It’s like the eighties all over again in Blighty. The diabolical Tories are the incumbent government (come on, nobody takes the Lib Dems seriously), there’s mass unemployment, rioting on the streets, a parasitical royal family revered by their subjects and squaddies patrolling another foreign sovereignty. Oh, and The Specials are back, their seminal single, ‘Ghost Town’ (“Government leaving the youth on the shelf”/”No job to be found in this country”), as much an anthem for a doomed nation now as it was then. Shame on the principals of modern day popular culture for their political apathy.
An apathy which seemed to infect the predominantly shaven-headed, polo-shirted. Bovver-booted crowd (and that was just the girls) before The Specials arrived on stage at Wolverhampton Civic Hall for the latest leg of their third run of reunion shows. As a montage of images from the past three decades was revealed on a giant backdrop, there were predictable boos for the Iron Bitch, Blair and Cameron (the bastard monster child of Thatcher and Oswald Mosley). Yet disconcertingly, not a single voice was raised in anger at the sight of the horse-faced Windsors (who never seem short of public cash in a recession), while a picture of a blubbering Paul Gascoigne, the very embodiment of boorish English laddishness, was met with the kind of braying footy-style chanting beloved of, well, practitioners of boorish Engish laddishness.
But let’s not get mired in polemic here. This was, after all, about the nostalgic pull of the music – music which, given its ska origins, was even nostalgic first time round. And remember, for every ‘Ghost Town’ (saved ‘till the encore), ‘Rat Race’, ‘Gangsters’ and ‘Too Much Too Young’, exemplars of social commentary, The Specials were about making us pogo our woes away with the likes of ‘Enjoy Yourself’, ‘It’s Up To You’, ‘Do Nothing’ and Cecil Campbell’s ‘Too Hot’.
Terry Hall presented a brilliantly lugubrious fulcrum around which Neville Staples worked the crowd energetically, with guitarist Lynval Golding providing occasional comic relief. The rhythm section of Horace Panter (bass) and John Bradbury (drums) put in a shift as big on imagination as it was on industry.
There’s hardly ever been a more apposite time for The Specials to return to the studio.