It was October 1979 when THE SPECIALS unleashed their debut album on Jerry Dammers' 2-Tone label, produced by Elvis Costello, the album captures the disaffection and anger felt by the youth of the UK's "concrete jungle" which, despite being borrowed from Bob Marley's 1972 Catch a Fire album, was the perfect phrase to describe the grim and violent inner cities of 1970's Britain.
Fast forward 40 years and with a contender for 'Album of the Year' in the form of their eighth studio album Encore (which reached #1 in the album charts) under their belts, it was time to hit the road to celebrate 40 years in the business and promote their latest long player.
Exeter's Great Hall was the venue selected to house the band and their entourage and having arrived early, I was pleased to see a variety of punters ranging from fresh faced students to weathered supporters from their early days mingling in the bar and getting ready for what promised to be one hell of a gig.
As the rude boys (and girls) flowed into the main auditorium, they were treated to some classic ska and reggae from the one and only Saffiyah Khan, I was wondering if she'd be appearing with them as she provided vocals for their overhauled version of Prince Buster's mid-Sixties spoken word single “Ten Commandments of Man" which appears on their latest long player Encore, appears I was correct!
At 8:15 sharp, three young ladies took to the stage and kicked into an energetic set of raw, angsty and punchy feminist indie pop. I thought I recognised them, I did, it was a band called THE TUTS (not ‘THE TITS’ as they were quick to confirm) who had supported Senseless Things in London back in 2017 when they played their first show together as a band again after a 22 year hiatus. They sang of 'shit boyfriends', and about being a 100% DIY band, doing a much better job of running their operation than any mainstream label could ever do.
"We used to have a manager - and he was a real cunt", commented vocalist/guitarist Nadia Javed prior to playing a track called '1982', the rest of the set was filled with offerings from their debut album Update Your Brain which is available to purchase on Bandcamp for the princely sum of £8 (or more) or if you're heading to a show, why not pick up a copy of the album on vinyl for £15, I did, it sounds amazing!
Once their set came to a crashing end, the stage was cleared and prepped for the main act of the evening....
The black backdrop was torn down, revealing signs of "Vote", "Resist", "Think", "Fake Bomb" and other political slogans that really made you stop and think about the state of affairs throughout the world and what we could do to make a difference (second referendum anyone?...)
"Warning Warning, Nuclear Attack" rang out across the hall as The Specials launched into their set with a timeless version of 'Man at C&A', spotlights flying around the room as the band kicked off proceedings, joined a minute or two later by the one and only Terry Hall, incessantly dragging on his 'vape' device and providing the main vocals to this track which appeared on their sophomore album in 1980.
It was great to see bassist Horace Panter, guitarist Lynval Golding and frontman Terry Hall together on stage once again and it wasn't long until the classics starting popping up on the setlist. 'Rat Race' and 'Do Nothing' entertained the crowd prior to the first offering from Encore pouring through the speakers, 'Vote For Me' sounded every bit ‘The Specials’ but with 40 years of experience behind them, the incessant bass line and strong drum patterns were there, Hall's menacing vocals were calmed by an almost playful piano line which sounded incredible.
This was followed closely by 'The Lunatics' and 'Blam Blam Fever' also lifted from Encore (and featured some amazing vocals courtesy of the drummer) but it was the arrival of 'A Message To You, Rudy' that really got the party started.
'10 Commandments' featuring Saffiyah Khan was dark and brooding, casting a moody but very relevant shadow on the performance which could not go unnoticed.
The energy from the band was immense, the brass section did a sterling job, Horace Panter's bass lines were absolutely textbook and with Steve Cradock (ex Ocean Colour Scene) providing guitar duties alongside Lynval Golding, the sound was as good as it's ever going to get. I must add a special mention to the drummer who was as consistent as a metronome throughout the entire set and the keyboard player who had about 6 instruments to play but cut through the set like a hot knife through butter!
For the next six tracks, things really went off and I mean REALY went off, I think it's the first time I have seen a mosh pit form of this intensity for a band that you really wouldn't associate with 'moshing', but mosh they did to 'Nite Klub', 'Do The Dog' and 'Concrete Jungle', 'Monkey Man', 'Gangsters' and finally 'Too Much Too Young' which took me back to my childhood as the fans thrashed about in the pit, a blur of balding heads, braces, bovver boots and huge smiles adorning the faces of everyone who had turned up this evening.
After a short break, they were back for another few numbers which kicked off with "an authentic Jamaican jam" which bled into a fabulous rendition of Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra's "Enjoy Yourself" which again raised the roof.
'Breaking Point' was the final offering from their latest long player and it was apparent that the next was going to be the last, I had my fingers crossed for 'Ghost Town' but they decided to close the show with the final track from their debut eponymous album. 'You're Wondering Now', a cover of a track made famous by The Skatalites. On one hand, I felt a little cheated, like I did when I saw Massive Attack and they omitted to play 'Unfinished Sympathy', an anthem that is known by millions all over the world as 'their song' but listening to the chirpy upbeat message being conveyed through the final track of the set made me smile as I'd just spent 90 minutes in the company of one of THE finest bands in the world and for that, I am thankful!