Support comes from Stone Foundation a soul combo from Sutton Coldfield in the style of Dexy’s Midnight Runners comprising drums, bass, lead and rhythm guitar, trumpet, trombone and a Hammond. Their songs are mid to fast past stompers with a Northern Soul flavour and it’s an entertaining enough set for a support slot. They even finish their set with a version of Dexy’s “Liars A to E”, and have had ex-Dexy’s members perform on stage with them in the past. Ok stuff.

After the break, the lights go down and a huge cheers goes up as a photographic montage of the last 30 years are displayed on a giant backdrop. So we get images of Thatcher (to huge boos), the Falklands war, Brixton riots, John Major (more boos), Lockerbie, Gazza crying, the poll tax riots, Stephen Lawrence, queues outside Northern Rock building society, the riots in Tottenham after Mark Duggan’s murder and finally David Cameron (boos galore, thank you).

As the image fades, first Neville Staples then the rest of The Specials casually saunter onto the stage to huge cheers and Neville launches into the opening line from “Gangsters”. Despite Jerry Dammers’ reluctance to go out on the road with this greatest hits package from The Specials, it is pretty damn good to hear these songs again. Mr. Dammers wanted to record some new stuff as well as performing the classics, which to my mind would have been a better show, but I can’t deny that all those old songs still possess an energy and vigour that have stood up over the last 30 years.

Most of the material comes from their classic eponymous debut album released in October 1979 and produced by Elvis Costello. It guarantees a great atmosphere right from the start. Neville Staples is fine form despite complaining of a bad knee and he’s still the perfect foil to Terry Hall’s deadpan delivery. I’m glad the songs have stood the test of time and still sound great played live. The band are augmented by a three piece male horn section (trumpet, saxophone and trombone) and a three piece female string section. I’m wondering if it’s the same six musicians who were on stage with Madness at their Christmas gig last year.

Not much more to add really, they’re a band worth seeing live if you’ve never seen them before. A killer setlist of great songs:

  • Do the dog
  • Dawning of a new era
  • Up to you
  • Monkey man
  • Blank expression
  • Rat race
  • Too hot
  • Doesn’t make it alright
  • Hey little rich girl
  • Pearl’s Cafe (with the chorus of “it’s all a load of bollocks” being cheerily sung by the majority of the crowd
  • Stupid marriage with Neville in ebullient mood as Judge Roughneck
  • Concrete jungle
  • International jet set
  • Friday night, saturday morning
  • Stereotype
  • Man at C & A
  • Do nothing
  • Message to you rudy
  • Nite Klub
  • Too much too young
  • Enjoy yourself

They encore with their classic number one from 1981 “Ghost town”, the soundtrack to the Brixton riots that took place during the Summer of that year and a song that has come full circle with the recent riots in Tottenham and other parts of the country. Finally, they sign off with “You’re wondering now” and it’s goodnight.

A shameless exercise in nostalgia but with songs this good it’s a welcome trip. I’m sure they can carry on playing these greatest hits for a good while yet as there will always be plenty of people who grew up with them and want to see them play again (myself included) but I can’t help thinking that Mr. Dammers was right and some new songs would have been a good idea too.