United, and he laments moving away from Manchester, saying it’s “the best city in the world”, which is met by a huge cheer from the crowd.
This tour precedes the release of their latest album of Protest Songs – 1924-2012, out on September 24, and the band’s first release on Island, following the number one album, Encore, which was released in 2019. Another track from the album, Fuck All The Perfect People, could have been written today and is only improved with Hall’s scathing delivery.
The band leave the stage mid-way, with only Golding remaining to sing a beautiful, heart-wrenching version of Get Up, Stand Up accompanied by his grandson on guitar.
With a full stage again, the band decide it’s time to party and give us Too Much Too Young, Nite Club, Message To You Rudy, Gangsters and a truly brilliant Monkey Man.
The encore? Ghost Town, of course, a song from 1981 addressing themes of urban decay, unemployment and violence in inner cities. Ring any bells?
The Specials have long been known for performing songs that require crowd participation at the end of their gigs and tonight’s was You’re Wondering Now, a proper crowd-pleaser. But let’s be fair, The Specials are expert pleasers. Yes, their songs are angry and political, but the band has always delivered them in an inspiring, uplifting way that never fails to elevate the mood.
I’ve been to many Specials’ gigs over the years (I was convinced I’d become Mrs Terry Hall) and I’ve loved every single one of them from the age of 19.
I’m 61 now and, finally, my son realises what all the fuss is about.
Protest Songs – 1924-2012 is now available. For more information, visit thespecials.com
You can see The Specials on tour at the following venues:
September 21 – Reading Rivermead
September 23 – London Roundhouse (sold out)
September 24 – London Roundhouse (sold out)
September 25 – London Troxy