suits you sir- Terry Hall of the Specials, still the sharpest looking band on the circuit...
suits you sir- Terry Hall of the Specials, still the sharpest looking band on the circuit...(Terry Hall photo by Joe Fiasco Kerrigan)

The Specials
Manchester Apollo
Oct 14th 2011
Live review

suits you sir- Terry Hall of the Specials, still the sharpest looking band on the circuit...
suits you sir- Terry Hall of the Specials, still the sharpest looking band on the circuit...(Terry Hall photo by Joe Fiasco Kerrigan)

Exquisite tailoring.

The Specials, of course, not only sound great, they look great. They hit the stage in matching suite. Razor stitched threads that are cut from the same cloth with slight twists that give you a clue to the cultural mash up that defines the band.

Terry Hall’s suit looks crumpled and sardonic – perfectly framing his hang dog face, a face that will not crack a smile despite the overwhelming reaction of the packed audience. Lynval and Neville have that natural rude boy cool about them, you can’t fake this kind of cool, if there is a crease it’s meant to be there, if there is a crumple its perfect, their suits hang perfectly as the endlessly bounce across the stage.

Roddy Radiation holds his guitar like a rockabilly rebel, splayed legs and switchblade licks and his drape suit gives a massive clue to his quiffed up music taste, that sliver of electric rock n roll that gives the band a great twist. The rhythm section look like rock solid old pros in their solid suits, they are without doubt one of the best rhythm sections out there and are the main reason that this grimy old venue is in meltdown. Meanwhile the dude replacing Jerry Dammers just looks sharp.

The Specials are in town for their autumn jaunt, the second of their romps around the country since they reformed a couple of years ago. There is some talk in the camp that this could be the last time they storm these dusty old dancehalls that seem to be custom built for their good time collision of ska/punk/soul. Hopefully that was just talk because currently they are one of the best live bands in the UK. This is astonishing for a group that have an age range from 50 to 60 odd and had split up for nearly thirty years, but as we well know there are no rules in rock n roll and for a band to like the The Specials to be at the height of their powers is no real shock.

They come on to a slide show of much booed pictures of Thatcher and David cameron and riots – a sharp reminder that there is content to this band.

Lyrically the songs are still perfect vignettes of British life. With a dark, sardonic edge, they are delivered in that deadpan nasal whine by Terry Hall, one of the great front men who makes a virtue out of doing the standing still. At various times the vocals are taken by Neville the band’s ever bouncing MC. Musically they are at perfection, they roll and they bounce, the sound is perfect and the added brass and string sections (as well as 4000 backing singers in the crowd who sing along to every word) really flesh the sound out when required like on a meltdown version of the classic number one Ghost Town which is a tense, drawn out spooky epic.

The Specials are one of those bands that, like the Stone Roses-whose reformation was announced the same weekend as this gig, soundtrack a generation. They were part of the post punk fallout in the UK, and one of the most original bands of the period. They came out of Coventry and were managed briefly by the Clash manager Bernie Rhodes who was also looking after Subway Sect and Dexys Midnight Runners in one of the great rostas of all time. There with gigs with the Clash and then a move into a more ska orientated sound of their own. When the Clash went to America the Specials filled their space and with their own label 2 Tone launched their own youthquake which has become one of the key staples of generations of bands who have been hooked onto the band’s mixture of the best of black and white.

Their songs soundtracked the times, the grubby nihilistic late seventies/early eighties, and culminated with Ghost Town which was one of those perfect pop moments like the Sex Pistols’ God Save The Queen that was the right song for the right moment by the right band and sat awkwardly at number one- a v sign to the mundane and a perfect piece of pop culture perfection.
The band imploded after that with too many disparate characters to continue and their reformation decades later was as unexpected as it was brilliant.

As they tear the stage up tonight it’s hit after hit, from the opening Gangsters- that reminds me of every week in the one pub the punks could get into in Blackpool and sat there listening to this song with more and people getting into it. Gangsters was a slow growing hit, it’s spooky ska sound had me hooked from the start and tonight’s its never sounded better.

Every song you can name seems to be in the set Stereotype, Monkey Man, Man At C and A, Rat Race, Do Nothing and Too Much, Too Young, as well as Nite Klub, everything seems to in there and played with passion, conviction and a musical perfection.

A true national treasure and one of the greatest ever British bands, the Specials gig tonight was a triumph, I have never seen so many people dancing in the Apollo, the whole 4000 capacity venue was bouncing up and down and you could feel the balcony creaking under the weight of the flailing feet. The Specials are one of the classic bands, you have to go and see them while you can, when people ask us X Factor haters to name a band to prove our point then The Specials are one of them, normal geezers playing extraordinary music with no bullshit, no hype- just pure talent and great songs and a decades long energy that still fires up people just when they need it, just when the Tories are trying to grind us down, just when the hammer comes down great music makes us feel alive and a whole army of empowered punters left the Apollo after this special evening.

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. I was there and it was incredible. Saw them last time round too, and they have been brilliant every time. Being only 22 I never got the chance to see them back in the day. It is a real privilege to see these bands come round and be so good. However, you know the country’s fucked when their lyrics make as much sense as they do right now

  2. Nice write up John. Was interested to hear how the rest of the tour was going down.They were on top form in Wolverhampton last week and we even got a smile from Terry …although it could have been wind.

  3. […] other songs and tried to avoid the love-song angle. Lyrically I was just obsessed with The Clash, The Specials and The Jam and thought they were the peer groups talking about […]

  4. Spot on review. I saw them last week in Nottingham and it gives me goose bumps thinking about it, an absolutely brilliant performance. The energy from the band and the crowd was electric, the best gig I have been to probably ever.

  5. And the excitement goes beyond the UK. I saw them in Hamburg in September. There were several in the crowd from Cov, but most were locals many in their 2-Tone finery. Was a stunning gig by the band and fantastic crowd.

  6. […] The fanzine was a riot of very clever, very funny terrace culture commentary. This was the stuff of trainers, \’scally\’ clothes, terrace micky taking and all with a great Clash/Jam/Specials soundtrack. […]

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