the-specials-109841177– THE APOLLO, MANCHESTER – 

So picture this. Mass unemployment, disappearing high streets, strikes and burning effigies of Margaret Thatcher alight in crumbling pit villages. No, it’s not 1980. It’s 2013, and The Specials have never felt more relevant.

 Given the political tension of the last few months, there’s a sense of adrenaline throughout the venue. Sat in the packed upstairs of The Apollo Manchester, it’s clear to see how the two-tone giants are continuing to capture the imagination of a generation, and subsequently – their children. Spotted amongst the crowd are numerous Dads and kids, all kitted out in the classic Fred Perry shirts, Harrington jackets and Doc Marten boots. Old habits die hard.

However, the tension quickly dissipates, as it becomes evident that there are no supporting bands this evening, and the crowd becomes restless. By the time the suited up Specials actually arrive on stage, (missing former singer Neville Staple) it feels like a bit of an anticlimax. There’s barely any special (excuse the pun) effects, with a blank canvas behind the band, and despite the pit erupting into a full-scale skinhead brawl two minutes into the first song, I can’t help but feel that the atmosphere would have been more energetic with a build up.

My feelings of criticism are short-lived though – this is undoubtedly a dream gig for the diehard fans, with a setlist delivering hit after hit. Guitarist and trilby wearing singer Lynval Golding has an incredible energy on-stage, bouncing around with more vigour than most men half his age. With two strokes of the first chords to ‘Monkey Man,’ full scale skanking breaks out, even in the aisles of the upstairs, which goes down rather badly with the security guards. ‘Do the Dog’ and ‘Rat Race’ also keep the fans dancing with a sense of mischief and fun, but Golding also makes time to dedicate ‘Hey Little Rich Girl’ to the late Amy Winehouse.

Forty-five minutes in, and the already eclectic band is joined onstage by a trombones, a string trio, a bongo player and xylophonist. Behind frontman Terry Hall’s echoing vocals and Lynval’s Patois toasting, it makes for an incredible, carnival-esque sound, particularly  for the haunting ‘Man at C&A’ and ‘Ghost Town.’

From then on, it’s just a deluge of hits. The moment Lynval starts into ‘that’ harmonica intro, things really kick off. ‘A Message to You Rudy’, ‘Little Bitch’ and ‘Too Much Too Young’ are played pretty much in succession, and by the time the band leave the stage, it’s hard to know what they would even play for an encore.

But to rapturous applause, they return to perform Bob Dylan’s ‘Maggie’s Farm’ – an obvious two-fingered salute to the recently deceased ex-PM Margaret Thatcher. And given the aging crowd, the words to the penultimate ‘Enjoy Yourself’ have a more chilling touch than usual (‘Enjoy yourself – it’s later than you think / enjoy yourself while you’re still in the pink’). But no matter how old the band or the fans yet, there’s a sense of youthfulness, mischief and anger here that will never be extinguished. Ending with ‘You’re Wondering Now,’ this was a highly satisfying gig full of hits, fun and nostalgia, and no doubt the recession-fuelled parallels with the past will keep the spirit of the Specials alive for many years to come.

I'm a huge music lover, being a regular gig and festival goer, singer songwriter, tv/radio presenter and reviewer for Silent Radio.