Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The Specials - Live Review

The Specials Live at The Cliffs Pavilion, 18th November 2009

As the dearly departed comedy legend Malcolm Hardee used to say "you only play the Cliffs Pavilion in Southend twice in your career. Once on the way up, and once on the way down..... it's good to be back". The Specials aren't quite 'on the way down' of course, but it is indeed almost 30 years since they last played here. I know that I was still at school when it took place, and everyone in class was desperate to go. But with a strict over 18's policy, it remained a dream for us all. But as they say, everything comes to he who waits, and I'm definitely over 18 now (this gig took place just a few days before my 43rd birthday!), and i'm finally getting to see them.
Y'know, there's nothing like a nice relaxed atmosphere in which to enjoy your evening out.... and this was indeed, nothing like it. The place is (unsurprisingly) full of skinheads, 'rude boys' and general 40-50 year old 'geezers'. There's the great smell of testosterone in the air, and a lovely oppressive overtone of violence. This is complimented beautifully by huge amounts of police strategically placed throughout the venue (I've been coming to this venue since I was a child, and NEVER have I witnessed police attendance at a show here)... They are everywhere... in the foyer, in the bar, in the auditorium, even upstairs in the seats.
I've made the schoolboy error of turning up with hair, and it genuinely seems to have marked me as an outsider! Nope, it really isn't me being paranoid, I really am getting 'bogged out' by numerous people as I walk through the bar in the vain hope of grabbing a beer (I don't manage to get one, by the way). Never have I been so relieved to have 'squares' tickets... upstairs in the balcony (actually it's all I could get, but boy am I glad!), where I can at last escape the knuckle draggers for a bit. Looking over the balcony, the downstairs is more packed than I've ever seen a stand up gig at this venue. You know how packed and squashed it is at the front? Well literally, that's what it's like all the way back. I later find out that some arse of a tout has acquired (I use that word, but in all honestly, I'm guessing the word 'stolen' would probably fit the bill) a load of venue wristbands (the ones you have to exchange your ticket for, and ensures you can pop out to the toilet and get back) and has been selling them for a fiver a pop outside. Looking down at this ridiculously packed crowd, I'm assuming he acquired a fair few of em.

It certainly has all the ingredients and impending doom of 'one of those nights', but as it turns out, The Specials are very impressive indeed. Reunion gigs are a risky business these days. Everybody's at it, but it can be a cheesy, sad and soul destroying experience. The thought of watching a bloated Spandau Ballet going through the motions fills me with dread, yet the revival of Iggy and the Stooges really excited me. But what's the difference? well, thinking about it, maybe Spandau weren't really all that cool to start with, and I can't say that I'd have been all that fussed about seeing them live during their 'glory days'. But The Specials certainly seem to be in the 'Iggy' category tonight. They have all aged well, and seem to be genuinely enthusiastic about what they are doing (rather than going through the motions for a big fat cheque). They ooze charisma and have incredible stage presence. They look very comfortable and extremely cool as they completely take over the stage. There really is so much going on, and so much to watch, I actually find myself struggling where best to focus my attention at times. The quality of the musicianship on display is frankly incredible, and each song sounds completely true and faithful to the versions you know and love.... and unlike Marc Almond the other week, the Specials make full use of their brass section, and it sounds amazing!
There is none of that 'saving all the good bits to the end' business either, as the set is peppered with classics throughout.... Gangsters was thrown in within the first 10 or 15 minutes, and was soon followed by Monkey Man, Rat Race, Stereotypes, A Message To You Rudy, Nite Klub, Too Much Too Young and others. By the time the encore came it was only really Ghost Town that was still obviously missing - which was duly performed.

An absolutely brilliant show.... but would I go again? I was lucky to be up in the gods tonight, and being out of the majority of the crowd allowed me to actually enjoy the show. I'd imagine I would have been far too preoccupied with watching (and attempting to avoid) various 'characters' had I been downstairs, and it would have turned into the gig from hell (for me anyway). I've nothing but praise for the band and their performance tonight, but on the strength of tonight's crowd - no, I wouldn't go again... I'm glad I finally got to see them, but I'll quit while I'm ahead (and alive) ta very much!



Kolley Kibber said...

Sounds like the lairy geezers you were surrounded by at the gig are the same ones the Specials had in mind about when they wrote 'Stereotype' - meatheads who didn't get the message then, and are never going to get it now.

What a shame, as for my money The Specials (along with the other Two Tone bands) remain the only musicians who have genuinely had a hand in changing political attitudes for the better among Da Kidz. Loads of us in Ilford (a place not so different from the Coventry of the 1970s they were singing about) joined Rock Against Racism because of The Specials. They spoke 'our' language. I can still remember laughing my 16-year old arse off when I heard Jerry Dammers saying 'If you're a racist, you must be mentally ill!'.

It's a real pity the macho shitheads who were there for the edginess and nothing else, dominated the crowd in Southend. Glad you enjoyed it though (and that you were canny enough to go upstairs!).

E F RICE said...

I agree with ISBW's first para. I loved the Specials and I regretted not being proactive enough to get a ticket when it was announced. I generally thought it would be very calm crowd of nostalgic 40 plussers wanting a dance and to relieve those great musical memories. Compare that with last nights crowd for Ian Brown !

I must ask did they do 'Guns of Navarone' ? I absolutely love the brass on that track and the little guitar solo in the middle.

Mondo said...

I thought the boneheads and brawlers at the Pistols gig last year were bad enough - this sounds like a nightmare. And you forget what habitually violent aresholes skinheads were.. I remember some real horror stories about them around the time of The Specials

At Crocs One night, Fatman stopped the music to ask for info on some skinheads that had given his aunt a real going over the night before. A couple of months later I saw some skins beat someone to the ground, then attempt to run him over.

Glad they didn't spoil the performance though, and like The Damned, Pistols etc.. The Specials are probably better now than then.

Axe Victim said...

Yes mate - if you want to leave comments on my blog you have to be a 'member'. This is stop my ex drummers missus from leaving me any more hate mail. Happens all the time mate. Chicks just seem to dig me I guess...

Piley said...

ISBW - Yes the irony wasn't lost on me either. I used to 'know' someone who went to the local alternative nightclub. He was a fully paid up nazi, amazingly racist and homophobic... you name it. His favourite band?? New Model Army! I'm sure they would have been delighted he was a fan of their tolerant and humanitarian message!!

EFR - 'Guns' was indeed part of the set! A real treat it was too. There was hardly a wrong song all night (possibly Man at C&A could have been chopped, but that's all).

Mondo - Have to say i've never completely understood the skinhead thing. On the one hand you think of them as big reggae fans, being involve with the two-tone movement and really helping to embracing multi-culturism in music.... then on the other hand you think of nazi's and violence!!! How do those two match up???

Axe - great to be popular mate! A fan of the specials at all??!


Cocktails said...

Hmmm, I don't know how to feel after reading this.

I'm dismayed that the rest of the audience hadn't managed to mature over the last 30-years, relieved that the band weren't crap and busy flushing your old high school memories down the loo, but mostly pleased that you had a good time despite them (the rest of the punters that is, not the band).

spud said...

Hi there.

Some friends who saw the Brixton Academy gig told the same tale - the shine was take off
a great show by the large Neanderthal turnout in the audience.

I only ever saw the Specials on the way up in spring of 1978, third down the bill to the Clash. They were still trading under the name of the Coventry Specials and were only halfway through their mutation from punk to ska outfit. So the stage was a confusing jumble of porkpie hats, mohair strides, studded belts, peroxide spikes and orange string vests! Musically, it was the same story. Thrashing three chord rants were punctuated with surprisingly faithful covers of Liquidator and Double Barrel. Stylistically, the effect was like the bit in ‘The Fly’ where it all goes horribly wrong. The set really came alive during the covers though so you could see which way the wind was blowing...

It took me another thirty years to see Jerry Dammers onstage when I caught his Sun Ra inspired crazy space jazz project Spatial AKA. Fantastic. It worked for the same reasons that the Specials did – putting a creative and original twist on an inspiration from the past. No boneheads in the Barbican either…

Did you find it weird not having Dammers in the reformed Specials?

Piley said...

Coctails - it really wasn't pleasant. I actually toned down the post right at the last minute, but I think I still got the feel of it over. I'd say it was the worst atmos i've ever encountered at a gig. Faair play to the Specials though, who still managed to make me feel i'd had a good night out!

Hi Spud - good to hear from you. Yes it's rather depressing that it sounds as though this isn't a one off... I wonder what the band make of it all? Like aging punk bands who have to put up with aging fans still spitting at them?? I wonder if it makes you want to pack it all in. I'm sure this isn't what the band envisaged all those years ago (quite the opposite).

It was weird without JD yes (not that I've ever seen them with him of course). It's also weird that with him being such a big player, thay it sounds as though he wasn't even asked to join in the reform. Weird.

Hope to see you around again.


phsend said...

I read he was still hoping to be involved in the tour but was keen to include new material rather than rely on the back catalogue.

Its a shame as he wrote many of the classic Specials songs butI do get the feeling he might be a bit "Pete Townsend" in his artistic pretentiousness and maybe he's burned all his bridges with the rest of the band.

Just googled Dammers and found this nice little quote reflecting an early Specials Southend gig...I wonder where that was?

"The whole place would be bouncing up and down in unison; whole buildings used to shake with the excitement at that time. We played at an old theatre in Southend and holes started appearing in the floor and kids started disappearing into the cellar 12 feet below."

Martin said...

Blimey, sounds like you a right relaxing night out. I always thought going out to see a band was supposed to be a pleasant experience. Fortunately I've never found myself in this sort of situation, but maybe I've just been lucky.

Piley said...

PH - yeah, I keep hearing conflicting messages on it. It would have been great to have the 'full set' there for these gigs, but to be honest, he wasn't missed on what was really just a 'classics' set. Shame tho.

Martin - no chance... next time I see you at s gig i'll give you a smack in the chops, just to make you feel welcome!


Piley said...

PH - yeah, I keep hearing conflicting messages on it. It would have been great to have the 'full set' there for these gigs, but to be honest, he wasn't missed on what was really just a 'classics' set. Shame tho.

Martin - no chance... next time I see you at s gig i'll give you a smack in the chops, just to make you feel welcome!