fri 14/06/2024

The Specials, Margate Winter Gardens review - ska legends passionate and on-point | reviews, news & interviews

The Specials, Margate Winter Gardens review - ska legends passionate and on-point

The Specials, Margate Winter Gardens review - ska legends passionate and on-point

Two Tone stars relevant and fired up as they tour their new album

Terry Hall, Horace Panter and Lynval Golding, original Specials

Here they come again – the band most adept at capturing the mood of an era in catchy, critical three-minute songs. Just at the very point we need them most, the original ska-punk popsters surface and their message is as deeply relevant as it was four decades ago. But is this a 40th anniversary or a number one album tour?

Or both?

In these unprecedented times, receiving political commentary from near-pensioners seems strangely apt (remaining original members frontman Terry Hall, guitarist Lynval Golding and bass player Horace Panter are 60, 67 and 65, respectively). It’s a turn of events that the band would probably have sneered at back in the day. But why not? Until quite recently, “the kids” have been found wanting in terms of holding the system to account. Worse still, generations on from Thatcher’s “every man for themselves” doctrine, the “nasty little brutes like you" who "come undo the work we do” - of their song “Embarrassed by You” - are shaming the nation. It is not surprising it's is one of the most rapturously received tracks from the new Encore album.

Against a background of increasing child poverty, and the Windrush and Grenfell Towers scandals, The Specials are essential listening. The heaving hall – Thanet’s leading banquet venue, no less – is awash with testosterone. Although most of the Fred-Perry-sporting crowd look like they might be grandparents, there’s still a sense that a scrap might break out at any moment. Thankfully, instead the energy is channelled into the passion with which tracks such as the anti-racist anthem “Doesn’t Make it Alright” are sung by all.

It just so happens that this is Mental Health Awareness Week and Hall has been open about his ongoing struggle with depression. There is an undeniably melancholy tone to much of The Specials’ canon – not least “Do Nothing”, “Ghost Town”, “Gangsters”, and “Friday Night, Saturday Morning” – all richly rendered by the small live brass section. But there’s also an exuberance which is reflected in the bouncy audience, despite the rigorous policing of the small mosh pit. “Too Much Too Young”, “Rat Race”, “Monkey Man” and “Stereotype” still sound like anthems and every person knows every single word. The irony of the marvellous “Blank Expression” is quite something – Terry Hall is nothing if not the enigmatic curmudgeon, but one whose voice has lost none of its deadpan strength. He still won’t meet the audience’s eye, though.

Given that they began as a beacon of multiculturalist hope, they must be dismayed and angered by the recent rise in a racism. A glimmer of hope comes in the form of Saffiyah Kahn’s guest spot. The 21-year-old Midlands activist who smiled down the EDL in 2017 goes some way to addressing the band’s past misogyny via her re-writing of Prince Buster’s super-sexist “10 Commandments”. Sheer genius. She later throws herself amongst the more agile, skanking in the audience with the best of them.

Another new number, “Vote for Me”, echoes “Ghost Town” closely but lacks its enduring brilliance. But it doesn’t really matter when you have such a sterling back catalogue. And their legacy continues to grow – the band’s cultural significance is more global than you might expect – Los Angeles City Council have recently declared May 29th Specials Day. That’s a very long way from Margate.

What elevates the night from being a nostalgia-fest is the quality of the musicianship, the fact that these songs have grown even better over time, and that the new material punches above its expected weight. 40 years since the 2-Tone label was founded and 38 since the never-bettered musical snapshot of political and sociological angst, “Ghost Town”, reached Number One, The Specials are, indeed, still very special.

Below: Watch the video for "Vote for Me" by The Specials
What elevates the night from being a nostalgia-fest is that the new material punches above its expected weight


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters