sat 13/07/2024

The Specials, Alexandra Palace | reviews, news & interviews

The Specials, Alexandra Palace

The Specials, Alexandra Palace

The unstoppable energy of the kings of British ska caused a frenzied fit of collective nostalgia

The Specials: turning Ally Pally into a giant mosh pit

“Rude boy! Rude boy! Ruuuude boooyyyy!!” The chanting from the crowd began soon after the booing subsided. The boos were in response to a picture of Margaret Thatcher which was flashed on a big screen as part of a short filmed history lesson about the late-Seventies malcontent that gave birth to the joyfully irreverent early British ska bands of which The Specials are surely kings.

The crowd was made up of (and I hope they forgive me for saying this) rather sizeable blokes in their early forties, with shaved heads, a handful of whom were wearing pork pie hats. Original rude boys. The booze was flowing and, quite literally, flying as whole cups of beer were chucked into the air drenching anyone who happened to be underneath. Into this highly charged atmosphere entered a band whose anti-government and inflammatory anthems are as attractive and relevant today as they were 30 years ago.

The 12,000 people packed into the (frankly oversold) venue became a sea of flailing elbows as the skanking (a sort of running-man dance move) got into full swing. Kicking off with “Gangsters”, which was The Specials’ 1979 debut single, the evening promised to be a semi-chronological run-down of the band’s greatest hits. 

They were singing out loudly with their eyes closed, hugging and slapping each other’s backs in a frenzied fit of collective nostalgia

Rhythm master and vocalist Lynval Golding was as full of fizz as ever. Apart from an absentee Jerry Dammers, the line-up was nearly original, with Terry Hall on lead vocals, Neville Staple doing backing vocals and percussion, John Bradbury on drums and Roddy Byers and Horace Panter on lead and bass guitar. As they boisterously got through “Do the Dog”, “Monkey Man” and “Blank Expression” it was like a time warp. A few grey hairs are a reminder that these superstars are heading towards or fully enjoying their fifties, but they play with the exuberance of teenagers. Add to that three decades of musical experience and you’ll find it is a heady combination.

The band’s unstoppable energy was blasted out with “Concrete Jungle” and “Too Hot” infecting the crowd. It became even rowdier, which was alarming, but there was something fantastic about a mass emotional response from thousands of men. They were singing out loudly with their eyes closed, hugging and slapping each other’s backs in a frenzied fit of collective nostalgia which peaked at “Man at C&A”. It felt more like the terraces than the Palm Court at Ally Pally, with the booming voices of the throng partially obscuring, for me anyway, what was happening on stage. 

When the opening trumpet sound of “A Message to You, Rudy” rang out there was a stampede from the bar into the heaving mosh pit which the entire Palm Court had turned into. Singing along with grins plastered across our faces, it was a joy. The Specials are not ones to tantalise their audiences by leaving the best tracks till last. “Rudy” was followed soon after by “Too Much Too Young”, which is infectiously up-tempo. Ending a satisfyingly lengthy set with old favourites including “Enjoy Yourself” and “Ghost Town”, the emotion seemed to have deflated the formerly uncontrollable and boozed-up crowd. They left their anarchic attitudes at the door and filed out rather politely.

The Specials perform "Ghost Town"


A few grey hairs remind you that these superstar are in their fifties, but they play with the exuberance of teenagers


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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A spot-on review of a brilliant gig. Why are they still so good so many years later? Other bands reform and have comeback tours and, whilst very enjoyable, all it tends to be is an excuse for warm nostalgia. With the Specials, they are still spectacularly relevant and exciting. They may have only made a handful of records in their original life time, but every single one of them has stood the test of time - as was evidenced at the Ally Pally last night. As you say in your review, the whole place was dancing - 12,000 middle-aged (mainly) men. Dancing! How cool and special is that?

I saw them back in 2008 at The Brixton Academy, just the most brilliant night, I have never seen so many balding, middle aged blokes looking so joyously happy, dancing like nutters. What a truly great band, top musicianship, energy and fantastic tunes.

I agree - a well written and accurate review. I was also there last night, and had the most fantastic time, really really enjoyed myself. The Specials were excellent, better than I'd dared hope, and worth the 30 year wait - I still have a massive grin on my face today!

Now, if only Jerry Dammers would join them for a new record and tour ...

Spot on - great gig - excellent venue. Support, Stone Foundation, were interesting too - a bit of Northen Soul creeping in.

I agree the band were great, the review is spot-on. However, I found the atmosphere to be intimidating and my night was ruined when I got drenched in beer by drunken blokes. Now 44 I saw ska bands Bad Manners/Selector first time around and now have a varied taste in music so have been to plenty of gigs. Never before have I been sqeezed into such a small space with no exits on my side. When the bloke near us got his nose broken my hubby decided it was time to get me out - the evening turned into one to remember for all the wrong reasons.

I too got drenched with beer. I ended up staying towards the side of the room most of the night as the middle bit was a bit scary. I read somewhere that washing your hair in beer is good for it. Every cloud?

"my hubby decided it was time to get me out" ????? Grounds for divorce there, I say.

A very well written review. The band performed brilliantly as always and it was a joy to see them again. I would agree that the gig had been oversold. Neville said it was great to see people dancing all the way to back of the vast venue, but for those of us who were forced to retreat to the back because it was so cramped and wild (for the record, I go to gigs all the time and am no stranger to the mosh pit, but last night was something else) the sound quality was poor and it was virtually impossible to see the stage. The great atmosphere at the front couldn't quite travel all the way to the back, I'm afraid. I'm pleased that I saw them at Brixton on Monday and in europe over the summer because I could really appreciate the band for their music and talent. Last night will stay in my memory more for the unbelievable number of ageing, bald-headed nutters enthusiastically reliving their youth than for the sound of my favourite ever band.

I went to the gig and it was as brilliant as described by others. With regard to the crowded venue, I think the issue was about crowd management more than anything else. I went with several mates who stayed right at the back and they felt it was too big a venue, and very crowded. I however wandered around and was generally about 1/3 back from the stage. It was very packed up the front and very lively. It was also very packed towards the back as people assumed that the whole hall was full and didn't move forward creating a sort of artificial human barrier. There were also clusters elsewhere. But I found plenty of space and could move around very easily. The centre of the hall was much less crowded. I also managed several toilet/beer runs by skirting the sides without issue. The crowd was great and the ageing, bald-headed nutters were in my view more in fancy dress mode than seriously intimidating.

Agree it was great and the review is a good reflection (Pity the photo is clearly not from the gig) I do hope the references to 'beer' being thrown are knowing references just not wanting to publish what most people actually throw from their (previously empty) beer cups in a crowded venue

I was there on Thursday night and im one of them mid fortys nutters having a right good time

It was a fantasic night. As for the beer thats part of the concert. The atmosphere was not intimidating if anything it was part of the evening. I enjoyed going back in time and thought it was great to see so many people having a great night.

I never felt the least bit "intimidated". Yes, it was a bit of a crush - I started off down at the front and (not being very tall) I did get pretty squashed when the crowd surged forward. Well that was no use for dancing, so I wormed my way out towards the side and found myself plenty of skanking room. Still had a good view and I didn't find anything wrong with the sound. Nor did I encounter anyone in less than good humour. It was a wondrous night, and I'd go again in a heartbeat.

what a blinding night.3 days later the mussles in my legs still hurt..iv not danced so much in years..absolutly loved it..everyone was was great to put on the braces again and the pork would be nice to see jerry back.....

suprising to see so many peolpe intimidated by people dancing in a crowded venue to the specials. i was at the front with the girlfriend and we both sneaked out for a jimmy during the gig and got back quickly no problem - to the reviewer that states they saw them first time round and states it wasnt like that - are you sure? maybe a lot of reviewers are used to sedate seated concerts of paul weller ???? the gig was right in every way, loads of security that wasnt in your face, loads of room - it was a sell out so there were a lot of peolpe there - best gig in over a decade

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