Saturday 18 May 2019

The Specials, Brixton Academy, South London

Brixton Academy and seventies ska band The Specials feel like soul-mates. Both the venue and group are long-standing icons of multi-racial Britain. Ironically, the crowd flowing through the timeworn foyers and up the staircases of the Academy to see The Specials is overwhelmingly white.  Although they are again producing popular new music (briefly topping the album charts with Encore in March), The Specials still attracts an ageing, but enthusiastic, audience, made up mostly of thick-set, clean-shaven men with short hair.

On their UK tour, The Specials are being supported by an enthusiastic and raucous all-girl band called the Tuts. The chirpy lead singer says they haven't got a record label, which isn't surprising given their aversion to melodies. They could learn a lot from The Specials. Together, the eight members produce a rich, deep multi-layered melodic sound, enlivened by Terry Hall's tuneful renditions of the band's trademark politically-charged lyrics and a bracing brass section.  Although there is the odd new track thrown in, the set is anchored by fine vintage hits, such as Too Much Too Young, Do Nothing, A Message to You Rudy and Doesn't Make it Alright, which have the fanbase in full voice.  In the circle upstairs, the crowd are soon on their feet, swaying and singing along. In between tracks, chants of Rude Boy ring around the Academy.

Not a natural stage performer, Hall likes to turn his back on the audience and gaze at the drummer and the keyboards. Although he does attempt a bit of banter with the front row, Hall mostly lets the music do the talking. Of the original line-up, only Hall, the charismatic bassist Horace Panter and the venerable guitarist Lynval Golding remain. But the younger recruits put on a strong showing, doing  justice to some of the most distinctive music of Thatcher-era Britain. While an extended version of the recession-era classic Ghost Town lacks some of the vocal intensity of the original, the overall performance is more polished and multi-faceted.

The Academy itself has good viewing lines, decent acoustics and fast, efficient bars and cloakrooms - it is great place to enjoy live music and the perfect size for a cult band like The Specials. 9/10