18th October, 2011
The general feeling among the ska community about The Specials playing Glasgow’s SECC, other than the usual nostalgic wave that accompanies their arrival, was one of apprehension.
After the massive success of their 30th anniversary reunion tour in 2009, some felt—myself included—that by putting together another tour two years on, with no new material and in a larger, sub-standard venue, the Specials would be seen as another 80s cash-in.
And with the O2 Academy lying empty just down the road, all signs pointed to it being a move to capitalise on the loyalty and generosity of their fans one last time.
Although the gig was one of the few that never sold out in this particularly extensive UK tour, those that did show up (and it must have been almost at capacity by stage time) were in for a pleasant surprise.
Yes there were no new songs, and yes the acoustics in the SECC’s hall 3 sometimes leave a lot to be desired, but for a top atmosphere and a killer set, nobody could complain.
Lynval Golding seemed to acknowledge this fact toward the end of the gig in an unusually honest appraisal: “thank you for coming out to this one, Scotland—it means a lot.”
And as far as ska gigs go, it was up there with the best. The sound was as good as it could be, but the quality of the delivery and energy on stage was immense, surpassing any possibility that the venue might dampen the show. It didn’t, and The Specials worked through a blistering set and blew it out the park.
The intro was a display of iconic images shone up on the back screen to the tune of a John Barry cold war classic; every politician from Thatcher to Blair and Brown got booed. As did Gazza (that image probably meant more for the English dates on the tour). There were also images highlighting some of the changes in the nation since 1979 when it all started for Terry Hall and Co.
The message was clearly obvious: how much has really changed?
The curtains opened and into the mic bellowed Neville Staple: “Al Capone’s guns don’t argue!”
And we were off!
A romping set took us through all the classics but that’s why we were there. The whole point of the exercise was to look at the juxtaposition between the lyrics of the songs and the political landscape, asking ourselves had anything actually changed but did any of it matter? And to dance our way through the memories and the muck-ups of the political system along the way.
Do The Dog, It’s Up To You, Rat Race, Monkey Man, Dawning Of a New Era, Too Much Too Young—I could name them all but it would be a futile attempt to try and recreate something that was so unique on the night.
Part of the excitement of The Specials live stage experience that eventually won the day, is the way that one simple song can elevate a crowd into a single ball of stomping energy; heads bouncing, shoulders hunched and feet furiously shifting, with Staple and Golding equally energetic on stage flanking the ever dead-pan Terry Hall. It’s his consistently straight face that helps turn up the excitement, as he surveys the bobbing heads and swaying mosh pit in front of him.
Particularly poignant was the short speech from Golding, who praised the Scots for not being involved in all the summer rioting across England, and then dedicated A Message To You, Rudy to the Scottish people.
Also great on a more personal note, was Do Nothing, a song that speaks as much to me today as a 38-year old, as it did as a young lad.
Closing after the encore with a brilliantly extended version of Ghost Town, a final encore followed with one last stomp through Little Bitch and finally, You’re Wondering Now. It was a fitting finale, brilliantly executed by the finest and most iconic ska band we are lucky enough to be able to say are still playing on the live circuit.
The Specials have achieved a lot over the years and they did it again here in Glasgow, reminding and proving to everyone that they will always beat the odds, be it poor venues and acoustics or bigotry and racism.
Where would the nation be without The Specials to remind us who we were, and exactly who we are?