The Specials (Apollo Manchester, 4th May 2009)

Do the fans of The Specials dress in harringtons and Doc Marten boots all the time and have dressed like this for the last twenty five years or have they dusted them up and put them on just for this concert? The Specials have reformed, the gigs are a sell out and all the fans are back. It is mostly an older audience, delighted to get that chance to see them again, or for the the very first time because they missed them back in the day.

The Specials broke up and fell out and a reformation never seemed on the cards. Horace Panter writes about the break up of The Specials in his autobiography Ska’d for Life. Now they’re back, minus Gerry Dammers, in a sell out national tour and we snap up tickets in the hope of reliving a particular period in our lives. With Spandau Ballet making up and reforming, Blur back together and Take That about to play to sell out stadiums, nostalgia is back in fashion, the recycling of past made me think about attempts to recreate a past time and try and relive our youths. Is going to see The Specials about reliving what we were then, or are we aware that the experience will be a very different one from the one we might have experienced twenty five years ago. I suppose it is a blending of both for many of us.

Kid British, The Specials support act, were fresh and energetic and a reminder of what The Specials represented in the early 1980s, but they were their own band and a brilliant support act engaging the audience and attracting cheers and applause. They did a fantastic reworking of the Madness’s ‘Our House’ and I’m still singing it after the gig. Other tracks were equally as good, such as ‘Lost in London’. Kid British demonstrated how relevant Ska music is for The Specials’ next generation the inheritors of the music. They showed that Ska was more than just playing the old songs, but could be appropriated and made new for a new young audience.

The Specials were polished professionals, even without Gerry Dammers. They had the experience of playing together all those years ago, also that experience after pursuing their solo careers. They came on stage to ‘Enjoy Yourself’ and did a fantastic set including Roddy Radiation taking the vocals on ‘Concrete Jungle’. It was amazing to hear Ghost Town live. To use a pun it is such a haunting track that had such relevance for a particular time in the early 80’s when it felt like Thaterism was destroying the futures we had hoped for.

When Terry Hall introduced ‘Much Too Young’ during The Specials’ set, he asked if we had brought our children. Of course the audience who were much too young to be having kids, now emerge twenty years later with those kids as young adults. Felix Hall, son of Terry Hall, did a warm of DJ stint to remind us all that Terry Hall has grown up children just like us.

I felt that The Specials have a relevance now. They represent what it was like to be young, but as the reformed group revisiting ‘Much Too Young, reveals where the future has taken us.

Panter, H. (2008) Ska’d For Life. London, Pan.

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