Young and old skankers alike turned out in force on Sunday, to welcome legendary Two Tone ska band The Specials back to Leeds. After a thirty-year absence, Terry Hall marked the Millennium Square leg of the group’s long-awaited reunion tour by apologising for “taking so long to come back”. All was forgiven though, as the diverse congregation of contented cider-infused spectators (save for the few miniature offspring of original ska aficionados) were just thrilled to be present on such a momentous day.
The absence of Jerry Dammers prompted the question of whether relations are quite what they once were in the rude boy camp, however the evening was not sullied by this one exception and the remaining members-Terry Hall, Lynval Golding, Neville Staple, Roddy Byers, Horace Panter and John Bradbury-performed as passionately and energetically as they did back in 1976, when they first notably Rocked Against Racism.
Golding prompted the monochrome-clad, yet still colourful, crowd to consider the group’s ongoing social endeavours, by announcing “Don’t vote BNP!” as ‘A Message to You Rudy’ started up-a stark reminder that their campaigning for racial harmony is as relevant today as it was three decades ago.
Nevertheless, The Specials’ on-stage revelry remained to be as infectious as ever as they delivered more celebrated tracks such as ‘Rat Race’ and Gangsters’, which were repeatedly met with immediate joy from their newly sunburnt and exuberant followers.
Staple’s declaration of “This is for the bouncers” accompanying the intro of ‘Monkey Man’; the contagious mass singsong commanded by ‘(Dawning of a) New Era’; and the undeniable raucousness of ‘Concrete Jungle’; they all ensured that watchers were left in no doubt that expectations were being firmly lived up to, and even surpassed-one might expect that ageing thirty years could slow The Specials down somewhat-one would be wrong.
Revellers occasionally leaned a little too far towards boisterousness, but old staples such as ‘Ghost Town’ directed proceedings from the punk realm of ‘Do the Dog’ into the more relaxed, calypso-inspired area of The Specials’ work.
The 7,000-strong assemblage cheered for more as the six performers teasingly exited the stage, before returning for the inevitable encore. The triumphant comeback gig was rounded off with impeccable versions ‘Too Much Too Young’, ‘Longshot Kick de Bucket’, ‘Skinhead Moonstomp’ and Enjoy Yourself.
Terry Hall assured all that the appreciation was reciprocated, stating: “Thanks very much, it’s been a privilege”. Although over a generation had passed since The Specials’ previous visit, Leeds was left in no doubt that the boys have kept their feet on the ground, and the connection between band and audience has never been lost.