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Music review: The Specials, Liverpool Olympia

Angie Sammons gets swept away by the rude boy revival. <b>Pictures:</b> Mark McNulty

Written by . Published on November 3rd 2009.

Music review: The Specials, Liverpool Olympia

I COULD run away with The Specials. I wanted to in 1979, when Gangsters first came screaming across the school disco floor, and this week I considered it again.

Gangsters was two and a half minutes of deep joy that came earlyish on in the 2-Tone stars' career, their styling, their music and their distinctive chequered record label pinning itself, in an instant, on to the lapels of Thatcher's children.

The song was a hard act to follow. No one could possibly know if they would ever top it. But hindsight is a wonderful thing and on Thursday when Coventry's finest export launched into it again, minutes into a searing set of ska, it was in the safe knowledge that, this time, the best was to come – again and again.

You might have been forgiven for thinking Jose Mourinho was about to come on. “Special...special....” wailed the voice of a soundalike Church St Echo seller as searchlights forlornly panned around Frank Matcham's glorious and underused Olympia on West Derby Road.

Then, just after nine o'clock, a chant of Enjoy Yourself went up. A white stage curtain dropped and six of the original magnificent seven burst into life, back from the dead and kicking the excited, rafter-packed house, into a rude boy frenzy with Do The Dog.

Reviving an old music act from golden slumber, and taking it on the road, is the only way to travel in this day and age. And a good back catalogue provides a comfortable little earner to dip into. Here, with tickets at £33 a pop, a friend remarked that it was bit like

watching Terry Hall and co drawing on their pension.

Yet this incredibly polished, tight opener to Liverpool Music Week displayed all the youthful exuberance you could ask for. There's no hint of keys being changed to accommodate, how shall we say, more mature vocal chords, they still move well and they've kept their cool. Well more than Spandau Ballet (on up the road the same night), anyway.

The hits were delivered at machine gun speed. Rat Race, Too Much Too Young, A Message To You Rudy, Enjoy Yourself, Guns of Navarone and then the masterpiece, Jerry Dammers' Ghost Town, a number one which inadvertently became the theme tune of the 1981 Toxteth riots, and which cheered up the bleak midsummer of the Charles and Di wedding no end.

The Specials have tried reunions before, but this 30th anniversary line up, left incomplete only by the absence of the band's founder, Dammers, has gone down a storm with sell-out gigs all over the UK.

Do we miss Dammers? Yes and no. He wanted The Specials reunion to be more than a “nostalgic knees up”, was always up for experimenting and moving the band on, musically. He feels his group, which he planned from a young boy, has been taken away. They say the door is open, but with the odd sarcastic quip from Hall at his expense on stage (too much, too long winded to go into here), I wouldn't hold my breath.

Maybe it's just his sense of humour. After all, the Man United-loving frontman did get an easy laugh out of dedicating Do Nothing to Michael Owen. Yet, amid the banter, one wonders how many other cities have wags in the crowd who would call out for Night Boat to Cairo in between every other song – not a mistake, but a wind-up evoking those old, zoot-suit rivals, Madness.

Bands won't play no more? The audience, mixed age, were clearly ecstatic that this one would - and for a solid two hours that wasn't enough.

All, of course, proving that The Specials have still got it – as demonstrated in glorious black and white.


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5 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousOctober 31st 2009.

If this theatre were in London it would be a treasure. It's perfect for this sort of gig. Just sort out the bar!

manchester girlOctober 31st 2009.

Saw them at Glasto and they were amazing. What a treat for Liverpool. I wish I'd known

queeny eyeOctober 31st 2009.

I would

Mod swingOctober 31st 2009.

Agree with this review. Brilliant night that seems to have been overlooked elsewhere. Was very Special!

Special brewOctober 31st 2009.

Excellent review.

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