The Specials went for the 100m gold with their career: dropping eight to 10 culture-defining tracks in a few short years, culminating with Ghost Town in 1981, before splintering off into the usual holding pattern of lineup swap-outs, rereleases and reunion tours. Forty years. We faced a few raised eyebrows in the crowd. One lady asked, “Was your mum into the band or something?”
As if us youngsters didn’t consider The Specials as much a UK institution as the red postbox. I think just about everyone I know my age would have gone to the Arena that night if there wasn’t 50 quid in the way. The crowd were definitely older, but that could be down to the ticket price.
Pete Williams and his band warmed just about everyone up with a very strong opener set of punk-era working-class ballads, transporting folks back to the dark days when Thatcher roamed the streets, in preparation for what was the main event. In that four decades of commercial play and film soundtrack credits since their initial run, you could be forgiven for forgetting that The Specials are foremost a protest band. Terry Hall’s bitter lyrics sting when the man himself is presiding over, glaring the arena down as the rest of the band skanks around him.
In between songs, the rise of the alt-right and the folly of the pandemic’s handling were lampooned by the band and the crowd roared. Guitarist-turned-MC Lynval Golding announces a bid to run for Prime Minister, performs a striking cover of the Wailers’ Get Up, Stand Up, and the crowd rallies around him.
The Specials seemed determined to show the crowd that there were more reasonable and loving outlets for anger besides each other; bring the people together, maybe dance a little; this being perhaps the essence of 2-Tone ska, the lesson was heeded. Even when the big dramatic encore call was interrupted by someone getting lamped in the front row, we made sure the victim was in the wrong, and then we got right back to dancing.
Motorpoint Arena Cardiff, Fri 10 Sept
words JASON MACHLAB photos KEVIN PICK
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