The Specials on stage at Glasgow Barrowlands by Cameron Mackenzie

The Specials on stage at Glasgow Barrowlands by Cameron Mackenzie

The Specials
Barrowlands, Glasgow
10 May 2013

Showing why tribes in music matter, The Specials played at their best in Glasgow a couple of weeks ago and retain a place on the list of must-see bands. 

The Great Pyramid of Giza. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The Statue of Zeus at Olympia. The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. The Colossus of Rhodes. The Lighthouse of Alexandria. The Seven Wonders of the World.

You’d think that by now, the 21st Century, someone somewhere might fancy updating that list. I think I missed the appeal when they were asking folk to write in with their suggestions for the eighth wonder, but if it’s not too late, I’m putting Glasgow Barrowlands forward for inclusion.

To be more specific, I’m putting forward the Barrowlands when it’s packed-to-the-gunnels full and the band on stage is on fire. I’ve been to the Barras plenty of times. It’s always good. Often, it’s great. Other times, it’s really great. Last night, the second night of The Specials’ double-header, it was electric; right there and then the best place to be on the entire planet.

It was packed-to-the-gunnels full. The band was on fire. You didn’t want it to end. A greatest hits and more was played out to a mongrel swill of a crowd; from old suedeheads in too-tight Fred Perrys and braces, spit-shiny Docs and straining-at-the-waist Levis, to ageing mohican’d punks and punkettes.

To 40-something numpties in pork pie hats, the weekend rude boys who really should know better, the same guys who take their tops off and still chant “We are the mods!” at Who gigs, to the young team in misguided Liam Gallagher feathercuts and Superdry mod parkas.

‘Punks, Teds, natty dreads, mods, rockers, hippies and skinheads’, as Do The Dog says, all united on the famous sprung dancefloor that, to paraphrase that Scandinavian football commentator from way back when The Specials first mattered, took one hell of  a beating.

It’s life-affirming when you realise at the age of 43 you still want to get involved at a gig, that you’re not content standing at the side debating the merits of the setlist with yourself, but you’d rather go for it, jump right in and get into it.

I lost a stone and a half in the first 20 minutes alone. My polo shirt stank of other people’s beer on the way home. As I type, I’m looking at my battered desert boots, who look like they’ve been in the trenches at the Somme.

The opening four numbers came at you like a breathless, skanking Ramones – Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!  I can’t be certain what was played, or in what order (it might’ve been Do The DogConcrete Jungle, Rat Race and Gangsters). One into another, a storm of ricocheting pistol cracks from the snare and Roddy Radiation’s spaghetti western twang, glued together by the Hall hangdog vocal.

Then the brass section came on. Then the strings. And the band cherry-picked their way through a back catalogue rich in dubby textures and exotica flourishes. Pinch yourself for a minute. That’s The Specials! Playing International Jet Set! I took a particular shine to the three pouting string players, bobbing their heads from side to side in perfect unison whenever the dub swelled and the need for strings reduced.

This clearly isn’t some half-arsed in-it-for-the-money Stones-type tour. This is a band playing better than ever to an audience somewhat largely made up of people too young to have seen them first time around (I was 10 when I bought Do Nothing for 99p with my £1 pocket money). The Specials are on fire right now and demand your attention.

We were lucky enough to get an extra, unplanned encore, a Terry-free Guns Of Navarone, played by a band who’d wandered on after the outro music had begun and some of the audience had filtered off towards the exits and Central Station. Nae luck, non-believers.

There’s no youth culture anymore. Cast your eye over the appearance of any youngster and you wouldn’t know if they were into Pink or Pink Floyd. Last night showed why tribal music matters. If you do one thing this year, go and see The Specials.

Image by Cameron Mackenzie.

All words by Craig McAllister. You can read more from him on LTW here or visit his blog.

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  1. I would guess it was a fantastic night but can’t help thinking the Specials are as keen to line their own pockets as the Rolling Stones. £45 + Booking fee I believe. Am on £70 a week benefits so the idea of going to something like this is is a non starter. Weren’t the band supposed to be on the side of the dispossessed?

    • Fair point Gilly. It was around £40 all in after booking fees. Not the cheapest, but that’s just about the price these days of seeing a decent band in a decent venue. The live arena is just about the only way for bands to make money these days, which I suppose is a whole other argument in itself.


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