The Roundhouse is heaving with those ready to skank. It’s the first of three nights that The Specials are playing at London’s venerable circular venue, as part of the band’s ongoing reunion tour.
The surprising opener is the cool chill of Ghost Town, their number one hit single from 1981. With a set comprised of familiar songs, perhaps the best way to keep people guessing is to introduce one of the most prized possessions upfront, before everyone has even got their drinks from the bar?
Early on in the set, we are treated to Friday Night/Saturday Morning, Stereotype and Rat Race, the latter of which gets one of the most enthusiastic crowd reactions of the night. Clearly there are a lot of people here who keenly relate to the lyrics.
Whilst the reunited band has never featured all original members, this tour sees them drop one more, with Neville Staple missing from tonight’s line up. However, Terry Hall and Lynval Golding more than hold their own as the remaining original frontmen, in terms of entertainment value – albeit from very different ends of the spectrum. Golding is almost constantly on the move, energetic and expressive and doing the majority of the between song banter. Hall’s somewhat withdrawn presence, makes him seem almost a step away from the rest of the world and inhabiting his own space in the universe and yet, at the same time, remaining a compelling focus at the centre of the stage. Not quite good cop/bad cop, but certainly between them they bring a diverse presence to the show.
The familiar tones of Nite Klub, Blank Expression and Do The Dog keep everyone dancing. Golding introduces Steve Cradock (of Ocean Colour Scene) on guitar, explaining that as it’s his first tour with the band, they are having to teach him how to skank.
Hall jokingly introduces one track as Billy Idol’s White Wedding (it definitely isn’t) and begins singing Sister Sledge’s We Are Family before starting another song, but the night is dedicated to The Specials’ classics.
‘I love each and every one of you. I don’t understand why anyone would go around with a racist attitude,’ says Golding as he launches into Why, with updated lyrics that swap a reference to the Ku Klux Klan for the EDL, highlighting how depressingly relevant this song remains.
Gangster, A Message To You Rudy and Too Much Too Young are stand out tracks of the later part of the show.
A string section, which featured earlier on in the performance, returns for the band’s three song encore of Guns Of Navarone, Enjoy Yourself and You’re Wondering Now.
Tonight, the music sounds timeless and the band is on fantastic form. This may be a night of celebrating songs from many years ago but the serious topics, such as politics, racism and birth control, are just as relevant today. Even tracks about going out drinking convey a darker, often despairing but insightful vision of youth.
The final song’s fitting farewell includes the line: ‘You’re wondering now, what to do, now you know this is the end.’ The audience may indeed be wondering how to top this gig, no doubt praying that it’s not really the end and that the band will return. Let’s hope they do. They are, after all, still pretty special.
Words and photographs by Imelda Michalczyk. www.rebeladelica.com
13 November 2014. The Roundhouse. London.