Tuesday, 21 May 2013

REVIEW: The Specials at De Montfort Hall, Leicester, on 20th May by Jeremy Clay

So: The Specials on stage in Leicester, after all these years. What to do? Push down the front and leap around like an electrocuted fish? Or lurk at the back, and drink it all in, gulping down a lump in the throat and battling an occasionally wobbly lower lip? Let’s stay at the back. Well, it seems marginally safer. After all, there are loads of skinheads up the front. Oh, hang on, they’re here, too. Everywhere you look there are middle-aged versions of the kids who used to chase Tucker and co on Grange Hill. If you were wondering where that hard bloke from your local got to last night, there’s a good chance he was at the De Mont. With his even harder mates.

But though the testosterone-heavy air crackles like a night match on the terraces for a derby game, they’re a good-natured crowd. To prove the point, before the lights go down, a bloke on the balcony rips off his top, twirls it in the air as The Liquidator spills from the speakers, then finishes with a moonie. It gets a full-throated roar of appreciation. The hall reverberates with cries of “ruuuuuuude boys”. This, it’s clear, is going to be a night like no other.

The Specials rush the stage like a pitch invasion, and launch into rabble-rousing openers Concrete Jungle and Do The Dog, with its roll call of lost tribes: punks, teds, mods, rockers and skinheads ...
But any lingering fears this is an empty nostalgia trip – a late Seventies take on those golden-oldies Sixties shows – are immediately dispelled. The Specials sound urgent and fresh. Relevant, even.

By the time they hit Gangsters, and the man on the mixing desk has tamed the initial wall of sound, De Montfort Hall is a writhing mass of skanking bodies. The treasures keep on coming: A muscular Monkey Man, to the floor-shuddering stomp of countless Doc Martens; a rumbling Man at C&A; hoarse singalongs to Nite Klub, Do Nothing and Rat Race.

The band, embellished by their Leicester horn section, are tighter than a submarine’s screws – and driven by the rock-solid drumming of John Bradbury, whose snare is tuned to the point where it’s almost painful to hear, then tuned up some more. A string section appears for a haunting, shimmery version of Ghost Town, arguably the greatest-ever number one single. (Disagree? Feel free take up the argument with that hard bloke in your local).

A Message To You, Rudy is a joyful, chugging noise, peppered with firecracker offbeats. Too Much Too Young is bliss – and the perfect soundtrack to escalating tension. Still. The only jolting reminder that these are men in their fifties and sixties comes in Enjoy Yourself, in the encore, with its timely line of “the years go by, as quickly as you wink”.

Throughout it all, frontman Terry Hall prowls the stage, looking alternately morose and distracted, which is just as it should be. “Leicester!” yelled guitarist Lynval Golding at one point. “Watford!” mumbled Hall, by way of antagonistic reply.

On a night like this, we can forgive him.

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