Cardiff International Arena
Sun 1 Nov
words: PAUL JENKINS
Harrington. Braces. Turn-ups. Pork pie hats. For once, it’s not just Bargoed that thinks it’s still 1981. Cardiff has turned back the clock and gone all 2-Tone on us with the trundling into town of The Specials reunion juggernaut. Many of the fans here tonight would have been skinheads 30 years ago, now they’re just bald. What started out as a nostalgic exercise in improving the band’s pension funds has taken on greater significance of late – the rising profile of the BNP, increased unemployment, racial tensions simmering in inner cities etc has meant the Specials find themselves once again soundtracking national despair.
Joking nervously outside with friends I made the observation that there were a lot of arseholes present. For a band so clearly influenced by a love of black music, the Specials attracted an unfortunate number of bigots in their heyday. The atmosphere at their gigs back then was confrontational and though the tension in the thousands present tonight owed more to a genuine sense of excitement than anything else, there was still definitely an edge of menace to proceedings.
Which made The Specials’ performance even more extraordinary. Opening with an exuberant Do The Dog, we saw a serious party band who still know how to entertain. Despite having a relatively slim back catalogue, they were still confident enough to dispense with Gangsters as a second song in the set. The hits came thick and fast. Highlights were the ennui-Morricone of Do Nothing, a frantic Too Much Too Young, a riotous Little Bitch and a joyous A Message To You Rudy.
Terry Hall remains the most laconic frontman of them all; he and Neville Staples were in great voice. Jerry Dammers may still be out of the fold but on tonight’s evidence he wasn’t particularly missed. Nor will the two sieg-heiling pricks who, in an overwhelmingly white crowd, prove the point that for all the wrong reasons, the Specials remain a vital and compelling force.