Reviewed on Thursday March 9
It’s a cross-generational affair tonight at the Enmore, with a diverse demographic comfortably filling out the room. Whatever age, whatever background and wherever they are in the venue, the 2,500-strong crowd are united in one thing: singing, dancing and celebrating their love of the band that has, in one way or another, kept ska alive for nearly 40 years.
The Specials are back in our ghost town, and the fact that they open with that titular anthem itself means they mean business. Say what you will, but opening with perhaps your best-known and biggest hit is a bold statement – and there’s plenty more where that came from, believe it.
The lineup has gone through a few shifts in the five years that have intervened between visits from the Coventry natives. Co-frontman Neville Staple and guitarist Roddy Radiation have exited the fold, while beloved drummer John Bradbury sadly passed away in 2015. Still, the band’s core is still formidable – Libertines stick-wielder Gary Powell has comfortably transitioned to his new role behind the Specials kit, while mainstays Terry Hall, Lynval Golding and Horace Panter complement each other nicely. Also of note is the inclusion of both a violinist and a cellist, heretofore unheard of at a Specials show. It may seem odd to mix strings with ska, but the duo add a surprising amount in key moments throughout the set.
Aside from all that, as Led Zeppelin so succinctly put it, the song remains the same. ‘Nite Klub’ creates a surge at the front of the dancefloor, ‘Concrete Jungle’ enlists the entire crowd’s hands for its trademark clap-along, and ‘Doesn’t Make It Alright’ is as powerful and as resonant now as it was all those years ago – especially with Golding expressing solidarity with the black audience members in attendance and reminding everyone that “black lives matter”.
Speaking of Golding, it’s unquestionable that the 65-year-old guitarist is the star of the show. His quick-witted banter, cheeky interactions with his bandmates and his impassioned rendition of Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’ all score great reactions from the fans, rendering him both irrepressible and entirely lovable.
The night ends with a huge sing-along to The Specials’ version of ‘You’re Wondering Now’. We may know this is the finale, but truthfully we could keep singing all night. Some of us probably will. May the fun never end.