For a band that were not around all that long first time round, The Specials have some back catalogue to work with. Everything they play at the Barrowlands tonight feels like a greatest hit, even the album tracks, and they keep banging them out. Minimal fuss for maximal impact.
Man At C&A makes for a subdued opener but it’s the first sign that the band is on hot form. Now down to just three of the classic line-up – Terry Hall, Lynval Golding, Horace Panter – they’re augmented by a crack squad of uniformly dressed guest musicians, including virtuoso Dadrock gun-for-hire Steve Cradock (Ocean Colour Scene, Paul Weller) on guitar and the fat brass sound of Tim Smart on trombone and Pablo Mendelssohn on trumpet. “Warning! Warning! Nuclear attack!” hollers Golding, as the band kick into a low-slung groove against a slogan-strewn backdrop that proclaims anti-apocalypse (“Non-judgment day is coming!”), reverse capitalism (“We sell hope!”) and playlist guidance: (“Listen to Sly and the Family Stone”).
Among era-defining classics like Rat Race and A Message To You, Rudy, the band’s new material stands up very well. Politician-mocking recent single Vote For Me sits between the well-preserved Do Nothing and Friday Night, Saturday Morning with no noticeable dip in quality. It’s a rarity to be able to say that more of the new stuff wouldn’t have gone amiss. From the new album, Embarrassed By You gets an airing, as does their version of Blam Blam Fever and the reworked Lunatics (Have Taken Over The Asylum).
Hall no longer has the boyish insouciance to suit the subject matter of girls, clubs and directionlessness, but he’s grown into himself – his voice now deeper and more world-weary, his hangdog expression now extra characterful with more jowls and lines. He remains an unlikely but original frontman. And his band are tight. Cradock appears to have some sort of pedal or monitor issue during an extended Stereotype but not so that it affects all that much.
Activist and support DJ Saffiyah Khan’s guest turn on 10 Commandments (sample lyric: “Thou shall not tell a girl she deserved it because her skirt was too short”) is immediately followed by Nite Klub (sample lyric: “All the girls are slags”), an interesting juxtaposition that sets you wondering if it’s deliberate. A nod that times have changed? Selective wokeness? Or just reviewers reading too much into things? Maybe, like all the best bands, they just don’t give too much of a shit what you think.
And like all the best bands you near the end of their gig realising just how many big guns they have left to deploy, including Monkey Man, Gangsters and the similarly feminist-worrying Too Much Too Young. If you have any taste, the unimpeachable Ghost Town is the set text for Thatcher’s Britain and is saved for the encore, as powerful as ever. They then say goodbye with You’re Wondering Now and send dozens of pork-pied heads bobbing merry and half-cut into the spring Glasgow night.